Ignite 2023: Paul Marty

Reigniting the Magic of Museum Computing

MCN 2023 Conference
November 8, 2023
World Café Live, Philadelphia


You should all come forward. Come on. All right. Great. Hello. So my pandemic project was conducting an oral history of our field. And I'm going to share some quotes from that project with you today. These are all the people who contributed their memories. And let me tell you, hearing these stories in that dark time was amazing.

I collected these memories with Kathy Jones, here we are entranced by Deborah Howes sharing her stories with us. And with each history, we heard inspiration, we heard enthusiasm, and we heard that when you look back over the history of our field, It really was just a wonderful time. That's Holly Witchey in her oral history.
It was so lovely. Got to work with lots of lovely people. It was a great time to be a pioneer in technology. And why wouldn't it be? Museums are magical places. And museum computing helps bring that magic to the public. Here's Douglas Hegley, launching that first app, building that touch screen, seeing people in awe and wonder over this kind of magical experience.

It was amazing! But in a world where digital is commonplace, there's a concern that maybe technology's lost its magic. Maybe there's no magic in mobile devices now. But for a while, as Seb Chan told us, it was magic. And those magic shows were amazing. So in our modern world, How do we go about reigniting the magic of Museum Computing?

What's the technology that's going to inspire the next generation and move this field forward? I don't have the answer to that. But I do have a deck of cards! Alright, can you give us just a quick shuffle here and I'm gonna take it and I'm gonna cut it into, let's say, one and two and three and four decks.

Alright, one, two, three, four. Koven, right there, give me number one, two, three, or four. Four. There's your card. Excellent. Okay, I got three decks left. Liz, you can be next. Number one.

Two. Alright, fantastic. Here's your card, but don't show anybody else and certainly don't show me. A round of applause for our participants. Alright. Do you feel that sense of excitement, that enthusiasm? That's what Kathy and I felt as we gathered these oral histories. Right? That's the magic that drove our field forward in the past.

And when you look at our history, we were pulling off magic tricks and people loved it. Here's Andrea Ledesma. I love the internet. I love museums. I love working with people. And what's not to love? Right? We were breaking new ground. We were trying new things. We weren't bound by old ways of doing things.

It was a time for innovation. Nic Honeyset, you had to build everything! There were no apps, you couldn't download, you couldn't hire someone who had already done all this stuff. You had to figure it out as you went along. It was a time for experimentation. Here's Darren Milligan. You couldn't go to school for these things.

You saw something cool on someone else's website, and you copied it, you modified it, and you made it work for you! And it was a time for pushing boundaries. Alright, here's Susie Wise from SFMOMA. We were way ahead of the curve. It was really powerful field building work. We were making it up. And we were getting in trouble.

And I don't know how we had the chutzpah, but it just kept going. Well, one constant throughout all of that time was this community all the way back to 1967. Here's Rob Lancefield. The value of becoming more and more active in MCN and finding in that organization a community that transcends any one museum.

And here's Lori Byrd McDevitt talking about the people at this conference. It was MCN, and I found my people, and it was a whole bunch of nerds who were just so nice and welcoming, and they happened to be from the Met in the Smithsonian. It was amazing. And speaking of amazing, if I gave you a card, hold it high in the air!

Alright, high in the air, high in the air! Okay, there are three cards on the screen behind me. If your card is on that screen, bring your hand back down! Alright! Round of applause! Alright! Wonderful! Nicely done! Okay, but, let me leave you with this challenge. The same way I found those cards, see if you can find your people here at MCN and ignite the magic.

And I know we can do this because there's a simple trick. Show your card. We're all the same card! So, in a world where we're afraid to take risks, in a world where we worry we've lost the magic, let me leave you with what Norbert Kanter told us in his oral history about our work in this field. It was risky.

It was surprising. It was bold, it was unique, it was provoking, and it was fun! That's what we want this field to be and together we can take it there. So find your people at MCN and make it happen! Thank you so much!