Meet the 2017 new board members!

Congratulations to our 5 newly appointed board members!

This year, 23 members of the community applied to fill five vacant seats on the MCN board. The Nominating Committee reviewed all applications against our current stated needs, as well as the strength and merit of each application, and shortlisted a slate of the five candidates it considered best suited for the role and organizational needs. The proposed selection was presented and discussed at July 2017 board meeting, followed by a vote to appoint the following five candidates as MCN Directors: Samantha Diamond, Susan Edwards, Desi Gonzalez, Mitchell Sava and Keir Winesmith (see their bios below).

Their three-year term will start this November. Please join me in congratulating them on their appointment.

We also want to extend a sincere thanks to all the other candidates who, driven by their passion for MCN and a desire to serve this community, also took the time to apply this year. Don’t let this discourage you from applying again in future years: often the choice between two candidates is timing and context. Many of our current board members applied more than once before being nominated.

So if you weren’t selected this time around, we want you to know that MCN is your community, and we encourage you to stay involved. This past year, the board has started to roll out a comprehensive Professional Development program aimed at engaging everyone member of the MCN community by providing pathways for professional growth throughout their careers in museums. There are many ways to get involved in addition to serving on the board, and we invite you to look into an opportunity that’s right for you. We are always looking for volunteers to join the Program Committee, as well as those interested in helping MCN develop inclusive practices and diversity. In many cases, a candidate’s demonstrated commitment to MCN will put them in good stead for a board role. For any questions about Professional Development opportunities, email us at ProfDev@mcn.edu.

We also want to let you know that the board appointed Elizabeth Bollwerk as Vice President/President-Elect effective November 2017. Beth was appointed to the board in 2015, and will lead as President in 2019 after Suse Anderson’s tenure as President next year.

I hope you will join us in Pittsburgh for MCN 2017, and we look forward to seeing you there.

Eric Longo
Executive Director
eric@mcn.edu

 

2017 Nominating Committee

  • Carolyn Royston, President
  • Suse Anderson, Vice President
  • Nik Honeysett, Director
  • Matt Tarr, Director
  • Eric Longo, Executive Director

Samantha Diamond

CEO, CultureConnect

Samantha is CEO of CultureConnect, an award-winning technology company delivering beautiful and meaningful digital experiences to the museum, arts, culture and heritage sector. CultureConnect has caught the attention of national press including NPR, FOX, CNBC, and Hyperallergic and produced award-winning mobile and digital experiences with clients from the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Kimbell Art Museum to the New-York Historical Society and the Marine Mammal Center.

Samantha frequently speaks and consults as an expert on technology, culture, and design. Recent industry talks include CultureSummit Abu Dhabi, American Alliance of Museums, MuseumNEXT, Museums and the Web, Museum Computer Network, and the Southeast Museum Council.

Prior to CultureConnect, Samantha was on the executive team of 20×200, a VC-backed art e-commerce startup where she helmed double-digit growth of new business and oversaw company-wide operations. Before earning an MBA at Columbia Business School, Samantha developed expertise in strategy & operations at McMaster-Carr Supply Company’s leading management development program.

Samantha studied International Relations at Tufts University and began her career in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq for the State Department, USAID, an international health NGO and KBR. Her field research on political art in the DRC was later presented at academic conferences – an early step in a life-long passion to unite the arts, culture and politics.

Susan Edwards

Associate Director, Digital Content, The Hammer Museum

Susan Edwards is a digital content producer and strategist who has worked in museums for 20 years creating digital solutions for online and on-site visitor experiences. Since 2015, Susan has been Associate Director for Digital Content at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, where she oversees the website, social media, and video production, and helps guide the museum’s digital strategy. Previously, she worked at the J. Paul Getty Trust since 2001, where she collaborated with curators, scholars, and educators to develop online digital experiences for users. These included some of the first digital games in museums, the Getty Research Institute’s first experiments with digital collaboration tools for scholars, and digital publications. Susan began her museum career at the Seattle Art Museum, where she had five jobs in four years, including visitor services manager and curatorial associate.

Susan has been active in the museum technology community for over 10 years. Between 2013 and 2017, she was a board member for the American Alliance of Museum’s Media & Technology professional network. And in 2017 she served as co-chair of MCN’s #MCN50 Planning Committee. Susan has presented and led workshops at many museum technology and games conferences over the years, and served on the editorial boards of several journals and blogs. Susan holds an MLIS from San Jose State University and an M.A. in art history from the University of Michigan.

Desi Gonzalez

Manager of digital engagement, The Andy Warhol Museum

Desi Gonzalez writes, researches, and makes things at the intersection of art and technology. She currently lives in Pittsburgh, where she leads digital engagement at the Andy Warhol Museum. Before that, she designed educational tech at La Victoria Lab in Peru, developed interpretive experiences at the Museum of Modern Art, and managed a kids website at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Gonzalez has presented internationally about her work on design, technology, and engagement in museums. Her writing has has been featured in publications including Art in America, Art Papers, Indiewire, and The Brooklyn Rail.

She holds a B.A. in art history and linguistics from Emory University and an M.S. in comparative media studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Mitchell Sava

VP of Innovation and Engagement, Museum of Life and Science

Mitch Sava is the Vice President of Innovation, Learning, and Engagement at the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, where he has been since 2016. In this role, he helps drive the development of new services and partnerships – on and offline – for the museum to reach new audiences, create new revenue streams, and help the Museum achieve its mission of nurturing critical thinkers of all ages.

While he may be new to the world of museums, he has spent much of his career in the worlds of digital and innovation. He has over two decades of innovation experience across sectors, working with executives, social entrepreneurs, and policy-makers on how to unleash our innovative potential, and apply design thinking and digital forces to the way we live, work, and create value for others and ourselves.

He has helped establish innovation labs for government agencies, consultancies and companies, tried to reimagine the future of industries from insurance to beer, and worked with firms from pharmaceuticals to phones to avoid becoming the next “Blockbuster Video” of their industry. He has created and run initiatives to help start-ups, launched [barely successfully] a start-up of his own, and generally nudged various giant companies to act a bit more like start-ups themselves. Mitch has pushed policy with think-tanks, drafted resolutions for the UN, helped social innovators stay innovative, and designed new services with some of the most creative minds in business and the social sector. He has succeeded in various efforts, and failed in more.

Mitch holds an MPA in innovation and entrepreneurship policy from the Harvard Kennedy School, an MSc in Technology and Human Affairs from Washington University in St. Louis, and a BS in Computer Science from the College of William & Mary. He is a founding member of the Innovation Work Group, and a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Advancement of Arts, Manufacturers, and Commerce, where he led their project on “The Glory of Failure”. Mitch is an amateur winemaker, a lover of things cooked slowly, and a father often in quest of sleep.

Keir Winesmith

Head of Digital, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Keir is the Head of Web + Digital Platforms at SFMOMA and co-founder of SFMOMA Lab. He is a digital strategist, producer, writer and creative technologist who is committed to making change, and telling engaging stories, using technology. He’s led, and collaborated on, a number of award winning digital projects in Australia, Europe and the United States.

Keir hold a Ph.D. in new media, and degrees in Computer Science and Physics. He writes and speak frequently on in the intersection of digital and the arts, in particular the role of digital as an agent for organizational change. Most frequently at conferences and forums such as South by Southwest (SXSW), AIGA, Museums and the Web (MW), Nation Digital Form (NDF), and the Museum Computer Network (MCN). He, and his work, have been profiled in The NY Times, WIRED, SF Chronicle, National Public Radio, Australian Broadcasting Corporation and, most recently, the Waco Tribune.

And he loves museums.

0

MCN50 Voices – Blaire Moskowitz & Matt Morgan

Matt Morgan Headshot  Blaire Moskowitz headshot

Matt Morgan, President, Concrete Computing and Blaire Moskowitz, the Digital Interpretive Specialist at the New York Botanical Garden and a PhD Candidate in Museum Studies at the University of Leicester share their career paths, the ideal skills for success in the field, and the state of the museum technology field.

WHAT JOB DID YOU WANT AS A KID AND DID IT HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH MUSEUMS OR TECHNOLOGY?

MATT:  I wanted a lot of jobs as a kid. For a while I wanted to be a physicist, I wanted to be a teacher, and a policeman. By the time I was in high school I started thinking about computers. That was the 80s, so PCs had hit but I don’t think I understood that museums could be an actual career – that was only for special people.

BLAIRE: I wanted to be an artist and also didn’t understand that museums were careers. But I used to ask my parents to bring me to art museums all the time. So eventually I figured it out.  But I only figured it out halfway through undergrad – all of a sudden, it was “Oh, this is a career and maybe this was a better idea for me.” Then I ended up with two majors.

 

HOW HAS YOUR EDUCATION AND PAST JOBS INFLUENCED WHAT YOU DO NOW?

BLAIRE: I’m still in my education because I’m getting a Ph.D. in Museum Studies. My undergrad was a Bachelors of Fine Art which becomes surprisingly helpful when I’m writing interpretive content about art exhibitions and the artist’s use of materials.  For example, here at the New York Botanical Garden, we have a glass exhibition and I did take a semester of glassblowing. I wasn’t any good at it, I made a lot of paperweights – which are really just blobs – but writing about glassblowing now is less abstract and I can meaningfully describe the process.

MATT: Have you seen the Corning Museum of Glass’s online site with all the techniques?  It’s amazing.

BLAIRE: Yeah, that’s far beyond the blobs I made.

MATT: My education is in the sciences. A bachelors in geology and a masters in oceanography – mostly modeling, which is a lot of computers and math.  The science aspect – testing and iteration – has been huge. I have this total bee in my bonnet about how bad museums are about impact measurement. I see so much alleged data thrown up that’s not actually the most meaningful. There is such a gap in the way scientists gather and communicate quantifiable information and what we see in museums. And sometimes, that’s been really difficult for me and sometimes it hasn’t. It feels like there is so much more that we can do. It’s been a good thing and a bad thing.  Past jobs…  I started in advocacy at the Environmental Defense Fund where I built the first online advocacy and membership renewal tools in the 90s. I was basically an IT person but that’s what got me started in the digital half of my career. That was huge in getting me started.

BLAIRE: Everyone has such weird education and career paths to get to museum technology – I hadn’t come across an oceanographer yet.

MATT: Neither have I.

BLAIRE: My first full time jobs were audio tour companies, so it was working with clients in history and science and art museums and tourist attractions and observatories.  It was a lot of bouncing between institutional types. It makes working now at NYBG interesting and maybe easier, because it’s a combination of art and science and neither one has thrown me for a surprise.  But that’s still not as surprising as your background in oceanography.

 

WHAT SHOULD PEOPLE STARTING IN MUSEUMS AND THE MUSEUM TECHNOLOGY FIELD KNOW WHEN THEY START?

MATT: It’s not like you’re going to start and you’re ready to go. It changes all the time.  Things change so much and the work I do now is totally different than the work I did two years ago or ten years ago. You need to know that it’s going to change and you need to be flexible – but why else would you be in technology? I don’t think it’s a problem for people because I don’t think these are people who want to be in the exact same job for twenty years.

BLAIRE: I feel too green to answer this question entirely but it seems like a slower career than other careers. It seems like you need to bounce around a little more than other careers – the career progression is…relaxed sometimes.

MATT: I agree, though I probably I went faster than others. I worked at EDF for six years and at Brooklyn Museum for six years, so by the time I was done at the Met, I was working for 18 years.  So I wouldn’t say it’s fast, but I was general manager of the website at the Met after 13 or 14 years and I wouldn’t call that slow. The opportunities for advancement are narrow because cultural institutions don’t really value technology jobs that much on average.  I mean, staff and leadership are grateful for the technology help, but it’s not like the CTO is becoming the CEO or president. Or that there even is a CTO. There are relatively few jobs and relativity few institutions, which means there just isn’t that kind of mobility.

BLAIRE: Are we sounding pessimistic?

MATT: No, it’s honest. What I would add is that if you’re willing to move around, across the country then some of that is mitigated. I wanted to stay in New York and passed up opportunities to do that. I do OK but New York is big. But what if you want to stay in a smaller city?

 

HOW HAS TECHNOLOGY CHANGED OR NOT CHANGED IN THE WORKPLACE ENVIRONMENT?

MATT: Oh man, well I started at the Brooklyn Museum in ’99 and there wasn’t a computer on every desk, nor a real Internet connection or email.  Maybe they realized they were behind so…

BLAIRE: That’s so surprising that you’re saying that about the Brooklyn Museum because now when I think about who has done the most with creative technology, it’s often Brooklyn.

MATT: They committed to it and we got started, and they really took off with it when I left, and now it’s great. We changed everything and we changed nothing. A curator is still curating.  Once you start using email it’s not like it changes your life. All the utopian and revolutionary expectations about how everything is going to be more open is true. Things are more open and places like the Met just switched their license to CC0, cool. But by the time it happens, the revolution has passed and it doesn’t seem like that much of a revolution. In the broad scheme, the way people use those images probably didn’t change much. We might need more distance to know. It feels like between ’99 and 2011, I went from museums being really scared to put stuff online to putting everything online in 2011. That was fast in the scheme of things. But still, in between, they felt like dinosaurs.

BLAIRE: You have a longer career so there is a much more dynamic change. I graduated college in 2010 so in seven years, there has been change but much more incremental. I mean, I had a Facebook account when I walked into college.  Facebook and social media has become normalized and I think that’s the biggest change.  There is an expectation that institutions and companies are on social media, it’s expected. It’s not just a peer-to-peer platform now. But in this time span, I can’t say things like “‘we didn’t have computers with desks.”  I just have a different perspective, I think.

What I can say is that I’ve had jobs that are entirely remote, which became very normalized to me very quickly. Almost my entire job was email based and that became very normal for me, so much that my current job in a real physical office with coworkers next to me is what I’ve had to adapt to. I really like it and my coworkers are great yet it’s the little things that are the surprise – like, it’s so easy to reach them because there is no time difference and they’re literally at the desk or office next to mine.

But the technology element is so normalized to me. For my PhD, the school is in the U.K. so almost all of my interactions with my professor are Skype video or email. I go for a bit in the summer, but short of that, I rarely see fellow students and most of the interactions with my cohort is via social media.  But again, it’s so normal to me.  But even people who work in technology usually see their colleagues.  So the technology environment is so ingrained into everything for me …

MATT: But it’s in ways that haven’t really seeped into most museum environments. You usually have an office.  One critical point about GLAMS is that they have physical locations. I remember when responsive web design came out as a thing, the presumption was not just that your web design should work on all different sizes of screen, but that mobile content and desktop content would be the same. What that didn’t acknowledge is the physical location that the user might be occupying.

If you’re running a store website, they should be able to buy everything on their phone that they can buy on their computer. What’s the difference, right? But if you’re running a museum, it makes a big difference whether the person is in the museum, three blocks away, or sitting at home. Their behavior, being sensitive to their location, may actually indicate a difference in content. And that’s valid. But that’s not what early responsive web design proponents talked about because physical location is irrelevant to them. We may continue to see that going forward with respect to staff mobility and office-less organizations. It’s not just because we think offices are better. It’s because you need to be in the space, right? Being in the botanic garden is a really important part of working for you.

BLAIRE: Yeah, even if you can move a painting, you can’t easily move a tree.  But it’s a good point because I’ve been working with a location aware app and writing the content for it.

MATT: We have to decide how much we care. There is a difference seeing a tree and seeing a picture of a tree. You can try and quantify that but we don’t, mostly. We know that people care, but we don’t know how much they care. But it’s the difference between visiting and not.

 

WHAT SKILLS SERVE YOU WELL?

MATT: I have this favorite anecdote, which is about soft skills.  Basically, do you know who, among doctors, who gets sued for malpractice the most? The answer isn’t the doctors who make the most mistakes, it’s the ones who have the worst bedside manner.  It hasn’t sunk into most technologies and it hasn’t been a problem for most museum technologists – we get along and can persuade people and get things done but it’s still something you need to practice and develop.  There’s that and the ability to quantify ROI, there’s so many things that we do that just sound so great but what kind of impact are they going to have? For one of my clients I shifted from a heavier tech role to a strategic consulting role and when I used to run their projects, I would be pretty firm on two rounds of review and design—no more. The reason I do that is because the added value of the next round isn’t worth the time you spent. Staff time costs something, right? Do something else that’s more valuable. But that’s hard. It’s hard to get people to move on but if you have a few things on your plate, one is at

99% and the others at 20%, you’re going to get more value from working on the ones at 20%. Just launch it.

Now that I’m on the review and approval side for this client, I’ll make more money if the review continues forever.  And the guy who is managing the project lets it go too far which wastes their money and time. I can advise them and I have to, but with ability to look at ROI plus soft skills, to get it right, we make a lot of progress.

BLAIRE: I would say it’s to really understanding the visitors, but I’m not really sure if that’s a skill.

MATT: Empathy?

BLAIRE: Yeah, I think there is a skill to blend into the crowd of your museum and just walk around and observe. Even when I leave on the subway, I eavesdrop on conversations between people who I don’t think even know each other but start to talk amongst themselves about their experiences that day. Hearing a visitor’s passion or criticism – which had nothing to do with any app or website or any piece of technology.

MATT: That can be hard to work on but getting inspired by that is really important.

BLAIRE: Taking that and melding it with all the other input from consultants or other stakeholders – that’s probably a skill in synthesizing and balancing.

MATT: I remember once in an exhibition we had to rush kiosks into an exhibition for a stakeholder in an allocated room dedicated to the computers.  And they decided where the computers would go before knowing what they were going to do first. So I already knew that it was going to be a bad situation. So we have this last room with chairs and computers and everyone wanted to know why I didn’t include tracking, which was really because I had no money and only six weeks for the whole project. So during the exhibition, I watched that room. And you know what they were doing? Sitting in the chairs waiting for their friends to catch up. Log analysis would not have told that unfortunate story.

BLAIRE: When I worked visitor services, and I think I learned the most there because visitors will come in and tell you what they want entirely unfiltered. It’s anything- the thing they saw in their tour book that isn’t on display, asking where to take the best picture to asking which of the bathrooms is better.

 

HOW DO YOU STAY UP TO DATE WITH YOUR TECH SKILLS?

BLAIRE: Trying to use the newer technologies – my coding skills are limited, so I know just enough to follow what the programmers are doing.  It’s a lot of reading about what’s being done and reading about the possibilities.  It’s getting my hands on as much information as I can so that I can make informed recommendations and decisions.

MATT: In one position a while ago, the lead programmers decided along with me that we were going to switch to Angular for our front-end.  I didn’t know Angular and there’s no way I was going to learn that in any way that meant I could be productive with it. You can’t always be a boss and learn a new language. It’s sometimes about letting stuff go. These things change and you’ll eventually not do them. It’s more about your value and knowing what to do next.  But I do a lot of what you do; I follow tech aggregator sites and make sure I know what’s going on.

 

WHAT DO YOU READ TO KEEP UP TO DATE?

MATT: I follow Hacker News mainly, news.ycombinator.com, which is stuff from all over and helps me know what’s going on.  So I almost can’t tell you what I read because I read whatever it links to. You’re doing a lot of reading for a PhD though, right?

BLAIRE: Yeah, there is a constant inflow of Amazon orders. But it’s also a lot of reading about technology.  I think I read every book about twice – first just enough to write an outline and then again to really understand and write about the content. I’m working on my dissertation, so I select what books I read.  It’s not technical manuals, for instance, sociology of crowdsourcing – authors such as Surowiecki, Brabham, Shirky – and comparing academic information with accounts of what was happening in museums.

MATT: When one reads these things, it’s not like you have a plan and know it will help  with something specific.

BLAIRE: Yes, you just read widely and hope it helps. And I end up reading a lot that doesn’t help at all.

 

WHO HAS HELPED YOU IN YOUR CAREER?

MATT: Who hasn’t?!

BLAIRE: I’ve had a lot of people who have been really helpful.  In one job we all started in the same place, even if we were at different levels, and now we’ve all left and spread.  So we can come back and have conversations about all our new jobs and learn from each other. That’s been really interesting.  There is one person who was a superior to me and taught me to write audio tours. But now that I’m on the institutional side and he was hired to write the tour, the relationship has changed from where we started. And I’m still learning from him, but also from my superiors at my current job.

Another is my doctoral supervisor at Leicester who is helping me grow as a researcher.  We have these long, often two-hour conversations about my research, and that’s, of course, a help as well as his general professional guidance. And finally, a professor who teaches at the university I went to, but came after I graduated.  We email each other book recommendations and other industry things and I’ve been a guest speaker in her class. But since I never had her as a teacher and she hasn’t been my boss at any time, the relationship is different and I’m aware of and grateful for how my relationships in the museum technology field are changing and growing and she’s probably the best example of that.

MATT: Your nature is to think about your bosses but you can also think about employees and colleagues.  A lot of the time your growth is coming from doing your own thing, which isn’t always what you are asked to do.  And as a boss, what kind of staff do you want to have? The ones who would just go for it or the ones who would wait for instructions?  And another thing, it’s almost inevitable you become a generalist.  I became a generalist early in my career because I was manager of information systems at the Brooklyn Museum for nine years.  Learning from specialists, for instance – I’m a really good editor and a pretty good writer.  But I’m nowhere near as good as some of the professional editors I’ve worked with. And obviously computer scientists understand programming in ways that I don’t, as a mostly self-taught person. So I think that paying attention to the specialists and being able to trust them is really important.

 

TOP CHALLENGES IN THE FIELD?

MATT: I know the top one is impact measurements. Starting from what we want.  I follow startups and I don’t think every business can run like a tech startup. But their focus on driving growth is something that we’ve done in museums but has never been valued.

Growth hacking means finding out what behaviors drive growth and encouraging those behaviors. You want visitation? Figure out how to build a website that drives visitation.  Right? But we’re so loose and fuzzy on all that stuff. When I was at the New York Public Library, the online form for getting a library card was dozens of questions long.  Like, why? All we really need was an address, and even as a newbie I could make a guess that getting more people to have library cards must be strategically important to the library. We can make this a really simple form, and get more cards to more people. So I started working on why we had all those questions on the form. But there wasn’t someone, or any group, who could really tell me the answer. It was not a subject that had been investigated. It was something that developed over time, and no one ever took questions away from the form, so it just grew and grew.

It was something that happens everywhere, not just the library.  Consider the question: is it important for people to come to the library’s branches? If so, e-books are in competition with that. When I was there, NYPL was promoting both, without thinking much about how each was maybe suppressing the other. What’s more important and can you decide? Is it more important for them to get the book or to come to the library? That’s a valid question to ask and one that the library has not had frameworks for answering, but I understand, with some new execs on board, they’re doing it now.  Once you make those decisions, you can see that more people are doing a thing that’s wanted.  Every tech start up out there thrives when it handles this question and answers it properly.  And museums especially could do it.

BLAIRE: I think a challenge is not doing the same thing over and over again and thinking each time it’s novel.  It’s a problem that isn’t addressed enough. Even if it’s the first time your museum has done a project, that doesn’t mean it’s the first time the project has been done. Like a transcription project – it needs to get done, but so many are the same and each project could build on a prior project at another institution.

MATT: MCN had a project registry where you could say what you were working on. But the hardest part was adoption. How do you get people to type in their project? It’s a question of how you get started and supported.  It’s an open source problem in general; even with the best software the biggest problem is always getting people to do it.

 

WHAT WAS THE FIRST TIME YOU ATTENDED MCN AND HOW WAS THE EPERIENCE?

MATT: My first time was in Minneapolis – It was the early 2000s. I felt like a total outsider and there was no room in the conference hotel, so I stayed elsewhere. It was confusing and stressful because I felt like I had to come back to work having learned something.  Which actually impedes learning. You can’t go to a conference saying you’re going to learn a specific thing, you have to let it be what it is and gain what it is that can be gained. I wouldn’t say it sucked, but I knew I had to get used to it and it would get better.

BLAIRE: I guess I had a better experience.  Last year was the first year I went to MCN, but I had heard that this was the “fun” conference.  I’d been to other larger museum conferences but MCN was nice that everyone was in the same subset of museum work and there was always a starting point for conversation. If you didn’t know each other, you already kind of knew each other’s work. I found it to be a relatable experience.

MATT: I didn’t know anybody the first time.  I wonder if social media has helped that?

BLAIRE: Oh, yes, very much so. People vaguely knew who I was from Twitter and I also knew them from Twitter.  But then people also get totally branded for whatever the Internet knows you for…

 

HOW HAS MCN IMPACTED YOU?

MATT: It’s been huge.  I’m a participant on the MCN List and a lot of the most (and least) intelligent things I’ve said are on that list. There are probably people who know me through there.  I’ve introduced valuable stuff at MCN and it’s helped me feel influential and feel valuable. And I’ve learned a lot from it, too. It’s inspiring to know what everyone else is doing.

BLAIRE: I think it’s helped me get involved in the larger museum community – not just the New York base.  I’ve joined the program committee – maybe at some point people get used to being asked to be part of committees, but I’m at the point in my career where it’s exciting to be asked to contribute to something professionally.

 

WHAT DO YOU REALLY THINK ABOUT MUSEUM APPS?

MATT: I’m not sure how many are all that good.  The ones that tell you where you are, they don’t tell you where to go.  I’m sure there has been a good one that I haven’t seen…

BLAIRE: I tested one at a different museum and on the testing night, it told you where the food and drink was – it was really incentivized. There was a true reason to use it. The objects in this museum were great but then the users personally got food as a reward.

MATT: When it’s hard to find your way around, any help is good.  But what I would like to see is engagement for a long period of time but doesn’t mean other people are waiting. For most of us, the issue then becomes flow in the galleries. What I would like to see is something that organically adds to the experience and that’s what everyone is going for, but we aren’t there yet.

BLAIRE: I recently worked on one that used beacons and is location aware, within a mobile website. So it doesn’t involve downloading an app or making one for each type of phone. My opinion of this project is, of course, bias but when an app can be integrated into the experience that’s great. What is really lacking in museum apps is resources for group experiences.  What do you do for the person who has brought their friends and is now expected to lead the group without any prior knowledge or experience with the exhibition? What can we supply for the informal, unofficial group leader? Are there tools we can provide to help them show the group around? Or can we anticipate the questions their group will ask? If we could do this, when their friends ask them about the museum, they’ll have something to say and a level of comfort.

MATT: Instant docent.

BLAIRE: That’s what a lot of places really need.

 

 

0

MCN50 Voices: Diane Zorich & Richard Rinehart

Our latest instalment of MCN50 Voices pairs two past MCN presidents, Diane Zorich and Richard Rinehart. They each talk about the role of MCN in their early careers, and discuss the history of museums, current challenges in the field, and imagine what a museum they would design would look like.

Diane Zorich headshot

Diane is Director of the Digitization Program Office at the Smithsonian Institution. Prior to taking this position, she spent over twenty years consulting for cultural heritage institutions and nonprofit professional organizations, working on projects in the areas of information management and policy, digital humanities, intellectual property/open access, and digital strategies and assessments. In her early museum career she wrangled with Unix kernels and soldered her own cables. The internet and wifi set her free.

 

 

Richard Rinehart headshot

Richard is Director and Chief Curator of the Samek Art Museum at Bucknell University. He has served as Digital Media Director & Adjunct Curator at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and as curator at New Langton Arts and for the San Jose Arts Commission. He has lead NEA and NEH-funded national research projects on new media, art, preservation, and museums. He has recently published a book with MIT Press on preserving digital culture, co- authored with Jon Ippolito – Re-Collection: Art, New Media, & Social Memory (http://re-collection.net)

 

How did you come to work in museums? Was it your early passion or did you come to it later?

Diane: I trace my interest directly to Margaret Mead. I read her work “Coming of Age in Samoa” when I was 14 years old and her description of adolescence in a Samoan village was totally opposite of what my friends and I were experiencing (i.e., extreme angst fueled by raging hormones pent up in an all-girl Catholic high school). I later discovered that Mead was an anthropologist working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I started reading more of her work, following her in the press (she was one of anthropology’s first “public intellectuals”) and became more enamored with the notion of being a “museum anthropologist.” I studied anthropology in college and graduate school, and my first museum job was in an anthropology museum (Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology). Unfortunately (or fortuitously?), I wasn’t hired as an anthropologist—I was hired to run the museum’s computer systems and databases.

 

Richard: Museums were not an early passion, but art was. I was drawing from age 0, and then continuously. We didn’t have museums in the small rural town that I grew up in, but I regularly poured over the public library’s vintage 60s-era Time-Life art books by way of proxy. I eventually went to art school and college and was planning to move to the city and become an artist but knew that I would need a day job. I figured that working in the art world would make my work hours more relevant to my passion for art and so I kept my eyes open for a job in a museum. I eventually found one, starting off by managing the museum’s computer systems and website, and my ongoing interest in everything digital/art/museum began there.

 

How and when did you first get involved with MCN? How did that involvement impact your career? Have remained involved in MCN? If not, why not?

Diane: When I started my job at the Peabody Museum I was introduced by a colleague to Ron Kley, who was the executive director of MCN. He was based in Maine and was trying to organize an MCN conference in Boston. I was thrilled to find out about the organization—it was the mid-1980s and I was feeling professionally isolated—there weren’t many people working with computers in museums at this time. I offered to help Ron with local arrangements, and gave my first ever paper at the MCN 1986 conference in Boston that year. That meeting was pivotal for me: I had found my museum tribe. Afterwards, several meeting attendees decided to keep the momentum of the conference going, at least locally. We met periodically as a local “museum computer users” group with the regrettable name of BAMCUG (Boston Area Museum Computer Users Group).

I have been an MCN member ever since. I upped my level of participation in the 90s when I served on the Board (as member, VP, and President) and as conference program chair for the 1993 MCN Seattle conference. I have attended every conference (except when I was 8 months pregnant and advised not to travel…). I recently “re-upped” my participation in the first MCN50 Archive Dive, which was a great history lesson and drove home how important it is to view an organization over time—to see its struggles, its successes. MCN history has been a real roller coaster ride.

 

Richard: Following on my above answer, in the early 1990s I was working at that rare intersection of museums and technology so my ears were tuned to anything in the field that was related. Additionally, I was in the SF Bay Area where digital technologies were quickly spreading into every area of life. When I learned about MCN, I was eager to meet others who were similarly professionally caught up in this historic moment and from whom I came to learn. My involvement with MCN (as member and later board member and president) was instrumental. It was through MCN, and museums working together on a national scale, that I put together a picture of how technology was going to impact museums (and in my case, the broader art world) in ways far beyond me setting up our museum’s DNS server. We worked on projects like developing new shared metadata standards that showed me how much museums can accomplish when working together.

I am sad to say that I’ve not remained in close touch with MCN. That’s not due to any lack of interest or fondness, but rather that my career has since taken several turns, first to curating and now to directing an academic museum. In both of these turns, my responsibilities broadened out beyond the digital aspects of my museum, requiring me to spend my time on more traditional aspects of museum work such as collection management policies, overtime payroll, and too infrequently, curating. My time spent with MCN was formative and continues to influence my work.

 

What are two of the darkest secrets in the museum world? The ones that no one talks about.

Diane: This might be a career-ending question, but here it goes. The first is how gullible we are to trends of the moment. I don’t know if we are worse than other sectors in this regard, but few of us call them out when we see them taking hold, and even fewer of us question them before we jump on board. The second is that we have benefitted more than we acknowledge from the subtle exploitation of our staff. Our field attracts bright, hard-working professionals and then pays them a sub-optimal wage. $30K/year jobs that require Master’s degrees +3 years’ experience? Part-time jobs that have full-time duties? Unpaid internships? Women (still) paid less than men for the same job? There is a real long-term cost to organizations that have institutionalized these practices: loss of talent, lack of diversity, diminished creativity, not to mention the hit on morale and the need for a living wage.

 

Richard: One of the darkest secrets is our shared institutional history. Much of the modern museum traces back to the European Wunderkammer and cabinets of wonder that were indeed Enlightenment era vehicles of intellectual curiosity about the empirical world. But, through a darker lens, they were also treasure troves of plundered booty and monuments to Europe’s colonialization of the world. This history is not so secret, but we don’t often talk about how many of our current institutional attitudes and practices are still influenced by these beginnings. For instance, why do certain artifacts (even using this term is loaded) end up in anthropology museums while others end up in art museums? And should it come as a surprise that museums still struggle to prove our relevance to historically disenfranchised audiences that we spent centuries depicting as the “Other”? We’ve come a long way, but we have far to go.

On a less ominous note; 90% of museum collections are not on view in the galleries, but are hidden away in the vaults in collections storage. This figure is common knowledge among museum professionals, but far less known among the public and it is relevant because it means that 90% of the world’s shared material heritage is, by necessity, hidden away with only its image reflected in online databases.

 

What is one of the biggest failed projects you worked on? And what did you learn from that?

Diane: I spent a large part of my career consulting, and the one thing consultants hate more than anything else is to see their reports sit on the proverbial shelf. One of my projects that “got shelved” was a huge metadata analysis effort that was well received when completed. But it never was acted on because the institution did not have the resources to do so, the leadership to push for those resources, and the buy-in from grassroots staff about the value of the project to their own work. The lesson for me here was that there are times when important projects should not go forward if the pieces needed further down the line are not in place or on the drawing board. Those pieces will not fall into place on their own. Inertia is a powerful force.

 

Richard: I had the pleasure of piloting one of the first museum handheld interactive multimedia gallery guides. At that time, there had been museum audio guides, but most of them were tape-based, audio-only with no images and minimal interaction. The hardware we used for this pilot project was the Apple Newton, a large and, by today’s standards, unwieldy device with black and white graphics and an untested interface. At this time also, very few people had smart-phones, so a handheld interactive device was alien to most and this is the main reason the project failed. We were too far ahead of our audience, asking too much of them to learn a whole new interface while they were trying to look at art.

Museums can, and sometimes should be, centers for innovative research, but this project taught me the value in making sure to bring our audiences along for the ride.

 

Do you think it is possible and /or desirable for museums to be neutral spaces?

Diane: Nope and nope. I think they can try to be safe spaces, but neutral? No. And why would they want to be? How can you make an impact if you don’t take a stand? Museums are research and educational institutions. Why would they position themselves as such then not incorporate their research and educational viewpoints in their public programs?

 

Richard: No to both. Earlier, I cited the museum’s history as a tool of colonialism and that history remains etched in our historic collections and in some of our basic and unquestioned practices. So, even the default spaces and unselfconscious practices of museums have been shaped by historic forces and specific agendas. Any museum presentation that purports to avoid social implications becomes an echo chamber for the voices of history and a monument to the culturally dominant status quo.

Museums may offer aesthetic experiences and present exhibitions that do not focus on the explicitly didactic or political, but the best ones do so in ways that are self-aware, critical, and honest about the museum’s own position and stakes.

 

If you had a billion dollars to fund a museum what would that museum be? What would it collect? Who would it serve? What would it be like to visit?

Diane: It wouldn’t be a museum in a conventional sense, but it would incorporate collections into experiences. I envision it as a mash-up of a library program and a literary genre. The first is based on a local public library program that was tailored to families going on summer vacation. The library selected books, movies, and games to take on your trip. But the selections weren’t random. They were specific to the place you were visiting and the age and interest of you and your kids. The second is the “Choose Your Own Adventure” literary works that let you select the outcome of a story: you start from one common point, but you pick out the path to the end.

So how do I see these two things playing out in my billion-dollar museum? “Visitors” would select or identify an interest—muscle cars, women artists from the 16th century, video games, Amazonian reptiles, the birth of jazz, you name it—and would be assigned an expert in that area who would personally tailor a learning experience for the visitors that includes objects/specimens/materials, real and virtual, that you could participate in, work with, touch, experiment with, etc. The expert would engage you throughout the process to see what particular areas drew out your excitement and curiosity (where you would want to explore more or differently), then help create a further pathway of exploration driven by your interests.

If done right, this kind of experience would be so immersive that it could be life-changing. If you were interested in reptiles (as many kids are) for example, you might start with exploring reptile specimens in a collection or at a zoo, and then wind up on a collecting field trip in the Amazon. Of course, with a program like this you would go through that billion dollars in no time. The burn rate would be huge.

 

Richard: I have always been drawn to speculative museums; museums that might or should or will be. Speculative museums, like speculative fiction, offer a way to reflect back on real museums in ways that are both critical and aspirational. My speculative museum would build upon historical precedents.

For instance, writer Jorge Luis Borges imagined an infinite library that contained every possible text. I would love to create a museum of one manuscript. This manuscript is re-generated anew each day by an algorithm randomly combining words. Like a thousand monkeys at typewriters for eternity, eventually the museum would produce the same story by Borges, and book by Octavia Butler, and every other text written and not yet written. I would make the copyright of each museum-generated text public domain.

Artist Sameer Farooq has imagined “Improbable Archives.” I would likewise borrow from his ideas to create speculative mini-museums: the Museum of the Ephemeral, the Museum of the Abandoned, the Museum of the Already Disappeared, The Museum of Boredom and Gaps, the Museum of Internal Images. Just imagining how to make these museums excites the imagination.

In a more tangible direction, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, in Culver City, California, is a real/speculative museum, seamlessly blending historic fact and fiction to create cognitive dissonance that results in a sense of wonder. My museum would borrow from all of these and it would serve critics, children, and dreamers.

 

What are the top 3 challenges in your institution now?

Diane: Resources (money, people, facilities), and the lack of agility that comes with working in a large organization. That’s two—or four—depending how you count.

 

Richard: Making exhibitions of contemporary art that engage academic audiences and issues also relevant to the surrounding rural American community and vice versa.

With a small staff performing all the functions of a larger museum, finding time to maintain academic rigor and professional standards in everything we do.

Finding ways to balance the time-tested efficacy of professional museum standards with our mission to innovate and experiment in an academic context.

 

What are the top three challenges in museums now?

Diane: Relevance has got to be one. We may say we are more relevant than ever, but wishing doesn’t make it so. I know surveys continually show that museums are among the most trusted of organizations. But is that enough? I don’t think that being trusted is the same as being relevant.

Then there is the moral sense that we always must “do more with less.” We have elevated this to a virtue when it really means we are spending a lot of time and energy just trying to survive. We don’t ask, “Is the ‘more’ we are doing better’? Would we do better if we did less, and did it well?”

The third big issue is lack of staff diversity at all levels (but particularly in senior administrative ranks), at our conferences and meetings, and in our audiences. Which, of course, circles us back to relevance.

 

Richard: Undoing our problematic institutional past and bringing in historically underrepresented voices; not just as casual visitors, but also as stakeholders, as staff, as artists.

Making the case that museums remain (even more) relevant in a fractured social and political landscape. That science, history, and yes, even art matters to a society made up of individuals of diverse backgrounds and passions.

Making the case for the public as an essential component of museums. Today even privately held museums educate the public and steward collections on behalf of the public of posterity, but museums were not always conceived of as public assets and there’s no guarantee that through shifting public attitudes and new funding models, we will not go back on that aspirational model.

Museums have collectively met challenges spanning centuries, continents, and cultures and I believe we can do so again.

0

MCN50 Voices: Seema Rao interviews Sam Quigley

D. Samuel Quigley, Director, the Lyman Allyn Art Museum and former President of MCN, shares his memories of conferences past and the museum technology today with Seema Rao, Principal, Brilliant Idea Studio.

Sam started his career at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and became curator of musical instruments and associate curator of European decorative arts and sculpture. Moving into administration first at the Harvard University Art Museums and then at the Art Institute of Chicago, Sam was at the forefront of museum technology, a point underscored by his election to MCN president in 2003-05.

After nearly 20 years of working at the intersection of museum education and technology, Seema began a consulting firm to help other museums with content and strategy around digital projects.

 

0