Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

“Nice to Meet You” from the New Editors

It’s that time of year again: the editors you’ve come to know and love have moved on to new endeavors. Never fear, your three new editors are here and ready to get to work! Many thanks and well wishes to Danielle, Kelsey, and Amanda – we hope to continue setting a high bar for the Tufts Museum Studies blog.

Without further ado, your new editors are:

Darcy Foster

Darcy Foster
MA in Museum Education, 2020

Hi everyone! I’m Darcy Foster and I’m entering my second year in the Museum Education program here at Tufts. I’m from Pittsburgh, PA and I have my bachelor’s in History. I currently work at the Concord Museum as a museum educator and tour guide, but my love for museum education started when I was just a young visitor. While I was growing up, my parents included museum visits during every vacation we took. After one trip that included two presidential library tours and a few historic houses, I realized that I actually enjoyed learning, even though I had never enjoyed it in a traditional classroom setting.

After also realizing my interest in history, I was driven to museums, which can encompass both of these passions. I love working with interpretation and programming to foster conversation between visitors in an exciting way. Museum education allows me to focus on what visitors take away from each museum they visit. I have worked at a variety of museums, from the large National Archives Museum to the tiny Benjamin Franklin House, and in a variety of positions, from archival processing to exhibits. In all cases, I enjoyed my time and it helped me to find a path to museum education, where I can help others find a love of learning in an informal setting. This upcoming summer, I’ll be interning at the Nantucket Historical Association. I’m looking forward to sharing both my experience there and museums in general with you!

Abby King

Abby King
MA in History and Museum Studies, 2020

Howdy, my name is Abby King. I have a BA in History (minor in classics), and I am a second-year grad student in the History and Museum Studies program at Tufts University. I am from the Kentuckiana region and have journeyed a long way to get here. My earliest museum memories have to do with peeking through the glass at fossils and mummies—so I have always had an eye for old history. I currently study ancient to medieval civilizations around the Mediterranean, including the Byzantines and ancient Greeks.

Only in undergrad did I realize I wanted to use my history focus in museums. This epiphany came when I was working in the special collection’s library at my old college, and from there I’ve been on a saucy and nerdy ride to where I am. I have worked with a curator at a historical home, at a baseball bat factory and museum, in the education department of a state history museum, and at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston in the registrar’s department. This summer I will be interning at the National Air and Space Museum with a curator and collections manager on oral histories and women’s history.

My successes are all thanks to family, friends, mentors, teachers, and those willing to share their knowledge, so I am happy that I will get to (try to) share a golden nugget or two on this blog about working in this field and experiencing exhibits. Welcome and enjoy our collection of stories!

Jennifer Sheppard

Jennifer Sheppard
MA in Museum Education, 2020

Hi there – I’m Jennifer Sheppard, a rising second-year in the Museum Education program and life-long lover of learning and museums. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to articulate what “museum education” was, but a sudden, serendipitous internship at the Dallas Museum of Art took me from a seasoned summer camp professional with an art degree to a full-blown, italicized and bolded museum educator. That internship and the subsequent full-time educator position taught me the power of accessible programming and universal design, the awesome potential in collaborating with dedicated colleagues, and that bringing multi-sensory materials on a tour is always a good idea, among other lessons.

Looking back at my personal history as a museum-goer, my chosen career isn’t much of a surprise. From the very first time my family took me to an art museum to feed my childhood obsession with ancient Egypt, I have had the immense privilege of feeling like I belong in museums. Now, finding (and fighting for) ways to extend that experience to people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities is my driving passion. It led me to the Tufts program and to the team editorship of this blog. Echoing Darcy and Abby, I’m thrilled to engage more with you and the museum field on such big ideas throughout the upcoming year. Stay tuned!

Museum Computer Network (MCN) Scholarships Available! Apply soon

The MCN Scholarship Program awards scholarships to 15 qualified applicants from the cultural sector to attend MCN 2019 in San Diego, CA. The MCN Scholarship program is made possible by the support of our members, sponsors, and conference attendees.

Scholars are awarded the following benefits:
– Complimentary conference registration
– Choice of one complimentary professional workshop on Tuesday, November 5, 2019
– A $400 (USD) stipend for travel and food
– Complimentary room at the conference hotel for three (3) nights: November 5-6–7, 2019
– An opportunity to meet with MCN board members over lunch during the conference
– Complimentary MCN individual membership for one year

Scholarship Recipients Expectations:

Every scholar will be required to:

  • Present a five-minute lightning talk on a digital project they have worked on
  • Attend a mandatory scholar orientation and rehearsal the afternoon of Tuesday, November 5, 2019
  • Contribute blogs posts to be published on the MCN blog before and/or after the conference
  • Participate in social media discussions (via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or other platforms) reflecting on and sharing the themes and issues that emerge throughout the conference

Eligibility:

Previous MCN Scholars are not eligible to apply. To be eligible for an MCN Scholarship, you must meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Be a first-time MCN conference attendee
  • Be employed at an institution with no more than 20 full-time staff
  • Be new to the profession with less than 2 years of experience in the field

In addition, MCN strongly encourages the following categories of applicants to apply:

  • International candidates (must reside outside of US)
  • Those who identify as part of groups that are traditionally underrepresented or otherwise marginalized, including, but not limited to, persons of color, LGBTQ+, and persons with disabilities

Program Conditions:

  • Scholars are responsible for their own travel arrangements and any visa applications to enter into the US
  • Scholarships are awarded nominally to each scholarship recipient, not to the company, organization or institution with whom they are affiliated
  • Stipends are exclusively issued in the name of the recipient. No exceptions
  • Should MCN be asked to cancel an active stipend check (i.e. issued and/or mailed but uncashed), MCN will charge scholarship recipients a $25 cancellation fee

Applications are due online by April 30, 2019, at 11:59 pm in your timezone. 

Please email scholarship@mcn.edu with any questions. 
 

Do Smaller Museums Better Serve Their Communities?

In conducting my thesis research, I recently came across a quote that really stood out to me and that I think museum professionals can agree on:

“The most promising innovations in museums’ relationships with communities are coming not from the largest, oldest, and best-funded institutions, but rather from institutions once viewed as marginal.” (From “Audience, Ownership, and Authority” in Museums and Communities: The Politics of Public Cultures, edited by Ivan Karp and Christine Mullen Kreamer).

Why is it that some of the most striking, relevant exhibitions come from museums operating on a much smaller scale than say, the Metropolitan or the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston? That is not to say that larger institutions are not relevant to their communities, but in my experience, smaller museums seem to be a better platform for fostering interpersonal connections and serving the needs of their immediate audiences.

In reading this quote, a few examples of smaller community museums that appear to offer “the most promising innovations” immediately came to mind, including the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire and the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle, Washington.

For instance, the Currier Museum is a resonant example of a museum actively engaging with its community by creating outreach programs that reflects its visitors’ needs. Its mission statement clearly supports this idea- “Focused on Art, Centered in Community, Committed to Inspire.” The Currier also curates exhibitions that directly respond to its community, such as the Visual Dispatches from Vietnam War exhibition that involved Manchester’s close-knit veteran community. More relevant, however, is the museum’s current work reflecting on one of the worst epidemics the United States is currently experiencing. Manchester, the largest city in New Hampshire, is unfortunately at the heart of the opioid crisis. In response to this, the Currier has created a program that invites family members of individuals struggling with an addiction to come to the museum and create art in a safe space. This is a beautiful example of a museum “reinventing” themselves to become relevant to their own community, proving that relevance is often more important than even the museum’s collection.

The Currier’s work in successfully engaging with its community reminds me of the transformation that the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle recently experienced. As a result of Director Ron Chew’s decision to create a “community-response” exhibition platform, that is an exhibition “that speaks to the issues happening here and now, and that reach and echo far beyond the museum’s space,” the Wing Luke Asian Museum experienced a spike in museum attendance, fundraised millions of dollars, and ultimately established a “mutually beneficial relationship” within its community.[1] I am impressed with museums such as the Currier and Wing Luke Asian that have taken the (sometimes scary) initiative to amend and improve their relationship with their community, by inviting more voices and perspectives to be heard and recognized.   

What are your thoughts? Does the size and budget of an institution matter when it comes to producing relevant exhibitions? Do any other examples come to mind? Please share your thoughts in the comments below and keep the conversation going!


[1] Ron Chew, “Five Keys to Growing a Healthy Community-connected Museum,” 6.

Why we should look towards the hospitality industry to improve visitor experience

This post was written in collaboration with second year Museum Education M.A. student Taylor Fontes

When moving to the Greater Boston Area to pursue my Masters degree in Museum Education, I made a hard decision. I chose to continue working in restaurants (a job I’ve done since I was a teenager) instead of pursuing a position at a local museum. I made this decision because restaurant work is a great way to make fast cash. As I move forward into a career in which that will no longer be the case, I wanted to start off strong with as little debt as possible and ample time to complete my course work. Sometimes, I have struggled with this choice as it has meant there is a gap in my resume when it comes to museum work. However, I have recently realized how important working in the hospitality industry has been to my experience in museums. So many of the skills I have learned in hospitality are transferrable to skills needed in museums. I firmly believe that these hospitality skills have strongly informed my ability to provide positive visitor experiences in museum environments.

When Taylor brought up the idea for this post she came from almost the opposite perspective. While she had been working in visitor service positions for a long time, she was new to the restaurant industry. Quickly however, she began to be referred to as a “rock star hostess.” So how did Taylor pick up the restaurant brand of hospitality so quickly? For her, it was so similar to the type of experience she strived to provide for visitors in museums she has worked in.

As museums become more visitor-centered and less object-centered it is important for us to see ourselves as institutions of hospitality. We can look towards the hospitality industry to help inform our practices within the museum. So what are our biggest takeaways?

  1. The vocabulary we use matters: Most hospitality focused restaurants don’t refer to their patrons as customers. It is too transactional. We focus on our guests. Guests are those that we invite in, they are wanted, accommodated, and catered too. In museums we need to think of our visitors as guests as well.
  2. First impressions are everything: From the atmosphere, to the signage, to the person greeting you. In a restaurant, the host/hostess is your first point of contact. They will set the tone for your entire experience, so friendly and personable staff are a must. But what about museums? Is there someone to greet visitors? Are the visitor service staff responsive? What is the tone we are setting?
  3. Restaurants know how to sell their product: Hospitality industry professionals have a lot of experience in selling their product. From the restaurant itself to up-selling the food and drink, this takes lots of knowledge of not just the products but of the audience as well. We need to know our audiences and understand what they want out of their experience. As we know, there are many different types of visitors with varying needs.
  4. Flexibility: Not all guests are looking for the same experience. We have to be flexible and fluid in order to provide satisfying and enriching experiences to a diverse audience. The same approach will not work with a group of millennials out for drinks that will work with an older couple having lunch. The same is true for museum visitors.
  5. Steps of service: Restaurants have very defined steps of service that guide our guests experiences. This does not in turn mean there is no free-choice within it. However, by creating these steps of service restaurants are able to be flexible while still provide superior service. Many museums think about visitor flow when designing exhibits. Creating steps of service within a museum experience can help us to better serve our visitors.
  6. Empathy and Tolerance: Restaurant professionals are highly experienced in empathy and tolerance. While we may use these words differently in the museum field. It is important as museum professionals that we don’t just teach empathy and tolerance but that we live it. In order to provide positive visitor experiences it is important that we can empathize with our visitors to better understand their needs as well as be tolerant to those that have different needs.
  7. The human connection: Hospitality professionals are experienced in creating personal connections in short periods of time. We talk to people from many different walks of life on a daily basis and if we want them to return it is important to create those connections. This, to me, is the biggest transferrable skill to the museum field. We want our visitors to make personal connections to what we are presenting. If museum professionals are not adept in making those connections how can they design and implement experiences that do. These social skills are so important.
  8. Ability to anticipate visitor needs: It is so important in both restaurants and museums for staff to be able to anticipate our guests and visitors needs before they can verbalize, or even know, what those needs are. These can be as basic as providing easily accessible bathrooms and comfortable seating or more complex such as providing for guests with disabilities. We need to anticipate everything our visitors may need when designing programming and exhibitions.

While this is just a short list there are many more things that museums can learn from restaurants as museums become more and more visitor focused.

WEEKLY JOB ROUNDUP!

Week of April 9th! Take a peek at the latest national jobs roundup!

Northeast

Public Programming Assistant [Fruitlands Museum- Harvard, MA]

Head of Public Programs [The Clark Art Institute- Williamstown, MA]

Exhibit Designer [Harvard Museums of Science and Culture- Cambridge, MA]

Assistant Museum Preparator [Mount Holyoke- South Hadley, MA]

Museum Educator and Docent Program Supervisor [Wellin Museum- Clinton, NY]

Programs Project Coordinator [Connecticut Science Center- Hartford, CT]

Museum Assistant [Natick Historical Society- Natick, MA]

Mid-Atlantic

Museum Education Specialist II [Space Telescope Science Institute- Baltimore, MD]

Senior Advancement Program Specialist [National Museum of African American History and Culture- Washington, D.C.]

Public Programs and Outreach Manager [Samek Art Museum- Lewisburg, PA]

Education and Program Coordinator [National Museum of Industrial History- Bethlehem, PA]

Southeast

Exhibition Designer [High Museum of Art- Atlanta, GA]

Director of Museum Planning and Operations [International African American Museum- Charleston, SC]

Coordinator of Youth and Community Programs [High Museum of Art- Atlanta, GA]

Midwest

Manager of Curatorial and Exhibits [Harley-Davidson Museum- Milwaukee, WI]

Senior Museum Content Developer [Hilferty and Associates- Athens, OH]

Teen and Community Programs Manager [Ohio State University- Columbus, OH]

Curatorial Assistant [Denver Art Museum- Denver, CO]

Director of Education [Spurlock Museum- Urbana, IL]

Manager of School Programs [Museum of Contemporary Art- Chicago, IL]

Specialist, Interpretation and Digital Learning [Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art- Kansas City, MO]

West

Volunteer Coordinator [Thanksgiving Point Institute- Lehi, UT]

Collections Specialist [Bowman Museum of Crook County- Prineville, OR]

Director of Collections [Nordic Museum-Seattle, WA]

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