Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What is your local museum doing this Halloween?

My husband and I will be out tonight gathering the final supplies needed to finish this year's Halloween costumes. After the neighborhood kiddie party, passing out candy, and trick-or-treating with our girls, we will be heading to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History's "Bones, Bugs & Dead Animals" grown-up party this Saturday night.

Don't have any plans for All Hallows' Eve yourself yet? Check out the website of your favorite museum to see what they may have planned. Many museums host boo-tiful bashes featuring their creepier collections, and the costumes are always among the most interesting in town.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Sea Monster" skull to go on display at museum in Dorset

Look out Nessie, there's a new sea monster on the block in the UK.

Fossilized skull of sea monster found on UK coast

(AP) – 4 hours ago

LONDON — British authorities say the fossilized skull of a giant sea monster has been found off England's southern coast.

The fossil came from a pliosaur, a ferocious predator that lived in the oceans 150 million years ago.

The skull was discovered in Dorset by a collector and measures 2.4 meters (8 feet) in length. The discovery was announced Tuesday.

Scientists believe the creature would have been about 16 meters (52 feet) long.

David Martill, a paleontologist from the University of Portsmouth, says pliosaurs had short necks and huge, crocodile-like heads with powerful jaws and a set of razor-sharp teeth.

He said they used paddle-like limbs to propel their bodies through the water and were generally carnivores.

The skull will be put on display in a Dorset museum.

Photo: Paleontologist Richard Forrest with the jawbone of a fossilized pliosaur found in Dorchester on the southern coast of England.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

More behavioral innovation from the folks at

As promised, has posted a new video in their series of interactive studies in fun. The Bottle Bank Arcade is the latest of Volkswagen's creative attempts to get people to do the right thing by making it much more fun than the alternative. They make it look so easy!

I know from my own experience in exhibition development that a fun and meaningful museum interactive is not always easy to create, but here's a little inspiration toward finding new ways to add a little more fun into our galleries and public spaces.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Smithsonian researchers discover a giant new species of golden orb weaver spider

Just in time for Halloween, researchers from the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History have described the largest known species of golden orb spider. Click the link below to visit the Smithsonian's website for the complete story.

The image is from the Smithsonian article and depicts the huge body of a female N. komaci spider. Bodies of the females can reach up to 1.5 inches in length.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Earhart hair at IWASM turns out to be thread

The discovery that IWASM's hair sample is actually just a bit of thread may be sad news for Earhart fans, but on the bright side, the Museum has extended the run of its exhibit "The Life and Legacy of Ameila Earhart" through November 15th so you can head down to Burke Lakefront Airport and check out the sample for yourself.

Cleveland museum's Earhart 'hair' just thread

A group looking for DNA evidence of the pioneer aviator on a Pacific island recently asked the International Women's Air and Space Museum for a sample of the "hair" for comparison. Museum executive director Toni Mullee says an analysis determined the specimen was thread that looked like hair.

Mullee says the museum acquired the artifact 20 years ago from the Smithsonian Institution, which had gotten it from a Pennsylvania man. The museum has had it on exhibit next to a book with an anecdote about a White House maid who saved some Earhart hair from a wastebasket.

Mullee says the thread will stay on display, with a full explanation.

Information from: WJW-TV,

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Fun Theory: museums take note, fun makes a difference

The Volkswagen company has a come up with an incredible new website featuring videos of behavioral experiments in fun. In the short videos we observe people making simple decisions in everyday circumstances, such as whether to take the stairs or the escalator, and whether or not to throw their trash in the appropriate bin. At the beginning of the videos we witness the less desirable behavior, but a remarkable transformation occurs when the element of fun is added into the equation.

Museums, here are two great examples of the value in employing the fun-factor when trying to engage our visitors. Watch the videos below and be sure to check in periodically at as the experiments continue.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Desperate for attention, museum calls upon star power to plead its case

Eva Longoria Parker, who plays Gabrielle Solis on ABC's Desperate Housewives, was in Washington today lobbying Congress on behalf of the effort to bring a National Museum of the American Latino to our nation's capitol. This comes just a day after Tom Hanks appeared here in Cleveland in a special sold-out performance to raise money for the Great Lakes Theater Festival, where he got his dramatic start as an intern in the late 1970s. If only all worthy museums and arts organizations could find such glamorous, popular, and altogether compelling spokespeople we might not have so many institutions with lagging annual fund campaigns and dwindling endowments.

It must be really nice to find someone rich and famous to champion your cause, but if your organization is like most of those I know and you have to beg for every nickel, I have found some great common sense ideas for keeping a fresh approach to fund raising at I particularly enjoy their "tip of the day" on the homepage, and have also found the aggregated NPO news in their "Stay Current" section to be a convenient place to start digging deeper for information on trends and tactics. If you choose to join the site (it's free) you become part of their international, online, nonprofit forum and can submit your own tips to the community.

Free news, forums, and advice may not be as sexy as Eva Longoria, but when you're desperate for inspiration, or a fresh idea it is a real-world resource.

Photo from Planet Photos/ABC

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Does McDonald's in the Louvre assault the Museum's integrity, or broaden its audience?

Maybe it is just me, but the fact that McDonald's will now be serving Le Big Mac in the mall below the Louvre, does not seem like that big of a deal. In fact, the uproar among both museum professionals and frequent visitors seems like yet another example of the museum faithful giving lip service to the idea that museums are for everyone, while actually preferring to keep their favorite museums as high-brow and inaccessible to the average Joe as possible.

The mall beneath the Louvre is operated by a property management company completely separate from the Museum's administration. According to Louvre officials, it was the property company's decision to let McDonald's in, not the Louvre's. They already had a Starbucks, why not a McDonald's?

Rather than haughtily distancing themselves from this development, the Louvre should be taking a long hard look at the audience they most need to serve going forward, identifying that portion of reluctant visitors whose only obstacle is seeing the Museum as a place truly interested in them, and then embracing the fact that a new McDonald's in the existing food court may be a convenient and reasonable way to make those people feel more comfortable.

So, now there are going to be greasy burgers and fries in the adjacent, subterranean mall, so what? No one is requiring the deeply cultured museum elite to eat at McDonald's. Visitors may still choose from several other eateries in the mall, or head out to the nearest Paris bistro to enjoy a delicate foie gras and salad. Has that much truly changed?

I can understand that McDonald's does not fit within the traditional mold of the exquisite museum brand administered by the Louvre. However, instead of condemning McDonald's as an icon of bad taste, perhaps the Museum should think outside of the velvet-lined box, deciding to see this as an opportunity to serve the ideal of being a museum for all. Call me pollyanna if you like, but I learned something about the essence of public museums in my very first job out of college. As I mentioned in my first post to this blog, I worked on the Artrain, traveling the country bringing art to communities without art museums. It was during our stop in Williamson, West Virginia when I met a little boy who forever changed my perspective.

We were stationed for a week in Williamson, the largest town in an area known mainly for the rivalry between the Hatfields and McCoys. During that week a certain little boy about seven years old visited us every day, waiting in line for up to an hour and half to gain free access to the museum. I can no longer remember the boy's name, although I knew it at the time, but I can see his sweet, dirty, little face in my mind as clear as the day I met him. Each of the first four days he came alone, wearing tattered clothes, and always barefoot. Despite his rough appearance, the child was pleasant and mannerly, and always behaved himself inside the galleries. On the final day of our engagement in Williamson, our boss from HQ in Ann Arbor traveled down for a visit. Just as he had each of the previous days, the little boy arrived mid-afternoon to see the artwork, but that day was Saturday, and he brought his parents and baby sister along with him.

For all of the young staff he was a triumph-- sharing his passion with his parents! Unfortunately, to our uber-administrator boss, he was unacceptable-- barefoot. She walked straight over to him, addressed his parents, told them to get out of line, and said they could return when he was properly attired. Barefoot children would not be permitted in the museum. I was horrified. As staff, we all were. With a brief look around at each other, a reassuring nod, and a swift step in the direction of the little family beginning their walk home, we sought to make amends. Two of us apologized to the boy's parents, explaining that our boss had not been there all week, and thus had not been properly introduced to their son. We called him our biggest fan, and invited them to step back into the line. It was clear that the boss lady was ticked at our insubordinate response, but the tough coal miners in line were angry too, just not at us. She backed off and the family went through the Artrain without another word.

It sounds like a story you would read to a child at bedtime, too sentimental to be true, but it is true, every word. I have no idea what happened to him and whether visiting the Artrain changed his life in some meaningful way, but he certainly changed mine. He instilled in me a greater sense of what it means to serve an ideal, to be mission-driven, to be visitor-focused.

I was outraged when I read that Jean-Michel Raingeard, President of the Federation of French Friends of Museums and European Vice President of the World Federation of Friends of Museums, is worried that "museum directors seem to care more about the number of people they attract rather than the quality." Wow. It takes an enormous amount of hubris to be so incredibly frank and openly elitist with CNN. Let us hope he does not speak for the majority of museum "friends," or the rest of us may wonder if we are even worthy of admission. If I am not on the major contributors list, am I not of sufficient quality? Certainly, the Louvre will remain at the pinnacle of art historical excellence with or without a McDonald's in its basement, but query whether or not it can truly be one of the best museums if it only serves the world's consumer elite.

Please click here for a link to the story on

Agree or disagree with me? Please share your comments below.

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