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.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Super Bowl Smack Talk

The Renoir seemed a little "sentimental?" The chalice was a bit like a "tschochke?" Holy crap, these art museum directors can talk some smack!

Listen to the directors of the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art talking trash about each other's collections on NPR as they make a little "friendly" Super Bowl wager with art from their collections as the stakes.

For some background on the bet (and more choice smacktalk soundbites that would make Jim Rome proud), check out this blog post.

Also, it would seem that when not using his collection for gambling, IMA director Maxwell Anderson has been pretty busy; his museum is about to launch a new website. I was sent this invitation to view it, which I will now share with you!

DSC + DPS = Hope

One year ago, I was battling single-digit temperatures and icy winds in Motor City as I worked on the installation of an exhibit at the Detroit Science Center. I can tell you, in the middle of winter Downtown Detroit is a wasteland. It felt like the crew and I, stationed right in the heart of downtown at the Holiday Inn Express, were the only ones alive in that deserted place. In September, we returned to deinstall the show and, while the temperatures were kinder, the landscape was nearly as empty, except for when the Tigers played.

So I was saddened, but not surprised, to read that the actual unemployment figure for Detroit is actually probably pretty close to 50%. I truly believe it.

Which made me all the more excited when I read this article, forwarded on to me by the CFM Dispatch from the Future, about a new partnership between the DSC and Detroit Public Schools to re-open the Detroit Children's Museum.

The Detroit Children's Museum, administered by DPS, had closed about a year ago due to funding cuts. But the new partnership with the DSC will allow the Museum to re-open--and with increased access to funding and exhibit and programming opportunities.

What makes me so excited about this brief little article? Hope. Informal education has been shown to play an important role in helping children to develop critical skills and improve their ability to learn academic subjects such as science. Informal educational experiences, such as the ones offered by children's museums around the country, are a great way to stimulate children's curiosity, imaginations and critical thinking skills. In short, the opportunities that this new partnership will open up to the children of Detroit are invaluable.

What this means to me is that, although Detroit is facing dire times right now, there is still hope for its children; a commitment is being made to jump-start their educations and their lives, thereby offering hope to the whole community.

Thanks, DSC, for taking on this important mission.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Falling on Our Faces or Handling Change (and Criticism) with Grace

Lately I have been watching past seasons of a show I had never before seen: "America's Next Top Model." No, this blog has not turned into a true confessions site and it is still about museums.

ANTM is similar to a lot of reality contest shows in that it presents the contestants with challenges and subsequent notes and advice from a panel of judges. That's pretty much standard workshopping technique. But one thing I have noticed in watching roughly 40 episodes in a row is that the success of the contestants rests pretty heavily on how well they are able to digest and incorporate the panel's critique and recommendations--even when sometimes their advice sounds contradictory.

Another thing I have noticed is that learning from and incorporating the panel's recommendations is exactly where most contestants fail. Some just outright ignore the advice, smiling and nodding in front of the judges and then doing nothing at all to change their behavior in the next challenge. Others, freak out and go so far in the opposite direction from what they had been doing that they've gone too far and still get negative critiques. And some simply get so confused and bewildered by all the different elements that they have to keep in mind while doing something that they thought was so easy and natural that they have complete melt downs or simply stop trying.

I guess what I am getting at is that improvement and navigating the tricky landscape of constructive criticism are hard work--harder for some than others, but hard for everyone--and I'm not just talking about would-be models, here; I am talking about museums.

Museums are at a critical moment in their history, poised for potential greatness in a new era or doomed to failure as they disappear into obscurity and irrelevance. It is possible, but unlikely, that museums will simply continue on with business as usual neither excelling nor failing--the market place is just too brutal right now to allow for middle of the road nonprofits. No, we will either be witnessing wonderful success or extreme failure.

With so much riding on their fates, museums are eagerly listening to the reactions from their "panel"--the public, the critics, the funders, their boards. And they are hearing a lot of messages--not just in closed meetings but in loud articles and op-ed pieces in such noted publications as the New York Times and such visible media sources as CBS news.

So what kind of feedback are museums receiving lately and how are they handling it--are they incorporating it gracefully or falling on their faces?

I will let you judge for yourself by pointing out a number of wonderful conversations and informative articles and interviews, most of which have already been posted or pointed out by others, but just in case you have somehow missed them, now is your chance to get caught up! (A complete list of materials cited follows my remarks.)

The issue of deaccessioning in order to keep the doors has open has been rearing its ugly head quite a bit lately. Some--including wealthy collectors and would-be donors--are incensed that museums typically only display between 1 and 5% of their collections at any given point in time. "Why not sell off part of the collection since no one sees those pieces anyway?" they ask.

Head of AAM's Center for the Future of Museums gave an initial response to that query when posed to her during a forum discussion on NPR. "That would be like selling one of your children in order to support the others," is essentially a direct quote. But she later rethought her answer on the CFM blog, revisiting the question of why not sell--resulting in a fascinating discussion. The State of New York has decided to put the kibosh on such questions. Legislators met earlier in the month in hopes of making it illegal for museums to sell their collections to pay for operating costs.

Borrowing vs Donations or Purchases
Meanwhile, getting back to those rich and influential collectors and would-be donors, they are still very concerned about the idea of their collections going to museums--and then just sitting in the basement collecting dust. Of course, we all know that once they go sit in the basement, they will be looked after with tender loving care and that in some cases, tucked away in archival housing is the safest place for those collections to be--but that is besides the point. Donors donate their collections in order for their possessions to be seen by and shared with the public. So more and more are taking the Eli Broad approach of either lending to museums on a long-term basis with the stipulation that the works must be on display, or else simply creating their own museums. This new approach leads to new issues as well, including the questions of curatorial control and whether or not vanity museums would further burden an already over-taxed museum market and philanthropic sector.

Curators vs Democratic Exhibits vs Donor-Driven Exhibits
Let's look at that question of curatorial control for a moment. According to AAM's "Standards regarding developing and managing business and individual donor support," museums must maintain curatorial control. A quote from Erik Ledbetter, AAM's director of ethics, these guidelines seek to "make sure the museum keeps authority over the content of exhibition" in order to avoid conflicts of interest. Elizabeth Merritt explained further (on my Facbook page) that the "idea being that you shouldn't offer people "pay to play" when it comes to exhibit development." In other words, curatorial control is lost, or at least jeopardized, in such a way as to potentially create a conflict of interest when donors get to determine what hangs in the galleries.

Elizabeth went to clarify on my FB page that this is different from the democratization efforts that some museums are playing with in the exhibit development process, that "crowdsourcing" exhibit development is a way to enhance the exhibit development process, even if it means giving up a certain amount of curatorial control. To that end, there have been several great and successful curatorial crowdsourcing efforts that were featured in an article in the New York Times. The idea behind these efforts is that, through the power of the Internet, the masses can be called upon to grow online collections, curate those collections and fill in the gaps where curators can't or don't have time. Michael Edson, new-media director at the Smithsonian, describes the process as "distributive knowledge creation." Pascale Bastide, founder of the Museum of Afghan Civilization, states that through this process "Curators are starting to realize that they can be challenged by the audience."

But curatorial control still plays an important role, even within the process of "distributive knowledge creation." Jake Barton, lead designer for Make History, one of the websites that employs crowdsourcing exhibit development and collection generation, recommends that constraints be used--that structure be imposed in order to create a shared narrative. One way that this can be done is by supplying themes for the would-be curators to respond to.

Caroline Rossiter, an arts writer based in Paris, agrees with Barton: "Far from making curators and editors of information redundant, the ever growing tide of user-generated content makes the curatorial role even more important." She does allow, however, as that history "appears to be less and less easy to mold in the digital age," and she can foresee a time when we all serve as curators of our own virtual exhibitions.

Nina Simon, museum participatory experience expert and founder of the Museum 2.0 blog sums it up nicely: "There's a difference between having power and having expertise. Museums will always have the expertise, but they may have to be willing to share the power."

Interactives vs Traditional
Part and parcel with "crowdsourcing" exhibit development is the strive to develop exhibits that are more participatory. This often means including interactive experiences and technology that can mimic the kinds of information technology and sharing that visitors are increasingly familiar with in the rest of their lives. But columnist Charles J. Adams of cautions against the overuse of these exhibit strategies. He describes walking through museums in which the "real thing" is being completely ignored in favor of the touch screens describing the actual specimens and objects nearby. This is somewhat counter-intuitive given that a poll done by CBS [see the end of this video] found that 80% of visitors would rather go see the "real thing" even if images and information were available online. But perhaps this is a generational discrepancy--the CBS voters were most likely adults, whereas the visitors described by Adams were youths. This hints at another point to be covered a little further on: shifting demographics.

Permanent Collections vs Blockbusters and Traveling Exhibits
But amidst all of this talk about what will happen to museum permanent collections--whether they will be, should be or could be sold; whether or not in the future major collectors will continue to donate their artwork or rather just lend select pieces for display--James Leventhal reports in his blog post on the general state of museums right now that the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are in the black--apparently at least in part thanks to the blockbuster traveling exhibit Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs.

Is King Tut such a singularly impressive exhibit and topic that this is a fluke, or does this point towards a more universal truism, that blockbusters are the way to make money--money that can then in turn be used to support the permanent collections? The question has been posed to me several times in recent days regarding whether or not sites dedicated solely to the display of traveling blockbuster exhibitions could realistically be competition for more traditional museums with permanent collections and a more modest exhibition schedule?

It is interesting to note that while the Guggenheim/Hermitage Museum in Las Vegas has closed, as has the Las Vegas Art Museum, the exhibition space in the Luxor devoted to Premier Exhibition Inc.'s Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition and Bodies: The Exhibition continues to thrive.

What will and what must the museums of the future look like in terms of their exhibitions and use of permanent collections in order to maintain their missions while also remaining financially viable?

Which brings us to the topic of sustainability. Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute speaks directly and succinctly to the question of sustainability for the arts, given the findings of the National Arts Index, which revealed lower health and vitality for the arts in 2008: "We need to rethink a nonprofit arts sector that in many ways remains tethered to support models that have remained unchanged for a half century. Arts organizations need to find creative ways to engage their audiences, build on the public's growing interest in personal creation, and stimulate audience demand."

Shifting Funding Priorities
It seems to me that there is something fundamentally unsustainable about the current nonprofit business structure. Admissions rarely come close to being able to single-handedly maintain museums and by-and-large the majority of museum budgets come from external funding sources. In a time when funding priorities are shifting and many funders are cutting back on their support due to their own financial difficulties, museums need to look at new ways to stay afloat--funding priorities may be changing, but as Brooks points out, the structure of support has not yet changed along with those priorities.

Shifting Demographics
Along with the National Arts Index findings, the NEA also recently released its 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. As with the National Arts Index, the findings were not happy. Museum attendance is pretty much universally down. Sure, there are some pockets of museums that are thriving, but overall and across the board, museums are seeing a decline in visitorship. Gregory Rodriguez points out that the demographics of museum visitors has not changed along with the shifting demographics of the population as a whole. Several states, including California, are already "majority minority" in terms of population make-up, with many more states, including New York, on the verge of becoming "majority minority." But 90%+ of museum visitors are still Caucasian.

On January 27 the Center for the Future of Museums hosted a lecture webcast entitled "Towards A New Maintstream" that included a video of a lecture given by Gregory Rodriguez on the topic of how to better address our shifting demographics. Also as part of the webcast was a sidebar for chatting during the lecture. A lot of time was spent in that sidebar talking about the value of including multi-lingual label copy and marketing in order to be more inclusive of a broader and more ethnically diverse audience. Rodriguez specifically addressed that idea in his lecture, however, urging museums to take a more expansive view of inclusion. His statements indicate that, up until now, museums attempts at inclusiveness have bordered on tokenism rather than true multiculturalism. He pointed out that second generation immigrants are fluent in English--there is no language barrier--but they still only feel welcome and invited by museums when there are events or exhibits specific to their culture.

On December 29, 2009 KQED radio, an NPR station, hosted a forum on Museums in Recession. There Rodriguez also explained how yes, Day of the Dead celebrations in museums were a great first step, but in order to be truly inclusive, museums must then follow-up with Latino communities, inviting them to other programs and exhibits that don't have anything to do with Latino heritage. Ethnicity must be "unpacked" Rodriguez says, explaining that museums need to start treating people as individuals, rather than as categories.

But inclusiveness does not only relate to ethnicity. Hans-Dieter Sues, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Smithsonian reminds us that "You really have to offer something that addresses a variety of styles of learning" as well.

Strategies for Staying Afloat
Reporter Sandra Hughes of CBS ends her video article with these words, "For the rest of us we can just hope that museums can find a way to stay afloat while we have fun with the art." So when all is said and done, with changing demographics and funding priorities, with furor over permanent collections and how to manage them and what it means--or what it should mean--to be and have curators, what can and will museums do to stay afloat?

Mikku Wilenius of Allianz, a forecasting company in Europe, predicts that the future will belong to companies that serve as aggregators of information, such as Google or websites that can offer consumers different best-price offers.

But let's think about this prediction in terms of museums: what would it look like for a museum to serve as an aggregator--or rather, would a museum simply be part of a network that formed an aggregator? An alliance such as the one just announced between five museums in Georgia might be a model for what that might look like. The High Museum of Art, the Albany Museum of Art, the Columbus Museum, the Telfair Museum of Art and the Georgia Museum of Art have joined together to form the Georgia Art Museum Partnership, an initiative that will "allow for the sharing of resources and collections among museums in Georgia and the Southeast."

What does that mean, practically speaking? Well, it could mean that visitors and members have access not just to the information, collections, programs, exhibits and expertise of one museum but all five. But what is especially interesting is that this partnership is actually much more internally focused than externally: the initiative in part will include workshops on topics such as fundraising, public relations, exhibit design and collaborations between curators and educators that will allow staff from all five institutions to "share ideas, receive feedback and relay successes." In essence, the initiative will start to build a network of shared resources with each of the five museums as a network hub.

There is a precedent already for museums as nodes of a larger web rather than individual stand-alone institutions. Naturalis, the National Museum of Natural History in the Netherlands, views itself as an integral part of an expanding network that brings its building, collections and scientific research to the network as assets, rather than a center around which a network may or may not revolve. Natural history museums here in the States are recognizing the need and value of seeing themselves as nodes rather than individual entities as well. The Biodiversity Collections Index allows researchers access to specimens and collections around the world through a collaborative effort of museums and research facilities. As the BCI website states, "Research into biodiversity relies on the use of specimens. These specimens are held in reference collections around the world. BCI is a central index to these collections."

Perhaps the best way for museums to stay relevant--and open--will be to take a page from the libraries and become better integrated and networked not just with our visitors, but with each other as well.

Or not. Maybe it's still too soon to see, maybe any attempt at solving these grand issues will turn out to be nothing more than a desperate search for a panacea that isn't there--that is, that any of these approaches will turn out to be not as far-reaching as we hope. As Andras Szanto puts it in his article, "Digesting the full cultural implications of a once-in-a-generation event like the Great Recession will take years, even decades. In the meantime, museum leaders have an opportunity to frame new visions for the future." Let's just hope that our leaders will seize upon that opportunity.

KQED Radio: Forum with Michael Krasny: Museums in Recession, Host Scott Shafer (audio)

Challenging Assumptions--Why Not Sell Collections? by Elizabeth Merritt

Museums and Lawmakers Mull Sales of Art by Robin Pogrebin

Can Collectors Have Their Art and Lend It, Too? by Kate Taylor

Online, It's the Mouse that Runs the Museum by Alex Wright

Museums of the Future: Crowdsourcing Storms the Ivory Tower by Caroline Rossiter

Travels with Charlie: Don't let the lure of technology spoil the joy of traveling by Charles J. Adams III

Bringing Art to the People by Sandra Hughes (video)

Happy New Year!: Physician, Heal Thyself by James Leventhal

National Arts Index Reveals Lower Health and Vitality of Arts Industries in 2008

Will US museums succeed in reinventing themselves? by Andras Szanto

LA Times Article on Attendance Should Make Us All Sit up and Take Note by Allyson Lazar

Towards a New Mainstream

Who can save the ROM this time? by Chris Nuttall-Smith

Future Trends of 2010 and Beyond

Georgia Art Museums Collaborate to Share Resources and Collections Across the State

CAM 2008 Session: Re-imagining the Museum in the 21st Century, Museums as Nodes by Allyson Lazar