Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Local collaborators Tweet-up and fire up their Facebook faithful in hopes of winning the funding prize.

Click on the link below to learn about how nine Northeast Ohio collaborations (local governments, economic development corporations, nonprofit organizations, and regional partnerships) are leveraging the new social media, along with traditional means of pounding the pavement, in their race to gather the most votes for their projects in the final days of the Efficient GovNow campaign. Three winners will share $300,000 in funding from the Fund for Our Economic Future.

EfficientGovNow Blog: Leaderboard Changing

You can vote right here for your choice of prize-winning efficient government project until July 31st.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Eco-friendly favors-- building a better world, even at a baby shower

I was in charge of making the favors for my cousin's baby shower last Saturday. Instead of plastic baby tchotchkes that no one really needs, everyone received a reusable shopping bag and a yummy Kashi treat.
The handmade gift tags delivered the simple message I wanted to drive home, even small changes make a difference when we all do something. Every 3rd bag had a sticker on the tag, which meant the recipient could pick a "prize" from a grocery bag of earth-friendly items. They unwrapped the prize and read the accompanying tag to the group. Fun facts about how the item helped us go green were printed on each prize tag.

Eschewing images of starving polar bears, dying reefs, or animals choked with human trash, and doom and gloom climate predictions, I kept the facts fun and the message positive: each change makes a difference. Everyone said they liked it better than the old-fashioned, silly, baby shower games and plastic trinkets filled with soft mints. Plus, they all seemed eager to try and live a little greener, even snatching up the extra bags to put in their other family car.

Drop me an email if you would like to know more about the game, fun facts, or the products I chose to feature.

Keep our mother earth in mind the next time you are planning an event for your museum, or for friends and family. Most people will pleased by your efforts and happy to learn from your example.

Friday, July 17, 2009

No Wal-Mart in the Wilderness

If you read my last post and thought it regrettable that a museum would choose to tear down a building conceived and commissioned by its founder, how do you feel about a big box, mega-retailer like Wal-Mart paving over the blood of our forefathers to put up a parking lot?

OK, so maybe that characterization is a bit unfair, but unfortunately it is not too far off. Wal-Mart is currently embroiled in negotiations with officials and residents of Orange County Virginia, and pitted against incensed Civil War historians, preservationists, and enthusiasts as it tries build a new super center store across the street from the site of the Wilderness battlefield.

For those of us whose Civil War history is a bit rusty, the battle of the Wilderness took place in May, 1864 and was the first time forces commanded by Lee and Grant faced each other on a field of combat. By the end of the fighting 29,000 soldiers were dead, wounded, or captured. If Sam Walton's forces get their way, soon you'll be able to pick up the latest smiley-faced deal right across the street.

Follow this link to a photo story on Flickr chronicling the efforts being mounted by the Civil War Preservation Trust to get Wal-Mart to consider another site for their store further from the historic and hallowed ground.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Museums making progress for the sake of progress, at what cost?

An old building was torn down on Monday behind the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It was a carriage house-- a relatively old, late Victorian building, designed and commissioned by the Museum's namesake, the significance of which had been widely debated. Suffice it to say, the Museum owned the building and wished to tear it down to clear the way for a new addition designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano.

An article in the Boston Globe gives the account of the eventual demolition and comments posted by readers allude to the disagreement over the Museum's decision to raze the old structure to begin anew.

Gardner Museum tears down carriage house at heart of dispute - The Boston Globe
Photo above: The carriage house demolished by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (David L. Ryan/ Globe Staff)
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As I am unfamiliar with the specific motivating factors on both sides of the argument in this particular case, I'll set aside my own opinion on the demolition of the Gardner carriage house, but the incident does beg the question, when are we seeking progress for progress' sake alone? How do we effectively weigh the future cost of today's decision to sacrifice something old, to bring about something new? As museums, when are we truly improving our visitor experience, and when are we simply refreshing it? And, if all we need, or desire, is refreshment, do we really need to destroy what is old, or can we effectively repurpose it?

I am sure that in their due diligence process the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum wrestled with all of these questions and more, but how did they know when they had arrived at the right answer? In destroying an edifice conceived by their founder as part of her original museum vision, how did the Gardner Museum leadership balance their founding principles and core mission with their own vision for the museum in the 21st Century and beyond? We all hope that egos, deep pockets, and other traditional sources of power and influence will not weigh heavily upon our decision-making process, but living in the real world we have seen these forces at work in conference rooms, cocktail parties, and board meetings. Who you know and what you can bring in still makes a difference. Even when the strategic plan is specific, collaborative, and comprehensive there seems to always be enough room for individual interpretations and personal visions.

Working in the museum field for these last 13 years, I have been involved in strategic planning on staff at several institutions, and as a collaborator or facilitator at several more. In each process the details are different, but the aim is the same: let's define who we are, why we are relevant, and how we can do what we do better in the future. Along the way, some ideas are set aside as impractical, some goals are determined to be unattainable, and some buildings are marked for demolition. In my opinion, the process is most authentic and "refreshing" when there are no sacred cows, when everything is on the table and all ideas are considered and debated upon their own merits. I assume that this is what happened in Boston, and eventually the Museum decided that the carriage house needed to go to make room for a new space that will better serve their mission and long-term goals.

As guardians of the public trust, museums need to be very open with their staff internally and with their external constituents, sharing, explaining, substantiating, and even reconsidering the goals and initiatives that drive their biggest and most controversial decisions. Ultimately, the final plan and directives will, and should, still come from museum leadership, but I believe the most inclusive process would have the best end result.

The Cleveland Museum of Art exemplified this open approach in 2004-05 as they prepared to embark on their massive $300 million renovation. The Museum did an excellent job of including its members and other visitors in the planning phase, encouraging public input and gaining their trust. Some decisions were initially unpopular (like enclosing the courtyard and cutting down the towering old trees), but through open dialogue many Clevelanders were persuaded that the Museum had a clear, relevant, and important vision for itself, which the renovation design would effectively carry out.

It is a reality that in every business, even in nonprofits and museums seeking to serve the greater good, people in leadership positions must make tough calls and some people on the outside will be unhappy with those decisions. Certainly, there are angry and disappointed people in Boston this week, but could the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum have avoided the current PR quagmire with some open dialogue and public briefing sessions? Perhaps. We will never know for sure, but the rest of us can learn how not to knock down an old building from their experience. May our renovations be guided as much by reflection, as ambition, and let us all be as eager to build consensus as we are to build a new wing.

Catch me on Voices of the Past