MCN’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, & Inclusion

 

Post by MCN Board Member, Desi Gonzalez

MCN 2017 keynote crowd photo with Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion overlaid text.

One of the things I’ve found to be special about the MCN community is that it’s made up of people who are genuinely interested in building inclusive museum technologies for diverse audiences. You can see this grassroots energy each year at the annual conference, where sessions titles such as “Accessible, Inclusive, Digital Design” and “Taking Action on Inclusion” feel right at home. Over the last year, a small working group has been meeting regularly to investigate how we might be able to weave this culture of equity and inclusion into the organizational fabric of MCN. We began by conducting research into proven practices in diversity and inclusion in peer organizations, as well as examining areas in which our own organization can grow.

 

Today, I’m thrilled to publicly announce MCN’s commitment to holistically reexamining all of its programs, practices, and policies from the lens of equity and inclusion. We’ve developed a statement that describes this commitment. We back up the statement with definitions that outline what we mean when we say we value things like diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI). This area is so important to us that we made “Embed diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion in everything we do” one of the five pillars in our new 2019–2021 strategic plan.

 

The work MCN has done in the past has come from a good place, but it’s been piecemeal and primarily focused on the annual conference. A few years ago, we implemented a Friendly Space Policy, establishing shared guidelines for making the conference a safe and respectful place for all attendees. Through our scholarship program, we are able to offer financial support to attend the conference for individuals who Identify as part of a group that is traditionally underrepresented or otherwise marginalized.

 

MCN is much more than a just conference, and thus our future DEAI efforts will extend much further. Over the next few years, we hope to pilot professional development opportunities and programming that critically address the role of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in museum technology. We plan to examine how we might be able to institute more equitable recruitment as well as provide support or compensation for people who contribute their time and labor to the organization; this includes but is not limited to MCN Board Members, Conference Program Chairs, SIG Chairs, conference presenters and attendees, scholarship recipients, and volunteers. And finally, we want to support the wonderful DEAI organizing that is already happening within our museum technology community.

 

Of course, diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion work is never complete—it’s not something that we can check off a box and say we’re done after a three-year strategic plan. Additionally, it’s not something that only a small group can accomplish; it requires input from our whole community.

 

We’d like to invite you to take part in our DEAI efforts. We’re forming an advisory board that will meet on a quarterly basis to share their expertise and help prioritize strategic goals. We hope to select 12 to 20 members who represent wide-ranging dimensions of diversity, with an eye towards giving voice to underrepresented groups. For our organization, diversity means a lot of things. Advisors will represent groups that are historically marginalized or excluded due to race, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, ability, economic background, and age. We’re also looking for members from a wide range of cultural institutions and professional roles, considering dimensions such as subject matter expertise, organization size, and stage in career.

 

Applications are due December 1, so submit yours now!

 

And whether or not you join the advisory board, we’d like to hear from you about how MCN can foster inclusion and equity within the organization. Another pillar in our new strategic plan is to identify opportunities for, connect with, and involve all of our members who want to contribute to work going on within our organization.

 

To learn how you can be involved, or to share any questions or concerns regarding DEAI at MCN, please contact diversity@mcn.edu. Additionally, we encourage you to swing by our annual conference session MCN Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion: Where are we, and where are we headed?, where you can voice how you’d like to see DEAI initiatives go in the future.

 

Headshot of Desi Gonzalez, MCN Board Member

Desi Gonzalez, MCN Board Member

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Announcing MCN 2019-2021 Strategic Plan: Achieving impact through inclusion, innovation, and community building

 

Updated mission and vision statements, summer 2018

  • To grow the digital capacity of museum professionals by connecting them to ideas, information, opportunities, proven practices, and each other.
  • A world in which all museums are empowered digitally to achieve their missions.

 

We’re pleased to announce MCN’s new three-year strategic plan (2019-2021), which was developed following a productive and energetic strategic retreat with the full board in Washington, DC this past June.

Board strategic retreat June 2018

Three years ago, in June 2015, the then-board of MCN convened in Princeton, NJ to develop a 3-year strategic plan: “Celebrating 50 Years: Advancing Transformation & Innovation in Museums” (2016-2018). MCN had operated without a formal strategic plan for roughly five years, and it had become necessary to get back on track.

The four-page document was intentionally brief: it cast a vision around five strategic priorities each with a set of non-exhaustive success criteria designed to give future board members buy-in, agency, and creativity to develop a series of tactical tasks under each of the plan’s larger objectives. These tactical tasks were documented in three successive annual “Work Plans” that also served as a tool to track progress. Much was accomplished over the past three years: increasing year-round professional development opportunities with the launch of MCN’s mentorship program (now in its second year), growing the SIGs, and improving MCN’s governance and operations, culminating in 2017 with the celebration of MCN’s 50th anniversary, which galvanized our community and resulted in many inspiring community-led projects such as MCN50 Voices.

Going into this year’s strategic development process, we started by looking at what was achieved and what wasn’t, before identifying the most urgent challenges and risks that MCN currently faces. We found ourselves asking many of the same questions we had three years earlier: What is MCN’s core purpose? How do we best serve the needs of our community? How do we ensure that we have adequate resources to support and deliver on our mission? And perhaps, more fundamentally, how do we ensure MCN’s long-term sustainability?

To respond to these questions, we developed five key strategic priorities to focus MCN’s work and frame our decision-making from 2019 through 2021:

  1. Mobilize members of the MCN community
  2. Refine our products and value
  3. Achieve long-term sustainability
  4. Transform MCN’s online platforms
  5. Embed diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion in everything we do

Lastly, in spite of many recent improvements in governance and operational principles that give MCN the support it needs to run effectively, we noticed a few issues calling for our attention. Among them, a lack of continuity in the transfer of institutional memory from outgoing to incoming board members, at a time when the former’s knowledge and experience are at their peak. So the Governance Committee will look at ways to remedy those issues.

Since its beginnings, MCN has been, and remains today more than ever, a community organization. The work invested behind the scenes to strengthen MCN is only driven by our desire to serve the needs of our community and to support each an everyone of you throughout your professional lives in museums. This next strategic plan is designed to grow MCN’s capacity to deliver on its mission so all museums are empowered digitally to achieve theirs.

Eric Longo
Executive Director

MCN 2019-2012 Strategic Plan

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Board Class of 2018: meet MCN’s newly appointed board members!

From a pool of 17 candidates, the 2018 Nominating Committee selected five nominees to fill the board vacancies. Endorsing the Committee’s recommendations, the board appointed the following five candidates to serve as Directors on the board of MCN:  Nathan Adkisson, Doug Allen, Kai Frazier, Mara Kurlandsky and Courtney OCallaghan (see 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 our 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. There are many opportunities to get involved with MCN 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 co-lead or join the annual Conference Program Committee; you could serve as a SIG chair (elections are held annually in December); and we will soon be announcing the creation of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task force and we’ll be looking for folks to serve on that as well. In many cases, a candidate’s demonstrated commitment to MCN will put them in good stead for a board role in future. For any questions about Professional Development opportunities, email us at ProfDev@mcn.edu.

The board also appointed Matt Tarr as Vice-President/President-Elect effective November 2018. Matt will serve as VP in 2019 and will succeed Elizabeth Bollwerk as MCN’s President in 2020.

Lastly, this November, three amazing board members and respected community members will be leaving the board as their term ends: Suse Anderson, who is serving as President this year, Bert Degenhart Drenth, Treasurer, and Laura Mann.

I hope you will join us in Denver for MCN 2018, and we look forward to seeing you there.

Eric Longo
Executive Director
eric@mcn.edu

2018 Nominating Committee

  • Suse Anderson, President
  • Elizabeth Bollwerk, Vice President
  • Laura Mann, Director
  • Mitch Sava, Director
  • Eric Longo, Executive Director

Nathan Adkisson

Director of Strategy & Associate Creative Director, Local Projects (NYC)

Nathan Adkisson

Nathan Adkisson is the Director of Strategy and Associate Creative Director at Local Projects. His clients include numerous cultural institutions including the Cleveland Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History and ARoS Art Museum in Aarhus, Denmark. He also launched Target Open House, a permanent concept store for the Internet of Things in downtown San Francisco. Currently, he is developing Planet Word, a 50,000 square foot museum of language scheduled to open in 2019 in Washington, D.C.

Before joining Local Projects, Nathan was a senior strategist at renowned digital agency Big Spaceship where he led projects for Crayola, Chobani, Belvedere, Google, Samsung, Sonos, Purina, AOL, and Fiji water. He began his career as a journalist, holding reporter positions for the Austin American-Statesman and Money magazine. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University.

Doug Allen

Chief Information Officer, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Kansas City, MO)

Doug Allen

Doug Allen is the chief information officer at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art where he oversees the design, implementation and support of technology for the museum’s staff, patrons and visitors. He has over 30 years of experience in the Information Services industry in positions as diverse as computer programmer, hardware repair technician and networking engineer. For the past two decades, he has served as CIO for Pioneer Financial Services, Johnson County Community College and Franklin Savings and Loan.

Doug has published two books, “Learning Guide to the Internet” (Sybex) and “Internet Explorer 5 At A Glance” (Microsoft Press). He has also authored several courses on a variety of personal computer technologies, including Internet Search Engines and HTML/Web Publishing. A nationally known lecturer, Doug has developed and delivered over 50 different seminars on Social Media, Cloud Computing, Presentation Software and ePublishing.

A leader in the Kansas City technology community, Doug has been a member of the Silicon Prairie Association, several local user groups and was a founding member and President of ITKC. On the national scene, Doug has served on advisory panels for Microsoft, Compaq, ComputerLand, SCT and others.

Kai Frazier

Founder & CEO | Museum Storyteller, Curated x Kai (San Francisco, CA)

Kai Frazier

Kai is a historian (B.A History) and innovative educator (M.Ed) passionate about utilizing technology to provide inclusive opportunities and increased exposure for underrepresented communities.

She is the founder & CEO of Curated x Kai, an award-winning virtual reality company which films inclusive VR field trips in museums and other cultural institutions. Through intense outreach, CxK delivers those experiences to students & young adults, including those in underserved communities.

Before creating Curated x Kai, she worked with several museums such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as well as the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, specializing in digital strategy and content creation.

Kai is a DC Fem Tech Award recipient, which celebrates power women in code, design, and data. In addition, Kai is a fellow of Facebook’s Oculus Launchpad which provides people from underrepresented backgrounds funding and resources to ensure diversity of thought in the VR ecosystem.

Mara Kurlandsky

Digital Projects Manager, National Museum of Women in the Arts (Washington, DC)

Mara Kurlandski

Mara Kurlandsky is the Digital Projects Manager at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, where she oversees the museum’s website, social media, and interactive digital content, coordinates the award-winning annual social media campaign #5WomenArtists, and leads the development of digital strategy. Before joining NMWA, Mara was a Project Coordinator at Gallagher & Associates where she worked on developing museum exhibitions, including the Spy Museum, the Flight 93 National Memorial Visitor Center, and the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv.

Mara fell in love with museums as a kid at the Art Institute of Chicago, and decided to make museums her career during a visit to The Museum of New Zealand/Te Papa Tongarewa. She believes strongly in the potential of museums for building community and making social change, and in 2017, led an international campaign for museums to stand up for their missions and reject “alternative facts.” She sees the leveraging of digital technologies in cultural institutions as a key tool in making museums relevant in the 21st century.

In addition to serving on the MCN Board, Mara is a part of the American Alliance of Museums Media & Technology Professional Network leadership team. She has given presentations at MCN, MuseumNext, the Council of American Jewish Museums Conference, and at the Georgetown and George Washington Universities about how to start a career in museum technology.  Mara holds an M.A. in Museum Studies from the George Washington University and a B.A. in Jewish Studies from the University of Toronto.

Courtney OCallaghan

Chief Digital Officer, Freer Gallery of Art & Sackler Gallery (Washington, DC)

Courtney OCallaghan

Courtney OCallaghan has spent nearly two decades in the IT world as a designer, developer, user experience negotiator, and everything in between.

Courtney currently works at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institution, as the museums’ first Chief Digital Officer and head of the Digital Media and Technology department. She oversees the ongoing museums’ goal of sharing its collection through all relevant digital means.

Prior to the Freer|Sackler, she worked as the IT Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation and online editor of Ms. magazine. Her educational background is in Women and Gender Studies, Ethnographic Film, and Creative Writing of Poetry.

She continues to volunteer as an organizer and developer in the Open Source world, focusing on diversity and accessibility in the community.

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2018 Call for MCN Board Directors: opens today through July 31, 2018!

We’re pleased to announce the 2018 call for candidates to be considered to serve on the Board of Directors of MCN. This year, MCN is looking to recruit four (4) Board members to replace those whose 3-year term will be ending in November.

MCN Board group image

From left to right starting with back row: Darren Milligan, Greg Albers, Keir Winesmith, Lori Byrd-McDevitt, Desi Gonzalez, Matt Tarr, Mitchell Sava, Bert Degenhart Drenth; front row: Samantha Diamond, Susan Edwards, Elizabeth Bollwerk, Laura Mann, Deborah Howes; Eric Longo in the center. Suse Anderson absent. 

Board retreat image

WHY SERVE ON THE MCN BOARD OF DIRECTORS?

MCN is a membership-based professional association that provides a space for museum professionals to connect, share resources and best practices, develop their careers, and advance digital transformation in museums.

Founded in 1967 by a group of early museum technologists eager to explore practical applications for computers in museums, MCN has provided a space for our community to connect, share their experiences and support each other, thereby leading 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 many past and current Board members, 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 it also provides an enriching and valuable professional development experience. Serving on the Board gives you the opportunity to be part of a team of talented museum professionals who, together with MCN’s Executive Director and staff, 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

The Board recently spent a weekend on retreat to develop MCN’s 3-year Strategic Plan (2019-2021). As a Board member you will be integral to achieving MCN’s strategic objectives and play an important role in the growth and evolution of the organization. At their first Board meeting in November in Denver, new Board members will actively participate in developing the next calendar year Work Plan, which is a series of smaller goals and tactical tasks that support the objectives of the 3-year Strategic Plan, and guides the work of the organization and the Board for the whole year.

For MCN to have a meaningful impact on its community, it is essential that the Board of Directors be composed of committed individuals who have the relevant skills and a wide range of perspectives to effectively lead the organization. The freshly developed 2019-2021 Strategic Plan (which we will share with the community this fall) will focus on:

  1. Ensuring that MCN grows in a sustainable fashion
  2. Expand opportunities for community members to actively contribute to MCN’s projects and programs  
  3. Transform MCN’s online presence into a user-centered destination for all of your MCN needs
  4. Simplifying MCN’s various offerings as well as how we communicate their benefits to you

So we’re looking for leaders in our field to help MCN execute the current 3-year Strategic Plan (2019-2021), and to contribute their expertise to make MCN the “go-to” professional support and development organization for digital technology in museums.

While all members of the community with an interest in serving MCN are welcome to apply, this year 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:

  • Sustainable practices and development expertise: as a community-centered organization, MCN’s sole purpose is to serve its members. Faced with limited resources and capacity, MCN needs to be mindful both strategically and operationally to how it can become self-sustainable. If you have expertise running programs or organizations that resulted in demonstrated sustainable outcomes, we want to hear from you. Skills or expertise in business development, strategic partnerships, sponsorship and fundraising are equally desirable.
  • Community development: we’re seeking a board member who has empowered communities to act with more autonomy while effectively running unique support functions for the community. If you’ve led volunteer programs, fortified community-based practices, or inspired large groups to rally around projects, we’d like to hear from you.
  • Systems infrastructure: if backend infrastructure, systems administration, architecture and integration are your claim to fame, let us know. We’re looking for someone with a strong IT systems background.
  • Product development and communications strategy: the objective here is to align all of MCN’s present and future offerings on a model that emphasizes the benefits so that you clearly understand their value. We are seeking a board member with the skills and experience to help us strategically develop, implement and support a range of products or offerings. If you have prior experience in product development, as well as demonstrated skills in marketing and communication practices around messaging, we want to hear from you specifically.

WHAT’S EXPECTED OF MCN BOARD MEMBERS?

MCN’s Board of Directors is both a governance and a working board. This means that in addition to the fiduciary duties expected from Directors of a 503(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, the Board members of MCN are also expected to volunteer their time in doing hands-on project work. For most, this means taking an active role on one or more of our internal committees.

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 call as well as 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. For reference, MCN’s By-Laws are posted on our website; feel free to familiarize yourself with them.

The MCN Governance Guidelines list 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 the 2018 Nominating Committee, please fill out and submit the application form. If you believe someone you know would be a qualified candidate, please encourage them to apply. Applications are due Sunday July 31, 2018 at 11:59pm PT. We will let you know if we require additional information about your application.

WHAT’S NEXT?

MCN’s 2018 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 2018 at the latest (it’s often sooner). The newly appointed Directors will also be announced on our website 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.

2018 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 2018 Nominating Committee

  •  Suse Anderson, President
  •  Elizabeth Bollwerk, VP-President Elect
  •  Laura Mann, Director
  •  Mitchell Sava, Director
  •  Eric Longo, Executive Director

2018 MCN board members list

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Heads up! Limited Early Bird tickets this year

This year we are changing our Early Bird ticket allotment to make it more predictable.

Starting with MCN 2018, only a limited number of Early Bird tickets will be available.

Predicting conference attendance is difficult and affects MCN’s ability to make reliable financial projections. One of the ways we believe we can have a better handle on this is by limiting the number of Early Bird tickets available.

Registration opens on June 28 with 150 Early Bird tickets up for grabs on a first-come, first-served basis until sold out or July 31, whichever comes first.

MCN remains committed to providing the best conference experience your money can buy at a price point we can all live with (conference fees). We look forward to seeing you in Denver in November.

Eric Longo, Executive Director

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How Might We: Some Questions We’re Asking for MCN 2018

Denver skyline at dusk

With our Program Co-chairs in place, and our Program Committee filled, work on MCN 2018 has begun in earnest. In fact, one of our first steps began soon after MCN 2017 concluded in Pittsburgh: we took stock of the previous year’s conference by talking to the staff and community members who made it happen and reviewing the post-conference survey that more than 200 of you so generously and thoughtfully completed.

From that, we’ve tried to distill some key takeaways. This year, taking a page out of the design thinking playbook, we’ve expressed them as How Might We questions that the program staff, co-chairs, committee, volunteers and conference participants will be able to come back to and answer anew throughout the next nine months. The phrasing of How Might We questions is designed to elicit creative thinking and open responses and move us toward actionable steps. The MCN leadership team has discussed some possible answers which we’ll roll out over the next few months as the conference starts to take shape.

Of course, reviewing the previous conference is only one of the many aspects of the work involved in putting together the conference program every year. The Program Committee—a group of about 40 professionals representing disciplines and institutions across the sector—is already working on a theme and will shortly begin to identify possible keynote speakers. Program co-chairs and conference planners will soon visit the Denver conference site, and meetings and calls and Basecamp messages are flying at a furious rate. We’re also going to be taking a fresh look at some MCN staples like Ignite and workshops, as well as evaluating some recent additions like innovative “other format” sessions and pop-ups. And we’ll continue to evolve the call for proposals, which will open in April.

There’s a lot to look forward to this year, and a lot to do to make it happen. In the end, there’s really one question that drives it all: How might we make it your MCN?

Our Key Questions for MCN 2018:

  • How might we make the most of the spaces at the conference and turn challenging physical limitations into networking and learning opportunities?
  • How might we help speakers become better teachers and also partners in the success of the conference?
  • How might we make each session unique?
  • How might we ensure new ideas don’t crowd out important fundamentals and big thinking doesn’t replace hands-on skills?
  • How might we make space for the introverted and the newcomer, for reflection and rejuvenation?
  • How might we manage the deluge of communications in the months before the conference?
  • How might we help speakers share their presentations beyond the session walls?

We encourage the MCN community to discuss, comment, and expand upon these questions and answers, to make this part of a conversation that will lead to a constantly learning and improving conference this and every year. We can’t do it without you—it’s your MCN!

Greg Albers, MCN board member and program liaison
Robert Weisberg, Catherine Devine, and Adrienne Lalli Hills, Program co-chairs

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MCN: It’s all about the people

Ben Fast (@benfaster),

Programs & Member Services Coordinator, BC Museums Association

 

 

MCN is all about the people. Dont get me wrong, the learning experiences available from the remarkably diverse sessions and the fun times visiting local museums and galleries are great, but it all comes down to who you meet.

From Day 1 it was easy to tell that MCN was centred on the people. Whether they knew you or only sort of knew you (hey, I know you from Twitter), MCN attendees were friendly and welcoming.

As a first timer from north of the border, sitting down with or taking an elevator with people from the Guggenheim, Smithsonian, or Getty (who each have staff larger than most BC towns) provided great opportunities to talk museums and learn about new trends from the people at the cutting edge. They are the gods of the Twittersphere, those names you see on blogs and that you think must be so much smarter and more capable than you. Or who at least have bigger budgets.

Being an MCN Scholar gave me the opportunity to meet these people who seemed so distant from my experience and professional context. It was the people themselves, however, whose genuine interest and friendliness revealed more commonalities and shared passions than I ever believed possible. And they sing just out of tune at karaoke, who knew?!

The 2017 MCN Scholar group was no different, 14 other museum professionals whose passion and innovation astounded me but whose friendliness helped create what Im sure will become long-lasting professional connections.

As an MCN Scholar, I also had the chance to meet with many MCN Board members whose encouragement and interest made us Scholars feel like an important part of the conference.  Thank you for supporting us in our presentations—it was great to see some of you in the crowd—and for supporting this meaningful scholarship.

At MCN we met our idols, we made our friends, and we were inspired.  And yes: we will be back!

Some MCN Scholars (and Marilyn Monroe) toasting MCN’s 50th at the Andy Warhol Museum.

Some MCN Scholars (and Marilyn Monroe) toasting MCN’s 50th at the Andy Warhol Museum.

 

The 2017 MCN Scholars meeting up for our first (of many) group photos. It was great to have a group of like-minded first-timers who also had to present and were also loving every minute of conference!

The 2017 MCN Scholars meeting up for our first (of many) group photos. It was great to have a group of like-minded first-timers who also had to present and were also loving every minute of conference!

 

Getting ready for our MCN Scholar Lightning Talks. Our group was so large we needed to rotate through the presenters’ table, but it made it look like there were lots of keep attendees right up in the front row. Can you spot some MCN staff and board members in the background? Thank you for coming and hearing our presentations - it was great to have your support!

Getting ready for our MCN Scholar Lightning Talks. Our group was so large we needed to rotate through the presenters’ table, but it made it look like there were lots of keep attendees right up in the front row. Can you spot some MCN staff and board members in the background? Thank you for coming and hearing our presentations – it was great to have your support!

 

Celebrating the end of our MCN scholarship talks with a trip to the Mattress Factory’s 40th anniversary party. Here some of us are in a roof selfie in the Kusama exhibit. Thanks MCN for putting us friends together and offering us such interesting cultural experiences too!

Celebrating the end of our MCN scholarship talks with a trip to the Mattress Factory’s 40th anniversary party. Here some of us are in a roof selfie in the Kusama exhibit. Thanks MCN for putting us friends together and offering us such interesting cultural experiences too!

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#MCN50 Voices: Carolyn Royston & Annelisa Stephan on Having Better Conversations about Digital

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.

In this post—the last one before the conference—Annelisa Stephan and Carolyn Royston ask some key questions for their own careers and for the field. How do you grow in a museum digital career if you’ve been in the field for 15 or 20 years? How can museum digital folks break out of silos to help solve challenges that really matter? How can we open up better conversations about digital?

Carolyn (above, right)  is director of digital at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and outgoing president of MCN; Annelisa is manager for digital engagement at the Getty. They’re both interested in digital literacy, content strategy, and cats. Also, they’re both finishing up midlife crises—which applies directly to digital, we swear.

 

Annelisa: Let’s get right to it. Midlife crisis.

Carolyn: My midlife crisis involved moving to the US in December 2015. Out of the blue, I had the opportunity to move back here after 30 years. I decided to take the big step and made my cats come with me as well. In all honesty, I didn’t really appreciate how big a move it would be to make at 50.

Annelisa: What precipitated the change?

Carolyn: An interesting job offer at the Gardner Museum and the chance to experience working in a US museum (thanks to Erin Coburn and Jane Alexander for recommending me). A move back to New England (I went to college there) and I didn’t want to look back and regret that I hadn’t given it a try.

Carolyn: How about you?

Annelisa: Since a good friend of mine died, I’ve been really interested in tidying my life: radically scaling down to only things that matter, which is a process of figuring out what those things are and jettisoning the rest. No filler.

Carolyn: So really thinking about what’s important and where can you have the most impact. Are you applying that thinking to your work as well? When you get a project you think is filler, how do you manage that?

Annelisa: Usually there’s wiggle room: Who are we doing this for? Why? What form is it going to take? That’s self-evident, of course, but to make that a consistent practice became very compelling for me all of a sudden. When I turned 46, I realized that I was more than halfway to 90, and that freaked me out a little. I started having some…different thoughts.

Carolyn: When I turned 50, I thought if I’m going to change something, I need to do it now.

In the last couple of years, I’ve really been thinking about what that means for me as a digital person working in museums. And increasingly, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really even want to have “digital” in my title anymore. I think our work is now about how to be part of an integrated approach with the physical and the human and the digital—they all have to work together. What we’re working on is creating a holistic visitor experience, whether that’s online or on-site, and how those pieces fit together. There’s no rocket science in what I’m saying, and I know that lots of organizations are working in this way, but I think it’s still very, very difficult to achieve.

Annelisa: I agree, and feel the same way about titles. Anything that foregrounds digital makes it into a thing, and it’s not a thing, it’s a tactic. What is it a tactic for? We foreground nouns like video, app, social, web. They become a box to fill, as opposed to a tactic that may or may not be appropriate for what we’re trying to do.

Carolyn: Absolutely. I think the structures we’re working in are for the most part outmoded, and our roles, along with others, are much more fluid now. That has been the biggest realization: I’m actually less interested in the digital and more interested in how digital fits in as one of many things. How do we think about things in a more holistic way? How do we organize ourselves internally to better facilitate and manage those conversations? It needs vision and leadership from the top and an empowered staff working together with a common purpose.

For example, I still find myself having conversations about why we are just creating content for the web over here, and then creating really similar content for print over there? Why aren’t we thinking about what we’re doing together, and why are we still the people having to drive that change and ask the questions? This is not complex, but somehow seems incredibly difficult to solve.

Annelisa: When digital people ask questions like those, are we seen as stepping beyond the areas we’re allowed to have an opinion about?

Carolyn: I think it depends where you are working, but yes, I think it can be seen as being “difficult.” We still feel like we are on the margins, when actually everything that we’re doing is core to what the museum does. Even after all this time working in museums, I’m still having to deal with these same organizational and leadership issues.

Annelisa: It sounds to me like you want a more strategic leadership role. Is that something that “formerly digital” people might be able to aspire to?

Carolyn: I think I’ve got to the stage where I’d like to see if I could put some of what I think about leadership, organizations, and ways of working into practice. Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to be a Getty Leadership Institute 2017 participant. I met some fabulous people and was totally inspired. It was amazing to have the luxury of spending two weeks thinking about leadership and my own learning and development. I came away thinking that I’d like to either lead a small organization or have more of a leadership and vision role in a museum, rather than a “digital” one. I think it’s just a natural evolution of doing this for a long time and having the breadth of experience working in national museums in the UK, with several different museums and arts organizations when I was consulting, and now having the US experience. I’m so interested in strategy and big thinking, new ways of working, staff skills development, and visitor experience. I’d love to be able to put all that together to shape an organization and take it forward.

Annelisa: Before this conversation we were chatting about some of the challenging digital conversations that we keep having, and what conversations we might like to have instead. Let’s compare notes.

Here’s one: the idea that the latest technology is going to make us hip and relevant. When I started, the hip and relevant thing was email marketing, which is hilarious now, right? Then it was web, then apps, then social, then video, now maybe VR/AR. I don’t want to have a conversation about a tool, I want to talk about the intent of the tool. Another one is talking about content as an end-product and not as a tactic. Shoveling content into rectangles is not the same as strategic activity.

Or that conversation about how long it takes to make stuff. I’ve worked on blog posts that literally took 30 hours. How could that possibly be? Images have to come from somewhere, texts have to get written. Writing is hard, editing is hard. Making good-quality material is time consuming.

Another conversation I find challenging is when digital is seen as purely marketing or PR—not a tool to accomplish the mission. Maybe this gets to the issue of digital folks (not) moving into leadership.

Carolyn: I agree with all of those things. My big one is around the holistic nature of the visitor experience. Digital is part of that, and yet so often we’re not included in that conversation at the right time, or we’re brought in because we’ve got to implement some kind of “digital” tool that will fix everything.

Like you, I’ve just seen a lot of change over 20 years, and shiny-object syndrome is still there. There’s still a lack of understanding at a senior level around basic infrastructure that needs to be supported, as well as what it takes to resource that. Maybe there will always be that tension?

Annelisa: A downside of the shiny is, who’s caring for these things we’ve already made? We talk about things we’ve already built as operational load, as opposed to stewardship. As I get older, stewardship becomes more important to me. All of us over age 40 have a landscape littered with broken Flash microsites, decayed apps, and god knows what else.

Annelisa: What conversations would you rather be having?

Carolyn: I’d rather be having a conversation around what might be more effective organizational structures. What different ways might we be organized that better reflect the way we work and enables us to work more efficiently so that we can be more effective and more impactful? What would it take to take for museums to take some risks around that?

I’d also like to have a conversation about what the career of a digital person in a museum looks like today. So many of us don’t come from traditional technology backgrounds, how do we forge a career pathway in the current organizational structures that we are working in?

And finally, how do we continue to build digital capacity in our museums? And help our staff to build the confidence to use digital instinctively in their work? I’m incredibly excited about a newly funded project in the UK that I helped to initiate with Dr. Ross Parry at the University of Leicester. Over the next two and a half years, the project will create a digital literacy framework for UK museums. I’m hoping that it’s something that can be mirrored here in the US, and I’m already thinking about how to make that happen.

Annelisa: I’m interested in all of those things. I’m also interested in talking about what the purpose of a museum is now and who we’re for, what change we want to make in the world, if any, and how digital plays into that at the ground floor.

Carolyn: Here’s another conversation I’d like to have: If we as practitioners are realizing that we have to work in a much more holistic way across our organizations, how can MCN as a professional body collaborate with other professional organizations like AAM, AAMC and AAMD to forge relationships and go into each other’s spaces a bit more? So often, we’re just talking to ourselves. Like you and I are right now.

Annelisa: Ha! Yes, we need to own our own responsibility for self-siloing. We feel comfortable with other technologists. Every year at MCN I hear us say we should have more curators on board. The same conversations we’re having about visitor experience, and equity, and what a museum is for, are being held at AAMC, but we’re not there.

Carolyn: As I step out of MCN, what I’d like to see happening moving forward is more opportunities for cross-fertilization between professional groups.

Annelisa: I’d add that travel funding is increasingly hard to get, so there’s a lot of folks who can never make it to any of these conferences. How do we provide spaces for conversation for those staff?

Carolyn: As a field, I do think we still are having the same conversations. Maybe they’ve got a bit more sophisticated, maybe our voice is a bit louder, but I still fundamentally feel like digital is a function—we need a website, we need social media, we need a CRM, but actually those are all just means of delivery, systems. I’m still not sure that we are seen as people who should be part of the conversation or positioned at the right level so that we can contribute strategically to show how these systems fit together, and about how they contribute to a holistic, integrated visitor experience.

Annelisa: What I really like about having been at the Getty for a long time is that I have wonderful colleagues and friends in other departments, like education and curatorial, who are ambassadors for these same messages—so it’s not just the annoying digital person going, “But wait, what about strategy?” All of us have been around long enough that we’re getting serious about where we’re spending our time, what we’re trying to do, and how we’re measuring it.

Annelisa: Tell us your best piece of advice for breaking out of the digital silo.

Carolyn: Doing a visitor journey-mapping project was a great example of really understanding how what I do fits in with other things. Out of that, we formed a visitor-experience steering group. Now I have lot more conversations about non-digital things, but where digital might be able to solve a problem, for the visitor or institutionally.

I had to be proactive about suggesting visitor journey mapping, even though it wasn’t a digital project, and then explain to everybody why it was a useful project for me to do when I was thinking about the website and about the on-site digital interpretation here.

What’s your best strategy?

Annelisa: Changing the way I talk about what I do, and about digital. I cringe when I think about all the times I did evangelism for digital, for social. I don’t do that anymore. I want to hear the aspirations of my colleagues, and then think about whether digital can help with those. A lot less talking about digital and a lot more listening. And a lot of prompting the difficult questions—maybe sometimes in an irritating way, I’m not sure—but people are really eager to talk about those.

I’m working on myself, is the short answer.

Carolyn: The interesting thing for both of us is that we’ve seen our roles evolve. You can’t just stay the same—you have to change and adapt. I still love the idea of working in a museum and being a change agent.

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#MCN50 Voices: Lisa Worley & Rob Stein

In continuing celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Museum Computer Network, Rob Stein and Lisa Worley spent some time by phone reconnecting and reminiscing about their own specific introductions to the museum technology field.  

 

Lisa Worley is the Director of Material Culture at the Historic Ford Estates and Rob Stein is the Executive Vice President and Chief Program Officer at the American Alliance of Museums.  While they don’t know each other well, Rob and Lisa have crossed paths in museums a number of times, including during the 2015 “Reimagining the Museum” conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

 

Did you always want to work in museums?

 

Rob:  Remember those career aptitude tests you used to take in High School? Well, mine predicted that I’d either make a great priest… or an engineer. Of the two—engineering seemed to be a much more likely profession! More specifically, I was fascinated by astronomy and wanted to be an astronaut, so I entered University of Illinois to study aeronautical engineering. While there, I spent a lot of time in the computer lab for my classes. With this being the early ‘90s and Illinois being the home for the first web browser, this was a fascinating time to learn about technology. Eventually, I changed my major to computer science and began to explore how 3D computer graphics and virtual reality could tell stories about science. My first job was as a Scientific Visualization programmer and I worked to represent simulations of severe storms, supernova, and various kinds of fluid dynamics problems.

 

I continued to work in academia throughout the first decade of my career. I think I expected that it would be much more collaborative and to have much more direct impact on the public than I found it to. After working on a number of projects with museums, I became enamored with the public impact and collegiality I found there, so I left my job in academia and joined the Indianapolis Museum of Art as a software developer.

 

Over the next decade, I experienced a lot of great things and met thousands of talented people through museums. I’m so glad I made the change and can’t imagine working in any other field.

 

Lisa:  I’ve always loved history. I took AP history courses in high school, and studied history in college. Of course, I assumed this would lead to a career as  a teacher, but I discovered the museum field while getting my BA at the University of Arizona. I took a class in the Anthropology department where I learned to give tours to K-12 students through the Arizona State Museum. It was a game changer for me. I went on to study public history in graduate school, and I learned about architecture, decorative arts, furniture, textiles, and costumes. I loved historic homes, so I chose to focus my career working at historic sites. I love the stories you can tell in homes! After grad school, I ended up in Texas—the last place I ever thought I’d be. My initial plan was to get a few years of experience under my belt at a 1911 historic house museum then move back to Colorado, but life happened and I spent 18 years as a Texan.

 

What’s your connection to MCN? How’d you get connected with the museum technology community?

 

Lisa: I’m a big fan of professional development and networking having attended conferences through AAM, AASLH, ALHFAM, and the Texas Association of Museums. Before the Austin conference, I’d never really heard of MCN. I saw the call for volunteers and jumped at the chance to learn something new. I was only there for one day – but it was an eye opening experience.

 

As you move along in your career, its seems that so many other conferences have less and less new for you to learn. MCN was a fresh set of thinking and topics to explore. With MCN, I usually come home with REALLY big ideas, which is not something that I’ve found in other (or more familiar) conferences. MCN seems just unfamiliar enough that my brain can think the really big ideas.

 

Rob: This reminds me of a concept I first heard from Koven Smith I think. The “adjacent possible” is a concept from evolutionary biology that I’ve been thinking about recently.  The idea goes like this—If you took all the possible combinations of amino acids found in nature, the combinatorial number is absolutely enormous. But when we observe nature, we actually only find organisms and compounds that comprise a relatively small amount of real estate when compared to the universe of possible combinations. Because of the way that evolution works, new mutations are always expanding into those permutations directly adjacent to their current form. Expanding into the adjacent possible—so to speak.

 

I kind of feel that our careers, and the museum field are kind of like this.  Very rarely do we seize upon ideas or actions that are entirely disconnected and “random”.  It’s much more likely that we evolve our thinking and practice into the adjacent possibilities that no one has tried yet.  That’s why conferences or friends who stretch our thinking into new, but not wholly unfamiliar territory, can help provoke our thinking and innovation in useful ways.  The adjacent possible!

 

Lisa: In some ways, this collaborative way that the MCN community works together seems like a bit of new thinking for museums. My experience from working in a smaller museum is that we often see ourselves competing with the “big” museums. The collaborative experiences at MCN seem to have become prevalent for us only recently. Is that because collaboration like this isn’t as readily apparent at the more traditional museum conferences? Or are these competitive instincts present more on a local basis?  Big vs. Small museums in the same town?  But, networking and building relationships, like those at MCN and at other conferences seems to be key to moving beyond that.   

 

On the change in MCN conferences over the years

 

Rob: My first MCN conference was in 2006 in Pasadena. At that time, MCN tended to focus a bit more on IT and technology practice. Over time, I think MCN, and this part of the museum field has slowly becoming more broad in its thinking about digital working as a whole. There continues to be more discussion about museum strategies, process, and impacts. We don’t seem to have very many sessions on how to configure your Cisco router anymore. It’s still important to do that work, but the conversations at museum technology conferences have become more about museum work as a whole.

 

Lisa: I agree. I remember coming home from my first MCN conference with a list of technical terms (jargon) that I had to Google. I like that now, the discussions at MCN have been moving towards the outcomes for the visitors.

 

On sharing a conference experience together in Buenos Aires and how a global context for museum work impacted our thinking:

 

Lisa: It was really eye-opening to understand more about the cultures that other museums are operating in. Some of the realities in global museum communities would never have occurred to me from a US perspective on museums.

 

What’s the line between propaganda and history? Some of the Latin American museums were talking about how the government should sponsor museums on specific topics (such as State sponsored violence), but my first thought was “would the government ever give difficult topics the justice that they deserve?”

 

Rob: The conference in South America made me think more about my own museum experience in the US. Latin American museums are dealing with many of the same issues we are here in the States, but more acutely and more out in the open. Budget crunches, political corruption, remaining relevant to their communities, financial inequalities, etc… In the US, we are dealing with these issues daily now. I feel that we have a lot to learn from our Latin American colleagues, who have been achieving great successes with these issues, but many times working from a different perspective. The “adjacent possible” at work again!

 

3 Pieces of Advice

In thinking about advice they might give to people who are new(er) to the MCN community, Rob and Lisa came up with a few ideas that might be helpful.

 

Lisa:

  1. We’re all in this together: Avoid saying “that’s not my job.” It’s not about you or me—it’s about giving the people who come to us an amazing experience.

 

  1. Always be open to learning new things: Always be reading and exploring beyond your capacity. I love knowing what’s going on in the field—what cool things other organizations are doing. And, really, you never know how often a crazy idea that seems disconnected actually becomes connected sometime later on.

 

  1. Be Flexible: What we do in museums is terribly important, but lives are NOT on the line. We need to put what we do in perspective. Treat each other well and *really* think about what’s important. Pick your battles—it’s too hard to fight all of them at the same time. I’ve learned my way is not the only way, or the only right way. Just keep your eyes on the final outcome.

 

Rob:

  1. Give more than you take: The artists Jim Hodges used this as a title for a retrospective of his art that we exhibited at the Dallas Museum of Art in 2015. I really stood out to me as a great way to be successful in museums and in life. The times in my career when I’ve made this a priority have been among my most successful as well.

 

  1. Always be exploring: I find that giving myself permission to have side projects that interest me has been a key to maintaining creativity, connection, engagement to the larger world (both personally and professionally). Sometimes we feel guilty about taking time to explore things like this, but I’ve found that I’m often most productive plowing through the hardest parts of my “real work” when I’ve got an engaging distraction too!

 

  1. Prioritize: There are too many good things to do in the world. When we’re trying to do them all at the same time, we’ll never get anything accomplished. Be ruthless in deprioritizing the good things in favor of your best next steps. From there, you can be certain that you’re actually moving forward and not just spinning your wheels.
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#MCN50 Voices: Chani Knight  & Ilaria D’Uva

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.

 

In this conversation, Chani Knight, Manager of Individual Giving at the Nevada Museum, and Ilaria D’Uva, CEO of D’Uva srl, spoke about how they got started in the musetech world, their advice for those just starting out, and the piece of technology they can’t live without.

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