My first MCN event, not my last!

Guest post by MCN 2016 Scholar, Andrea Ledesma

MCN 2016 attendees take part in Ignite at the House of Blues, New Orleans

I’d have been crazy to turn down a week in New Orleans. And, when that week promises days filled with talks of museums, tech, and a little karaoke…well, I packed my bags as early as June.

This November, I attended MCN 2016 as an MCN Scholar. I didn’t know what to expect. Admittedly, I was a little nervous, hanging with museum professionals, many of whom I admired on Twitter, in blogs, and other niches of the Internet.  

MCN 2016 was all about the “human-centered museum.” This theme inspired an array of presentations, from web design to oral history, apps to activism. I attended as many as I could, and looking back I found myself returning to a number of my own central questions.

First, who is the human at the center of this museum? We threw around a lot of names during the week:


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Visitors

Participants

Users

Collaborators

Citizens

Superheroes

Friends

 

These categories are not mutually exclusive, nor are they restricted to folks outside the museum. We and our publics embody each, and this changes our expectations of and responsibilities to the museum. What I learned from the conference is that discerning between each is a matter of empathy. We need to ask ourselves how we see each other and ourselves in the museum and the community at large.

Second, what makes data meaningful? David Newburry’s ignite talk had me cheering for linked open data in the middle of the House of Blues. Brian Alpert, Sarah Banks, and Effie Kapsalis from the Smithsonian gave me a crash course in user metrics. I even got really excited metadata (though, I’ve always been a fan). With Andrea Wallace I embraced the public domain as the space in which we “let our imagination run wild.” Good data, at the very least, is clean and accessible, growing and stable, transparent and interpretive.

Finally, what does it mean to be a cultural worker in the digital age? I’m currently pursuing an MA in Public Humanities. I focus on the use of technology in museums and cultural institutions, with an emphasis on new media theory and public history. I’m also graduating in May. So, this conference was as much about creative exploration as it was professional development. I appreciated not only the sessions like speed networking but also the honest conversations about labor. Elissa Frankle talked about “radical trust.” While we talk about trusting publics, centering their perspectives and insight when (co)creating content, designing experiences, etc., institutions must also apply this principle within. How can we recognize and nurture the talent of our colleagues? How can create we culture of risk (without blame or fear of reproach) that ultimately makes for better, more exciting work?

I’m still coming down from my MCN 2016 high, finding myself craving another beignet and reminded of conference panels in the middle of class. Thank you to the MCN Scholarship Committee for this amazing experience.

This was my first MCN event, but it surely won’t be my last.

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Experiencing the MCN Experience

By MCN 2016 Scholar, Luc Desmarais (@MuseoLuc), Exhibits & Design Manager, Beaty Biodiversity Museum (beatymuseum.ubc.ca)

What a week! This was my first time at the MCN conference, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the generous opportunity provided by the MCN Scholarship program. It was an honour to receive the scholarship, and very humbling to be included amongst the other incredible scholars.

After having some time to digest the experience (and the deep-fried everything), what I’m left with is the sense that now I’m part image01 of something bigger than I expected. It’s the feeling of spending a few days with new people, and now suddenly you’re part of the family. The community of MCN is what stood out to me from the start. It’s welcoming, warm, cozy, and inclusive. And I like it. These are my people. That’s my biggest take away from the week, as much as anything I learned in the sessions. My first MCN conference was an introduction to the family and an amazing opportunity to network and make connections. As the Canadian cousin no one had heard of before showing up to dinner, I felt welcomed and included. There was a seat for me, and everyone else, at the table.

The theme of “The Human Centered Museum” rang loudly throughout all of the conference sessions, and that is what inspires me going back to work. The traditional top-down model of operating a cultural organization is over. There’s no top; there’s no bottom. It’s us, standing with the visitor and the community, working together. Their stories are the future of museums. Talk to your visitors, build empathy, and have conversations. This is how we can be successful.

By the way, New Orleans is awesome. How many different marine invertebrates can you batter and deep fry? I’m not sure, but I image02think I ate most of them. As a musician and music lover, I was excited to see what the city had to offer and I wasn’t disappointed. The city is alive with music, and the best of it is found on the street. I was also lucky enough to catch a show at Preservation Hall, which was an experience I’ll never forget. Talk about the “open jaw of awe”!

Finally, the most eye-opening experience came on my last day in New Orleans. I visited the Lower 9th Ward Living Museum and was amazed at what they have accomplished. How often do we get to go to a museum where you are literally stepping into the story? The building, the neighbours, the people on the street, are all part of the story that the museum is telling. This brought the MCN conference experience full circle for me. There are no frills; there’s nothing fancy. It works because the roots of this museum are the people and their stories, and it created one of the most memorable museum experiences of my life.

What’s more human-centered than that?

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(photo by Mairin Kerr)

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Lights, Lights, Overstimulation

Guest post by MCN 2016 Scholar, Emily Haight – Digital Editorial Assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts

As a scholarship recipient, presenter, and first-timer to MCN I didn’t know what to expect. What I experienced was four days of non-stop information overload. (It’s a good thing.) Here are a few of my highlights:

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During the week, I ventured to Port of Call to indulge in a half-pound of “New Orleans’ Best Hamburger.” (Not pictured is the side of baked potato that came with the burger. I kid you not.) I stopped by Café du Monde for beignets (twice) and visited the World War II Museum, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the Newcomb Art Museum’s exhibition of art by Australian Aboriginal women.

 

emily-haight-img_15231My first session was the half-day workshop “Beginner Hacking–Wearables” led by Chris Evans. Using a microcontroller, NeoPixels, ping pong balls, and a soldering iron, I constructed a light-up feature to clip on to my conference nametag. Diffused color-changing lights ensured that I would be obnoxiously visible in large crowds.

During several sessions I was too awestruck to tweet. I furiously scribbled notes about the Art Gallery of NSW’s artist profiles to delve into after the conference. I was blown away learning about the development of SFMOMA’s audio guide app with Detour, and—in a later session—captivated by their online content strategy (and confident adoption of fair use policies).

 

emily-haight-2016-11-15-13_38_00-twitterAs a social media manager, I was eager to pick up a few ideas from presentations about social platforms. I let out gut-busting laughs during “Disappearing Content: Snapchat and Instagram Stories” and was captivated by five case studies illustrating the criteria for participatory campaigns, including #GettyInspired and #Spunday.

On the last day, I presented a case study with my colleague, “Can You Name #5WomenArtists? A Viral Campaign for Women’s History Month” and bolted afterward for lightning talks with my fellow scholars.

 

 

Temily-haight-mcnstitch1wo off-site events during the conference added to the experience. The Ignite reception at the House of Blues and the gathering at the Audubon Aquarium also allowed me to see more of the city—and spend some quality time with my scholar cohort!

 

 

Overall, I felt inspired and empowered by each of the presentations I attended. MCN provided a fantastic opportunity to meet people that I had previously only known virtually, share ideas with them, and plan for future collaborations.

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