Collaboration is Key

Thanks to Nancy Crane, Director of Education, Culture & Heritage Museums, for this guest post. 


After hearing Lonnie Bunch, Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), speak on the topic of collaboration at the 2007 Smithsonian Affiliations National Conference, we knew that we would like to work and collaborate with this new and forward-looking Smithsonian museum in the future.  I mentally filed away many of Mr. Bunch’s comments and ideas as well as the overall vision of the NMAAHC, which specifically addresses collaboration as a core value of the institution.  Indeed, on the homepage of the NMAACH’s website, “collaboration” is one of the main tabs along with collections, education, etc.   The opportunity to work with NMAAHC and our fellow Carolinas’ Smithsonian Affiliates presented itself this spring as part of a joint state museum conference between North and South Carolina.   Working with the staff at NMAAHC and the Affiliations Office, we were able to bring Dr. Rex Ellis to the Carolinas on March 4-5, to present both an afternoon workshop and to deliver the keynote address for the conference.  Dr. Ellis presented an outstanding program focusing on the challenges of interpreting slavery.  His presentation provided his audience of museum staff and volunteers with much food for thought – challenging us to consider different perspectives.  His keynote address was equally stimulating as he wove song, personal stories, and professional experience into an elegant vision for the future of museums.

Not only was the conference a collaboration between states, but in order to bring Dr. Ellis, we reached out to our Smithsonian Affiliates in the Carolinas for their support.  The Carolinas’ Smithsonian Affiliates came forward and helped to support this initiative both monetarily as well as through staff attendance.  We hope that this may be the beginning of more inter-Affiliate collaborations.

In these difficult economic times, collaborations are one tool which we can utilize to better serve our communities.  Reflect on your institution’s current collaborations as potential partnerships for the future

To put it plainly, you can never have too many friends.

stimulus funding

Do you qualify for stimulus funding?


Searching for research funding? Grant opportunities are available! The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has budgeted for numerous grant funding opportunities representing agencies government wide. Each agency has been allocated varying amounts of money to support research in all different fields of studies.

For the latest information regarding Recovery Act grant announcements please visit their website at then click on ‘Recovery Act Opportunities’ which provides a listing of every agency’s recovery act website.

and good luck!

Museum Transparency

Indianapolis Museum of Art Dashboard

SI Staff were treated last week to a lecture by Max Anderson, director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.  He kicked off his lecture with a “memo” by President Obama urging transparency not only in  government, but across all organizations.  Anderson then made quite a cogent argument for greater transparency in the museum world. 

He argued, for example, that the statistics often cited for success by museums – attendance, membership – are often misleading and meaningless to society as a whole.  So what matters then?  Anderson suggested that issues like:  how we steward the environment and teach others to do so; how well we remain vigilant about Nazi-era and Antiquities provenance research; even, how is what we serve in our museum cafes improving or exacerbating visitors’ health?

Anderson addressed this issue at his museum with a dashboard.  This device provides lots of statistics to a range of museums metrics – where visitors come from, the size of the Museum’s endowment, new works on view, among other stats. 

Why do this?  Another question may be, why not?!  As he said, making this kind of information readily available forces the staff to engage in constant vigilance and performance improvement, and lets visitors know what the Museum cares about.  It builds trust both inside and outside the organization.

The final nail to this argument came when Anderson reminded the audience that in the first round of the recent stimulus bill, museums were lumped in with casinos as being exempt from receiving stimulus funds.  Luckily, museums were taken off the list, but the obvious question was, what are we doing (or not doing) to have lost such a critical societal distinction?

The Smithsonian was forced to become more transparent recently as the press well documented, and we all agree we are better for it.  You can now watch Regent Meetings for example, and read our Governance Scorecard, among other improvements.  And, you can watch all of Anderson’s talk here.

Has your museum taken any recent steps in regard to transparency? 

The Other 90% in Atlanta

Thanks to Louise Shaw, Curator, Global Health Odyssey Museum, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for this guest post.

Photo credit: Jim Gathany, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

As curator of the Global Health Odyssey Museum at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] in Atlanta, I had the challenging and exciting task of designing and installing Design for the Other 90%. This traveling exhibit was curated by Cynthia Smith of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City, and “features more than 30 projects that reflect a growing movement among designers, engineers, and social entrepreneurs to create low-cost solutions for everyday problems,” targeting 90% of the world’s 6.5 billion people who “have little or no access to most of the products and services many of us take for granted.”

Context is everything.

As one of the world’s leading public health agencies, CDC is committed to achieving true improvements in all people’s lives, and we walk the walk. This explains why the Global Health Odyssey Museum was interested in mounting Design for the Other 90%. At CDC, we believe that poverty, whether abroad or in the U.S., is directly linked to health gaps, disproportionately affecting certain populations, as well as geographic regions. Any effort to improve global health must also holistically address issues of education; shelter; access to water, food, and technology; affordable transportation; economic opportunities; and sustainability.

So, what an opportunity Design for the Other 90% has been. We are engaging with CDC staff members who actually have been deeply involved in the issues brought up in the exhibit, as well as the evaluation and distribution of some of the design objects on display. The exhibit has also drawn tremendous interest from educational institutions such as the Georgia Institute of Technology and Savannah College of Art and Design, and from the entire Atlanta design community.

Because the original installation was mounted totally outside on the CH’s grounds, each host institution was tasked to create a new and unique design plan, and fabricate its own exhibit display elements. We had a great time figuring out how to display objects ranging from a latrine slab used in refugee camps in East Africa to a house for the homeless made by the Atlanta-based Mad Housers to treated bednets. Our entire design and fabrication team really rose to the occasion, using warehouse crates for pedestals, building floor trays to display objects such as water pumps, and even appropriating a piece of 1000-pound concrete as a base for a 12′ solar lamp post!

At the end of the day, by highlighting innovative designs meant to improve the lives of all, we have been able to acknowledge our collective responsibility for both solutions and actions. Like the previous hosts of the exhibit–the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, Canada–we are committed to exploring issues of social change and justice that will allow the world’s populations to live the best lives possible.

To learn more about this exhibition and its travel schedule, visit it online at 
or email Cynthia Smith at