MCN50 Voices: Elissa Frankle & Max Evjen

In this instalment of the MCN50 Voices series, Elissa Frankle and Max Evjen discuss what how they rely on others, work/life balance, being a “cheptic,” and of course, karaoke. Max and Elissa met through the greater Twitter/conference conglomerate that is Museums and the Web and both have jobs that are multifaceted.


Elissa Frankle headshot    Max Evjen headshot  


Max is an assistant professor of arts and cultural management and museum studies at Michigan State University (MSU), does site-specific theatre for the MSU Theatre, AND is Exhibitions Technology Specialist at the MSU Museum.

Elissa is a senior user experience researcher at Ad Hoc LLC. Until June 2017, she was the museum experience and education specialist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), the role on which much of this interview is based.  Elissa is always a museum person even when she isn’t working for one.

Through a months-long exchange of emails, Elissa and Max discovered that they share a lot more than awesome curly hair and a general love of museums. Their professional lives are shaped by connection to people—mentors, colleagues, visitors, family—and they keep fresh as technologists by learning from peers and luminaries in the field. Being educators affects how they think about technology: through the medium of technology, they remain facilitators, listening to, learning from, and responding to the needs of their audiences. This even holds up for MCN Karaoke, where they’re interested in delighting the audience, and their favorite emojis, which are based in celebrating the person with whom they’re communicating.

Elissa would like to thank Max for being patient with her as she took weeks to respond to emails, got caught up in wedding planning and job hunting, and read her long, introspective responses. Max would like to let Elissa off the hook, since we are all busy! Happy birthday, MCN—we can’t wait to see you in November!


Where we come from

Describe your personal job history/trajectory in less than 10 words.

Elissa: Museums! But what? Education? Social? Digital media? Visitor experienceahhhhhh.

Max: Theatre, app development, coffee, higher ed admin, museums, museums & teaching (some experiences commensurate).

If you weren’t working in the museum field, where would you be working?

Elissa:here are a few things I could see myself doing. The part of me that is looking outside museums right now is looking at doing service design full time for other public spaces, like airports and hospitals. I really want to help people’s physical needs become quieter so that they can do what they actually need to do in a space. There’s so much need there! And it feels so obvious, but so few people and firms are doing it. Another part of me would  probably be working in the space industry or building boatsbefore college washed me out of mathematics, I had dreams of being an engineer. My fiancé also thinks I’d be a good speechwriter! The last woman he dated before we met was Hillary Clinton’s speechwriter during the ’08 campaign, who went on to be Michelle Obama’s speechwriter (yes, she wrote “when they go low, we go high”). They remain good friends, and when I started looking for new jobs, he linked us up right away. So many roads not taken.

Max: I would likely be developing theatrical productions about science. I used to have a company called Redshift Productions that facilitated collaboration among scientists and artists to create performances. In the course of working on those projects—some with museums—I began to be very interested in museums, and in how the work that I had been doing was in creating informal science learning experiences. I decided I would do that with museums, and now I have an appointment in the Michigan State University Department of Theatre and at the MSU Museum, so I get to do both these days!


On being a museum tech person

Who is one person you rely on to help you do your job? What do they do to help you?

Max: Teresa Goforth (Exhibitions Manager at the MSU Museum) and I have productive lunches about once a month, somewhere off MSU’s campus, so we can do more high-level thinking away from the constraints of what happens at the Museum. I find these occasions very valuable as a way to course correct or to refine thoughts toward another aspect of the work that we do.

Elissa: Lunches are the best thing for mentorship and friend-tor-ship. David McKenzie (now at Ford’s Theatre) and I worked together at the Jewish Historical Society of greater Washington, D.C., and seven years ago we started having lunch together about once a month to talk about our jobs. (On the day of the DC earthquake, I missed all of the excitement because I was biking back across the Mall from lunch with him and didn’t feel it!) When I’ve struggled with problems in, at, or with my job, he’s always been a ready counselor. As our jobs have circled back around to be more similar, we’ve grappled together with a lot of the same difficulties and helped each other work through them. For the first time in seven years, we’re finally working together again—our respective citizen history initiatives are feeding one another, and I’m advising an IMLS-funded project he’s helping lead at Ford’s.

How has your understanding of technology in museums changed over time?

Max: I have come to realize that by the time we deploy technologies for visitor experience, the tech, while it looks new, is already old. One example is a touchscreen application that we installed in the museum. While it looks new and it is an engaging experience, we had to use a display that is full HD, not the newer 4K technology, because the application does not work well with 4K displays. The rate of change in tech is so fast that we can’t catch up, especially when in a smaller organization with a limited budget.

Elissa: My understanding of technology hasn’t necessarily changed, but rather been sharpened. One of my colleagues at USHMM talks about good technologists as “cheptics”: we have to be cheerleaders to the technology-phobic, and skeptics to those who think technology is a magic bullet. In grad school, my instructors Dana Allen-Greil and Carrie Kotcho were really great about honing this middle ground with us. I’ve also dug way in on letting the content and audience lead to the right technology; I’ve built this one into my muscle memory. The biggest change has probably been on apps: I drank the shiny-object Kool-Aid early in my career, but now it would take an awful lot of convincing for me to say there’s a good museum app out there, or a good reason for one. I may have gone too far on this, and hope to come back to some better middle ground. Apps aren’t evil! They’ve just been used for evil, or at least for not-very-good, non-visitor-oriented, donor-driven, egotistical projects, in the past. We can do better.

How do you stay up to date with your tech skills?  Does your job provide support for ongoing professional development?

Elissa: I stay up to date with my tech skills by learning from colleagues and reading blogs. My job at USHMM doesn’t require a lot of tech, outside of some writing for social media and the extent to which UX (user experience) research is a tech skill. I keep the latter up to date by spending a lot of time with visitors, testing out new protocols all the time, and being willing to fail quickly, learn, and try again. The visitors have always been my best teachers. The USHMM does provide for professional development, generally one conference a year, and I sent myself to two additional conferences this spring for my own professional growth: Interaction 17 and the Information Architecture Summit.

Max: I also stay up to date from colleagues and blogs. I find conferences like MCN and Museums and the Web indispensable for staying current not just about technology, but about the people working with technology. I also serve on the steering committee for the Digital Humanities (DH) program at Michigan State University and they hold a number of training sessions for varying technologies for use in the DH field, and much of that applies to what I do in the Museum.

What’s your go-to place to procrastinate on the internet?

Max: Twitter, Twitter, and more Twitter. Sometimes Facebook.

Elissa: Also all about the Twitterz, with the recent addition of sites about whatever wedding planning task we’re working on during a given week. (This week it’s ketubahs and invitations, so lots of time on and Minted.)


Advice to the newbies

What are three pieces of advice you’d give to someone starting out in the field?


  1. Every job is somewhere on the continuum between leadership and management. We lead for change, we manage for consistency. Since it is a continuum, that means that even if your role is closer to the management end, you still need to produce change. So look for the opportunities where that can happen and back up your efforts with data.
  2. Everything in a museum is education, marketing, public relations, and development. Learn a little about each of those areas, even if you are going into collections management or you really want to be a registrar. Your job is related to each of those areas, and it is your responsibility to figure out how.
  3. Figure out the things you really like to do, and do those. I’m a big fan of Gallup’s Strengthsfinder program, which focuses on turning “signature themes” (things that you are already good at, that energize you) into strengths. Focus on those things, and manage the things that don’t energize you.


  1. Don’t sell yourself short. I’ve been reading so many draft cover letters from emerging museum professionals where the applicants sell themselves short, almost seeming embarrassed about the skills they bring to the table. If you’re not excited about what you’re able to do and what you know, how can you get a stranger excited about you? Work with a partner, friend, or mentor. Discuss your work and your passions, and have their descriptions of what you do sing out even if you’re not feeling it. Sometimes we can be our own worst critics, and it helps to have someone outside the situation—outside your own head—remind you how cool you are.
  2. Get yourself out into the community. This might mean joining Twitter and participating in #museumedchat, going to a #drinkingaboutmuseums event, or attending a conference. Rule #1 applies here too: hold on to what excites you and bring that enthusiasm with you when you go. By and large, the museum tech community is a family of equals who were all in your shoes once and want you to succeed. Try not to be cowed by “superstars”—we’re all human, after all, and everyone is making it up as we go.
  3. Show your relevance to the rest of the museum. Max, I loved the idea that every job in the museum is related to every other job! The mirror of that advice is to figure out how to talk about your job in a way that shows its relevance to the whole museum. How does your work relate to the mission? How do you support collections, for instance, and how can collections support you? It’s so important to build connections around the museum, and the clearer you can be about what you do and why it matters, the easier those connections will be.

What do you think about the idea of work/life balance?

Elissa: I have a lot of thoughts on work-life balance. Just as I was leaving my social media job, which I’d let become a 24/7 job and was starting to scale back, my then-boyfriend was starting what was a 24/7 job in the Obama White House. This meant we couldn’t make evening or weekend plans until the last minute and would usually have to cancel, or, that when we could make them, he’d have to step out to take a phone call or review a document. In the past few months of his post-White House job he’s been leaving for work after me, getting home before me, and taking the lead on making plans to have people over. We’ve even hosted a few game nights mid-week! A job is a job; family is forever, mental health comes first, and in the museum field nothing—except maybe a leak or, heaven forbid, fire—really counts as an emergency. Go home. Have dinner. Hug your partner. I know I don’t want any member of my future family to ever feel like they play second fiddle to my job. It’s just not that important.

Max: Work life balance is something that MSU takes very seriously, but I think we are personally responsible for ensuring that happens. It can be hard when one has a dual appointment in the University, and many do.  Sometimes it seems like everyone would like you 100% of the time, even when your appointment with them is, say 50%. But that ebbs and flows. I am fortunate to be in a place that takes it seriously (there’s a work/life program at MSU in the College of Arts and Letters), but I agree with your assertion that our personal lives are more important than our professional lives, and we need to remind ourselves of that often.

What skills did you learn on the job, or wish you’d had before starting?

Max: A significant part of my job is teaching, and I learned about designing a college-level course while on the job. I’m constantly making adjustments to my courses during the semester, and after each section is done. That has informed my thinking about exhibition design, and now I’m much more comfortable with making changes while an exhibition is open than I thought I would be.

Elissa: Everything I know so far about doing UX (user experience) and VX (visitor experience) research. I really fell into service design through a totally different project, and came to realize that doing good UX or VX research combined my skills as an educator (including general fearlessness about approaching random strangers), my grad school work on evaluation, and my desire to work towards a mission through serving the public. I’ve shadowed/interviewed/interrogated our awesome UX designers at the Holocaust Museum, read loads, and gone to conferences to hone my skills, but the bulk of it has been learned day by day through trial and error on the floor.


MCN Life

Can you share a favorite memory from a past MCN conference? It doesn’t need to be a session, it can be a favorite social memory/funny story.

Elissa: Wrapping up our Ignite talk at MCN2015 and hearing the cheers of an amazingly supportive crowd, and feeling like I’d come home. That, or becoming best friends with Jason Alderman shortly after meeting him because we were cracking up at this painting together, and discovered that we make awesome museum buddies. I haven’t laughed that hard in a museum in a really long time.

Max: You and I were together, preparing for our session “Digital Careers at a Crossroads: Next Steps and New Paths” at MCN201. We were in a shared Google Doc, while Chad Weinard was also working on it from another location. Chad was generating an idea and e suddenly changed what he had originally written to “Managers: not understanding digital is like saying you don’t understand budgeting. It’s not an option anymore.” You and I looked up at each other in excitement, knowing that he found the perfect thing to say in that moment of the session, and we were ready to present. Merete Sanderhoff tweeted out that quote; it was liked 128 times and retweeted 69 times. Of course, Jason Alderman’s sketch note of that session was also a huge highlight.

I already know you have participated in MCN Karaoke, so what was your favorite rendition out of any time you attended?

Elissa: My favorite is the first time I sang “Like a Prayer,” which is one of my two go-tos along with Journey’s “Separate Ways.” I love doing karaoke for the first time with a new group and knocking people’s socks off—not because I’m that good, but because somehow people don’t see me as being a big karaoke person. 🙂 I had backup dancers! For songs I don’t sing, Koven Smith’s annual “Ignition (Remix)” rendition is a highlight every time, and Tim Svenonius (whose brother is a legit rock star) is another dark horse with a delicious bass voice that surprises everyone.

Max: I have found that mid- to late-80’s hair metal works really well for me. At the last MCN Karaoke, Nikhil Trivedi and I performed a rousing “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake, the likes of which I’m not sure can be matched. 🙂


Just because

Favorite emoji?


Fist Bump emoji


 Blushing emoji



MCNVoices: Koven Smith and Liz Filardi

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




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

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


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

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


On museum culture:

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

Is Carva still making sandwiches? That dude was awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


On disruption:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think that’s exactly right.


On digital staff(ing):

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

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


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

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


On commercial vs. not-for-profit tech:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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




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

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

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

i was deployed on the project as an “expert”

I’m an old bear.

stay gold, pony boy, stay gold.

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

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

what!? that’s so tessitura

I blame Ronald Reagan

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


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

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

haha burn!


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



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


#MCN50: A Conversation with Lanae Spruce and Ravon Ruffin

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

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

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

Instagram Story Transcript #MCN50

To @afroxmericana from @_BlackMuses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To @_BlackMuses from @afroxmericana.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


MCN History with Chuck Patch

Post by Chuck Patch, MCN President 2002-03



Fig. 1-2 MCN Archives Dive Team

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

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

Fig. 3 – Page from 1968 program

Fig. 4 – Music analysis


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

Fig. 5 – Report on failure of grant

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

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

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

Fig. 6 – Spectra v3 no 4 1976

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

Fig. 7 – Image of Spectra on New Orleans

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

Fig. 8 – Cover of Santa Monica Program

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



#MCN50 Voices: Rebecca Friday interviews Yvel Guelcé 


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


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

Yvel Guelcé headshot Rebecca Friday profile photos with art

Yvel Guelcé and Rebecca Friday


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


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


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


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


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

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

VR at The Children’s Museum


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


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


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


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



#MCN50 – Peter Samis & Loic Tallon

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.

Peter Samis, Associate Curator of Interpretation at SFMOMA, has been working in digital within the cultural sector since 1985; Loic Tallon, Chief Digital Officer at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (& 2016 President of MCN) was born in 1981.  In this #MCN50 Voices interview, Peter and Loic dive into this generational gap to share perspectives on what they’ve learnt about delivering digital projects, their recommendations to emerging professionals on how to survive and thrive in this field, and whether it’s important that we learn how to code.


#MCN50 Voices: Laura Hoffman & Jeffrey Inscho

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.

 This conversation between Laura Hoffman, Manager of K-12 Digital and Educator Initiatives at the Phillips Collection, and Jeffrey Inscho, Director of the Studio at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh) explores how each of them found their way into museum work; their hopes and fears for the digital world; memorable MCN moments; and serious deliberations about what makes for great MCN karaoke song selections.


#MCN50 Voices: Interview with Howard Besser

Post by Marla Misunas

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.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Howard Besser head shotHoward Besser, who has been working in musetech since the late 1970s and is known internationally for his work on many topics, including digital stewardship, copyright, and archiving, to name a few. I first encountered Howard at MCN in the 1990s where he presented about his digital image database of T-shirts, a project taken on by his students as proof of concept, when digital image databases were still a novelty.

Howard is currently Professor of Cinema Studies and Associate Director of New York University’s Moving Image Archiving & Preservation Program (MIAP), as well as Senior Scientist for Digital Library Initiatives for NYU’s Library. I’ve been reading and thinking about MCN history quite a lot lately, so an opportunity to hear about it first hand was irresistible.


Below is an excerpt from our interview.

MM: What are your earliest memories of MCN?

HB: My earliest memories are really 1977–1979, when I worked at the Pacific Film Archive (PFA) at the University of California, Berkeley. We were developing a cataloging system, and John Gartenberg was at MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) working on their GRIPHOS implementation.

Note: GRIPHOS (General Retrieval and Information Processor for Humanities Oriented Studies) was a system of computer programs that aided museum workers in cataloging, indexing, and disseminating data about works in museum collections.

We evaluated GRIPHOS and decided not to go with it, since we were part of a university that had access to mini-computers with remote access, dial-in. GRIPHOS still used punch cards, and clearly what Berkeley could do for us with their Berkeley UNIX system was more advanced.

Nancy Goldman at UC Berkeley helped me on some projects. We had these bibliographies that we did on the computer. We would dial in and do the workfrom our homes. We created indexes of film journals and books in California libraries—a union list of film holdings, books, and serials. We did another index on moving image-related equipment on the Berkeley campus. There were 13 different media centers, and none of them really talked to each other.

We made an index of everything they had, so if you needed a 16mm splicer, you’d know where to get it… all computerized.

I became active in MCN in 1986, when I went to my first conference.

The way I ended up there is kind of interesting. In 1986, at AAM (American Association of Museums) and at ALA (American Library Association) conferences, both in San Francisco, I had premiered our Berkeley image database system. We would scan works of art, catalog them, and put it all up on a large, sexy-looking, Sun Microsystems screen, and allow people to do retrieval remotely.

We got Sun Microsystems to rent us a booth. It was a madhouse! No one had ever seen an artwork on a screen before.

MM: How was the system accessed remotely?

HB: We were connecting through the phones to the database in Berkeley.

MM: Modem-style?

HB: Yeah, it was a modem, but the whole system was built on X-Windows, which you can kind of see as a precursor to a Web browser.

If you’re designing a database, all of your navigation and display can be handled at your user’s workstation, so it’s not taking up a lot of bandwidth. You’re moving your works back and forth, but you’re not moving your whole X-Windows system.

Note: The X Windows system was a platform-independent graphics protocol, developed by Stanford, MIT, and IBM, in the early 1980s.

MM: Because you’re using local resources.

HB: Right. We chose X-Windows because it was a client-server based system, and this was 5, 6, or 7 years before the first Web browser. That was the way to do it and make it OK for different types of computing systems.

MM: Weren’t there still lots of issues preventing interfacing between systems? In the 80s, things were very platform-specific. You had a system that was married to your hardware.

HB: Right. We wanted to be multi-platform, we wanted it to be easy to use—but people still had to download X-Windows. We really believed that things were going to go in a very different direction, that’s why we designed it to be independent.

Showing the Berkeley system got a lot of attention in the library world and the museum world, and it got back to one of the collection management system vendors, Willoughby Associates, and Lenore Sarasan.

Lenore called me up, came to Berkeley to meet with me, and even offered to pay for me to go to MCN. I think she was on the MCN Board then and she wanted to push them in new directions, and into looking at new things.

This was my first MCN meeting, and I really thought it—the New Orleans conference in 1986—was a transformational break with MCN’s past, because there were possibilities other than the GRIPHOS system.

The conference was so forward-looking. We were considering new types of computing environments, new things we could do with computers in museums.

There were so many vendors—4 or 5 different vendors selling collection management systems, commercial products. People were using microcomputers. And people were talking about other things, not just managing your collection. They were talking about exhibits, exhibition design, using computers to track the movement of objects that go in and out—not just the strict registrarial use. But much broader. So I felt that was really transformational.

I thought it was wonderful, you know, I thought it was one of the best conferences I had been to.

I got to meet people whose stuff I’d read about, but whom I’d never met; like some of the Art & Architecture Thesaurus people, people who dealt with ontology questions—it was really stimulating for me.

Some of the biggest successes of MCN were much less on the hardware and software side, but with vocabulary, consistent naming, and authority lists.

Those were absolutely huge successes that could not have been done any other way. At that time, the hardware and software were controlled by the vendors, and it was a matter of trying to convince the vendors to incorporate what you needed.

Later, when you started getting into handheld devices, it was the members of MCN that really took the lead.

MM: Speaking of vocabularies, I noticed that you were involved in Dublin Core.

Note: Dublin Core is a set of standardized metadata fields to describe objects. It’s used widely today in libraries, museums, and even by Google’s search engine.

HB: I was at the first Dublin Core meeting in 1995. And I was chair, or convener, for the third Dublin Core meeting.

MM: Wow! What was that first meeting like?

HB: [Laughs.] The meeting was really strange, because I think most of the people at the meeting had no idea—there were about 40 people at the meeting, and I’d say 30 of us thought it was a one-off thing. We weren’t very optimistic about much coming out of it, unless we dug in and did things individually.

A few people, like Stuart Weibel from OCLC, had bigger visions for it. But all of that became clearer when there was a second meeting the next year, and a third meeting…

It was a weird bunch of people—back then we said it was the librarians and their sensible shoes, it was the pocket protector crowd; it was sets of people that didn’t frequently come together. The people in the room usually only interacted with their own kind of folks.

Most of us were there to try to solve problems that hadn’t come up yet. Our goal then was to anticipate what happens if you get a million hits, when you put a word into a Web search engine.

The first web browser was released in May of 1993, so the first Dublin Core meeting in 1995 was less than two years after the first Web browser was released. It was before there really were Web search engines.

A million hits seemed pretty optimistic! On the other hand, for a lot of us—particularly people who had knowledge about the library community—there was a lot of content there, it was just a matter of making Web protocols talk to Gopher and FTP protocols, which happened fairly quickly.

Eventually you would have the problem of having too much content, or too many results. How can we narrow down search results? Can you narrow down the search between different entities that each have a different vocabulary?

We started talking about this shared core vocabulary. Communities could establish their own local vocabularies, but they could map a core set of fields into Dublin Core, too. And that shared “Core” could show up in a search within any specialized field, or in a very general search as well.

We looked closely at each core field. We wanted to make our schema much more generic, so we dumped “Author,” in favor of “Creator.” We spent hours finding the word “creator.” It ended up being a good word that can be relevant for artworks, it can be relevant for architectural works, it can be relevant for photographs that are not artistic. It works in a lot of different realms.

We also ended up exploding the idea of date.

For a normal document, there is just a single date. It’s the copyright date, usually. When you start getting to these other types of material, film, for example, you have the first release date in its native language, the release date in the U.S., you have the date it was actually shot, and finished, or edited; there’s all these other dates. So we did a lot of work with date.

/ / / / /

My conversation with Howard continued. Since it was too much for just one blog post, I will post more in a follow up post. Stay tuned for the origins of Artstor, the New Art Trust, and why MCNers are a special kind of people.

It was so fascinating to learn about the origins of the schemas we use across the field today, and talk to one of the people who was there.

Were you also there at a musetech birth? Tell us about it!



#MCN50 Voices: Jessica Warchall

Post by Rachel Allen. Rachel Allen was the MCN President from 1992-3 and served on the board from 1991-96. She is the Deputy Director at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.


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 interview, Rachel Allen, Deputy Director at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and former MCN Board President, profiles digital strategy consultant Jessica Warchall.

IJessica Warchall headshot had the pleasure of chatting with Jessica Warchall, who is a digital strategy consultant.  We formed an instant bond when Jessica told me she is temporarily living in North Carolina. It turns out that she is now in Durham, home of my alma mater Duke University, where her husband is pursuing a career in sports medicine. And, since it was almost March Madness when we first connected, we chatted about Duke basketball. Although her husband was working courtside, sadly, Jessica couldn’t get coveted tickets for me to watch the Blue Devils play and she only snagged them once for herself!

Jessica bills herself as a storyteller.  She loves to tell stories and she has a perfect background to match that goal. She got her BS and MS degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and after working in publishing as an editor, she went back for an art history degree. She’s worked at both the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.  Museums, she thinks, are a perfect place for a digital strategist, broadly described, with skills that apply to web and app development, social media, publishing, and communications.

I couldn’t resist getting some insider tips on what makes a good story. First and foremost, Jessica advises that you need to know your audience. Who are you trying to reach? Is it kids or college students? Define your audience early on, target a particular group, and don’t try to be all things to all people. The media you use also impacts the kind of story you can tell. If it’s social media, you have to engage your audience immediately. With websites, blogs, and other long form media, you have more time to develop your story.

Jessica connected with MCN in 2014, her first year at the Warhol Museum, when she joined a panel on social media in museums. That panel, which looked at social media trends that were prevalent at the time, spawned several break-out groups where Jessica had time with museum colleagues from around the US. We agreed that one of the best things about MCN is the opportunity to network and meet new friends.

I asked Jessica what advice she would offer to those wanting to enter the museum field. She says she tells them about her own background and advises “to be open to opportunity.” When she started her career in journalism, Jessica wasn’t necessarily thinking of working in a museum or in digital communications, yet she’s found that museums offer rich opportunities and freedom to experiment across different platforms. “So, keep an open mind and don’t pigeonhole yourself into a narrow career field,” she cautions.

I returned one last time to the storytelling angle to ask if Jessica harbored any secret ambitions to write a novel. She laughingly said if she told then it wouldn’t be a secret. (I think that means yes!) So, I told her about two of my favorite Southern novelists from Duke University – Reynolds Price (A Long and Happy Life) and his student Anne Tyler (The Accidental Tourist). Here’s to good stories and to good storytellers!


Double #MCN50 BASH!

On May 18th, you can celebrate #MCN50 in Denver AND Minneapolis!


#MCN50 Denver – Thursday, May 18 at 6 PM – 8 PM MDT

Clyfford Still Museum
1250 Bannock St, Denver, Colorado 80204
Get in touch with Sarah Wambold for details


#MCN50 Minneapolis-St. Paul, Thursday May 18th from 5pm 

Head over to Minneapolis Institute of Art at 5pm as the museum kicks off it’s Third Thursday evening. Experience the awesome Guillermo del Toro Exhibition and look out for the winners of the 3M Art and Technology Award, who will be testing their innovative Divining Rods project on the third floor. Work up a thirst and appetite, then stroll over to Icehouse at 630pm to mingle with great colleagues and enjoy food and refreshments.

Questions? Get in touch with Douglas Hegley and spread the word!

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