It’s Not About the Conference: Museums and the Web 2015

The first rule of the Museums and the Web conference–it’s not about the conference. The second rule–meet somebody. What better way start to a conference dedicated to sharing ideas about digital experiences in museums than reinforcing the idea to just get together and share!

The #MW2015 conference kicks off at the Palmer House in Chicago.

The #MW2015 conference kicks off at the Palmer House in Chicago.

I had the opportunity to attend the #MW2015 Conference in Chicago this year representing team Smithsonian Affiliations. As a “first timer” we were given ten guidelines for getting the most out of the meeting. The top five were:

5. Explore
4. Session hop
3. Check out the exhibit hall
2. Meet a new friend
1. Remember- it’s not about the conference!

We all know attending conferences is all about the networking. But here, bouncing ideas off of people is an even bigger priority. It’s even encouraged to skip a session if you are deep in conversation and learning something new. Skip a session? Outrageous, right?!! Not here. The power of collaboration and sharing ideas is key to the experience. Web developers, content managers, museum educators and museum curators all coming together to puzzle out this question of integrating digital into the museum experience. This would be an epic blog if I listed all of the amazing things I took away from the conference, so I’ll just provide some highlights. Bottom line- If you are interested at all in increasing content and engagement online and in person, and you’re interested in meeting some really cool people, this is a really incredible meeting.

My favorite takeaways:

  • storytellingWe are all built to learn things through stories. Not all stories are good stories, but those that are help direct your attention and ask questions and reflect on our lives and others lives. Empowering our whole team to see themselves as storytellers is important. It’s not chronology that is being sought but building connections from overlapping paths. From The Whole Story, and Then Some: ‘Digital Storytelling’ in Evolving Museum Practice
  • place“Place” remains a key part of identity creation and community building within digital culture. Location is not place. Museums positioning themselves in the center of supporting communities are creating a greater sense of place. Connecting audiences with place values creates more engaged communities. From Beyond the Building: Creating and Supporting Communities Based on Place
  • Cultural organizations in change are fertile spaces for critical shifts in their digital work. When considering change: Don’t be afraid to lose some things for the better of the organization. The most interesting digital storytellers will likely NOT be in your digital team. There needs to be a clear project manager–the person who “owns” the project cannot “run” the project because they are too invested. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. Include ALL departments and have conversations about important changes. From Organising for Change and Change in Organisations
  • Digital is beyond the digital department–it is really in every aspect of our business. We need to become more nimble and efficient in how we deliver our services and digital can help us do that. If we don’t embrace it, we will be in danger of losing income, falling behind competitors, losing appeal and missing opportunities. From How to be a Digital Leader and Advocate: The Changing Role of the Digital Department

All-in-all it was an amazing experience. I look forward to using some of these ideas and inspiring change in my organization. Were you at #MW2015? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

That's me in the background experiencing a wind vortex at the Museum of Science and Industry. Can't all be serious business, right?!

That’s me in the background experiencing a wind vortex at the Museum of Science and Industry. Can’t all be serious business, right?!

may kudos Affiliates!

Congratulations on  your spring accomplishments!


Allied Arts announced the distribution of $137,881 in educational outreach and capacity-building grants to fund 47 projects in support of local arts and cultural organizations, including scholarship and transportation assistance for Title 1 schools to attend Space Day at Science Museum Oklahoma (Oklahoma City, OK).

The National WWII Museum (New Orleans, LA) announced a $20 million gift from former board chair Donald T. “Boysie” Bollinger. The gift will be used to add an iconic architectural piece to the six-acre campus – the Canopy of Peace. The Museum also received a $75,000 contribution from Whitney Bank. The gift will be used to support the museum’s researchers and historians in their ongoing educational and preservation efforts, as well as honor the longtime Museum volunteer group affectionately known as the A-Team.


Birthplace of Country Music Museum currently hosts New Harmonies: Celebrating Roots Music exhibition from the Smithsonian

Birthplace of Country Music Museum currently hosts New Harmonies: Celebrating Roots Music exhibition from the Smithsonian

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum (Bristol, TN) received the following prestigious awards from the Tennessee Association of Museums:

-Past President’s Award of Excellence
-Award of Excellence, Permanent Exhibit
-Award of Excellence, Temporary Exhibit-Carter Family: Lives and Legacies
-Award of Excellence, AV -Music Mixing Station at BCMM
-Award of Commendation, Films -Chapel Film at BCMM

The Antique Automobile Club of America Museum (Hershey, PA) was awarded seven awards during the National Association of Automobile Museums (NAAM) Conference. The AACA Museum received awards in the following categories:

– First Place – Division II Events and Public Promotions related to “An Evening with the Tuckers” event that was held in April to commemorate the Tucker automobile and the family.
– First Place – Division II Interpretive Exhibits related to the “Cammack Tucker Exhibit” that features a collection of Tucker vehicles donated to the Museum by David Cammack.
– Second Place – Division II Events and Public Promotions related to the “Sirens of Chrome” event.
– Second Place – Division II Collateral Materials related to the 2014 Wedding Show Mailer.
– Second Place – Division II Collateral Materials related to our “Motoring Mysteries of the Far East” Exhibit.
– Third Place – Division II Events and Public Promotions related to the Night at the Museum event held in October, celebrating the grand opening on the Cammack Tucker Gallery.
– Third Place – Division II Collateral Materials related to the AACA Museum Rackcard used to promote the Museum for its events and exhibits alike. This is a constantly updated publication to reflect the current exhibits and events at the AACA Museum.

Exhibition of Tucker automobiles at the Antique Automobile Museum in Hershey, PA

Exhibition of Tucker automobiles at the Antique Automobile Museum in Hershey, PA

The B&O Railroad Museum (Baltimore, MD) received a “Top Choice 2015” medal by Asian visitors and judges from Lianorg, the leading tourist website in Asia.

The American Marketing Association chapter in Lincoln announced University of Nebraska State Museum (Lincoln, NE) the recipient of their top award, “Prism” in the Social Media Non-Profit Category for the #MonsterSnake Selfies, and a “Merit” award (second place) in the Special Event Non-Profit category for the promotion of Titanoboa: Monster Snake Exhibit Opening Weekend.

The American Alliance of Museums has announced that eight museums including the Kentucky Historical Society, (Frankfurt, KY) earned reaccreditation.


New York City’s tourism arm, NYC & Company, has appointed Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden (Staten Island, NY) CEO and President Lynn B. Kelly to its board’s executive committee. Kelly, a Staten Island native, was also tapped to head the organization’s Arts & Culture Committee.

MOR_Logo2013The Museum of the Rockies (Bozeman, MT) officially became an affiliate on 5/10/2005.  Happy Anniversary!

new webcasts from the National Air and Space Museum

The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (NASM) is developing nine STEM in 30live, fast-paced 30-minute webcasts which will be made available to teachers and students in grades 5-8 classrooms across the country. The primary goal of this program is to increase interest and engagement in STEM for students.  STEM in 30 hopes to achieve:

from the webcast "Earth Day: A View from Above"

from the webcast “Earth Day: A View from Above”

– Increased interest in STEM and STEM careers
– Increased understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematics topics
– Increased awareness and importance of current and future human space exploration

This series of webcasts from the National Air and Space Museum and partner sites focus on STEM subjects that integrate all four content areas. The webcasts will feature NASA and NASM curators, scientists, and educators exploring STEM subjects using museum and NASA collections, galleries, and activities. During the 30-minute broadcasts, students will engage with museum experts through experiments and activities, ask the experts questions, and answer interactive poll questions through the interactive ‘Cover It Live’ feature.

The webcast will be available live on the National Air and Space Museum website as well as NASA TV.  After the live broadcasts, NASM will archive the webcasts in an interactive STEM in 30 Gallery.

from the webcast "Hot Air Balloons and Air Pressure"

from the webcast “Hot Air Balloons and Air Pressure”

Upcoming and archived topics include Space Junk, the Wright Brothers, Space Food, Living and Working in Space, and more.

Affiliates are encouraged to share this new resource with their school partners, host “viewing parties” in their own museums, or show the archived webcasts in their galleries or theaters at any time.  If your organization decides to broadcast any of these webcasts, let us know!

New Harmonies, New Opportunities at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum

Many thanks for this guest post to Rene Rodgers, Ph.D, Associate Curator at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Would you like to be a guest author? Contact us.

At the beginning of August 2014, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum (BCMM) in Bristol, TN/VA, opened its doors for the first time after several years of planning, fundraising, community support, and finally, exhibit design and construction. For everyone who had believed in the museum becoming a reality and worked so hard to make it happen, the grand opening weekend was a real thrill with staff and volunteers, local and regional supporters, and visitors from many states and even other countries, enjoying the museum’s exhibits, live music performances, and a vintage radio show recording.

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum at night. Photograph by Fresh Air Photo

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum at night. Photograph by Fresh Air Photo

Since that first day, we’ve had the excitement of opening our first special exhibit, the development of a variety of education and outreach programs, the opportunity to partner with other local museums and cultural organizations, media coverage from outlets such as National Geographic and The New York Times, and so much more. And as one of the oldest Smithsonian Affiliates with one of the newest museums, we’ve had the opportunity to see firsthand the resources and support that are possible through our link to the Smithsonian.

In fact, we saw our community benefit from that affiliation even before the museum opened. Back in 2012, we were able to offer “Youth Capture the Colorful Cosmos,” an after-school astrophotography program for under-served middle school students using the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Micro-Observatory Telescope Network. This program gave these students access to resources and opportunities they might never have had otherwise, a truly significant benefit we were able to share with our community through the Smithsonian.

The New Harmonies crates arrive at BCMM. Birthplace of Country Music Museum

The New Harmonies crates arrive at BCMM. Birthplace of Country Music Museum

More recently, we have opened our first Smithsonian special exhibit – New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music. After its life as a Museum on Main Street (MoMS) traveling exhibit, New Harmonies has now found its permanent home at BCMM, something made possible through the hard work of our Smithsonian Affiliations National Outreach Manager Alma Douglas and Carol Harsh, Director of MoMS at the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.

After several months of negotiating the many steps in the process, 19 huge crates arrived on a truck in January of this year. Unloading and unpacking each of the crates was like opening a treasure chest – each one revealing another piece in the exhibit puzzle: a panel about sacred music, a diddley bow, a flip panel about the Kingston Trio, an audio box, a banner.

In March, we prepared the special exhibits gallery for New Harmonies. Two days were spent with our volunteers figuring out how the panels fit together – using directional pictograms that made it a little bit like putting together IKEA furniture – and working out the best configuration of all the elements in the gallery. We also created some of our own elements to add to the space – a “woodshed” where visitors can watch short videos about how to play various instruments and then have a go themselves and a lounge area where records can be played on a retro record player.

Visitors enjoy the New Harmonies exhibit on its opening night at BCMM, March 2015. Photograph by Haley Hensley, Birthplace of Country Music Museum

Visitors enjoy the New Harmonies exhibit on its opening night at BCMM, March 2015. Photograph by Haley Hensley, Birthplace of Country Music Museum

Visitors enjoy the New Harmonies exhibit on its opening night at BCMM, March 2015. Photograph by Haley Hensley, Birthplace of Country Music Museum

Visitors enjoy the New Harmonies exhibit on its opening night at BCMM, March 2015. Photograph by Haley Hensley, Birthplace of Country Music Museum

BCMM’s core exhibits focus on the story of the 1927 Bristol Sessions, their role in the development of the commercial country music industry, and the impact of the 1927 recordings on American music. New Harmonies is a wonderful fit for our museum, and its exploration of the distinct cultural identities of American roots music allows us to extend our mission beyond the focus of our core exhibits. It has also proved a wonderful opportunity for developing interesting programming that will give us the chance to bring new audiences to the museum over the coming months – from screening films by Alan Lomax and a concert by Piedmont blues artist John Dee Holeman to a shape note sing and Native American music and dancing. We are also looking into the possibility of sharing this exhibit with smaller regional institutions, libraries, and schools in the future.

Smithsonian affiliation is a real honor, and we are proud to be a part of the affiliate network. More importantly, however, Smithsonian affiliation gives BCMM the chance to bring new exhibits, resources, programming, and so much more to our local community – a way to expand horizons and opportunities. We are excited about what the future will bring!

Visitors enjoy the New Harmonies exhibit on its opening night at BCMM, March 2015. Photograph by Haley Hensley, Birthplace of Country Music Museum

Visitors enjoy the New Harmonies exhibit on its opening night at BCMM, March 2015. Photograph by Haley Hensley, Birthplace of Country Music Museum

The Rollercoaster of Brand Marketing: How to Learn from (Our) Successes and Pitfalls in Launching New Brands

Do you launch a new brand from the top down or the bottom up? Is every tactic and strategy a winner? Is your brand strategy still successful years later? Both the Ohio History Connection and the Smithsonian Institution have recently embarked on name changes or brand refreshes. At the 2015 Smithsonian Affiliations National Conference, colleagues from each organization will tackle what can be learned from launching new brand strategies.

A sample ad from the Smithsonian "Seriously Amazing" campaign in 2012.

A sample ad from the Smithsonian “Seriously Amazing” campaign in 2012.

Erika Ferrin is the Brand Marketing Manager at the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian launched a new branding campaign in 2012 with the new tagline “Seriously Amazing,” a way to broaden people’s understanding of what the Smithsonian is and does. But what has happened in the past three years? Erika will give an overview of what has happened, for better or for worse, since the Smithsonian decided to update its brand.

Jamison Pack is the Chief Marketing Officer at Ohio History Connection, a Smithsonian Affiliate in Columbus, Ohio. Last spring, Ohio Historical Society changed its name to Ohio History Connection to make history more accessible. The name change came after two years of research which showed that respondents saw the organization as inaccessible and antiquated. Jamison will discuss making the case for the Ohio History Connection’s name change and the cultural shifts within an organization involved in selling the value of marketing your brand.


Both panelists will show some examples of their best ideas that all Affiliates can take away, some things that didn’t go according to plan, and biggest challenges at each organization. Finally, Erika will open discussion for how Affiliates can be part of the Smithsonian brand campaign in their own communities and how the Smithsonian can learn from Affiliate methods.

Join them on Wednesday, June 17 at 2:00 p.m.

Are you registered for the 2015 Affiliations National Conference, June 15-17?!

See the full agenda.

Book your hotel room at the Residence Inn-DC/Capitol

The Smithsonian Affiliations National Conference is for current Affiliates only. If you are interested in becoming an Affiliate, or have an application in progress and would like to attend the Conference, please contact us for more information. If you have questions or comments related to the Affiliations National Conference, please contact Elizabeth Bugbee.

A First Look at New Traveling Exhibitions from the Smithsonian

singerAmong other benefits, Smithsonian Affiliates learn about new Smithsonian traveling exhibitions first!  We’re pleased to bring you two exciting new exhibitions that will travel.  The first, Armchair Archaeology: Paul Singer’s Search for Ancient China from the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery details the amazing story of collector Dr. Paul Singer, a psychiatrist by trade who amassed a wide-ranging Chinese art collection, now part of the Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian.

He collected most aggressively after he immigrated to the United States in 1939, making discoveries at art dealers, auction houses, and thrift stores alike. A self-taught, amateur scholar-collector who never learned the Chinese language, Singer managed to secure a research appointment at the Metropolitan Museum of Art due to his remarkable visual memory and extensive experience in the field.

singer2fsga The exhibition examines both archaeology and miniatures through topical groupings of objects dating from the Bronze  Age (circa 1800–300 BCE) to the Ming dynasty (1368–1644.)  In addition to exploring form, function, and meaning,  the ninety-five objects in the exhibition also represent a range of media, including jade, marble, fluorite, bone,  ivory, amber, gold, silver, bronze, and ceramics from earthenware to porcelain. This breadth reflects Singer’s  ambition to amass “a sequential development in all the materials worked by Chinese artists.”  For more information  and a pdf with an overview of the exhibition, Please email us.

BIG_11EDI_6621F310_13rz copy Across the Mall, from National Air and Space Museum, comes Art of the Airport Tower.  The exhibition is the  second to feature photographs from Museum Specialist, Carolyn Russo. The first, In Plane View, traveled to  many Affiliates over its multi-year run, and is currently on view at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum.  Both exhibitions feature stunning photographs of their subjects; Art of the Airport Tower shows these often overlooked utilitarian structures as beautiful art in our everyday lives.   It is a photographic journey to airports in the U.S. and around the world.
DXB_8150F2rz copy

Russo documents these important architectural structures to bring a heightened awareness to their simple beauty and call for their preservation.  She is available for lectures and public programs to venues hosting the exhibition.

Art of the Airport Tower includes historic towers such as the Ford Island Tower, which stood the day of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, as well as today’s heavily trafficked airports such as London’s Heathrow Airport. International towers–including several of the world’s tallest towers, one of which is the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand–are also highlighted. Captions describe the airport and the towers’ significance, and an introduction by F. Robert van der Linden tells the history of airport towers to contextualize Russo’s work.

This exhibit will attract a diverse audience, appealing to anyone with an interest in aviation, aerospace, art, photography, technology, history, culture, and architecture. Please let us know if you’re interested!