Let’s Talk About Museums, Change and Creativity

Last week I attended AASLH‘s annual meeting in Richmond, Virginia. I am still exhausted from all of the activities, and the cold I got while visiting Colonial Williamsburg (it rained all day), but I am professionally re-energized!

The theme for the conference was “Commemoration: The Promise of Remembrance and New Beginnings.” Several sessions were dedicated to the Civil War 150, one focused on the Commemoration of the War of 1812 (did you forget about that one?) and others discussed best practices. Amongst all of this great dialogue (seriously, it was fantastic), the topic that continued to come up was CHANGE.

CHANGE in staffing: What does the staff of the future look like? What are their qualifications? What is their educational background? What should museums be looking for?
CHANGE in funding: Yep, that’s a BIG one. Funding is more competitive than ever before (with less dollars). How will fundraising evolve? How will we engage a new generation of donors?
CHANGE in audience: Does your museum encourage tweeting? Does your leadership team know what a QR code is? What will audience engagement become? What are the pros and cons of onsite vs. online programming? How will the way we display our collections/share our stories evolve?

Whether these conversations were happening during a breakout session, lunch or at the hotel bar – you better believe everyone was talking about CHANGE.

The world we live in is changing. The museum field needs to evolve – change needs to become part of our day-to-day dialogue to meet the needs of the communities we serve.

How should we prepare change? What does change look like? It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get creative!

A great example of this is the “No Idea Is Too Ridiculous” project. The AASLH session description reads:

As we look for creative new ways to engage audiences with history, what does “being creative” actually look like? Can history professionals learn to find their creative spirit? The panelists will share their experiences as part of an experiment in creative practice: what they learned, what they did (projects ranging from a musical finding aid to beer with Benjamin Franklin) and why the process included a conversation about “indicators of successful failure”.

I was sold. And to top it all off, Kathleen McLean was on the panel.

The goal of “No Idea Is Too Ridiculous,” designed by Heritage Philadelphia Program, is to help professionals separate the real from imagined constraints in realizing a museum project, and to encourage them to take new strides in creative programming and practice. To read more about this amazing project click here.

Instead of rehashing the entire session, I’ve decided to share a portion of my twitter feed:

Most of these tweets, really all of these tweets, are from Kathleen’s presentation.

Pay attention to the problems facing museums today (it’s highlighted in case you missed it). We’re conservative, risk-averse, beaten down, out of touch and lonely. Now certainly this can’t be said about every institution, but I do believe it is a fair generalized statement.

What kind of challenges are you and/or you institution facing? What are you and/or your institution doing to face these challenges? What can we do to encourage creativity in the field? Would you like to participate in a project like to “No Idea Is Too Ridiculous”?

One thought on “Let’s Talk About Museums, Change and Creativity

  1. Hi Jamie,
    What is history but a record of change? We in the museum field are witnessing a time of accelerating change. For good or for ill, we are being driven by technology.
    A journalist friend recently observed that there are at least three other factors affecting our field:
    a.) museums are no longer the authorities they once were (Wikipedia is the authority!);
    b.) people are increasingly losing touch with others and therefore seeking community in their spare time activities;
    c.) there is a strong anti-intellectual element at work in our society which needs to be engaged.
    Colonial Williamsburg is an inspirational place. Sorry it rained!

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