Happy New Year! The dawning of 2016 marks 15 months of Museums with impact. Evaluating and reflecting on my first full year of blogging, I return to my original goals for the blog, articulated in the following mission and vision:
To facilitate an inclusive, collaborative platform for museum workers, human services workers, educators, students, writers (and hopefully many others) to discuss, celebrate, and build possibilities for creating empowering museum experiences.
A supportive forum where you can share your successes, challenges, and ideas relating to social service endeavors in the museum, and maybe even develop some collaborative projects.
While the blog hasn’t spawned any large-scale collaborative projects (yet), it has inspired opportunities for community-building and professional dialogue that have exceeded my wildest dreams, and made me feel truly excited about the abundant energy around leveraging culture to help people and communities.
In addition to the incredible adventures that I have had visiting museums, participating in programs, and meeting great people, I have received several emails from people reaching out to discuss ideas and collaborate in small ways. I’m so delighted and grateful that the blog has helped me to connect with new people and ideas. Thank you so much to those who reached out; I hope we can stay in touch in the New Year.
In looking back (and forward), I recall favorite posts from this and other blogs, reflect on recent museum visits, and try to coalesce the big ideas that are percolating for me in 2016.
These were my favorite Museums with impact posts—the posts that still excite me and raise unanswered questions that I hope to continue exploring:
- Museums, a way in to doubt (museums, doubt, and empathy)
- The empowering exhibition (museums and self-efficacy)
- Be yourself … and visitors will like you (It’s ok to be controversial—if the end result is good.)
- Resilience in the museum (museums as emblems and outlets for resilience and survival)
- Challenging and beautiful: how art can be a safe place to be scared (museums as safe spaces for contradiction and darkness)
The following were my favorite blog posts of 2014/2015 from other blogs:
- Falling in Love with Your Visitors by Marianna Adams (a post that affirmed, validated, and celebrated the museum visitor, and encouraged museum educators to hold visitors in high esteem)
- London Calling by Leah Hanson (a post that highlighted how museums have something to offer everyone)
- What museums can learn from improv: three principles to make museums more human-centered and empathetic (a post that continues to remind me of the importance of being open and supportive of our visitors and museum colleagues’ ideas and contributions)
- Tower Hamlets: A Neglected Cemetery Reborn as a Nature Reserve (a visually stunning post about the coming together of history, preservation, and creative placemaking)
Looking at these posts, I seem to be moving into 2016 curious about what museums are asking of their visitors and how these experiences might be empowering, inclusive, empathetic, therapeutic, and community-building.
What might some of these ‘asks’ look like?
- To play freely like a child?
- To submit to healthy experiences of discomfort, ambiguity, and doubt?
- To self-examine and share the findings as part of a larger story?
- To be ‘complicit’ in a unique experience?
- To be self-efficacious?
Recently, my husband and I visited the Matilda Joslyn Gage Center in Fayetteville, NY. Gage was a women’s rights and social justice activist who fought for causes including woman suffrage and equality, separation of church and state, and violence against women. This museum strongly epitomizes the idea of a demanding yet supportive (and highly validating) cultural and community space (see photos below).
This recent Twitter conversation is going to be one of my guiding ideas this year as I pursue the importance of the individual person’s story (to the museum).
Imagine a place where you could go to feel totally and completely welcome and valued—as a partner, to feel challenged but efficacious, to feel sparked and excited, and to feel awe and a numinous connection. Could that place be a museum?
The key questions, at least for me right now, are how and what do we ask of visitors and how do we leave the answer open to develop in a way that serves individual and community needs, and is visitor-driven. And what do we also ask of ourselves as institutions in terms of actively serving communities in crisis, modelling congruent values in museum labor practice, and ensuring museums are accessible and welcoming multi-purpose spaces?