Scholarship

My first MCN event, not my last!

Guest post by MCN 2016 Scholar, Andrea Ledesma

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

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

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

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

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


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Visitors

Participants

Users

Collaborators

Citizens

Superheroes

Friends

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Tactical MCN

Guest post by MCN 2016 Scholar Emily Kotecki, Distance Learning Educator, North Carolina Museum of Art

MCN 2016 Keynote

As a first timer to MCN, I wasn’t sure how similar or different it would be to Museums and the Web. Similar crowd, similar topic. However, in talking to another conference goer, she explained it best: MCN is tactical, Museums and the Web is thought leadership. Don’t get me wrong, each conference has elements of both. But MCN felt on the ground, applicable and relevant, starting with the theme of the human-centered museum. At the North Carolina Museum of Art, we are launching several new digital projects with the prime focus of creating personalized, engaging and relevant experiences with art.

On the first full day of the conference there were a lot of sessions dedicated to evaluating interactive technologies. Perfect! These sessions identified key evaluation questions that I can bring back to my team as we install two interactive screens. The second day seemed to focus on thoughtful, audience-centered website redesigns. Check! The panelists shed light on interesting ways to gauge visitor motivations as we explore integrating our homesite and teacher resource site. On the last day of the conference, I had the opportunity to be part of the MCN Scholar Lightning Talks as well as present with my colleague about a new model of collaboration at the NCMA.  It helped to have a colleague from another department with me at the conference so that we could divide and conquer in attending sessions and come back with a shared language when we returned to work.

Looking ahead, MCN also helped me understand what questions I can ask my colleagues at NCMA so that as an institution we can continue to meet the needs of our audiences:

  • How are we connected, internally, on a systems level?
  • What systems (DAMS, CRM) do we need to better collaborate internally and share content and understand our visitors?
  • How are we collecting, utilizing, and sharing data?

The sessions, these questions, and the people, helped shape my experience so that I could take ideas and turn them into action.

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Experiencing the MCN Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s more human-centered than that?

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(photo by Mairin Kerr)

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Lights, Lights, Overstimulation

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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Meet the #MCN2016 Scholars!

Tiled image of the MCN2016 scholars

Each year, we are pleased to offer scholarships to 15 talented individuals from the cultural heritage sector to attend the annual MCN conference and join the MCN community. This year the Scholarship Committee received 88 strong applications from museum professionals located all over the US, UK, Europe, and Australia. As we do every year, the Committee had a tough time choosing 15 recipients.

We’re very excited to introduce the #MCN2016 Scholars! From an interactive media producer to a principal project officer, this year’s scholarship recipients represent a strong, diverse group of emerging leaders in the museum technology field. These individuals were chosen based on their ability to demonstrate a serious interest in MCN, explain how they will contribute to MCN community, and their involvement in exciting or innovative #musetech projects.  

This year, we have been making some changes to improve the scholarship program before, during, and after the conference. To streamline the process for applicants, we have moved up the application deadline and reviewing process.

Additionally, we are highlighting the scholars’ unique experiences and impressive projects through a brand new series of lightning talks during the conference on Friday morning, November 4.

As a former scholarship recipient myself now serving as a Co-Chair of the Scholarship Committee, I want the scholars to feel as welcome to the MCN community as I have felt. We hope each scholar will become an active member of the MCN community throughout the year, engaging online, in-person, and through our Special Interest Groups (SIGs).  

Meet our 2016 MCN Scholars online and meet them in person at the conference in November!

 

Laura Hoffman,
Co-Chair
MCN 2016 Scholarship Committee

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The Human Heart of a Technologist Conference

By Rachel Ropeik, Manager of Public Engagement, Guggenheim Museum

 

I’ve been wanting to attend an MCN conference for years now, and I was excited and grateful that the scholarship made it possible this year. I’m a museum educator who’s always been interested in how digital tools can impact visitors’ experiences in museums. I expected to come away from MCN with inspirational ideas about creative uses of technology that might eventually spark programming ideas and keep me up to date on what other museums are working on.

That happened, for sure, but even more than that, the conference turned out to be much more than my expectations. It turned out to be all about the people.

That was true in officially scheduled ways like the excellent workshop on design thinking led by Dana Mitroff Silvers and Susan Edwards in which we each had to interview a partner and prototype a plan to make our own museum a more comfortable place for that partner. There was Liz Ogbu’s inspiring keynote, reminding us all to pay attention to the people at the heart of any of our projects. There were Ignite talks and conference sessions about accessibility and cultural agency that called for all museum professionals to focus on how we can open our field and our institutions to new voices and new visitors.

There was a great session about mentoring in museums (collective notes photos by Jennifer Schmitt).

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But it wasn’t just the scheduled events that reinforced the human heart of MCN2015. In addition to the above official session about mentoring, there was the unofficial #musewomen mentoring pilot helping people connect (shout out to my clever and cool peer-to-peer mentor, Alie Cline!). There was a group field trip to the Mill City Museum organized through Slack and graciously hosted by Jesse Heinzen.

rachel-ropeik-5 (here we are, looking panoramariffic[ally distorted in some cases])

There were dinners and bar conversations and fireside chats (literally, thanks to the hotel lobby) that dug deep into why we’re all in this field to begin with. There was even karaoke in a bar well outside the city that cemented some bonds between people who’d never met in person before this conference.

It was all this focus on people that got my brain and my heart revved up. That’s what sent me home with a list of new collaboration ideas and the people to collaborate with. That’s what made leaving feel like it was the end of summer camp (cheers to Ed Rodley for finding just the right metaphor for that one). That’s what made a conference that’s ostensibly for museum technologists feel like a welcoming space to this museum educator.

There are people out there (I’ve read the articles) who claim museums are misguidedly jumping on the digital bandwagon because they’re seduced by the lure of shiny, new tech. I dare those people to attend MCN and walk away still singing the same tune. Because I have never been to a professional museum conference anywhere that was as much about the human side of what we do.

 

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Not the conference you expect, but the conference you need.

By Tracey Berg-Fulton, Database Associate, Carnegie Museum of Art Collections

As a first time MCN attendee, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m not entirely in the technology world, but I’ve got one leg in
and so I was worried I’d be overwhelmed by talk of frameworks, blasted by acronyms, and completely unable to contribute to the conversation. That, my friends, was completely unfounded.

I’ve attended many, many museum conferences, and I have to say that MCN was the most welcoming and refreshingtbf-mcntbfly honest conference I’ve ever been to. I’m impressed that there was a safe space policy, which, as a woman, says that you take concerns about harassment, intimidation and assault seriously. I was also impressed that the Ignite talks openly and publicly talked about power, inclusion, equity, and accessibility, and that these issues were not seen as a niche but a thread that continued through the conference.

MCN was also really important for me in terms of my professional development. I was paired with an amazing mentor through #MuseWomen, and not only did my mentor talk through things with me, the people he introduced me to were also more than willing to connect around some of my career progression questions. Further, I was finally able to put faces to all of the amazing people I follow on Twitter, and see just how equally amazing they are in real life. I’ve not had that many hugs from “strangers” in a very long time.

The continued coalescing around the Museum Swear Jar, my accidental side project, really surprised me. I continue to learn that the problems we experience are pretty universal across departments, we just call them different things. I’m hoping that the physical manifestation of the Swear Jar can keep the conversamuseum-swear-jar-2museum-swear-jartion going, and I’m curious to see how the Jar can help the profession, aside from being a venting vehicle.

I always refer to the first day back from a conference as the conference hangover, and not only because there was a sweaty group rendition of Wonderwall at 2:15AM. I came away from MCN feeling like I immediately wanted to go out and code the snot out of an HTML interactive, go through and make descriptive captions for all our images online, and write an amazing social strategy. Buuuut then I open my e-mail and the reality sets in that I’ve not been doing my normal job for four days, and these projects will have to wait. Sadness ensues.

To fight the post conference hangover, I’ve got a plan. I’m going to follow up with my mentor and the others I met so that we can keep the conversation going. I’ve forked the Stele repo from Bryan Kennedy’s talk on dumping Flash for interactives, and I’m going to challenge myself to code a rudimentary interactive before St. Patrick’s Day. Why Saint Patrick’s Day? Why not? And in response to Sina Bahram’s Ignite talk, I’m going to get with our Diversity Catalyst and Web and Digital Media Manager to see how we can include audio descriptions into the upcoming work on our website, and try to evangelize it into the curatorial workflow.

And so, armed with a few goals and guidelines, let’s do stuff!

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So many great experiences, so much information, so many new friends!

by Mikkel Kirkedahl Nielsen, Curator at Sydvestjyske Museer / PhD Fellow Aalborg University (DK)

 

Having been aware of the existence of the Museum Computer Network for years, this year I applied for a scholarship and was very lucky to receive one! A great thank you to the MCN organizers for giving me such an opportunity!

Somehow having missed the registration desk when I checked in at the hotel, I met with an enthusiastic group of peers at the Science Museum of Minnesota, who immediately adopted me into the group. At the science museum we went through the galleries discussing the design and affordances offered to visitor experiences through the design of the exhibitions. This culminated in a meeting with a group of staff members who were brave enough to take in all our comments. Such exercise can be very fruitful and inspiring, and maybe museum professionals should more often just go into the galleries and meet their users face to face.

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Yes, MCN is something special!

Driving from St. Paul to Minneapolis in a vintage, sixty+ years old bus provided from Minnesota Transportation Museum set the scene for further discussions and networking as well as it brought us safely to the Pourhouse, and an evening full of talking, food, drinks and a very inspirational Ignite session. On stage, Koven Smith from the Blanton Museum of Art demonstrated excellent moderator skills and should consider pursuing a career of hosting the Oscar’s, Emmy’s and similar grand events. The “Igniters” came through with important messages, demonstrating the great diversity of the community. These inputs made my brain rumble ever since: No matter what kind of output you are producing through your particular job, you are most probably going through numerous highly creative processes of which you may be unaware.

Museums inherit qualities of great importance to the society and individuals. It is critical to continuously evaluate and unleash these powers. Museum visitors and non-visitors have a lot to offer museums, and both sides should be considered as equal partners, which should also be reflected in communication models describing this relationship and in the accessibility efforts conducted by the museums. Awareness of the relationship needs to be emphasized constantly and may even lead to anti-oppression. How do we involve people, and how do we communicate with them? Many of these topics may involve digital technology, but what do people actually mean when talking about the digital?

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At The Pourhouse: Nikhil Trived igniting us Towards an Anti-Oppression Museum Manifesto 

Thursday morning, Keynote Liz Ogbu asked her audience the important question “What is it that you want to change by the work you are doing?”, and encouraged us to be a human being! Important reminders that should spring into mind, when struggling with everyday annoyances like spreadsheeds, budgets, visitor numbers, or technological calamities. The responsibility addressed by Ogbu is of great importance for museum professionals as we are in a powerful position: as David Fleming from the Liverpool Museum advocates, museums change lives.

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Social Innovation meets Museums

By Jessica Suess, Digital Partnership Manager, Oxford University Museums

As a lucky recipient of a MCN scholarship, I was able to attend this year’s Museums Computer Network conference in Minneapolis. It was a great opportunity to get new ideas and inspiration, both for my organization, and to share through my role on the Museums Computer Group UK committee. You can read a detailed post on my conference thoughts here – and I wanted to share a few overall thoughts on the MCN blog.

Two sessions really established the main themes of the conference for me, and these came up again and again in all the sessions. Liz Ogbu, an urbanist and social innovator, gave an amazing keynote that left me with two main messages:

  • Take a holistic approach to identifying ‘the problem’ by looking at the broader context
  • Examine the user’s perspective – consult them as experts in their own lives and behaviour.

The session on Implementing Digital Strategy, featuring Jane Alexander from Cleveland Museum of Art and Douglas Hegley from Minneapolis Institute of Art among others, also framed the conference.

For me I took away:

  • The importance of investing in underlying infrastructure and processes
  • The need to transform where we see digital in our organizations – it is core activity! jessica-suess-1

These messages reverberated in all the sessions I attended. For example, there was a focus on digital asset management throughout the conference, and I particularly enjoyed a talk by Nik Honeysett from Bilboa Park Online Cooperative who described DAMS as ‘mission critical’ for rich media organizations like museums. In another session Nik focused on shared services to reduce expenditure as a business model in a time of financial constraint. That same panel also saw Kaywin Feldmen from the Minneapolis Institute of Art considering the changing demographics of our audiences and the difficulties of balancing the priorities of traditional museum visitors and the emerging American demographic – this is a ‘wicked problem’ that could benefit from Liz’s holistic approach.

Liz’s other key message about approaching problems from the perspective of the user was brought out for me by Laura Mann from Frankly Green + Webb talking about designing multimedia guides for the Van Gough Museum. They had to move the project away from one of a list of guide ‘features’ and refocus on user needs. The problem from the user’s perspective was not that they were unhappy with the content – and recent research shows that more sophisticated technology does not improve visitor experience – the problem was how long it took for them to purchase and understand the guide. In the end it was a service delivery project

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Overall I found the conference hugely inspirational and I am so grateful to MCN for the scholarship that enabled me to attend, but also a bit worried, as I think I may now be an addict and will need to come back next year.

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Sharing and learning among museum professionals

By Diana Marques, Doctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum

Bio: Hi! I have a background in Biology and specialize in Visual Scientific Communication, working with technology, illustration and animation in a variety of scientific subjects and techniques, for museums, publishers and researchers. I’m a Smithsonian fellow pursuing a doctorate degree in Digital Media, focusing on the museum visitor experience with augmented reality technology.

 

Did you ask what I was up to last week? Well, let me tell you about my great experience attending the MCN conference in Minneapolis. Not only it was a double first time – at MCN and in one of the twin cities –, it was also the result of a generous MCN scholarship that supported my participation.

I set out on this trip to share and learn among museum professionals. I shared part of the doctoral research I’ve done in the last 3 years with augmented reality technology at a presentation room full of interested attendants with well-elaborated questions posed during and after the Q&A. And I learned above all how to prioritize the museum visitors in my work by listening to their stories and focusing on their preferences, and how digital tools can help in that process.

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Much praise to the organization. Even though this was the most attended conference in the almost 50 years of existence of MCN (more than 500 attendees), it felt like a gathering of new and old friends and like a comfortable space for a newcomer. And the care and attention to details of the Scholarship Committee were heartwarming. On MCN’s signature welcome event, it was a nice surprise to find a corner with comfy couches for the scholars to perch and watch the Ignite talks – I had never been called a “scholar” before, it sounds so wonderfully Greek! –; so we had a privileged view to the set of dynamic 5-minute presentations that touched issues of accessibility and anti-oppression in museums, the meaning of digital and effective ways of storytelling. Can’t think of a better way to kick-off a conference. Or maybe I can, given that the keynote presentation on the following day was equally or even more inspiring. Liz Ogbu shared her approach as a designer and urbanist to make social impact among the communities she works for and works with.

Minneapolis was a great setting for the conference. It gave us the possibility of visiting iconic museums like the Walker Art Center and the Mill City Museum. It also gave us the opportunity to meet many museum professionals from the Minnesota Historical Society and the Minneapolis Institute of Art where the banquet took place. Overall very progressive museum thinking in a culturally vibrant location.

I joined a SIG and look forward to be more involved with MCN until next year’s conference in New Orleans. In the meantime, I’ll keep following the mcn-l mailing list, one of my go-tos for being up to date with the questions and challenges that museum professionals experience.

Thank you MCN!

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