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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