Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Author: Lauryn Weigold (Page 2 of 3)

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

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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.

Museum Job Roundup 12/3/23

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:

Featured Job

Archives Fellow at Northeast Museum Services Center (Charlestown, MA)

13-week fellowship, $900/wk

American Conservation Experience (ACE), a nonprofit Conservation Corps, in partnership with the National Park Service and the Northeast Museum Services Center (NMSC), is seeking an Archives Fellow to digitize documents and to create associated metadata. The collections belong to Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, and the scans and descriptions will be mounted on the NPGallery portal at https://npgallery.nps.gov/MAWA The work will take place at the NMSC offices in Charlestown, MA. Application instructions can be found at https://archivesgig.com/2023/11/16/charlestown-ma-archives-fellow-northeast-museum-services-center-american-conservation-experience/  

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What Does It Mean to be a “History Person”?

In my junior year of high school, I remember getting into an argument with my mom while sitting at the bus stop one morning. I can’t remember if I was actually failing AP US History or if I was just consistently doing poorly on the assignments, either way, my mom was upset with me because in her eyes, it should be easy–“everything already happened.” It was difficult to articulate to her that the reason why I was struggling was because the way history was taught to me, and how lots of history is taught in schools, was the lecture-heavy name and date memorization of events and people, with the occasional necessity of knowing why x caused y event.

What I told her instead, and what I’ve been telling people for years, is that I’m just “not a history person.” I wasn’t like my mom, who would look at every plaque in every city we ever visited, and seemed to know all kinds of things about US history that I couldn’t remember or wasn’t particularly interested in. I certainly wasn’t like my dad, who knew the most random history facts, usually related to obscure Indiana history and automotive/airplane/ship history. But since starting at Tufts and getting my job at the Freedom Trail, I’ve had to reevaluate my stance on what it means to be a “history person.”

For most of my life I’ve thought of history as a dry subject. Maybe every so often it was interesting, but for the most part, it just seemed like names and numbers to me without any real connection to myself or the world around me. I may have been an education major in college, but I did take copious English classes and that was where I really clicked–these were stories. They didn’t have to be real people, or real events, but there was always a truth to them, and that was what connected with me.

What I didn’t realize at the time or earlier in my life, was that I had been learning history against my will and having fun while doing so on multiple occasions. The most memorable instance has to be what my family refers to as “the Great American Road Trip” which was a road trip that me, my (history nerd) mom, my sister, and one of our cousins all went on from Las Vegas, Nevada to Fort Wayne, Indiana. We went to National Parks, State Parks, the Corn Palace in South Dakota, Wall-Drug (also South Dakota), ghost towns–all the time learning about people and places as we went. But it never felt like I was learning history because I was getting to see amazing sights, eating berries on the way up to the Lewis & Clark memorial (not advised–we had no clue if they were edible for humans), and spending time with my family.

Yet even after this experience, which I had when I was ten or eleven, I still didn’t consider myself a “history person.” Making the connection between histories and stories wouldn’t come until I got my very first job at a museum, where I had to learn about the history of the Ball family (of Ball jar fame) and very quickly realized I had multiple connections with the folks I talked about almost every day. The Ball brothers are from Buffalo, New York and their uncle, who loaned them the starting money to buy the company that would become Ball canning, was the founder of Keuka College–one of my best friends lives near Keuka Lake, so I know the area well. In the town of Muncie, Indiana, which is where Minnetrista Museum & Gardens (home of the Ball jar) is located, has a well-known statue, “Appeal to the Great Spirit”, which is actually a replica of the statue in front of the MFA Boston. Lastly, Ball State University, a school named after the Ball brothers, has a statue of a winged woman named “Beneficence” designed by Daniel Chester French, which resembles another winged woman statue of his, “Angel of the Waters,” which is located in the Boston Public Gardens. All of these simple connections between the lives of the Ball brothers and my own helped their legacy to feel more real and more present to me.

Now, as a Tufts student studying museums and working in a history space, I’ve softened to the idea that perhaps I am a history person. After all, I’ve learned more about the American Revolution in the three months I’ve worked for the Freedom Trail than I ever knew before. But perhaps more importantly than whether or not I am a “history person” is the idea that anyone can be interested in history if you find a way to connect. In all my resistance to history I missed out on my connection even though it’s literally in the word–story. History is just stories, stories of real people, real lives, and it has the power to uplift, to erase, to connect, or to exclude, depending on whose story is being told (or not told). My hope is that as I continue to go through the program and get older, I keep opening my mind to the possibility of the “story” part of history, and use that as a way to connect people to history and maybe get them to be open to or newly consider themselves a history person, even if I’m not all the way there yet.

 

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