NEMA Wrap-up 1: Pop-Up Museums and Peer Learning

The week before Thanksgiving was a big, busy, thought-provoking whirlwind of interesting issues in the field of museums.  I had a great time at the New England Museum Association (NEMA) annual conference, and as you may know if you follow me on Twitter, I had plenty to say!  For the next few posts I will be pulling together some of the highlights from the sessions I attended, and I’ll wrap it up with a summary of the session that I actually presented.

Highlight 1: “Pop-Up Museum” pre-conference event

IMG_20141118_200409106_HDRFor those of you who haven’t run across the Pop Up Museum concept before, the brief explanation is that it is a short term event, in which participants (usually from a particular community based on location, profession, interest, etc) create the ‘museum’ by bringing objects to share related to a theme, writing a label, and then talking to other participants and interested viewers.  There’s great in-depth information on the concept available from Michelle DelCarlo’s Pop Up Museum blog and Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0. (and a toolkit at the first link in this section)

This event’s theme was ‘things you do and create outside of work,’ and featured painters, photographers, sculptors, collectors and enthusiasts, voiceover artists, gardeners and more.  I brought poetry (see my ‘author’s point of view’ post here), but in the middle of being a poet, I was still being a museum educator, and here are some of my museum-centric takeaways:

  • Theme matters.  The theme was one people were passionate about and they were eager to tell their stories.
  • The label writing session was fun and needed about 3 more minutes than it got.  Brevity on labels is hard, we all know this.  A little more time for editing would have helped!
  • The “Ask me about…” prompt for the labels was the best part, as it promoted conversation and allowed an icebreaker for starting conversation with strangers.  We can and should do more of this kind of thing when we have artist demos, residencies, and facilitators on the exhibit floor, because it empowers our audience to be the ones to start a conversation.  Signage, buttons, nametags, whatever works.
  • A little more time for the participants to circulate to interact with each other before letting in other guests would help–we all wanted to see each others’ works but felt the pull to be near our own as well.

If you’d like to find out more about the objects people brought, a number of us posted 45 second clips up on Brad Larson’s Story Kiosk, and he’s got a great wrap up of the event, with playlist.

Highlight 2: Peer Learning

I went to three sessions that focused on different aspects of adult learning: professional publishing, new research in adult learning in informal spaces, and reflective practice.  It is important to remember, of course, that no matter how long one has been working in museums or in education or in whatever one’s chosen field, there is always something new to learn.  That’s what makes life fun.  And it is equally important to support one’s staff as learners as well as teachers, so here are the highlights from the peer learning sessions:

  •  Involving people from all levels in the process of setting goals and developing evaluation methods increases buy-in and aids in the development of a shared language.
  • Variety is key: evaluation methods stagnate as easily as anything else, and you can’t learn more if you’re only ever measuring one or two points of ‘success’
  • Feedback and reflection and observation are tools not to prove that people are doing things wrong but to highlight ways to improve.
  • Keeping up your reading in the field is important not only for providing shortcuts to finding the methods and language that works for you, but to help you figure out what you want to be doing next.

How will you experience 2015?

It’s January, and though my internal clock is still very wired to the scholastic calendar (September will always and forever be the start of a new year to me), budget and program cycles are telling me it’s a fresh start and a chance to do something new and cool for 2015.

What will your guiding words for this year be?  Photo of sculpture from outside the Fuller Craft Museum, photograph by Meg Winikates.

What will your guiding words for this year be? Photo of sculpture from outside the Fuller Craft Museum, photograph by Meg Winikates.

For me, that includes things like planning new exhibits, getting a new set of museum guides up to speed with drop-in programming in the galleries, and coming up with ways to evaluate last year’s changes and figure out where we can be even more responsive to our visitors in both exhibition and program design.  (I’m currently working on ways to get visitors to inspire each other to greater heights of creative play in our Investigate Zone designed for visitors under 5 and their accompanying adults.)

Here are a few cool reads to help you get inspired (personally and professionally) for the new year:

  • Nina Simon over on Museum 2.0 has a neat interview with a member of Museum Hack, thinking about how to reinvigorate the tour experience.
  • Seeking inspiration and a way to keep on track for the new year?  The Artful Parent has suggestions for making a vision board to hang in your home or office.  (This is much prettier than the strings of to-do lists I tape to my apartment door!)  She’s also doing a daily sketchbook project.
  • The Jealous Curator is doing a monthly “Creative Un-Block” challenge: January’s features altering copies of the same image in as many ways and with as many materials/media as one can imagine.

What are you planning for next year?  What grand experiments and adventures are getting your grin a little wider than usual?

Branching Out Opens Tomorrow

Salem Willows at Sunset, September 2014.  Photo by Meg Winikates

Salem Willows at Sunset, September 2014. Photo by Meg Winikates

The Art & Nature Center’s new show, Branching Out: Trees as Art opens tomorrow, and it’s going to be a fun day of tagua nut scrimshaw, bonsai demonstration, maple syrup and chocolate tasting, storytelling and musical performances, and more.  Learn how to engage in active meditation with a tree, hear participating artists discuss their work, or create your own visual art with data taken from the bioelectric energy of a potted plant in the Maker Lounge!  Programs run 10:30-4.  If you’re in the eastern MA/near NH area tomorrow, come say hi!

#ArtsMatter at the Create the Vote Gubernatorial Forum

On Tuesday, the non-partisan advocacy group, MassCreative hosted a forum in Worcester where all the gubernatorial candidates were invited to attend and talk to arts leaders and advocates about their platforms for supporting the arts in Massachusetts.  Most attended, though Republican Charlie Baker neither bothered to show up in person nor send a representative.  About 600 arts leaders, participants, and activists were in the audience, and they were both enthusiastic and determined to get some nitty-gritty answers to their questions about arts funding and state support.

MassCreative put together a summary of much of the tweeting that went on at the event here, and I also tweeted a number of the moments that caught my ear (find the whole set @mwinikates).  You can also find much of the same material from the evening covered in the candidates’ position surveys here.

Overall, I thought Don Berwick and Martha Coakley both had good and interesting points that got cheers and applause, and Steve Grossman clearly had support in the hall.  Falchuk was very focused on affordable housing and cost of living issues, and McCormick had a very business-minded approach to dealing with the arts, while Fisher seemed underprepared and tone-deaf to the concerns and realities of his audience.  Here are a few of the evening’s highlights:

(And here I am, catching up with Neil Gordon of the Discovery Museums, my old stomping ground,  and Dan Yaeger of NEMA.)

Plugging back in to the theme of the evening, in response to an audience question about how to get the legislature to get behind a gubernatorial arts initiative:

I agree, and I hope that MassCreative keeps up the good work in the time between now and the election (and after!).

Looking for more?  There’s another great round-up of the evening’s event over at Dig Boston.

 

Politics, the Arts, and Massachusetts’ Gubernatorial Race

masscreative

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.

Varying your Information Diet

Photo by Nevit Dilmen.  Creative Commons license.

Photo by Nevit Dilmen. Creative Commons license.

Remember that post I made a few weeks ago about Creativity in the Workplace?  Authors Rainey Tisdale and Linda Norris ran a related networking and creativity event at the USS Constitution Museum last week in cooperation with the NEMA-YEP group.

With the blood-and-attitude-shifting assistance of music and a dance circle, Tisdale and Norris led participants in a speed-networking creativity discussion, challenging each of us to consider and then share what we were passionate about, what we wanted more of from our jobs/careers, what we were good at, and how we could implement and incorporate into our daily routines elements of their steps to creative thought processes.

River tributaries, courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (public domain)

River tributaries, courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (public domain)

One of the steps they list to help prepare your mental ground for creativity is to vary your information diet.  With the easy availability of tailored information streams now (everything from RSS feeds to Twitter streams to Pandora channels), it’s easy to wrap yourself in a comfortable bubble of information you’ve essentially pre-selected.  One solution, of course, is to vary the tributaries that are feeding into your stream.  Here are a few quick and easy ways to do that:

Have a Tumblr? Freshen up your Dashboard!

A lot of museums and libraries have gotten into publishing fun stuff from their archives and collections, visitor images and videos, and even staff-created music videos on tumblr.  I recommend just poking around the museum tags until you find some that appeal.  Who doesn’t want neat and beautiful art and animals and whatever on their screen every day?

NPR has thoughtfully collected a list of their own and other public media tumblr blogs, featuring news, science, arts, politics, history, food, all of the above, and more.

The fun and passionate folks over at We Need Diverse Books are doing a summer reading series, where they recommend books by diverse authors and/or with diverse characters that share elements with better known works, ie ‘readers of Harry Potter will probably like Nnedi Okarafor’s Akata Witch.’  They’ve just started, so you have a whole summer of fun kids’ and YA lit recommendations ahead of you.

Looking for a few more ‘grown up’ reads? Try the folks at Go Book Yourself, where real live readers recommend 4 books you might like that have similar characteristics to a book you’ve read and liked.  (They also have a Twitter feed.)

Interesting Stuff in 140 Characters

I have such a love/hate relationship with Twitter.  People post all these cool links and then I end up with roughly a bajillion tabs waiting to be read.

Yes, thank you, New Scientist, exactly what I mean.  (You might want to follow that link, by the way, it leads to some really interesting book reviews!)

Aside from New Scientist, here are a few other feeds I follow that promote the kind of brain-popping curiosity experience I love:

  • Think Progress – lots of interesting and occasionally fairly terrifying news about global environmental, political, and other newsworthy news
  • Creative Nonfiction – for those of us who like our true stories to sound like stories
  • Education Week – largely, but not exclusively, an aggregator of news from all over US school systems
  • Crossed Genres – speculative fiction publishers with an emphasis on diverse story telling, in all the ways that can be interpreted
  • American Museum of Natural History – fun science facts, all the time!
  • Two Nerdy History Girls – a pair of authors who are also amateur historians.  Highlights the hilarious, wacky, and cool bits of history
  • Future of Museums – Some very museum-focused information, but also wide ranging idea pulling from other fields

There are, of course, many more, and if you have suggestions for me, feel free to add them in the comments!

Meanwhile, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by information overload, either, and remember to give yourself time to reflect and ponder and daydream and make those brain-popcorn connections between information and ideas…or in Norris and Tisdale’s term: Incubate.

 

The PEM contingent at the #creativemuseums DIY photobooth.  Yes, I'm the one with the sword.

The PEM contingent at the #creativemuseums DIY photobooth. Yes, I’m the one with the sword. Naturally. Don’t you think better with a lightsaber in hand?

 

Mindboggling Museum Resources Online

Beware, curious one, for the internet hath no bottom!

Beware, curious one, for the internet hath no bottom!

It is always exciting to see what museums are up to when it comes to making their collections and expertise available regardless of geography or gate fee.  Here are a few cool resources I’ve come across recently that are great for the teacher, writer, or perpetually curious mind:

British Library – The Romantics and Victorians – Primary and secondary sources (letters, articles, films, teachers’ notes and more), and thematic explorations of 22 authors of the Romantic and Victorian periods (roughly Jane Austen through Thomas Hardy) represented in the British Library collections.  (Rather makes me want to reread AS Byatt’s Possession…)

Metropolitan Museum of Art Back Catalogue – Catalogues, bulletins, online publications, and educator resources both current and archived from previous exhibitions and collection highlights, lots with full text, etc, readable online or downloadable in PDF.  And, for that matter, the Met’s Online Collection is downright jaw-dropping too.

NPR’s new Education blog – went straight to my RSS feed the day it launched, and I’m watching where it goes with great interest!

Source sadly defunct.  If you know how to credit this image creator, please let me know!

Source sadly defunct. If you know how to credit this image creator, please let me know!

And a few perennial favorites always worth a second (or sixtieth) look:

Exploratorium Learning Tools – Their set of podcasts, teacher resources, and activities to try at home or in the classroom is always good for a delve, and the folks in the Tinkering Studio have a great maker-centric set of engineering and design projects too.

Kennedy Center’s ArtsEdge – Always a new bunch of lesson plans, and a very easy to navigate guide to the (relatively new) national arts curriculum standards, very helpful!  I for one was thrilled to see a lesson plan on Trees in Nature and Art that I can add to my resources for Branching Out.

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.

Surfing, Tumbling, and Pinning

I run across a lot of fun stuff surfing the wilds of the internet, much of which I stash away to share with you here in an eventual Brain Popcorn post.  Sometimes it’s from an article on my reader (and blessings on the day I decided to invest in upkeeping my RSS feeds, or I’d miss so much cool and wacky content!), and sometimes it’s a neat link on Twitter, but recently there’s been a fair amount of it on tumblr and Pinterest.  I initially resisted both sites because I need more ways to fritter away time on the internet like I need a ten-ton elephant standing on my head, but between a few influential articles and blog posts from people I admire, not to mention a few sessions at the recent National Art Educators Association conference in NYC, I decided to jump straight in.

art & nature center pinboard

Museums on Pinterest

If you search Pinterest users for ‘museum’ you get a fairly large number of results, which I initially found surprising, especially the heavy concentration of children’s museums, though in a lot of ways the art museums are a perfect fit.  I haven’t looked at all their boards, but here are a few folks doing interesting things on Pinterest:

SFMOMA – Thematic collections of elements of their collection, and one cool and self-referential board that highlights where they turn up in the press.

Metropolitan Museum of Art – More thematic collections, and I’m particularly fond of the way they used a quote in the description section of their ‘cat’ board.  (also a great resource to get to other cool museum boards: check out the list of who the Met’s following! I’m particularly keen to see what ends up on the crowdsourced Future of Museums board.)

Met Teens – The museum’s teen advisory group runs this set of boards, which they use to highlight student work (both written and visual) especially in response to museum collections, draw correlations between historical fashions and modern, and advertise upcoming teen-focused events at the museum.  Very cool!

Not convinced?  Right before I was putting this post out into the world, fellow museum enthusiast Colleen Dilenschneider over on Know Your Own Bone wrote a fantastically well-researched set of arguments about why Pinterest is a useful investment for the extended museum community: 5 Reasons for Museums to get on Pinterest right now.

Museums on Tumblr

This is a bit more of a stretch: I don’t actually find Tumblr to be as easy a site to navigate or search.  Simply tracking the ‘museum’ tag gets you interesting photos from people’s vacations, but locating specific museum projects on Tumblr is harder.

Eye Spy: Fake or Real? – This was actually the project that introduced me to Tumblr, which was a game we designed to go with our “Playing with Perception” show at PEM last year.  I really liked the format that our team put together, and I haven’t seen any similar game-style Tumblr projects out there.  (But I’d love to, so if you know of any, do tell!)

SFMOMA (again) – Their general feed is interesting, but I particularly like their ArtGameLab tag, where they share visitor photos etc. from their visitor-designed game projects accessible online and in the galleries.

Have you run across any cool organizational projects on Tumblr or Pinterest?  Share them here! 

Or, of course, you could just come find me there! (fair warning, what you see there is often what happens in my brain before it makes it into a coherent Popcorn post)

Brain Popcorn on Tumblr
Brain Popcorn on Pinterest

Twelve Days of Popcorn (Day 4): A Better Scavenger Hunt

The kids pile off the bus, clutching clipboards and pencils.  Your heart sinks.  Is this another boringly basic ‘find the painting by Copley with a teapot in it’ scavenger hunt?  It doesn’t have to be.  Check out this great post from the Smithsonian Museum of American History’s blog: “New Take on the Old Museum Field Trip.”  Fill your field trip ‘yearbook’ with the figures of American History — Best Couple, Most Likely to Win a Medal, etc.  What a great way to spark conversations and force some actual reasoning to defend your vote!

It’s possible to do this at art and science museums too.   In an art exhibit, even with very young children, you could ask ‘what would you hang above your couch?  Why?’ and of course, there’s the fabulous ‘What if?’ which is at the core of any hands-on science museum.  Check out more recommendations for such ‘juicy questions’ at the Exploratorium’s Group Inquiry by Visitors at Exhibits (GIVE Program).  Find the directions for the Juicy Question Game and suggestions on how do do this on the exhibit floor with a family or school group.  Brain Popcorn + Juicy Questions = Great Food for Thought!

On the fourth day of popcorn, these ideas gave me glee: four juicy questions, three chugging trains, two coral reefs, and a pop-up folding snow-bedecked tree…