Tuesday, May 19, 2009

If a museum program falls in the woods...

I snapped this picture yesterday as I was picking up dinner at my favorite Chinese restaurant. The store next door had these two signs in the front window, and it struck me as a little bit funny. Here is a great free service being offered to the public-- free hearing tests, but perhaps in a place not many people would expect to find that service-- at an optical center.

How often do we, in the museum world do the very same thing? How many times have you developed a great program designed to meet a specific and important need in your community, only to find that it was underutilized, and more often than not, ultimately set aside in favor of some more popular program?

Perhaps we are a bit like Shoregate Optical here. Our hearts are in the right place, but we are not seen by our target audience as the logical place to look for the programs or services they need. So, this begs the obvious question that so many museums I know are struggling with, "How do we get our community to see us as a resource, not simply a destination?" How do we let the public beyond our own members, in on the wealth of educational programs and services we provide day in and day out? After all, even the very best, grant-funded, well-staffed, strategic-planned program is only as good as the impact it has in the hearts, minds and lives of its participants. How do we reach the masses to let them know what we offer and moreover, how do we remain relevant in this age of virtual experience?

I am not sure that anyone has a silver bullet answer to all of these difficult questions, but I can offer my own simple, if somewhat obvious, suggestion. You must find your audience and then go to them. I am not a big believer in the "if-you-build-it-they-will-come" theory. Maybe it works for baseball ghosts, but if you would like to reach actual people, I believe you must reach out to them where they are. Senior centers, libraries, churches, and the YMCA all frequently host guest speakers for their special programs, offering potential opportunities to connect with new segments of the community you are attempting to serve. Don't just leave a stack of flyers on a desk somewhere either. Make a personal connection to your audience by meeting them on their turf and telling them yourself why they should come to your museum.

Perhaps you are already reaching out to folks at the places I just mentioned, and instead you say you want more people between the ages of 18 and 28 to take an interest in your museum and ultimately visit? OK, does your museum have a Facebook page? Are you on Twitter? Do you post a blog chronicling your latest programs, collections, exhibits, and other news? If not, did you know that you can do all of these things for free and reach millions of tech-savvy folks young and old who troll the internet looking for little nuggets of news just like yours?

One of the toughest things for any of us to do is to look at ourselves through someone else's eyes. However, if we are going to spend valuable time, energy, and funds producing a new program or exhibit, perhaps the most important thing we can do is take a good a look at what we are planning and determine whether or not we might be offering free hearing exams at a vision center. If so, but it seems justifiable to meet a community need with the program, exhibit, or service you are planning to provide, then decide how you will get the word out to those who could benefit most. After all, if a museum program is planned and no one hears about it, does actually make an impact?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Always on the lookout for museum inspiration

I have been on vacation this past week in the Turks and Caicos with my family and some of our friends, but from the time we arrived at the airport and I snapped this photo of the local museum's exhibit until this posting, I have been catching up on reading my museum journals and blogs. Even on vacation it feels good to take a little time to sharpen up my skills and read up on the latest trends in our field. The weather and location is totally amazing down here, and I'm in no hurry to leave, but I still look forward to applying some of what I have learned to projects in the works back home. Until I get back to the States and have a little time to write a meatier museum-related post, check out the list of blogs I read to see what I've been diving into down here.

Posted by ShoZu

Friday, May 8, 2009

Cleveland Museum Examiner: Spend Mother's Day at the Great Lakes Science Center

Cleveland Museum Examiner: Spend Mother's Day at the Great Lakes Science Center

Posted using ShareThis

Building a better exhibition contract

Today I'm in the process of rewriting and improving a blank, relatively standard, exhibition contract to make it a more comprehensive document. If anyone out there has a good contract or agreement you use at your institution, which you wouldn't mind sharing as a sample, I would love to see it. I especially need to tighten up the language in the marketing/pr section and the artifact handling/loan responsibility section of my current version.

Please drop an email to jennifer@illuminecreativesolutions.com if you have a blank version of your exhibition contract or artifact loan agreement you are willing to pass along.

-- Post From My iPhone

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Informal science education worked for her!

In case you had any doubts about the impact and importance of informal science education (I never did), I offer this recent photo of my 2 1/2 year-old daughter, Nora. She was playing dress-up one afternoon and came over to ask for some help packing her backpack. I obliged, took little notice of her unique get-up, and went back to what I was doing. She promptly ran off and disappeared for another five minutes.

When she returned, she was completely outfitted as you see her here.
"Goodbye, Mommy!" she announced triumphantly.
"Goodbye? Where are you going? Are you leaving?" I asked.
"I'm going to the rainforest," she said importantly. "I'm going to search for frogs, to dig them up and save them. I'm doing research."

Yes, that's right, my 31month-old child said all of that to me one afternoon while sporting a tiara (upside-down on the back of her head, it's hard to see in the picture), a candy necklace, mardi gras beads, a Toys-R-Us backpack filled with "supplies", a sand pail, and an over-sized beach shovel. As it turns out, Nora had been greatly impacted by some excellent informal science education at her tender age of two, and was very concerned about the global plight of frogs. I'm totally serious.

Between visiting the Amphibians exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Year of the Frog displays at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, and watching the Sid the Science Kid series and Nature, both on PBS, Nora was very well-informed about declining frog populations (although she didn't put it that way) and the way science asks and answers questions. She wanted to go to the rainforest as a scientist to help save the frogs.

Talk about an "Aha!" moment. Here is proof positive that if you put good, quality, educational programming out there, our children, with a little help from us, will become consumers of that information and will get it! It works and it makes a difference.

So, to all of you fellow exhibit developers, education directors, outreach coordinators, instructors, tour guides, and volunteers out there, kudos! Keep up the good work. To all the parents, take your kids to the museum and the zoo, look for peepers around the pond in the park, turn off Oprah, and turn on PBS. Apparently, our kids are paying more attention than we think.

-- Post From My iPhone

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Evolution debate redux... Are you kidding me?

In today's age of virulent strains of swine flu and antibiotic resistant bacteria, climate change, diminishing natural resources and a U.S. economy built on outdated technology, are we seriously still debating whether or not to teach sound science in our nation's biology classes? Really??

I apologize right now for the soapbox I am about to mount, but I have to say something and I am mad! I am a faithful person. I go to church and take my kids. I believe in God and that my life has a purpose, but people that is my FAITH. I can tell you that I believe it, but I cannot prove it. That is what makes it powerful in my life. I also believe in science and the important place it has in our classrooms, economy and society at large. Science is built on observation and testing, and is entirely separate from faith.

Numerous great scientists have written about how faith and science offer different answers to different questions and in no way destroy each other. (Finding Darwin's God is an excellent example and a really good read.) A minister friend once told me, "science tells us how and when, the Bible answers who and why." In fact, I know many scientists who are incredibly faithful people, representing different religions and traditions. The problem with "Creationism" as espoused by the Texas State School Board and many others like them, is that they don't simply want a religious perspective presented in science classes, they want their religion presented.

None of these folks want a Native American creation story sold to science students, nor do they want the Hindu story, nor the Chokwe, nor any one except their own Evangelical Christian story. The truth is, they fear most what they do not truly understand themselves, and they obviously do not understand evolution.

I hear other people say, "so what's the big deal with presenting the other side, and then just moving on?" In a word, no. Would we present another perspective on gravity, or thermodynamics? Would we teach students that gravity is simply a "theory?" Perhaps it's all just a huge coincidence and tomorrow their pencils could roll off the edge of the desk only to fall up instead of down? Of course not. We would never do that.

So, why invent a controversy where there is not one? All scientists worth their salt agree-- Evolution is the absolute foundational theory upon which all biology is built. This includes the health sciences and all modern medicine. Please accept that the United States will never truly lead the world in science and technology if we are teaching mythology in our high school biology classes.

Take your children to church with you and place them in Sunday School where they can learn about the mysteries of faith. Better yet, become a Sunday School teacher yourself and change the lives of children by sharing your own faith. But, please do us all a favor. Let your children and mine go to school and learn about the scientific method and how scientific inquiry and discovery explains the observable phenomena in our world. Let teachers do their jobs and share the scientific fundamentals that will allow our kids to take the lead in reshaping our economy for the 21st century.

Catch me on Voices of the Past