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Community Engagement

When Art Museum Directors Talk Trash, Everybody Wins.

Directors at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (Max Anderson) and the New Orleans Museum of Art (John Bullard), after a series of playful trash-talking, have made public bets on who will win the Super Bowl this weekend… and they bet famous works of art.

"Ideal View of Tivoli", 1644, by Claude Lorrain, Which NOMA will loan to the IMA if the Colts win the Super Bowl.

JMW Turner's The Fifth Plague of Egypt, 1800, which the IMA will lend to NOMA if the Saints win the Super Bowl.

The wager: If the Colts win the Super Bowl, the New Orleans Museum of Art will lend Claude Lorrain’s, Ideal View of Tivoli, 1644, to the Indianapolis Museum of Art for three months. If the Saints win, on the other hand, the Indianapolis Museum of Art will lend out Turner’s The Fifth Plague of Egypt, 1800.

 

But it doesn’t matter who wins the Super Bowl this Sunday. Anderson and Bullard are winners in spreading their missions either way– just because they made the wager. Here’s why this bet is a step forward for museums in terms of mission and community engagement (and the reasons are cooler than you think):

 

1) The bet will build community and mix popular cultures.

Makes sense, right? Being a sports fan builds a sense of community; it’s something that a group of fans come together to care about. The art directors’ bet piggy-backs the art museum culture with the sport-watching culture, which is one of passion and identity. And why shouldn’t communities feel the same sense of ownership and connection with their city’s art museum as they feel with their city’s sport teams? Anderson and Bullard are demonstrating pride in their cities by making the wager, and aligning themselves directly with the members of the community- all of whom are also hoping for a win on Sunday. Anderson and Bullard are saying that the museum cares about a win just as much as the rest of Indianapolis and New Orleans do- and they’ll put their money where their mouth is. In turn, the community knows that folks representing the IMA and NOMA will be gasping, cheering, and shouting their lungs out along side them as they are watching the game; it’s a powerful thing. On the first day that the Lorrian is on display at NOMA (or Turner at IMA), a local will stand in front of it and say, “We won the bet!”

 

2) Scientifically speaking, the bet lights up the brains of art-lovers.

… but not in the way that you’re probably thinking. Many museums have missions to educate- and this public wager does just that. Of course, you learn a thing or two about art while looking over the give-and-take that led to the final wager (I certainly didn’t know that the Indianapolis Museum of Art owns a farm). Interestingly, a 2008 study from The University of Chicago finds that spectators’ brains light up when talking about sports, and their language skills are improved. According to the article, “the region of the brain usually associated with planning and controlling actions is activated when players and fans listen to conversations about their sport.” Most obviously, the bet encourages museum-fans to watch their city’s team (if only for hope of gaining a Turner or a Lorrain in their town) and art-lovers are exposed to this benefit. Or at least I will be, as I was neutral about the outcome of the Super Bowl until I realized that I will be in Indiana in the Summertime…

 

3) The bet makes art aficionados biologically happier.

To non-sports fans, the bet may seem silly– but sports fans are less prone to depression than those disinterested in sports. Gambling also increases dopamine levels in the brain, making fans– of the museum and the teams–happier. It’s a welcome change of pace, especially since human beings are hardwired to avoid conflict and we usually think of museums as on the same team. This is not to say that art museums should go betting works of art left and right, but it is to say that the friendly competition is an exciting and healthy change for museum lovers. After all, scientists credit social competition for human beings’ increasing brain-size. So thanks for keeping us happy, Anderson and Bullard– and for expanding our brains.

 

4) The bet has sass- and so do museums.

This wager makes Robert Smithson look silly for saying, “Museums are tombs, and it looks like everything is turning into a museum.” Well, at least the first part looks dumb. Case in point: check out these trash-talking (friendly) tweets. Anderson and Bullard challenge the notion that museums are cold, static, outdated, and lifeless places. These museums have attitude, and they are acting in regard  to current real-life situations. As for the last half of Smithson’s quote, it seems that everything is turning into a museum– or more accurately, museums are turning into places for everything… like friendly community-building wagers.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Trends 5 Comments

Social Change is Sector Agnostic- and Gen-Yers Know It

agnostic

photo from http://glenkirk.blogspot.com

Consider this situation: an elderly family member asks for your help in choosing between two nursing homes. Both appear to be equal in quality and service, but one is for-profit and the other is nonprofit. Which nursing home do you pick?

You may draw on a few assumptions based on what you know about corporations and organizations, and weigh them with your priorities. For instance, maybe you’d choose the for-profit home because it may go the extra mile to make residents happy to keep a competitive edge in the market. On the other hand, maybe you’ll consider the nonprofit home, concluding that better care will be provided by front-line individuals choosing to work in the nonprofit sector. But can you really be sure of any of these sector-based assumptions?

Professor James Ferris posed this question during a recent Nonprofit Policy and Management class within the University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning, and Development, and our class reached the inevitable conclusion:

Sometimes our choices are sector agnostic; we just want to go with the corporation or organization that can best get the job done.

87% of Americans between the ages of 18-39 believe that one person can help change the world- and these folks (mostly Gen Y-ers) sense the artificial divide between sectors. According to the New Sector Alliance—which was founded in 2002 to create solutions to community challenges through cross-sector partnerships–  the rise of sector agnostic methods places new demands on institutions across sectors to modify their strategies. Why? Because the next generation of leaders themselves are increasingly sector agnostic.

501(c)(3) status is not required in order to instigate social change, and as social enterprises and social entrepreneurship increase, the values and practices of public, private, and nonprofit sectors meld together, strengthening alliances and just plain getting the job done.

The American Dream has been highly connected to the successes in the private sector and so has entrpreneurship, but a 1999 survey shows that where Gen X college seniors dreamed of working for Microsoft and Cisco, Gen Y college seniors prefer work within the State Department, Teach for America, and the Peace Corps. Is this a problem for a country built on the entrepreneurial spirit? Apparently not. Increasing numbers of Gen Yers are going for social change with fresh ideas, proving that a preference toward big government does not mean less entrepreneurship.

This article has some great statistics on Gen Y’s entrepreneurial spirit:

  • Half of all new college graduates now believe that self-employment is more secure than a full-time job.
  • Today, 80% of the colleges and universities in the U.S. now offer courses on entrepreneurship.
  • 60% of Gen Y business owners consider themselves to be serial entrepreneurs, according to Inc. magazine.
  • 18- to 24-year-olds are starting companies at a faster rate than 35- to 44-year-olds.
  • And 70% of today’s high schoolers intend start their own companies, according to a Gallup poll.

These statistics, combined with Gen Y’s perceived altruism and their desire to develop a sense of where they fit within a global context, outline their interest- also- in the public sector.   The combination of Gen Y’s key traits, which connect strongly and equally to both the public and private sector, possibly point toward a growing sector agnosticism.

Gen Yers interested in social change may become leaders who opt for solutions that represent a mix in for-profit and nonprofit practices, such as social entrepreneurship, instigating nonprofit commercial activity, and creating social enterprises. One thing’s for sure: the focus will be on getting the job done- regardless of sector.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

55 Low-Resource Ways for Museums to Connect with the Community

photo from artolog on flickr

photo from artolog on flickr

“It’s not about the collections anymore… It’s about community.”

This is what a recent article by the Christian Science Monitor says in regard to museums, and it nicely sums up the discussion in the museum blogging community on the transformation from the static object-based museum of the past, to the dynamic community-based institution of the future.

So how does a museum transform into such an environment? I like Megan Blankenship’s notion that this process may perhaps align more closely with a revolution rather than through slow adaptation. This begs the question of what can be done now to summon community interaction. In an effort to aid museums in this transformation without losing sight of their mission, Nina Simon offers eight ways for museums to connect with community. I think one solution lies in museums positioning themselves as cultural centers and integral aspects of the local/regional community.

Here are 55 relatively low-resource ways for museums to connect with the local community. I present a brainstorm of middle-sized items that come in between (the obvious) smiling to welcome visitors and the (time and resource required) launching of a new outreach program or grant-funded initiative. Several museums already utilize a number of these ideas. I hope to compile an easily accessible  and quick list of little ways for museums to create a connection with the community while respecting their brand and promoting the museum.

I had to stop at 55 as I noticed that this list really is endless. Please feel free to comment with your own thoughts and suggestions!

  1. Tweet

  2. Keep a list of the dates, and send museum members small a gift on their birthday.

  3. Add an “Interview with a Local Expert” section to your newsletter.

  4. Offer a free program to celebrate an audience

  5. Highlight free coffee for members on Sunday mornings.

  6. Start a blog and use it to instigate discussion.

  7. Add a public forum for thoughts and opinions to your website.

  8. Allow visitors to make video responses at the museum– like these videos shot at the Mattress Factory.

  9. Start a science cafe. (if you haven’t noticed, I love these!)

  10. Highlight local experts on site.

  11. Seek opportunities for curators and museum professionals to serve as guest lecturers at local schools and universities.

  12. Ask staff members to take 10 minutes each day to interact with visitors.

  13. Supply staff members with educational items or “did you know” facts to facilitate interaction.

  14. Participate in local parades.

  15. Host a science fair or an art exhibit with the work of local adults or children.

  16. If you can’t host a fair, go to one and give out an award to a qualified participant on behalf of the institution.

  17. Set up craft projects that make a difference or have meaning in the local, national, or global community.

  18. Hold a book drive.

  19. Provide small, branded lab notebooks or sketch pads (just a few sheets of printed paper is all that they’ll need- no fancy binding necessary) for visitors to fill out and take home.

  20. Create a low resource scavenger hunt, and offer a small gift at the information desk (pencil, sticker, etc) to those who complete the hunt.

  21. Celebrate with the community! Give out candy or subject-appropriate treats on Halloween.

  22. Wear “Ask me about Membership” buttons.

  23. Host a camp-in for kids in the community.

  24. Offer free hours of admission when possible, even if it’s just for a specified demographic such as teens, college students, the elderly, etc.

  25. Put your events on community calendars.

  26. Create a calendar of relevant events for adults in the community and post it on your website.

  27. Use this calendar to help create community partnerships with organizations that have a similar mission.

  28. Complement exhibits with interactive and educational craft projects.

  29. Ask for feedback (on blogs, written or electronic surveys, etc).

  30. Ask visitors to write their favorite museum memory and post it to a memory board. Have the board out for public viewing so that participants know that their positive experiences have contributed to the museum in a physical way.

  31. Thank your donors when an exhibit is a success– but don’t forget to publically thank your broader community as well.

  32. Have recommended reading lists available and have the books available at the bookstore, if possible.

  33. Encourage visitors to share their own stories on your blog.

  34. Know the local school curriculum, and explain to teachers how your museum complements that curriculum.

  35. Have a connection with at least one person at every school in the county (but shoot for 3 or 4 surrounding counties).

  36. Create a network of teachers and send them useful ideas of how to offer extra credit by visiting the informal learning environment of the museum. If you can, give the teacher passes to events so these kids get in for free or reduced rates.

  37. Hold large scale, educational special events or celebrations if budget allows.

  38. Coordinate a debate with local industry leaders to take place at the institution.

  39. Hold a training for local scientists/artists to provide skills for communicating with the public in regard to complicated, academic material. The link is to a grant-funded project, but this could be done on a smaller scale.

  40. Know the talents of staff members, and utilize their talents (as oragami specialists, or watercolor artists, or something else exciting, educational and relevant) to create a low-resource program.

  41. Award “shout outs” in your newsletter to highlight the accomplishments of individuals or institutions in the community that have succeeded in an area related to the museum.

  42. Offer a unique class through a community partnership by giving a handful of passes to instructors, who may later offer them as a benefit to paying clients.

  43. Utilize community resources. Need face painters for an upcoming event? Call the local art school and ask for volunteers.

  44. Wouldn’t it have been cool if you your senior prom was in the museum? Teens are a tough demographic for museums. Market this angle. There’s plenty for them to learn at the museum as well… just be sure to keep dancing away from valuables.

  45. Along these lines, tap into teen volunteers in the community.

  46. Start a Flickr photostream.

  47. Ask for papers that visitors write/ have written on objects in the museum and post them to the website if they are appropriate (and help give them some positive google- recognition).

  48. Have a Facebook page.

  49. Create an iTunes iMix for your institution with fun songs related to the museum and exhibits (ex- Walk like an Egyptian).

  50. Compile an iTunes iMix like above, but use songs that are more directly academic or relevant (ex- cultural songs pertaining to the exhibit).

  51. Make videos of interviews with your curators and put them on YouTube.

  52. Arrange a flash mob. Hey, it’s an idea!

  53. Ask your intern to write a series of posts about his/her adventures within the institution with thoughts about events and exhibits. I simply must write in a shout-out to Web Developer (Stan) and Web/Special Events Intern (Evan) of Pacific Science Center here.

  54. Manage a document that lists staff members and the languages they speak. Sort this list by language.

  55. Add a “Focus: Museum Staff Member of the Week” to your newsletter that allows readers to understand job functions and specialties at the Museum. Include interesting facts and allow this to offer a special behind-the-scenes look at the museum.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Trends 4 Comments
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