Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Author: Lauryn Weigold (Page 1 of 2)

Museum Job Roundup 2/19/24

Welcome to the weekly roundup! We do our best to collect the latest job openings and welcome submissions from the community. For more opportunities, we recommend the following databases:

INTERNSHIPS

NORTHEAST

MIDATLANTIC/SOUTHEAST

 MIDWEST

WEST COAST/SOUTHWEST





Unconventional Museums

When one thinks of museums, we generally think of art, history, or science museums, but all kinds of museums exist and today we take a look at just a few selections of unconventional museums in the US. Whether because of topic, presentation, or collections, these museums are for those who are looking for something different, and perhaps, like me, consider themselves “strange and unusual” just like Lydia Deetz and these museums.

 

International Cryptozoology Museum (Portland and Bangor, ME)

Inconsistent in its interpretation but steeped in enthusiasm and interest, the International Cryptozoology Museum bills itself as the world’s only cryptozoology museum. For those unfamiliar, cryptozoology is the study of hidden or unknown animals or creatures (which are referred to as cryptids), some of the most well-known being Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and Mothman. The exhibits feel similar to old-school museums in their “cabinet of curiosities” days, and that’s by design. The ICM presents curated looks at either one cryptid or a regional look at a few cryptids, offering some labels with information but more often that not just questions, allowing the visitors to decide what they believe in. 

National Museum of Funeral History (Houston, TX)

Though some may shy away from darker topics like death and funerals, the National Museum of Funeral History celebrates and honors “the compassion and dedication of the funeral services industry.” Exhibits include 19th Century Mourning, The History of Embalming, Presidential Funerals and Celebrating the Lives and Deaths of Popes–an eclectic collection of funeral industry topics and popular history topics, including an exhibit about the Shroud of Turin.

Maine Coast Sardine History Museum (Jonesport, ME)

Only open seasonally from the third Sunday in June through September 30th, the Maine Coast Sardine History Museum is a labor of love dedicated to an area of the country that was once home to a booming cannery business–Jonesport alone once had as many as 15 canneries in town. Run by a couple who spent 7 years collecting artifacts, the Maine Coast Sardine History Museum houses objects related to canning and fishing with exhibits dedicated to the steps in the canning process and regional cans and photographs. The most poignant display, however (at least from someone who has yet to visit), is the wall of scissors that sardine packers used, each labeled with the woman’s name for who used it and which canning company they worked for.

The Mob Museum (Las Vegas, NV)

Housed in a former US Post Office and Courthouse, the Mob Museum focuses on organized crime as well as law enforcement which offers an interesting take on a contentious topic. Boasting items on exhibit as notorious as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Wall (with bullet holes spotlighted), a Godfather script, Bugsy Siegel’s sunglasses, and a Tommy Gun that belonged to an associate of Al Capone, the Mob Museum entertains as much as it informs. Those looking for a little bit of excitement after seeing the exhibits can head downstairs into the speakeasy–so long as you know the password for that night (found on the museum’s website).

Museum of Jurassic Technology (Los Angeles, CA)

This staple of Venice Boulevard (open since 1988) calls itself “an educational institution dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and public appreciation of the Lower Jurassic,” though others have described it as “a museum about museums” “where the persistent question is: what kind of place is this?” Exhibit highlights include “The Garden of Eden on Wheels: Collections from Los Angeles Area Trailer Parks,” “The Unique World of Microminiatures of Hagop Sandaldjian,” and “Tell the Bees: Belief, Knowledge, and Hypersymbolic Cognition.”

Oasis Bordello Museum (Wallace, ID)

Step back in time in this cathouse turned museum that has been virtually untouched since the FBI raid that shut it down in 1988. Full of the clothes, toiletries, drawings, liquors, and food in the fridge that was left behind by Madame Ginger and the sex workers of the Oasis, this museum offers a unique glimpse into days gone by in a town that was defined by the mining industry.

VAMPA (Bucks County, PA)

The newest museum on this list, having just opened in October of 2023, VAMPA is a museum dedicated to vampires and paranormal activity. So far their only exhibit is “The Art of the Kill” which features “vampire killing sets and weapons,” a term that doesn’t shed any light onto what the objects actually are, though the website does mention possible components of a set with no indication whether those objects are the ones on display. Perhaps the only place where any hint of what the museum stands for comes from the mission statement: “VAMPA strives to create an environment where psychological drama and spiritual conflict are given free reign for imagination. A place that stimulates learning and understanding on how the magical mystery of the supernatural, folklore, myth, and faith has influenced the world in sculpture, painting, furniture, and objects of art throughout the ages.”  

National Museum of Toys and Miniatures (Kansas City, MO)

For fans of the current trend of miniatures, you’re sure to find all kinds of joy and wonder at the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, which currently boasts more than 93,000 objects. A glance at their website–which offers an impressive look at their collections–shows off some of the delights to be found at the museum, including a 1.5 foot tall Tudor style bedroom, a four-inch tall portrait of Madame de Pompadour, and a 1 foot tall Beacon Hill house. In fact, dollhouse fans will find plenty to love, especially on the toy side of the collections.

International UFO Museum (Roswell, NM)

Located in the town notorious for a crashed down UFO, the International UFO Museum (and Research Center) was organized “to inform the public about what has come to be known as ‘the Roswell Incident.’” On their about page, they mention that they “endeavor to be the leading information source in history, science and research about UFO events worldwide.” Having visited only once back in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, I’d be curious to return and see it again, and perhaps get a better idea of what the exhibits actually look like–other than the alien statues that I took a picture with as a child.

National Atomic Testing Museum (Las Vegas, NV)

Though Vegas may more readily bring to mind casinos and showgirls, back in the 1950’s about 65 miles northwest of the town a nuclear testing site was set up and soon the mushroom clouds coming from the testing site were as much a part of the Vegas skyline as the glittering lights. Exhibits at this Smithsonian affiliate include authentic and replicas of nuclear equipment, a temporary exhibit on the NSA and data gathering, as well as pop culture artifacts that feature the atomic bomb, showcasing its ubiquity and popularity at the time. 

Curating Self-Care at NEMA and Beyond

Though NEMA happened back in November, this post written by Tufts Museum Education student Samantha Snow offers useful insights for museum professionals to consider year-round.

Photo courtesy of Nuria Lizarraga

“Museum folks are not alright.”

This message was displayed with a bright orange background on a six-foot tall screen, confronting the room of over 40 museum professionals with an unavoidable truth. The panel, led by Rachel Farkas of the Rose Museum, Alex Lehning of Vermont Cooperative for Practice Improvement & Innovation, and Carole Ann Penney of Penney Leadership, presented some sobering statistics affecting museum professionals today, including the disquieting reality that two thirds of museum professionals are considering leaving the field due to burnout, low pay, and other factors leading to job dissatisfaction. If museums can have a demonstrable positive effect on mental health for the communities that they serve, the panel asked, then why does that benefit not extend to those working in museums?

Museum work is demanding. We are regularly asked to do physical, emotional, and intellectual labor, to be adaptive and collaborative but also decisive, and while we strive to put our communities and institutions first, we often put ourselves last. When we put ourselves last long enough, we find we no longer have the energy to show up for our work, let alone for ourselves. We deserve to have our well-being supported by society and our institutions, but even if they fail us, we still have responsibility for caring for ourselves. We cannot wait for the world to change before taking action on our mental health.

Despite the candid discussions of burnout and poor mental health among museum professionals, the session did not dwell on doom and gloom. This hour and a half meeting was a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the NEMA conference. At the start of the session, Alex Lehning guided the audience through a brief breathing and meditation exercise, and I felt my shoulders noticeably relax from the tension of meeting dozens of new people and attending hours of back-to-back lectures over the course of the three-day conference. We listened to the panel members’ reflections on their self-care routines and activities, and everyone had a different approach that worked for them: Rachel makes time for daily exercise and movement, Alex uses meditation, and Carole Ann’s crafts and bakes for herself and others. The panel members explained how self-care activities can be categorized as environmental, social, physical, mental, or combinations of the four and what works for each person is highly individual. This discussion reminded us that self-care is not a one-size-fits-all process – just as we listen to the unique needs of communities in our museum work, we need to listen to our own unique care needs when prioritizing our mental health.

The openness of the panel leaders encouraged openness among the attendees – the folks at my table had fun sharing about our own self-care activities, everything from gardening to journalling to pet cuddles, as part of a break-out discussion. But when the audience began sharing their personal approaches to self-care at the end of the meeting, I was reminded of just how important this conversation is. One museum professional hesitantly spoke up and said that she could not come up with a single self-care activity because any time she spent that wasn’t productive made her feel like she was being lazy. Carole Ann validated her response; we have all been affected by our productivity-obsessed culture and it is particularly pervasive in the museum field. But this mentality, when unchecked, leads to the same dissatisfaction, burnout, and turnover discussed at the start of the session. 

We owe it to ourselves to prioritize our self-care so we can keep showing up for ourselves and the communities served by our museum. By curating acts of intentional mindfulness, we can start chipping away at a culture that asks us to put ourselves last. How can you prioritize your well-being today?

Written by Samantha Snow.

Museum Job Roundup 1/22/24

Welcome to the weekly roundup! We do our best to collect the latest job openings and welcome submissions from the community. For more opportunities, we recommend the following databases:

INTERNSHIPS

NORTHEAST

MIDATLANTIC/SOUTHEAST

 MIDWEST

WEST COAST/SOUTHWEST




Childhood Museum Memories

Having completed one semester of the Museum Education program and looking forward to starting my second semester this week, one thing I keep coming back to is the idea that many of the people I’ve met thus far–be they guest speakers, professors, or my classmates–didn’t come to museum work in a linear trajectory. In fact, that’s one of the things I love about the museum profession–so many of us, myself included, have tried other majors, other careers, other paths before landing here. But we all ended up here eventually, often with many positive museum memories sparking an interest, even if they were from quite a while ago. 

John Falk and Lynn Dierking include this concept of memories in their Contextual Model of Learning [1], which has three interlinking contexts (Personal, Sociocultural, Physical) that are constantly shifting and determine a visitor’s experience during a museum visit. Importantly, they also include Time as being part of the Contextual Model of Learning, stating that, “the museum experience begins long before the visitor arrives and continues long after the visit” [2]. Furthermore, “the museum experience can be a launching pad or reinforcement for interests, helping visitors develop a working vocabulary, conceptual knowledge, and personal memories on a subject” [3]

Today, we’ll take a walk down memory lane, embracing Falk and Dierking’s Time context, and hear stories from myself and my classmates of museum memories from childhood.

 

(The author astride a desert tortoise statue, seated behind her sister. Photo courtesy of the author’s father.)

Growing up in Las Vegas in the 90s and early 2000s meant that there weren’t all that many kid-friendly or kid-focused spaces, but we did have the Lied Discovery Children’s Museum (now known as the DISCOVERY Children’s Museum). It wasn’t until I was sitting in class at Tufts, hearing about how the Boston Children’s Museum came to be and seeing pictures of their grocery store exhibit that I was rushed back to my childhood spent in the halls of the children’s museum in Vegas. My absolute favorite exhibit was the grocery store space, where there were child-sized carts, plastic fruit and food, and a self-checkout area so you could complete the entire grocery shopping process. They even made their own Lied Discovery Children’s Museum paper money that you used to pay for the food, a delightful detail made all the more funny by the fact that I amassed so much of this money from my visits that when I cleaned my room in high school I found a huge stack of it stashed away somewhere.

The grocery store wasn’t the only exhibit I loved, though. There was a space exhibit that had boots that you could put on to mimic how hard it would be to walk on the moon because of how the gravity is different there. The fun began for me before I even walked in the doors, though, because at the original location there was a giant desert tortoise that my sister and I would sit on, pictured above. Though the memories of the children’s museum have faded ever so slightly, it’s nice to be reminded that I’ve always been a museum lover, and little Lauryn would probably be thrilled by my career choice–so long as there’s a grocery store exhibit involved somewhere.

 

Isabel Amador, Museum Education first-year student

A timid child, my most harrowing experience came about at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Upon arrival, the second graders of T.H. Rogers Elementary School were escorted to the museum’s classrooms. As we walked down the halls towards our destination a knot in my stomach grew tighter and tighter. First, we passed a stuffed gorilla, then some birds posed mid-flight overhead, then, sending me into absolute panic, a polar bear, raised onto its haunches, teeth bared and eyes blank. Tears silently poured down my face as I turned into the classroom, eager to escape the nightmares disguised as museum exhibits. I didn’t know at this time that at natural science museums, the taxidermy does not stop in the dioramas. No, these monstrosities are seen as educational tools and therefore litter the walls of their classroom spaces. Entering into the classroom sent me into a full-blown panic attack. Heaving and bawling, I was consoled by a kind museum educator how all the animals in the room died peacefully while they were sleeping. As if that was supposed to detract from their stiff corpses being strung up from rafters. I was escorted from the room by one of the parent chaperones, racing to find neutral ground where I could calm down. We settled into the Hall of Gems. Much the same today as it was back then, the Hall of Gems at the Houston Museum of Natural Science is a string of dark rooms with gems and minerals lit with sharp, cool light, resulting in the most brilliant effects the natural world can produce.

Etched in my brain are the towering amethyst geode, cracked into a throne, and the deep red rhodochrosite cluster, glowing in an unearthly hue. I suppose you could draw from this story a message on how museums have something for everyone or how educational topics always have some sort of emotional undertone, but I mostly put it in the context of my own life. On the same day, I had the worst experience I could have at a museum and the best, yet I still eventually decided to work in museums and to this day remember the word rhodochrosite.

Those reading will be happy to know that my taxidermy phobia has since been reduced to mild discomfort and I have since braved the halls of the Houston Museum of Natural Science (only slightly nauseous).

 

Ryan Cabrera, Museum Education student

(Photo courtesy of R. Cabrera/the Cabrera family)

In the third grade, Mrs. Fraider told our class that we were going on a field trip to the Little Red School House. Leaving school to go to another school did not initially feel appealing to me. Why couldn’t we just get ice cream like the other class trips?

After a few minute bus ride, we were deposited at the doorstep of a quaint, one-room historic town grade school. The experience transformed as each student was given early 20th-century school uniform outfits, complete with cute little caps. At this point, I remained unconvinced. It was when we were introduced to our guide for the day—a venerable gentleman who had been a student in this very school during his own childhood, that the inspiration started to flow for me. We were given feathers to use as quill pens, and a cursive writing lesson commenced. The teacher recounted how stern school was in this period, in a time where corporal punishment was not just accepted but encouraged. Students were to be on their best behavior. 

This is the first time that I can remember stepping back in time and learning about how daily life has changed over the generations. In that moment, a portal to the past opened before my eyes, and I found myself immersed in a world where time flowed backward.

 

Samantha Snow, Museum Education first-year student

The Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles was one of my favorite places as a space-obsessed kid. Leaning back to watch the stars during the planetarium show, my dreams of becoming an astronaut became real if only for a moment as I explored distant star systems and nebulas with my parents in tow (although my mom sometimes used our space travel time as an opportunity to nap in the reclining seats). I remember watching intently for a half hour or more as the observatory’s Foucault pendulum slowly swung back and forth, knocking over a line of blocks one-by-one. It didn’t matter that I was too young to grasp the science behind the pendulum, it was enough to just experience the shared joy of my family and strangers alike as we cheered the falling of each successive block. My time in the observatory connected me to my family, to a larger community, and to the universe itself and sparked a life-long love for museums.


[1] Falk, John Howard, and Lynn Diane Dierking. “Chapter One: Introduction.” Essay. In The Museum Experience Revisited, 23–34. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

« Older posts

Spam prevention powered by Akismet