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January 25, 2011

An Affiliate journey through Smithsonian collections storage

Special thanks for this guest post to Latasha M. Richards, collections manager at York County Culture & Heritage Museums, a Smithsonian Affiliate in Rock Hill, South Carolina. 

The idea to visit the Smithsonian came to mind while I worked on ways to improve and better utilize the current collections storage space at the York County Culture & Heritage Museums (CHM).  As the collections manager for CHM, I knew such an opportunity to learn from Smithsonian staff would allow me to gain valuable information to help my museum move forward with its own ideas to renovate one of our current collections storage facilities. 

Emily Kaplan, conservator, at the NMAI Cultural Resources Center shows Latasha the textile storage units.

Anyone who has gone through this type of process, particularly when it calls for moving large amounts of the collection, knows what a challenge such projects present. From the beginning, the CHM collections staff decided that talking to other professionals who have gone through similar activities would be one of the best ways to get a clear picture of just what to expect from the process.  Thanks to CHM’s participation in the Smithsonian Affiliations program, I was able to do just that.

I contacted my Smithsonian Affiliations National Outreach Manager, Caroline Mah, to talk about our collections storage renovation project and just what I hoped to gain from a visit to the Smithsonian.  She worked hard to ensure that she had a clear understanding of just want I was hoping to see and learn, and was able to set up tours for me with staff at the National Museum of the American Indian Cultural Resources Center (NMAI) and the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Compact storage at NMAI Cultural Resources Center.

Caroline and I met Raj Solanki, registration loan specialist, and Emily Kaplan, conservator, at the NMAI Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland on the first day. After a tour of the collections space, they summarized their experiences moving the collection from its previous facilities and what they loved or would change about their building if given the chance.  They recommended using a bar code system to track objects during relocation, a system that proved to be a successful process for them.  Emily and Raj also made recommendations for various vendors and professionals that they worked with and sent me a copy of NMAI’s “The Move Procedure Manual” which details the procedures used in their move.

The next two days were spent at the American Art Museum’s two different storage facilities—one located near the museum in D.C., and the other a short distance away in Maryland. I met with Denise D. Wamaling, collections manager, and James Concha, collections manager for painting and sculpture.  Both had worked together when the American Art Museum had to relocate its collection to new facilities.  Denise and James oversee different aspects of the collection so the needs for their individual spaces were unique.  They emphasized how important it is to work as a team throughout the entire process because it made things run more smoothly.  Denise gave recommendations on how to plan the space by taping-off areas of the floor to represent where storage equipment and workspaces would be located as well as making life-size cutouts to make sure objects could be moved not only through doorways but also within the collections space as a whole.  When speaking with James, he emphasized just how important it was to manage workspace and supplies while moving.  He noted that things can get overwhelming with boxes, crates, and supplies everywhere and that it was important to coordinate when things were being moved and when the supplies would be available so that everything ran smoothly and efficiently. 

More compact storage at NMAI Cultural Resources Center.

Overall, the trip was incredibly helpful.  Some of the information was already somewhere in my thought process but in talking with other professionals who had actually gone through the experience it reaffirmed my ideas or recalled things to memory.  By touring all of the facilities, I saw different ways to store various objects that I had not thought of or seen before, which will be invaluable when it comes to planning our new space. I know I have options.  Lastly, I was so pleased and appreciative to the Smithsonian staff for not only taking the time to speak to me during the winter holiday season but with how generous they were with their knowledge.  I walked away from the experience with new contacts, lists of potential vendors and professionals that I can work with, and a reminder of just how small the museum community is and how important it is to share our thoughts and experiences with one another.

If you are an Affiliate staff member interested in planning something similar, contact your Smithsonian Affiliations National Outreach Manager for details.

September 27, 2010

si authors on the road

Filed under: enewsletter feature,General,You Heard It Here First — Tags: , , , — Jennifer Brundage @ 7:27 pm

Just in time for the holidays, two new books featuring the Smithsonian will be available this fall, with authors ready to travel to Affiliates for programs and book signings.  For more information or to pursue a booking, please contact us at affiliates@si.edu.

NMAI's new cookbook features historical descriptions and artifact links

Mitsitam = Let’s Eat! 

The Mitsitam Café Cookbook documents America’s truly indigenous foods, as featured at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI).    Anyone who has visited this groundbreaking museum resource – a destination in its own right – knows that the Native story told in the Museum’s galleries is brilliantly complemented by the culinary traditions available to savor in the museum’s café.  Written by the Mitsitam café’s executive chef Richard Hetzler, this cookbook showcases 90 home-tested recipes.  Each dish was researched and developed to highlight indigenous foods that are the staples of five Native American regions in North and South America.  The book features a historical description for each of these recipes that have been enjoyed by NMAI visitors since its opening in 2004.  In addition, images of artifacts from NMAI’s collection, as they pertain to Native foodways, appear throughout.

Richard Hetzler is available to travel to Affiliates for book signings, and can talk about a range of topics, including preparing food from Native ingredients and traditions; developing a local seasonal menu;   developing the café’s concept with Museum staff, and more.  Program ideas could range from a simple lecture and cooking demonstration, to a cooking class, or a “meet/eat with the chef” meal for your members, or a dialogue with a content specialist from your museum or region.   

NASM's Autobiography, coming out October 2010

A Soaring Museum and its Treasures 

The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (NASM) welcomes eight million visitors a year and holds vast collections of aircraft, rockets, spacecraft, and related artifacts—so many, in fact, that they all add up to the world’s largest aerospace collection.  Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum: An Autobiography is the first and only complete history and behind-the scenes tour of this great museum.

 Beautifully illustrated with over 70 photographs and artworks, and engagingly telling the history of 150 years of flight development, the Autobiography does full justice to the soaring museum and its treasures.  Written by curators and scientists who protect and work with these collections, the book reveals the stories of many of the artifacts.  It shares the untold narratives between the Smithsonian Institution and the heroes working in the fields of aeronautics and space exploration.  In addition, innovative features have been specially designed for this book, including “Superlatives”—record makers and record breakers; and “Curator’s Choice” – selected objects deemed most fascinating.

The book was edited by Michael J. Neufeld, chair of the Space History Division at NASM.  Michael Neufeld is available to visit Affiliates to discuss and sign this extraordinary book, at once a stunning keepsake of a world-class museum experience, a fitting tribute to the legends of aviation, and a colorful resource on the history of flight.

August 19, 2010

lisa falk: summer at the smithsonian

We invited our recent Smithsonian Affiliate interns and visiting professionals to blog about their experiences in our “Summer at the Smithsonian” series. Below, Lisa Falk, Director of Education at Arizona State Museum (Tucson), describes her residency at the Smithsonian. Special thanks to Lisa for this post!

As I crisscrossed the Mall and marched to Smithsonian sites beyond, I clutched my cell phone and lugged my laptop, always mobile and ready for my daily Smithsonian adventure. The Smithsonian is embracing mobile technologies as it strives to serve visitors in their museums and in cyberspace. My Visiting Professional residency provided me the contacts and time to learn about the ways the Smithsonian is engaging visitors through digital means as well as some more low-tech “human” engagements in their halls.

Each week I visited different museums and spoke with my colleagues about their work. Days were filled with talking, observing, and playing. As I texted my way through museum exhibits, playing several digital games and even creating some, I realized that cell phones are more than devices for making calls on; at the Smithsonian they became guides for discovery. With so many excited educators working with content managers and web and mobile developers, many new ways to experience the resources of the museums are being developed and tested. It was exciting to be around so much spark! 

Week One: National Museum of the American Indian, D.C. and NYC. 
In D.C. I learned about their Cultural Interpreter program that has Native educators work with visitors on the floor giving tours, demonstrations, and instruction for hands-on crafts projects (I learned to weave a basket!) among many other exciting initiatives. 

At NMAI in NYC I visited exhibits and spoke with staff about film programming. Arizona State Museum already collaborates on our Native Eyes Film Showcase with NMAI and this gave me the opportunity to learn a bit more about what they do and plan for our next festival. I tested a new text messaging quiz initiative their visitor services manager is offering to attract more Latino visitors to NMAI’s galleries. It has spurred an idea for a text messaging quiz I want to develop in conjunction with a new exhibit opening at ASM this fall. 

Week two: Smithsonian Affiliates Conference and Mobile Media Learning workshops 
During the Affiliations National Conference, I heard and saw a lot! As my focus is digital, the high point for me was playing the Ghosts of a Chance game with my peers. We interacted together in the galleries at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and talked with a developer about how the game was created. We dashed through the halls discovering clues from art works, computer collection information, and even made tin foil sculptures. I think I saw more of the museum in one visit than I ever have before! 

At the Mobile Media workshops, we used Nokia phones to photograph objects and add augmented reality information to them, i.e.: we created short video that added meaning to the objects. It was good to have hands-on time actually trying to create using cell phone technology and to work with other peers as we questioned not only how the technology worked, but how we could use it, and how youth might interact with it. 

Week Three: National Museum of American History 
The high point was talking with Xavier Carnegie, Actor and Trainer for museum theater programs. He spoke about the power of theater to emotionally involve visitors with the history and ideas behind museum objects. Observing him in two different on-floor drama presentations was powerful. 

Week Four: Meetings with digital media strategists and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival 
I hopped around this week, gleaning knowledge from different sources. At the American Art Museum I further explored the digital media text messaging scavenger hunts in the Luce gallery as well as cell phone audio tours, and old-fashioned paper-based treasure hunts. 

At National Museum of Natural History I enjoyed talking with staff about how they approach the use of digital media, particularly with their Facebook page. They see the Facebook page as a very interactive program where they disseminate information, questions, and encourage comments and questions. 

The highlight at NMNH was my meeting with Robert Costello who developed a web comic to go with the Written in Bone exhibit. I’m also trying to develop a web comic so it was great to talk with a colleague who had already done the research on youth use of such a tool and had evaluation notes showing how people were using it (more adults then youth seem to use it!). 

On my last day, in honor of my explorations, I was invited to moderate a panel about digital media at the Smithsonian on one of the stages at the Folklife Festival. Smithsonian staff spoke about how their jobs had changed over time and how they were approaching making their resources available using digital media. The audience expressed interest in access to content and images and applauded their efforts. 

During my residency I was all over the place, but it was a great! The connecting strand was audience involvement with Smithsonian resources and using digital media to engage and reach out. My SI colleagues were inviting, open, and encouraging. Their work is inspiring and has given me many ideas and broadened my understanding of the possibilities and some of the difficulties in creating digital and face-to-face museum interactions! I look forward to sharing what I learned with my ASM colleagues and trying out some of the Smithsonian approaches.

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