Friday, October 26, 2012

Futurist Friday: Remixing the Future

Easy assignment this week: devote 3 minutes and 24 seconds to a lightning tour of future visions expressed in film, remixed by Eclectic Method.

Phil found this video via the LIS (Library and Information Science) Blog, and a link  in Dispatches from the Future of Museums yesterday. I'm highlighting it on the blog to encourage you to us it for your self-directed futures studies curriculum. 

Homework (which validates watching YouTube videos on work time): 

  • After letting these images wash over you, jot down your impressions. Which prevail-- dystopic or utopian visions? What are the demographics of these futures? (Hint, I was relieved to see Linda Hamilton for a fraction of a sec.) 
  • Extra credit: a)  name the films the clips come from and b) nominate scenes or films you would have included that aren't in this mix.

As always, sharing your work below (in comments) is encouraged. 

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What's the Difference Between a Visionary and a Futurist?

That’s the great question a young woman posed to me when I spoke at Hollins University last week.

My off-the-cuff answer was that a visionary is trying to shape the world. It’s the job of a futurist to help visionaries figure out how to create that preferred future.

But the question made me stop and think: maybe in addition to teaching museumers to be futurists, I should be encouraging you to be visionaries.

Futurists can be visionaries, and visa versa. Stuart Brand wants to recreate extinct species and create a clock that keeps accurate time for 10,000 years. (And, not incidentally, makes people think about what we need to do to ensure our descendents are still around to read the time.) The Russian transhumanist Dmitry Itskov envisions a near-term future (2045) in which humans become immortal by uploading their neural patterns into computers.

Stop and ask yourself: what kind of world do you want to create, and what can you do to bring it into existence? That’s a daunting question. When we look at the drivers of change that shape the world—climate change, economic disruptions, demographic transformation, technological revolution—it may seem like you strong enough to nudge the future in your preferred direction.

As individuals, and as single organizations, this is true—but we don’t have to act alone. There are (preliminary estimate, pending the IMLS museum census) over 20,000 museums in the United States, and more than 400,000 museum workers. As a field, we are big enough to have considerable heft, if we are only willing to set aside our fractal diversity and pull together on the issues that matter to all of us.

It’s worth reiterating that this is why AAM has chosen to morph from an “association” (a group of people who have an interest in common) into an “alliance” (a group advancing common interests).  A subtle difference, but important.  (If you are tempted to quibble definitions, be forewarned I will invoke Humpty Dumpty: “"When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.")

I think CFM’s role in this transformation is to help museum practitioners, as a field, describe our shared vision of the preferred future, and figure out how we can use our combined resources to make it so. I can’t fill in the details of this future, but from working with you over the past four years I am pretty sure I can trace the outlines: it’s a future in which museums are vital resources that are central to their communities, valued and respected for their work. A future in which museums, whatever they specifically do, are generally seen as organizations that make their communities and the world a better place, and as worthy of public support.

How do we work towards such a big goal? As the old labor song says, “step by step the longest march can be done…many stones may build an arch, singly none.”

So here’s a first small step: The Alliance is mounting a pledge drive, not for your money, but for your participation in a project showing that museums share common values based on our responsibilities to the public. By taking the Pledge of Excellence you attest that your museum “in fulfillment of its educational mission, will strive to operate according to national standards and best practices to the best of its abilities and in accordance with its resources.” We will add your museums name to the pledge list on the Alliance website, demonstrating the unity of our field. 

And don’t let “national standards and best practices” intimidate you: if you read them in Plain English (see page two) it’s clear they are things that all good museums can and should do. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Printing the Future

When I read that MakerBot was opening its first retail outlet, located in NYC, I sent a tweet-out looking for a volunteer to be CFM’s futurist-on-the-street. That is how I connected with Blaire Moskowitz, Business Development and Marketing Assistant at Acoustiguide. Blaire is a 2012 graduate of New York University’s graduate program in Visual Arts Administration, where she wrote her thesis on “Standardizing Interpretive Digital Media in Art Museums: Goals, Process and Evaluation.”

In the past few years, 3d printers have entered the consumer market and artists, technologists and do-it-yourself enthusiasts have embraced the ability to make their own plastic objects. The most popular brand of these printers is MakerBot Industries, which recently opened their first store.

MakerBot has already paired with various museums throughout the country to create “Makerspaces” and “Hackerdays.” For instance, the Newark Museum’s Makerspace bridges art and science while fulfilling John Cotton Dana’s educational mission and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Hackathon brought together technologists and artists to create 3d digital images for MakerBot’s open source Thingiverse online repository and physical reproductions of collection objects.

MakerBot’s store, on Mulberry Street, is so small and unassuming that unless one goes looking for it, few people would even know it’s there. When I visited, in addition to four salespeople, there were a reporter and a journalism student, each of whom was there to write an article about the store, and a man buying refills of printer supplies. Each person had previous knowledge of 3D printing and none were in the market for a new printer today.

The store is a modern white-box style showroom with more emphasis on showing off the new technology than on the small price tags attached to each piece. The printed plastic objects sit in brightly lit alcoves, accompanied by what could only be described as museum-style object labels. Because I felt as though I was in a gallery, I asked permission to touch the objects. After receiving a resounding “Yes!” from the staff, I picked up a small reproduction of the Met’s Marsyas. Being able to handle a piece of art I recognized was both strange and satisfying—since the plastic cannot be harmed by human contact, there is no reason not to touch it. But at the same time, as I held the bust in my hand, I imagined hearing audible gasps by conservationists and museum security guards admonishing me. Similarly, the printers are displayed on well-lit pedestals; these wonders of modern technology are revered. It is not often that we see both the tools of the trade and the finished product.

Alongside the wall is a charm machine that sells mini plastic objects for five dollars. One can buy a plastic cat, apple or “museum head” from the Met’s collection. Being able to insert your money, turn the handle and receive a plastic ball with the object inside reinforces that these objects are commodities for anyone.

One of the reasons that Makerbot printers are hailed as such a seminal point in DIY technology is because it is relatively easy to create whatever object one wants. Unlike carving a figure out of stone, a 3D printer works in an additive process.  It reads a 3D modeled file and divides it into miniscule horizontal layers. Then, moving back and forth, layer by layer, the printer head pours out tiny threads of melted plastic into the desired shape, rising from the base with pinpoint precision.

There are two ways to make these 3D files. The first is to start from scratch in a 3D modeling computer program and create your own shapes. The second option is to take between 10 and 60 photos on a camera (no need for a fancy DSLR, an iPhone will suffice) of a single object, upload them into 3D modeling software and composite an image. After a few adjustments to the resulting image—for example, deepening eye sockets or smoothing out details—the image can be uploaded to the printer and voila! There’s your replicated object.

At first, the idea that we can replicate one-of-a-kind works of art was unsettling and even a bit off-putting. But are these items any worse than buying a William the Hippo eraser, a miniature reproduction of a Chinese Terra Cotta Warrior or one of countless postcards of a painting? I have all of these aforementioned objects and I’ve never thought twice about the ethics of their reproduction and mass production as souvenirs. Should we succumb to fears of mechanically produced objects? Despite Walter Benjamin’s fear of the camera in Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, the arts have not ceased to exist. Instead, artists embraced photographic manipulation and museums even run their own Flickr pages and provide “take a photo” links in museum-sanctioned apps.

I anticipate museum restoration departments recreating noses and limbs to give visitors more complete understandings of ancient sculpture, educators providing touchable objects in both children’s programs and access tours, registrar departments practicing crating and transport methods and even old-fashioned slide projectors in art history classes falling to the wayside in favor of small, easily transportable reproductions of sculpture.

Oh, and the “museum head” from the charm machine sits on my desk at work, because it is actually pretty cool. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday Musings: the Importance of Storytelling (and what museums and e-commerce have in common)

I launched Monday Musings last week as a way of sharing intriguing things I spot on the Web that deserve more than a tweet, but about which I’m not ready to pull together my thoughts for a full length post. I set myself a 15 minute time limit for writing, so that I don’t lapse because “I don’t have time to write this up.” (This is turning out to be harder than I thought.)

This MM post recommends a very well done video exploring one of my favorite projects—Significant Objects. “Objects of Our Desire: Richelle Parham,” is a video made for the Future of StoryTelling 2012 summit. (I recommend the summit’s Story Arcade, which features a collection of “next generation stories” told in new ways with the help of digital media tools.) I found myself substituting "museum" for "marketers" or "e-commerce" in this script, and it was totally on point.

I’m going to stay inside my 15-minute deadline by adapting the “discussion questions” for this video posed on the Significant Objects site:

  • What emerging technologies are most significantly influencing the way museums and cultural consumers interact online, and the way museums observe and interpret those interactions?
  • Successful museum marketing is as much about listening to users’ stories—told through their viewing and browsing habits, for example—as it is about conveying a museum’s story to the user. What are the most effective strategies for finding and listening to users’ stories?
  • To what extent is character-driven narrative storytelling, literary or otherwise, becoming an integral part of developing museum’s online communities and driving visitation?

Whew. That’s two. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Are Museums #AgeReady?

Today’s guest post is from Phil Katz, assistant director for research at the American Alliance of Museums and my co-conspirator on TrendsWatch and some of the other trend analysis projects here at CFM. One theme we covered in TrendsWatch 2012  was “Creative Aging.” This caught the attention of the researchers at the MIT AgeLab, who invited CFM to send a representative to the symposium described below.

I spent October 5 in Cambridge, Mass., at a symposium co-sponsored by the MIT AgeLab and AARP on “Disruptive Demographics: Inventing the Future of Place & Space.” The invited participants included a mix of industry experts (including architects, real estate developers, healthcare providers, insurance companies and retail giants like CVS and Procter & Gamble), researchers (including technology experts from IBM, Google and Nissan), and policy analysts with an interest in America’s aging population—and me, the lonely representative of arts, culture, education and the experience economy. It was important for museums to be represented at the table.

Although the symposium began with a pretty high-level overview of demographic shifts and housing trends (provided by our friend James Chung of Reach Advisors), the focus was decidedly practical: “[what are] the opportunities and challenges confronting designers, developers, retailers, investors and communities in an aging society.” The symposium was divided into three panels that barely contained a set of overlapping themes. Each panel included a roundtable of five-minute presentations by 7-9 speakers, followed by a general discussion.

The panels were ostensibly devoted to “Housing & the Future of Home,” “Retail & the Future of Shopping” and “Living, Moving & Playing” (i.e., the future of community) — but one of the big lessons of the day was that the distinctions between “home-owner,” “resident of a community or facility designed for older people,” “shopper,” “community member” and “medical patient” are likely to get messier and messier in the years to come. As more people opt to “age in place,” there will be a greater need to connect them, both geographically and socially, to shopping, medical care, transportation, recreation and cultural resources—regardless of where they choose to age. (Boomers, it was suggested, will be less tolerant of sharp divisions between home and the rest of life’s experience than their parents and grandparents were.)  

I was part of the last panel, and started by noting the special demographic challenges facing museums (a tailing-off of older visitors, changing expectations of retirees as volunteers, generational trends in private giving that don’t augur well for cultural organizations). I also talked about the work museums are already doing to encourage communities of interest and place, attract users from different generations, and serve the unique needs of older populations while remaining true to their own missions (e.g., the wonderful programs that use museum objects to engage patients with Alzheimer’s). And I made two specific pitches:

  1. Researchers: use museums as laboratories for testing new accessibility technologies. (Accessibility was one of the symposium’s recurrent themes.)

  2. Real estate developers: include a space for pop-up galleries and partner with local museums when you build new neighborhoods, to make sure the residents have access to museum services even if the nearest existing museum is hard to get to.         
The symposium was both live-tweeted (go back and look for the hashtag #ageready) and captured by a visual notetaker (the quick-fingered Peter Durand from Alphachimp Studio). Here are his notes from my brief presentation. You can find the rest of the notes on flickr—but be warned that they make the free-ranging discussion look much tidier than it really was. There will be a report based on the symposium in a few months. 

In the meantime, here are some of the highlights of the symposium for me: 
  • Most people (and especially the Boomers) imagine their own futures to be healthier, more mobile and less “aged” than might be realistic to expect. We can see this in the development of new euphemisms to avoid the words “getting old” and the concept of slowing down, including “personalization,” “easy,” “well-being” (instead of sickness) and “universal design.” 
  •  The smart money is on the convergence between “personalized medicine” and “personalized housing.” The link between these may be smart devices embedded in everyday things. For example, Frances West from IBM described a project in Italy that uses smart sensors and data analytics to unobtrusively monitor seniors in their homes, enhancing their independence while allowing the local social services to stretch their health and welfare budgets. And researchers in Pittsburgh have developed a pill box that monitors subtle changes in behavior for the early signs of dementia. In the future, whole house could be set up to respond to individual medical needs. 
  •  “Gathering is the most important part of community” (a concise statement of something I already knew from developer Tony Green).   
  • The MIT AgeLab has a body suit called AGNES (Age Gain Now Empathy System) that simulates the restricted mobility and diminished senses of a typical 75-year-old woman. CVS has used the suit to help redesign its drugstores for aging customers. (A children’s museum in Israel is trying something similar with an interactive exhibit designed to encourage empathy among younger museum-goers by simulating the frailties of old age.)  
  • Real estate developers and planners spend almost as much time talking about “authenticity” and “community” as museum professionals. We should spend more time talking about these things together.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Reply to “On the Opportunities and Challenges of Reproductions”

Today’s guest post is by Suse Cairns (PhD candidate and author of the blog Museum Geek) and Mia Ridge Chair of the Museums Computer Group, author of the blog Open Objects and PhD candidate. Suse and Mia recently engaged in a great conversation, via Twitter, with Jasper Visser about the new exhibition of Van Gogh reproductions, and I invited them to respond to his recent post on the subject.

There is something strange about responding to a blog post on the opportunities and challenges of reproductions, having seen neither the “real objects” nor the “real(?) reproductions” being referred to; yet such is the task that we have taken on, following an interesting conversation with Jasper Visser and others about the Van Gogh, My Dream Exhibition, on at the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam. What follows is a collaboratively-edited version of the discussion we had about Jasper's earlier post and the subject of displaying reproductions of artworks.

The materiality and phenomenological experience of the objects cannot come into the discussion for us; instead we must put ourselves into the place of an imagined audience member seeing reproductions of Van Gogh’s works “(partly) restored to their original colours” and 3D animations inspired Van Gogh’s works and letters. Would we indeed get a new interpretation of the paintings, as Jasper asserts, like seeing a modern production of Shakespeare or hearing Vivaldi performed by contemporary musicians? Are these old paintings made fresh through the marvels of Photoshop; or are the Photoshopped works made valuable because they represent a connection with the original paintings? How much does the association with the past, or with the “real” object matter in such an exhibition?

It is worth noting that the digital reproductions in this exhibit aren’t just reproductions; they are reproductions of objects that carry a devotional focus for art lovers. They also promise to show something new, something important—access to a past that is both real and imagined. The works are presented as refreshed and contemporary; connected with the technology and culture of now while speaking of the world of the past. By presenting visual information now lost from the original artworks, these objects invert the usual characteristics of reproductions, re-producing the "experience of authenticity", an experience which normally,  “has to do with the surplus of information presented by the original object, a surplus that is stripped away to greater or lesser degrees by different forms of reproduction” (Dustin M. Wax in 'The Anthropologist in the Museum: What Is a Museum?).

When we first discussed this exhibition on Twitter, someone asked whether reproductions open up whole new business models for museums, to “Buy one copy each of good stuff, then clone the museum :)” This is not a new question; numerous museums are filled with fictive ivories and other forms of reproduced works, which cloned and made transportable cultural knowledge. Indeed, Fiona Cameron proposes that “reproductions are the means by which cultural capital is spread, and the rules and habits of looking are developed,” (Fiona Cameron, ‘Beyond the Cult of the Replicant’, in Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage, pp 55) which would suggest that we learn new ways to see the world through our reproductions, just as much as our “real” objects.

But as 3-D printing and digitally enhanced works of art become more available, are there new possibilities for museums to “print on demand”? This could be useful, given the limitations on budgets (particularly for insuring travelling exhibitions) and storage space. As Elizabeth noted in the discussion around Jasper’s post, Perhaps the collections plan of the future will include a section on materials that will be maintained as digital data, and fabricated as needed…” If so, do these reproductions become new “objects” as much a part of the collection as the “original” object? And if the museum-going public can print their own versions of objects, their own reproductions, will they still seek them within the context of the museum?

Or is this sense of competition between the real and the reproduced object a figment of our imaginations? The existence of traditional methods of encountering reproduced artworks in catalogues and poster prints do not make the queues for blockbuster exhibitions any shorter. Perhaps the experience of getting to view the Van Gogh works of art in full light with reconstructed colours enhances the experience of viewing the real artwork, like the moment when you're finally at the concert of a band whose albums you've had on repeat for a week beforehand.

Jasper makes this point in his post:
There’s no need for an original object to tell a story. There is, however, a need for original objects if you want to show original objects. I don’t think anybody checks the Mona Lisa off their list after having seen a copy (or do they?)

Van Gogh, My Dream Exhibition raises fascinating questions about the relative importance audiences place on experiencing the content—the image in front of them, whether on a screen, a poster or an expensive photographic print—versus the physicality of the artwork. It provokes questions about the role of the venue in the museum experience. How important is being in a particular place at a particular time with a particular group of people? Is it a key part of the museum visit, or just a side effect of displaying groups of artworks in galleries? If the reproductions were released online, would the audience still want to experience them in a physical gallery, or do they go to the gallery because that's the only way to gain access to the new visual information contained in the reproductions? Or do they go because it's a more accessible experience than a traditional art museum? 

Reproductions don't diminish the importance of the physical artefact—who hasn't stood in front of a painting by an artist you admire, caught by the knowledge that this object was intimately associated with them, physically shaped by their hands over a period of time? Still, while we have't heard the voices of those who have chosen not to attend Van Gogh, My Dream Exhibition, it seems that some audiences do value the gallery context enough to pay to see reproductions as an exhibition experience.

What do you think? 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Monday Musing: When is a Little Attention Worth the Risk?

A lot of my time goes into reading and synthesizing stuff relevant to the future of museums, and sharing it via Twitter, Pinterest, Dispatches from the Future of Museums, various reports and of course this blog. Not all the interesting stuff I see fits into one of these formats. This is my first Monday Musing—an experiment in  occasionally sharing a few quick thoughts and a link about something I spot in the news or on the web. My hope is that if a news article, blog post, photo or video got me thinking (even if it doesn't yield a fully thought essay) it might strike a chord with you as well.

Here’s a video I came across on The Ultimate History Project site.

It shows “street trials” bicyclist Danny Macaskill using the abandoned Dunaskin Ironworks in the UK as a venue for his two-wheeled acrobatics. The collections manager in me cringes to see him riding across historic artifacts, bouncing off rolling stock and generally treating the site as a giant skate park. (Or whatever you call the bicycle equivalent.) Not to mention boggling at the thought of what the insurance coverage must have cost. Mostly, I imagine the skepticism that would greet a proposal like this at most museums/historic sites (“You want him to what? Where?!?”)

But I was mesmerized, and this video has had over 6 million views on YouTube. I sure wish they’d included “you can contribute to the preservation of this site by donating to Ayrshire Railway preservation” at the end.

The abandoned landscape is as beautiful as it is desolate. I wouldn’t have seen it without this video (part of a documentary produced for the television documentary series Concrete Circus.) And I see the landscape differently because of his interaction with it. It’s a kind of performance art, enhancing the structures and machinery kind of like wall dancing on museums. The footage seems solitary and contemplative (they do a good job keeping the film crew out of the picture). I was inspired to root around the web and find this follow-up video filmed at the site a year later (which is also well-done but it doesn’t move me in the same way) and read up on the various groups in the UK involved in preserving sites such as this.

So maybe next time someone comes to you with a really crazy proposal, you should watch this video again, and think about the possible upside, as well as the negative risks.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

You Might Like....

One of my recent music discoveries is Stereo MCs—an English hip/hop electronica dance group which didn’t even form until I was three years out of college and well past the usual age at which one imprints on music.

Stereo MCs might seem an unlikely favorite for a white Boomer raised on Joan Baez and Judy Collins. How did I stumble across them? Via Pandora—a product of the Music Genome Project that suggests music similar to my favorite artist or artists and uses my feedback to refine the mathematical algorithm that identifies potential new favorites.

Now there is a similar service for visual culture—the Art Genome Project, which delivers its content through There was a long article in the NYTimes about this past Monday. Reactions from interviewees from the museum world were mixed. Seb Chan from the Cooper-Hewitt compared using to browsing through museum galleries, calling it “another way of creating serendipitous connections.” Robert Storr, dean of the Yale University School of Art, noted disapprovingly that the site is “littered with really terrible art that nobody should be directed to.”

Personally, I like this experiment. If it is even a fraction as popular as Pandora (which says it has 80 million registered users) would be a boon to visual literacy. It encourages eclectic exploration—I like the fact that, unlike a catalog or coffee table art book, it can ping-pong me back and forth between artists and genres, or let me try to navigate towards some focus.

To scoffers who dismiss the quality of the content, I quote the art history professor who commented on the Walker Art Center’s recent First International Cat Video Festival. When asked whether cat videos were a worthy topic for a prestigious museum, she said "Yes. This is a way to get people talking about material culture. That's what art historians do." That feels right to me. Just as I puzzle over how many steps, and what logic, got me from Judy Collins to Stereo MCs (I suspect Greg Brown and Richard Thompson were intermediaries), I look forward to trying to deduce why thinks a given work is “like” an Anselm Kiefer painting or a Joseph Cornell box. And if I think some of what they direct me too is dreadful, that will encourage me to reflect, for a moment, on what went into that judgment. The Art Genome project has potential to help users (such as me) who have a sloppy and untrained love of art explore in ways that feel intuitive and accessible.

But what really excites me about the Art Genome Project is something it hasn't done—yet. I envision a mashup between and the Internet of Things, a not-too-distant future in which I’m walking around a new city and my portable hand-held internet-connected device (let’s call it a “phone” for convenience’s sake) buzzes with the message: “Elizabeth, there is an Anselm Kiefer painting you haven’t seen, yet, on exhibit in the X Museum, just a ½ mile from here. [click for directions.] The Museum is open until 8 p.m. tonight and you can get in free with your Alliance membership. While you are at the museum, you might also like these other works….” I am totally ready for that to happen—please invite me to beta test the service.

Projecting out a little further, I imagine a future in which I don’t even have to hit the “like” button to log my art preferences. We are developing increasingly sophisticated wearable monitors for basic measures of health; we’re pushing the boundaries of integrating technology into the clothing we wear or even into stretchable artificial skin; and we've started to play with measuring and tracking how people respond, physiologically, to museum exhibitions. Integrate and improve these technologies, and I will be able to authorize my personal biomonitoring net, synched with images collected through my smart glasses, to log which works of art I respond to most strongly. That would let me remain immersed in the experience of the exhibition, without having to fiddle with devices unless I want to. And, going over the data later, I might be surprised at some of my unconscious responses.

We are rapidly developing the ability to generate and mine a sea of personal data, limited only by our concerns about privacy. Maybe we will use this ability to create virtual tutors that follow us through life, helping us deepen and expand our appreciation of art, music and the natural world.

This is just the beginning of my exploring and thinking about what it may signal for the future. I’m sharing my embryonic thoughts in the hope it will start some interesting conversations. If you want to continue this discussion, use the comment section below or email me. I’d love to hear what futures this new service suggests to you.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Can Early Learning in Museums Matter?

Today’s guest post is by Colin Robertson, Charles N. Mathewson Curator of Education at the Nevada Museum of Art. I fell in love with NMA when I was in Reno last year for both personal and professional reasons. Personal, because it fuses two subjects I love—art and ecology. Professional, because it is a rare example of an art museum incorporating science into its mission and aspiring to have a social impact about something other than art. In 2009, the museum created the Center for Art + Environment (CA+E), the mission of which is “to be a global leader in supporting the practice, study, and awareness of creative interactions between people and their environments.” Now NMA is tackling another topic I believe to be of primo importance—the relationship between museums & education. Colin writes to tell you of an opportunity to be involved.

Sometimes, I think, museums run the risk of becoming receptacles for significant objects that, through real concerns for their long-term well-being, become divorced from the processes and modes of their production and meaning-making in the world. As a result, museums sometimes inadvertently emphasize the “objectness” of their collections. What if, instead, museums used the objects of their collections and the environments for their display as third teachers, as in the Reggio Emilia framework, emphasizing museum galleries and installations as dynamic learning environments where children can make meaning and sense of the world’s complexity? Where objects can be brought to life through inquiry and multi-sensory experience?  

I hope you can join me to explore that idea. Next month, on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 2 and 3, early childhood classroom educators, museum educators, educational policy advisors and administrators will gather at the Nevada Museum of Art and the University of Nevada, Reno for two days of experiential learning, dialogue, and reflection exploring art and object-based teaching and learning in museums and other informal learning environments. The symposium and children’s art installation, together called More Than a Playground, will explore questions about locating the dynamic, multimodal learning that results from creative play and inquiry-based learning in the more informal environments of museums and other public educational spaces.

Comparatively little research has been done about the prospects of locating high quality, inquiry-based early learning in “traditional” museums (as compared with children’s museums). However, the philosophical values and constructivist foundations of both modern museum education and the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education provide an important and productive area for museum professionals to explore, and, presumably, use to build bridges to future generations of museum-oriented publics.

I hope More Than a Playground will engender discussion of the idea that twenty-first-century museums could be understood as critical habitat in sustainable educational ecosystems, dynamic environments where children learn that it is through their active engagement and cognitive exercise that meaning is made in the world. To that end, I’ve invited Betsy Bowers, deputy director of museum education at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center and Lella Gandini, Reggio Children liaison in the U.S. to present opening and closing keynote addresses, respectively, as part of this symposium. Between these presentations, early childhood educators from the University of Nevada, Reno Child & Family Research Center and the Washoe County School District will present case studies of early learning in informal environments, and Nevada Museum of Art gallery educators will demonstrate a series of experiential gallery activities that can be adapted to other museum and classroom environments.

I hope you can join us for this exploration of museums and learning. For more information about More Than a Playground, please visit or contact me directly. Early registration is discounted to $85 through Oct. 15, and discounted hotel accommodations are available through that date as well.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Picturing the Future

I’ve shared a number of scenarios on this blog, mostly in the form of short stories envisioning potential futures. But written scenarios have their limitations. Words are specific—the reader can only build out the story, explore the implications, in the gaps left by the author.

Source: via Future on Pinterest

Pictures leave more to the imagination. Where words make statements, pictures make suggestions.

That is why I started a Pinterest account for CFM—so Phil Katz and I can share images that spur our imaginations as we explore the limits of the Cone of Plausibility.

Source: via Future on Pinterest

I’m using today’s post to share a few of my favorite images from CFM’s Pinterest Boards. Give yourself a few minutes to study these pictures, and see what stories of the future they suggest to you. (Jot down your thoughts in the comments section, if you want to share.)

If you find an image you feel illustrates a potential future—bright, dark, funny or just plain strange—send it to me or Phil, so we can add it to our pins. Also, my futurist colleague José Ramos is looking for images for a forecast on the future of childhood education I am helping with this Saturday night. If you know of any images you think illustrate that topic, please contribute them via this poll, which closes Friday. Thank you!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Crowdsourcing the Annual Meeting Stage Two: Get Out the Vote

 The Alliance is trying a lot of new things this year, sometimes using the principles of rapid prototyping to test new ideas and learn from our experiments. Those of you who sew may appreciate the fact that I think of some of these trials as basting together the patterns we are working on.

One of our experiments (instigated by the awesome folks who bring you the miracle of orchestration that is the AAM annual meeting each year) is crowdsourcing input on session proposals. Back in July we invited you to post your ideas to our session proposal site, comment on other folks’ proposals, and help session chairs find appropriate speakers.

You were generous with your input, both on the sessions and on the design glitches of the (basted together) site itself. (One of the recent trends spotted by cultural media mavens has been dubbed “Flawsome” –customers feeling good about brands that are honest about their flaws, showing some humility and humor. With that in mind, I feel better about sharing the fact that I managed to “break” the site at least a dozen times myself.)

By the closing date for proposals, people submitted 550 sessions that will go to the National Program Committee when it meets next week. This week you have the chance for a second round of input—voting for your favorite proposals.

Full disclosure: there is no specific formula for how your votes will be used. The program committee members will use the vote count to inform their decision making, but there is no formal outcome such as NEMA’s “45 Minutes of Fame” people’s choice award to pick a keynote for their 2012 meeting. (Maybe next year!) However, as the Alliance wets its toes in the waters of popular input, the level of participation we see in voting will help us decide what to do next year. Give more power to the people by improving and expanding the process? Abandon the experiment?

Preview of the voting site. First, sign in with your AAM id. (You can sign up for a free login id without being a member of the Alliance.) Then you can:
·         Filter sessions by either format or subject area or keyword tag (but not a combination)
·         Browse sessions by reading descriptions, one at a time. Keep notes, so you can go back to find promising candidates again if you don’t vote for them right away.
·         Vote by “Liking” a session. You can like an unlimited number of sessions (but be careful, you can’t unlike a session once it is selected).
·         You can only “like” a session once. You are, of course, free to use personal connections, social media, or any other avenue of communications to lobby others to vote for sessions you are particularly enthusiastic about.

Please let us know via email if you have problems with the site, and use the comments section, below, to suggest how you would like it to work differently, and better, next year. Links to other proposal site you think are particularly well-done would be very useful.

Voting closes at the end of the day this Friday, October 5. Go forth and vote!