How can you become an agent of change in the museum world?
A Step by Step Guide to Becoming a Change-seeking, Collaborative Museum Professional Dedicated to Service for the Public Good: Inspired by NEMA 2012
1. Commit, Commit, Commit: If I learned anything while at the New England Museum Association annual conference, it’s that AMAZING things are happening in our country’s museums. In order to be a part of it, we have to learn to jump! The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, Connecticut did just that when they completely re-branded themselves as a historic site that inspires a commitment to social justice and positive change. They tackle tough topics in their discussion-based Salons at Stowe programs, such as human trafficking, bullying, the achievement gap, and racial stereotyping. Their talk prompted me to ponder what ways we can take our programs to the next level through mission-centered endeavors and engaging activities.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail: When approached by a local elementary teacher about a collaborative project with the Bangor Museum and History Center, Director of Museum Operations Dana Lippitt didn’t shy away from an opportunity. There are both pleasures and perils involved when working with students as exhibit curators, but what if she had said no? She would have missed a chance to look at the objects in the museum’s collection in a different way and forge relationships with the community of Bangor. Sometimes you have to take a deep breath and jump – even if that jump involves sharing authority with a fourth grader!
3. Build Trust: Building an audience-focused museum means that establishing strong roots with the community is a must. Sometimes, this means meeting an audience where they are. “Go to them and they will come to you.” That is the advice that Shannon Burke, Director of Education and Visitor Services at the Harriet Beecher Stowe center, gave session attendees. Everyone thinks that they can change the world right away – but it starts with trust building and relationship building. How can we continue to make museums safe environments for exploration, conversation, and investigation in our communities?
4. Collaborate: “When people come to museums, they see two things. They see the stuff and they see the people that make the stuff interesting!” – said every educator, ever! It’s not a surprise to say that not all educators and curators see eye to eye. But, as two staff members from the Higgins Armory Museum can attest to, life can be a lot easier when both parties lay down their swords. In reaction to visitor commentary and interdepartmental conflict, the museum staff radically adjusted their exhibition development strategies, integrating digital technology (in the form of Wii jousting) into their designs. The result: a stronger, bolder, and more cohesive visitor experience!
5. Ask Questions: How do you become an agent of change in the museum world? What environments let change flourish? How can we better serve our public? What change do you want to see in the world? What are some barriers to change and how can we overcome them? If you don’t ask the questions, how do you expect to get the answers?
6. Network: Get those business cards ready! What better way to become an agent of change then to meet the people that are taking the risks. Chatting with folks in line for coffee, attending sessions related to topics of interest, and approaching fellow alums of my current graduate program all lead to interesting conversations and continued inspiration. Conferences, such as NEMA, are a great way to soak up ideas from folks in the field and forge relationships with change-agents that you admire. Additionally, finding a mentor or two from the museum world helps to guarantee that your growth in the field will continue long after a diploma is handed over!
7. Attend NEMA (this one should be self-explanatory by now!)