MCNVoices: Koven Smith and Liz Filardi

Koven Smith and Liz Filardi discuss innovation at museums large and small

 

  

 

Koven J. Smith is the Director of Digital Adaptation at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas, Austin. Prior to the Blanton, Koven served in various digital roles at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Denver Art Museum, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Liz Filardi is Senior Product Manager for The Collections at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She has worked at The Met for four years, and holds an M.F.A. in Design and Technology from Parsons School of Design at The New School.

 

Koven and Liz caught up over a few weeks in May on MCN’s Slack project. The following interview is from the chat log, edited for readability.

Explore their conversation which ranges from museum culture to food service and everything in between. Some of the key topics are: museum culture, small museums vs. big museums, disruption, focusing on product, on digital staffing, on commercial vs. not-for-profit tech, and outtakes & non sequiturs.

 

On museum culture:

Liz:
The Met’s Slack project is open to anyone in the organization, so we have to remind folks periodically to not post anything in the #general channel that they wouldn’t say in the staff cafeteria. You remember the staff cafeteria, don’t you?

Koven:
Is Carva still making sandwiches? That dude was awesome.

Liz:
I don’t know! But I recently noticed a sign in the cafeteria that read something like, “As of 2003, no smoking is permitted.” Did people smoke in the cafeteria when you were here!?

Koven:
No, but monocles and top hats were still required dress for gentlemen when I arrived in 2005. It was a strange time.

As someone who had always planned on being in museums, did you go straight to The Met first? Where do you think you’d go if/when you leave the Met?

Liz:
The Met is my first museum job. But one summer when I was in grad school, I was the Social Media Intern at the New Museum. It was before institutions had figured out social media, and I basically set up their accounts and made some recommendations on how they might want to approach it.

I was absolutely hooked—I loved the prospect of encouraging institutions to develop more authenticity, trust and rapport, both with their staff and with audiences, in a totally new way. After I got my M.F.A., I made websites and did motion graphics as a freelancer, and then became a Producer for a boutique digital agency and really enjoyed it.

I think as much about going to other verticals as I do about going to other museums eventually. At the moment, I’m pretty happy at The Met. Great opportunities continue to arise. I have always told myself that I would leave when it got boring. Fortunately, it has always been challenging and interesting, and it has always felt worthwhile. The problem space is very meaty.

Did you feel culture shock going from a large museum like The Met to Denver (and then to the Blanton)?

Koven:
I don’t know if I’d describe it as shock as much as pleasant surprise at how much I was able to accomplish in shorter amounts of time. I was so accustomed to anything museum tech-related taking years of cajoling to accomplish, that to just get to work without having to be too devious about it was pretty liberating. I was worried about leaving The Met, though, because it’s the top of the heap, right? What other museum job could possibly be better? It seems silly to me now, but I was more conscious at the time of what it would look like to colleagues to leave a museum like The Met for anywhere else.

Liz:
Really? I think there is such a righteous opportunity at smaller museums! It’s like a completely different animal! I would relish the chance to work at a small museum some day. I could imagine that it’s easier to show your impact at a small museum, whereas, when you’re in a large team with interdependencies with lots of other teams, you have to sort of explain what you did a lot more. At a small museum, when you take a risk, it is your risk, and you have to work through it.

Koven:
That’s definitely true. One thing that appealed to me at the Blanton was that the distance between having an idea and executing it was so short. The risk is greater, as I don’t have a huge team around me to mitigate failure (or capitalize on success, for that matter) when it happens, but it also means the opportunity for impact is much greater.

 

On disruption:

Koven:
Liz, part of our conversation on Friday got me thinking about “disruption,” which is a thing we say all the time without thinking about what it really implies, beyond just “the work is different now.” I want to see if we could get at a good definition of that word.

For me, disruption at a museum implies that either (or both) the product or the process are now unknown. I feel like disruption is essentially the measure of the distance between what museum staff think the product/process is and what the public wants it to be.

Liz:
That is exactly what happened in the aughts and early teens with social media and mobile devices. All of a sudden, if you weren’t in these spaces, you were irrelevant. For folks working in museums, that came as a shock: how could we be irrelevant if we are making evergreen content about a world class collection!?

Koven:
That is awesome. I’d say that that very question defined a lot of questionable museum behavior between 2005 and 2015.

Liz:
But the irrelevant part was not the content, per se. Even the best content had little value if people could not tolerate the user experience, which, at the time, was predominantly that of websites designed for desktop computers and never tested on mobile devices. It was difficult for the sector to face that people were experiencing content via many other streams—content platforms and social channels, responsive websites, apps. There may have been a slight denial or arrogance that said that people should be so devoted to the preservation of culture, history, and art, that they are willing to traverse terrible user experiences in order to feel the euphoria of the most excellent content in the world.

Koven:
I sense a little sarcasm there, and I totally approve of that. But for sure, I remember being at The Met during the “nobody will want to use Wikipedia because it is not written by experts” days. Thinking that Wikipedia might win out was, if you can imagine, a controversial opinion then.

Liz:
I can totally imagine that. And that feeling was perhaps compounded by the very understandable shock of realizing the staggering cost of pivoting strategy to build up these new user experiences.

So disruption occurred because people were suddenly, unforgivingly not interested in visiting desktop-only websites, and museum workers thought maybe they ought to. The lesson is that the vehicle for any content or audience-engagement experience, the product, has to be nimble and adaptable.

Koven:
Oh, that’s very interesting. I think we’re defining “product” slightly differently. For me, “product” refers more to the sum total output of a museum: exhibitions, social media, education, catalogues, etc. I think a museum could be really dedicated to social media but still have a “product” that is not in confluence with public expectation.

So, what does a museum do when the public doesn’t want the product it’s selling anymore? For many museums, the answer to that question is always “improve the product.” For many of us doing tech/digital/education in museums, it’s “make a different product that people actually want.”

Liz:
In other words, when the public doesn’t want the museum experience, some of us believe the imperative response is to improve that “product” by presenting better and better exhibitions, for example. But for those of us in technology or audience-focused departments, we would approach the same situation by saying, “OK, let’s come up with something else entirely. Target Audience, you say you don’t want a traditional museum exhibition, and that you want a date night. Ok, we will create that experience.” Is that what you mean?

Koven:
Yeah, pretty much. I want to be clear, though–I think both “improve the product” and “redefine the product” are perfectly appropriate responses to disruption. It’s just important to recognize what kind of disruption you’re dealing with.

Liz:
But certainly, it is less likely that people will be in favor of redefining the product if they believe that the function of the museum is exclusively to preserve art, history, and culture, as this is not so much about making products for public consumption.

I believe the debate between the two approaches is at the heart of how we define mission-serving activities, and that the very debate itself is vital to both our ability to deliver a product that people want and to preserve art, history, and culture.

Koven:
I think that’s exactly right.

 

On digital staff(ing):

Liz:
This leads me to your very position! Tell me more about the role of Director of Digital Adaptation. How did that title come about? How are you all adapting? Is there a “mission complete” state associated with your role, whereby once you achieve it, your role disappears?

Koven:
I worked as a contractor for the Blanton for about six months before I came on full-time, so I was working with Simone, our director, to figure out exactly what the approach to quote-unquote digital should be at the Blanton given its staffing, resources, size, goals, etc. “Director of Digital Adaptation” as a title evolved out of that discussion, because Simone and I realized that for digital initiatives to work at the Blanton, they’d have to be the kinds of things that could be gradually integrated into ongoing staff practice over time.

 

Liz:
I have long felt that as long as the rest of the museum world puts “digital” in a box and debates whether it is worth the trouble, there will be missed opportunities to revolutionize the rest of the museum departments, and the Digital departments of every museum will continue to be internally perceived as threatening.

Koven:
I think that’s true. Digital practice in museums has moved from “helpful” to “threatening” for more traditional museum roles in a short amount of time. I think that’s because tech was, for a long time, about doing mostly “normal” museum things better (that collections database will replace the card catalog!), but now it’s more about changing the very nature of those “normal” things. And that can definitely be seen by some as threatening.

 

On commercial vs. not-for-profit tech:

[After a somewhat lengthy conversation about why we haven’t yet colonized the Moon and Koven’s confession to growing up as an “EPCOT kid”, we got to this.]

 

Liz:
Yesterday we briefly touched upon a topic that got us both a little riled up! Why is current technological innovation so focused on wealth hoarding and so much less focused on advancing the human race?

Koven:
I think about this a lot, partially because I see it reflected in my own museum work, too. In the earlier days of museum tech, so much of what was being done had to be built from scratch. That meant that we had to attempt to correctly identify problems/issues, and then build things that would address those problems.

In the last 10 years (or at least, post-iPhone), a lot of museum tech has transitioned to using commercial tech for everything. Don’t roll your own, because Facebook already kind of does the thing you’re trying to do. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (much of my work at the Blanton is only possible because we’re building on/with commercial tech), but it does mean that we now often frame the problems in terms of their already-known commercial solutions. That also means that non-profit tech has almost no say in what problems are defined, because there’s no margin in that.

Liz:
I thought about this while meeting with Jeff Inscho last week too, because he was telling me about the Knight Foundation grant for innovation at museums, and the work that he will be doing with the Studio. I really like the model that he’s got in place, where the Studio is a hub of organizational change for all of the institutions they serve.

When we pool resources together, there’s the opportunity to create something much more impactful, more universally applicable, something with legs, something that has the real potential to be relevant. In some ways, this opportunity characterizes the unique position of the museum technology sector: if it is worthwhile to invest in innovation in the sector without the expectation of growing wealth, we may be somewhat free to explore innovation that quantifies value in terms of human experience, not wealth.

Koven:
I like what Jeffrey’s doing at the Carnegie Studio, and I think Carnegie’s Dawn Chorus and similar types of projects have some real potential to change the conversation about the goals and meaning of tech. Being in Austin gives me an interesting perspective on that, since every year SXSW comes through and there’s very little non-profit tech represented. Then you factor in the way that Uber and Lyft spent millions of dollars here in an attempt to circumvent the law, let’s just say I’m a bit more skeptical than most about the true goals of a lot of commercial tech.

That’s why I like some of what people like Anil Dash are doing. “Dawn Chorus” feels similar to that; it’s  a demonstration of what non-profit tech can do.

Liz:
That’s a good point. Non-profit technology is always considered behind the times, but the reality is that the constraints are very different. The sector is getting smarter about where to focus resources, which is leading to more “hits” like SFMOMA’s Detour and the Pen at Cooper-Hewitt. These things are starting to feel mainstream.

It probably also helps that there has not been a mainstream technological disruption since mobile devices became explosively popular ten years ago.

Koven:
Yeah, absolutely. It’s an interesting question to think about: could the next big technological disruption actually come from the non-profit sector? Is that even possible?

Liz:
That’s an interesting question! I still wonder about sustainability, which is a success measure that commercial technology doesn’t have to answer to as much because it is protected by wealth, and yet sustainability is vital to the continued relevance of non-profits. How do we make sustainability sexy?

Koven:
Oh man, that’s a good question, and maybe something that we should keep thinking about as we hit MCN’s 50th. In the meantime, I just want to say how wonderful it’s been talking to you! Let’s do this again all the time!

 

Liz:
Koven, it has been so fun, and enlightening and inspiring to speak with you! Let’s definitely keep the conversation going!

 

 

Outtakes

[Our conversation produced a few bon mots that we couldn’t fit into the final narrative. So here are a few choice outtakes from our conversation while the credits roll.]

my office has no windows, but it does have an extra door. occasionally men in brown jump suits walk through it.

because blogs detract from a museum’s authority, you know? this is a true fact

i was deployed on the project as an “expert”

I’m an old bear.

stay gold, pony boy, stay gold.

We got to the moon with human computers!!! Insane!!

but also, that guy who told me not to put my feet on the desk? he sucked.

what!? that’s so tessitura

I blame Ronald Reagan

so occasionally one of us would say something like, “quiet, or you’ll get us both killed!”

:money_mouth_face:

all i know is the registrar gives us delicious baked goods when things go well

so you’re often tasked with re-engineering bad practice, but on the front end?

haha burn!

NO MERCY!

And when I came out of the bathroom, the bean bags were empty

:slightly_smiling_face:

 

You can find Koven and Liz lurking on MCN’s Slack project most days. Feel free to hit them up in the #general channel to keep the discussion going.

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#MCN50: A Conversation with Lanae Spruce and Ravon Ruffin

A Conversation with Lanae and Ravon on Creating Intentional Spaces in Museums

Ravon Ruffin​ is a D.C.-based museum consultant and creative. She received her M.A. in American Studies/Museums & Material Culture from the George Washington University, and B.S. in Anthropology from VCU. Urban sustainability, digital culture and Black Feminist discourse are the lenses through which she seeks to redefine the museum as a community space. She is interested in the acts of self-preservation social and digital media platforms inspire. She twitters @afroxmericana and grams @afroxmericana.

Lanae Spruce​ is currently the Manager of Social Media & Online Engagement at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. She is working to build the museum’s digital media presence to foster learning, creativity and shared discovery as a means to transform our understanding of the African American experience, American history, race, and modern society. She holds a master’s degree in Internet Marketing and is a curious creative interested in opportunities to connect the intersections of technology, race, social justice, and history. Follow her online @_Blackmuses

Instagram Story Transcript #MCN50

To @afroxmericana from @_BlackMuses.

Q1:​ I remember being so excited to find your blog! What inspired you to create an online space for brown girls in museums? #MCN50

A1:​ Being in academia, I was reminded everyday that people of color are often excluded from conversations on inclusion, often due to economic and racial factors that keep them from getting into the room. Later as an intern, I realized there are barriers that keep marginalized communities from even reaching the door. #MCN50

Q2:​ Is it important for marginalized people to see their stories and issues being confronted bycultural institutions in digital spaces? #MCN50

A2: ​Absolutely! Without visibility, it is hard to imagine yourself in the field. It is even more difficult to imagine yourself making an impact. Digital spaces allow people of color to explore their identities in ways that are not often reflected in history or culture at large. Cultural institutions have an obligation to their audiences. To ignore them in the digital landscape, is to do them a huge disservice. The online has become another entry into the museum, and must remain open to a multitude of stories and experiences. #MCN50

Q3:​ How can museums create intentional inclusive spaces and build community? #MCN50

A3: ​Intention is a great start. Many cultural institutions allow their privilege to go unchecked. I always say, the community must invite you in before you can determine what matters to them–not the other way around. If you have not listened to your communities needs, you’ve already excluded them from the space. It is then that you can craft programming around your museum that serves your audience. #MCN50

Q4: ​Being online all day may sometimes be exhausting, but it’s part of the job. What is your favorite recipe for self-care? #MCN50

A4: ​One of the most important aspects of self-care for me in online spaces is bringing my WHOLE self into the conversation. My Twitter bio reads “I prefer to be ratchet in institutional spaces,” as an acknowledgement of my full self. One aspect of myself does not exist without the other, and they often inform one another. My timeline is an ode to Beyonce and museum baddies. #MCN50

Q5: ​Give me a song that is the soundtrack to a typical day at work. #MCN50

A5:​ “Coconut Oil” by Lizzo. You can listen to it on our Brown Girls Museum Blog Spotify playlist after this conversation of course. But that song gets it! Between checking emails, drafting tweets, reading comments, following trends and diving into research, *pours coconut oil over entire life.* That song reminds me to check in on myself throughout the day, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s upbeat. #MCN50

To @_BlackMuses from @afroxmericana.

Q1:​ If you weren’t working in a museum, where would you be? MCN50

A1: ​Somewhere being fancy getting free lunch while sitting on my bouncy ball and petting my puppy! Yes, I’m at work. Lol. But seriously, I never thought that I’d find myself working in the museum field. It was by pure luck that I happened to land a job at the largest museum dedicated to African American history and culture in the world. I’m living a dream and honored to keep the stories of my ancestors alive through digital platforms. #MCN50

Q2: ​You are tasked with managing a social media account for a cultural institution, how have you strived to create inclusive spaces? #MCN50

A2: ​From the very beginning, I thought about how important it was to build a social media strategy that not only reflected the museum content, but celebrated that history and culture in a way that was not only authentic, but also empowering. I wanted someone to be able to see stories on our social media platforms, to not only learn about tragedies, but to be able to celebrate triumphs. One day we may tweet about the history of the “Po boy” and another we may encourage you to share memories of you and your momma tending to your kitchen with a hot comb over the stove. MCN50

Q3:​ Did you ever invent your own job or job title? #MCN50

A3: ​lol. Well, kinda. I think that I was able to show the value of social media as an engagement tool for our museum– and that later manifested into a social media department with 4 full-time staff members and is one of the largest museum social media teams. Full disclosure, I’m still hiring! Lol. But I have two interns to help us get through summer. MCN50

Q4: ​Pick one person that you rely on to help you do your job. #MCN50

A4: ​You. Duh. Seriously, it has been amazing working with you over the last year! I learned so much about art and museums and other smart stuff. I am happy that we are able to bounce ideas and think about news to do it #ForTheCulture. #MCN50

Q5: ​Tell me about presenting and attending your first MCN conference. How was it? #MCN50

A5: ​Omg. Literally, I finally felt at home! I found a space that was INTENTIONAL about making sure that i could bring my FULL self into a conference space. From the pronoun stickers on the badge, to the theme and presenters, it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had at a conference. MCN is the place that I feel comfortable discussing the both the virtues of Black Twitter and the woes of getting staff to participate in social media projects.

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MCN History with Chuck Patch

Post by Chuck Patch, MCN President 2002-03

 

 

Fig. 1-2 MCN Archives Dive Team

When I joined a motley group of MCN regulars for the Archive Dive at the Smithsonian Institution in January of this year, I must admit that there was a huge nostalgic impulse involved. Among us, we represented something like 40 years of MCN’s 50-year history, with David Bridge, who was part of the organization in the 1970’s, and Charles Zange (who I doubt was even a glimmer in his mother’s eye when I attended my first meeting in 1986) marking the extremes of that span. Several of us were past presidents (the old joke used to be that if you attended 3 consecutive meetings, you’d be asked to join the board. Give presentations at those meetings, and you’d be elected President.)

We were brought together by the indispensable Marla Misunas, who may have single-handedly saved MCN’s bacon on several occasions. I’d heard about this archive for years, and I was curious about the early days of the institution. I’d met Everett Ellin, credited with founding MCN in 1967, when the Museum Computer Network was really imagined as a physical network. But the years between 1967 and sometime around 1974, when MCN found a home in SUNY, at Stony Brook under the leadership of David Vance, were largely a mystery to me. I really wanted to see the documentation of that 1986 meeting, when as the new systems manager at The Historic New Orleans Collection, I functioned as the errand runner for my boss, Rosanne McCaffrey, who was that year’s program chair. The 1986 meeting, I have come to realize, was a pivotal moment in the life of the organization, where it was shaking off a past that had been slipping away for years.

Fig. 3 – Page from 1968 program

Fig. 4 – Music analysis

 

The proper history of MCN is being knocked together by people who really know what they’re talking about – most notably Richard Urban and Marla Misunas (see their excellent history at http://mcn.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/HistoryofMCN.pdf.) I’m not one of those people. But as I think back to that 1986 meeting, and compare it to the subsequent history I both experienced, and found in the archive at the Smithsonian, it occurs to me that MCN has gone through several of these tipping points, where groups of passionately devoted leaders ceded to changing interests in the field just barely in time to keep the organization from sinking into irrelevancy and worse, insolvency. While I’ll probably be helpfully contradicted by more knowledgeable historians of the organization, it’s hard not come away from a read of the early letters, meeting agendas, and board reports (following the incorporation of MCN in 1972) with the sense of an organization built around the creation of a tangible asset. The Griphos system, a museum collection description system (it was still far too early to describe it as a “Collections Management” system) developed by Jack Heller was at the center of MCN’s origin story. It was essentially the great-great-great-grandmother of an Open Source museum system, except that it was written in machine code for an IBM mainframe. MCN membership was available at the institutional level only. The early get-togethers were small, and conceived of primarily as user group meetings. Sessions dealt either with theoretical issues (indexing terms for describing works of art) or cool things you could do with Griphos. And the range of cool things that were attempted were impressive. Meeting agendas, starting from the 1968 meeting at the Met, and will into the ‘70’s include sessions on archaeological description, the uses of databases for conservation documentation, the analysis of musical form, and, in a pre-graphical computer universe, the description of visual elements in museum artifacts. The themes were strikingly visionary, and as the decade progressed, it became clear to attendees that what you could do with a computer was far more interesting than what system you did it with.

Fig. 5 – Report on failure of grant

By the end of the decade, it was obvious that no institution or funding agency was very interested in Griphos itself, but plenty of people were interested in the organization, and the potential for computers in museums. It was a fact embedded in the 1972 incorporation, which essentially transformed the organization from a physical to a professional network. But as often happens, this essential fact was difficult for its founders to recognize. Plaintive accounts of failed attempts at funding appear often in the archive.

Partly from the financial pressure of its leaking budget, but also because it just seemed an obvious move, the MCN opened up to individual memberships.

The 1986 meeting was widely regarded as a turning point for the organization. Ron Kley was elected as only the second president the MCN’s history. The last of the old guard leadership from the days of Everett Ellin and Jack Heller, he succeeded David Vance, who had taken over from Heller and served as the MCN’s president so long (1971-1985) that he might as well have been the MCN.  Perhaps incorrectly, I have a lingering memory of grumbling from new upstarts at the meeting over this continuation of the old leadership. But for the first time, the meeting had an exhibitors’ “area” – one end of the modestly-sized ballroom that comfortably fit all the attendees. The handful of exhibitors included some who were marketing Collections Management Systems, some of which even ran on micro-computers, which had become the bread and butter of the meeting. The growing interest in multi-media, which had percolated for the previous decade

Fig. 6 – Spectra v3 no 4 1976

fused with this theme when Howard Besser presented his graphical T-shirt database (showing screenshots with projected 35mm slides, of course) and a baby-faced Alan Newman, from the Art Institute of Chicago, demonstrated a graphical database showing images from their collection on a Macintosh that sported a gigantic 20-megabyte external hard drive. (You practically had to shove your way through the tightly packed crowd around his table to get a look at it.) Multi-media on laser disc and CD-ROM came to dominate the meetings from the end of the 80’s until the Internet exploded in the early 90’s. Toward the end of the meeting, a panel consisting of a mix of vendors and museum professionals (another innovation) led a discussion on the future of the organization that could charitably be described as spirited, and was certainly voluble.

Fig. 7 – Image of Spectra on New Orleans

After 1986, the vendor area became a hall. Simultaneous sessions were introduced. The meetings grew in size and sophistication as MCN forged alliances with other cultural organizations, and even spun off one (CIMI). All of this is reflected in the archive by the heft of the yearly programs, which had reached over 130 pages in length by 1991.

Fig. 8 – Cover of Santa Monica Program

This wasn’t the last time the MCN had to pivot in order to survive. Having presided over one of the MCN’s occasional near-death experiences in the early 2000’s, I learned that it’s usually at the fringes of that the future shows up, but it’s really hard to tell if that session on that blue-sky thing is the future, or just another dumb alleyway. But the programs, letters, board reports (alas, hardly any photos) demonstrate that the things that the organization ultimately turned to, and thrived upon, were being discussed at the meetings years before they became vital.

 

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#MCN50 Voices: Rebecca Friday interviews Yvel Guelcé 

 

This year MCN celebrates its 50th anniversary. Just as MCN has established a network of established and emerging professionals, #MCN50 Voices brings members together, old and new, near and far.

 

As a brand new member to the MCN community, Rebecca Friday, a digital media production and museum interpretation freelancer currently at the National Gallery,  was happy to hear about all the great volunteer opportunities surrounding the 50th anniversary and jumped at the chance to participate in the #MCN50 Voices project. A few weeks ago, she chatted with Yvel Guelcé, Director of Infrastructure Technology at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, about the MCN community, career trajectories, and the future of technology in museums.

Yvel Guelcé headshot Rebecca Friday profile photos with art

Yvel Guelcé and Rebecca Friday

 

Unlike me, who attended undergrad and grad school with the intention of working in/with museums, Yvel didn’t come to this position through the most traditional of paths—he started his career in sports. As an undergraduate at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, he decided to study computer technology, figuring that it could ultimately take him anywhere. He worked a few odd jobs after school (who doesn’t?) before landing at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). However, it was the mentorship of a talented boss that brought him into the museum world, where he’s been ever since.

 

Yvel impressed upon me the importance of enjoying and respecting who you work with and for. When his boss at NCAA, Rhonda Winter, took a job at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, she called him after a year and ask him to join. Yvel said yes without hesitation. I love this story because Yvel was willing to enter a completely new field based on his confidence in a mentor. And it worked out! He’s been working in museums for the last 13 years and continues to enjoy it. When Rhonda left the Indianapolis Museum of Art two years later, Yvel briefly considered moving on as well. Fortunately, Yvel clicked instantly with his new boss, Rob Stein. Yvel says he feels like his career really launched and he dove head-first into art history-related technology and ways to make it interesting to visitors.

 

Again, this impressed upon me, the value of a supportive and inspiring manager, supervisor, or mentor.

 

I have only worked contract and freelance projects, both in museums and for museums. So Yvel’s trajectory couldn’t differ from mine more. However, it was nice to chat with someone who held many of the same core beliefs about museums, technology, and the field in general. We agreed that most museums are still just in the beginning stages of adapting technology.  Museum staff are often hesitant at first—technology and change can be scary! However, the results are often positive in the long run. In my role as freelance content writer and producer, I am constantly thinking about the visitor and creating the most dynamic and inspiring experience in the museum. Technology has enabled us to diverge from the traditional and reach visitors who might not ordinarily feel comfortable in the museum space.

 

In his current position as Director of Infrastructure Technology at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (TCMI), Yvel collaborates with the six people on his team who take care of the entire gallery’s technology and staff needs. Gallery technology at TCMI accounts for 70% of his work load, which includes planning, implementation, and maintenance. Currently, the museum uses touch screen interactives, lighting, sound, and a new interactive which includes a VR headset. This interactive allows the visitor to feel as if they are a tightrope walker in a circus act.

Women using a VR headset at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis

VR at The Children’s Museum

 

Since beginning at TCMI in 2013, Yvel has noticed that it is more focused on family learning than when he worked in an art museum. He also feels that his current institution is more collaborative and open to idea sharing across the institution. He says this is “Not necessarily a strength, it’s a different approach.”

 

The biggest challenge his institution faces? “Budget is a big one, always trying to get the most of the resources available,” Yvel tells me. Also, “getting outside of your space to learn new things.” Although Yvel and I share a passion for exploring new museums and cultural institutions, he conceded that it is often a challenge to widen the sphere of his everyday tasks. But when he can he enjoys attending conferences, learning new skills, and visiting new places.

 

When not working at the museum, Yvel likes to spend as much time as he can with his two kids. As he told me, “They are my hobby.” Probably the best way to get away from screens? Camping, cub scouts, hiking, and working the yard.

 

As a new member of the MCN community, I was curious about Yvel’s thoughts on it. He assured me that it’s a great community that that is diverse and welcoming. Although he might be biased because he has served on the board, after attending the conference for 9 or 10 years, I think I’ll trust his judgment. Although Yvel has yet to attend the infamous karaoke sessions, he explained that he has made many friends from many institutions over the years and it this has served him well. I was so grateful to have the opportunity to dive into MCN with the 50 Voices project and look forward to seeing everyone in November in Pittsburgh!

 

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2017 Call for MCN Board Directors (open June 1-30, 2017)

MCN board meeting

We’re pleased to announce the 2017 call for candidates to be considered for a seat on the Board of Directors of MCN. This year, MCN is looking to recruit five (5) board members to replace those whose term will be ending in November.

WHY SERVE ON THE MCN BOARD OF DIRECTORS?

MCN is a welcoming and candid community of professionals passionate about empowering individuals and their museums to address challenges and embrace opportunities within the evolving digital landscape.  

For many, serving on the board of MCN is a way to give back to an organization and a community that have helped them throughout their museum careers, but you will also benefit greatly from the experience. Serving on the Board of MCN also gives you an opportunity to be part of a team of talented museum professionals who, together with MCN’s Executive Director, shape the strategic direction of the organization and constantly think about new ways to better serve the needs of our community.

WHAT WE’RE LOOKING FOR

2017 is a milestone year for MCN as it celebrates its 50th anniversary! Founded in 1967 by a group of museum professionals eager to explore how computers could change their work and that of museums, MCN has provided a space for our community to connect, share their experience and learn from each other, in order that we advance the thinking around emerging technologies in museums. Much has changed in the past 50 years, but what sparked MCN to life then, remains unchanged today – this is a testament to its vibrancy and relevance as we continue to lead our museums into the future.

For MCN to have a meaningful impact on its community, it is essential that the Board of Directors be composed of committed individuals that have the relevant skills and a wide range of perspectives to effectively lead the organization. Guided by the current 2016-2018 Strategic Plan, MCN is on a growth path, so this is an exciting time to be joining our Board.

We’re looking for leaders in our field to help MCN plan the next 3-year strategic priorities (2019-2021), and to contribute their expertise to make MCN the “go-to” professional support and development organization in our sector.

While all members of the community with an interest in serving MCN can certainly apply, we are particularly interested in candidates who bring specific expertise, or have a background and experience in one or more of the following key areas:

  • Membership development: In its 50th year, MCN is reexamining what it means to be a member organization. We are seeking a board member with the skills and experience to help us strategically develop, implement, and grow a new membership offer that best serves MCN members and the institutions as well as the community as a whole.
  • Fundraising / development expertise: To support its expansion in various programmatic areas, MCN is seeking a board member with skills in business development, strategic partnerships, sponsorship and fundraising development.
  • Strategy / planning / big picture thinking: In mid 2018, MCN will undertake a major new 3-year strategic planning process (2019-2021). We are seeking a board member with skills at strategic planning, big picture thinking, and organizational development to play a central role in the creation and roll out of our next 3-year strategic plan.
  • Marketing and community development: Communicating with our members and the broader MCN community is at the heart of what we do. We are seeking a board member with skills at marketing and community development to focus on the organization’s brand, messaging, and communication practices, particularly as we move into a new strategic planning cycle, and renew focus on our membership efforts.
  • Organizational diversity and inclusive practice: Conscious that diversity is only good as an idea when it is put in practice, we are recruiting for a dedicated board member to champion building inclusive practices into the organization’s fabric so that MCN is able to serve marginalised and underrepresented populations within our community and beyond.

WHAT’S EXPECTED OF MCN BOARD MEMBERS?

MCN’s Board of Directors is both a governance and a working board. In addition to the fiduciary duties expected from Directors of a 503(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, MCN Directors are also expected to volunteer some of their time and efforts in managing the organization according to MCN’s mission as well as the needs and interests of our community.

As a working board, MCN Directors are expected to dedicate about 8-12 hours per month working on MCN business, including attending  a monthly conference-call board meeting and other committee meetings. Additionally, they are also expected to attend two (2) annual board meetings in person: one the week of MCN’s Annual Conference (typically in November), and another, generally in the spring, the week of the Museums and the Web conference wherever that location may be. Directors cannot be compensated and MCN does not pay Directors for travel or other related expenses.

Once appointed, MCN Directors serve a three-year term. We strongly encourage you to familiarize yourself with MCN’s By-Laws.

As a reminder, the following section from the MCN Governance Guidelines lists the key expectations from MCN Board members:

  • 8-12 hours per month, depending upon activities
  • Play an active leadership role in delivering on MCN’s overall business in general and on assigned strategic priorities specifically
  • Attend and prepare for each Board meeting
  • Be prepared and willing to lead the Board and/or a committee
  • Join and participate actively in the activities of at least one committee
  • Follow, participate and contribute to online Board discussions in a timely manner
  • Make every reasonable effort to bring financial support to the Organization annually from external sources, e.g. identify and introduce sponsor prospects and secure sponsorships
  • Leverage personal relationships with others (including corporations, professional service firms, vendors, foundations, and individuals) to assist the staff of the Organization with implementing fundraising strategies, including adding names of potential sources of support to the Organization’s mailing list
  • Actively participate in the development of the annual conference
  • Attend the annual conference
  • Actively participate in MCN fundraising efforts
  • Travel at their own cost (MCN doesn’t cover travel expenses for Board members) to attend two (2) annual board meetings in person: one the week of MCN’s Annual Conference (typically in November), and another, generally in the spring, the week of the Museums and the Web conference wherever that location may be
  • Directors cannot be compensated and MCN does not pay Directors for travel or other related expenses

WHO WE’RE LOOKING FOR

MCN encourages people from diverse backgrounds, institutions, and experiences to apply. MCN does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression and identity, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in any of its activities or operations.

In addition, to ensure that a diverse range of institutions are represented on the Board, each individual institution may be represented by only one member of the Board at any given time. Candidates are encouraged to review the current Board members’ list below to check the institution that they are currently affiliated with.

WHAT’S THE NOMINATION AND APPOINTMENT PROCESS?

To be considered by our Nominating Committee, all you have to do is fill out an Application Form. If you believe someone you know would be a qualified candidate, please encourage them to apply. You will need to complete the Application Form by Friday June 30, 2017 at 11:59pm PT.  We will let you know if we require additional information about your application.

WHAT’S NEXT?

MCN’s 2017 Nominating Committee will review all applications and propose a slate of candidates to the Board of Directors for discussion, followed by a vote on the individual appointment of each proposed candidate for Director. We anticipate notifying successful candidates by early September 2017. The newly appointed Directors will also be announced on this page and shared with the MCN community on MCN-L.

WHAT IF I HAVE MORE QUESTIONS?

If you have any additional questions, please contact Eric Longo, MCN’s Executive Director at eric@mcn.edu.

2017 Board Application

We encourage all qualified candidates to apply or hope that you will refer someone you think would be a qualified candidate. Thank you for being a part of MCN.

MCN 2017 Nominating Committee

 Carolyn Royston, President
 Suse Anderson, VP-President Elect
 Nik Honeysett, Director
 Matthew Tarr, Director
 Eric Longo, Executive Director

 

2017 MCN board members list

Current Directors Term Start Term Ends Organization/Affiliation
Carolyn Royston 2012 2017 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Nik Honeysett 2013 2017 Balboa Park Online Collaborative
Tim Svenonius 2013 2017 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Laura Mann  2015 2018 Frankly, Green & Webb
Elizabeth Bollwerk 2015 2018  Thomas Jefferson Foundation
Suse Anderson 2015  2018 George Washington University
Bert Degenhart Drencht 2015 2018  Axiell Group
Greg Albers 2016 2019 J. Paul Getty Trust
Deborah Howes 2016 2019 Educator and museum consultant
Darren Milligan 2016 2019 Smithsonian, Center for Learning & Digital Access
Lori Byrd-McDevitt 2016 2019 Children’s Museum Indianapolis
Matthew Tarr 2016 2019 American Museum of Natural History
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