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Archive for April, 2012

I’m excited to share a new project that’s in the works. Along with Linda Norris (of Uncataloged Museum and Pickle Project fame) I am writing a book about Museums & Creative Practice. Today we are launching a fledgling project website that you can access here.

I’ve been interested in this topic for years now. I believe strongly that museums across the field are in need of an enormous infusion of creativity. We tend to think creativity is only the concern of contemporary art museums when in reality it should matter deeply to all of us. We also tend to think it’s the purview of exhibition designers when in reality creativity, and creative problem-solving, is equally important for visitor services, education, administration, development—every department of the museum.

As I travel from city to city trying to figure out what makes a great city museum, I am struck by how large a role creativity plays in successful institutions, and I have been thinking a lot about how city museums can be more creative. In fact I gave a paper on this topic at the CAMOC/ICOM conference in Shanghai in 2010. I have also been making creativity a priority in the material culture course I teach in the Tufts Museum Studies program. I don’t want to send my students out into the field to develop the same old exhibitions and programs we’ve been doing for years; instead I want to empower them to find interesting, compelling, surprising new ways of presenting objects to the public. This book project is a natural next step for me in exploring creativity’s impact on museums more broadly and more deeply.

There’s a wealth of new literature on the import role creativity plays in the economy and in society at large. Linda and I think it’s time someone applies that literature to museums. We have been following and admiring each other’s work for several years now, and I can’t think of a better partner for this project. We’re envisioning a practical, nuts-and-bolts kind of book that provides our colleagues with the tools they need to make their museums, and themselves, more creative.

We’re just at the beginning stages; we don’t even have a publisher lined up yet. But it’s important to us that we involve our colleagues from day one so we can write a book that’s genuinely useful to them. As we begin our research and draft our book proposal, we’ve developed a quick survey that you can take here, and you can also make comments/suggestions either on this post or at the Museums & Creative Practice website.

Lastly, we’ll both be at the American Association of Museums conference in Minneapolis next week (yes, this year’s conference theme is “Creative Community”) and we are hoping to talk there with as many colleagues as possible about this project. We’re holding two informal Museums & Creative Practice meet-ups:

  • Monday, April 30, 12:30-2:00. Grab a takeaway lunch and meet us at the cafe seating in the lobby of the convention center, near Dunn Bros Coffee
  • Tuesday, May 1, 6:00-7:30. Join us for a drinks and discussion at The Local, 931 Nicollet Mall, a few blocks north of the convention center. The reservation is under Rainey; we’ll be at “Arthur’s Table.”

I don’t yet know where this project will lead, but wherever it goes I’m looking forward to it. I hope you are too.

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The On-Air Forum

The Takeaway, Todd Mundt via Flickr

My husband Graham is a journalist who has mainly worked in public radio, for talk shows like On Point and The Takeaway. He gets dragged to a lot of city museums and I end up in a lot of conversations about the current state of news media. Usually our two fields feel very different, but every now and then we are reminded that they are actually very similar: we both work to engage and inform a public audience.

He made an interesting analogy the other day about an issue that museum folks grapple with a lot: are we temples or forums? I’m going to share it with you here in case it gives you a slightly different way of understanding the nature of our current debate. To paraphrase, he said:

Most of the time history museums seem to give their visitors all the answers. It’s like starting off an hour-long radio show saying, ‘We already have the answers for you; here they are.’ But the whole point of a public radio talk show is to say instead, ‘We have a lot of questions so we’re bringing in some experts to debate them, and if you call in you can debate them too.’

Do hosts like Tom Ashbrook, John Hockenberry, and Celeste Headlee provide a model for the 21st-century museum curator, facilitating conversations between experts and interested listeners/visitors? What could we borrow from public radio to improve our museums?

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By Gord McKenna via Flickr

Since a lot of my readers work at city museums, I want to make a pitch for CAMOC annual conference, to be held this year in Vancouver, October 24-26. CAMOC is the international professional association for city museums, and I try to attend this conference every year. I always meet interesting people and learn a ton.

If you want to make a presentation at this conference, proposals are due on April 15; I just turned mine in this morning. I know that’s just a few short days away but don’t worry, the proposal requirements aren’t too lengthy or complicated. The Call for Papers can be found here or on the CAMOC website. There are several different options for participation: you can deliver a formal paper about an issue facing city museums, make a brief presentation about projects your museum is undertaking, or participate in a poster competition.

The Museum of Vancouver (pictured above) is our local host for this year’s conference. MOV is on my list of city museums to watch, so I’m very excited to spend some time getting to know the organization and its staff. And Vancouver itself is an amazing city. Hope to see you there.

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