Friday, August 28, 2015

Call for Applications: Distance Learning Summit on Art Museums & Educational Innovation

Since CFM released Building the Future of Education: Museums and the Learning Ecosystem in 2014, I've been on the hunt for opportunities to help build the "vibrant learning grid" envisioned in that report. In this post, I'm sharing one of the best that I've found so far: a Distance Learning Summit on Art Museums & Educational Innovation being convened this November by the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Museums, collectively and individually, generate great educational tools and resources. All too often, however, these projects are ephemeral, vanishing when the grant funding dries up. Or they remain small scale, rather than achieving significant reach and scope. Anne Kraybill, Director of Education and Research in Learning at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, has been working with me on how to infuse museum programs with an entrepreneurial mindset in order to create in sustainable programs that grow and build on their own success. (This approach builds on a trend I highlighted in TrendsWatch 2014: the rise of for-profit, mission-oriented social enterprises.) We are going to tackle this in November by bringing entrepreneurs with experience in art/education related start-ups to mentor groups of museum staff. The entrepreneurs will learn more about museums, our resources and our work, and museumers will gain useful contacts and mentors, as well as a framework for sustainable business planning.

Crystal Bridges has just issued call for applications for the Summit: this is a competitive opportunity open to educators and technology and media specialists from art museums. Crystal Bridges will cover the costs of participation (including travel, lodging etc.) for participants. 

The goals of the Summit are to explore: 
  • How art museums ensure can that all students have access to high-quality, meaningful, and personalized arts education
  • How art museums can have a more direct and central role in the education of the nation’s students and beyond
  • How art museums partner with educational entrepreneurs to create models that are sustainable and scalable
While the audience for this convening is art museums, I look forward to sharing the outcomes with the field as a whole and, if this works well, finding a way to replicate the model for museums of all kinds. 

You can read more about the Summit, the keynote speakers (I am honored to be one) and the application process here. The deadline is September 16, so don't wait!

Futurist Friday: All Too Human

To add to your TV viewing list: Humans, a new eight part series on AMC. (You can watch all eight episodes online if you have an account with any one of a number of providers.) 

The show is set is set in a "present day future"--business as currently usual with one twist: a company that builds and sells "synths."  These realistic humanoid robots are equipped with sophisticated artificial intelligence and some turn out to be self-aware. 

As has been true from the dawn of TV sci-fi (notably the original Star Trek series), this futurist premise is used as a lens with which to examine very real contemporary issues, for example:

  • What is the natural conclusion of our trend towards automation of work? Robots are already taking over jobs in a variety of fields, notably manufacturing. Robots are stronger, faster, tireless (and don't go on strike).Algorithms are being used to write news articles and legal briefs and prepare tax returns. Heated debates are taking place on the role of autonomous control of airplanes (or, to flip the question, the role of human pilots) and in the near future, of cars. What happens when technology endows machines with at least the appearance of the empathy and compassion that have buffered the so-called "caring professions" from automation? (Such robots are already in development.) Or when artificial intelligence can do work that to all intents and purposes is "creative"? (e-David is already challenging that boundary.)
  • What are the rights of self-aware, non-human beings (living or non-living)? As I noted in an earlier post, this year a court in Argentina granted an Orangutan named Sandra the right to "life, liberty and freedom from harm." In 2012, New Zealand granted a river "rights of personhood"  and appointed legal (human) custodians to represent its interests. It's harder to dismiss these issues when they are presented by an entity that looks, feels and acts just like us. For example, does it constitute rape (or infidelity) to have sex with a synth? Does yes mean yes when consent is dictated by programming?
  If you aren't ready to turn on the tube (or flip open your iPad) read this excellent review of the series by Adrian Cull over on the futurist site IEET (Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies). And please do write in with your own review, below. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Purifying Design

#Green #Sustainability #CleanWater @OFFPOLINN @MoMAPS1#Cosmo
Follow the link in the photo caption to the associated story. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links) on CFM's Pinterest Boards

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Baby Steps Toward Tomorrow

In the next decade, museums will make a transformational shift from seeing “digitality” as an area of specialization, separate from and in addition to traditional means of doing their work, to digital as an inextricable element of their being, interwoven into every element of museum-ness. I’ve been recruiting several colleagues to report from the front lines of this transition. First up, Jeff Inscho shares how the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh are finding their way into the post-digital future via the Innovation Studio, a research design and development laboratory that launches this week.

For the most part, the underlying foundation of emerging technologies that frame our contemporary way of life remains hidden from view, an invisible yet integral element to our collective existence. And for all its revolutionary promise, digital technologies also have a way of detaching us from the present moment, pulling us from real-world moments into a screen-based void.

If we learned anything from Paul Ford's recent masterful essay, What is Code?, it's that many aspects of our modern lives are controlled by a largely unseen layer of binary. These hidden ones and zeros help us figure out where we're going and what to watch. Code helps us stay connected with the people we love and teaches us a world's worth of new things.

When you think about this brave new post-digital world in which we live, and specifically a museum's role within it, you may wonder how museums will respond to this shift. Will we shy away and ignore the new reality, or will museums face the digital landscape head-on and embrace its non-linear, evolving and iterative nature? Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh chooses the latter.


Museums, by and large, are institutions rooted in tradition. Our missions emphasize the care and scholarship of our collections, and the experiential learning that happens around those objects and specimens. These are noble and worthy efforts, but many museums struggle to strike a balance between their tradition and legacy, and where that legacy will carry them into the future.

Screenshot of Carnegie Museum Of Pittsburgh's  Innovation Studio
Our museums are varied and diverse and the collections in the city of Pittsburgh (where I live and work) are a great example.  The Carnegie Museum of Art is home to Monet, Van Gogh, Giacometti and The Carnegie International—the oldest contemporary art exhibition in all of North America. The largest and most comprehensive collection of works by a single artist is enshrined at The Andy Warhol Museum. Thousands of children and families become awestruck by dinosaurs at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and robots at the Carnegie Science Center.

The Innovation Studio, established just a few short weeks ago and formally announced today, is the new research, design and development laboratory at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. Our mission and mandate is to optimize our museums for the invisible layers of code that drive modern life and inspire new ways of thinking about the relationship between emerging technologies and the museum experience, effectively transforming ourselves for the future. We plan to do this by relentlessly focusing on the following key areas:
  •     Building 21st century infrastructure
  •     Crafting delightful experiences
  •     Fostering creative partnerships between cultural and technology communities
  •     Enabling digital adaptation throughout CMP

Undertaking just one of these things for one museum would be a daunting task. We're working on four goals, for four distinct institutions. This type of initiative could only be possible at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, where the Studio can leverage the reach, breadth and resources of the CMP commonwealth. For true transformation to take hold across Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, it's essential that we tackle each of these key areas together because they are interrelated and impact each other. A holistic approach is a healthy approach.


We don't claim to have all the answers. Like many other institutions, we're figuring this stuff out as we go. As cash- and staff-strapped cultural non-profits, we need to rely upon and learn from each other. Our friends at Cooper-Hewitt Labs, Tate, BKM Tech, SFMoMA Lab, the MetMedia Lab and the Center for the Future of Museums have set an incredibly important precedent with respect to process and knowledge sharing.

In that spirit, The Innovation Studio is committed to designing and developing in the open. Our code will be open sourced whenever possible. Our events will be free, open to the public, documented, and made available online. We will share the good, bad and ugly aspects of projects over on the Innovation Studio blog.

This will be a long journey, as shifts of this magnitude don't happen easily or overnight. We are effectively at the start. Now it's time to take some baby steps toward tomorrow and begin the hard work ahead of us. We look forward to sharing our experiences with you. In addition to the Blog, feel free to follow us via Twitter, Github, and /or Vimeo.

If you are in the Pittsburgh area, I’ll be joining Jeff for some futuring around digitally-related trends at the Studio’s first Innovation Salon on Thursday, September 24. Registration is free, but required—you can sign up here

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Winking at the Future

#MikeWinkelmann #GaussianHarvest #SustainableTech #FutureFiction

Follow the link in the photo caption to the associated story. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links) on CFM's Pinterest Boards

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Commercial Appropriation — 10 Museum Opportunities

I came across a report a few months ago that says digital ad spending in the US will total $58.6 billion and change this year—with nearly $13 million of this being spent by retailers. That story came to mind when I read the essay, below, by Tom Shapiro (a partner at CulturalStrategy Partners.) With that much being spent to influence what consumers think, and want, and think they want, and how they want to get it, museums would be well advised to learn to swim with the current rather than fighting the tide. In today’s guest post, Tom shares some ideas for how museums might co-opt the results of this brain-washing influence and use it to a good end.

Admit it: every once in a while it annoys you that commercial offerings often out-rank your museum on the public’s To-Do list. In my interactions with dozens of museum leaders, this lament comes up all the time. We’re all too aware of the many reasons for this, including the fact that alternatives to museums—movies, sporting events, shopping, hanging at the coffee house, and so forth—are “easy” for the consumer to understand and use. Retailers and popular entertainment cater to audiences’ desires and devote large marketing budgets to influencing consumer expectations. This habituates their audiences, and hence yours, to certain rules for enjoying consumer-focused offerings.

Museums, meanwhile, challenge audiences by presenting content and rules of engagement that can come across as esoteric or off-putting. No photographs? No touching? No samples? No selfie-sticks? No way! And while pop culture is by definition comfortingly familiar, museums challenge visitors to migrate from the known to the unknown or even unknowable.

During these dog days of summer I’ve stepped back to ponder how museums might stay committed to their missions and profit from commercial tactics. Drawing on 15 years of retail management plus 20 years working on museum strategies, I came up with a couple dozen options, of which I want to share ten with you today.

The purpose of these tactics is not to make museums more commercial. Rather, it is to harness the momentum of generally accepted behavior outside of the museum setting, behaviors cultivated by marketing investments far beyond non-profit budgets. While you might find any one of these proposals absurd, a colleague down the road might find it quite plausible. In fact, a number of these efforts are already in practice to some degree at museums around the country. (Where possible, I’ve listed examples.)

None of these ideas requires massive investment or tech wizardry. This means that, just like consumer companies, you can try something and should it fail, move on. True, every tactic has potential red flags (I’ve offered potential rebuttals to the first idea by way of example) but I encourage you to resist the temptation to reject something out-of-hand. Play with an idea instead to tease out whether it might work in your environment. Maybe one or two of the approaches below will blossom into new opportunities for your museum. At the very least, there might be entertainment value to thinking through these provocations.

10 Ways Museum Might Leverage Commercial Tactics

 1. VH1 Classics:  Do you still spell it out whenever Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” plays or stream your favorite movie when there’s nothing new on Netflix? Of course! People love doing again what they’ve loved doing in the past.

Could you do the same with a smash hit art exhibit? The other fine arts live by this, replaying La Bohème and Hamlet regularly and funding their season on Nutcracker’s annual gate. And let’s not get started on movie sequels. Reprising your museum’s most popular special or permanent collection show might again pack the galleries.

The many advantages are clear. The cost of mounting these shows is kept in check because the scholarship, curating, interpretation, and so forth are already completed. Marketing is more straightforward because people already know the product. To be sure, there are also tangible and philosophical challenges. For instance, art loans might be hard to re-secure. More importantly, the investment of your precious exhibition space and “brand equity” would go to repeating rather than advancing art history and scholarship. Still, giving a larger audience the opportunity to (re-)experience your best work has value. (An alternative version could be to reprise and revisit the content, refreshing the scholarship, interpretation, installation, and so forth while not going so far as to create a brand new exhibit.) [The closest real world example I’m aware of is when a museum recreates its inaugural exhibition at a marquee anniversary year. This, however, tends to be more about institutional history or a eulogistic gesture to a moment in time, not a victory lap for the work from the relatively recent past.]

      2. Remerchandising. Have you noticed that when you move merchandise from one area of your store to another, sales increase (if the move makes sense)? It’s because you’ve allowed shoppers (i.e., the audience) to see the same content in a new context. What they might not have responded to in one configuration could take on a new relevance in a new location.

Why not do the same with an exhibit? While the curator no doubt had a very specific point of view when initially installing a show, it’s likely they considered multiple adjacencies that made sense. Perhaps all it takes is “remerchandising” a handful of works once or twice during the run of an exhibition to generate new ways for the story to be told—and new opportunities to promote the show to your audiences. [The closest example of this I know is when an exhibit travels from one museum to another. The new physical space demands a different installation. People who see both venues often value the opportunity to have different reactions to the same material.]

3. Data Mining. Google does it. Facebook does it. Even the NSA does it. Let’s do it; let’s use big data. Or in our case, let’s use small data. Here are a few ways you can mine your data to increase attendance.
a.    Track the times of day and days of the week your visitors are in the galleries. Can you motivate selected audiences (e.g., corporate partner employees) to visit during your slack times?
b.    Identify your high frequency visitors and make them your ambassadors. Provide them with free membership, companion passes, extra store discounts, and other incentives to bring friends to the museum. [The Dallas Museum of Art’s gamified DMA Friends program uses some of these strategies.]
c.    Combine your market research data with other arts and cultural institutions in your area (or similar sorts of museums in other regions) to build a more robust picture of your target audiences.

4.  “Let’s Move!” Follow Michelle Obama’s guidance (and shopping malls’ lead) to promote exercise. Many museums are already doing this with yoga in the galleries or Tai Chi in the plaza. Encouraging free-climbing the building or banister sliding might push some liability alarms, but how might you expand your reputation as a place to work out your brain and body? [The Seattle Art Museum offers both yoga and Zumba lessons in its Olympic Sculpture Park.]

5. Let’s Meet! What makes one dreadful business meeting more bearable than another? Art! How about renting a gallery as a meeting space? The environment will spur creative thinking and can act as an impressive backdrop for a video conference call. You might also hold internal team meetings in the gallery during open hours, making manifest the sort of management transparency audiences increasingly demand and respect.  [The 2013 Goshka Macuga exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago included a conference table as part of a work. The Museum arranged for external and staff teams to hold meetings in that gallery.]

6.The Artist Bobble Head. Baseball, NASCAR and Elvis fans can’t get enough of them! Why not give away a Georgia O’Keeffe, Van Gogh or Kerry James Marshall bobble head? Whose image is more appropriate to appropriate than Jeff Koons’ or Richard Prince’s? Who wouldn’t want Ai Wei Wei or Yoko Ono nodding in approval from the curio cabinet? The first 1,000 visitors get an anatomically correct Charles Ray bobble head!  [Artist Bill Burns’ limited edition of 6 Art World Celebrity bobble heads goes for $1,250 at the New Museum store. At one point the National Air and Space Museum offered an Albert Einstein talking bobble head for far less.]

Artist Billy Burns created these bobble heads of internally renowned curators and the set is available for                      purchase at the New Museum Store
7. Adopt-A-Highway. In addition to naming galleries, drinking fountains and elevators, why not seek sponsorship for ephemeral “assets”? “Dust bunnies cleaned courtesy of Ever-Ready”; “Lighting powered by Duke Energy”, and in your sculpture garden, “Birdsongs encouraged by Joe’s Pet Store.”  [A supporter of the Aspen Art Museum has underwritten the rooftop “mountain views.”]

8. Text for the Cure. Here’s a chance to educate your public while also allowing them to contribute directly to activities they care about. If a particular piece of art needs extensive conservation work, explain that next to the piece. Then urge visitors to “Text $10” to your conservation fund. Have a work up for acquisition consideration? “Text $50” and your name is added to the credit line. [The Everson Museum of Art launched a text donation campaign in 2013. The Neon Museum is using Indiegogo to help raise $50,000 to restore the badly damaged Desert Rose sign. It’s a short step from there to posting the funding opportunity—and QR code—directly in the gallery. ]

9. Cross-merchandising. People love to shop and museum stores love to sell collection-related products. Intermingling commercial transactions with art viewing might sound blasphemous, but let’s consider that many visitors don’t view commerce as “corrupting” and have become accustomed to being able to buy what they want when they want it. Clicking the “Buy Now” button while in, and inspired by, the gallery might even enrich the viewing experience: think about calling on Shazam to identify a song on the radio and add it to your music library, all while you are still listening to and enjoying the song.

Is there a conscientious way to bridge showing and selling? Can we enhance the visitor experience by integrating exhibition-specific purchases into the exhibition itself? Here are a few possibilities: sell a thematic music playlist for viewers to download whilst in the exhibition; post a QR code adjacent to a painting that inspired artist-designed earrings so the jewelry will be waiting for you in the gift shop; scan in print-on-demand postcards to print at home; 3-D print models of sculpture waiting for you when you leave the exhibit.  [The Philadelphia Museum of Art and others have print-on-demand posters available on their web sites. Could that offering transition into the gallery?]

10.  Onsite pop-ups. Temporary retailing in non-traditional locations crop up seemingly overnight. How about colonizing unlikely locations within the museum to further your mission via pop-up art? Show art in the restaurant or parking lot or even printed on the parking lot ticket. Reframe visitors’ understanding of where art “happens” by giving them unexpected art in unexpected places. [The Whitney Museum of American Art commissioned Richard Artschwager to design the inside of their elevators.]

These are just a handful of ideas. What other techniques can be lifted from the mall, multi-plex, hotel lobby, amusement park, tattoo parlor or gym? Please let me know what you come up with.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Global Dialogues: Reimagining the Museum

Today on the Blog, Madeline Vadkerty, the Alliance’s Senior Manager for International Programs is going to try her best to lure you to Buenos Aires. She’s pretty dang persuasive…

My mission today is to convince you to join me at “Reimagining the Museum,” a conference AAM is co-hosting with the TyPa Foundation in Buenos Aires, Argentina on September 2 – 4. While technology is making it easy to engage in discussions with counterparts in other countries, nothing can replace the chance to meet people face-to-face, exchange ideas and learn from each other.

Registration for the conference has been extended to August 17 so you still have time (just) to sign up.

In Buenos Aires, museum professionals from all over the Western hemisphere will explore the transformations and innovations that are helping their institutions navigate the challenges posed by technological, social, political, environmental and economic change.  Perhaps most importantly, this  cross-cultural conversation will tackle how museums can retain and expand audiences in the face of increasing competition for leisure time. Our hope is that the conference will spark the formation of a network of museum professionals across the Americas who will continue to work together and share resources.

I’ll preview two of the conference sessions that really stand out for me (in part because they resonate with the theme of AAM’s annual meeting next spring—Power, Influence and Responsibility).  

“Atrocity and Museums: Exploring Examples of Violence and Memory” will feature presentations from Colombia’s National Museum of Memory, Memory Park in Argentina, the Villa Grimaldi Park for Peace in Chile, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City and the Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion Place in Peru.  Some of the museums in this session address the role governments play in perpetrating abuse, which is particularly apropos for my US colleagues as we mark the anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and contemplate the degree to which police and government policies have contributed to societal ills that led to this and similar events across our country. This session will help museums learn from each other and consider how to engage with traumatized communities and promote healing. A growing cadre of museums is taking responsibility for confronting injustice and violence in society, and caring for survivors. One museum that will soon join the ranks of this cadre is the Museum of Liberty and Human Rights. When I spoke recently with Enrique Arturo de Obarrio and Betty Brannan Jaén, the founders of this new museum in Panama, it became clear to me that their institution and others like it aspire to play a meaningful role in reconciliation – helping society grapple with the delicate questions surrounding the portrayal and interpretation of human evil.

The second session I want to highlight is “The Black Americas: Visibility, Representation and the Cultural Dynamics of African-Descended Communities.” Speakers from the National African American Museum of History and Culture, the Afro-Brazilian Museum of the Federal University of Bahia (Brazil), the Zaña-Chiclayo Museum (Peru) and the Haitian Heritage Museum in Miami, Florida will talk about hidden heritage throughout our hemisphere and the implications for museums. Just as Jewish museums address broader issues exemplified by or arising from the Holocaust, museums that examine the legacy of slavery from the African diaspora can engage with living communities to address contemporary issues of power and justice.

Argentina may be a long journey for you, but I promise you it will be worth your time and resources. In addition to offering substantial networking and learning opportunities, working internationally can help all museums bring more diverse partnerships into their orbits and lead to more diverse audiences visiting our institutions.  As centers of tourism and local engagement, museums are affected by increasing globalization, and all museums (including the core membership of the Alliance, here in the US) will benefit from being be part of the conversation.

The sessions I described here are but a small sample of the conference’s rich program—you can explore the rest of the content in the “schedule” section of the conference web site (click on session titles to read synopsis).  If you are interested in attending, contact or visit to register.