Thursday, February 18, 2010

What is your museum giving up for Lent?

Yesterday began the Christian season of Lent, the six weeks leading up to Easter. For Christians, Lent is a time of introspection, resolution, and moderation-- a time for positive change. Traditionally, it has also been a time when believers give up some comfortable indulgence, at least until the Easter Bunny arrives.

Here's an idea, what if instead of giving up your morning Starbucks, or late-night sweets, you pledged to help your museum give up some of its comfortably self-indulgent practices over the next six weeks?

My list of five habits your museum could lose for Lent:
  1. Starting new initiatives or designing programs without first checking in with the museum's strategic plan. Instead, be sure that your efforts will not only support your mission, but also make progress toward meeting specific objectives.
  2. Ignoring popular cultural trends/events that could otherwise build valuable connections for your visitors. For example, with two weeks of Olympic competition taking place, geography, science, math, weather, history, and cultures could easily be highlighted and give your content a contemporary spin.
  3. Not recycling in your cafe. I continue to be amazed by the number of museums where recycling receptacles are not provided for guests in the cafe. Let us be leaders in doing the right thing for our planet.
  4. Giving today's students the same tour you have given for the last 15 to 20 years. Most of us are only too happy to point out the differences between the youth of today and the childhood we knew ourselves. If kids are so different today, why are many museums still dragging students through the same tired school tour that was already old when I took it twenty-some years ago?
  5. Forgetting the little things families need for a successful museum visit. As we move toward spring break and the increase in family visitors it always brings, take a spin through your museum and make sure that the galleries, cafe, and restrooms are prepared to make families welcome and comfortable during their stay. See my post "Is your museum family-friendly? Really??" for details on how to maximize your impact with minimum effort.
With just a few changes over the next 6 weeks your museum can head into spring with a fresh sense of commitment to serving your audience with authentic experiences and attention to detail. So, what are you giving up for Lent?

Image: No Cupcakes magnet from

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

New museum honors the life and legacy of Coach Eddie Robinson

Congratulations to Paul Haynes and the InterActive Group on the debut of the exhibits they developed, designed, and produced for the new Eddie Robinson Museum. Below is a link to the Museum's website and a review that appeared in the New York Times last Friday.

Published: February 13, 2010
A new museum in Louisiana celebrates Eddie Robinson, whose career at Grambling began in the Jim Crow era.

Photo: Coach Robinson, The Eddie G. Robinson Museum

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Judge in Italy orders return of Getty Bronze | LA Times Blog

It seems as if the culture war between Italy and LA's Getty Museum has been going on for longer than this good-looking guy has been around, and undoubtedly today's judicial decision by Italian judge Lorena Mussoni in the case of the beautiful young athlete pictured at left will not be end of the struggle to possess this incredible object.

Unless the Italians do successfully confiscate the sculpture, it is currently on exhibit at the Getty Villa in Malibu.

For the details on the latest court decision, check out David Ng's article in his LA Times blog Culture Monster.

Judge in Italy orders return of Getty Bronze
Culture Monster
February 11, 2010
David Ng

Photo: Statue of Victorious Youth. Getty Museum
Posted using ShareThis

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Evalyn Gates to lead Cleveland Museum of Natural History

After an eighteen-month search the Cleveland Museum of Natural History has announced that Evalyn Gates, PhD will take the reins as Executive Director beginning May 17th. Dr. Gates is widely-known as an astrophysicist and author, but I first became aware of her through her work encouraging young women to pursue careers in the sciences, a cause for which she has been an inspirational example. I look forward to watching how her leadership will shape the future of this exceptional institution.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Seattle museum to receive comprehensive Picasso exhibit

I caught this bit of news today and thought I would share it. If anyone needs an excuse to visit Seattle, the Picasso opening this October makes for a very good one.

Let us hope no one accidentally bumps into any of the canvases while they are here in the States.

-- Post From My iPhone

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Will New Orleans vs. Indianapolis Art Museum Super Bowl bet set museum world atwitter?

By now many of you may have heard about the Super Bowl wager made last week between the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. In a nutshell, if the Saints win on Sunday, NOMA will receive J.M.W. Turner's The Fifth Plague of Egypt from the Indianapolis Museum of Art for three months, but if the Colts win, the Indianapolis Museum receives Claude Lorrain's Ideal View of Tivoli from the NOMA for three months. Win or lose on Sunday, this bet is proving to be a win-win for both of these institutions in the sheer amount of great PR they are reaping this week, and likely for weeks to come.

In addition to the free press aspect of the bet, both art museums are getting an enviable image boost among football fans across the country. From NFL bloggers to Sports Illustrated columnists, this story has gotten the attention of many members of the football faithful. Let us assume for argument's sake that die-hard professional football fans are not the largest demographic among regular art museum patrons. If this were true, then what a remarkable opportunity to endear these two museums to another audience within their respective communities. I expect that at least some of the exuberant fans of the winning football team will make a special, and otherwise unplanned, trip to the art museum to see the spoils of their victory prominently displayed on loan from the loser.

There is something charming about two art museum directors betting classic pieces from their collections, each upping the ante along the way, until finally two of the finest masterpieces in either collection are on the table for a loan period of three months, based solely on the outcome of a football game. It is refreshing any time an entrenched stereotype hits the floor, and certainly a widely-publicized Super Bowl bet goes against the traditional image of art museum directors as highly academic and sightly esoteric individuals who eschew seemingly plebeian and barbaric pastimes like professional football.

However, my particular interest in this story lies in its beginning, as two museum directors created this incredible public relations wave with just a few short tweets in giant pool of new social media. Spurred on by Tyler Green, publisher of the Modern Art Notes blog, Maxwell L. Anderson, director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and E. John Bullard, director of NOMA, engaged in a tweet-off, slinging artistic insults and driving the stakes higher. For those of us who follow museums on the web and try to explain the ever-increasing impact of museums and social media, this was a dream scenario.

Imagine the difficulty in explaining to a relatively small historical society just how far their news can travel, or how influential their posts may become even when given only 140 characters in which to express themselves. Many small organizations with too many tasks and too few staff claim they cannot afford the time to tweet or update a Facebook page. "Besides," goes their response, "how many people out there could possibly be interested in what we have to say?" How many indeed...

Alternatively, large institutions have been known to relegate the task of social media interaction to interns, who lack critical connections within the museum, in turn limiting them to merely providing bits information already available on the museum's website, or in the local newspaper. Not the kind of information one would expect to generate much cyberbuzz.

In the past it has been difficult to get either of these museum types out of their respective e-media ruts, but now we have a success story. These museum tweets heard round the sports world perfectly illustrate the vast potential of social media sites to spread tantalizing news faster than any traditional media outlet, and to more kinds of people than most museums would ever imagine reaching.

The wonderful thing about people is how multi-faceted we all are. I am personally and professionally passionate about museums, but I am also an eco-nut, a foodie, a huge college football fan, a political junkie, a former ski instructor, a mom, a wife, a church lady, a book enthusiast, a traveler, a knitter, and a yoga practitioner. Upon meeting me at a museum event, you would be lucky to learn even a quarter of those things about me, but I pursue all of those interests by following individuals and institutions who share my interests on Twitter, Facebook, and numerous blogs. If one of the museums I follow tweets about a yoga session in their Indian art gallery, all of my yoga-loving followers may see the posting if I choose to retweet the news. The social media outreach possibilities are truly infinite if the content is of a consistent quality and frequency.

I will be watching the Super Bowl this Sunday along with family and friends who are pretty committed football fans, and while there will be Patriots, Browns, Falcons, and Steelers fans in the room, this diversity of interests is also reflected in our myriad personal pastimes. Museums would be wise to take a page from the playbook of the Indianapolis and New Orleans museums of art, and tap into the vast potential of online social media. It's free, accessible, and you never know when a little bit of quality content may be the next tweet heard round the world.

Photo: The Lombardi Trophy exhibited in the Lamar Hunt Super Bowl Gallery at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The Lombardi Trophy is awarded every year to the winner of the Super Bowl.

Dr. Scott Sampson draws a huge crowd | Photos

Last Friday was the big event my two small children had been eagerly awaiting for weeks. As I mentioned in my last post, Dr. Scott Sampson, host of the wildly popular PBSKids television program Dinosaur Train, paid a visit to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History to give a lecture and sign copies of his latest book, but most important to my two palaeo-enthusiasts, was his meet-and-greet session with the little Dinosaur Train fans. Here are a few photos of the fun.

Over 700 people showed up in the dinosaur hall Friday afternoon, and 500 of them were children! Our family arrived promptly at 2:00, but still waited an hour and 20 minutes to meet Dr. Scott. Fortunately, the perimeter of the gallery is lined with excellent fossils, classic dioramas, and lots of great lesser-known extinct species. Generally, when we visit this gallery the children are so interested in the dinosaur megafauna that we never have time to explore the smaller cases around the room. The long line on Friday gave us a chance to really explore everything else the exhibits have to offer. Not a bad predicament.

Nora was in awe of Dr. Sampson, as you can see, but she did manage to ask one of the three questions she had prepared for the occasion. (As a 3-year-old enthusiastic dinosaur fan often prone to intense shyness, we had to practice asking the questions ahead of our visit.) Nora asked "Dr. Scott" whether ladybugs were around with the dinosaurs, and to her delight he answered yes, and told her that he had never been asked that question before. "Good question," he said, and Nora beamed.

From his incredible patience to his genuine interest in the children, it was hard to believe that he had been at this for almost an hour and half when this photograph was taken.

Many thanks to Dr. Scott Sampson, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and WVIZ Ideastream (who passed out Dinosaur Train stickers and coloring sheets) for the incredible kid-friendly experience at the Museum last week.

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