Saturday, May 28, 2011

AAM Meetings

In 2009, when I went to the National Preservation Conference, I had a sickening revelation. I did not run into a single person that I knew. During the two years that I had been in the Turks and Caicos, my entire ten previous years of networking efforts were gone.

This week was the first museum conference that I have attended since the Society of American Archivists meeting in August 2009. What I was very pleased to find, is that I ran into a few people that I knew, and who remembered me. I ran into a past employee of the Ohio Historical Society. I was able to speak to the past director of one of the Smithsonian museums that I had met while teaching at Capital University. And two of the design companies that had really, really nice displays were from Ohio. I had worked with both of them on previous museums.

There were several venders selling technological hardware and software for museum exhibits. For my entire budget, for instance, you can buy a wall of LED panels where you can interact with digital images of your collections by touching and moving them. It was like a giant touch screen that has a life span of 7-8 years.

I walked up to one kiosk and was like, "Hey, a giant I-phone."

"People keep saying that," the lady said, "but we really just mounted this display sideways because of space."

All I could think about was how cool it would be to have a giant I-phone in your exhibit where you could use apps on a giant scale. Then, stuff that you liked you could buy for your smart phone right on the exhibit floor to take with you.

I also went to a speed networking session where you sat and talked to some other museum professional for five minutes. You know, just like the speed dating scene in the movie "Hitch," where Will Smith confronts his protagonist. It was just like that, only about my real life, and not the life I talk about when people ask me if that movie is about me.

Anyway this was great. I had not signed up, but I went anyway. The organizers gave me the time sheet for someone who had not shown up. This person must have been foreign. Almost all ten people I met were from international museums; one from Columbia, one from Israel, and several who were there on the Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Intern Program.

By far the greatest contact was the director of archaeology museums from Nepal. We wound up sitting across from each other twice. Like me, he is not an archaeologist, but has now found himself leading a national program for archaeology museums. We had two really great five minute conversations. I told him I would love to come to Nepal...

because Deneen would just love that.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

AAM Presentation

Yesterday, I presented at the American Association of Museum's annual conference. I spoke during a session entitled Planning Tomorrow's Collections Today.

Really, quite by accident, or I guess by natural disaster, after the hurricane on Grand Turk I needed some kind of guideline for the long-term planning of collections. I found an online article on the AAM website called "Collections Planning: Pinning Down a Strategy," by Garland and Merritt. I adapted a brief outline based on what I needed at the time.

In the last three years, I have worked on two Collections Management Plans. I don't consider myself an expert, by any means. In fact, both Plans that I have worked were part of the planning process for a larger master plan. And in both cases it was planning as a way to deal with a crisis. In a way, I have been kind of making it up. But, as I sat there in the presentation, it became clear to me that I had twice as much experience as the other panelists. We have been in a rush to complete the Plan at the Imperial Valley Desert Museum. But it is much easier and better the second time around.

This is the method of writing a Collections Plan as part of a Master Plan that I presented:

1) What is our audience?

2) How do we engage them?

3) What are the strengths and weaknesses of our collection?

4) What is our ideal collection?

5) Is there anything else we need? What would we take if it were donated?

6) Who has “complementary collections” to ours?

7) What are our needed resources for using collections to build exhibits or programs?

8) What action are we going to take?

Monday, May 23, 2011

I Said Sprocket, Not Socket.

So, I signed up for the AAM conference rather late. Today, I stood in line three different times at the ticket exchange counter trying to see what tickets had been returned for any of the really cool events tonight. To no avail. No plans for the evening.

Way down in the program I saw a small notice for something called Dinner and Dialog. There was a list of several topics that would be discussed by various professionals at dinner. The note said "Sign up at Restaurant Reservation Desk."

It took a while to find the table, but finally tucked up on the third floor was an lady manning a table with a notebook and a pin.

"When you sign up on one of the sheets I will give you the reservation information. When all ten places are filled I remove the sheet. If the sheet is not in the notebook, then that topic is full," she said.

I opened the book. There was one sheet left for Monday night. It was a discussion on "The Challenges of Time Management."

"Do you find it funny that the last thing there is to sing up for is a Time Management discussion?" I said. "When people come up here to sign up you should say something like "Oh, your just in time!"" Or maybe, "I guess you really need this dinner don't you." or "Sorry, you are too late, just kidding."

"I am not here to make jokes," she said.

"Come on, I am giving you gold here, this is really funny."

"My job is not to sit here and be funny," she said. "Are you going to sign up for the reservation."

"I'm not going to sign up to go to dinner with a bunch of losers who waited too long to sign up for anything good and then had to go to a dinner about Time Management!"

About two minutes later I went back.

"I just don't think you appreciate how amusing this is that the last thing available to sign up for is The Challenge of Time Management. I am going to sign up for this and I bet you that this is the best thing I do all day."

So, by total accident, not my fault, I was 25 minutes late to the dinner on The Challenge of Time Management. Five out of the ten people had shown up. And, just as I thought. Not really a discussion about Time Management. Just five people who had forgotten to sign up for anything good. About the time introductions had been made, Deneen called. I excused myself and stepped outside.

When I came back to the table the moderator and the rest of the table were talking about the "monkey article." Betsy was like, "so I thought the monkey article was really important." And Mark was like, "Well at our museum I wished we had the monkey article to talk about."

After a few minutes I jumped in, "Did I just step outside and you'all were like, "When he comes back lets pretend we're talking about a monkey article."

"No, we're talking about a reprint of a classic article in the Harvard Business Review about how to keep your employees from putting monkeys on your back."

"Monkeys on your back, really." I said. "Like Ken Blanchard in the One Minute Manager who discusses the need to manage with a decision making process where you take monkeys off your back and give them to your staff."

"You just won the Monkey Article," said Betsy. At which point she pulled out a copy of Management Time: Who's Got the Monkey? by Oncken and Wass. It was a discussion about Time Management!

That ended the formal discussion. These five people were good humored. Dinner was funny. We sat at the House of Blues for the next three hours talking about museums, the struggle of a job search, and about what people thought about the conference so far.

It was the best thing I did all day.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Collections Management Planning

So what was the point?

Today, I am flying to Houston to the American Association of Museums' annual conference. On Monday I will be participating in a session on Collections Management Planning for small museums. The session is called Planning Tomorrow's Collections Today.

Now, this should really make my friend and colleague Cheryl laugh. But the reality is that all the time we spent working on development projects at OHS evidently prepared me very well. Collections planning is relatively new to the museum's field. But in the last three years I have been through the process of working on a Collections Management Plan at two different museums.

I kind of have developed a whole program. It started one day when I found an article on the AAM website called Collections Planning: Pinning Down a Strategy. I adapted an outline from this article that I thought would work as a real effective tool for using collections as a development and revenue generation strategy:

1) What is our audience? How do we engage them?

2) What are the strengths and weaknesses of our collection?

3) What is our ideal collection?

4) Is there anything else we need? What would we take if it were donated?

5) Who has “complementary collections” to ours?

6) What are our needed resources for using collections to build exhibits or programs?

7) What action are we going to take?

I was right. It has been one of my most effective planning tools in developing adventure tours and exhibits. What I really need to do is start presenting papers on Adventure Exhibits.

Sorry, I know that this is not the fun stuff.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Collections Management Policy

Definition: A detailed written statement that explains why a repository/museum is in operation and how it goes about its business. It articulates the repository/museum's professional standards regarding objects left in its care.

One of my favorite motivational career statements is, "Be careful what you get good at."

This is what I used to say to Van all the time when we were painting all summer. A couple weeks ago we the Board of Directors of the Museum voted to approve the Collections Management Policy that I wrote. I am sure my OHS friend and colleague Cheryl would be laughing at what my life has become. Me? Writing a Collections Management Policy?

In my first two weeks at OHS I took a tour of the collections facility. I was in the accessions room and picked up a glass jar to look at it.

Cliff was giving me a tour. He says, "One of the key elements in collections management is that you never touch something without a really good reason. Idol curiosity is not a good reason."

This made me really mad. I can still see the moment in my mind.

I have probably said that statement a dozen time or more since that day. In a house museum when the Foundation director picked up one of the President's books off of the bookshelf. In the lab on Grand Turk talking about the preservation of copper maritime artifacts. The other day giving a long lecture to the two archaeology interns who have been working for the BLM for the last nine months.

We had a volunteer day at the Desert Museum a couple weeks ago. The Chairman of the board sat down at one of the tables with drink.

One of the archaeologists said, "I don't think we are supposed to have drinks at the table."

I said something like, "Dude, didn't we all just read the Collections Management Policy like a dozen times in the last month."

Well, I probably said something like that anyway. And yes we did. And yes its on page 8.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Provenience or Provenance

Do I only write about the fun stuff? If so, it makes sense that I could write so much on Grand Turk. And why I have not written very much here in the last couple of weeks.

I have had about a year of museum studies in the last eight weeks. I have been reading everyday about Collections Management, Curatorial Procedures, and this week, Labels. I have written a thesis worth of documents.

Provenience or provenance. That is what I am doing this evening. From the French provenant, which is from the Latin prōvenīre; to come from.

I sent documents out today to some other museums. I have "provenience" written all over them. Probably, in museumology, the documents should have said "provenance." Provenience is specific to archaeology. Probably why it was never caught in editing.

I don't know. Strictly speaking, maybe where I am provenience is going to make more sense to who is going to use my documents than provenance, which kind of sounds like a French word used by pretentious art curators. Ok, I'll go with that.

Ugh! I want to write about the fun stuff!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dethrone SoCal 250

Today the Dethrone SoCal 250 desert race was held in Plaster City. This will be the biggest desert race held this year.

I got up a 6:00am and went over to painted gorge with John the neighbor. What is a desert race like, you ask? Hot and dusty.

This was a 250 mile race, five complete laps. Every lap caused the course to get chewed up and the sand to become deeper. By the third lap trucks started to get stuck.

A 50-mile lapwas taking the leaders about 45 minutes. Thats about an average of 70 mph. In the flat the trucks were going about 140 mph.

I was in an area of pretty rough terrain. One truck slammed into the ground right in front of me. The guys got out, ripped the front of the truck off and kept going.

Anyway, I am going to reset my goals of how fast I can drive in the desert.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dreams and Reality

This week I had a dream that I was directing a fund raising event at a historic house museum. The wallpaper was a repetitive garland pattern in light earth tones with orange highlights. The Brussles carpet had a small circular pattern with a criss-cross grid of a lighter orange matching the wallpaper. One of the people at the party told me, "You are here for a fundraiser, that means "fun raiser," which means "sun raiser," and we better be raising funds until the sun comes up." Then an all night party ensued.

This dream is a sad reality of what the last few months have been. Evidently, I have literally been working night and day.

On Thursday we had a 6 hour and 45 minute board meeting. It lasted until 12:15am. I gave a presentation on "Mission Statements: what they are for, and how do you create one." We also discussed at length and finally approved the Collections Management Policy that I have been working the last three months.

This reality is like a bad dream of what the last few months have been. Evidently, I have literally been working night and day.