Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Mobile Guide Review- Historic New England’s Eustis Estate

Mobile Guide Review- Historic New England’s Eustis Estate

This mobile guide review comes from Max Metz, who is in his second year in the Masters of Museum Education program and is the Manager and Anne Larner Educator at the Durant-Kenrick House and Grounds of Historic Newton. To see more of Max’s contributions to the blog, click here.

The Eustis Estate Museum, owned and operated by Historic New England (HNE), is in Milton, Massachusetts – roughly 15 miles south of downtown Boston. With its most recent acquisition and creation of its first permanent gallery space, HNE also created a full-scale mobile guide that mirrors in-gallery media to enhance its interpretation and create greater access to content across devices and geography.

As you begin your museum experience in the visitor’s center near the parking lot, the museum attendant orients you to the screens that you will find throughout the museum and how to access the same content on your own device if you prefer. This opens the guide to many different audiences and various levels of knowledge about technology, historic homes, and museums in general. However, the guide is aimed at an adult audience with interest in historic homes and the history of developing America.

As you transition to the historic home, in each room you will find a large touchscreen panel that serves as the interpretation to the space. The screen is automatically queued up to the interpretation for that room however the interpretation for the entire estate is also within the device to explore if one wants to. In other rooms that contain historic furniture that can be sat in, there smaller tablet-sized touchscreens that continue the interpretive journey. The large screens that will be used when standing or in a wheelchair, tethered small screens to be used while resting or taking in the space while seated, or the guide on your own device creates wide accessibility and flexibility in times of high visitor volume in the house.

The guide itself was very successful in orienting the visitor to the room and where that room exists in the house, connecting the stories of people who lived in or worked at the estate to the objects and rooms within the home and property, providing detailed photos and context regarding the objects within the space that may be too far away from the stanchions to see in full detail, and bringing everything together with supporting documentation in the form of photos of historic archival letters, family photos, sound recordings, and other memorabilia. If the visitor wants to dig deeper he can, if not the initial interoperation serves to enlighten the visitor and enrich the experience within the room.

One of the greatest attributes of the application was that it can be taken home with you, or used before your visit. HNE developed the mobile guide as a website that looks like a downloadable application, however it requires no special technology brought by the user. All one has to do is go to eustis.estatewithin a browser and you are on the mobile guide. If there is a question after the trip or if more exploration is wanted after leaving, the educational journey doesn’t stop.  By using the web-based application, if there is additional content uncovered by the staff, or if a typo is discovered, or if by studying the user data staff decide to provide more tools to learn about a specific topic it can be added seamlessly without continual updating of devices. This adaptable, sharp, and user-focused guide is very successful in providing a visitor-centered experience with information curated in learning paths for the visitor’s learning pleasure.

Furthermore, the guide, in the way in which it is installed in the galleries/rooms, provides an unencumbered view of the space and avoids the historic house pitfall of polka dot labels all around the room. It truly enhances the collection and the viewing/learning experience of the visitor. It seems like a fresh approach to historic homes and a good use of technology that is not wed to any proprietary coding or vender. By using the guide, the visitor is easily able to understand who lived in the house, what their role was in that family, how they used the estate, and their connection to local history. Although the content seemed to be developed for adults, children can easily access the intuitive screens and interact with well-written interpretation or explore media on the devices.

In the future, if the site is marketed to school groups or becomes popular with younger audiences, it would be remarkable if another site like the eustis.estate site was developed for the younger audience. Imagine if a fourth-grade group was scheduled and the museum could switch all the interpretation to a specific program with content aimed at academic standards for that age, with just a touch of a button. Then, when the museum opened for general visitors, switch back to the general interpretation. I could see this same technique happening for private events, Clue style mystery parties, etc. to help bring added income to the property and continue to serve its mission through education. Lastly, HNE does plan on creating additional content to help explore its vast grounds, however at my last visit it was not yet available.

All in all, this was splendidly successful implementation of a mobile guide that is both stationary and mobile in and around the museum. I saw visitors successfully navigating the site and engaged in discussion with each other using the interpretation as a starting point to dive into the history and stories of the property and objects. I look forward to seeing HNE use this same model at it over 30 other properties.

Forging your Own Career Path in the Museum World

Forging your Own Career Path in the Museum World

            As museum professionals, most of us are aware that our career paths do not follow a straight line. Unlike the majority of the corporate sector, where companies may provide a straight trajectory from entry, to associate, to manager, etc, career routes in the museum world may feel spotty and unconnected. There is often not a straight path to promotion and mobility, and it is up to us as independent professionals to determine where our next career step lies, whether that be expanding our roles in a current institution of employment, or transferring to another museum entirely to fulfill our goals.

Here are a few points to chew upon when considering how to plan your museum career.

      To begin, create a mission statement. What are your burning desires for your career? What are you passionate about? And what are the goals you want to reach, not only for yourself, but for others through your work? Write down these goals into a mission statement, and then just as a museum works continuously toward its mission statement, you too must vow to work within the frame of your mission statement. Read your mission over and over and stick to it. Put it like glue into your brain and analyze how your career motives and tasks fit into your mission.

      Grab some friends! The power of the people you surround yourself with is extraordinary. Meet with other museum professionals who share like-minded interests to discuss your career path and how each of you can support and learn from one another. Talking with people is also a great way to network!!! So, if you are on the hunt for a new job to fulfill that mission of yours, surround yourself with positive museum people and talk.

      Connect the dots. A lot of times it is easier to connect the dots in life in a retrospective view, whether that be for a career, relationship, etc. So, take stock of your dots. How did you come to be in the career position you are in? What would you change about the past career steps you took? How can you learn from these patterns to further your career in a direction you want to go? Connect those dots and learn from them so you can move forward in your career mission.

  Don’t be afraid to make a pivot. If you’re working in development, but long to work in education(or vice versa), make your mission, network, and connect those dots to make it happen. We all have such individualized career paths in the museum field, so we have to make our own individualized plans to achieve our personal goals. Whether it is moving to a new museum to start a new job, or expanding the current job you are in, make the path and stick to it with conviction.

Weekly Jobs Roundup!

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

New England        

Mid-Atlantic        

Midwest

South

West              

Weekly Jobs Roundup!

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

New England        

Mid-Atlantic        

Midwest

South

West              

Thoughts on the Berkshire Museum’s Proposal to Sell 40 Pieces.

In recent weeks, the museum world media has been inundated with the articles regarding the Berkshire Museum’s plan to auction off 40 pieces of art in its collections to support a $60 million renovation and expansion. As expected, the auction proposal was met with criticism from museum professionals, institutions, and the American Alliance of Museums.

According to an article published last week by NPR, The Berkshire museum, located in Pittsfield, MA has faced an annual budget deficit surpassing $1million annually for the past 10 years. Van Shields, the executive director of the museum, claims that the institution has no choice but to sell a portion of its collection, or die out as an institution. AAM fired back urging The Berkshire to reconsider its funding plan, because this sale of art breaks the public trust and ownership of non-profit museum collections. Collections, said AAM, should not be treated as a financial asset.

This situation leave the Berkshire Museum between a rock and a hard place. How can they otherwise fund raise, and remain a museum at all, while facing extreme financial deficits? Grants alone are unlikely to provide millions, and dependency on a large donor seems unrealistic. They would most likely need to restructure their entire campaign, which could be possible, but could also take years that the museum may not have to meet its annual expenses. However,  the backlash from the museum world if the Berkshire continues with the auction plans (said to be set within the next 6 months) could be detrimental to the museum, and could result in measures such as a ban on loans from other museums, and loss of accreditation.

Looking at the Berkshire Museum’s mission statement below sheds a little light on the place for auction sales within the mission of the museum, and the truth is, the collection is not mentioned:

Berkshire Museum’s mission statement:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           “Bringing people together for experiences that spark creativity and innovative thinking by making inspiring educational connections among art, history, and natural science.”

Very technically speaking, an auction of 40 pieces of artwork, expected to sell for at least $50 million,  could expand the progression of the mission, because without funds, the museum would not be able to exist or spark creativity and innovative thinking without the financial means to do so as an institution. Nowhere in the mission is there mention of preserving, collecting, or hoarding a massive amount of objects.

Yet if one of the purposes of a museum is to serve the public in good trust, then the Berkshire Museum’s decision to auction off art is not in good ethical standing. For example, two of the pieces to be auctioned are Norman Rockwell’s “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” and “Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop.” Rockwell spent the last 25 years of his like in Pittsfield, and gifted these works to the community for public enjoyment and appreciation. The auction of these pieces does not present the good of the public interest. Perhaps selling more pieces of lesser value than a Rockwell would better serve the public interest, but then again, that could place objective value on art which is meant to be subjective to the beholder. The situation is not an easy one.

As museum staff structures themselves move toward more business like models (the number of Executive Directors with MBAs is on the rise) where do collections fit in? Are they permitted to be on the free market for the very survival of an institution? Or do they still rest in the untouchable public domain?

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