Tag Archives: Museums

Golden Age of (Re)Discovery – Museum Collections

Golden Age of (Re)Discovery – Museum Collections

If you haven’t yet seen it, check out this article fresh from The New York Times. Even the most well-managed of museum collections may hold a secret or two, as this article on museum collections points out.

As both a museum professional and enthusiast, I found this article engaging, interesting, and perhaps most importantly, a reminder to try and apply best practices in inventories, research, and, of course, interpretation. Easier said then done, perhaps! Regardless, it is always exciting and rewarding to see museums making headlines – especially in positive and exciting circumstances.

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Professional – and Personal – Development

Yesterday I was able to sneak out of the office (during my lunch break, it wasn’t that scandalous) and attend “Legacies & Lunch” a brown bag lecture series supported by the Arkansas Humanities Council. Hosted at the brand new Ron Robinson Theatre in the River Market District, the theatre was a mere hop, skip, and a jump away. The subject of the lecture was in keeping with Arkansas Archeology Month (this month!), and presented by the State Archeologist, Dr. Ann M. Early. With a presentation titled “Big News from Old Stuff” I was hooked even before I sat down. In a quick hour, Dr. Early explored the provenance of several collections within the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) archeology museum collections – including some with ties to the museum. By focusing on a few key collections, Dr. Early helped tell the story of collections as a whole, as well as highlight significant historic archeology events in the state. Many of the local connections and archeology sites were new to me, and there were a few times when a physical map of Arkansas was presented as evidence where I was a bit confused (which river is that again?). Thank goodness Little Rock is located in the dead center of the state!

 Museum-Collections-Rack-Card

Attending the lecture was very fulfilling. Recently I have been feeling…a bit cut off from academia. Despite visiting several sites of informal learning in our new home, and taking advantage of the documentary selection available on Netflix, I have been missing the scholastic atmosphere of a classroom. You may recall I blogged about brown bag lectures last year around this time, when I was invited to present my own brown bag with the Illinois State Museum. I also miss the element of working with a research museum as well, I think. There is something engaging and invigorating about attending all-staff meetings and hearing about the latest publications from peers! Thankfully, there are several volunteer opportunities I am currently exploring in the area to keep myself professionally active and personally satisfied. I am also hopeful to take a stronger role in my alumni organization as a potential board member, and attend at least a couple of national conferences this year, in addition to other regional and local opportunities. Work is also very busy, with some new programs and events debuting as we brace for Spring Rush with oh so many field trips – never a dull moment. Should be a busy time!

What do you do – in or outside your workplace, to stay professionally active and satisfied? Is there even time? Some days there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day or energy left!

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The Directors

The Directors

To help kick off Women’s History and Awareness Month, check out this timely article from The Washington Post which highlights the evolving role of women in museum leadership in the Washington D.C./Baltimore area. Fascinating, inspiring, and thought provoking.  

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Favorite Childhood Museum Memory?

In keeping with the rebranded title of this blog, I thought I’d pose a question. What’s your favorite childhood museum memory?

Sometimes this moment acts as the catalyst which may drive folks into the field. For others, a favorite childhood museum memory is merely the first of countless, as they enjoy sites of heritage, art, and science throughout their lives as visitors and/or volunteers.

One of my favorite childhood museum memories is visiting the Swedish American Museum in Chicago, Illinois. Located mere feet from where some of my family were born and bred, the museum is located in the heart of a very Swedish neighborhood, Andersonville. I remember visiting this museum with my sister, mom, and grandma, and taking in the bright blues and yellows of the walls, exhibits, and museum store while fervently inhaling the smells of the Swedish bakery across the street. While short on actual content, the welcoming and warm impression that I got from the museum has stayed with me through today.

The Swedish American Museum is located in the heart of Andersonville, a Swedish neighborhood on North Clark Street in Chicago, Illinois.

The Swedish American Museum is located in the heart of Andersonville, a Swedish neighborhood on North Clark Street in Chicago, Illinois.

As museums work to create engaging and educational exhibitions, diverse programs, and special events, an important concept which event planners, programmers, administrators, etc.  keep in mind is the “tone” of the event. Visitors don’t need to come to the museum. Museums can’t force visitors through their doors (as much as some may want to…). For the most part, museums aim to create welcoming atmospheres of informal learning, where visitors are invited to explore, discover, and form a relationship with the museum. Whether the resulting relationship is a one-time visit, a yearlong membership, or a lifetime of dedication to the museum’s mission, the initial and lasting impressions that visitors get when visiting an institution may often stay with them, long after the content and facts may fade.

Side note:  I’ve since been back to the Swedish American Museum several times –  it’s fantastic. I can’t wait to return again. Perhaps in May this year, when we briefly return to tour the great state of Illinois…

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The Museum of Our Soul

“That which we elect to surround ourselves with becomes the museum of our soul and the archive of our experiences.”Misattributed to Thomas Jefferson

It’s a lovely thought though, isn’t it?

In a recent outreach program I brought a selection of teaching collection items from the museum to an after school program. These included some animal bones and American-Indian pottery. During the program the kids (aged 5-10, a bit of a range) in the outreach wore nitrile gloves and explored these objects, taking notes on their observations. I gave some prompting questions – but really left it to the group to gather data and clues and try and decipher what each object was etc (The lion skull was a hit.) Following this exercise, and after we identified the materials, I asked, “Now, why do you think the museum has these objects?” The answers ranged from a simple “Because” to “So we can learn” and to a hesitant and questioning “No one else does?”

I created this mini lesson with the goal of getting the group to think about museums and what exactly museums do, and how visitors (i.e. they) can fully engage with museums. Because of the group’s age and time limitations with the outreach, I emphasized hands-on activities and lots of brainstorming with group discussions. We had a great time thinking about all the museums the kids had visited (or seen on tv and in movies), and I highlighted some unique (some would say “weird”) museums and museum collections across the country and globe – i.e. the Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers. The kids had a blast with this part. Following this activity, I utilized some images from a very cute and clever sketchbook titled My Museum (which I found in our museum’s store and promptly suggested we invest in additional copies for educational purposes). Using some blank pages with empty galleries, cases, and shelves – we designed our own museums. We discussed what was important to us now, and what type of collections we would want to share with people in town, across the world, and in the future. All the kids came up with great ideas and their exhibit sketches were inspiring.

At the close of the outreach, each member of the group presented on his or her museum to the audience – which was another exercise for the group in presentation skills and listening. Here are some of the brainstormed museums:

  • The Museum of Fruits and Veggies
  • Historic Girl Clothing and Makeup and Hair
  • Museum of Carrots
  • Ninja Museum
  • Museum of Cars
  • Animal Bone Museum

What do you think? This was my first time bringing the program out – any tips or suggestions on how to improve? I am excited to tinker with this concept – especially continuing to develop more object-based activities.

 

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Twister, anyone?

My sister is visiting from Chicago, so it has given me the chance play tourist with an actual tourist to the area. We’ve been able to visit serval fun stops in the last few days, including art galleries, historic sites, and probably too many restaurants. One of the places we’ve explored is the Historic Arkansas Museum. Part of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, the mission of the Historic Arkansas Museum (or H.A.M.) is to “communicate the early history of Arkansas and its creative legacy through preserving, interpreting, and presenting stories and collections for the education and enjoyment of the people we serve.”  

While at H.A.M. we enjoyed several of their permanent and temporary galleries, an orientation video, a tour of several historic homes, and the museum store. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, I was really impressed with my visit, and I can’t wait to return as a visitor – or perhaps a volunteer, if they’ll have me!

I wanted to take  a quick moment and highlight an awesome interactive we enjoyed at the Historic Arkansas Museum in a hands-on children’s gallery. 

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Arkansas Twister

I love this interactive.

It’s quickly identifiable to the popular game Twister, requires limited instruction, educational (left foot in Texarkana!), and definitely combats any museum fatigue. (There is seating nearby for caregivers or family members to watch players from a safe distance.) Throughout the rest of the galleries there are several hands-on opportunities – many digital and computer based, but something about this “Arkansas Twister” stood out to me. From an exhibits stance, the construction and fabrication of this seems fairly basic – as does the upkeep. From an educational perspective, the color, left v. right coordination, and map are all awesome aspects that are neatly included. Looking at this interactive further, I wondered about year of the map (my Arkansas state history is a bit rough…), but was very impressed about all these connections. And, it was 100% on mission.

What do you think? Are there any children’s exhibits that have stood out to you? Any that I should check out?  

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Raising the Bar

Happy 2014!

As I look forward to the New Year and all its rich and exciting possibilities, I wanted to take a moment to recognize some major personal professional milestones that 2013 saw and outline some goals for the future. During the last year I….

  • Completed a competitive, yearlong internship

  • Successfully completed and defended my graduate exams 
  • Walked across the graduation stage and earned my Masters Degree

  •  Accepted a position – in a new state 

  •  Moved to said state and passed a probationary period of employment

  • Discovered a charming historic neighborhood we call “home,” for now  

While I continue to grow in my new position, and we continue to explore this new geographical region, I am going to make an effort to be more mindful of blogging and attempt a greater frequency of posts. Easier said than done, correct?

Another goal I am keen to pursue is to volunteer more. While living in Springfield I enjoyed volunteering with the arts association and public library, but now that I’m in a new town – it is time to expand my horizons. While I enjoy volunteering in my field – I consider this a great way to give back to a community AND grow, I am eager to volunteer in fields unrelated to my own.

One organization that I grew to really appreciate and respect last year is Optimist International. A volunteer with the ISM was highly involved with the Optimists, and I was able to present on behalf of the museum to this organization in July 2013. The mission of Optimist International is “By providing hope and positive vision, Optimists bring out the best in kids.” For more information, check out their website. While attending the organization’s meeting in July, I was struck by the positive attitude of its members and their dedication.  I look forward to exploring local branches of this organization, and seeking out similar volunteer opportunities. 

In addition to blogging and volunteering, I am also eager to travel. Through work I’ve been able to explore some of the immediate region through educational outreach. Beyond this though, I am eager for day-trips full of photography, winding roads, towns big and small, and seeing what exactly is unique to the so-called “Mid-South.” A few posts ago I made a list of cultural and historic sites of interest. I look forward to adding to this list.  

So, reader. What sort of organizations do you volunteer with? Any recommendations? Also – any adventurous tips for this Yankee? I look forward to pushing myself personally and professionally during this next year – to explore this new position and all the regional possibilities this area may offer.  

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The Day I Worked at the Exploratorium

In early November I was lucky to join the Arkansas Discovery Network for a professional development workshop with the Exploratorium. The ADN has a long-standing relationship with the Exploratorium, which, to put it simply, is both like a “sister museum” of ours as well as a “mother ship” of science center innovation, insight, and creativity. I last visited the Exploratorium in December 2011 when it was at its original location at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. This was a wonderful experience, as I had just started learning about Frank Oppenheimer, its founder, during graduate school, and his key role in hands-on informal education. Now the museum is located at Pier 15/17 in a brand new facility, with down-right awesome tech features as well as being incredibly environmentally friendly. It was great to revisit this institution in its new setting, especially with my new position in the STEM/STEAM field.

During this workshop, professionals from institutions within the ADN (including the Museum of Discovery, the Mid-America Science Museum, The Art & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas, and Amazeum) came together to learn from educators and innovators at the Exploratorium about audience engagement, teamwork, tinkering, and planning and implementing floor activities. It was invigorating, exhausting, and educational – but mostly fun!

The workshop took place from Thursday, November 7 – Sunday, November 11, and concluded with an activity on the museum floor (aka: I got to work at the Exploratorium for a day!!!) Our mission during this workshop was to design a “chain reaction”  tinkering activity or a Rube Goldberg machine. After designing the activity, we would then present it on the museum floor in the Exploratorium’s awesome Tinkering Studio.

I  am an official Tinkerer.

I am an official Tinkerer.

Our group began by first experimenting with circuits. This was neat, and a little nerve-wracking for some of the workshop participants. Educators, administrators, and executives attended the workshop, so there was a mix of academic and professional backgrounds – always a good thing for creativity! Some participants were more comfortable with circuits than others. After some basic circuit work we created our own mini chain reaction. Our supplies and materials ranged from wooden blocks, to deconstructed toys (think a dancing Santa toy without a face or costume), to Legos, pipe cleaners, and beyond. We also included circuits within our chain reactions, incorporating this element of technology as both a creative element, as well as a possible reactor to setting off the chain reactions. We paired into teams of two, each creating a mini chain reaction within a larger group reaction. This emphasized teamwork, as well communication within the larger group, to ensure each mini chain reaction impacted the next. One thing I found especially helpful about the organization of this activity was I was able to meet and get to know several individuals within the Network. As the new kid on the block, there were many folks to meet!

After we implemented our own chain reaction, we took our experiences and discussed the most effective ways to incorporate this activity on the museum floor. This part was a bit tricky. There were several nut and bolt issues to discuss. For example:

  • What was the age range of the activity? Should it be open to all?
  • How long should the activity last?
  • How many participants (or pairs?) should be allowed?
  • What supplies could (or should?) we incorporate?
  • Who should facilitate what? Or was facilitation necessary?
  • What was the most practical way to arrange the room?
  • How could other visitors aka non participants, become a part of this activity?
  • Should there be multiple sessions of the activity?

With a group of diverse museum professionals from multiple institutions of varying size and scope, we had several lively discussions on the most effective means to implement the activity. We had multiple brainstorming sessions within a day and half time period. In the end, we incorporated several of the group’s thoughts, while also utilizing our workshop leaders’ recommendations based on their knowledge of both the space and the activity.

The day of the activity arrived. We decided to have two sessions of a chain reaction. Each session lasted about 90 min, with visitors welcome to join throughout this period with the understanding of the time commitment. We decided due to the nature of the activity ages 10 – adult would be encouraged to partake, with a limit of about 12 teams in each session. There were several family groups, a few couples, and some groups of friends who joined together. The creativity of the multigenerational pairings was really neat to see. The age limit did cause some disappointment from younger Tinkerers, but most visitors accepted this caveat without any trouble. We arranged tables within the Tinkering Studio to allow participants ease of access to materials, as well as strong visibility to passerby, so other visitors could watch the session unfold. Materials included a range of ramps, wooden blocks, circuits, misc crafty materials, as well as fun supplies we purchased from Cliff’s Variety in the Castro District.

At the close of each chain reaction session a large group gathered to see the reaction take place. Both reactions went off (mostly) without a hitch. The most rewarding aspect of the activity was seeing the dedication of participants (90 minutes can be both a short and long amount of time, depending on your enthusiasm!) and their joy in watching the chain reaction take place.

The workshop was a terrific opportunity to facilitate on the floor of the Exploratorium and to learn from our workshop leaders about audience engagement techniques. In many ways I am still processing the trip and the workshop experience – so much of what I gained from the workshop came not just from implementing the activity, but also from exploring the museum floor, interacting and meeting professionals in the field, as well as visitors at the museum.

This post attempts to sum up a great professional development opportunity. Do you have similar experiences with professional development? What has been your best experience to date? I’d love to hear your experiences. Also, I’d be interested in hearing if anyone has been the Exploratorium since their reopening. Thoughts?

 

 

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List Time

As I continue to play the tourist in my new city I look forward to exploring nearby museums and cultural centers. I’ve already managed to visit a couple of museums including the Clinton Presidential Center and the Old State House, but there are still so many left to see (and then to revisit)! Of course, to me, nearby states now appear slightly more “local” now than when I was living in Illinois. Living in the “Natural State,” I’m also excited about exploring several state and national parks. The tricky part will be to find the time!

For those interested, here is my ongoing list. It’s a work in progress.

I’m very excited about all my upcoming field trips. Do you have any suggestions about what I should see and do in this new region? I would love to hear them. Thanks in advance!                               

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

 

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Ready for a collection close-up?

ImageThis is a close-up of an animal sculpture. Can you guess the animal?

Made out of fabricated and chromed steel, I’ll be highlighting this piece from our art collection at an upcoming family program. What do you think it is?

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