A Note to Grown-Ups

via @TheodoreArt

Hyperallergic photo, via @TheodoreArt

The recent Hyperallergic photo (see right) about what NOT to do with kids in a museum has got me thinking. A ton of negative press – about the child, the child’s guardians, and children in museums in general – was thrown around in the weeks after the image appeared online. Yes, yes, the photo made me cringe a bit. But, children breathe life into museums. Education (for all ages and abilities) should be at the core of every museum. Instead of wasting energy criticizing, why don’t we, as museum professionals, take a moment to better understand our institutions and the role that they play in this argument. Instead of What Not to Do with Kids in a Museum, let’s ask ourselves what we can do to make our institutions inviting and safe places for all.

I recently authored a short article for JMKAC’s Preschool Press, a newsletter of resources for families in the Arts Center’s arts-based preschool program. The goal? Art engagement inside AND outside of the classroom. This below list of tips, a “note for grown-ups” of sorts, has been handed down to me through the education department. Active art engagement in the galleries helps parents feel a greater sense of ownership over the spaces they occupy. When parents understand how to connect with their child and the art, they are more likely to treat it with respect. This is by no means a comprehensive list! What else do you think I should add?

The best way to help children learn about art is to:

Art by the Yellow Class (4-5 year olds) at JMKAC

Art by the Yellow Class (4-5 year olds) at JMKAC

  • Follow the child’s lead.
  • Encourage them to look carefully.
  • Listen to their ideas about what they see without judgements.
  • Respect their ideas and opinions

Try these simple questions to spark a conversation with children:

  • What’s going on in this picture (image) (sculpture) (piece)?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can we find?

Remember that there are no right or wrong answers. Open ended questions (such as those above) allow for creativity and exploration when looking at art. They can also be used throughout your day to day adventures inside and outside of museums!

Source: Visual Thinking Strategies



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Preschool Easel Art - Courtesy of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center

Preschool Easel Art – Courtesy of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center

New jobs are tough. Some days I think I’ve finally got things figured out and other days my brain feels like paint splattered on a canvas. I am almost a full four months into my job at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center and seeing the beauty in controlled chaos has been my biggest lesson so far. Job descriptions are teasers – they give you a sneak peak into what is to come. And boy, have the last four months blown me away.

I have grown by leaps and bounds into my role as the head of the education team here in Sheboygan. I am learning to be humble, to accept mistakes as part of the growing process, and to embrace moments of success and moments that feel like failure. This past week I was lucky enough to be asked to speak at a local high school on behalf of the Arts Center. The topic? Career planning! I wondered if I was qualified to share, given my new role in the organization and in the community. I’m still growing into this job. Phshhhh, I thought to myself, the day I stop growing is the day I’m ready to move on, so I jumped right in.

During my presentation, I got to share a bit about my educational background at IWU and CGP, the various internships I have journeyed through over the past six years, and what being an “educational program coordinator” really means. I talked a lot about careers in museums – the various types of museums (art, history, science, natural history, social justice, historic house, community based, etc) and types of jobs (curator, registrar, marketing guru, development associate, etc).

My biggest piece of advice for these seniors in high school? Do what you love. Major in what you love. Pursue what you love. I bet you can find a career that jives with it. To gather some inspiration, I asked museum professionals what wisdom they would like to pass on to those interested in careers in the museum field. Check it out! A huge thank you to museum colleagues that shared their advice via Twitter:

@pbaach If you find something you like to do, chances are you can do it at a museum – research, writing, designing, educating.

@pbaach Museums are challenging, but stimulating places to work. As a staff member you get to eat fancy food at member events, walk the galleries alone! and, of course ride any dinosaurs that are in the collection 🙂

@KinneretK the diversity of experience – working with people, objects, & admin tasks, the opposite of factory work, flexible & quick (is why I work in museums)

@willcooperstown Visit lots of museums, read broadly, be curious (if you’d like to pursue a museum career)

@emilylanguish There are more careers in museums than just curator! This coming from a curator.

@KinneretK (Make sure to check out) #museumed’s history as a feminist field and current trends in rising female leadership and flexibility of part or full time

@kironcmukherjee There’s many types of careers in Museums. Find an interest, start now & volunteer!

@chadsirois make connections early and learn that #museums are more than just curatorial departments

@kironcmukherjee Impress w/ your enthusiasm & creativity! Will pay off in the future – did for me

@MuseumMinute discover what makes you unique – its usually what you’re most passionate abt – and be the best you can be at it

@MuseumMinute museums are more than storage/showcase centers. They’re abt ppl. “Nontraditional” museums skills are valuable #museumjob

@czarshaw join a youth volunteer program at local museum (to get experience in the field)

@alli_rico Try volunteering in a variety of museums if you’re not sure where your interests lie, or if you have a variety. #museumjob

@unmuseum get practical experience and volunteer (in the field in order to pursue a museum career)

@historein 1) Ask, what do I see myself doing on a daily basis? 2) volunteer 3) there is no single path to museum career 4) volunteer

@BoardKatie Volunteer for events and more. Write a research paper or poem, draw, sing, dance about something in a museum.

@FranklinVagnone volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter

@eliznerland know the issues outside the museum!

My colleagues are right – there is no one right path into any career. Do you have any advice for those looking to break into the museum field OR adjusting to new positions? Tweet them to @FreshInTheField #museumcareers

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Still Fresh in the Field

Photo Credit: The John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI

Photo Credit: The John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI

Why, hello! It’s been a little while since my last post and life has moved fast. I’m currently writing to you from my new office at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin (don’t worry boss, it’s my lunch hour!) where I have accepted a position as their new Education Program Coordinator. There were only 6 weeks between my initial screening interview and my start date and during that time I traveled back and forth from Chicago to Sheboygan 5 times, interviewed 4 times, spent 3 anxious days glued to my phone, packed up 2 cars, and moved into 1 awesome apartment.

Here are a few things I learned in the process:

  • Getting your first office feels as amazing as every cliche media portrayal of the event
  • First weeks on the job are TOUGH but also rewarding, it has been likened to childbirth, but I won’t go there
  • Never say no to a meal; the first few weeks of a new job feels like networking overload but I have high hopes this will pay off
  • Be honest about what you don’t know, otherwise it will take you three weeks to set up your voice mail and you’ll accidentally give out the wrong phone number to docents
  • Nobody is productive 100% of the time they are sitting at their desks
  • Work is sort of like school: there are to-do lists and everyone loves free brownies
  • Managing is not easy! Making honest connections with your colleagues and valuing the unique contribution that they give to your organization sounds like BS but it’s the most important thing you can do
  • Learn, listen, and linger (but not in a creepy way). Learn as much as you can about your organization, listen to the people you will be working with, and linger longer than you normally would in conversations to see where your team is at and where they are going (in both the short term and long term)
  • Meetings can be productive and unproductive… my goal is to master the of art of a quick and expedient meeting (said every manager ever)
  • Learning how to access your work email on your phone is good; learning when to turn off your phone and live your life is better

When I announced that I had accepted this position, a twitter follower asked if my moniker “Fresh In the Field” would be changing to something along the lines of “Rooted In the Field”. The question took me by surprise. When the JMKAC summer interns were given a “going away” reception it felt like the strangest thing in the world to not be another intern standing up, reminding everyone of my name, and explaining where my next step would be. Do I have next steps? YES. I am going to take this time to learn more about my organization, more about my community, and more about living a life outside of school and work. Am I still fresh in the field? Yes… and I hope to be for a very long time, as I keep learning and growing in the museum world and out of it.

And that’s what I’ve got so far, folks! Stay tuned for more excitement, exhaustion, and sometimes esoteric career discoveries in the near future. Now back to an afternoon of literacy links, docent training, preschool prep, and social media strategies!

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The Dreaded Elevator Speech

Alright, ladies and gentlemen, it’s go time! Interview day! You’ve spent weeks/months/years preparing for this moment. (No pressure, though.) You’ve got the degree, put in those internship and volunteer hours, printed copies of your resume, have done your homework on the institution, made sure to finalize your professional portfolio and shined your shoes! You walk through those doors as confident as you can be, take a deep breath, shake hands, and take a seat.

Photo accessed through Wikimedia Commons

Ready, set, INTERVIEW! Photo accessed through Wikimedia Commons

Now, what’s the first question you’re going to be asked? Oh, you know the one. It’s the dreaded, “tell me a little bit about yourself.” Alternatively phrased as, “give us your elevator speech”. Why does this question make us so nervous? It could be because it is such an open ended question (how very constructivist of our interviewers). What do you want to know, really? There are many answers you do NOT want to give. Do not tell your interviewer your life story. Sorry guys, pets, politics, and religion are off the table. Try not to ramble. This answer is not the only chance you will be to sell yourself. Keep it simple, keep it classy.

Employers are looking for very recent education and experience that will lead them to ask further questions and spark a conversation about your contributions in the field. To answer the question, be prepared to give a brief summary of about 5 sentences that you can practice before your interview. No need to memorize the “blurb” word for word, but it’s nice to have an idea of what you might want to say.

According to Paul Stimmler, former guest lecturer at the Cooperstown Graduate Program, the basic pitch should:

  • Summarize your career goals
  • Include recent experiences and/or education that supports your career goals
  • Highlight important responsibilities and achievements
  • Highlight functional skills
  • Be accomplishment-oriented
  • Include degree information
  • Be tailored to suit the specific position available

Here’s an example: I’m a native of the Chicago-land area and attended Illinois Wesleyan University, where I majored in education and anthropology and became interested in a career in non-profit work. I recently graduated from the Cooperstown Graduate Program with a master’s degree in Museum Studies. It was in Cooperstown that I concentrated my coursework on museum education and was able to pursue an internship in exhibition development and education at the Field Museum of Natural History. While I interned I was able to manage 10 undergraduate interns in a summative evaluation project and assist with multiple arts-based programs.

Okay, now it’s your turn! Type it up, write it out, save it in your phone or stuff it into your portfolio! Practice makes perfect and you know you’ll get asked! Have that elevator speech ready: you just never know who you’ll be in an elevator with!

Sources: How to Answer the Question: “Tell Me About Yourself”, Paul Stimmler, 2012

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I’m On A Boat!

IMG_8264As a recent graduate, I spend a lot of time debating the differences between “job-searching” and “unemployed”. I could sit here discussing semantics with you, OR I could fill you in on one absolutely amazing aspect of having such an open schedule. That museum I’ve never visited? That tour I’ve never gone on? That park I have always passed but never stopped into? I’m using my summer in Chicago to catch up on all of the cultural attractions I’ve been missing during the daily grind. Not only is this proving incredibly enjoyable, but it’s also a great way to gain inspiration for future projects.

For example, I recently went on an architectural boat tour of the Chicago river that blew my mind! Sitting on a boat for 90 minutes with nothing but a tour guide blabbing away and the sun beating down on me seemed like a horrible idea at first. Almost as bad as being shoved into overly air-conditioned small, confined spaces on a boring house tour (those of you who are not traditional house tour people, you know where I’m coming from). So what made the difference? The tour guide. He was cracking jokes, making quippy comments about the Chi-town political scene, and told a few scandalous stories involving mistresses and opera houses. He even gave us big chunks of time (10 minutes or so) to just enjoy the views without him “blabbering on,” as he put it. The boat was a double-decker and also had a floating bar! In conclusion, museum tours should include:

  • A tour guide that relates his or her topic to the modern day
  • The ability to get up and move around
  • A balance of talking and time for reflection
  • Booze

Pretending to be a tourist in your own city might be exactly what you need to jump start that next creative idea! Go find a boat, cave, park, museum, library tour today!

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Did You Know?!

IMG_8273Did you know that the Chicago Cultural Center is home to the world’s largest stained- glass Tiffany dome?! Nicknamed the “people’s palace”, the center is home to a plethora of multiple exhibition galleries, a visitor’s center, a cafe, and a community space with charging stations. And the best part?! It’s free! I had a few hours to kill between Chicago activities this past week and was very glad to stop in. Museum folks keep wondering how to engage the public and here’s my tip: keep it free and add charging stations! Here are a few photos from my visit:

The Chicago Cultural Center is conveniently located in the old public library building on Randolph and Michigan, a downtown hub for both tourists and community members

The Chicago Cultural Center is conveniently located in the old public library building on Randolph and Michigan, a downtown hub for both tourists and community members.

IMG_8284This exhibition on the city of Chicago drew the attention of both tourists and locals. The carpet squares were even part of the design, symbolizing the diversity and complexity of the city and its population.

IMG_8282Multiple exhibitions were on display at the time I visited. I have to admit that I have no idea what this exhibit was about, but the display technique was fascinating! Each individual panel can be lowered to be read and then hoisted back up through a weight system when you’re done with it. Definitely not universally designed, but it made for a neat effect!

IMG_8275I just had to post another one of this! It was quite the sight! Have a few hours in the Windy City? The Chicago Cultural Center is the place to be.

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Project Onward: Accessibility & Museum Programming

If you haven’t stumbled upon Jessica Naudziunas’ blog post on NPR, How to Make Museums More Inviting For Kids With Autism, it’s a must read. The article, which highlights the Please Touch Museum’s Play Without Boundaries Initiative, reminded me of Project Onward, an organization dedicated to supporting the development of artists with mental and developmental disabilities.

Picture 1

Logo credit: Project Onward

The project, which is based out of the Chicago Cultural Center, includes a studio and gallery space where artists are given the opportunity to create art, connect with other artists, and inspire change in the art world. In fact, part of their mission is “to inspire change by using art to promote empathy and reduce the stigma of mental illness and developmental disabilities; to improve the self-image of artists through the social and economic value of their work; and to cultivate new audiences in the art market by increasing awareness of, and demand for, artwork created by people with disabilities.”


Photo taken by author

I accidentally wandered into one of Project Onward’s gallery spaces (pictured above) and workshop area while I was exploring the Chicago Cultural Center last week. Artwork by the artists are available for sale in the gallery, or you can attend a “Portrait Slam” that features multiple artists creating portraits for patrons young and old. This gives artists a chance to socialize with the public, something that is rare for adults with disabilities

Many initiatives geared towards more inclusive museum and art experiences for visitors with special needs are gaining popularity throughout the country. Some museums are creating apps so that families with autistic children can map their routes before visiting the museum. Other smaller institutions are integrating special hours for a family or groups of families to get an exclusive “preview” of the museum while it is quiet. A few other access initiatives to check out include the Intrepid’s Access Family Programs, the Art Access project at the Queens Museum of Art, and SPARK! at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center.

Have you run across any great access programming in the museum and non-profit world? Share your experiences in the comment section below.


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Do All Museums Have Ceilings?

Photo taken by author from the exhibition Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good;  Chicago Cultural Center

Photo taken by author from the exhibition Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good; Chicago Cultural Center

Recently on the Museum-L discussion list-serve, the director of a small historical society asked the group if there is a growth ceiling for museums based on how much a population actually “cares” about our offerings. He lamented that only so many people in his community are going to “care about history”, no matter how much effort his museum puts into upping audience participation. He asked if we, as museum professionals, should simply “grind ahead with the belief that with value-based offerings, a museum can evolve into a critical community asset?”

I think that we are often asking how we can get our community to “care about history” , “care about science” , “care about art” , etc. I have no brilliant answers for you, but I do wonder if maybe we are asking the wrong questions. Instead of figuring out how we can get our audience to participate in the offerings of our institution, shouldn’t we be asking our community what they need from our museum? I do not believe that a museum can evolve into a critical community asset without the input of the community. Instead of trying in vain to convince our potential audiences that our mission is valid, why don’t we take a critical look at our mission and start a conversation with community stakeholders to see what is working and what is not working.

Now, I’m not advocating that every institution throw out their mission based offerings, I just think that sometimes we get “stuck” and forget that we have a potential to be a vital asset to our community, if we know what they need. Frank Vagnone, Executive Director of the Historic House Trust of New York City, discusses this in his talk entitled the Landing the Plane: An Anarchist Guide to Community Engagement. If you want to get to know your community, walk around your neighborhood! He suggests building in a staff community day into your schedule so that all members of your organization can get out into the neighborhood and build relationships.

Start a conversation. Ask questions. Listen. Lather, rinse, repeat. What has your organization done to build relationships, increase participation, and break those ceilings?


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Great Art On Screen

IMG_8285Earlier this week I decided to take a break from the museum world (gasp!) and catch a movie at a local cinema. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across this movie poster for EXHIBITION: Great Art on Screen. I have to admit that my first thought was, “museums are following me!” Then, I took a close look.

What is EXHIBITION: Great Art on Screen? Documentary film maker Phil Grabsky has launched the project to connect the public with artworks from across the world. Three films are planned for the 2013 year including a documentary about Manet that was released in April, a piece on Munch to be shown starting in July, and a film on Vermeer due out in October. Each individual film brings audience members up close to art and introduces them to museums, curators, and a behind the scenes look into the works of a particular artist. According to the project’s website, the events are being screened at over 1,000 movie cinemas in over 30 countries worldwide. Multiple “exhibitions” have already been planned for 2014 and 2015 as the project continues to expand.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this endeavor. On one hand, these movies have the ability to showcase art from around the world to audiences that might never have been able to see these exhibitions in person. They may have the ability to bridge popular culture (an experience at the movies) with museums (and access to art) in a way that some museums have not been able to succeed at. On the other hand, movie theaters are profiting from this endeavor instead of our institutions, and I doubt that many partnerships are being made between theaters and local museums to channel these movie-goers into museum-goers. I’m not advocated a boycott over here; I’m just wondering what partnership possibilities could stem from the project and others like it.

Is there a way to bridge these experiences and create an increased audiences base? What’s your opinion? Do you vote yea or nay to museums at the movies?

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Fashionistas Take to the Streets

What do you think of when you think of modern day museum marketing? Social media maybe? A billboard or two? Last week while at an art fair in Chicago I ran into quite a spectacle…


Definitely not your typical marketing strategy! This lovely lady was dressed for the occasion and handing out flyers for the Art Institute of Chicago’s newest temporary exhibition Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity which will be opening late June.

IMG_8147Does the flyer’s main character remind you of anyone? What a clever way to target a specific audience of art lovers. Does your institution employ any non-traditional marketing techniques to attract a crowd?



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