Category Archives: Uncategorized

National Park Service Installing Face Masks on Monuments

Monuments at US National Parks will be wearing face masks to encourage safe practices during the pandemic.

In response to climbing COVID rates, federal monuments will be wearing “face masks” to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Biden Administration has urged governors and mayors to implement mask mandates nationwide, however, adoption has been inconsistent and infection rates are climbing.

Mask wearing has become a political, rather than health issue, in the United States. In a recent Washington Post article, Dr. Einav Rabinovitch-Fox, who teaches U.S. and women’s and gender history at Case Western Reserve University, noted that “masks have become the most visible sign of our current political, cultural and social moment. …It’s now the latest chapter in the culture wars over our identity as a nation, our fundamental values and our rights as citizens.”

The Louvre, France’s national museum of art, has promoted face masks in a campaign featuring the iconic Mona Lisa.

As part of the U. S. Department of the Interior’s “Meeting the Moment” campaign, the National Park Service will install “face masks” on monuments at national parks on April 1 to promote healthy behaviors that reduce spread during the pandemic. “Our monuments feature some of America’s greatest heroes and if they’re wearing face masks, it will further encourage participation by our citizens,” said Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, chief of public affairs. “European museums have been incredibly successful in turning selfie-worthy artworks into public health campaigns. Our National Parks will have a bigger impact because our monuments are bigger. And of course the presidents at Mount Rushmore should wear face masks—look how close they are to each other!”

Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty, and the Lincoln Memorial will be among the most visible monuments to wear face masks, however, the campaign will include lesser known statues such as Baron Von Steuben at Valley Forge National Historical Park and Ansel Adams at the National Garden of American Heroes. The goal is to include at least one monument in every National Park, which will be challenging. The Pony Express National Historic Trail only has a statue of a galloping horse at its visitor center in St. Joseph, Missouri. “I know horses aren’t wearing face masks during COVID, but that’s the only option we have,” said executive director Cindy Daffron. “It may look foolish, but it creates the kind of Instagram moment that the public wants.”

Managing Projects using Gantt Charts

Henry Gantt’s chart juxtaposing tasks versus time changed project management practices a century ago.

A century ago, Henry Gantt developed a way to better manage projects by tracking tasks against time in a chart. Yes, the Gantt chart. While we’ve moved from paper to computers to manage projects, small museums and historic sites usually don’t use project management software, such as Microsoft Project, even though they have lots of projects. The software is either expensive or incredibly difficult to learn, so most rely on crafting Gantt charts in a spreadsheet.

Spreadsheets are an easy method for creating a Gantt chart but they have limited value. They’re usually satisfactory for simple planning but you can’t easily shift from a monthly to a daily view, nor show how tasks affect one another. Could I suggest TeamGantt? By using their free account, you can manage one project with three people—which is probably adequate for most small museums. If you’re clever, you can set-up several projects on one sheet, expanding or collapsing them as needed to maintain focus.

For my course on project management in museums at George Washington University, my graduate students learn how to breakdown a project using TeamGantt. They’re using IMLS-funded projects for exhibitions, school programs, and collections digitization, so it can be easily learned and applied to complex museum projects. I use it to plan my semester-long courses, tracking classes and assignments to ensure they align with each other as well as providing a handy page-at-a-glance overview.

While I usually hate registering for a free service, TeamGantt hasn’t annoyed me with advertising and spam. Instead, it sends out helpful videos and emails that focus on improving my project management skills. Unfortunately, pricing for TeamGantt jumps up sharply from free to $25 per month per person, which is probably out of bounds for most non-profit organizations. Nevertheless, I suspect that most staff in organizations large or small will find free account adequate for their own projects.

My process for planning graduate courses, with each class of the syllabus posted on the left (three of fourteen pages shown) and the TeamGantt-produced Gantt chart on the right.

Disclosure: This review is a service to the field and I receive no compensation or benefits from the developer/provider of TeamGantt.

Case Study: Creating an Online Course for the History Leadership Institute

Figure 1. The HLI Class of 2018 with George McDaniel (center), one of forty experts that facilitate sessions in the History Leadership Institute.

The History Leadership Institute (formerly known as the Seminar for Historical Administration) is undergoing a significant change to better serve mid-career professionals, thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because I’ve been devoting a good portion of my time to this effort over the last year, I wanted to share a behind-the-scenes look at how HLI launched a new program to navigate this unusual situation.

The makings of this new program actually started a couple years ago. In 2018, HLI began implementing a plan to address years of declining applications. The solution wasn’t “more marketing” but clarifying its purpose and becoming more aware of the needs and interests of the professionals that participate AND the organizations that sponsor them. Secondly, it needed organizational stability. Most of the original sponsors had dropped out over the decades except for the American Association for State and Local History, which willingly accepted HLI into its existing suite of professional development offerings.

In 2019, we reformatted the Seminar from a three-week residential program to a four-week hybrid (two weeks online and two weeks in-person) to better accommodate the needs of most working professionals. We also shifted the program from November 2019 to June 2020 to gain access to better housing at a nearby university and serve professionals who were unable to participate in the fall (FYI, given the size and breadth of the US, there seems to be no ideal time to offer a residential program but a survey showed that summer was more popular than fall).

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How Planting Tomatoes Can Suggest How Museums and Sites Can Respond to COVID-19

Each year I plant a few tomato plants to keep a ready-supply of heirloom varieties at home.

It struck me as I thought about putting tomatoes into the garden. During the COVID-19 quarantine, where would I buy them? My local nurseries are closed and I can’t order them for pickup or delivery through their websites. I may have to buy them from nurseries in Michigan and Alabama–hundreds of miles away. That seems crazy but in some ways it mimics what’s happening at house museums and historic sites across the country as they navigate through the coronavirus pandemic.

Museums and historic sites are responding to the COVID-19 quarantine in many ways that can seem random, but I’m starting to notice a pattern that suggests there’s an evolution of thought, just as I’m experiencing an evolution of thought about growing tomatoes.

The responses of house museums and historic sites to the coronavirus pandemic can be organized by an evolution of thought.

Most basic is an immediate focused response to the fear of financial catastrophe due to lost admissions, retail sales, and site rentals. They seek to answer, “What can we stop doing?” and “How can we raise money quick?” The typical responses are appeals for financial support, budget cuts across the board, a general stopping of all projects and collections acquisitions, and staff is laid furloughed or laid off. Teleworking is tolerated but not encouraged. Mission, vision, values, and planning put on hold. Decisions focus on shutting things down rapidly. Leadership is fixing the leaks in a seemingly sinking ship.

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Highlights and Lowlights for Engaging Places in 2018

Last year was incredibly busy with various planning and research projects for Engaging Places along with directing the History Leadership Institute and teaching fulltime in the museum studies program at George Washington University. The result is that the blog had only 21 posts, which is less than half than what I produced a couple years earlier.  It’s not that I’m lacking for topics, just time.

I hope to be more productive this year and as usual, I look at the statistics for my blog/website to guide me for the upcoming year.  For 2018, the most popular posts were:

  1. Welcoming New Members: Examples from the Field (posted 2012)
  2. Rethinking the Mission Statement (2013)
  3. HBR: The Truth About the Customer Experience (2013)
  4. Million Dollar Salaries at America’s Biggest Museums (2014)
  5. Try Question-Storming Rather Than Brainstorming (2018)

Not only does this reveal some of the major interests, but also their longevity.  As you may have noticed, membership and mission seem to be undergoing some fundamental rethinking and Continue reading

Greetings from New Orleans: SEMC

IMG_0984 copyI’m in back-to-back conferences—AASLH last week, SEMC this week—because I’m moderating sessions at both.  The Southeastern Museums Conference is in New Orleans, which is enjoying incredibly beautiful weather, making it easy to wander the streets to find the many museums that are in walking distance.  In the two days I’ve been here so far, I’ve visited the Southern Food and Wine Museum (which includes the Museum of the American Cocktail) and Historic New Orleans Collection, taken a guided tour of St. Louis Cemetery #1, and tonight I’ll be at the evening reception at the National World War II Museum.  New Orleans has some unusual museums tackling such unusual topics as tattoos, Mardi Gras, and death but I’m not sure I’ll have time to visit them as well.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll share what I’ve learned from the sessions that stood out for me but in the meantime, I’ll post my notes and observations on Twitter during the conference using #SEMC17.

Greetings from Austin: AASLH Annual Meeting

George McDaniel, Sandra Smith, and me at dinner at the LBJ Library.

This week I’m at the AASLH Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas where both the weather and friendships are warm.  We’re about halfway through the conference and I’ll have further postings about specific topics and sessions soon, but for now I wanted to share a few photos from my experiences at a couple workshops, a session I moderated on community engagement (also presented later as a webinar), the exhibit hall, dinner at the LBJ Presidential Library and the Briscoe Center on American History, and a reception for the Seminar for Historical Administration.

 

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.