Museum Studies at Tufts University

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NEMA session SEE/Change: Seeing change in How to Offer Online Museum Content to Schools.

NEMA session SEE/Change: Seeing change in How to Offer Online Museum Content to Schools.

Hosted by  David Rau, Director of Education and Outreach at the Florence Griswold Museum in Lyme, CT, the SEE/Change session at NEMA introduced a prototype of online curriculum centered upon one work of art; George H. Durie’s 7 Miles to Farmington.  Using this mid-19th century American piece as the source of content, the session was set up as a panel and included speakers such as Clarissa Cleglio, the Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities at UCONN, Leslie Evans, Director and  Curator of the Avery-Copp House, and Caitlin Monahan the Managing director of Jul/Julia Balfour, LLC, to name a few. The panel discussed their collaborative efforts to build this website, touching on both positive and challenging aspects of the project.

These individuals, worked collaboratively on this online project with the aim of bringing museum-quality content to the classroom and the home through an easy, accessible online outlet. the project involved consultation and development with a graphic design team, digital media and visitor experience specialists, curators, etc. The project was aimed at increasing accessibility to art and history in schools and at home; and a website acts as an excellent platform to do so. This website is unique from other museum websites, because it is centered upon one object and not an entire collection or a bunch of object. Durie’s  painting drives the entire site and its content.

The project was prototyped using elementary school students in Connecticut, and the design team was able to ascertain that students enjoyed the inquisitiveness of Visual Thinking Strategy (VTS) throughout the site’s content to discuss activities going on in the painting, the time of year and the historical context of the painting. Students enjoyed zooming in on aspects of the painting and attempting to figure out what was going on. The audience also seemed to like video portions of the site that dug deeper into mid-19th century New England life through  footage that documented activities such as the means to make pounded cheese. This prototyping and evaluation also allowed the design team to test the usefulness and usability of the site’s features, such as presentation, and buttons that zoom in or give more information.

The vastness and depth of possibilities for curriculum surrounding one object speaks to the endless amounts of options our museums hold for object- based learning. Objects tell stories and they are tools that help uncover the past. If an entire website, curriculum plan, set of videos, and activities can be launched around one painting, think of the infinite possibilities that stretch before museums that house entire collections.

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“Not Your Grandmother’s House Museum” at NEMA

Last week at the New England Museum Association (NEMA) conference, I had the opportunity to attend an off-site session at the Osterville Historical Museum. The session, titled “Not Your Grandmother’s House Museum,” was about how to increase engagement of local communities at small historic sites. The Osterville Historical Museum is home to two historic homes and a boat shop with over a dozen wooden boats. After time exploring the boat shop, we were welcomed to one of the historic homes with warm protection from the rain and refreshments. Settling in for the conversation portion of the session, we learned the three key principles the historic site follows to guide interactions with their community. Called the 3 R’s, they are as follows:

  • Relevance: the museum should be present with their community and understand current issues the community cares about. For the Osterville staff, this means being a part of every group in the village. Being present at those meetings builds support for the museum and shows the museum’s support for the whole community. While this level of involvement is only possible in museums in small communities, larger institutions should get involved as much as they can – what meetings is it most important for the museum to be present at?
  • Resources: museums need to take a hard look at their resources before deciding what activities to participate in or initiate. What grants are available? Who do they have on their team and what skills do they offer? If staff is present at other community events and groups what resources do these two-way relationships bring to the table?
  • Relationships: Who are all the people interacting with your museum? Volunteers, visitors, collaborators, funders, etc. How can you keep them engaged and maximize those relationships?

While these three points guide many of Osterville Historical Museum’s decisions, questions during the session raised a few final key points:

  1. Keep volunteers actively motivated and engaged. Make it a fun and supportive place where they can share their talents and connect with others in the community.
  2. Don’t overuse resources – keep in mind what your physical and human resources can handle and don’t push it. Long-term sustainability is key.

How can you apply these tips and guideposts to your museum? How do you effectively engage your communities while remaining sustainable?

NEMA Conference: Picking Up Where We Left Off.

This past week the New England Museum Association (NEMA) hosted its annual conference from October 25-27 in Falmouth, MA. The theme of this conference was Truth and Trust: Museums in a Polarized World, and over the next few weeks, we will feature guest posts from Tufts grad students about their NEMA experiences and sessions.

The conference picked up right where it had left off on November 9, 2016, a day after the United States Presidential Election, where tensions seemed to run high in the art and culture sector following the results of the election. The conference organizers did effective diligence to the museum world by establishing an expert panel at the NEMA keynote ceremony moderated by Marita Rivero, the Executive Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Boston.

As a Tufts student, I felt a sense of pride in the fact that the topics covered in this panel, such as interpretive authority, repatriation, neutrality, and audience focus were all topics that we as Tufts students cover in our classes every week. I appreciated the ways in which the panel also struggled with the concept of truth, since one person or culture’s interpretive truth may not be the same as another’s. The truth is hard to portray, but we as museum professionals we need to seek as facts from as many perspectives as we can muster so that our truths are a little less subjective, and tell the stories of ALL parties involved.

There was also a sense of uncertainty among this panel when discussing neutrality. Many times we are taught that museums should be neutral, but such is not the case when social tensions and the safety of human beings are at risk. Neutrality actually takes a side of its own, because it is not taking a stance against the perpetrators of racism, sexism, or whatever it may be. Telling the truth is not always neutral………………..

 

With this sense of unity and comradery that conferences seem to bring about in museum professionals, it is of value to list some other upcoming museum professional conferences that may be of interest to blog followers.

The Association of Art Museum Curators – Montreal, Canada May 5-8

Museums and the Web April 18-21, 2018- British Columbia, Canada

American Alliance of Museums May 6-9- Phoenix Arizona

MCNMCN November 7-10, Pittsburgh, PA

Association of State and Local History (AASLH)- Sept 26-29 2018.

Small Museum Association- February 18-20- College Park MD

 

Now that I have laid some NEMA groundwork, stay tuned the next couple of weeks for in depth peeks at some of the specific NEMA conference sessions, and as the NEMA conference picked up right where it left off last year, we will pick up our posts right where we left them this week.

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