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.