Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Author: Andrea E. Woodberry (page 1 of 4)

Weekly Jobs Roundup!

Here’s our weekly roundup of new jobs. Happy hunting!

New England        

Mid-Atlantic        

Midwest

South

West              

Rethinking Relevance

Be relevant. Is there a phrase we’ve recently heard more often than this one in the museum field? It’s tossed around a lot. So much so, in fact, that I’m getting kind of tired of it. But these past few months I’ve had multiple conversations and experiences that have led me to reflect on relevance even more, and I’ve realized that maybe the reason it’s the subjects of so many conferences, books, and blog posts is because:

  1. It’s super important, especially for public institutions such as museums
  2. It can take a LOT of effort and skill to implement well
  3. It’s more complex than it seems at first

So, if you can bear yet another voice on this subject, let me share a few words about my recent reflections. And in light of it’s complexity, let me start with the simple definition, put forth by Merriam-Webster, that relevance is something with a “practical and especially social applicability.”

That’s a pretty broad definition, but it speaks to our conversations around relevance that almost all speak to the ‘applicability’ part. Whenever I hear conversations about relevance, they seem to focus on specific techniques but only briefly, if at all, mention why these practices matter. While techniques are critical, I think we’re selling ourselves, and our communities, short if we gloss over our reasons for implementing them. Motivation and technique always go hand in hand when implementing and practicing values.

Three motivations that I see are a:

  • Drive for numbers: Some museums see relevance as a tool to increase the number of visitors at the museum. The American Alliance of Museums’ (AAM) blog has a section titled “Building Cultural Audiences” devoted to conversations about expanding visitors through better understanding of their preferences and organizational adjustments.
  • Drive to serve: Other museums put the emphasis on their role as an institution in service to their community, as outlined in ICOM’s 2007 definition of a museum.
  • Drive to collaborate: Nina Simon discusses in her book The Art of Relevance the concept of an assets-based focus in which museums work with their community’s assets and collaborate rather than serve.

While a museum can be motivated by each of these, they will at times be faced with a choice that does not accommodate all – and then which will they choose?

Motivation aside, there are many different techniques to increasing relevance. But they seem to fall into two categories:

  • Situational relevant techniques include programs that capitalize on time, anniversaries, or trends – high interest areas that increase visitors. Think blockbuster exhibits, exhibits and programs commemorating an event, or trends in technology. However, each such program is temporary and so begs the questions: do the additional visitors stay engaged with the institution for a long duration? If not, does this count as relevance?
  • The flip side of situational relevance is engagement integrated into the institution. Museums that follow this method demonstrate a long-term commitment to relevance in their community through outside partnerships and the institutional culture. It often involves strong mission-based programming, listening to the community, long-term commitments, and focusing on assets.

While reflecting on these different motivations and techniques, I at first thought that integrated techniques motivated by a desire to serve or collaborate were better. But then I thought about the diversity of museums and began questioning whether relevance does, or should, look the same at all of them. Is there one standard that all museums need to reach in order to be considered ‘relevant?’

Characteristics such as size and location of a museum and their audience do not need to change the motivation, but they sure have an impact on the techniques. Does one technique denote more or less relevance than another? And therefore, are some museums positioned better to be relevant than others?

Many large institutions fall into the situational category with large exhibits and programs, while smaller institutions may find it harder to accommodate trends but easier to integrate a new value into their entire staff. To compensate for such differences, large museums could create advisory teams to work more closely with specific communities and small museums could find smaller/cheaper ways to integrate situational techniques.

It’s easy to see a few programs a museum is doing and walk away critiquing their level of relevance. But of course there are many actions and conversations we don’t see if we don’t work there. And we also need to recognize that most museums are on a path towards increased relevance and these journeys may look different for different museums. What would it look like for our field to encourage one another along this process, while holding each other accountable, rather than judge from afar?

Weekly Jobs Roundup!

Here’s our weekly roundup of new jobs. Happy hunting!

New England                                                                                                                     

Mid-Atlantic        

Midwest

South

West              

Call for Articles: Emerging History Professional Takeover of History News Magazine

Call for Articles: Emerging History Professional Takeover of History News Magazine

Emerging History Professionals are taking over the Winter 2018 issue of AASLH’s History News magazine! The issue will be guest co-edited by emerging history professionals Hope Shannon and Hannah Hethmon. Features and articles will all focus on Emerging History Professionals and reflect their insights and opinions about the field.

Anyone in the early stages of a public history career, broadly defined, is an Emerging History Professional. This includes graduate and undergraduate students, hobbyists, early-career professionals, and any other AASLH members who identify as belonging to this community.

History News exists to foster publication, scholarly research, and an open forum for discussion of best practices, applicable theories, and professional experiences pertinent to the field of state and local history. History News is a quarterly membership publication of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), a nonprofit educational membership organization providing leadership, service, and support for its members who preserve and interpret state and local history in order to make the past more meaningful in American society.

The editors are seeking submission of article abstracts. Proposed articles must:

  • Be relevant to the theme of Emerging History Professionals. Articles by emerging professionals will be given priority over those with more time in the field.
  • Not have previously been published elsewhere.
  • Be 2,500-3,000 words in length and properly footnoted and cited in Chicago/Turabian style.

Instructions and Deadlines:

The deadline for submitting abstracts is August 15, 2017.

Authors of accepted articles will be notified by the first week of September 2017. They will then have until November 1 to submit a final edited and reviewed version of their article. At that time, the article must be fit for print.

Along with the abstract (500 words max), submission must include:

  • A brief paragraph explaining how the article is relevant to the early history career/emerging history professional issues and AASLH’s mission (200 words max)
  • A brief biographical statement (100 words max)

Questions about topics and submission guidelines should be directed to Hope Shannon (hopejshannon@gmail.comand Hannah Hethmon (info@hhethmon.com).

For more information including topic suggestions, click here.

Changes Coming to the Blog!

Hello museum lovers!

Dominique and I have a few new plans for the blog this year, and we want to use this post to keep you aware of some changes to expect:

Events Page

The blog currently has an events calendar to highlight exciting museum events in the Boston area each month. We are switching to an events page where you can link directly to area museums’ events calendars to see their up-to-date event listings. Check back over the upcoming weeks to see additions to this page as we continue to implement our plans!

Around the Globe

A few weeks ago, our weekly post highlighted the GeoFort in the Netherlands, starting our Around the Globe series (check it out here if you missed it!). Periodically, we’ll highlight a museum outside the United States and you’ll soon be able to find all these under the Popular Categories menu on our home page. If you’re planning a trip or just want to add new museums to your mental file cabinet, this section is for you!

Contribute

While the opportunity to contribute to the blog isn’t new, these updates bring more opportunities to do so! Here’s a list of ways to contribute!

If you…

  • Get word of an exciting museum event in Boston
  • Visit, or hear about, a great museum outside the U.S.
  • Visit a museum or new exhibit within the United States
  • Read an interesting article related to museums
  • Are pondering a topic or issue in the museum field
  • Hear about a museum job opening in the U.S.

…send us a message! And of course, if you have other ideas or questions, send us a message for that too!

We’re excited for these changes and hope you are too! Keep your eyes out as they gradually get put into place.

And lastly, THANK YOU for reading, engaging with, and sharing our blog! We love hearing hearing from fellow museum lovers!

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