Friday, April 15, 2011

Relevance is the word, and other highlights from "Generation M"

"Your challenge is to make me
relevant to Generation M"
Earlier this week I attended the Ohio Museums Association's annual conference, presenting a session with two of my former students, and serving once again as an officer on OMA's board. This year's theme, "Generation M: Museums and Millennials" perfectly complemented the venue, as OMA was hosted by the Museums Studies Program at Walsh University, in North Canton, Ohio. While I admit to a certain amount of bias, I believe that from the special track of sessions developed specifically for faculty and students in Museum Studies, to the thought-provoking keynote address and follow-up break out session given by Beverly Sheppard, OMA met its goal of providing timely and practical professional development for its members and constituents.  For those of you who were unable to join us Sunday and Monday, here are a few of the take-away messages I noted from the sessions and discussions in which I took part.

  1. Relevance is really starting to matter to museums.  To many of you being relevant may seem like an obvious notion and therefore a "duh" comment, but for a lot of museums, especially those in the small to medium sized categories, this has not always been the case. For much of their existence smaller museums have had a dedicated following of patrons and volunteers who made sure that the museum kept its doors open, even if no one else was coming through those doors. However, this week I heard rumblings from staunch members of the esoteric museum community, who usually profess not to care about people who aren't interested in... (insert narrow subject area here). Instead of curmudgeonly curses, I heard ideas about how they could relate to their communities and where they might find new partners. These conversations offer hope that relevance is finally becoming relevant to all museums.
  2. Young professionals coming out of museum studies programs are smart, savvy, prepared, and driven. Hire them! It is certainly true that work experience matters. However, these recent museum studies grads will inject a dose of well-informed creativity, objectivity, and enthusiasm into your organization without costing you the 4 to 6 month learning curve typical of those unfamiliar with museum organizations.
  3. Networking is still as important as ever. While social media has become an important link for sharing information between individuals and institutions, it has not yet usurped the lunch table as a forum for the face to face exchange of ideas, business cards, and calendar openings that leads to potential partnerships and expanded collaborations. I watched several budding partnerships grow over soup and sandwiches at lunch on Monday.
  4. Conferences do have value, if we plan them with today's professionals in mind. Last year, as OMA conference attendance waned for a second year in a row, and the economy doggedly refused to release its grip on museum budgets across the state, I had a conversation with several of my colleagues on the organization's board about whether it was still important to hold an annual conference. A year later, the economy has begun to turn around, conference registrations were up, and the slate of sessions and programs selected to resonate with museums in the digital age inspired lively debate, hopefully sowing the seeds of purposeful change among attending museums. This conference was shorter, narrower in focus, and lighter on bells and whistles than those meetings of 5 to 10 years ago. However, as OMA has sought to change the conference format to reflect the needs of our membership, the high quality programming has remained. Content was top-notch, and participants were dynamic.
  5. Change is inevitable, so make it happen. This was the take-away message of my session. Rather than rehashing all of it here in paragraph form, here are the slides. If you are interested in learning more about any of the concepts and ideas presented, please feel free to post a comment, drop me an email, or reach out to other the panelists via their email addresses listed on the final slide.

If you missed the conference this year, OMA's 2012 conference will be in Toledo next April, and of course we would love to have you join us. In the meantime, the Association of Indiana Museums is meeting in Richmond, Indiana this September and OMA members receive a discount when registering. OMA is a sponsor of this year's AIM conference and is encouraging its members to attend.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Revisiting lessons learned from "Free to be You and Me"

Free to Be You and Me Foundation
has information on all things related
to the album, TV show, and movement.
Yesterday at my local library, while searching for kids' CDs that wouldn't drive me to road rage in the car, I came across an old favorite from my childhood, "Free to Be You and Me." It had been years since I'd heard any of the songs, but after briefly scanning the playlist, I immediately wanted to share it with my daughters. After all, these songs helped shape my identity and sense of self back in the '70s when I was their age.

I remember my parents playing that vinyl record for me over and over again, at my request, and together they taught me not be afraid of being myself, or following my dreams. As I listened to each of the tracks I recalled the childhood joy those songs and stories brought me, but as an adult I heard them through older, yet new, ears. As a woman, professional, wife, and mother, I thought about how the meaning had changed. Still, it is hard to believe that the album turns 40 next year when so many of its lessons continue to resonate today.

An informal poll of a few of my girlfriends confirmed my suspicion that many of us were influenced by Marlo Thomas and her upbeat songs casting off tired stereotypes. The 30- and 40-something moms and dads of today, who fill your museum galleries and classes with their children are likely products of this "free to be you and me" generation. Are there lessons in the album for museums who serve this audience? Here are a few I found.
My dad's birthday, April 3, 1977.
  1. "Parents are people... They used to be kids." Moms and dads had a life before kids, and while most of us are intimately aware of this fact, it's important to remember parents when planning programs and experiences aimed at children. Sure, parents want their kids to have a great time, but if there is a little bit of smart, funny, and interesting content for the adults who brought the kids, those grown-ups are probably going to want to come back to your museum again. Sesame Street, while not a museum, is a great example of children's programming that sneaks in a bit of humor for the adults in the audience, and what parent doesn't love Sesame Street?
  2. "Ladies first" was already passe in 1972. That is to say, if most of your programming for women is aimed at ladies who like starched cotton dresses, finger sandwiches, and luncheons in the middle of the day, you are missing an opportunity to connect with the next generation of power women. Try hosting a book club, or girls' night out event, like the ones hosted by the Cincinnati Museum Center focused around their latest exhibit. Perhaps, plan a "Toddler Thursday" like the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and add some content for the moms too. In any case, accept that today's "ladies" often put their families and careers first, and when they get free time, they want to connect with others, not be the youngest woman in the room by 20 or 30 years.
  3. "Don't dress your cat in apron... People should [do] what they like to, a person's a person that way." Museums often try to unnecessarily control visitor outcomes and experiences, but people are happiest when they can drive their own experience and make their own meaning. Everyone is different and no two people will experience the same exhibit or program in exactly the same way. Attempt to make your visitor interactions open-ended experiences that give people a chance to engage your content in a way that makes them comfortable and allows them to draw their own conclusions. 
  4. "Some kind of help is the kind of help we all can do without." You know what I'm talking about. The unreliable volunteer you can't count on, but who expects to have high-quality projects to occupy his or her valuable time. The trustees who think they know how to do you job better than you. The donor who would really like to give you money, but only if you sidestep your mission for a special interest pet project. I wish I had simple, one size fits all solutions for these and other common scenarios. I don't. Just a comforting reminder that we all run into help that really isn't, and from there we smile, nod, say thank you, and let our conscience and experience be our guide. 
If you remember this classic album from your childhood, check it out from the library and listen to the songs again. It is wonderful! See if it doesn't spark those childlike impulses to create something new, try something no one has tried before, dare to dream big, and not worry about what other people think you ought do with your time. 


Monday, March 14, 2011

National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, timely example of the educational and civic value of museums

Those of us who work in and advocate for museums already know that visitors access museum exhibits and websites for valuable and reliable information on diverse topics. Here is a great example of a museum serving as a relevant educational institution, providing opportunities for informal exploration of a timely subject and offering a deeper understanding of complicated issues. In the wake of the devastating earthquake in Japan and the ongoing threat of a nuclear meltdown at several Japanese nuclear power plants, the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, New Mexico saw a three-fold increase in attendance over the weekend.

With the Republican-led Congress currently considering drastic cuts to federal funding for the arts, humanities, museums, libraries, and other stewards of our shared history and cultural heritage, perhaps we need more news stories highlighting the important role museums play in educating Americans about the world around them. Last week, members of Congress might have seen the Nuclear Museum as a small organization on a relatively narrow and seemingly esoteric subject, but this week we can show that it is a valuable resource to both its local community and the nation at-large.

This video from KRQE in Albuquerque describes the museum's surge in attendance, highlights a popular exhibit on types of nuclear power plants, and features reactions from first-time visitors.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Program set for 2011 Ohio Museums Association Conference at Walsh University

The Ohio Museums Association has posted the program for this year's annual conference taking place April 10-11 on the campus of Walsh University in North Canton. Highlights include a special academic track for museum studies faculty and students, a series of sessions presented by the Ohio State University Extension on critical issues facing museums today, and the conference keynote address by Beverly Sheppard, President and CEO of the Institute for Learning Innovation and former director of IMLS. As an added bonus, Ms. Sheppard is providing a smaller break-out session, where participants will have the opportunity to ask her questions about programs, initiatives, and challenges at their own museums. Reading through the brochure I found lots of new content this year centered around the theme of keeping museums vital to Generation M: The Millennials, a challenge faced by all of our museums. Listening to visitors, responding to economic trends, taking a hard look at collection issues, and focusing on the role of our museums in the future are all issues tackled by one or more of the sessions.

Kicking off the conference on Sunday, April 10, Walsh University's Museum Studies Program is hosting an opening night reception at the Hoover Historical Center, while Monday's conference activities will take place across campus in the Barrette Center. Walsh's Museum Studies faculty and students are involved in planning and hosting the event.

With sessions focused on timely topics ranging from the practical to the visionary, and information museum staff can apply the next day at their own museums, this year's program is positioned to be one of the best. Please consider joining me and the rest of the board of the Ohio Museums Association in North Canton for this worthwhile professional development opportunity.

For registration information and links to the conference hotel click here.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

History, politics, and the role museums play: Starlee Kine examines this interplay in her piece for "This American Life"

MuseoBlogger seen here eagerly awaiting a
call from Vail's 
Colorado Ski & Snowboard
Museum
in reply to her offer to work for lift tickets.
As I am on vacation this week, living my dream, schussing through the Sierra Nevada mountains at Heavenly in Lake Tahoe, I am posting an audio segment I heard last month on This American Life. Listen, enjoy, discuss amongst yourselves, and I will catch you all next week, when I'm back at my laptop in Cleveland.

On January 14, 2011, in Episode 424, This American Life brought us "Kid Politics." Following Ira Glass's brief prologue centered around a documentary film by Weijun Chen, entitled Please Vote For Me, we hear Act I, "Trickle Down History." This brilliant piece by Starlee Kine about a middle school class' trip to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum includes reminiscences of her own class trip to the Nixon Library as a child. Ms. Kine's take on the museum education programs, interactive exhibits, and educator/facilitators in the galleries is both hilarious and insightful. Ask yourself, what are we teaching school groups in our galleries? Is there politics at play in the education curriculum at your museum?


Friday, February 4, 2011

Are hospitals becoming the new museums?

A Cleveland Clinic staff member walks past
Whispering, by Jaume Plensa.
Recently, I have had many occasions to visit two of the finest hospitals in the United States, located right here in Cleveland, University Hospitals Case Medical Center and the Cleveland Clinic. As an art enthusiast and museum advocate, I was struck by both the quantity and quality of the artwork exhibited throughout these enormous hospitals.

A child at the Cleveland Clinic delights
in front of a computer video installation
by Jennifer Steinkamp.
Far from the drab hotel-variety artwork one might expect, the art was engaging, diverse, sometimes comforting, often contemplative, and in a few cases playful.


Open Red Pyramid, 1996. Cast glass
sculpture by Stanislav Libensky and
 Jaroslava Brychtova
 at University
Hospitals Case Medical Center.
From what appeared to me to be a giant framework organ hanging from an atrium ceiling, to a radiant orange glass sculpture set in a quiet corner bathed by natural light, I was consistently surprised by the intentional and inspired placement of the art in these hospital buildings. Insightful labels, appropriate lighting, and even an audio tour (at the Clinic Clinic) rounded out the museum-like experience afforded to patients and visitors. Who was working behind the scenes to make all of this possible?


At the Cleveland Clinic, the nation's #1 heart 
hospital, BlueBerg (r11/01) by Inigo
Manglano-Ovalle was based on the shape
of an iceberg, but is reminiscent of a
three-story heart.

There must be curatorial staff? After a bit of research, I discovered that each of these hospitals has a distinguished art department, and both were recognized in 2010 with one of the highest honors in Cleveland, the Cleveland Arts Prize. Mickie McGraw, one of the other prize winners, founded an art therapy program and runs the Art Studio at MetroHealth Medical Center, Cleveland's third major hospital. Now, I was intrigued-- fine art of every flavor, commissioned pieces, high-quality interpretation, changing gallery spaces, and award-winning programs-- are these hospitals becoming the new museums?

Cleveland Soul, 2007, by Jaume Plensa,
Cleveland Clinic.

Consider a few factors working in favor of the hospitals.

Accessibility:
-no gallery admission fees
-long visiting hours make for extended gallery hours
-buildings are necessarily designed for visitors with many special needs

Money:
-enviable acquisition budgets
-funding specifically available for art therapy
-shared pool of dedicated patrons, as aging art enthusiasts and collectors become regular health care consumers and visitors

Research:
-collaborators on exhibits, education, and projects involving the human body, mind, and spirit
- vast collections, professional curatorial staff, and a clear institutional mission



Art department staff installing a temporary
exhibit in a hallway gallery at University
Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.
I am not suggesting that museums are going to be replaced by hospitals any time soon. Certainly, I don't think that will ever happen. Rather, the question I want to answer is what can we learn from these incredible hospitals about making our visitors' experiences more meaningful?

What can the Cleveland Clinic Art Program or Cleveland Clinic Arts and Medicine Institute teach museums about connecting people and the arts? Can these hospitals help museums find new ways to build lifelong relationships that engage our audiences, turning consumers into advocates and patrons? Are there programs provided by the Society for the Arts in Healthcare that could benefit museums, or could organizations like the American Association of Museums find potential partners in programming and advocacy, even new members in the SAH?

Dissolving the Hardness of Ego, a soft
sculpture made of hand-dyed wool
felt by Jennifer Nocon. Cleveland Clinic.
As the American public becomes increasingly dependent upon our hospitals to care for a virtually unlimited supply of illnesses, ailments, and syndromes, many people, like it or not, may find these health care environments becoming a necessary "third place." Meanwhile, drug companies and medical insurers reap ever larger profits amassing tantalizing wealth, a potential source of funding for hospitals seeking to expand collections that soothe the soul. While it is unlikely that museums will shut their doors because the health care industry is taking all of their visitors, museums would be wise to look at what our hospitals are doing right.

In light of the recent opinion pieces by Arianna Huffington and Alain de Botton, both widely and I believe rightfully criticized by museum professionals, could it still be possible that there remains a need to preserve those contemplative spaces in our galleries? If we don't, do we risk being out-museumed by our local hospitals? Look, I am not afraid of losing the Cleveland Museum Art to the Cleveland Clinic, or University Hospitals, but then neither the Museum, nor I, won a Cleveland Arts Prize last year.

What kind of arts programming does your local hospital offer? Do they have a world-renowned collection of their own? Have you checked it out? Tell me what you think by sharing your comments below.

All photographs were taken by the author during several trips to the Cleveland Clinic's Main Campus and University Hospitals Case Medical Center in 2010. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Boston's Museum of Science launches social media fundraising campaign, rides wave of the future?

Earlier this month I shared a presentation by Alex Morrison about online fundraising for museums. Since then, I have been following the social media fundraising effort undertaken by the Museum of Science in Boston. Flexing its social media muscle, using the Museum's Facebook page and the social fundraising app FundRazr, the Museum of Science is over halfway to its goal of raising $2500 towards the renovation of the Charles Hayden Planetarium exclusively through its network of online followers. As an incentive for donors on its donation page the Museum claims it "hopes to dedicate the best seat in the house to its loyal Facebook fans." These donor-fans would also be eligible to attend VIP events, win free passes, and receive other bonuses provided to Planetarium seat sponsors-- a very cool idea!

Screenshot taken from the Museum of Science's Facebook
fundraising page, found at this link: http://bit.ly/9y3cBX
I learned of the Museum of Science's online campaign last week via a Twitter posting I saw "retweeted" by MuseumNext, leaders in connecting museums and technology. A brief survey of the Museum's FundRazr page finds donations ranging from $1 up to $50, and many others vaguely described as given "generously." At the time of publication, the Museum had received 85 donations, totaling $1275 from Facebook users. The simplicity of the FundRazr app is genius. It allows donors to contribute to the campaign anonymously, or to identify themselves via their Facebook profiles, and payment options include credit card, debit card, and PayPal. It is intuitive, convenient, and provides both instant gratification and recognition. Add to all of that the fact that according to FundRazr's website, the service is "free," what could possibly keep any museum from trying this for themselves?

Wait a minute, when is anything ever free? In fact, FundRazr's not either. It is true that FundRazr does not charge an initial fee to download the application, but from every donation generated through its application PayPal takes 2.9% (their standard fee) plus an additional $.30, and FundRazr also takes $.30. This may not seem like a lot of money, and for most of us it isn't, but when you consider that many of the Museum of Science's individual donations via FundRazr were between $1 and $5, on the small scale the percentage of that lost income is staggering. However, if we take a larger view and accept that the Facebook donations are likely coming from patrons, who would otherwise not have given to the Planetarium campaign through more traditional efforts, the end result may indeed justify the means.

As a believer in the power of social media and an advocate for museums, I am excited to see many new approaches to finding the financial support our institutions need today to build programs and capacity for the future. I think many museums will be watching to see whether the Museum of Science is successful in its online effort, and I am interested in how they measure the success of this social media appeal. Is it enough to meet their relatively modest initial goal, or does success come from a sustained online development effort? On the other hand, if the Museum falls short of its monetary goal, should this campaign be considered a failure, or rather a first step towards engaging the online community in the preservation of this vital institution? I look forward to learning more about the Museum of Science's social media fundraising program, and seeing if it continues to extend beyond the greater Boston area to reach its patrons of the future.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Guest Post: Monica Allison considers sex and the concept of "the unexhibitable" in modern museums

Monica Allison contributes the final essay in a series of four guest blog posts written by the students in my Exhibition Development and Design class at Walsh University. This past semester my students learned about the elements and principles museums employ in creating successful exhibits and valuable visitor experiences. With this final chapter, each of my students has presented her own perspective on an exhibit, book, or experience that resonated with her. You may find the the other student posts in the blog archive at the bottom of the page.

Guest Post by: Monica Allison
Junior, Museum Studies Program
Walsh University
Some things should stay behind closed doors…  Specifically, bedroom doors. 

Have you noticed how open people are about their private lives lately? You might have seen something on Facebook, Myspace, or Twitter that seemed a little too personal. People sharing their personal habits and feelings on the web to all of their friends, and even people they barely know, seems to be the norm for the 21st century. For instance, on Facebook you may see an old friend, let’s say her name is Jane, and she has just changed her status to “in a relationship.” You send her a comment saying, “Congratulations, that is wonderful,” and asking questions like, “Who is he?” Later, you receive her response in another comment telling you and everyone else on Facebook about her new beau. Then, a month later you see Jane has changed her status back to “single,” and below it will be 12-20 comments, including things like a frowning face, or an “I'm sorry”, or a “What happened?” You read further down the comments and Jane has sent a posting where she spills her guts about how heart-broken she is, and how her ex-boyfriend is a no good cheating son-of-a-gun. She expressed all her personal feelings for the whole world to read. Relationships and personal problems are no longer an individual or private matter. Even sex is now discussed in the open quite frequently, but has it been a bit too open lately? It can make a person wonder, shouldn’t there be some things we just keep to ourselves? 

It seems to me that the thing that should always remain behind closed doors is sex. But unfortunately, it’s not. Why? Well, advertising agencies say “sex sells,” because apparently everyone is always after sex. I suppose it is an animal instinct, but it is crazy what some people will go through just to find a sexual partner. Some women go through extreme pain, even surgical procedures, just to look sexy for men. “Pain is beauty” seems to be the motto for many women. Some men count sexual conquests and brag to their male friends. Men even have provocative sex jokes they share with one another, and then there is always the popular saying “it is not how big it is, it is how you use it.” For me, the question is, in today’s society are we being a little too open about certain things like sex? Are there things that should only be discussed in the bedroom?

Apparently not, because in today’s society sex is openly established in public places like adult toy and video stores, adult cable channels, romance novels, instructive sex books teaching new moves, magazines, sex toy parties, strip clubs, and even museums. That is right, in the 21st century we have museums for sex. In fact, there is also a phallological museum. In case you do not know what "phallological" means, it is the scientific term for all things relating to the penis. Yes, there is a sex museum and a penis museum. In fact, there are actually a lot of bizarre museums out there. Rachel Greenberg has an article on the “9 Ridiculously Creepy Medical Museums open to the Public.” Number three on her list is the Icelandic Phallological Museum in Husavik, Iceland. 



Photo by Wellingtn Grey, via Wikimedia Commons.
The Phallological Museum has 272 penises in their collection-- some in jars, some mounted on the walls, while others hang behind glass cases. 209 of these penile parts belong to almost all of the land and sea mammals that reside in Iceland, about 46 different species of mammals. The Icelandic Phallological Museum's website proudly states, “that the museum has also been fortunate enough to receive legally-certified gift tokens for four specimens belonging to Homo sapiens.” A centerpiece of the Homo sapiens specimen display is the current collection of silver casts of the"members" of the Icelandic National Handball Team, who won the Olympic silver medal in 2008. Talk about taking one for the team! Some of the artifacts are truly from another dimension, like the museum's collection of 23 folklore specimens from creatures such as sea monsters, trolls, and elves. There are also 40 foreign specimens. I do not want to know what the foreign specimens are. You can find out for yourselves.

Back to Sex

The Museum of Sex located in New York City currently has five exhibitions: The Sex Lives of Animals, Rubbers, Action: Sex and the Moving Image, Spotlight on the (Permanent Collection), and Sex Lives of Robots: Spotlight on Michael Sullivan. The mission of the museum is as follows: “The Mission of the Museum of Sex is to preserve and present the history, evolution and cultural significance of human sexuality. In its exhibitions, programs and publications, the Museum of Sex is committed to opening discourse and exchange and to bringing to the public the best in current scholarship.”

Museum of Sex photo by David Shankbone,
via Wikimedia Commons.
In the past seven years that the Museum of Sex has been open it has produced sixteen exhibitions and five virtual installations. With each new exhibition, lecture, series, event and publication, the museum is committed to concentrating on a wide range of topics, while at the same time, the museum highlights material and artifacts from different continents, cultures, time periods, and media. The Museum of Sex’s permanent collection has over 15,000 artifacts, consisting of works of art, photography, clothing, costumes, technological inventions, and historical customers. The museum’s building has a research library and an extensive multimedia library. The multimedia library includes VHS, DVDs, and more. The Museum of Sex is proud to have a collection that ranges from fine art to historical ephemera to film. They believe their growing collection is preserving these sex related objects, which would otherwise be destroyed due to their obscenity.

Lee H. Skolnick asks a very important question about the Museum of Sex in his article “MoSex / LessSex?” published in the National Association of Museum Exhibition’s journal Exhibitionist in the Fall 2008 issue entitled “The Unexhibitable.” Skolnick’s question is “Okay, now, who has actually visited this museum? Anybody?” (Page 51) In fact, Skolnick asked around to see if anyone he knew had been to the museum and he did not receive any yeses. However, in the article the Museum of Sex’s Director stated that his museum has “experienced steady growth since our opening in 2002 and every month our attendance exceeds that of the same month a year earlier.” Why is this? My answer is that we are no longer a “let’s keep things private” society anymore, and the main private topic everyone likes to discuss is sex. Even Skolnick admits, “Who is not interested in sex?” (Page 51). I suppose sex is the new black for the 21st century.

The fact is that this is not the only sex museum, nor the only bizarre museum. Most of these sex museums are referred to as "erotic museums" or "erotic art museums," instead of “sex museums.” In the United States, we have the previously mentioned Museum of Sex in New York City, as well as The  Erotic Museum in Hollywood, California, which opened in 2004, the World Erotic Art Museum in Miami Beach, which opened in 2005, and the Erotic Heritage Museum in Las Vegas, which is the newest, open since August 2008.

Europe has about seven museums, which specifically focus on the erotic. In fact, even the British Museum in London once exhibited the Secretum (cupboard 55), which contained a collection of erotic objects. In Asia, several countries appear to have at least one sex museum. China’s first sex museum opened in 1999 and was located in Shanghai; however it moved around a couple times and had different titles. It was called “Museum of Ancient Chinese Sex Culture” or “Dalin Cultural Exhibition.” In 2004, it finally moved to Tong Li and is now known as the China Sex Museum, featuring over 3,000 erotic artifacts. In Japan sex museums are not unusual; Japan has many of them. They are called “Hihokan” translated as The House of Hidden Treasures.

In fairness, there might be some justifiable reasoning for why these museums might be beneficial for society. If the museums are responsibly educating the public about HIV/Aids, STDs, teen pregnancy, factors on abortion and foster care, and so on, then they are being of assistance to society. If these museums have an educational purpose to make society a better place, then these institutions have value. If individuals never had the opportunity to enroll in a course in sex education, or are at a point in their lives where they are mature enough to gain knowledge of sex, then these museums can be worthwhile. The problem arises when these institutions become more about currency than enlightening individuals on matters that are sometimes considered taboo. In truth, the real problem is that most of these erotic museums are not nonprofit organizations and they are not truly functioning as professional museums. 

For clarification, I define "museum" as a depository for collecting and displaying objects having scientific, historical, or artistic value. The collections in these erotic museums, are they considered history, science, or art? Does the collection have any communal value? The sex museums might have a collection, but is this collection being used for education or entertainment? 

Another issue to consider when declaring these establishments "museums" is that museums in the contemporary world have been assimilated into a public dwelling that is open to all and for everyone to enjoy. The vast majority of American museums are nonprofit organizations, but I believe these for-profit erotic “museums” fall into a different category of entertainment. Why? Examine the admission tickets, or better yet look at the age limit that is required for admission to these museums. The best age for anyone to learn about sex is in high school when the hormones are in hyper mode. However, The Museum of Sex in New York only allows visitors over the age of eighteen. Would it not be better if the museum had core programs that were dedicated to educating adolescents in high school on safe sex and the consequences of poor choices? These “museums” need to prove they can be institutions instrumental in improving the society around them if they want to earn their title. 

I believe there are unexhibitable exhibits. Even if the timing and context arrive at a paramount moment, I still believe some things, like sex, should remain private. To display things like sex objects and penile specimens, in my opinion, makes the museum experience uncomfortable and a bit immature. If people are actually visiting these sex museums, they must have different intentions and expectations for their museum experience than I. Patrons may either be going there to broaden their horizons by seeing exhibits of a more graphic nature, or to be titillated by something taboo. Today’s world already has too many private and personal notions flying around. Is it really important to add museums as another source of sex education? At least in museums let’s try to keep gratuitous sex to a minimum... Better yet, let it stay behind closed bedroom doors!

If you are interested in the sex, or erotic museums, check out the article “Visit the World’s 12 Sexiest Museums” by Marlei Martinez. If you are curious about the bizarre museums like the Phallological Museum, try Rachel Greenberg’s article “9 Ridiculously Creepy Medical Museums Open to the Public.” 

Friday, January 14, 2011

The rise of Museum Studies: Are the rest of us esoteric dinosaurs?

I spent the past several days putting together an academic track of plenary sessions, roundtable discussions, receptions, and student programs for the Ohio Museums Association's annual conference being held this year at Walsh University. In my free time, I have been cranking out recommendation letters for a multitude of Museum Studies graduate programs to which my last semester's students are applying. Add to that, this week Walsh posted a brand new position, Director of the Museum Studies Program. All of this museum studies activity started me thinking about my own education, career path, and professional position as a "museum specialist." I don't personally have a degree in Museum Studies. Am I still the specialist I think I am, or fast becoming a museum dinosaur?

Teaching in the Museum Studies program at Walsh, I am convinced that my students today are better prepared for the special challenges presented by museum work than I ever was at their age. Still, I cannot help but wonder where all of the wonderful, esoteric majors have gone? As an undergraduate student I took courses in anthropology, art history, history, classic civilization, geology, and more.  Let's face it, I never met a humanities class I didn't like, and typically these classes were not electives, but required coursework in one of the two majors I assumed would prepare me well for a career in museums. During the fall semester of my junior year, I was interning at the Art Museum, volunteering at the Museum of Archaeology, and taking classes in the Natural History Museum. I graduated a year and a half later, and within a week began my first job on staff at a museum. Granted, it was a traveling art museum on a train, and I was serving as something resembling an art history carnie, but still I managed to ply my diverse liberal arts education and brief museum experience into a real career, stunning both of my parents along the way.

After a couple of months touring on the Artrain, I decided I needed to head to grad school, so I might eventually get a stationary museum job somewhere. I looked at two museum studies programs, there were not many to choose from back then, but decided upon an advanced degree program in anthropology. Believe it or not, I considered anthropology a more practical choice than museum studies, which seemed too narrow and confining for broader professional applications. I was not interested in a PhD in anthropology, which would lead to a career in academia and research. I wanted a masters degree as a doorway to a role in museum leadership. Anthropology seemed a sensible and interesting choice with wide-ranging applications, and in my case, it was.

How times have changed! Today, there are programs in museum studies at both my undergraduate and graduate schools. Neither existed when I attended in the nineties. In my own course in museum studies, I now teach skills and concepts to undergrads that took me years of on-the-job training to acquire. Knowing they will also need advanced degrees to land a decent museum job, these same students are going on to graduate programs in museum studies, and will soon have more textbook knowledge of museology than I.

The museum world seems to be brimming with these new specialists in museum studies, not to mention nonprofit management and arts administration. So, where does that leave the rest of us? What becomes of the anthropology, history, and classic civ majors, who landed museum jobs ten to fifteen years ago, before the new wave? Certainly, there is a wisdom that only experience can bring, but for those of us grandfathered under the pre-museum studies era exemption, can we expect to be outpaced by our younger museum colleagues in the know? Are we the new dinosaurs in our own museums?

These are all questions we hope to dig into at the upcoming OMA conference, and I invite you to attend and weigh in on the role that academic programs in museum studies may play in changing the face of museum administration. In the meantime, please share your thoughts about how you think museum scholarship and the education of museum specialists is, or isn't, changing our profession. I look forward to reading your comments.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Is online fundraising truly the wave of the future? Cogapp's Alex Morrison thinks so.

While conducting a search for information on museums using online fundraising to complement more traditional development approaches, I found this interesting SlideShare presentation by Alex Morrison Managing Director of Cogapp. From what I read on their website, Cogapp is a digital media consulting firm with offices in London and New York City. Based on their impressive client list, including The British Museum, The National Portrait Gallery in London, the National Archives in D.C., and one of my favorites The Cleveland Museum of Art, and the variety of projects described in their case studies, it appears Cogapp does have a wide ranging knowledge of digital media applications relating to museums.

In "Online Fundraising for Museums," Mr. Morrison includes some compelling statistics in support of his argument for elevating the presence and profile of online fundraising opportunities on your museum's website. At the end of his presentation, the SlideShare site suggests additional presentations on this topic available for immediate viewing.

Check out this presentation, and maybe one or two of the others and let me know what you think. Is this truly the future of fund raising, or just the proverbial flash in the pan?

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