Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Tag: Dispatches from the Mid-Atlantic (page 3 of 6)

Dispatches from the Mid-Atlantic: “Rights”-ful Ownership

by columnist Madeline Karp

There are two things in this life that I particularly love: early American history, and a good dramatic mystery.

So of course, when news broke that Pennsylvania’s original copy of the Bill of Rights may have been found in the New York Public, my ears pricked up and I started tuning in to the unfolding drama. Don’t know the story? That’s okay! Dispatches from the Mid-Atlantic now presents:

The Wandering Bill of Rights: A Tale of Provenance

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Dispatches from the Mid-Atlantic: A Pinch of Sage

by columnist Madeline Karp,

As many of you already know, I started a new job at the museum this week. On the one hand, it’s the easiest start to a job ever – I already know my supervisors and coworkers, I know the programs we’re going to run, where they will be and when, and I know how the museum functions and works to fulfill it’s mission.

On the other hand…starting a new job is never easy. There’s definitely a learning curve. As a lot of my friends, classmates, former coworkers, (and even my sibling!) are starting new ventures, let’s take some time to remind ourselves of some sage new job advice.

1. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to adjust.

I came home sobbing my very first day of work last summer. And my second day. And my third. Not only was I exhausted, I had no idea what I was doing and it felt like I never, ever would. (Eventually I learned, and soon started training new people.)

Being patient with yourself can be hard, and it’s something I often have to remind myself to do. You’re not going to be good at everything right away. Don’t be surprised if you feel like you’re doing really well, and then have a set back. It can take up to 6 months or even longer to really adjust to a new job.

2. Plan ahead!

I am a total sloth in the morning. The earlier I have to wake up, the slower I move. But the slower I move, the earlier I have to wake up. It’s a vicious cycle. Planning ahead saves me time and helps my morning run smoothly.

Find a routine that works for you. I pack my lunch, pick out my outfits, and fill up my gas tank the night before. Sometimes I even set my coffee pot to auto start and hard-boil a few eggs for breakfast. It totally stinks the night before to take my free time to prepare, but it makes my mornings a snap.

3. Dress for success.

My mother is a power-suited woman of the 80’s. Growing up I learned that you are never completely dressed without makeup and that a little nail polish can go a long way.

Now, I know that makeup or nail polish may not be your thing, and that’s cool. But I do believe that feeling good about the way you look is a confidence booster. So wear your favorite bracelet, swipe on a little extra mascara, buy a new hair clip, or give yourself a quick coat of nail polish – anything that makes you feel confident and professional!

4. Communicate with people the way they like to communicate.

This is one from my sister the Comm Major and it deceptively simple: Pay attention to how your coworkers, clients and partners communicate with each other. Is it through email? Phone calls? Text message? In person meetings? Post-It notes?

Paying attention to how people communicate can set you for successful dialogue and exchange of ideas. If you notice that your supervisor prefers to communicate through email, don’t waste your time leaving voicemails and then banging your head on the desk (a.k.a.: The Headdesk) wondering why she never gets back to you. I find more often than not, those situations open the door for passive aggressive behavior, which we all know is never okay.

By the same token, if you’re terrible about checking texts, perhaps suggest people call or email you instead.

5. Don’t be afraid.

I’ll admit it: sometimes I’m afraid to ask for help for fear of looking silly. No, seriously. I needed help using Gmail today and was kind of afraid to ask. I was afraid to buy lunch in the cafeteria because I had to ask for the special gluten-free noodles. I’m kind of a huge ‘Fraidy-Cat.

Don’t be afraid. Ask for help. It’s how you get better at things. Tell people what you need. It’s how things get done correctly the first time.

6.  Smile.

Not feeling so well? Smile. Not feeling so friendly? Smile. Not feeling so confident? Smile.

It takes fewer muscles than frowning, prolongs your life and helps make your workplace a positive environment. So just smile.


What kind of advice do you have to share? Did anyone give you sage advice when you started your job? Share it in the comments!

Dispatches from the Mid-Atlantic: The Price is Right?

by columnist Madeline Karp,

I fib sometimes to get discounts.

At the gym: Are you a student? Totally! (-$25 on membership)

At the movies: Is your parent a senior citizen? Yes! (-$3 per ticket)

At the store: Do you have a club card? Absolutely! (+$5 in coupons for giving my sister’s phone number.)

So it comes as no surprise that when I go to museums, I do everything I can to bring admission prices down. I’ll bring my museum association cards, old student ID’s, refer-a-friend coupons and Groupons…pretty much anything.

It’s not because I don’t want to pay to get in. I know that most museum revenue comes from admission sales. I know it’s how they keep the place open. I want to pay, but I can’t. Honestly, I can’t afford it. I have a really tight budget.

So I was conflicted when I learned that museum prices are rising all along the Mid-Atlantic, particularly in Philadelphia.

According to a recent Philadelphia Business Journal article area museums have been raising their prices by as much as 25% in 2013. On the one hand, this is hugely positive. Attendance for mid-Atlantic museum is up, so the price hike is an indicator that the services we provide are definitely in demand. We can hopefully take this as a sign that the economy is recovering and arts/education funding may grow in the near future. On the other hand…are we potentially playing with fire?

When my museum raised its prices by $1 to help cover overhead costs, I heard complaints day in, day out, for weeks on end about this small increase. It now costs $64 for a family of four to visit – but that’s before you pay for parking, lunch and souvenirs. For many, one day at the museum is a budget buster. Unsurprisingly we see huge crowd increases around the time our LivingSocial coupons are released and discounted Target First Wednesdays can be crazy.

So attendance and prices are up. But what can you do to make sure customers feel like they’re getting more bang for their extra bucks?

Well, for one thing, innovative ticketing definitely helps. Several museums have started to create partnerships – like the Penn Museum and the Mutter Museum did in 2012. Rather than pay $27 per person to see each museum separately, you can now buy a combo ticket and see both institutions for $20. The Barnes Foundation has now folded the cost of an audio guide into their admission prices. Some museums have expanded their definitions of “children” discount tickets, and others have increased the number of “pay-what-you-want-to” days.

But the biggest helper is the marketing scheme. When packaged as a “day-cation” a museum visit is cheap. Let’s break it down.

To get in to Disney World for one day, a single adult would pay $95.

To get on to the beach here in Ventnor NJ you pay a $10 fee, plus $12 in tolls.

Average cost of a museum: $15.

Oh, and by the way, that museum entrance comes with air conditioning and cultural enlightenment. Less chance of sunburn, more chance of learning stuff. Pretty good deal, yeah?

Are prices rising a good thing? How do you convince your visitors to pay more? What kinds of tricks do you use to balance your own budget? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!


Dispatches from the Mid-Atlantic: City of Museums

by columnist Madeline Karp,

Since college, I have tried really hard to dislike Philadelphia. It probably had something to do with dating a guy from Pittsburgh, but it mostly boiled down to this: its not big like New York, it’s not the capital like Washington, it’s not as strong-willed as Boston, and I hate all its sports teams. I’ve been known to call it Filth-adelphia from time to time, and curse its middling existence when driving between Washington to New York. It feels like an “unspecial” city. And did I mention that I really hate all the sports teams?

But, here I am living in Philadelphia, and I’m going to tell you a secret. Ready?

I kind of really like it here.

It was a puzzling thing for me – liking a city I’d decided to hate – until I heard a short bit on NPR, featuring Penn professor David Brownlee that made it all click into place.

Philadelphia is the birthplace of the American museum.

In 1789, Charles Wilson Peale (of The Artist in His Museum self-portrait fame) founded The Philadelphia Museum, a collection of odds and ends, paintings and taxidermy specimens he had acquired over the years.


Peale was the first to establish collection loans when he borrowed taxidermy specimens for his museum from a London institution, and was also the first to adopt the Linnaean taxonomy, presenting his specimens as scientific pieces for study and education, rather than for entertainment or shock value as many other curio collections did at the time.

Other Philadelphia museums quickly popped up, and spread the idea that collections could be used to broaden the mind and cultural horizons. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (founded in 1806) is the oldest art school and museum in the United States. The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel (founded in 1812) is the oldest science research institution, and the Franklin Institute (1824) was one of the first museums in the western hemisphere to dedicate itself specifically to science education.

For a history major and a museum studies graduate, that’s a lot of BIG museum firsts.

(FYI – The oldest established museum I could find in Boston was the Boston Athanaeum, founded in 1807. Let me know if there’s an older one.)

Maybe Philadelphia feels “unspecial” to me because at so many times it has been special for different reasons. For a little while it was the nation’s capital, then the industrial capital, then arts capital and then a center for scientific and philosophical thought.

And, as Brownlee posits, this fluctuating role in history is also represented in its museums. How, where and why certain institutions were built can represent a city at a certain moment – much the way your high school yearbook photo represents you when you graduated.

I often ask my peers: do museums have a specific personality based on their location? Is a modern art museum in Chicago, for example, fundamentally different from one in San Francisco? Or is a museum a museum a museum, no matter where you go?

Personally, I subscribe to the idea of a personality. I do think museums have a certain feel depending on the city.

Washington gets to have the Nationals – the museums that represent the United States as a whole. Boston gets the Revolutionaries– the places that talk about colonial life and the start of American history and culture. New York has the Hipster-Highbrows – institutions that are as big, as fancy and as eclectic as its population.

But I think Philadelphia has something extra special. It has the Firsts. The places that went through the growing pains and all the changes that make American museums what they are today. And, oddly, for being the City of Museums (as Brownlee put it), Philadelphia institutions don’t feel pretentious.

Sadly, Peale’s Philadelphia Museum failed and the collection was sold, so you can’t go see the first American museum. But Peale’s idea for an educational institution remained, and can be seen in all sorts of museums, both in Philadelphia and around the United States.

What do you think? Do museums have “personalities” based on location? How important is it to be labeled oldest, first or biggest?

To hear Brownlee’s interview on NPR, click here

Dispatches from the Mid-Atlantic: Cinderella Ate My Breakfast

by columnist Madeline Karp,

I did not have the chance to make my mom breakfast in bed this Mother’s Day. I had to go to Philadelphia to be a princess.


The Please Touch Museum hosts an annual Mother’s Day Princess Brunch for Centennial Guild Members (i.e.: platinum level, or those who pay for the highest possible membership package). The morning is complete with omelets and pancakes made to order, flowers for the mothers, and early admission to the museum, so kids can play on the floor relatively undisturbed.

And, oh yeah, you can meet a princess.

Following Storybook Ball, I was drafted for a Tour of Royal Duty – my supervisor claims it’s because I have the necessary “bubbly enthusiasm” early in the morning.

I was cast as Sleeping Beauty, and spent the morning greeting children, asking them if they had “a good sleep with nice dreams” and discussing the importance of eating your breakfast so you can have the energy to play all day. It was a blast, and no small ego boost to have squadrons of little girls follow you around like you’re a rock star.

But when I was all finished Princessing and had slipped out of the tulle dress and back into my blue jeans, I suddenly felt conflicted. Had I done the right thing by agreeing to do this? What kind of role model was I being for these kids?


My university-educated, progressive, egalitarian, feminist side was boiling mad. How could I – a girl who had put so much effort into my education, and who refuses to date men who choose my body over my brain – walk around smiling at kids pretending that none of it matters?

I typically agree with Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Orenstein posits that most women have a “princess complex,” where we fear aging into evil hags, will wait around for Prince Charming rather than adventure solo, and feel we need to meet certain societal conventions to be considered beautiful. (I could go on and on, but I’d rather you read more about it here, here or here.)

My inner feminist was freaking out, but my museum professional side took a deep breath.

In school we learn that part of being a good museum professional is to know your audience. What do they like? What do they want? What gets them excited?

Little girls love princesses. (And by the way, their brothers love princesses who freelance as international superspies, Jedi Knights and ninjas.)

If dressing up like a princess is what it takes to get a three-year-old girl to come to the museum, then so be it. It doesn’t mean that said princess has to sell the idea of needing a prince or that you have to be a certain dress size to be beautiful. Quite the contrary. This princess asked kids what their favorite exhibit was, and did they like coming to the museum, what’s the best part about Kindergarten and what books they like to read. She also told them that they were beautiful, especially with pancake syrup all over their faces.


Interestingly, kids are more willing to share their toys (and breakfasts) with princesses, and kids who are normally really shy told me their life stories. Learning through play, for sure. If only they believed all their playmates were royalty.

My hope is that rather than creating girls with a princess complex, I’m helping to create museum advocates. Anything that helps to create a good memory in the museum – be it a Carousel ride or meeting a princess – creates the inroads for that little girl to ask to come back, or to go to another museum next weekend, or to even take out a membership years later when she has kids.

So I came to this conclusion: so long as you’re not violating the museum’s mission or promoting retrograde thinking, and you are working towards building a community in your museum, princess it up. Jump into that tulle dress, smile, sparkle and sell it.


Where do you fall on this issue? Do you think it’s okay to have princesses in the museum? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!

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