Interview with Brent Glass


Dr. Brent Glass, Director of the National Museum of American History, updates Affiliates on the renovation of the Museum, new features and exhibitions to be unveiled at their reopening later this year, and what it was like to be on the Colbert Report.  Check out the timeline below (or read the transcript).  Click here to access the video (you’ll need quicktime.  and don’t worry – it takes a few seconds to load).  Thanks Brent!

@ 18 seconds: Welcome to Affiliates
@ 38 seconds:
Discussion of renovation and architectural changes
@ 1:41: Pr
eview of the new Star-Spangled Banner gallery
@ 3:23: Exhibitions in the works for the renovated Museum
@ 4:44: What will Affiliates see this summer on the hard hat tour?
@ 5:30: What was it like being on the Colbert Report?!
@ 6:30: Final thoughts for Affiliates              

The Future of Exhibitions

Kathleen McLean was at the Smithsonian last week, and provided a provocative discussion about the future of museum exhibitions.  If you haven’t read her work or heard her speak, I would highly recommend it.  Kathleen is the president of the Visitor Services Association, and the author/editor of several pivotal works on the topic, including Visitor Voices in Museum Exhibitions, Are We There Yet? Conversations about Best Practices in Science Exhibition Development; and Planning for People in Museum Exhibitions.

Among her predictions for the future was the absolute necessity of experimentation.  She echoed a sentiment expressed by Michael Chabon at the AAM conference this year – that a museum’s primary mission should be to convey a sense of curiosity, wonder, and delight, rather than to convey a series of accurate facts. 

She urged museums, and the Smithsonian in particular, to rethink the “industrial age,” linear way in which expensive exhibitions are currently developed, in favor of a model that is much more flexible, experimental, responsive, and interactive in all ways.  She pointed out quite poignantly that “best practices” can also be a trap.  Who says there’s the “right” kind of font for wall labels or that darkness in galleries is taboo?  She made the case that museums that venture to break the rules are paving the way to the future of meaningful exhibitions.

As for traveling exhibitions, she practically declared them “a thing of the past” in favor of a model where digital files, reproduced anywhere, would replace hardware and trucks.  She mused about whether the traditional training for this field, Museum Studies programs, are all wrong, and we should be looking more to artists and educators to spearhead exhibition development.  And one of the most frightening questions – do upcoming generations of museum visitors value the “real thing” as much as we do?  Studies are beginning to show that perhaps they don’t… that younger visitors value the digital version of our collections, because they can be manipulated and customized.

She quoted some interesting and current references to check out – the 2008 Horizon Report by the New Media Consortium and an Irvine Foundation Report on Critical Issues Facing the Arts in California.

Anyway, how about you – any experiments coming up at your museum?!

Turning visitor surveys into a marketing campaign

HMSG ad 

Just saw this interesting article about the Hirshhorn in the New York Times.  In recent studies, they found out that over half of their visitors stumble in to the Museum accidentally, looking for planes that are actually housed next door at the National Air and Space Museum.  Add to that the imposing nature of a circular building with no windows, and you’ve got a case study for a very challenging marketing plan.

The Hirshhorn turned to artists even before marketing and PR folks, and embraced their “roundness” in an ad campaign titled “Art Surrounds You.” 

Interesting food for thought as we all grapple with defining and engaging our various audiences.  What interesting or unusual tactics do you employ?

thoughts from Denver

Whew! What a whirlwind these meetings are! We invite you to share your favorite moments, ideas you heard, or aspects of the conference that were particularly useful. Here’s a few of mine:

the Affiliations reception at our Colorado affiliate, the Littleton Historical Museum, was a blast. The Museum is terrific; we got a view of SITES’ In Focus show, and met some of Littleton’s stakeholders, including the mayor. For me, one of the best moments was when American Jazz Museum director Greg Carroll offered to send a range of Kansas City bbq sauces to the Affiliations staff. 🙂

Michael Chabon’s keynote talk was terrific. He mentioned “museum” maybe one time. I kept anticipating that he would circle his comments back to the museum field, but he never did, explicitly, which was poignant. He talked about the need to have unstructured, unprogrammed space and time in our lives, especially kids, for the imagination to flourish. Basically, throw away the instruction manual on your Legos, and just experiment. The degree to which Museums can create that space and time that’s so essential to creativity is an interesting challenge.

Denver Mayor Hickenlooper was another huge highlight. He talked about the city’s Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, a 1/10 of 1% sales tax that generates $40 million dollars that is shared among Denver’s urban and suburban cultural resources – museums, zoos, cultural centers. It’s an amazing municipal model. I loved when an audience member tried to persuade the mayor to move to Kansas City!

Jim Collins’ book Good to Great came up in many of the sessions I attended. The “Day in the Life” series seemed to be popular too; in fact, there were many opportunities to join intimate, mentoring roundtables, a great format.

AAM staff kept a blog too, with highlights. Anyway, what were your favorite ideas, sessions, or formats?!

African American History Museum recent news

Preservation Guide booklet Although they have no building yet, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture is busy with some terrific programming. 

Among their recent initiatives is Save Our African American Treasures: A National Collections Initiative of Discovery and Preservation. It’s a collaboration among cultural institutions, community leaders, and the public to preserve and collect African American material culture.  This initiative, in the form of public workshops, hopes to stimulate preservation activity nationwide, and help people identify and preserve objects of historical and cultural significance.   

The program debuted in January 2008 in Chicago.  In July, it travels to Los Angeles affiliate, the Japanese American National Museum.  They have created a wonderful Preservation Guide to give practical tips on conserving a home collection – everything from photographs to textiles to metal.  Look for it at the Affiliations Conference!           






Affiliations @ AAM

All staff of affiliate museums are invited to join us for a reception in Colorado, during the annual meeting of the American Association of Museums.  Invitation below.  We hope to see you! 

Smithsonian Affiliations cordially invites you to
An Evening at the Littleton Historical Museum:
History, Art & Fun on the Farms  

a reception for staff of Affiliate museums
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Littleton Historical Society
6028 South Gallup Street, Littleton, CO
*multiple roundtrip shuttles will be available to/from
the Denver Convention Center & the Denver Museum of Nature and Science
(confirmation and schedule to follow)

RSVP by April 21 to Aaron Glavas, Affiliations Coordinator; 202.633.5309

Affiliations and other invited Smithsonian staff
look forward to meeting you there!

An Affiliate since 2003, the reception’s host, the Littleton Historical Society, invites attendees to tour its museum complex, including a recently-expanded main building with galleries devoted to the history, art, and culture of Littleton, and two living history farms on a verdant 15-acre site. Littleton is 10 miles south of Denver, incorporated in 1872 along the South Platte River. Step back in time as you stroll along the banks of Ketring Lake and visit with costumed historic site interpreters on the 1860 and 1890 living history farms.