Wall between two exhibitions at the Delaware Historical Society.
The Delaware Historical Society reopened their museum last fall with two new complementary exhibitions designed by the Gecko Group, one a comprehensive history of the state and the other on the history of African Americans in Delaware. I recently visited the museum with Scott Loehr, the CEO, who pointed out a clever interpretive technique. The two exhibitions share a common wall, which has a doorway that allows visitors to walk from one to the other and exhibit cases on either side. It’s not immediately obvious, but the objects on display are interpreted differently depending on which side of the wall you’re standing.
For example, a Crown Stone from the Pennsylvania-Maryland Border has a two-sided label. The side facing Continue reading
I’m a 1980s graduate of the University of Delaware, which is a great place to learn about museums because of its affiliation with Winterthur, Hagley Museum and Library, and Longwood Gardens. Now we’re all discovering it’s also a great place to learn how to mismanage a museum.
If you haven’t been following the story for the past year, the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington is selling some of its collections in an effort to pay off a $20 million debt for the construction of a museum expansion in 2005 and refill its endowment. They first sold a painting by William Holman Hunt a few months ago and they’re getting ready to sell a couple more items soon, including a painting by Winslow Homer and a sculpture by Alexander Calder. Their actions were censured by the Association of Art Museum Directors (a group that’s typically reluctant to criticize its members), but the Delaware Art Museum doesn’t care. In “Museum Under Fire for Selling Its Art,” Deborah Solomon of the New York Times provides the latest painful details.
This case study isn’t finished (and it’ll be a doozy), but we’re learning plenty of lessons already:
1. People visit museums and historic sites to have a great experience with the collections, not Continue reading
AAM’s “Continuum of Excellence.”
A couple years ago, the American Alliance of Museums introduced the Continuum of Excellence, a “multi-program structure [that] offers opportunities for various levels of assessment, feedback, and recognition that build on one another.” It’s a significant expansion of the Museum Assessment Program and Accreditation process because it now includes additional intermediate steps, including verification of five core documents, including a strategic plan.
Last year I worked with the Historical and Cultural Affairs Division of the State of Delaware to prepare a strategic plan that would meet or exceed AAM’s standards for professional museums. The planning process was more complex than usual because it involved a state government agency that is responsible for over forty historic properties, five museums, a conference center, welcome center, historic preservation, and archaeology and has numerous local partners and affiliates. They also wanted a strong emphasis on team work and a heavy reliance on staff expertise, so the process included large and small group meetings, staff surveys, and community research to create a vision, core values, major audiences, goals, implementation, evaluation, and a budget within eight months. Whew!
I facilitated the meetings and provided general direction, but the staff wrote, revised, and developed the strategic plan from beginning to end while still working their regular jobs. I’m incredibly proud Continue reading
St. Jones Reserve in Dover, Delaware is a 3,750-acre nature preserve on the edge of Delaware Bay dominated by salt marsh. Deep inside is an environmental education, training, and research facility at the end of the long unpaved road–how do you ensure visitors that they’re on the right track and not getting lost in the countryside?
Education Coordinator Jennifer Holmes came up with a clever idea to install a series of signs along the entry road to Continue reading
I’ve been working on a strategic plan for the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs for the State of Delaware for the past few months and after a recent meeting, I stopped by the office of Travis Kirspel, one of the planning team members and the Curator of Digital Assets. A set of geometric solids in his bookcase caught my eye–I associate them with early science and cabinets of curiosity–and it turns out he created them. He’s interested in community engagement, so he used his skills as a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design to develop a clever model that pulls together various theories into one object. He graciously provided more details, as well as the blueprints so you can create a pyramid for your desk or office.
The Pyramid of Engagement: A Psychological Model for Building Community Relationships by Travis Kirspel
It is said (albeit on Wikipedia) that the Egyptian pyramids were, well, pyramid-shaped as a nod to the “primordial mound” from which the earth was created. They have also been described as more like “resurrection machines” than “tombs” by design. Essentially, the deceased pharaohs’ souls became superhuman cannonballs launched through Continue reading