Lessons from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

I don’t know how many museums are unionized (I’d love to hear about any, if anyone has some leads), so the specific problem that the Detroit Symphony Orchestra is facing might not have a direct correlation to museums – but other aspects certainly do.

Essentially, the orchestra’s private employment difficulties have spilled out into the public arena via that ever-popular venue for over-sharing, Facebook. Fans of the orchestra are up in arms; the management of the orchestra has made some bad public relations blunders (for example, demanding to know how many of the complaining Facebook fans had ever donated money…), and the striking musicians have set up their own Facebook fan page.

You can listen to the NPR story here.

What can museums learn from this?

Well, there’s the constant lesson that people keep learning about the internet: it’s public. It’s very, very public. That website you made back in 1995 as a stunt for your friends? Yeah, it’s still there somewhere.

Inherent in that broad publicity is a responsibility in two parts. First, be careful what you say out there. Just because the internet makes it easier to be anonymous doesn’t mean it makes it easier to escape repercussions. It also doesn’t remove the necessity of being thoughtful, sincere, and polite – a lesson the majority of anonymous commenters have yet to internalize. The responsibility for civil discourse in the internet age belongs to both sides, moreover – to a museum and its fans.

Second, be honest. Be transparent. Share with courage and emotion. If we’re moving into this brave new world of anonymity and computer screens, it’s incumbent on us to establish human connections to the people behind the usernames. This goes double for museums, I think, which are traditionally regarded as secretive organizations. I’m not saying over-share. I’m saying be honest and sincere about what you do share. Commit with emotion, and people will respond.

(Maybe a third lesson is don’t piss off your donors. For these purposes, donors also includes “potential donors” which is everyone from your elderly grandmother to the three year old who came to the family concert last week. Make bold artistic choices, not boneheaded managerial ones.)

Anyone else take anything else from this? Any other observations on online conduct in the information age for nonprofit organizations?

Upcoming NEMA Workshops

There are some really great workshops coming up this spring, and if you’re a NEMA member, they’re only $40 each. Scroll down to check out a series of workshops sponsored by the NEMA Young Emerging Professionals – $15 each, 6-8pm, and focused on interviewing and building your resume.

Exhibitions & Conservators PAGs Workshop
Best Practices in Exhibit Lighting
Friday, March 4, 2011
deCordova Museum & Sculpture Park, Lincoln, MA
The Exhibitions and Conservators PAGs are teaming up this year to bring you a workshop on exhibit lighting — by popular demand!
Sponsored in part by Gaylord-Your Trusted Source®

Historic Sites PAG Workshop
From Docents to Smart Phones: Creating a Compelling Interpretive Experience at Historic Sites
Friday, March 25, 2011
Gore Place, Waltham, MA
The ultimate goal of any historic site is not only to engage the visitor but to make their visit so memorable that they will return, support, and promote by word of mouth. This workshop will explore how historic sites create a compelling visitor experience.
Sponsored in part by Gaylord-Your Trusted Source®

Children’s Museums & Exhibitions PAGs Workshop
Especially for Me: Innovative Ways Museums Can Support Visitors of All Abilities
Monday, March 28, 2011
Wistariahurst Museum, Holyoke, MA
With an estimated 19% of Americans classified as disabled, how can museums be responsive to this segment of the population? Join us at Wistariahurst Museum, Holyoke, MA, as we explore innovative ways to design exhibits and programs that promote inclusion and disability awareness.

Membership, Development, PR and Marketing PAG Workshop
Best of Times, Worst of Times: Making the Most of What You Have
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Fitchburg Art Museum
This year’s workshop sessions will demonstrate strategies for getting a lot accomplished with small staffs and small budgets. Learn to effectively promote and execute fundraising events; discover ways to prosper as a development department of one; and share ways to get the best publicity possible for your institution.

New This Year!!

Learn, Laugh, Live: A New Series of Mini-Workshops with Maxi-Impact
A series of mini-workshops*
Presented by the Young and Emerging Museum Professionals (YEP) PAG
6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. on March 23, April 20, May 11, 2011
Otis House, Historic New England, Boston, MA
Co-sponsored by Historic New England
LEARN — How to Interview “Big Wig” Speed Dating Style
LAUGH — How to Break into a Tricky Field in a Tough Economy
LOVE — How to Build Your Resume Through Internships, Articles, Conferences, and Presentations
* Each mini-workshop is $15 for NEMA Members, $25 for Non-Members. Members can register for all three mini-workshops for $40.

Space is limited. Please visit www.nemanet.org and sign up today!

Registration Fee (includes lunch): $50 NEMA members / $60 non-members / $40 students

Museums and Community; or, The Best Superbowl Wager Ever

How’s this for engaging with the community: the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Carnegie Museum of Art (in Pittsburgh) have thrown their weight behind their football teams (that would be the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers, respectively) in a really brilliant way.

Here’s how it works:

If the Steelers with the Superbowl, the Carnegie Museum of Art will receive Gustave Caillebotte’s “Boating on the Yerres” on a three-month loan.

If the Packers win the Superbowl, the Milwaukee Art Museum will receive Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “Bathers with a Crab” on a three-month loan.

The museum directors are even doing some trash-talking:

Milwaukee Museum of Art director Daniel Keegan said in a statement to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he is already preparing a space for the Renoir.“I’m confident we will be enjoying the Renoir from the Carnegie Museum of Art very soon,” the Green Bay native told the paper. “I look forward to displaying it where the public can enjoy it and be reminded of the superiority of the Green Bay Packers.”

Lynn Zelevansky, the director at Carnegie, had a retort for her Cheesehead counterpart.

“In Pittsburgh, we believe trash talk is bad form,” Zelevansky said in a statement. “We let the excellence of our football team, and our collection, speak for itself. It will be my great pleasure to see the Caillebotte from the Milwaukee Museum of Art hang in our galleries.”

How brilliant is that? Can we talk the MFA into doing this the next time the Patriots make the trip to the Superbowl?

Original article, with more links and information, is here.


Marketing Yourself

This post on The Museum of the Future has some great suggestions for young artists who want to get their name and their work out into the world.

The same principles can easily apply to you and your work as you set out into the museum world and look for your perfect job. You’re selling yourself. Not in a depressing way, as in a commodity or an interchangeable part. You’re making the case for why you, and your unique set of skills and your energy and enthusiasm and brilliance. It’s not always a natural thing to do, but it’s so important.

So think about those questions, and try to answer them for yourself. Think about the story you want to tell the world about yourself, and then go and tell it.

Stories Behind the Paintings at the Sukiennice Museum

Krakow’s newly renovated Sukiennice Museum of 19th-century Polish art has a splashy video showing off the interactive campaign they did to publicize their 2010 reopening. In an attempt to make the art “come to life,” they recorded audio and video recreations of stories behind the artists, subjects, or patrons or a few of their most important paintings. One part of the project involved augmented reality, where visitors could view the video and painting at the same time through a smartphone app.

From this clip, it looks like the project was more about attention-getting marketing than an interpretation strategy. It’s no substitute for close observation of the paintings themselves, but it would be interesting to hear audience feedback about whether discovering the stories behind these few paintings piqued their curiosity in looking more closely at other work in the museum. Better to be drawn in by bells and whistles than not go to a museum at all?