Sunday, May 30, 2010

What I Learned from Staffing a Booth in the AAM Expo Hall

1. It is a real trade-off; on the one hand, you meet and have the excuse to chat with all sorts of fascinating people! On the other hand, you miss out on a lot of amazing sessions and experiences.

2. Take advantage of the Exhibitors' Lounge.

3. Get in line first for the food and try to eat quickly while the delegates are in line so you will be ready for them by the time they have their food (and you have finished eating yours).

4. Have lots of bling/schwag to give away.

5. Gimmicks are good for drawing people in, but you need substance to keep them there talking to you.

6. Homemade chocolate chip cookies help.

7. Make sure you give yourself time to wander around the rest of the Expo Hall at some point.

8. Try to make it to at least one session and one General Session if at all possible.

9. Keep on top of who you have met--make notes about them so that you will remember what you talked about when you get home and are looking blankly at a large pile of business cards you have collected.

10. Be prepared for a back-up plan when the Internet connection doesn't work very well.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

What I Learned from Attending AAM 2010*

(* Especially since it was in my hometown.)

1. Go to the evening events. Sure, I can go to MoLAA for free whenever I want, but for $40 I could have seen Guillermo Gomez-Pena perform a dialogue with artist Felipe Ehrenberg.

2. The conference is a great place to catch up with old friends from around the country--but be sure to meet new friends, too, possibly from around the world!

3. Try to get more sleep. The days are long and tiring enough; staying up until 4AM really doesn't improve the experience.

4. Go to the lunches. Again, yeah, I can pack a lunch from home and save some money, but I'll miss out on speakers and networking with colleagues.

5. Offer to show colleagues and friends around the town/where the locals eat and drink before or after the conference--but not during the conference; no one has time for that.

6. Baking homemade cookies for a booth in the Expo Hall is indeed a good idea--work that kitchen!

7. Read all session and General Session descriptions carefully and keep your ears open for special possibly fun additions and events so that you don't miss hearing a Q&A with the richest billionaire/largest supporter of the arts/very controversial guy in town.

8. You really need more than 3 weeks to plan a successful flash mob. Also, you need technology that doesn't fail.

9. Smart phones are really, really worth it at these conferences. Or, I guess an iPad would do, too.

10. Forget about whatever it is you are supposed to be learning at the conference and go to the technology sessions and events (#djump, Muse Awards, etc.)--those folks know how to have FUN! Besides, we all need to learn about technology.

Fun Fact: I spent $131 on parking during the conference! (But that still doesn't equal one night in the conference hotels...)

I guess I learned some actual stuff from the sessions, too, but that will come in other posts.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Pinky and YOUR Brain

Today I did something a tad out of the ordinary; I was interviewed by two cats. Not just any two cats, mind you, I was interviewed by Pinky and Kim, the cartoon cats from the Pinky Show. Haven't heard of the Pinky Show? It's a website that "gently pokes your brain with a stick," focusing on "information & ideas that have been misrepresented, suppressed, ignored, or otherwise excluded from mainstream discussion." These ideas include thoughts on museums, as seen in this video.

So what did Pinky and Kim interview me about? Why the future of museums, of course! And they didn't ask easy questions, either. No, the questions posed by this animated duo were astute and thought-provoking, probing issues such as the democratization of museums, where museums are headed and whether we are on the right track.

I enjoyed my little chat with Pinky and Kim--and you can, too! Their booth is open to all #aam10 participants over in the Center for the Future of Museums area in the Expo Hall. So stop by and say hello, gaze into the future and share what you see with these charming little kitties--and the rest of the museum field!

The Consultant Love Connection @ #AAM10

All conference sessions should include costumes and feature game show theme music!

Well, maybe not, but they sure did work for "Who Do You Call First?" a session dedicated to exploring the often confusing process of finding just the right consultant (or consultants) for a particular job.

The session did a credible send-up of the old TV game show, "The Dating Game," making the content just campy enough to elicit giggles from the audience (and keep them awake in that last session time slot of the day!) but while still delivering a lot of serious and valuable content. Sure, the museum planner was referred to as an alchemist and the economist was a fortune teller (each wearing suitable garb for their roles), but what they had to say was worth hearing.

Couched in terms of the structure of "Love Connection," one museum director (Heather Cochran, Museum Project Administrator for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) asked each consultant to answer the same set of questions to determine their eligibility. Questions included, "What would we do on a first date?" (the Magician/Architect said he would take her all over the world to look at museum buildings that worked--and those that didn't, while the Visitor Services/Detective said she would take the director to a place she already loved--her own museum--to learn more about each other and themselves) and "What was your worst date?" (the Alchemist/Museum Planner described a date who never listened to anything he had to say and had already made up their minds about everything before hand while the Artist/Exhibit Developer spoke of the opposite--a date who didn't know what they wanted at all). The Economist/Fortune Teller stated that, "the best dates have really, really big endowments."

Amidst the double-entendres and the silliness, the specific roles and functions of each type of consultant were effectively explained and delineated for the audience, hopefully helping them to think about which type of assistance they might most need. Pointers were also given to prospective clients about how to be "better," more informed clients by doing a little preliminary research of their own, including benchmarking and developing a clear vision of what they hope to achieve.

The Client--Heather Cochran, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
The EmCee--Mark Hayward, BRC Imagination Arts
Magician/Architect--David Greenbaum, Smith Group
Midwife/Owner's Representative--Barbara Punt, Punt Consulting
Artist/Exhibit Developer--Kathy Gustafson-Hilton, Hands On! Inc
Alchemist/Museum Master Planner--Guy Hermann, Museum Insights
Detective/Visitor Services--Kathleen Tinworth, Denver Museum of Nature and Science
Fortune Teller/Economist--Elaine Carmichael, Economic Stewardship, Inc.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Joblessness Results in Wyeth Appreciation

Perhaps I should take heart in the fact that popular culture icons such as the Daily Show and now the Onion feel that museums are worth poking fun at. Perhaps.

But sadly, while sure, it's easy to giggle about being an archivist for the Grateful Dead Archives, it's not a laughing matter that while museums may have seen a rise in attendance this past year, that did not translate into money in the bank--or in the hands of museum employees.

Still, the Onion response to why people were really visiting museums more is funny.

Another funny article about museums--funny in the uh oh, not ha ha way--states that in the next few years curator, conservator and archivist jobs will all be increasing, more so even than most other fields out there. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that this prediction is largely based on the rise in museum attendance in past years. Huh. What about the fact that a lot of museum professionals are nearing retirement age? One would assume that that would play a factor as well.

But what the article does not take into consideration is that, while attendance was going up, staff were being laid off and positions vacated through regular attrition were not getting refilled.

So what will the future really hold for museums? A continuation of the upward trend in attendance? Will that trend eventually manifest in real dollars? Will positions continue to sit vacant? Or will the Bureau of Labor Statistics be right and there will suddenly be a long-awaited boom in museum job openings? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Miscellany for the Masses

Okay, the tabs are getting out of control--again--so it's time to write a blog post! Not necessarily a coherent or cohesive one, mostly just a post to remind myself of some of the cool, thought-provoking items that I have been meaning to think about for the last little while.

First off, wish I'd known about the Pepsi Refresh Project sooner than 4 days before it ends. Probably would have if I'd been paying better attention. Ah well. While it is most likely too late to submit an idea for funding, it is not to late to vote! So go. Check it out and vote for a cool idea that needs some funding.

I don't doubt that in the not-too distant future I, too, will be able to be like Tom Cruise in "Minority Report"(minus the being framed for a crime I haven't committed yet part, I hope). In some ways, I think this is what some iPhone apps and possibly the Microsoft Surface are trying to achieve. But what I want to know is: so what? Other than no longer requiring proficiency with a mouse for computer-based interactives in museums (and many systems have already managed to do away with the mouse), what real substantive changes and value will this technology be bringing to museum visitor experiences? How will this significant change in interface affect the kinds of content that we can offer?

I will be the first to admit that performance artist Marina Abramovic's $460 Energy Blanket sounds pretty off-the-wall--and yet I really, really dig it. But then again, I am a fan of usable art. That's why I was a subscriber to The Thing.

I love this for so many reasons. A) I like the idea of recreating art--especially when it involves elaborate photo shoots in museums (so long as they are done safely...) B) Flavorpill is a great group that let's folks know about fun, cool happenings C) I'm a sap and I like the idea of love in museums.

Still need to digest/think about this one a little more. Sure, it sounds very reasonable that there exist three basic types of social media for museums: content-sharing; internal (ie Basecamp or yammer for project management) and social networking (Facebook etc)--except that it also sounds rather simplistic. I remember a couple years ago when I was trying to categorize types of online philanthropy and came up with a whole bunch! So, for example, where *does* development/online giving fall into these three categories? Anyway, like I said, needs more thinking.

To file under my growing list of "democratic" exhibitions, there is the Museum of the Bohemian. One of these blog posts I should really share that growing list.

Oooh, this is a fun little article: museums--known, loved and praised for authenticity and authoritative imparting of knowledge--basing exhibits on *not* knowing--on guesswork and on objects that may be the real dealio or may not be. Cool.

This is aimed at marketers, but it is very relevant for museums. The five future trends listed here are: 1. the changing demographics of the US 2. the necessity of understanding culture beyond ethnicity to remain relevant 3. gaming, gaming, gaming 4. micro--micro-actions, micro-loans, micro-donations, micro-support, etc. 5. a revival of humanist spirit. Not sure about that last one, but I feel pretty confident that the other 4 are right on, so who knows?

The fact that Virginia Homes is marketing their homes directly and specifically at women--almost exclusively--is fascinating to me for a couple of reasons. 1. This points to a serious shift in both our nation's demographics and division of labor--clearly, women have been breaking through the glass ceiling because they are the primary home-buyers now. 2. What, if anything, does this mean for museums--both in terms of visitorship (and appealing to audiences) and in terms of staffing? We are already heavily populated by women in the museum field--even at executive levels. Are men a dying breed in our field? 3. I think it's amusing that they call themselves Virginia Homes and call themselves the first home designers for women--weren't Virginia Slims the first cigarettes designed for women?

Not surprising, in fact, to me this almost doesn't count as news, but it is still sad to hear conclusively that yes, the economy has been hurting us, continues to hurt us and is forcing nonprofits to close or merge.

Two points of interest for me in this article. First is that, despite the fact that many of the larger museums that lost a lot of principal in their endowments in 2009 have regained that money, they are not returning their budgets to pre-economic downturn levels and are instead continuing to budget conservatively. Is this economic prudence, or is this an instance of management taking advantage of the fact that they were able to make their employees do more with less--less staff, less funding, less pay? Second is that I find it very interesting that, while its colleagues were suffering, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco had a good year--largely thanks to John Buchanan and his love of traveling blockbuster exhibitions--in this case, King Tut. Once again I find myself asking: are blockbusters the savior to museum financial woes?

Okay, those tabs are closed now. I know I got some of them from the Center for the Future of Museums and I suspect that at least one or two came from Art Wolf as well. Can't remember where the others came from, but thank you to all for sharing these with me and making me stop and think a moment.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Design for the Other 90%

A few years ago, I attended a brilliant exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt in New York entitled, Design for the Other 90%. I'll let the exhibit tell its own premise:
Of the world’s total population of 6.5 billion, 5.8 billion people, or 90%, have little or no access to most of the products and services many of us take for granted; in fact, nearly half do not have regular access to food, clean water, or shelter. Design for the Other 90% explores a growing movement among designers to design low-cost solutions for this “other 90%.”
People have been asking, what can and are museums doing in a practical manner to help with large-scale problems that people face everyday, such as unemployment, economic recession, disaster relief? Well, it seems like the Cooper-Hewitt has already taken a big step in that direction. I initially wanted to point them out to ask, "Why aren't museums doing more exhibits like this today?" But instead what I discovered was that Design for the Other 90% is not just an exhibit that happened five years ago; it is a movement. Please check out the website for resources, events, blog posts, tweets, connecting with like-minded individuals interested in helping others and more.

But what I would also like to point out, thanks to a whole long list of resources I acquired from a presentation by Alex Lightman at last weekend's BIL conference, is that the Cooper-Hewitt does not need to be acting on its own in this quest to bring awareness to design for "the other 90%." Amazing new technologies and resources are being developed everyday--why not highlight some in your own museum? They are usually inexpensive and they can be life-changing--or, more importantly, life-saving. And the Cooper-Hewitt has already demonstrated how your museum does not need to be technology or science-based in order to showcase these wonderful inventions.

Here are a whole bunch innovations to check out:

Remember the days of door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen? Yeah, those days are gone. Now you can have pretty much all of wikipedia in your pocket--without Internet access. For $99 you (or your whole town, if you want to share) can have the WikiReader for access to information about oodles of stuff.

Health care workers in remote locales can now turn their cell phones into microscopes to aid with disease monitoring and diagnosis thanks to the CellScope.

Or how about using little tabs of paper for diagnostic purposes?

Or a pocket PCR device for testing pathogens or food safety, like the Lava Amp?

Speaking of diagnosis, the Diagnosaurus 2.0 is freeware for your pda that aids with making informed health care decisions.

Having trouble communicating that diagnosis? Maybe you need iSpeak, the $2 translation app for your smart phone.

The Aravind Eye Care System in India has adapted WilDNet (wifi over long distance) technology so that health care workers in remote locales can consult with experts in large hospitals to diagnose and treat vision.

Everyone's seen those images of women carrying ridiculously large water containers on their heads. Doesn't look all that comfortable, does it? The hipporoller allows for the smooth transportation of 4-5 times the amount of water that can be carried on one's head, greatly reducing time (and effort) spent in fetching water.

Another invention that seems aimed towards the plight of women, non-pneumatic anti-shock garments, such as the LifeWrap, can help keep women stabilized who are suffering from obstetric hemorrhaging.

The Darfur Stove reduces the need for firewood for cook fires by 72%. That saves time and effort spent on collecting firewood and promotes more environmentally sound and sustainable practices.

And while we're talking about fuel, heat and light, why not use an LED lantern rather than a kerosene one. They are cheap, they last a long time, they don't rely on fossil fuels and they are less polluting.

Windspires are also a great source of energy generation, without taking up as much space as a windmill.

Acasa, a product of Singularity University, is developing an automated process for house construction called contour crafting, which would allow for more rapid re-building following major disasters.

M-pesa is a service offered through Safaricom that allows for branchless banking through your mobile phone. Note: the link is to a youtube ad for m-pesa.

Kiva may be the king of microfinance for global entrepreneurs, but Rising Voices focuses instead on global social media pioneers, offering a micro-grant competition to help jump-start social media projects in remote areas.

But for those Kiva entrepreneurs, when it's time to really soar in your new business and you need marketing and branding materials that are professional looking but don't cost a fortune, you can turn to crowdspring, where over 50,000 graphic designers are waiting to bid on your project.

Another way to make use of crowdsourcing for the global community is by crowdsourcing crisis information through Ushahidi.

Thank you again to Alex Lightman for sharing all of these wonderful inventions with the BIL crowd. I re-shared pretty much all of the ones he presented to us, with the exception of those already being displayed by the Other 90%. For an overview of my thoughts on the BIL conference, please check here on the WestMuse blog.

And don't worry, if after reading all these and clicking on all the links you still feel like there are a lot of problems left to be solved, many more inventions that still need to happen, well, there's always Innocentive to help make those happen in the future.