Category Archives: Museum

Exploring History and Historic Sites in Monterey in March 2014

Historic downtown Monterey with the Cooper-Molera Adobe in the background.

Historic downtown Monterey with the Cooper-Molera Adobe in the background.

The National Council on Public History will hold its annual conference in Monterey, California from March 19-22, 2014.  It will be the first time I’ve attended a NCPH conference and I’m thrilled–the schedule is packed with a variety of sessions that will appeal to those who are working on the cutting edge of historic sites and house museums, including:

  • Educational sessions on co-created exhibits, tribal partnerships, preserving LGBT sites, interpreting slavery, the history of museums, stewardship of archaeological sites, cultural landscapes, and the sustainability of museums. 
  • THATCamp NCPH” is an afternoon learning laboratory on digital projects that Continue reading

Historic House Museum Sustainability at MAAM

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It’s unclear if most historic house museums will be able to move beyond traditional approaches based upon the discussion at yesterday’s, “There is Power In a Union: Collaboration and Sustainability in Historic House Museums.” At the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums annual meeting, Frank Vagnone of the New York Historic House Trust moderated the session with a panel of five representatives of the National Trust’s Historic Artists’ Home and Studios program and about 35 people in attendance.  Although Vagnone encouraged the group to focus on collaborations that earned significant income to sustain the museum, examples from the audience kept falling short.  Anything that provided some revenue (such as school groups or small grants) or increased attendance (even if it was shortlived or unrelated) were held up as acceptable partnerships.  The audience discussed the value of serving school groups, the need to use social media, the declining relevance of museums, and the challenge of obtaining grants from local banks, but no one was Continue reading

Responses to Government Shutdown Vary at Historic Sites and Museums

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Washington, DC is one of the nation’s museum meccas with nearly 19 million annual visitors so with the partial shutdown of the federal government, tourists are frustrated and confused.  Closed are the most popular destinations such as the Smithsonian Institution, National Gallery of Art, Lincoln Memorial, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, National Archives, and Capitol Visitor Center (tours of the White House ended in March 2013 due to sequestration).  Although it is a federal city, many of its museums and historic sites are privately operated so places such as the Phillips Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, President Lincoln’s Cottage, Tudor Place, Woodrow Wilson House, and International Spy Museum, are open as usual.  “National” may be in its name, it doesn’t mean it’s affected by the shutdown, so the National Building Museum, National Geographic Museum, National Museum of Women in the Arts, National Museum of Health and Medicine, and National Museum of American Jewish Military History are open (as is the National Aquarium in Baltimore).  Adding to the confusion are parts of the federal government that remain open (hence its more precise definition as a “partial shutdown”), so historic sites such as the US Supreme Court and Arlington National Cemetery (but not Arlington House), continue to be open to tourists.

Washington DC is definitely a confusing places for tourists at the moment, but it’s also confusing at the Continue reading

History Organizations Gathering Awards

The American Alliance of Museums announced the winners of its 2013 Museum Publications Design Competition, which identifies the best in graphic design in fifteen different categories.  This is a juried competition and we send our congratulations to all, but especially to (given the bias of this blog):

  • Drake Well Museum for their journal, Oilfield
  • Kentucky Historical Society for educational resources.
  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum for their 2011-12 annual report
  • Museum of Flight (Seattle) for their 2011 annual report
  • Museum of the City of New York for the journal, City Courant
  • National Archives for their Girl Scout Welcome Activity Badge Cards
  • Peabody Essex Museum for their members magazine, Connections
  • Peabody Essex Museum for invitations to the Cultural Conversation and Ansel Adams events
  • Peabody Essex Museum for educational resources
  • Shaker Museum (Mount Lebanon) for the 2012/13 annual journal

I love good design and I applaud all the winners.  One thing about design contests, however, is that they’re only about design Continue reading

Video: Russian Museum of Architecture promo

And now for something completely different, a one-minute video promoting the Museum of Architecture in Russia.  Created by Saatchi Russia, it’s a humorous spin on the “little old ladies” that guard museums and historic sites.  If you understand Russian, could you tell us what’s going on?

Highlights from the Virginia Association of Museums conference

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Last week the Virginia Association of Museums (VAM) held its annual conference at the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia, and I was fortunate to be asked to speak at their historic house forum.  It was my first time at their conference and I was so impressed by the quality of the sessions and the camaraderie of the participants.  I wasn’t able to stop by every session, but I wanted to provide some highlights from a few I did attend.

The Nexus of Art and Science.  Rebecca Kamen, professor of art at Northern Virginia Community College, talked about the ability of art to interpret historic scientific and medical collections found in museums and libraries.  Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder (1965) prompted her to work with such diverse institutions as the American Philosophical Society, Chemistry Museum, and the National Institutes of Health.  A recent work, “Divining Nature: An Elemental Garden,” explores the orbital rotations of elements in the periodic table through sculptures.  I’ve seen lots of examples of science being explained in new ways, but I’ve only encountered a few glimpses of it being done with history–anyone have any suggestions?

Using Social Media to Conduct Historical Research.  Lynn Rainville, a professor at Sweet Briar College, discussed how she used Facebook, Tumblr, and other social media to study Continue reading

Video: Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture

This short feature by BET includes an interview with director Lonnie Bunch, highlights of artifacts, and a computer-generated fly-through of the new Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.  In honor of African American history month, I’ll be sharing other related videos on Fridays.

IMLS’ Revised Grant Guidelines Need Revision

In May, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)–the national agency devoted to museums and libraries–released a new set of proposed guidelines that would significantly revise their grant programs for museums (and that includes historic sites, historical societies, house museums, and preservation organizations).  Initially, these changes were proposed to go into effect without comment from the field, but fortunately enough museums spoke up that director Susan Hildreth changed her mind and announced she would welcome comments–but the comment period ends on Friday, July 6, 2012.

According to IMLS, the guidelines affect the Museums for America and National Leadership Grants for Museums programs, however, the impact is much larger because these programs are proposed to consume two other grant programs: Conservation Project Support and 21st Century Museum Professionals.  Claudia French, deputy director for museums, proposed the changes so that the grant programs would align better with the IMLS strategic plan and make it easier for grantees and IMLS staff.

Here are the major changes that caught my eye:

1.  One deadline to rule them all:  January 15.  Currently, the deadlines for Continue reading

Details on the new National Museum of African American History and Culture

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Yesterday I joined a meeting of the curatorial and education staff at the National Museum of African American History and Culture to discuss a potential partnership with Drayton Hall, and it was great to see again Rex Ellis, Debbie Mack, Bill Pretzer, and Michele Gates Moresi as well as meet so many of the other staff who are working to make this new museum a reality.  The museum recently broke ground on the Mall in Washington, DC and is scheduled to open in 2015.

While I was there, I spied a three-dimensional model of the new museum in the lobby and it thought I’d share some photos to give you a close up of the design (and sorry for the reflections–it’s in a vitrine near a big window).  Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup, a consortium of four independent architectural firms that designed the building, laid out this vision: Continue reading