Category Archives: Uncategorized

Small Museum Association Conference Was Really Big

For the first time, College Park, Maryland hosted the annual Small Museum Association conference, which was previously held for decades in Ocean City, Maryland (a seaside resort town where the rooms are cheap in winter).  The relocation was controversial but it attracted a record attendance of 315 persons, plus the facilities at the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center were much better suited for a national conference.  Not only were there a nice assortment of rooms and places to meet (not just for sessions but informal chats) but it features an outstanding art collection from the University of Maryland in its hallways, not the usual hotel pablum. Paintings and sculptures mostly by Maryland artists lined the hallways and in their own galleries, curated by Jon West-Bey (formerly at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum).  Were we in a hotel? a conference center? a museum?

While some people might assume that a conference for small museums means that it’s for beginners, you’ll find that like most professional conferences it has a variety of sessions for different levels of experience, except that it’s aimed at institutions that have a small staff and budget. Flexibility and speed are among the characteristic advantages of small museums, who sometimes forget they can innovate much faster than their bigger brethern. Some quick highlights from the education sessions I attended are: Continue reading

EngagingPlaces.net Celebrates a Belated Five-Year Anniversary

five-candlesOn October 24, 2011, the Engaging Places blog launched with the mission to both continue and expand a blog that I established for National Trust Historic Sites in 2007 (it was so unusual, we called it a “weblog” to explain what it was).  I’ve been so busy that the five-year anniversary slipped by unnoticed.  That’s traditionally the anniversary for wooden gifts but instead I’d appreciate “likes” and “shares.” 🙂

Here are some stats that suggest what’s happened over the years:

  • 454 posts. The most popular posts are Let’s Give SWOT a Rest; The Truth About the Customer Experience; and Welcoming New Members.  What does this mean?
  • 168,516 views.  Most visitors are from the United States, followed by Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia (and a surprising number from India, Germany, Brazil, and France).
  • Google is the search engine that overwhelmingly brings most people to the blog and “community engagement” is the most popular topic.
  • 719 comments. Thanks!—the discussions have always been helpful.
  • nearly 1,000 subscribers.

Thanks to all of the house museums and historic sites that were willing to share their experiences and activities through this blog with others around the world.  Thanks to my readers for your kind words and ideas when I meet you at conferences and workshops. More posts are coming (although it’s hard to keep up with so much happening).

Interpreting African American History Workshop offered in January 2017

nmaahcThe National Museum of African American History and Culture, in partnership with the Association of African American Museums, the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission at James Island County Park – Charleston, SC, and the National Association for Interpretation are offering a week-long workshop on the interpretation of African American history and culture from January 15-22, 2017 in Charleston, South Carolina.

Charleston is an ideal place to study historic sites and African American history because of the diversity of interpretive methods used in the region (plus it’s a wonderful place to be in January). The 32-hour workshop includes:

  • The history of the interpretation profession
  • The principles of interpretation
  • The thematic approach to developing and delivering interpretation that connects audiences to historical resources in meaningful ways
  • Current literature in the field of interpretation

In addition to the training course, the workshop will include 18 hours visiting and analyzing the interpretation of African American history and culture, including methodology, at a variety of historic sites in Charleston.  Upon completion, participants receive Interpretive Guide Certification from the National Association for Interpretation.

Registration is $300 and includes tuition, most meals, lodging, and local travel. Applications must be received by Monday, November 21, 2016 by 5 pm EST and applicants must be members of the Association of African American Museums (not a member? It’s easy to join for $55 as individuals).  Note: the application process is competitive and extensive, so this is not a last-minute process.

How a Kitchen Timer Makes Me More Productive

My work has always involved a lot of writing, whether it’s historical research, a grant application, a project proposal, a newsletter article, or a report to the board. But writing is hard work, especially if it has to be a good product, which means several revisions.  I’m rereading On Writing Well (the 30th Anniversary Edition–yikes! have that many years passed) and William Zinnser reminds us that, “the professional writer [that’s nearly anyone in our business] must establish a daily schedule and stick to it.”  Over the years, I’ve kept track of the habits of prolific writers and they seem to write in the mornings, which is the schedule I’ve adopted.  Nevertheless, I’m still challenged by “sticking to it.”

The kitchen timer that's on my office desk.

The kitchen timer that’s on my office desk.

To my rescue came the Pomodoro Technique developed by Francesco Cirillo, a time-management method that relies on an ordinary kitchen timer (which are sometimes designed to look like a tomato or pomodoro in Italian).  Set the timer for 25 minutes and while the clock is ticking, stay focused on your work. When the time is up, take a five-minute break and then return for another 25-minute session. It’s designed so that the sessions are short enough to encourage you to stay at the task at hand (“I can write for 25 minutes!”) while including routine breaks to be sure you don’t burn out (and really get discouraged).  It’s been the primary way that I stay productive and thought it might be useful for others who are also trying to stay disciplined.

Focus Time app for OS and iOS.

Focus Time app for OS and iOS.

And while the kitchen timer is still on my office desk, I now use Focus Time, an app on my iPad, because it allows me to categorize my work as well as provide a timer that’s visual, not just auditory (plus I can choose the sounds for the ticking and ending). This year I’m also expanding my writing toolbox by using Evernote and a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 along with Scrivener, all unusual tools that take time to learn but once mastered, can be immensely helpful.  I’ll share my experiences in future posts.

What was Hot in 2014 According to EngagingPlaces.net

As the Engaging Places blog enters its fourth year, it’s a chance to take a look back to see what’s attracted and intrigued our readers.  It’s now grown to about 350 posts and is viewed about 3,000 times each month.  This year, the most popular posts were (starting with the highest):

  1. HBR: The Truth About the Customer Experience (a discussion about “customer journey mapping” that was cross-posted on the AASLH blog)
  2. HBO CEO named Mt. Vernon CEO; A Step Backwards IMHO (still popular even though it was posted in 2012)
  3. Let’s Give SWOT a REST (and another popular post from 2012)
  4. IMLS’ Count of Museums in the US May Be Exaggerated (and prompted lots of comments, particularly about the data sources and methodology)
  5. Are Historic House Museums Adapting for the Future? (an announcement about the March 2014 Historic House Museum Symposium at Gunston Hall; btw, others are planned for New Hampshire and Georgia in 2015)
  6. Pushing the Period Room Beyond the Period at Hunter House (they look like period rooms, but they aren’t)
  7. Is Historic Preservation Ready to Preserve Culture as well as Architecture? (this post received a huge bump on December 3 thanks to Facebook)

Most readers came from the United States, although Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia were close behind.  It seems that readers are most interested in

Continue reading

Video: The Future of History

In this 16:01 video, Kristen Gwinn-Becker asserts that there is a necessary—indeed, urgent—need to build easily accessible digital archives of our primary sources.  She says that,

As an historian, I understand there is a vast amount of historically valuable information to be processed, but I believe it is worth the effort to make that heritage digital and discoverable to the public.  As a technologist, I know that it is possible to make this happen.

Her presentation was given at TEDxDirigo and you may have met her at the AASLH annual meeting where she was discussing her company, HistoryIT.

Video: Long Beach Historical Society Cemetery Tour

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/107648495]

City TV produced this 4:10 video documenting the Historical Society of Long Beach cemetery tour (“where every plot has a story”). Started in 1995, the Historical Society conducts its annual living history tour at the city’s two oldest cemeteries on the Saturday before Halloween.  It attracts about 600 people each fall and according to one visitor, “It’s not weird at all. . . .It’s a cool place to spend an afternoon.”  Admission is $25, $15 for members, $8 for students.

AASLH Annual Meeting Recap

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The AASLH Annual Meeting in St. Paul was a whirlwind for me, starting on Wednesday by stepping off the plane and heading directly into a five-hour Council meeting and then joining the evening reception at the Mill City Museum.  The rest of the week held the same pace with walking tours of St. Paul at 7 am (had to skip breakfast), educational sessions throughout the day, and chatting with colleagues over dinner.  It was great fun but it didn’t give me much time share on this blog what was happening during the conference.  I’ll talk about a couple sessions in more detail later, but here are a few highlights in the meantime: Continue reading

How Museums Can Optimize Revenue Through Dynamic Pricing

pricing-productsOptimizing revenue by increasing pricing for special exhibits or peak times (e.g. weekends) is widely adopted in the performing arts (e.g., matinee vs evening performances at the theater) but rarely used by museums.  A few museums, however, are beginning to experiment with dynamic or demand-based pricing to maximize their revenues.   For example, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art increased their price $2 for the last four weeks they were open before renovation began and received no complaints.  In 2008, the EMP Museum dropped its admission fee from $30 to $15 and it did not affect visitation, so in 2011 they increased prices and in 2013 they moved to 2013 to dynamic pricing. During the last 3 weeks, they earned an additional $15,000.

In “What Price is Right?”, a session at the recent AAM annual meeting, Heather Calvin (Museum of Science), Jill Robinson (TRG Arts), and Jessica Toon (EMP Museum) discussed how museums can use demand-based pricing strategies to set admission prices, service fees, discounts, and membership dues.  It was a wide-ranging presentation so I’m sharing the highlights here to Continue reading