MCN 2018 Through the Eyes of a Museum Educator, Museum Studies Instructor, and High School Teacher

By: Hillary Hanel Rose

In November 2018 I had the honor and privilege of participating in the MCN Conference as a Scholar. I first learned about MCN in 2016 as I searched for resources to share with my museum studies students and have been eager to become more involved with the organization since then. Determined to attend the annual conference, I submitted my application for a scholarship in 2017 and again this year. I was excited to learn that I had been chosen for a scholarship to the 2018 conference, meaning that I would get to travel to beautiful Denver, Colorado, present a lightning talk on some of my work, and learn from fellow museum professionals from around the world. I expected to learn about new resources that would fit into my museum career, but I also came away with inspiration for my work as a high school teacher.

My lightning talk was focused on my work at Girl Museum. I have served on the all-volunteer staff since 2012, and am currently the Education Advisor. Girl Museum is unique because it is a virtual museum with no physical location and a remote staff working from around the globe. Virtual museums are a new idea, so the overall concept of this was the basis for my presentation. I shared the benefits (free for visitors, open 24/4, etc.) and implications (time zones, marketing, funding, etc.) of being a virtual museum. I also highlighted our 52 Objects exhibit to show how digitized collections can be used to humanize the digital, which was the theme for this year’s conference. There was a lot to fit in a time limit of 5 minutes! Luckily, I was able to chat with many other MCN attendees throughout the week to discuss Girl Museum more in-depth.

Hillary Hanel Rose’s lightning talk.

In addition to the experience of presenting at an incredible conference, I enjoyed learning from fellow museum professionals. As I attended sessions, talked with exhibitors, and chatted with fellow attendees, I found myself constantly jotting down names of resources, case studies, and statistics that have already proven useful in my work with Girl Museum. For example, I am now exploring ways to make our museum more accessible, and we are working on a fun set of girl-centric memes to celebrate our 10th anniversary in 2019!

I must mention that I am writing this blog post six weeks after the conference. This is because I also teach high school full-time and I am finally able to spend some time reflecting on my experience at MCN now that it is winter break. I previously mentioned that the conference unexpectedly inspired my teaching career. I attended a session highlighting the Smithsonian’s Learning Lab and was able to use it in my classes the very next week. As a history and science teacher, there are so many ways for my students to use this resource. I really shouldn’t be surprised that a museum conference impacted my classroom teaching – I wrote my dissertation on museum-school partnerships, and this is just another example of the importance of museums in education.

Winter break is also my time to prep for the upcoming semester of teaching “Museums, Communities, and Stakeholders” at Central Michigan University. Though I have taught the class before, the MCN Conference inspiration flowed into this area of my work as well, and I will be making several adjustments to my syllabus. I was so pleased to meet several museum professionals who are interested in doing a virtual chat with my students. It is essential for our future museum professionals to hear multiple perspectives and to see examples from a variety of museums as they prepare for their careers. MCN will continue to be a great resource as I plan my Museum Studies lectures this spring.

This year’s conference was so wonderfully diverse in its sessions, attendees, and conversations and its impact will expand beyond the few hundred people who attended in-person. As just one person sharing and implementing what I learned at MCN 2018, thousands of visitors to Girl Museum, over 200 high school students, and at least 20 undergraduate museum studies students will be reached this year. Thank you MCN for this opportunity!

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Don’t Forget the Small Museums

By Kelli Huggins, Visitor Experience Coordinator, Catskill Center

I am an accidental museum tech person. As a career small museum/non-profit employee, I have often found myself taking on social media, online exhibits, and other basic technology projects by default. They’ve never been the main part of my job, however, just something I ended up doing out of curiosity or being the only one willing to try. That’s why I was so excited to be one of the 2018 MCN scholarship recipients. It was a chance to pick up some new skills and talk shop with real experts. And I learned a lot. Most importantly, I learned how much I don’t know.

Now, I am going to boldly, unashamedly profess my own ignorance in this blog post in the hopes that it will help other small museum employees, and also MCN as it goes forward with its crucial efforts to increase diversity and access in the museum tech world. When I got the MCN program schedule, there were session descriptions I flat out didn’t understand. I actually had to Google some of the acronyms, like UX or IIIF or DAM.

When it came to choosing sessions, I tried of course to choose those I felt best met my personal and institutional goals, but I also sought sessions that I knew would be over my head. You can’t learn if you don’t toss yourself in the deep end, right? That’s why I went to sessions on VR (and hey, I didn’t even have to Google that acronym to know that it meant virtual reality. Though, in fairness, I didn’t fully understand the difference between VR and AR before MCN, so this is the tiniest, most humble of brags). Even though I might not have understood every technical part of the presentation, I’m now introduced to the conversation. If my institution ever wanted to explore VR, now, at the very least, I’d know some people to ask for advice.

Of course, I left MCN with plenty of practical takeaways, too, like how we can better explore digital storytelling through podcasts and virtual tours or ways to track social media analytics. But, I maintain, the most important thing for me was getting thrown into a more specialized conversations.

And you were all so, so very kind to a novice like me. Thank you for that. That’s why I’d love to see MCN actively work to get more small museum professionals at the conference (and I mean really small museums, like under 3 total staff members small). There are a whole lot of people like me out there who desperately want to learn this stuff, but just haven’t had the opportunity. People for whom keeping up with the latest tech literature takes a backseat to leading 400 4th graders through a site on a field trip or fixing a sink.

This wouldn’t be a one-sided relationship, either– small museum people have a lot to teach, as well! Small museums can serve as a kind of research and development lab because there is often less bureaucracy and red tape to cut through to get project approval. That’s exactly what my co-presenters, Max Evjen, Shelby Merlino, and Sammy Kay Smith, and I discovered in our research for our panel on Twitter museum mascots. Innovation is happening at these small sites because staff are given a lot of autonomy to experiment.

I don’t have answers for how to achieve any of this. As with everything, it probably mostly comes down to money. Small museums often don’t have the funds to send employees to conferences like this. That’s why the scholarship was so vital to me this year, my first MCN. I’m not sure next year if I will be able to secure the funds to return, even though I want to. In the meantime, I look forward to taking advantage of the benefits of my MCN membership, asking questions in the SIGs I’ve joined, and telling other small museum people about these opportunities and what I’ve learned.  

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MCN statement on the government shutdown

MCN would like to express its support of our colleagues in the community who are experiencing hardship as a result of the government shutdown.

Museums, libraries, parks, monuments, and other cultural heritage agencies funded by the United States’ federal government provide vital services and economic contributions. They enrich the lives of all Americans and strengthen American democracy. In addition, federal granting agencies, such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services, serve the work of many private, nonprofit institutions, and the cultural heritage sector as a whole.

Dedicated to growing the digital capacity of museum professionals, MCN believes a political impasse simply should not disrupt or threaten these critical services. Thousands of federal employees – cultural and information professionals, support staff, and contractors – are currently furloughed without pay, unable to perform their duties or carry out the essential missions of their agencies. All workers, including non-federal contract workers, deserve to be paid in a timely manner, and to be able to work without threat of future disruptions.

We urge our government to find ways to end the standoff and allow everyone to return to work as soon as possible.

MCN (Museum Computer Network), Board of Directors and staff

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MCN Field Trips Open up Dialog With Host-City Artists

by Marty Spellerberg

MCN is all about facilitating connections for museum professionals. For the 2018 conference in Denver, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to help introduce a new format, MCN Field Trips, that opened up opportunities for spatial and dialectic exploration.

The day before the conference has always been an opportunity for attendees to tour cultural sites or take a deep dive into a topic in a workshop. This year, museum pros also had the chance to venture out into the community to engage with local artists in their home venues. By introducing visiting cultural technologists into an established discussion series favored by Denver practitioners, the Field Trips program facilitated the exposure of these communities to each other’s concerns and points-of-view.

Denver’s two Field Trips took place on Tuesday, November 13 2018. About half of the attendees came from MCN, and half from Tilt West, a Denver non-profit that promotes critical discourse on arts and culture. Each discussion dealt with aspects of our relationship to the internet, as individuals and cultural workers.

“Proud To Be Flesh”

The first Field Trip, Proud to be Flesh: Cultural Spaces After the Internet, took place at Next Stage Collaborative, an interactive gallery space located in the Denver Performing Arts Complex and administered by the University of Colorado Denver and Denver Arts & Venues.

I wrote and delivered the discussion prompt, which can be read online. In it I attempted to survey the contemporary relationship between online and offline cultural spaces, motivated by the question:

“As much of the world moves online, what’s next for engaging, enriching, in-real-life experiences of art and culture?”

The discussion, which was recorded, grappled with the structure of cultural organizations digital departments and their engagement with social media influencers, as well as the effects of online networks on artist communities and new forms such as Instagram-ready selfie spaces. It was complemented by the environment in which it took place, an installation / performance venue titled Special Guest, presented by Meow Wolf and created in collaboration with local artists.

Following the discussion, Tilt West commissioned a response from Meagan Estep. Her piece, which can be read on Medium, expanded on my question to ask:

“With both digital and physical experiences blended in a museum setting, can we even distinguish one from the other? Are they even separate?”

“Nightmare Machines”

The second Field Trip, Computer Lib / Nightmare Machines: Technology’s Impact on Cultural Communities, took place at  Emmanuel Gallery, a non-profit art facility housed in Denver’s oldest standing church structure and situated on the Auraria Campus.

Sarah Wambold prepared and delivered the prompt, a version of which can be read online, examining the broken promises of digital technology utopianism. The discussion, which was recorded, grappled with cultural organizations’ complicity with an online culture of frightening user tracking, and user’s changing expectations of privacy. It, too, was complemented by the environment in which it took place, artist Aram Bartholl’s exhibition, Your Shopping Cart Is Empty, which presents work created at “an interplay between internet, culture and reality.”

How do our taken-for-granted communication channels influence us? Bartholl asks not just what humans are doing with media, but what media is doing with humans. Tensions between public and private, online and offline, techno-lust and everyday life are at the core of his work.

— Emmanuel Gallery

Following the discussion, Tilt West commissioned a response from Matt Popke. His piece, Nightmares of Our Own Making, examines the event’s themes in relation to The Cluetrain Manifesto, an essay that has had influence within Silicon Valley.

A Foundation for Growth

The 2018 Field Trips were developed at the intersection of MCN and Tilt West. This intersection was manifested in the person of Sarah Wambold, the Clyfford Still Museum’s Director of Digital Media, an MCN 2018 Local Committee member and Tilt West founder. The success of the program is in large part a credit to her vision and organization. As well, our appreciation extendeds to Jeff Lambson, Director of Emmanuel Gallery, for facilitating use of the venues.

In my view, the Field Trip format adds depth to the MCN offering, directly supporting the organization’s mission and expanding its reach. I hope that its success in Denver paves the way for the program to grow in 2019 and beyond.

About the Author

Marty Spellerberg is a designer, developer and curator based in Austin, Texas. He has twenty years of experience, with over a decade working primarily with museums. He presents regularly at industry conferences and is co-lead of a study of museum visitor motivation published in the Journal of Digital & Social Media Marketing. In 2016 he founded Spellerberg Projects, a cultural space and contemporary art gallery with two locations in Lockhart, Texas.

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Happy New Year from your 2019 Conference Program Co-Chairs!

Believe it or not, work is already underway for MCN 2019. I’m pleased to share that we had many outstanding applicants for the two Conference Program Co-Chair positions. From these, we’ve recruited Andrea Ledesma and Andrea Montiel de Shuman, who will serve as Co-Chairs for MCN 2019 and 2020. Both Andreas bring a wealth of professional experiences, deep involvement in the MCN community, and fresh ideas for innovating the conference program—learn more about them below.

Together, our “A-Team” will draw from our engagement in the sector and the community’s feedback from 2018 to facilitate a rigorous, engaging, and inclusive program for the 2019 conference.

Want to be involved in MCN 2019? We are seeking applications for the 2019 Conference Program Committee through Sunday, January 13, 2019. (You can apply here!) This essential group of professional volunteers establishes the MCN conference theme, identifies a keynote speaker, and evaluates session proposals. All of these activities are performed asynchronously online with proposal evaluations occurring in the first weeks of May.

Questions? Email program@mcn.edu.

—Adrienne Lalli Hills, MCN 2019 Conference Program Chair

Meet your Conference Program Co-Chairs

Adrienne Lalli Hills | @PrairieTrawler

Howdy, I’m Adrienne. In my spare time, I’m reading science nonfiction, experimenting with 1950s Jell-O mold recipes, and chasing a toddler around my home.

Presently I am the founding Manager of Exhibitions and Public Programs at ahha Tulsa. I work with artists to organize inclusive and accessible exhibitions and lead operations and pedagogy for a 2,600 sq ft arts-focused maker space and six community art studios. Working in a small, startup environment has been a fascinating change of pace from the previous positions I’ve held at larger institutions over the last decade.

In addition to serving as an MCN Program Co-Chair for the 2018 and 2019 conferences, I’m a member of the board of directors of the Museum Education Roundtable (publishers of the Journal of Museum Education) and Convening Chair for the Association of Art Museum Interpretation.

Andrea Ledesma | @am_ledesma

Andrea Ledesma headshot

Hello, I’m Andrea. As a public humanist and digital devotee, I’m fascinated with how digital technologies impact how we engage with history, culture, and each other.

Currently, I’m the Digital Content Coordinator at the Field Museum in Chicago. I support the maintenance of fieldmuseum.org and development of digital storytelling projects while keeping a keen eye on user experience and digital strategy. Before coming to the Field, I enjoyed working on digital projects for Brown University, the Tenement Museum, Digital Public Library of America, and National Park Service.

If not in a museum, I’m cooking up a new recipe, filling my head with pop culture, or continuing my search for the perfect bowl of noodles. I care deeply about the MCN community and am thrilled to serve as a program co-chair for MCN 2019. See everyone in San Diego!

Andrea Montiel de Shuman | @AndreaMontielS

Andrea Montiel de Schuman headshot

¡Hola!

I’m Andrea with the longer name, born and raised in Puebla, Mexico, where I grew up surrounded by music, colors, and museums.

As a Digital Experience Designer at the Detroit Institute of Arts, I lead public-facing digital experiences that help visitors find themselves in art. My favorite tasks are to collaborate with community advisors and user-test, teamed up with different departments, largely with the Interpretation team.

Lately, I’ve been interested in how digital innovation can help serve communities that museums can struggle with.

I am passionate about indigenous textiles, enjoy illustrating, watch anything from Studio Ghibli and hunt for new music & weird books.

MCN has been a wonderful family since I first attended, so it is an honor to now serve as Program co-chair for the next two conference cycles.

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