One of the big ideas confirmed in Reimagining Historic House Museums is the significant role of a strong mission statement. They’ve been in active use in museums since the 1980s and yet, there are still plenty that are uninspiring, convoluted, or superficial slogans.
Because mission statements are so essential to the management of museums, I spend two classes of my museum management course at George Washington University discussing them using the AAM Standards along with articles by Willard Boyd, Stephen Weil, Peter Drucker, Philip Kennicott, and Sebastian Desmidt, and a chapter from Museums in Motion. Through several small group activities, the students develop a list of characteristics for strong mission statements and then test them against the mission statements for the eighteen museums they are using as case studies. Although these are graduate students with very little experience in museums, they do a terrific job identifying mission statements that can inform decisions and guide actions. For the museums they are studying this semester, these are ones with the strongest mission statements (in alphabetical order):
Students in “Museums and Community Engagement” develop engagement plans through a wide variety of tools and techniques, including crowdsourcing research on target audiences.
This semester my course on museums and community engagement at George Washington University prepared an annotated bibliography of research published in the last decade on audiences that are a common focus for museums in the United States: students in grades 3-5, families with children under 12 years, and adults over 50 years. Because most museums don’t have access to academic research libraries, the class has agreed to share their bibliography with the field (link to pdf below). While the thirty-six articles provide a useful picture of the research for these audiences, please recognize it is not complete nor comprehensive—with twelve students in the course in a fast-moving semester, this is just to get them started on a community engagement plan for the Alexander Ramsey House, Joel Lane House Museum, and Van Cortland House.
Projects are the buildings blocks for getting things done. When they’re small, they can be easily completed without much attention but when they get big, involving many people and large budgets, the complexity and risk of failure increases, especially when time and money is limited.
This past semester, graduate students in my “Managing People and Projects” course at George Washington University developed skills and used tools to manage these more challenging situations in a wide variety of museum-related projects, such as exhibitions, events, symposia, publications, school programs, and building construction. As a part of the course, students reviewed some of the latest application software (apps) for project management, including Shortcuts, Evernote, TeamGantt, OmniFocus, Trello, Asana, and Slack.
Unlike reviews prepared by CNET or published in a computer magazine, these reviews are written by emerging museum professionals for emerging museum professionals. I might disagree with some of their conclusions, but often the difference was about cost or applicability at the start of one’s career. If you’ve been thinking about increasing your productivity using apps, check out “A Beginner’s Guide to Productivity Apps for Emerging Museum Professionals.”
GW’s Museum Management class in the midst of a whirlwind tour of the Smithsonian on a hot and humid day in Washington, DC.
As I enter my second semester as a full-time faculty member in the Museum Studies Program at George Washington University, I’ve adopted a “flipped classroom” format and am fully integrating theory with real-life experiences. It’s been an incredible amount of work to revise my syllabi this summer, but so far, the students seem to be learning and enjoying their classes more (we’ll see how the evaluations look at the end of the semester!).
In my museum management class, students will complete an abridged version of a MAP Organizational Assessment for a museum, relying on information available from the website, newspaper articles, IRS Form 990, and the AAM Standards. I assigned the museums based on a random selection to represent the diversity of museums in the United States. We work through the Standards and as we discuss each topic in class, such as governance or collections, we’ll talk about how their particular museum has approached it. This week we’ll be discussing mission so they’ll be evaluating the mission statements for the 25 museums we’re examining in class to determine a set of criteria and identify model mission statements.
New this semester is my course on project management in museums. Our core readings are: Continue reading →
This fall I’ll be teaching a project management class in the Museum Studies Program at George Washington University (GW) and the final project will be writing a grant application to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The final project gives graduate students a real-life experience and provides museums with a foundation for an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant application.
If you’ve been thinking about applying for IMLS grant to improve the care of your collections, better engage your community, or improve learning through your museum but have been too busy or unsure where to begin, GW graduate students may be able to help. It’s part of our effort to serve the museum field, especially smaller institutions that are often juggling too many responsibilities without sufficient resources.
IMLS’ Museums for America (MFA) is one of the best federal grant programs available because it supports “projects that strengthen the ability of an individual museum to serve its public.” That’s pretty flexible but projects do need to focus on one of three areas: Continue reading →
Museum studies students learning QGIS in GW’s Museums and Community Engagement course.
Closing out my first semester as a professor in the Museum Studies Program at George Washington University was inspirational. Graduation was perhaps the culmination of the students’ achievements, but it was also seen in their final products in the three courses I taught. I always aim to give them a major project that provides a real-world experience, such as completing an Organizational Assessment report from AAM’s Museum Assessment Program (MAP). In the “Museums and Community Engagement” class, the final assignment is a community engagement plan but it was done in partnership with several local museums, creating a mutually-beneficial relationship.
This year has been incredibly busy for me, so much so that I’ve been unable to share many of the ideas that I’ve discovered in my travels to historic sites across America through this blog. Along with my active consulting practice, I’ve recently agreed to become the director of Developing History Leaders @SHAand an assistant professor in the Museum Studies Program at George Washington University (GWU). Both positions were announced at the same time at the beginning of the year and because they were both attractive opportunities, I applied for both, thinking it was like submitting an application to IMLS and NEH and assuming only one or none would be funded. I hit the jackpot when both came my way and I’m thrilled about the opportunities. I’m already at work with SHA in November and teaching at GWU starting in January 2018.
The Corcoran was created in the Gilded Age, the era of the first major public museums. Unlike its contemporaries such as the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Corcoran seems to have gone asleep in the mid-twentieth century and like Rip Van Winkle, it couldn’t wake up. It made attempts to move out of its slumber, including Continue reading →
This fall I’m teaching a graduate-level class on interpreting historic sites and house museums at George Washington University, which has one of the best museum studies programs in the nation (I can’t say THE best, because I attended the University of Delaware’s museum studies program). Historic site interpretation is so popular at GWU that there are two classes: one taught by me in the museum studies program and the other by Carol Stapp in the museum education program. My class is focusing its work on Carlyle House, a mid-18th century house in historic Alexandria, Virginia. Director Susan Hellman has graciously allowed my class examine its interpretation for the next few months and I’ll be sharing a few of those experience on this blog.
I’ve significantly revised the syllabus for this fall, and because the readings form a core library on historic site interpretation, it might be useful as a bibliography of sorts to readers who are interested in this topic. Three books are required for the course, including Interpreting Historic House Museums, edited by Jessica Foy Donnelly (Altamira, 2002). It’s more than a dozen years old but Continue reading →
This fall I’ll be teaching the historic site and house museum interpretation class in the Museum Studies Program at George Washington University. Department Chair Kym Rice graciously offered me this opportunity earlier this summer and I couldn’t resist. I’ve been impressed by the caliber of GW students and I count many of their graduates among my friends and colleagues. Today is the first class and participating are fifteen graduate students, mostly in museum studies with a handful from history and anthropology. We will have some fun discussions!
During the next few months, I’ll share my experiences with you and I thought I’d start by laying out the initial readings for the course, which focus on the opportunities and challenges in interpreting historic sites. It was hard to pick and choose among Continue reading →