By Alexa Beaman
This post was written by a recipient of a Wanda Chin Scholarship to attend the 2014 Annual Meeting
As a University of San Francisco Museum Studies Graduate Student with interests in leadership, education, and mobile engagement, the Western Museums 2014 Annual Meeting and Wanda Chin Scholarship allowed me to immerse myself in varied sectors of the museum field as well as network with and learn from fellow professionals.
In Museum Leadership and the 21st Century my primary take away came from Rick West, President and CEO of the Autry National Center of the American West. He posited that each person in an organization, no matter her or his position, is a leader. As a museum professional entering the field, I believe this is a great lesson for my fellow students and me. I realized that no matter my position in an institution, I still have the potential to make a difference not only in the work that I do, but also simply in the way that I conduct myself with others on a daily basis. West also provided an example from his work as Director of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). He described how he utilized his position of authority to disperse individual agency throughout the organization. Instead of the typical top-down mentality that most directors and CEOs typically implement when managing an organization, he shifted the paradigm by giving the power to his staff. This was inspiring because so often one sees the opposite transpire in organizations. In my opinion, this circulation of authority is one of the most important leadership characteristics. This past year I was elected Founding President of the Museum Studies Graduate Association at the University of San Francisco in conjunction with my graduate program. There, I was able to bring together my fellow classmates to plan, implement, and facilitate two events with museum leaders Ron Chew, former Director of Seattle’s Wing Luke Asian Museum, and Lonnie G. Bunch III, Founding Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It was inspiring to hear from these leaders in the field and share this experience with others in the community. As I continue to learn more about leadership, I hope to incorporate the teachings of West, Chew, and Bunch throughout my museum career.
In Connecting with Audiences through Personal Mobile Devices, Nik Honeysett, Director and CEO of Balboa Park Online Collaborative, and Luanne Kanzawa, Director of the Japanese Friendship Garden, gave compelling presentations about the current state of mobile engagement in museums. He read the quote, “Increasingly, our relevance will depend on our ability to personally connect our content to our audiences.” I believe museums must consider this idea before implementing technology in their institutions. Without proactively considering their audiences, museum professionals will not be able to effectively engage visitors in their offerings. Honeysett’s work with Kanzawa at the Japanese Friendship Garden provides a great example of how mobile engagement can place the visitor at the center of interpretation. Their Haiku Hunt App allowed visitors to engage with the garden’s content in their own way through a game based app through location-based iBeacons software. This app resonated with my work as a Production Assistant at Earprint Productions. There, I helped to produce an app that seeks to offer visitors agency over their museum experience. Visitors not only choose their path through the museum but also contribute to the creation of museum content. The app uses GPS location software to generate both museum and community voices depending on where the listener is standing. Honeyset and Kanzawa’s presentation allowed me to learn more about location-based software utilized in apps as well as ideologies involving mobile implementation in museums.
Beyond the Traditional Tour: the 21st Century Visitor Experience provided exciting examples of how museums can adjust their educational and public programming to engage audiences in new ways. Gravity Goldberg, Associate Director of Public Programs at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, explained how she was able to engage new audiences in gallery talks at the museum during Friday afternoons. She found that 20 minute talks followed by 10 minute Q&A’s were the most effective way to engage audiences. Although a small change, this made a significant difference in how visitors were able to engage with educational content. Julie Potter the YBCA: You Senior Program Manager at Yerba Buena Center For The Arts, discussed the YBCA+You program at her museum. The program offers a unique way for members to connect to the museum offerings through a personal art coach and after-hours activities. This past year, I wrote a significant research paper on how the new educational standards for K-12, the Common Core State Standards, align with museum educational programming and theory. The purpose of this research was to examine how museums can facilitate schools’ field trips to museums. This past summer as a School and Teacher Programs Summer Intern at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco my main project was to align the Standards to the Museums’ Get Smart with Art curriculum. In my opinion, the most compelling aspect of the standards is that they place the student at the center of learning and interpretation. Just as museums are transitioning out of the museum-centered, top-down approach to learning, the K-12 educational system is as well. Thus, I am always interested to learn more about the latest happenings in museum programming and education. Museum professionals now realize that they will not be able to draw lasting and new audiences to museums if they do not find a way to cater to the publics varied learning needs and abilities. This session inspired me to think more creatively about how participate in this new landscape.
Overall, the 2014 Annual Meeting sessions offered great learning and professional development opportunities that allowed me to expand my views on museum education, leadership, and mobile engagement. I feel that it is only when we are able to assemble and discuss experiences collectively that we are able to effectively move the field into the future.
Alexa Beaman graducated in December 2014 from the University of San Francisco Museum Studies Graduate program, and Founding President of the Museum Studies Graduate Association. She is currently working in Marketing at the de Young Museum, and recently completed her Graduate Capstone Project focusing on mobile evaluation in museums. She worked as a Production Assistant at Earprint Productions and School and Teacher Programs Summer Intern at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.