Sunday, September 25, 2011

Texas Supports the Smithsonian

Imagine my surprise when I arrived at my favorite Dallas spot, Hotel Belmont where everything and everyone is hipper than me, to find half naked young men preening in the bar, flexing their tattoos, preparing for the Jason Brooks tattoo catwalk at Dallas Contemporary. The walk occurred at 9:00 pm and was on a 6:00 am flight from Washington.

When I arrived in FTD airport, I learned the local museums were open free, in support of efforts to keep the Smithsonian in my home town free to the American people. Well, of course, I did my part and visited the Amon Carter where I particularly enjoyed their Allure of Paper: Watercolors and Drawings from the Collection, a magnificent exhibition to from their permanent collections. Also spent time in the Russell and Remington Study Center, extremely well done. Then down the very hot street to the Cattle Raisers Museum housed inside the spectacular Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. It was packed with families enjoying every sort of exhibition. It was a joy to see this place hum. The collaboration between the science museum and the cattle raisers is one to be emulated throughout the museum world. The director of the CRM is also the director of the National Cowgirls Museum next door. How's that for gender equality?

I finished the afternoon at the recently opened BRIT: Botanical Research Institute of Texas, with perhaps the most enthusiastic staff I’ve encountered in decades. They are so happy to finally have a beautiful space in which to show off their important work, to invite the public to.

I can’t sign off without out mentioning Smoke, the restaurant attached to the Belmont. Breakfast this morning was ricotta cheese pancakes, lighter than a feather, with apricots and cream and an actual rasher of bacon. Lasted me until a dinner of chicken with baked beans on a bed of watermelon and greens.

Sadly, I didn't make it to the catwalk. Just can't hit the long ball anymore.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Busman's Holiday

Driving most of the 170.2 miles of the Garden State Parkway last week put me in mind of What Exit? an exhibit about the NJ Turnpike created by SallyYerkovich during her tenure at the New Jersey Historical Society still online.

At the top of the Garden State Parkway, we stopped at the Morris Museum, lead for many years by Steve Miller. For almost a century this general museum has been devoted to art, science, history, and theater and its collections support these disciplines. Remarkably, it houses one of the world’s most comprehensive collection of mechanical musical instruments and automata, the Murtogh D. Guinnes Collection.

The museum provides a steady offering of changing exhibitions, including while we were there, Jersey Rocks: A History of Rock and Role in the Garden State, curated and organized by Claudia Orcello. NJ supported a unique mix of performers and places, technology and talent that dominated the airwaves and rocked the nation.

Paul D’Ambrosio recently took the helm at Fenimore Art Museum,Cooperstown. This summer he filled the house with Frida Kahlo, modernism from the Munson Williams Proctor Institute, Syracuse, known to those who love it at the Munstitute. And that is no where near enough: also, early drawings and watercolors by Edward Hopper, NYHSA's own glorious collection of folk art and the stunning Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Happy, Building Museums in San Francisco

What do the following museum leaders have in common?Daniel Gottlieb, Patricia Leach, Julie Van Blarcom, Joe Brennan, Grace C. Stanislaus and Lial A. Jones?

Each contributed to last month’s dynamic Building Museums conference in San Francisco, presented by MAAM in partnership with WMA, IAMFA, ACM and AIA/SF. Themed around planning, building, and sustaining new, renovated, and expanded museum projects, this is the single conference, world-wide, attracting architects, museum and building professionals to discuss the challenges of this distinctive building type.

Extraordinary museums hosted at the Oakland Museum of California, Walt Disney Family Museum, The Old San Francisco Mint, Contemporary Jewish Museum, de Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences. Each house displayed brilliant architecture, sustainability (in both the green senses) and community engagement achievements.

Oakland in particular, slightly off the beaten path, deserves a shout out. Opened in 1969, built entirely of concrete by the Eero Saarinen associate Kevin Roche on four city blocks with interior gardens over many galleries, it can be said that Oakland had a green roof decades before the term was coined. The build brought together three small museums of history, art, and science which have co-existed almost without change since that time. The current renovation respects the original architecture and mission (grounded in the radical upheaval of the time and place) and updates infrastructure, about 300,000 square feet of exhibit space, and all program offerings. All those leaky concrete roofs and garden beds are getting an upgrade, too. Now two blocks from the BART transit system, Oakland Museum is easy to get to and it is an extraordinary experience. If you can’t visit soon, I recommend Mark Dion’s The Marvelous Museum, an ambitious walk through the nooks and crooks of Oakland’s deep storage and realized in what is certainly the most marvelous publication on any museum done in decades.

We heard about the Herculean team work and flood recovery efforts of the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library and the Kentucky Derby Museum. You can witness the move of the NCSM&L’s flooded building, 140-tons, happening now. Staging necessitated by climate extremes are just part of the story of the new, all-glass Anchorage Museum. Lessons learned from building a collection and a building for it, resulting in the Phoenix Musical Instrument Museum -- a project made in a decade from idea to delivery, gives new meaning to project management. The planned move of SF’s beloved Exploratorium had us thinking about returning to San Francisco when this museum opens in 2016.

The projects were given context with in-depth discussions of financial considerations -- from how to maximize earned income to raising money in the worst economic downturn ever. The balance between stewardship, sustainability and audience needs was thoughtfully discussed, as were the latest insights on day-lighting new building projects, where and how conservation of objects fit into this work.

The Smithsonian’s Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture received the third annual Buildy Award, bestowed for outstanding construction which increases awareness within the field, and by the public at large, of the value of museums and the need for their ongoing rehabilitation and expansion to serve future generations. Claire Larkin brief inspiring acceptance speech can be read here.

Happiness, according to research from positive psychology, requires 1) meaningful work 2) mastery over the work 3) the opportunity to work with people you admire and respect and 4) a challenge that is larger than yourself. Every museum building project provides these criteria in abundance as we all learned in San Francisco.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

QR Codes in Museums

Our founder and friend, Will Phillips, provided the following in an email to his health club roundtable members this week. It holds for our museum colleagues, too, so I've redrafted slightly and reposted.

A QR code is a specific matrix barcode readable by dedicated QR readers and camera phones. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded can be text, URL, or other data.

Common in Japan, created by Toyota subsidiary Denso-Wave in 1994, the QR code is one of the most popular types of two-dimensional barcodes. QR, abbreviated from Quick Response, as the creator intended the code to allow its contents to be decoded at high speed. QR codes can hold over 7,000 characters, providing a rich data delivery.

Natali Del Conte of CNET explains QR codes in a short video. Google encourages the use of QR codes in their Favorite Places campaign by asking business to show QR codes in their windows and advertisements, leading to rich data resource. Google's Android also moved QR adoption in the US. Since the Android market is small screen only, it is common for users to scan the QR code from a web page or another phone's screen or a print ad as Del Conte explains. QR codes can link to your electronic calendar, website, videos, coupons, promotions, and invitations.

Would QR codes on an object label in a museum usefully extend the information available to the visitor? Could discounts be offered on the museum website encourage visitation during slow times? Since interest is just building, would some visitors be attracted to this now "secret" way of gaining access? Since we all carry our phones 27/7, mobile marketing is apparently the next wave.

p.s from Mary Case: I’ve downloaded the recommended iPhone app, Neoreader, but so far haven’t had success in decoding anything. Onward!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Museum Director's Questions

In a recent blog post, Nina Simon answered the ten most frequently asked questions about audience participation It caused me to think about the questions often asked by museum directors struggling with their life and work. Here are a few which came to mind easily.

  1. From the new director: Why didn’t the board (or the search consultant) tell me about (fill in the blank)? Usually because they didn’t know. Boards are frequently extremely far from the action and don’t understand what will be important to the new director. The hiring process doesn’t lend itself to the depth of understanding that one would hope. There are almost always surprises, sometimes good, sometimes not.
  1. How can I get the board to take their responsibility to raise money? Phased this way, the answer is, you can’t. The right question is: What is the process by which we can raise money? In other words, what is the process by which we (paid staff and volunteers) can raise money together? Participatory, heh?
  1. How do we align all the moving parts of this complex organization? This is the best question, the real work of the director, and starts with the gathering of constituent views, highlighting those views for everyone to know, see, understand, discuss. Again, participation. Longterm, iterative. Over time, it shows in vision, mission, organization values, leadership, choice of programs and audience, finances, hiring and staff and volunteer deployment, what not to do.
  1. When do I remove a staff member who isn’t able to do the job that needs doing? Most directors consider political fallout, institutional intelligence, personal situations, structural solutions, and legal ramifications before they let someone go. They would probably say they take too long to pull the trigger. If prudent, they understand the legal situation, discuss the release with key board and staff members once they come to the decision. If they are good at their job, they make a careful plan, and they execute exactly.
  1. What is the best way to be evaluated by the board? Ideally, the process is negotiated when the contract is inked. The director is evaluated against a newly created strategic plan or a mutually agreed upon set of goals. It’s also fantastic if the board will agree to evaluate their own work when they evaluate the director. Usually, we don’t live in an ideal world and I’ve witnessed the most ham-handed, unhelpful evaluations imaginable, apparently designed to annoy, obfuscate, and confuse without meaning to. Awful.
  1. Should I have an employment contract? The only downside to a contract is that the board must take positive action when the time comes. When developing a contract, I review the AAMD’s Model Museum Director’s Employment Contract I recommend taking control of this process -- everything is negotiable, use it as the first example of how you and your board will work through a process and solve a problem.
  1. How do I maintain a life beyond the museum? Many directors don’t. They create a life in which their museum activities infiltrate virtually every waking hour, gladly. Family and friends, intellectual pursuits, travel, and hobbies form the tapestry of life, connected to the museum, one way of another. On the other hand, I’ve helped to create several sabbaticals, strongly recommend a “do not do” list and John Durel's article on the subject, I do know the rare director who works to live, not the other way around.

The field of positive psychology provides a set of criteria leading to happiness: meaningful work, mastery over the work, working with others you admire and respect, and working on something larger than yourself. Since mission-related museum work aligns with these criteria, it is perfect understandable that many find happiness fully engaged as museum directors

  1. How big should the board be? The flip answer: as big as necessary to get the job done. Put another way, twelve to seventeen if you are not raising money. No bigger than 17 until each person is well orientated, clear about individual goals and action plans and well supported, proud of the collective success and of their individual giving.
  1. What is the work of the board now? Advocacy for the museum’s mission, fund raising based on a clear plan established in conjunction with the staff, governance including policy-making and board succession, and providing civic reach.
  1. What is my responsibility for the board’s success? In a nonprofit, the CEO has less authority than a for profit CEO, but he or she has the same responsibility, in the end. Everything is your fault. A great board is not an accident, it is a victory. It takes work, attention, luck, skill and a participatory mindset.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Best Nonprofits to Work For in US

Members of the NHA staff dressed for the parade of the Daffodil Festival,
an annual springtime event on Nantucket.
The Nantucket Historical Association is the first museum to appear on the list of the top 50 nonprofit organizations to work for in the US.
For several years we have encouraged the museum leaders we work with to have their museum become the first on this prestigious list. Being known as a great place to work helps to attract talent. It's also a boost to the museum's reputation, a key driver of financial sustainability.
We point to Wegmans Supermarkets as the prime example in the for-profit world. Wegmans is one of the most successful supermarket chains in the country, in an industry not known for treating employees well. It is regularly ranked among the top 10 businesses to work for in the US. Its success is built on loyal customers, strong relationships with suppliers, and philanthropic community involvement. However, at the core of its success is a friendly and knowledgeable workforce. Wegmans has a saying: "we take care of our people, so that they can take care of our customers."
"The Fifty Best Nonprofits to Work For" is a program of the NonProfit Times. This year the Nantucket Historical Association is ranked #8 among small nonprofits, and #13 overall. Congratulations to Bill Tramposch and the Board of Trustees for creating one of the best places to work in America for a talented staff.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Legal Issues of Museum Administration

The good folks at ALI-ABA awarded a scholarship to attend Legal Issues in Museum Administration, three days on the ethics, policy, and legal issues facing museum registrars, CEOs, boards, and legal counsels. Of course, lawyers expect the rich intellectual rigor of this presentation style and supporting material, but I am in awe.

It is old school, yeah, but when you get Lawrence Berger, PMA, and Frederick Strober, Saul Ewing, LLP engaging in legal theater over Joint Ownership Agreements of Collections, mesmerizing. Not kidding. Another long tradition are the case studies created by one brilliant lawyer and then dissected by a couple of others -- sometimes funny, sometimes surprising, always real.

There are legislation and litigation updates, presentations on the questions presented to the courts and to the practitioners over the year. One federal registrar was told this year by her overly cautious and misinformed supervisor that she would no longer be allowed to electronically record artists birth date or phone number because of new privacy laws! Now there another one for annals!

The time includes serious consideration about endowment management, healthy tensions between board and management, negotiating artists rights, conflict of interest and other governance policies, special collections, managing problem gifts, and gift acceptance policies.

While at the conference, my twitter feed delivered Historically Hardcore, the latest Smithsonian copyright infringement. The SI lawyers had already sent the cease demands but the funny ad campaign by a student had already gone viral. Check it out.

The image above is of the Kogod Courtyard at the Smithsonian Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery where a conference reception was held. Second night were were at the Phillips Collection. Both spectacular receptions.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Dragonfly Effect: Driving Social Change

The Dragonfly Effect, said by many the best book on social media for the nonprofit sector in 2010, is that. And you should read it.

But I’m writing here about the dragonfly as a conceptual model for museum organizations that have many independent and connected facets, like the dragonfly’s wings. The wings beat at high rates of speed, in different directions, attached to the body which can fly safely in any direction, carrying the wings along effortlessly. Or is it the other way around?

Library, archive, museum collections, historic house, farm, animal husbandry, archaeology, school and life-long learning programs, all have and require staff expertise, board supporters, and loyal audiences. If any of the components get out of balance, beat too fast, the body may find itself in a tail spin, lopsided, unable to maintain flight. That beautiful, fast dragonfly is also fragile and difficult to control.

To see an astounding TED talk on the resiliance of the dragonfly by Charles Anderson, click here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Civic Reach and the Nonprofit Board

Each issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) brings insight and at least one useful idea. Paul Vendeventer, President of Community Partners, discusses civic reach as a fundamental nonprofit board criteria, along with fundraising and governance skill. Civic reach brings the ability to provide a seat for the weakest among us in the most powerful places, as Vendeventer says: civic reach provides the commercial sector’s profit-driven muscle and the public-driven power to mandate by law and levy taxes. Civic reach consists of three components -- prestige both personal and professional, knowledge of the landscape in which work needs to be accomplished, and strategic relationships that can be delivered on behalf of mission-based work. Prestige. Knowledge. Connect-ability.

Vendeventer opines that people with civic reach exhibit other qualities, as well: shrewd environmental sensing; the ability to advance and defend a nonprofit mission; the ability to reach a broader public by conferring indisputable authenticity and legitimacy; and providing inside access to power. Inside access to power presupposes that the board member can install people at the necessary tables where the deals are done.

So, the three legs to the 21st Century stool of nonprofit sustainability and really great boards: good governance, a culture of philanthropy, and highly attenuated civic reach.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

No Photography Please! Changing Museum Policy

At the 2010 AASLH conference in Oklahoma City I made a point of visiting the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. The Memorial embodies the "power of place." The exhibition stresses the terrifying life changes that took place in the instant that the horrific bombing occurred on April 19, 1995. Segments of the ruins are on display as well as reproductions. These are not fragile objects but sturdy reminders of the explosion and the community's response. Yet photographs were not permitted in any part of the exhibition space.

It's a given that taking pictures of the people affected and impacted by the bombing would be insensitive, but memorials exist to help us all to remember. If there is no danger of damaging objects, couldn't we expect that those who take photographs would later share their photos, their emotions, and their experience with others? And isn't the act of sharing the experience another way to tell the story and extend the impact of the visit?

The second stage of my trip included a visit to Springfield, Illinois, to explore the place where Abraham Lincoln lived, worked, and with Mary raised his children. I was excited to see the lauded new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The crowds were large and well controlled, visitor flow was well conceived, and there was an air of a festival with bus groups, families, and senior citizens throughout--mechanically it worked. Exhibits were polished. There were plenty of reproductions and contrived scenes like a log cabin and an unexpected entire room for the funeral bier.

I watched families try to engage their children, amid horseplay and childhood teasing and realized the kids were bored. The high tech stuff captured their attention in spurts, but not in depth. Unfortunately, I was ready to be impressed but was not.

And no photos were allowed here either.

Across the street from the Museum is the State House where Lincoln served in the state legislature. Nearby is his law office. These were the spaces that Lincoln strode and where he shaped the ideas and ideals that he would carry with him to the Presidency. And then there was our last stop--a visit to Lincoln's home.

A Park Service Ranger welcomed each arriving visitor on our tour. He was especially attentive to a little girl intent on completing her junior ranger worksheet. He guided us through the streets and, as we stepped into the house, he set the tone by conveying his own sense of awe and gratitude to work in such a place. Being in Lincoln's house, holding the handrail Lincoln held every day was something special for him every day. When the little girl asked if she could take a picture, the ranger responded. "Yes, absolutely yes."

He took my breath away when he continued, "We want you to take lots of pictures and look at them often. We hope you will remember everything about being in Mr. Lincoln's house and your visit to his home in Springfield."
The juxtaposition of these experiences got me thinking. Our museums and historic sites hold 501(c)3 IRS designations as nonprofits. In exchange they are expected to provide something of value--something that the public needs and wants. We honor that public trust when we serve up relevance and make the visitor experience memorable.

So, why no photographs? Why not allow people to build on their memories?

There are some good reasons. Object conservation first, then there are issues of intellectual property, donor and lender restrictions and agreements, copyrights, revenue, and reproduction rights. And we've all been in galleries or historic properties where a flashing camera can catapult us back to the present of the 21st century. It's a disturbing interruption to an experience that is meant to transport us to another time and place.

This topic of photography has become part of the debate on the visitor experience, relevance, and accessibility in museums. Some museums are leading the way and now permit photographs including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Arts & Design, and the Rubin Museum of Art, and a growing number of other organizations. So, there is movement on this front. (For more on the debate about allowing photography in museums, read David Rau's HRC post "To Click or Not to Click: How do YOU Answer this Question?") or go to the Seattle Art Museum's post on the subject.

It is time for history museum boards and staff to rethink their policies and consider the best ways to engage visitors as well as to protect their collections. That would be a start.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Museum Advocacy Day 2011

Starting tonight hundreds of museum supporters -- staff, volunteers, donors, and board members -- will descend on Capitol Hill and participate in one of the most empowering rights of American citizenship -- the right to address our elected officials. Some will be surprised and disappointed to learn that they will be speaking to a staffer, not the representative. Truly, the staffers do understand the issues and do stand in well for the pols. Others will be awed by the sheer majesty of the government buildings on the Hill, particularly of course the nations Capitol and the grand pile of the Library of Congress. This year, I suspect the Dems will be so happy to see us as they are battered, and the Republicans will think they don't need to see us at all, or if they do, they won't be very polite. Keep your advocacy fresh

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cleveland Jewish Heritage, Maltz Museum

The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage is a wonderful example of a purpose built museum in Beachwood near Cleveland, OH, opened in 2005. One section tells the history of Jewish life and settlement in the region. Most of the objects and scholarship come from nearby Western Reserve Historical Society in this section. Another section exhibits the magnificent collections from The Temple Tifereth Israel, an internationally acclaimed collection of Judaica. A third large gallery accommodates traveling exhibitions. The museum is devoted to tolerance and understanding by sharing Jewish heritage through the lens of the American experience. This it does.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Traveling to Cleveland frequently has allowed me to watch the slow-walking, magnificently staged re-opening of the Cleveland Museum of Art. The $350 million dollar renovation, the relayed marathon of three previous museum directors now handed to recently appointed David Franklin can not be underestimated. A complete campus re-imagination has been led by architect Rafael Vinoly.

And CMA is free, as its original facade shouts. FR EE

This juxtaposition symbolizes the museums’ adaptability -- the most important word in a recession, 16’ high bracketing its imposing 1916 neoclassical facade.

Galleries first reopened in 2008 were a distance from the entry. Visitors were required to traverse half the museum’s basement level, which could have been a real downer. Instead, museum meisters lined the doors and walkways with information and

life-size images of what was behind. The unheralded workers of the museum see their work celebrated --conservation, education, registrar -- and visitors learn about the work. Brilliant and an exampleof the museum’s transparency.

What I really love about CMA is the object labels. They are long! The curators respect their audience and provide complex information about artists, sitters, technique, medium, place, provenance, and much more. People in Cleveland read.

Vinoly’s Design will unite the old and new buildings under a high flying roof that will undoubtedly become Cleveland’s 21st Century meeting magnet. Every time I look, I see more!

Rafael Vinoly

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Situational Leadership

I'm posting today for my colleague, John Durel.

If you, as the chief executive of a nonprofit organization, are not spending at least 75% of your time on external affairs, you are impeding your organization’s success. If your focus is primarily on internal capacity and operations – managing people, managing money, working on systems and procedures – then you are failing to perform a role that only the executive director can play.

Nonprofit executives must be out in the community meeting with civic and business leaders, learning about civic issues and concerns, looking for opportunities, advocating for the organization, cultivating relationships, and raising money. It is only by being out there that the leader can see her organization as others perceive it. Being aware of their concerns and ambitions will sensitize you to opportunities and challenges on the horizon. Being known, liked and respected by others will open doors.

In addition to being out and about, you must bring outside leaders in. Invite them to lunch and to see your operation. The purpose is to inform and educate them about the work of your organization, to get their thoughts and advice, to nurture relationships, and ultimately to invite them to participate financially in the important work you are doing.

Each organization will define its community based on its constituents. Whom do you serve? Who else serves this population? Who can support you? Who has knowledge or power to help you? Who sets the civic agenda? You must have a system for identifying the people most important for you to get to know and a strategy for engaging them.

Letting Go of Internal Matters

Some executives fail to spend enough time on external activities because they are more comfortable working on the inside. They choose to attend to internal matters and put off external meetings. If you are more comfortable sitting around a table with your staff than having lunch with a local business leader, then you must find a way to gain the skills and confidence to do the latter. The more you put it off, the more you hurt your organization. (See the management briefing “Your Public Presence” for more on this.)

Some executives are concerned that if they are not around, things will not be done properly. They don’t trust their staff to do the right things in the right way, especially if something unexpected occurs. If you feel this way, this is a failure of leadership on your part. It is your responsibility to develop staff leaders who are able to make good decisions in the best interest of the organization.

Developing Staff Leaders

You can use the following “Situational Leadership Model” to develop the leaders on your staff. Your goal is to improve their competence so that you can delegate important decisions to them. The model is adapted from Ken Blanchard, Leading at a Higher Level (2006)

In order to develop leaders you must adapt your own leadership style to their needs.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Be Happy!

Every executive roundtable meeting develops its own theme. As snow threatened the Capitol on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, the new Qm² museum directors roundtable emerged with a surprising theme: be happy! Despite serious issues discussed, everyone walked away wearing the cloak of leadership a little more lightly. As always, the directors set the agenda. Topics included:
    • Rewarding staff without money
    • Web 2.0
    • Moving toward a 501c3
    • H2 revise board appointment process
    • Transition from old to new leadership
    • Launching a new board
    • Organizational Life Cycle
    • Tension between bureaucracy and entrepreneurship
    • How to show/demonstrate organizational benefit to your community
    • HR Evaluation process
    • H2 deal with rogue board member
    • Getting ready for a new boss
    • Transition from old to new leadership
    • How to keep your head in two games, fully engaging in your current job while keeping an eye open toward what is next.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Geographic Bliss

Eric Weiner, The Geography of Bliss engages with the most positive of insights (how could a book on bliss be otherwise?). We're not talking the left-coast, follow-your-sort-of bliss. Rather, Weiner is a soft-core NPR corespondent counting the happiness index from the Neatherland to Bhutan, to Qatar, to Moldova, to Iceland and many other points latitude and longitude. He recounts the history of positive psychology and proceeds to quantify differences the globe over.

Yet another measure of diversity: in Switzerland, happiness is boredom; Bhutan, it is policy; failure is a big part of happiness in Iceland. Where we live? The USA? Weiner doesn't give us good guidance when it comes to our home country and this is wise. We wouldn't believe him anyway.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Layered Links to Museum Exhibits

Reading Patti Smith's Just Kids I am reminded of the tiny slice I know about my icons or probably anything. Yes, she is the Mother of Punk Rock, but who knew she was Robert Mapplethorpe's lover, muse, lifelong friend and creative consort? Just Kids won the National Book Awards for nonfiction. In it, she recounts the story of two fragile souls who cling to one another as they wonder who they will become, encouraging it to happen, pledging each other support. Who knew Patti Smith as poet with a narrative mastery of grace and power, sweetness and calm?


Patti Smith by Robert Mapplethorpe, 1975

By chance this week, I discovered that Felix Angel, an admired arts administrator and colleague from the Inter-American Development Bank is also one of Columbia's renowned creative exports.


Joanne McNeil's blog post of 12/31/2010 Tomorrow Museum provides a lively history of blogging and predicts that in 2011 posts will be longer than three-ish paragraphs recommended by current Internet gurus, if one has something fresh to say.

This leads me to reflect on the long form of museum exhibitions and recommend one in DC now: Human Origins at the Smithsonian Institutions' National Museum of Natural History. The exhibit attempts to ask the questions: What does it mean to be human? On the rich website, you will see what a big institution like NMNH can do for a wide public. The site provides curriculum for school teacher and home-schoolers and teacher network projects. There is an interactive floor plan, information about related research projects, maps, images of fossil collections and information about them. The curators have held back nothing.

At the museum, look past the bio-mass of living humans milling through the giant hall, and focus on the many aspects of the exhibit. The difficulty of creating worthy exhibition products of this scale cannon be over-estimated, but NMNH has achieved success in every important way: design, content, visitor attention and people flow, novelty, beauty. This is art and science, mystery and light, 21century technology coupled to stories of millennials past.

Time is needed to absorb what the curators, designers, educators, and scientists have provided. Several visits. Time at the site (on-line or in-house), the same kind of time we need to find about about the layers of our icons and our colleagues. Luscious.


John Gurche's reconstructions of early humans on display in the Hall of Human Origins, National Museum of Natural History