Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2017 Reading Goals

A friend did an interesting analysis on his 2016 reading, and I thought I'd do the same for mine.

In 2016, I read 79 books, tracked thanks to Goodreads.

Of those:

25 were written by white men
50 were written by women
10 were written by authors of color
16 featured a protagonist or major character of color
10 featured a protagonist or main character who was LGBTQ (or explicitly asexual)

I also read 1 graphic novel, and 1 libretto.

Genre breakdown:

48 fantasy
16 science fiction
6 fiction
4 non-fiction (3 history, 1 essay collection)
2 memoir

My favorite book of 2016 was probably N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season, a triumph of worldbuilding and writing and mind-bending brilliance in terms of characterization, point of view, and so many other things. It is also a genuinely diverse book in that it encompasses the obvious check boxes (author and protagonists of color, protagonists who are gay & poly) but also some profoundly differing points of view, all treated with respect.

My least favorite book of 2016 was Robin McKinley's Pegasus, which was a deep and unsettling surprise to me. It had nearly everything I could possibly want in a book and still fell painfully, depressingly flat. I read worse books, but none that I felt more sad about.

In 2017, I need to do way better in a couple of categories:
- less fantasy (which is my comfort reading)
- more authors of color
- more protagonists of color
- more protagonists/authors who are LGBTQ

And for this blog, perhaps most importantly, more non-fiction. More museum professional development!

I'll try to do a monthly roundup, and highlight any museum-specific books I've read.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Museums in the time of politics

I'm dipping my toes back into the museum blogging world, because my head is full of many things that I need to put down on [digital] paper.

I've been thinking a lot about how museums function as public spaces in an age of social justice, protest, and politics. That thinking was sparked by a good (if difficult and emotional) conversation during the Education PAG lunch at NEMA 2016, about which I may write more later.

Two blog posts this past week have also made me think further.

First was Westworld, museum collecting, and the 2016 election. I admit, I bailed on Westworld (I'm not great with violence and/or body horror), but it did raise some provocative questions about the way we see the world, what it takes to be a good person, and how to operate in a world where the rules seem to change daily. It's made me think a lot about how we share our collections and teach lessons from history in our post-fact world.

Second is What does a Trump presidency mean for the IMLS? from Engaging Places. There's some good news there - funding is moving forward with bipartisan support, the new director is set until 2020 - and some less than encouraging news. Of particular note is this summation, which highlights for me one of the most disquieting pieces of our new reality:
If after January 20, [the IMLS re-authorization bill will] be on President Trump’s desk but will he sign the bill or veto it? His decision will probably be most affected by what’s happening to him that day.
I'm going to continue to think about authority, history, museums, and social justice in 2017, and I'll be posting here weekly. I'll continue some museum highlights and reviews (including a number from a trip to northern Europe in summer 2016) and trying to dig a little deeper into how we work in the new reality of our world.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Graduate School Buyer's Guide for Museum Studies

Last week's New England Museum Association conference was amazing, and my head is still spinning from all the thinking, networking, and partying. (Okay, not really that much partying, but the hors d'oeuvres at the JFK Library were out of this world.)

I co-hosted two panels: the Conference Preview on Wednesday morning, and The Graduate School Conundrum on Wednesday afternoon. It's the latter that I'd like to take just a few minutes to talk about. I'll continue to follow up on this with additional thoughts over the coming weeks, because this is a topic that needs to be considered at length and with some really deep thinking.

Many, many ideas and tough questions came up during the session, but one cohesive subject that came to the top was whether museum studies graduate programs need a "buyer's guide," and what that would entail. I was taken aback not only by how little people knew about the graduate programs they were choosing but also by how little articulation there was about what people even wanted to know about their graduate programs. The overriding question so far seems to have been "will it get me a job?" That is a fine question. Answering it will not tell you much about the graduate program, however, and we don't even know all the moving parts that make up the answer to that question, though we have some good theories.

With that in mind, one of the excellent panelists, Linda Norris, has kicked off the conversation about a graduate school buyer's guide on her blog, The Uncataloged Museum. She poses some excellent questions and pokes at the bigger picture. We've also been having a good conversation on Twitter about some of her big questions, namely the positive and negative implications of a tight professional network.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Conservation Exhibit at the Shelburne Museum

I recently had the chance to visit the Shelburne Museum and explore a few exhibit spaces I'd never seen before. One of my favorites was the small area in the Horseshoe Barn devoted to the work of conservation.


There was a sitting area with books about conservation to read - some basic ones, and some of the more complex and scientific ones. I liked that this exhibit didn't speak down to the visitor. It recognized that conservation topics are complicated but important.


They also used a variety of practical examples to show various reasons for exhibition and conservation techniques.


These windows showed different types of glazing to use for UV protection, and explained why it's important.


There were also traditional-style panels with lots more information.


There were also interactive spaces that people were very much engaged with, showing different techniques conservators use to analyze and treat objects and artwork.

The exhibit wasn't large, but it was well-situated at the main entrance of the building that features the carousel horses that conservation interns have been painstakingly working on for decades. It's an excellent example of bringing behind the scenes work to the visiting public.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"Circling the Sheldon" at the Henry Sheldon Museum

"Circling the Sheldon" was at the Henry Sheldon Museum in Middlebury, VT from March 1, 2014 - April 19, 2014, so I'm quite a bit behind in this review.

I did want to post about it, however, because I was so impressed with it when I visited in April 2014.

The Walter Cerf Gallery at the Sheldon is a marvelously flexible space, and I've seen a few other exhibits installed over the years. "Circling the Sheldon" has to be one of my favorites, for one major reason: it was one of the most creative exhibits I've seen in a long time.


Simply put, the theme was circles, and it afforded the museum the chance to really dig through their collections to explore that theme. There was an incredibly diversity and richness of objects throughout the exhibit. The broad theme allowed for the side-by-side display of objects that never would've been displayed together otherwise, and to display some objects in new contexts.


Here's how they describe the exhibit.
Visitors will find this distinguished geometric form in historic military and fashion buttons, a wooden peg leg worn by Jonathan Preston who lost his leg in action during the Revolution, Native American baskets, antique leather fire buckets, a colorful yo-yo quilt, and the historic clock face with Roman numerals salvaged from the Middlebury Congregational Church at the time of its 1989 building restoration.
In what museum universe would you ever see a peg leg alongside Native American baskets and a clock face? I love it.


Even the ubiquitous spinning wheel gets a new look when it's put alongside other circle objects.


Kudos to the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History for finding an intelligent, thoughtful, creative way to showcase their collection.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House

Louisa May Alcott and her family moved to a house in Concord, MA in 1858. Her father, Bronson, named it "Orchard House" after the apple orchards that surrounded it. It was in that house that Louisa wrote the book that would make her famous: Little Women. She blazed through the draft in one month, sitting at a little desk overlooking the front yard.

Orchard House is a truly special place. If any house can be said to have a soul, Orchard House has one. I worked at Orchard House in college, mostly as a tour guide. When I was promoted to opening and closing, I would often get to the house 15 minutes early and sit on the floor in one of the rooms, soaking up the atmosphere. I love that house like I love few other places in the world.

It's a special place with a really special history, on both the emotional and the intellectual levels.

Right now, Orchard House is running a Kickstarter campaign to fund a documentary telling the story of the house itself, which dates back to the Revolutionary War and contains fascinating American history above and beyond the Alcott family, whose story is much more far-reaching than just Louisa's literary career. The house has been a museum for over a century, and has a remarkable portion of original family furnishings and artifacts. If for no other reason than to tell the story of one of the most remarkable historic house museums in the United States, this documentary will be an extraordinary thing.

If you're a fan of Little Women, please consider donating to the Kickstarter campaign.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Blog Roundup

Some interesting posts from the blogosphere.

Blame the Crowd,  Not the Camera from Museum 2.0

Interesting take on a post by Grumpy Art Historian, in which he laments the National Gallery's new open camera policy. Simon argues the problem is not necessarily cameras, but the vast numbers of people crowding around star pieces of art. If you've ever visited the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, you know the feeling!

I find merit in both arguments. I tend to think that those taking photographs of objects are parsing their own experiences in their own way, and we shouldn't judge them for not having an "authentic" interaction with that object. At the same time, some people are clearly snapping photographs that they will never see again, that will not come out well, and are doing so out of a reflexive sense of imitation.

Ultimately, I would argue, the solution is more about mindfulness than anything else, but how do museums communicate that to their patrons? Only take a picture if you really think it through first? That feels elitist. Maybe provide more scaffolding by each painting or object to get people to think about the picture they're taking - like a hashtag for them to use, or a mention of the museum's Instagram account? Examples of fun ways for people to pose in front of the photographs?

So Many Job Openings, So Hard to Get Hired from Evil HR Lady

Okay, this one was mostly depressing, but I think points to some fundamental problems with museum employment as well. It's an employer's economy, and job profiles are in flux. There are also some actually helpful tips about matching yourself with a job that you may not be 100% ideal for.

Slactivism from Seth Godin

I may be a grinch, but I have become increasingly annoyed by the ALS ice bucket challenges. Part of that is admittedly jealousy - clever, viral, and raising a ton of money! But most of it is that it's become a gimmicky stunt that people use for attention - and then don't donate, or don't mention ALS. How many people dumping ice water over their heads really know what ALS is? Seth Godin offers a nicely different perspective here, one that made me think twice.