This Week’s Museum Reads: Empathy & Engagement

Museum Reads header imageI spent all weekend marinating in poetry at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, which was incredible and thought-provoking as always. As an interdisciplinary enthusiast, I was enthralled with the ways I saw people talking about poetry and science, poetry and art, poetry and environmentalism, poetry and current events, poetry and civil activism.  Coming back to my museum-persona, I was glad to see some of those same kinds of discussions are happening in this field as well, at AAM last week and continuing online and abroad.

Here are a few good reads from the last few days:

Trendswatch and Open Data You Can Use

The future is bright, and full of sugar.  Image courtesy of NASA's image galleries, see link below.

The future is bright, and full of sugar. Image courtesy of NASA’s image galleries, see link below.

Have you been looking through The Center for the Future of Museums’ Trendswatch 2015?  If not, you can find it (and some related articles) right here.  (If you’re not familiar with Trendswatch, the basic idea is that the CFM looks at what’s happening in society on a large scale and predicts how certain trends in technology, attitude, and habits could influence/affect museums and museum-goers.  It has broader implications for education, design, marketing, and service organizations too.)

One of the trends identified is the rising importance/influence/availability of ‘open data’ and the projects that are created using it.  This can mean anything from GovTrack’s database of US Congressional voting records to the Cooper Hewitt’s 3D scans of their mansion, available free for makers and creatives of all sorts to download and tinker with.

In the spirit of Brain Popcorn’s Ideabox, here are some open resources that you can use, and some creative prompts for yourself, your museum, or your classroom:

Inspiring Images

What can you do with museum-quality images?

  • Digital collages, cropping, recoloring, pop-culture parodies, screen wallpapers, custom header for your personal blog
  • Print actual wallpaper, fabric, etc. using a service like Spoonflower or similar
  • Print images for mixed media collage, mod-podge and resin-based crafts like jewelry or glass jar luminaria
  • Costume, set, and character design inspiration for theater classes, writing prompts, and authors’ visual reference files
  • History reports, bulletin boards, and VTS classroom discussions with an overhead projector or poster-sized prints

Where can you find them?  (Some of these links also include 3D models and audio and video files, for bonus remixing options)

The Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler galleries have all their collections online, with images you can use in any non-commercial form, for free.

The Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries have all their collections online, with images you can use in any non-commercial form, for free. Click the image to go to Open F|S!

So Many Numbers…

I mentioned GovTracks earlier, but there are reams of numerical sorts of information out there too.

What can you do with lots of numerical/geographical/etc. data sets?

  • map customized information onto Google Earth or other visualization services (see Gapminder below) (great for conversations about population density, conservation efforts, etc.)
  • track language use on social media (where are certain words or new phrases popular, and what kind of people are using them?)
  • More maps: what do people in each state search most often on the internet?
  • Plan a student advocacy campaign for something your class decides is important.  Who are your legislators and what do they think is important?  Who do you have a chance of convincing based on their records?
Visualizing a timeline/map of electricity use per person, 1700's until the present day, using Gapminder

Visualizing a timeline/map of electricity use per person, 1700’s until the present day, using Gapminder

Where can you find data sets?  Please bear in mind that a lot of these sites aren’t going to have data that’s super interesting to a class of third graders, for instance.  For middle, high school, and college students, not to mention professionals, sure.  But if you have rec’s for kid-friendly data, I’d love to hear them!

This is by no means an exhaustive list, so if you have other great sources of open data, or suggestions for cool projects, please share them in the comments below!

What’s next?

Looking to make a set of data you or your organization has a part of the open data universe?  Check out Open Data Commons for a getting-started guide and important legal information.

As a logical extension of open data, some people are going all the way to ‘open objects,’ such as Jeremy Deller’s Do Touch project, in which objects from a historic collection are brought out to the public in malls, parks, etc, and made available for exploration.  This is a great idea, and it would be great if museums could do more of this! The Active Collections project is all about helping museums identify which objects are truly serving their missions: if they could also identify what could be used as ‘educational collection’ for this kind of purpose, think how inspiring that could be.

Open data is being used for community mapping, app building, advocacy, education, and more.  What are other possible mid- or end-points for this trend?

Politics, the Arts, and Massachusetts’ Gubernatorial Race


Are you invested in the future of culture and the arts?  Do you have friends or family members who are?  Do you plan to vote in the next Massachusetts race for governor?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, and can get to Worcester (or one of the bus departure points) on July 15th, please consider signing up here, and I will look forward to seeing you there!

If you can’t make it, and want me to ask a question at the forum, please let me know in the comments below, and I will make a full report after.

It’s the Most Wordiful Time of the Year

Happy National Poetry Month, Everyone!

As you know from previous posts (2010, 2011), I love this month.  I like seeing poems pop up on my RSS and Twitter and assorted other feeds; I like having excuses to talk about poetry (even more than I usually do), and I like giving myself time to read poetry in a more concentrated way.  This year,  I also liked developing a raft of new family-friendly art&poetry events for the museum.

The Massachusetts Poetry Festival is happening in Salem again this year, at the end of this week (Friday-Sunday).  PEM is a host for a number of reading and concert events from the larger festival (I’m particularly looking forward to the Typewriter Orchestra), but I’m also spearheading a collection of activities tying the visual to the verbal arts for kids and families, including a collaborative paper mural “Grow a Poet-tree,” make your own magnetic poetry, illuminated capitals word-art, a docent-led poetry tour, and a self-guided Poet Quest.

"River of Words: Stream of Conscience" as installed in Ripple Effect, the Art of H2O at the Peabody Essex Museum. Photo by me.

We also have the talented and charming artist Christine Destrempes back to talk about her “River of Words” project (featured in Ripple Effect), and invite visitor participation in the next installment of same, and the highly entertaining David Zucker who will be reciting and performing “Poetry in Motion.”

Detail from the "River of Words: Stream of Conscience" project by Christine Destrempes. Photo by me.

For more info, check out the MA Poetry Fest’s spotlight on PEM’s involvement with the MA Poetry Festival this year, and another article featuring my family-focused events.

Sketchbook belonging to Ripple Effect featured artist Janet Fredericks, who writes poetry in connection to her "Tracings" river drawings, also featured in the exhibition. Photo by me.

Spot poetic influences throughout the Art & Nature Center! In our clouds and vapor room, for instance...
"Look at your feet. You are standing in the sky." ~Diane Ackerman, poet/naturalist
Photo by me.

Methinks that cirrus cloud is ruffled like your shirt collar, Master Shakespeare. Photo by me.

We’re also highlighting poetry in the Art & Nature Center’s popular “Books and Boxes Zone”–come by to check out some of our fantastic books!

Plenty of fun things to read, by many of the ANC's favorite writers! Pull up a couch, grab a puppet or a friend, and enjoy. Photo by me.