Monday, August 31, 2015

Monday Musing: A Radical Proposal on Student Debt

Student debt is a huge issue in our field, especially for emerging museum professionals. So this article caught my attention last week: No more student loans? Purdue University proposes selling shares of students’ future income

Purdue is planning to invite private investors to fund the education of individual students, in return for a portion of the student's future income. Under this Income Share Agreement (ISA) a student's payments to the investor depends on whether they make more or less than they expected after graduation. 

There are a number of non-traditional student loan business models springing up, but many of these focus on refinancing existing federal and private loans, while others are forms of crowdfunding.  The potential side effects of an ISA system
are particularly interesting:

1) In effect, it invites crowdsourced input on a student's career plans. If no-one in a large pool of savvy, interested investors are prepared to bet on your career plans (and debt burden) maybe you should rethink the plan. 

2) It is an opportunity for students to pitch themselves specifically, not just their chosen careers, as "good investments." As this article notes, several companies are working on ISA models that let investors back "young people with brilliant ideas." Maybe this would help identify and fund, early, students with ideas and abilities that would enrich their chosen fields. On the other hand, to the extent that these businesses create an "old-boys" network version 2.0, they may simply reinforce socio-economic barriers to success.

3) It provides an opportunity for any sector (including museums) to literally invest in its future. Museum professionals could support students training to work in museums (whether through museum studies programs or other routes), while getting a modest return on their investments. And (to point #1) they might be in the best position to judge whether a given student, and that student's plan of study, is a "good bet." Museum associations could create investors circles that pool small amounts of money to create a create a critical mass of support.

So, what do you think: crazy idea or potential solution to crushing student debt? If you had it to do again (or are facing the decision now) would you pledge a portion of your future salary to an investor, in preference to a traditional loan?

Monday musings are my way of sharing "brain blorts": brief, off-the-cuff thoughts about something I have read recently, both to help clarify my thinking an in the hopes of generating discussion and response. I give myself 15 minutes or so to jot down a summary of the article(s) stuck in my brain, and outline why I think they may be important.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Call for Applications: Distance Learning Summit on Art Museums & Educational Innovation

Since CFM released Building the Future of Education: Museums and the Learning Ecosystem in 2014, I've been on the hunt for opportunities to help build the "vibrant learning grid" envisioned in that report. In this post, I'm sharing one of the best that I've found so far: a Distance Learning Summit on Art Museums & Educational Innovation being convened this November by the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Museums, collectively and individually, generate great educational tools and resources. All too often, however, these projects are ephemeral, vanishing when the grant funding dries up. Or they remain small scale, rather than achieving significant reach and scope. Anne Kraybill, Director of Education and Research in Learning at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, has been working with me on how to infuse museum programs with an entrepreneurial mindset in order to create in sustainable programs that grow and build on their own success. (This approach builds on a trend I highlighted in TrendsWatch 2014: the rise of for-profit, mission-oriented social enterprises.) We are going to tackle this in November by bringing entrepreneurs with experience in art/education related start-ups to mentor groups of museum staff. The entrepreneurs will learn more about museums, our resources and our work, and museumers will gain useful contacts and mentors, as well as a framework for sustainable business planning.

Crystal Bridges has just issued call for applications for the Summit: this is a competitive opportunity open to educators and technology and media specialists from art museums. Crystal Bridges will cover the costs of participation (including travel, lodging etc.) for participants. 

The goals of the Summit are to explore: 
  • How art museums ensure can that all students have access to high-quality, meaningful, and personalized arts education
  • How art museums can have a more direct and central role in the education of the nation’s students and beyond
  • How art museums partner with educational entrepreneurs to create models that are sustainable and scalable
While the audience for this convening is art museums, I look forward to sharing the outcomes with the field as a whole and, if this works well, finding a way to replicate the model for museums of all kinds. 

You can read more about the Summit, the keynote speakers (I am honored to be one) and the application process here. The deadline is September 16, so don't wait!

Futurist Friday: All Too Human

To add to your TV viewing list: Humans, a new eight part series on AMC. (You can watch all eight episodes online if you have an account with any one of a number of providers.) 

The show is set is set in a "present day future"--business as currently usual with one twist: a company that builds and sells "synths."  These realistic humanoid robots are equipped with sophisticated artificial intelligence and some turn out to be self-aware. 

As has been true from the dawn of TV sci-fi (notably the original Star Trek series), this futurist premise is used as a lens with which to examine very real contemporary issues, for example:

  • What is the natural conclusion of our trend towards automation of work? Robots are already taking over jobs in a variety of fields, notably manufacturing. Robots are stronger, faster, tireless (and don't go on strike).Algorithms are being used to write news articles and legal briefs and prepare tax returns. Heated debates are taking place on the role of autonomous control of airplanes (or, to flip the question, the role of human pilots) and in the near future, of cars. What happens when technology endows machines with at least the appearance of the empathy and compassion that have buffered the so-called "caring professions" from automation? (Such robots are already in development.) Or when artificial intelligence can do work that to all intents and purposes is "creative"? (e-David is already challenging that boundary.)
  • What are the rights of self-aware, non-human beings (living or non-living)? As I noted in an earlier post, this year a court in Argentina granted an Orangutan named Sandra the right to "life, liberty and freedom from harm." In 2012, New Zealand granted a river "rights of personhood"  and appointed legal (human) custodians to represent its interests. It's harder to dismiss these issues when they are presented by an entity that looks, feels and acts just like us. For example, does it constitute rape (or infidelity) to have sex with a synth? Does yes mean yes when consent is dictated by programming?
  If you aren't ready to turn on the tube (or flip open your iPad) read this excellent review of the series by Adrian Cull over on the futurist site IEET (Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies). And please do write in with your own review, below. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Purifying Design

#Green #Sustainability #CleanWater @OFFPOLINN @MoMAPS1#Cosmo
Follow the link in the photo caption to the associated story. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links) on CFM's Pinterest Boards

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Baby Steps Toward Tomorrow

In the next decade, museums will make a transformational shift from seeing “digitality” as an area of specialization, separate from and in addition to traditional means of doing their work, to digital as an inextricable element of their being, interwoven into every element of museum-ness. I’ve been recruiting several colleagues to report from the front lines of this transition. First up, Jeff Inscho shares how the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh are finding their way into the post-digital future via the Innovation Studio, a research design and development laboratory that launches this week.

For the most part, the underlying foundation of emerging technologies that frame our contemporary way of life remains hidden from view, an invisible yet integral element to our collective existence. And for all its revolutionary promise, digital technologies also have a way of detaching us from the present moment, pulling us from real-world moments into a screen-based void.

If we learned anything from Paul Ford's recent masterful essay, What is Code?, it's that many aspects of our modern lives are controlled by a largely unseen layer of binary. These hidden ones and zeros help us figure out where we're going and what to watch. Code helps us stay connected with the people we love and teaches us a world's worth of new things.

When you think about this brave new post-digital world in which we live, and specifically a museum's role within it, you may wonder how museums will respond to this shift. Will we shy away and ignore the new reality, or will museums face the digital landscape head-on and embrace its non-linear, evolving and iterative nature? Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh chooses the latter.


Museums, by and large, are institutions rooted in tradition. Our missions emphasize the care and scholarship of our collections, and the experiential learning that happens around those objects and specimens. These are noble and worthy efforts, but many museums struggle to strike a balance between their tradition and legacy, and where that legacy will carry them into the future.

Screenshot of Carnegie Museum Of Pittsburgh's  Innovation Studio
Our museums are varied and diverse and the collections in the city of Pittsburgh (where I live and work) are a great example.  The Carnegie Museum of Art is home to Monet, Van Gogh, Giacometti and The Carnegie International—the oldest contemporary art exhibition in all of North America. The largest and most comprehensive collection of works by a single artist is enshrined at The Andy Warhol Museum. Thousands of children and families become awestruck by dinosaurs at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and robots at the Carnegie Science Center.

The Innovation Studio, established just a few short weeks ago and formally announced today, is the new research, design and development laboratory at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. Our mission and mandate is to optimize our museums for the invisible layers of code that drive modern life and inspire new ways of thinking about the relationship between emerging technologies and the museum experience, effectively transforming ourselves for the future. We plan to do this by relentlessly focusing on the following key areas:
  •     Building 21st century infrastructure
  •     Crafting delightful experiences
  •     Fostering creative partnerships between cultural and technology communities
  •     Enabling digital adaptation throughout CMP

Undertaking just one of these things for one museum would be a daunting task. We're working on four goals, for four distinct institutions. This type of initiative could only be possible at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, where the Studio can leverage the reach, breadth and resources of the CMP commonwealth. For true transformation to take hold across Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, it's essential that we tackle each of these key areas together because they are interrelated and impact each other. A holistic approach is a healthy approach.


We don't claim to have all the answers. Like many other institutions, we're figuring this stuff out as we go. As cash- and staff-strapped cultural non-profits, we need to rely upon and learn from each other. Our friends at Cooper-Hewitt Labs, Tate, BKM Tech, SFMoMA Lab, the MetMedia Lab and the Center for the Future of Museums have set an incredibly important precedent with respect to process and knowledge sharing.

In that spirit, The Innovation Studio is committed to designing and developing in the open. Our code will be open sourced whenever possible. Our events will be free, open to the public, documented, and made available online. We will share the good, bad and ugly aspects of projects over on the Innovation Studio blog.

This will be a long journey, as shifts of this magnitude don't happen easily or overnight. We are effectively at the start. Now it's time to take some baby steps toward tomorrow and begin the hard work ahead of us. We look forward to sharing our experiences with you. In addition to the Blog, feel free to follow us via Twitter, Github, and /or Vimeo.

If you are in the Pittsburgh area, I’ll be joining Jeff for some futuring around digitally-related trends at the Studio’s first Innovation Salon on Thursday, September 24. Registration is free, but required—you can sign up here

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Winking at the Future

#MikeWinkelmann #GaussianHarvest #SustainableTech #FutureFiction

Follow the link in the photo caption to the associated story. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links) on CFM's Pinterest Boards

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Commercial Appropriation — 10 Museum Opportunities

I came across a report a few months ago that says digital ad spending in the US will total $58.6 billion and change this year—with nearly $13 million of this being spent by retailers. That story came to mind when I read the essay, below, by Tom Shapiro (a partner at CulturalStrategy Partners.) With that much being spent to influence what consumers think, and want, and think they want, and how they want to get it, museums would be well advised to learn to swim with the current rather than fighting the tide. In today’s guest post, Tom shares some ideas for how museums might co-opt the results of this brain-washing influence and use it to a good end.

Admit it: every once in a while it annoys you that commercial offerings often out-rank your museum on the public’s To-Do list. In my interactions with dozens of museum leaders, this lament comes up all the time. We’re all too aware of the many reasons for this, including the fact that alternatives to museums—movies, sporting events, shopping, hanging at the coffee house, and so forth—are “easy” for the consumer to understand and use. Retailers and popular entertainment cater to audiences’ desires and devote large marketing budgets to influencing consumer expectations. This habituates their audiences, and hence yours, to certain rules for enjoying consumer-focused offerings.

Museums, meanwhile, challenge audiences by presenting content and rules of engagement that can come across as esoteric or off-putting. No photographs? No touching? No samples? No selfie-sticks? No way! And while pop culture is by definition comfortingly familiar, museums challenge visitors to migrate from the known to the unknown or even unknowable.

During these dog days of summer I’ve stepped back to ponder how museums might stay committed to their missions and profit from commercial tactics. Drawing on 15 years of retail management plus 20 years working on museum strategies, I came up with a couple dozen options, of which I want to share ten with you today.

The purpose of these tactics is not to make museums more commercial. Rather, it is to harness the momentum of generally accepted behavior outside of the museum setting, behaviors cultivated by marketing investments far beyond non-profit budgets. While you might find any one of these proposals absurd, a colleague down the road might find it quite plausible. In fact, a number of these efforts are already in practice to some degree at museums around the country. (Where possible, I’ve listed examples.)

None of these ideas requires massive investment or tech wizardry. This means that, just like consumer companies, you can try something and should it fail, move on. True, every tactic has potential red flags (I’ve offered potential rebuttals to the first idea by way of example) but I encourage you to resist the temptation to reject something out-of-hand. Play with an idea instead to tease out whether it might work in your environment. Maybe one or two of the approaches below will blossom into new opportunities for your museum. At the very least, there might be entertainment value to thinking through these provocations.

10 Ways Museum Might Leverage Commercial Tactics

 1. VH1 Classics:  Do you still spell it out whenever Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” plays or stream your favorite movie when there’s nothing new on Netflix? Of course! People love doing again what they’ve loved doing in the past.

Could you do the same with a smash hit art exhibit? The other fine arts live by this, replaying La Bohème and Hamlet regularly and funding their season on Nutcracker’s annual gate. And let’s not get started on movie sequels. Reprising your museum’s most popular special or permanent collection show might again pack the galleries.

The many advantages are clear. The cost of mounting these shows is kept in check because the scholarship, curating, interpretation, and so forth are already completed. Marketing is more straightforward because people already know the product. To be sure, there are also tangible and philosophical challenges. For instance, art loans might be hard to re-secure. More importantly, the investment of your precious exhibition space and “brand equity” would go to repeating rather than advancing art history and scholarship. Still, giving a larger audience the opportunity to (re-)experience your best work has value. (An alternative version could be to reprise and revisit the content, refreshing the scholarship, interpretation, installation, and so forth while not going so far as to create a brand new exhibit.) [The closest real world example I’m aware of is when a museum recreates its inaugural exhibition at a marquee anniversary year. This, however, tends to be more about institutional history or a eulogistic gesture to a moment in time, not a victory lap for the work from the relatively recent past.]

      2. Remerchandising. Have you noticed that when you move merchandise from one area of your store to another, sales increase (if the move makes sense)? It’s because you’ve allowed shoppers (i.e., the audience) to see the same content in a new context. What they might not have responded to in one configuration could take on a new relevance in a new location.

Why not do the same with an exhibit? While the curator no doubt had a very specific point of view when initially installing a show, it’s likely they considered multiple adjacencies that made sense. Perhaps all it takes is “remerchandising” a handful of works once or twice during the run of an exhibition to generate new ways for the story to be told—and new opportunities to promote the show to your audiences. [The closest example of this I know is when an exhibit travels from one museum to another. The new physical space demands a different installation. People who see both venues often value the opportunity to have different reactions to the same material.]

3. Data Mining. Google does it. Facebook does it. Even the NSA does it. Let’s do it; let’s use big data. Or in our case, let’s use small data. Here are a few ways you can mine your data to increase attendance.
a.    Track the times of day and days of the week your visitors are in the galleries. Can you motivate selected audiences (e.g., corporate partner employees) to visit during your slack times?
b.    Identify your high frequency visitors and make them your ambassadors. Provide them with free membership, companion passes, extra store discounts, and other incentives to bring friends to the museum. [The Dallas Museum of Art’s gamified DMA Friends program uses some of these strategies.]
c.    Combine your market research data with other arts and cultural institutions in your area (or similar sorts of museums in other regions) to build a more robust picture of your target audiences.

4.  “Let’s Move!” Follow Michelle Obama’s guidance (and shopping malls’ lead) to promote exercise. Many museums are already doing this with yoga in the galleries or Tai Chi in the plaza. Encouraging free-climbing the building or banister sliding might push some liability alarms, but how might you expand your reputation as a place to work out your brain and body? [The Seattle Art Museum offers both yoga and Zumba lessons in its Olympic Sculpture Park.]

5. Let’s Meet! What makes one dreadful business meeting more bearable than another? Art! How about renting a gallery as a meeting space? The environment will spur creative thinking and can act as an impressive backdrop for a video conference call. You might also hold internal team meetings in the gallery during open hours, making manifest the sort of management transparency audiences increasingly demand and respect.  [The 2013 Goshka Macuga exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago included a conference table as part of a work. The Museum arranged for external and staff teams to hold meetings in that gallery.]

6.The Artist Bobble Head. Baseball, NASCAR and Elvis fans can’t get enough of them! Why not give away a Georgia O’Keeffe, Van Gogh or Kerry James Marshall bobble head? Whose image is more appropriate to appropriate than Jeff Koons’ or Richard Prince’s? Who wouldn’t want Ai Wei Wei or Yoko Ono nodding in approval from the curio cabinet? The first 1,000 visitors get an anatomically correct Charles Ray bobble head!  [Artist Bill Burns’ limited edition of 6 Art World Celebrity bobble heads goes for $1,250 at the New Museum store. At one point the National Air and Space Museum offered an Albert Einstein talking bobble head for far less.]

Artist Billy Burns created these bobble heads of internally renowned curators and the set is available for                      purchase at the New Museum Store
7. Adopt-A-Highway. In addition to naming galleries, drinking fountains and elevators, why not seek sponsorship for ephemeral “assets”? “Dust bunnies cleaned courtesy of Ever-Ready”; “Lighting powered by Duke Energy”, and in your sculpture garden, “Birdsongs encouraged by Joe’s Pet Store.”  [A supporter of the Aspen Art Museum has underwritten the rooftop “mountain views.”]

8. Text for the Cure. Here’s a chance to educate your public while also allowing them to contribute directly to activities they care about. If a particular piece of art needs extensive conservation work, explain that next to the piece. Then urge visitors to “Text $10” to your conservation fund. Have a work up for acquisition consideration? “Text $50” and your name is added to the credit line. [The Everson Museum of Art launched a text donation campaign in 2013. The Neon Museum is using Indiegogo to help raise $50,000 to restore the badly damaged Desert Rose sign. It’s a short step from there to posting the funding opportunity—and QR code—directly in the gallery. ]

9. Cross-merchandising. People love to shop and museum stores love to sell collection-related products. Intermingling commercial transactions with art viewing might sound blasphemous, but let’s consider that many visitors don’t view commerce as “corrupting” and have become accustomed to being able to buy what they want when they want it. Clicking the “Buy Now” button while in, and inspired by, the gallery might even enrich the viewing experience: think about calling on Shazam to identify a song on the radio and add it to your music library, all while you are still listening to and enjoying the song.

Is there a conscientious way to bridge showing and selling? Can we enhance the visitor experience by integrating exhibition-specific purchases into the exhibition itself? Here are a few possibilities: sell a thematic music playlist for viewers to download whilst in the exhibition; post a QR code adjacent to a painting that inspired artist-designed earrings so the jewelry will be waiting for you in the gift shop; scan in print-on-demand postcards to print at home; 3-D print models of sculpture waiting for you when you leave the exhibit.  [The Philadelphia Museum of Art and others have print-on-demand posters available on their web sites. Could that offering transition into the gallery?]

10.  Onsite pop-ups. Temporary retailing in non-traditional locations crop up seemingly overnight. How about colonizing unlikely locations within the museum to further your mission via pop-up art? Show art in the restaurant or parking lot or even printed on the parking lot ticket. Reframe visitors’ understanding of where art “happens” by giving them unexpected art in unexpected places. [The Whitney Museum of American Art commissioned Richard Artschwager to design the inside of their elevators.]

These are just a handful of ideas. What other techniques can be lifted from the mall, multi-plex, hotel lobby, amusement park, tattoo parlor or gym? Please let me know what you come up with.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Global Dialogues: Reimagining the Museum

Today on the Blog, Madeline Vadkerty, the Alliance’s Senior Manager for International Programs is going to try her best to lure you to Buenos Aires. She’s pretty dang persuasive…

My mission today is to convince you to join me at “Reimagining the Museum,” a conference AAM is co-hosting with the TyPa Foundation in Buenos Aires, Argentina on September 2 – 4. While technology is making it easy to engage in discussions with counterparts in other countries, nothing can replace the chance to meet people face-to-face, exchange ideas and learn from each other.

Registration for the conference has been extended to August 17 so you still have time (just) to sign up.

In Buenos Aires, museum professionals from all over the Western hemisphere will explore the transformations and innovations that are helping their institutions navigate the challenges posed by technological, social, political, environmental and economic change.  Perhaps most importantly, this  cross-cultural conversation will tackle how museums can retain and expand audiences in the face of increasing competition for leisure time. Our hope is that the conference will spark the formation of a network of museum professionals across the Americas who will continue to work together and share resources.

I’ll preview two of the conference sessions that really stand out for me (in part because they resonate with the theme of AAM’s annual meeting next spring—Power, Influence and Responsibility).  

“Atrocity and Museums: Exploring Examples of Violence and Memory” will feature presentations from Colombia’s National Museum of Memory, Memory Park in Argentina, the Villa Grimaldi Park for Peace in Chile, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City and the Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion Place in Peru.  Some of the museums in this session address the role governments play in perpetrating abuse, which is particularly apropos for my US colleagues as we mark the anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and contemplate the degree to which police and government policies have contributed to societal ills that led to this and similar events across our country. This session will help museums learn from each other and consider how to engage with traumatized communities and promote healing. A growing cadre of museums is taking responsibility for confronting injustice and violence in society, and caring for survivors. One museum that will soon join the ranks of this cadre is the Museum of Liberty and Human Rights. When I spoke recently with Enrique Arturo de Obarrio and Betty Brannan Jaén, the founders of this new museum in Panama, it became clear to me that their institution and others like it aspire to play a meaningful role in reconciliation – helping society grapple with the delicate questions surrounding the portrayal and interpretation of human evil.

The second session I want to highlight is “The Black Americas: Visibility, Representation and the Cultural Dynamics of African-Descended Communities.” Speakers from the National African American Museum of History and Culture, the Afro-Brazilian Museum of the Federal University of Bahia (Brazil), the Zaña-Chiclayo Museum (Peru) and the Haitian Heritage Museum in Miami, Florida will talk about hidden heritage throughout our hemisphere and the implications for museums. Just as Jewish museums address broader issues exemplified by or arising from the Holocaust, museums that examine the legacy of slavery from the African diaspora can engage with living communities to address contemporary issues of power and justice.

Argentina may be a long journey for you, but I promise you it will be worth your time and resources. In addition to offering substantial networking and learning opportunities, working internationally can help all museums bring more diverse partnerships into their orbits and lead to more diverse audiences visiting our institutions.  As centers of tourism and local engagement, museums are affected by increasing globalization, and all museums (including the core membership of the Alliance, here in the US) will benefit from being be part of the conversation.

The sessions I described here are but a small sample of the conference’s rich program—you can explore the rest of the content in the “schedule” section of the conference web site (click on session titles to read synopsis).  If you are interested in attending, contact or visit to register. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Designing for Resilience

One of the themes CFM focuses on in TrendsWatch 2015 is the changing climate of risk facing museums. Fully a quarter of museums & related organizations in the IMLS MUDF database are located in coastal areas with high vulnerability indices. I’ve been keeping an eye on new museum construction to see how architects, designers and engineers are meeting this challenge. Leann Standish is Interim Director and Deputy Director for External Affairs at Pérez Art Museum Miami, a modern and contemporary art museum located in Museum Park in downtown Miami, Florida that is dedicated to collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting art of the 20th and 21st centuries. In this week’s guest post, Leann shares how PAMM’s new facility is primed to meet the rising tides of the 21st century.

When Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron took on the task of designing the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), a waterfront museum in the most hurricane-prone major city in the US, they faced a myriad of challenges.

PAMM Buidling by Daniel Azoulay
According to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, Miami has a 48% chance of experiencing the impacts of a tropical storm or hurricane in any given year, and as we saw with Hurricane Sandy’s flooding of Chelsea galleries in New York in 2012, storms not only damage buildings, they can destroy one-of-a-kind works of art.

PAMM, which opened to the public in December 2013, was designed both to connect the interior of the museum—and the museum experience—with the context of the outside world, but also to keep the outside elements out. There’s far more natural light at PAMM than at any museum I’ve ever been to—one can gaze out the length of Government Cut to the Gulf Stream while experiencing art in the building. Yet we obviously need the art to be completely safe. To that end, Herzog & de Meuron responded with innovation, designing a building that can withstand a Category 5 hurricane, and that is braced for a potentially chaotic 21st century.

  • Herzog & de Meuron elevated the first floor of the museum above the 18-foot high-water mark left by Category 5 Hurricane Andrew in 1992. This elevation also acts as a cushion for projected effects of climate change.
  • In cases of extreme rain, storm surge or flooding, gaps in the floors of the patio surrounding the museum allow water to drain into the parking garage, located underneath the museum.
  • A power generator on the third floor of the museum ensures electricity to the building even if lower floors are affected by flooding. The generator has enough fuel to sustain the museum for three days, and can be refueled by truck. If roads are blocked, as is often the case after a hurricane, we can refuel by barge, thanks to our waterfront location.
  • Our second-floor windows are the largest panels of hurricane-resistant glass in the US (17.5 feet tall by seven feet wide, each weighing 2,500 pounds). Engineers in Germany tested them by shooting 2x4s at them at hurricane-force speed.
  • The entrance doors of the museum are not only majestic teak, they’re 550 pounds each, with a multi-prong pin system that locks the doors in several places to secure them against category-five hurricane winds.
  • Our famous hanging gardens, designed by Patrick Blanc, are designed to withstand a category five hurricane; the plants can easily be replaced if need be, and the architects and Blanc reinforced the fiberglass tubes with stainless steel armatures, so the mechanical system and irrigation system remain intact.
PAAM Bayside Stair Photo by Juan E. Cabrera
Another little stroke of genius is that we don’t have to install special exterior reinforcement such as shutters—Herzog & de Meuron designed the building to be hurricane-resistant as is. As a result, we can focus on securing artwork if natural disaster strikes. Our plan, in the event of a major hurricane, is to de-install and place in storage as much of the art as possible, starting with the most sensitive works, such as particularly rare works on paper that are sensitive to humidity and temperature fluctuations. (Fortunately, hurricanes come with some warning; a “hurricane watch” is issued 48 hours in advance of “possible” hurricane activity, and a “warning” is issued 24-36 hours in advance of “likely” activity.)
Herzog & de Meuron located our art storage 146 feet above sea level to ensure security from flooding and water damage. The storage space has a Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning (HVAC) system specifically designed to handle humidity levels that might follow a storm event. As for the outside sculptures, we worked with engineers to ensure pieces such as Mark Di Suvero’s La Plume de Pierrot are resistant to hurricanes up to category five, and have protocols to de-install works such as Jonathan Borofsky’s bs or Konstantin Grcic’s Netscape.

Miami is a city with experience when it comes to disaster preparedness and disaster relief. In addition to our own measures, PAMM is part of The Alliance for Response (AFR) Miami group, as well as the Heritage Preservation's Alliance for Response initiative. This way we can pool resources and respond quickly in the event of an emergency.

The thing about working at a museum, and being responsible for its content, is that the content is worth more than just money—there is no insurance policy that can replace a singular original piece of art. That piece came from history, came from one person’s mind, and has resonated with thousands more. There is intangible, sentimental, and cultural value to the artwork we protect. We here at PAMM have the good fortune of working with a relatively new building that was not only aesthetically inspired by the subtropics, and also cleverly designed to withstand the subtropics’ tempestuous nature. The results are a pleasure to behold, but also a case study in design solutions for the 21st century.

Has your museum used resilient design for renovations or new construction? Please share your story, and links, in the comment section below.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Futurist Friday: Economic "Ifs"

The Economist just released the 2015 edition of "The World If"-- a companion to their annual compilation of predictions. I'm working through it today, and you can, too.

The editors pose one of my favorite questions: "What could happen given certain assumptions." Or, as they put it "just suppose..." My favorite essays this year complete that phrase with: 

If Hillary Clinton is President (with special attention to the consequences for undocumented immigrants, the push for a higher minimum wage and paid maternal leave.)

If the World Introduces a "Piketty Tax" (to decrease wealth inequality.)

If Autonomous Vehicles Rule the World (which I respectfully think is not so much if, as when, with immense impact on urban planning and mobility. In other words, with direct consequences for museums.)

If Every Woman Has a Smartphone (globally, it could "shatter isolation and unleash their powers like never before," improving health, economic condition and social status.)

And while you get started on those, I'm going to go read  If Lying Makes Your Nose Grow. Hey, its Friday after all. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: No More Woof?

#Dogs #EEG #Brainwaves #translation #speech #Up #Squirrel!!!! 

Follow the link in the photo caption to the associated story. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links) on CFM's Pinterest Boards

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

New Economic Models for Field Wide Research

On my desk is a report from Reach Advisors’ Museums R+D membership program. It’s on museums and trust.

Before I opened the report, the latest data I had on this critical subject was a survey about public attitudes toward museums that AAM released back in 2001. That study (gratifyingly) showed that our sector was viewed as one of the most trustworthy sources of information. But a lot has changed in the last 14 years. People have higher expectations about transparency and ethical behavior (see TrendsWatch 2015). And our field has been buffeted by controversies over funding, conflict of interest and influence over content.

Museums R+D dug into this issue by:
  • Polling over 7000 members of the public about trustworthiness of information presented by institutions (including museums), media and researchers
  • Digging into the issue more deeply with a panel of 152 museum goers, asking why museums are trustworthy, and the role of curation in building and maintaining trust. They also asked the panel a very timely question—whether how money is raised, and from whom, affects the public’s trust of museums.

I’ll share some of the top line results at the bottom of this post, but first my main message: MUSEUMS NEED MORE RESEARCH LIKE THIS. (No apologies for all caps. I was indeed raising my digital voice.)

Back in 2010 Betty Farrell, who led the U. Chicago team that prepared the CFM report on the growing demographic disconnect between museums & the American public, shared her thoughts here on the blog about the “outdated and narrow” data available on race & ethnicity among museum audiences. She threw down a challenge, to individual museums and to our field to:
  • Make better use of existing data
  • Mine data from other sources
  • Pressure existing research projects to capture more information about museums, and
  • Share the knowledge. (Emphasis added.)
  • Too much valuable data is locked away in proprietary studies, in the form of market research or evaluation studies,” Betty observed, “but never shared beyond the walls of the museum that commissioned the research. Museums need to develop a shared expectation that the knowledge that what they collect as individual organizations will be shared with the field unless there is a compelling reason for it to remain confidential. There are many models of data sharing on a local or discipline-specific scale.

To Betty’s imperatives I now add another: find and join research coalitions—they may well be the future of sustainable field-wide research.

Economic and cultural trends have made it massively harder for traditional large scale research to thrive. The last time AAM conducted the field-wide Museum Financial survey was 2009. Why? First, people aren’t willing to fill out long, complicated surveys the way they used to. (This isn’t just my experience—every researcher I’ve talked to agrees this is a broad shift in behavior and expectations.) Second, the old financial model supporting research doesn’t work. While museums say they want on-demand benchmarking data, AAM’s experiment offering an online, real-time data service—what we called Museum Benchmarking Online—failed because people weren’t actually willing to pay a subscription fee that covered our costs. (Or to put data in before they actually needed to get data out. Usually the night before a board meeting.)

Another example of the “good old days” being done and gone: the fabulous Listening Post Project run by the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University, which enlisted representative institutions from a range of nonprofits (museums, theater, family and child services, aging) to act as wind socks detecting trends shaping our sector. After about a decade of doing great work and issuing “soundings” on topics that included nonprofit values, innovation and performance measurement and the recession effect on nonprofit jobs, the Center concluded they couldn’t keep the program running on philanthropic funding and the intermediary partners were not willing to pick up the costs.

A number of experiments are popping up to fill the resulting research gap. Some people who run or work in research firms (frustrated because, working for individual clients, they don’t get the chance to ask big, interesting questions about museums as a whole) have created non-profit affiliates (that can receive direct grant funding) such as The White Oak Institute, a spin-off of John Jacobsen and Jeannie Stahl’s White Oak Associates. Others are finding ways to compile and share non-proprietary studies and research. For example, CultureLab, a “social library” built by WolfBrown to facilitate knowledge sharing, now includes digests of arts and culture research conducted by Createquity*.

But grants and foundation support can only go so far. Hence, a niche for “subscription” or membership-based research groups. These kinds of research coalitions can play an important part in gathering data of wider importance to the field. They provide a sustainable model bridging the gap between big, grant funded projects (increasingly rare), and bespoke research for individual museums (often not shared at all or not having wider significance). And because research coalitions are financially supported by diverse clients, they are guided by good practical feedback about what museums, collectively, need to know.

Personally, I think Reach is doing great work with Museums R+D. While the museums supporting the work get the first and highest benefit (as is only fair), in the end the research will benefit the field as a whole. I bet there are other, similar coalitions out there, and am hoping you will weigh into the comments section, below, to share opportunities to engage in those.

OK, I promised you I would get to the good stuff, so here are some nuggets from Reach’s recent report:

On a scale from 1-10 of public perceptions of trustworthiness, museums scored a 6.4. Corporate researchers came in at the bottom, with a 3.6, Fox News clocked in at 4.7, NPR at 5.0 and Wikipedia at 5.7. (Researchers collectively, corporate, government and nonprofit scored at the bottom of the heap, which I found profoundly depressing. Also, somewhat ironic, given the source of this information. #Meta.)

History museums/historic sites score 6.7 while science centers earned a 5.2. (Lower than Wikipedia and as Reach notes “only marginally better than the U.S. Government.” Troubling.) Reach speculates that this is because science museums are tackling highly politicized issues like global warming, evolution and vaccination--i.e., doing their jobs.  However, drawing on previous research, they note that core visitors to science centers rank them a 9.4 on trustworthiness—suggesting that there is a huge gap between those who go to science centers and those who don’t. (Which may say more about self-identification and pre-selection than about impact—Reach notes the gap is important and worth further investigation.)

Regarding whether a museum should accept funding from a source with vested interests that might be at odds with a museum’s mission and values, I was interested to see that the museum panel split in their opinion (as are museum staff, in my experience). Some see this as the first step on a slippery slope, while others pragmatically say "take the money, just make sure there are no strings attached." The key to maintaining trust while accepting funding like this, all agree, is transparency, and to this end the panel made three suggestions and one request:

  • Make all gift agreements and communications with the donor public
  • Make transparent how the content presented was researched, sourced or otherwise created, so visitors could see it was not biased by the donor
  • Make every effort to balance the controversial donor with matching gifts from donors who hold opposing viewpoints, neutralizing the influence.

And the suggestion? Reach summarizes it as “Trust us as smart individuals to make up our minds about your credibility, and to vote with our feet if you make the wrong choice.”

Sounds like good advice (and a just a little bit of a warning) to me.

*This post was corrected on 8-11-15 to accurately reflect the relationship between CultureLab and Createquity, and credit the support of WolfBrown.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Laboring over Art

I have a super-quick musing for you today, sparked by something I read last Friday:

There has been a lot of talk lately about labor conditions and pay equity in museums (looking at you, #MuseumWorkersSpeak). This article in the NYT outlines what seems to be a radical, and innovative, approach to tackling these issues.

Synopsis: The Guggenheim is acquiring a performance art piece called "Timelining," by Brennan Gerard and Ryan Kelly. The (legally binding) instructions for how to perform the piece also details how it will be bought and (this is what made my antennae quiver) how the performers would be paid.

"The artists saw performer compensation “as a blind spot in how performance was entering collections,” Mr. Kelly said. Mr. Gerard added that they “know that the labor of the work is inextricable from its aesthetic content.”"

They proposed linking the performers's compensation to New York's "living wage" but the Guggenheim (which has taken some heat over labor conditions at its new site in Abu Dhabi) offered a better rate, which will "vary according to inflation and the city where the piece is performed." 

"Mr. Kelly added that he and Mr. Gerard hoped other artists would find it empowering to think about what a museum “owns” when it acquires an ephemeral performance. “Having this ethical framework so clearly laid out will be influential on our future work with performance, a field still defining itself,” said Nat Trotman, associate curator at the Guggenheim.“

As precedent, this seems to me to be both enormously promising and potentially problematic. First, how awesome to think that artists can directly influence the social justice and labor practices of museums, even if it only relates directly to their own work. As a former registrar, I can only imagine the nightmare of conflicting and inconsistent or ambiguous legal restrictions on works with such restrictions. (Will performers of some works get paid at a better rate than others? Will this depend on the status of the artist, and therefore their power to negotiate at the time the work was acquired, their legal savvy, or both?)

And the futurist in me wonders how far this could go. Gerard and Kelly could swing this deal because they controlled the rights to their work, and that work was already conveyed by a set of instructions. What if other stakeholders try to exercise power in a broader way? Could artists of more traditional, static works insist that the guard for their single-artist retrospective be paid a living wage? Could the donor funding a new wing insist the staff housed in the wing have bargaining rights? Maybe those suggestions sound preposterous now, but I hope they inspire you to think. How many other non-traditional ways might people find to push the needle on issues of social justice, and labor, inside museums?

Monday musings are my way of sharing "brain blorts": brief, off-the-cuff thoughts about something I have read recently, both to help clarify my thinking an in the hopes of generating discussion and response. I give myself 15 minutes or so to jot down a summary of the article(s) stuck in my brain, and outline why I think they may be important.