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November 25, 2014

Playing in New England

#FindingNEMA - the Boston Terrier mascot for the conference.

#FindingNEMA – the adorable Boston Terrier mascot for the conference.

The New England Museum Association conference is one of my favorite events of the year.  It always takes place in November – when the air is crisp and Thanksgiving is right around the corner.  What could be a better time to visit New England?

This year’s conference took place in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was the biggest to date with about 1100 participants.  Even with that number, the conference feels intimate, and I was so delighted to run into so many Affiliate colleagues during the week.  The theme of this year’s conference was Health and Wellness – so appropriate as museums play such a critical role in the health of their communities.

The keynote panel set the tone for the week.  The panel brought together three local museum directors and two physicians, an interesting mashup that revealed all the ways that museums heal people and communities.  They talked about museums being among the most trusted community resources, and places of respite and beauty, which is why people tend to flock to cultural institutions in times of crisis.  The doctors for example, discussed the importance of careful looking when making a diagnosis – a skill they teach in part by taking students to museums.  What a great discussion.

Looking through a 19th century telescope at SAO.

A colleague from the Abbe Museum looks through “the Great Refractor” telescope at SAO.

IMG_4661

Looking directly at the Sun.. or live images of it anyway, at SAO.

A few Affiliate colleagues and I got an opportunity to hang out at an amazing research center near the hotel, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory [SAO].  There, a Smithsonian educator showed us the Great Refractor, built in 1847 and once the largest telescope in the United States.  We all got the chance to try out the unique seat designed for looking through the telescope, an elegant 19th century solution.  From the old to the new, we then visited SAO’s state-of-the art control room for studying the Sun, and “saw” it at several different temperature iterations in close to real time.  It was beautiful and flaring in a way we’d never seen before.

Conference attendees also had the great fortune to visit the USS Constitution Museum for an evening reception.  The Museum, an Affiliate since 2011, is a trailblazer in terms of research into family learning. They have already published the Family Learning Forum website  based on research and testing on engaging exhibition techniques.  The Museum is now turning its attention to programming with the same vigor, and funds from an IMLS National Leadership Grant.  One

Which role would you play?  Learning the importance of teamwork at the USS Constitution Museum.

Which role would you play? Learning the importance of teamwork at the USS Constitution Museum.

of the activities under testing asks visitors to be part of a 4-person team required to fire cannons from the USS Constitution ship, a much more difficult process than I imagined.  With a blue tarp as the ocean and a print of an enemy ship on the other side, my team fired an “alka seltzer cannon” and learned about the teamwork required to be successful in those conditions.  The Museum staff is refining a body of knowledge about family learning and best practices that will ultimately and undoubtedly benefit the entire museum field.

On the last day of the conference, I was honored to speak in a session with colleagues from our other New England Affiliates, Mystic Seaport and Plimoth Plantation.  Titled, It CAN be all Fun and Games, we looked at Affiliate examples of incorporating games and physical activity into museum interpretation.  The best part was that the directors of interpretation and education from Mystic and Plimoth brought actual games that they play on their 17th and 19th century living history sites, like skittles, Wampanoag football, stoolball, stilts, hoop games, harpoon throwing, marbles and even stilts.  I was a little anxious that audience members might not want to “play” on the last day of the conference.. but I was wrong.  It reminded me of an important lesson – adults also want to play and have fun like kids do.  Give them an opportunity – at a conference or at a museum – and they will literally run with it.

This game from 17th century Plimoth is harder than it seems!

This game from 17th century Plimoth is harder than it seems!

I attended so many useful sessions and heard so many great ideas.  Here’s a quick roundup of the highlights:

•    Think socially responsible or responsive programming might introduce mission creep at your museum?  But what if your mission wandered into a place that made you more relevant to your community?

•    Think it’s hard to engage millennials (ages 21-40)?  Think again.  They are visiting cultural institutions in droves, and there are about 80 million of them in America right now.  Don’t know how?  It’s easy.  Ask them.  And then empower them to create the programming they want to attend at your museum themselves.  For a great example, check out the Portland Museum of Art’s Contemporaries group.

•    Do your public spaces achieve the magic power of 10?  That is, can people find 10 things to do in your plazas, courtyards, front steps, etc.? (eat, people watch, see a performance, access wifi, meet friends, etc.)  For ideas, check out the Peabody Essex Museum.

•    Attending a conference is a great opportunity for a networking game. It’s super fun when it’s easy and for example, on your cell phone.  The one we played at NEMA had us asking questions of each other like “have you ever lived abroad?” and snapping photos for extra points.  Thanks Museum Trek.

Given the breadth, depth and richness of the conversations I attended last week, it’s abundantly clear that the museum community in New England is very healthy, and helping to make their communities amazing places to live.  A big thanks to the small but mighty staff at the New England Museum Association for bringing us together and expertly facilitating such enriching dialogue.  And Happy Thanksgiving to all!

September 24, 2013

kudos affiliates! october 2013

The air is turning crisp, but Affiliate accomplishments continue to shine!

FUNDING

Chabot Space & Science Center (Oakland, CA) was presented a “Waste Management Cares” award in the amount of $95,000 for their environmental education programming. 

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) announced the recipients for the Museums for America and National Leadership Grants for Museums programs featuring the following Affiliates:

History Colorado (Denver, CO)
Award Amount: $134,425; Matching Amount: $214,622
History Colorado will design, create, pilot, and evaluate five multilevel 21st century skills-based Colorado History Digital Badges for children in fourth, seventh, and eleventh grades. Each badge will challenge students to complete various quests or activities in conjunction with the learning standards for their appropriate grade.

Denver Museum of Nature and Science (Denver, CO)
Award Amount: $149,965; Matching Amount: $150,099
The Denver Museum of Nature & Science will purchase new storage cabinets to rehouse its Asian collection of 1,130 objects, and enter collections information into its database, making images available for publication through its website. The collection illustrates the main materials, designs, and technologies used by indigenous cultures of China, Taiwan, Japan, South Asia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.  

Mystic Seaport Museum (Mystic, CT)
Award Amount: $80,343; Matching Amount: $85,864
Mystic Seaport will catalog, digitally photograph, and place a group of 4,950 objects and photographs into secure storage. The items were selected to support an online learning project for students and teachers, and programming associated with whaling and the restoration and planned voyage of the whaleship Charles W. Morgan, a National Historic Landmark.  

B & O Railroad Museum (Baltimore, MD)
Award Amount: $135,232; Matching Amount: $185,880
The B&O Railroad Museum will restore the B&O #600 J.C. Davis locomotive that was severely damaged by a collapsed museum roof in a 2003 blizzard. It is one of only two locomotives surviving from Philadelphia’s1876 Centennial Exposition. Four staff and 10 trained volunteers will restore the engine to its 1875 appearance.  

USS Constitution Museum  (Boston, MA)
Award Amount: $280,623; Matching Amount: $286,936
The USS Constitution Museum (USSCM) will use its grant to identify characteristics of family programming that result in active intergenerational engagement, enjoyment, and learning in museums and libraries. The project seeks to create a robust yet flexible set of guidelines for creating genuine intergenerational learning experiences disseminated through workshops, online resources, conferences, and publications.

Michigan State University Museum (East Lansing, MI)
Award Amount: $77,292; Matching Amount: $81,117
The Michigan State University Museum will purchase archivally stable storage materials, museum-quality cabinets, and a mobile storage system to create appropriate storage for an 827-box prehistoric and historic archaeological collection to ensure its safety and that of its users and to provide capacity for future collection expansion. The rehousing project will facilitate access by faculty, graduate students, and visiting scholars who regularly use the collections.

Center for the History of Psychology, University of Akron (Akron, OH)
Award Amount: $52,454; Matching Amount: $55,038
The Center for the History of Psychology will partner with 10 local high school teachers to design, implement, and evaluate educational resources to provide meaningful, informative, and memorable fieldtrips. The teachers will attend a one-day workshop to brainstorm with the project team. The museum will develop a Teachers Resource Package with guides to the museum, exhibits, and classroom activities; lesson plans based on state standards; and an online repository of archival materials for classroom activities. The museum will also create a “Measuring the Mind” interactive exhibit for teenagers and young adults, providing access to historical materials from the collections.  

Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience  (Seattle, WA)
Award Amount: $150,000; Matching Amount: $167,269
The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience will produce a newly designed tour program to empower the Asian Pacific American community to share their stories, help stimulate the local economy, and promote the historic and cultural vibrancy of the district. The Chinatown International District, on the National Register of Historic Places, is Seattle’s lowest-income neighborhood, struggling with multiple issues that threaten its preservation.  

Buffalo Bill Historical Center (Cody, WY)
Award Amount: $149,958; Matching Amount: $153,004
The Buffalo Bill Historical Center will complete a two-year Picturing Buffalo Bill project to digitize 6,000 photographs in its McCracken Research Library related to the life and career of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Staff will scan, catalog, and upload images to expand the “Buffalo Bill Online Archive” on the museum’s website, along with subject headings and descriptive metadata.  


RECOGNITION

The Arab American National Museum (Dearborn, MI) has earned accredition by the American Alliance of Museums.


LEADERSHIP
Clarence G. “C.G.” Newsome, Ph.D. is the new president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (Cincinnati, OH) 

The Board of Trustees of the Long Island Museum (Stony Brook, NY) announced that Neil Watson has been appointed Executive Director.

July 18, 2013

coming up in affiliateland, July-August 2013

Spend your summer at a Smithsonian Affiliate! Check out these events in your neighborhood in July and August.

MAINE
Kevin Gover, National Museum of the American Indian and Harold Closter, Smithsonian Affiliations, attended the public announcement of the Abbe Museum as a new Smithsonian Affiliate in Bar Harbor, 07.05.

Gabrielle Tayac (Piscataway), National Museum of the American Indian curator of the IndiVisible exhibit will give a public lecture on the similar histories of African-Native Americans and Acadian/Wabanaki relations at the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, 7.10. 

FLORIDA

Lindsay Bartholomew, science curator at the Miami Science Museum, presented as part of the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access online webinar, Do It Yourself Astrophotography:  Applications for the Classroom and Beyond, along with Mary Dussault, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, in Washington, D.C, 07.10.

MARYLAND
The B&O Railroad Museum collaborated with the Smithsonian Science Education Center for a Science Education Academy for Teachers workshop, in Baltimore, 07.10.

Warren Perry, National Portrait Gallery curator, will guest jury the exhibition Humor Me! at Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center, in Solomons, 08.07.

COLORADO
National Outreach Manager Aaron Glavas will be speaking at the public announcement of the Telluride Historical Museum as a new Smithsonian Affiliate in Telluride, 7.29.

IDAHO

The Idaho Museum of Natural History will host the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) exhibit Native Words, Native Warriors in Pocatello, 07.20.

MISSOURI
The American Jazz Museum will host SITES’ American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music, in Kansas City, 08.01.

MASSACHUSETTS
The USS Constitution Museum will host a teacher workshop featuring a lecture by Sidney Hart, Senior Historian from the National Portrait Gallery, in Boston, 07.26 and 08.09.

NATIONWIDE
Ten Affiliates are hosting student interns as part of the Smithsonian Latino Center’s Young Ambassadors Program, through 08.02—Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, Musical Instrument Museum, California Science Center, Museum of Latin American Art, Chabot Space and Science Center, Miami Science MuseumMuseum of Flight, and the International Museum of Art and Science.

Four Affiliates are participating in a Smithsonian EdLab teacher workshop, Connecting Classrooms, throughout July and August —the South Dakota State Historical Society in Pierre; the International Museum of Art and Science in McAllen, Texas; the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico in San Juan; and Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum in Arizona.

LAST CHANCE! See these exhibitions in your community before they close!

CONNECTICUT

The SITES’ exhibit Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America closes at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, in Mashantucket, 07.21.

TEXAS
Within the Emperor’s Garden: The Ten Thousand Springs Pavilion exhibit closes at the International Museum of Art and Science, in McAllen, 08.18.

MAINE
SITES’ exhibit IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas closes at the Abbe Museum, in Bar Harbor, 08.04.

September 11, 2012

What I did on my summer vacation – American history through her Ships

This summer I had an opportunity to experience American history from an interesting perspective – on the water.  My travels took me to three Affiliates whose ships – actual, life-size, working ships – punctuate important moments in our history.   The Mayflower II, the USS Constitution, and the Charles W. Morgan all illustrate the crucial contributions of “sailors” (of all types) to our nation’s success.  

“Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, [we] fell upon [our] knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought [us] over the vast and furious ocean.”   Especially today, a visitor to the Mayflower II can still deeply appreciate these words by the Plymouth colony’s first governor, William Bradford.  The magnitude of this bravery is inspiring to imagine.    

On one of the upper decks of the Mayflower II, in Plymouth harbor.

The Mayflower II is a faithful reproduction of the original, historic ship that brought the Pilgrims to the coast of Massachusetts in November 1620 (and was given to the United States by the British in 1957).  Exploring the decks of the ship and its cramped quarters, it’s easy to imagine the fears and anxieties of its 102 passengers, including 3 pregnant women, who lived there for over ten weeks.  Also on board were all the food, clothing, furniture, tools and other items they would need to start a life in a foreign land.

The travails of such a voyage and the biographies of its passengers are fascinating.  But the interpreters’ discussion of the Mayflower Compact is equally inspirational.  After the tumultuous voyage and a protracted start to finding an anchoring spot on Cape Cod, the community on board collectively decided to delay disembarking until they had a self-governing treaty in place.  That act, and their subsequent diplomacy with the indigenous Wampanoag, reveal the very early beginnings of what American democracy would look like, both in its best and worst incarnations. 

Plimoth Plantation, Smithsonian Affiliate, does a great job of telling both sides of this story in all of its sites – from the ship to the Wampanoag Homesite and the English Village.  What I quickly realized is that the Pilgrim story is much more complex than the one we celebrate at Thanksgiving, and well worth delving in deeper to appreciate. 

“Huzzah! her sides are made of iron!”  Up north in Boston, I toured the USS Constitution.  Most know her by her nickname, Old Ironsides, based on this exclamation by one of her sailors.  The ship sits in the Charlestown Navy Yard next door to Smithsonian Affiliate, the USS Constitution Museum.

I learned that it was George Washington himself who commissioned the building of the USS Constitution  in the Naval Armament Act of 1794.  And today, the USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship in the world; it’s still an active duty vessel in the U.S. Navy. 

Ready to go onboard the USS Constitution, in Boston’s Charlestown Navy Yard

Most importantly, she is undefeated.  The USS Constitution fought in several wars, most famously in the War of 1812.  That war, often called the Second War of Independence, definitively established the power and resolve of our new nation.  The celebrated victories of the USS Constitution incarnated that resolve.  She is most famous for her victory over the HMS Guerriere in July 1812, when the British ship’s 18-pound iron cannonballs, shot at close range, “bounced” off her sides.  (Her hull is not, in fact, made of iron, but of oak.)  The battle was over in 35 minutes. 

Touring the ship is amazing, but it’s in the museum where the story gets really unpacked.  Here, you come to understand what life was like on the ship – how much sailors were paid, what they ate and wore.  You can even try out how they slept, on hammocks only inches apart from one another.  Being there this summer as the museum commemorates the 200th anniversary of that fateful victory was especially moving, another reminder of the bravery and sacrifice of our military that solidified the foundation of our nation.

“The story of the American whaling industry… is a rousing chapter in American history…emblematic of a vastly larger story.”  So Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough describes the iconic Charles W. Morgan ship, docked at Smithsonian Affiliate Mystic Seaport in southern Connecticut.

The Morgan is the crown jewel of the Seaport’s collection, America’s last surviving wooden whaleship, and a designated National Historic Landmark since 1966.  Built in 1841, she made 37 voyages in her 80 years of service, surviving countless hazards of the sea such as ocean storms, Arctic ice, and even, a cannibal attack.

But why is a whaleship so important to American history?  Before kerosene and petroleum were discovered later in the 19th century, whale oil (and other byproducts) were  the primary commodity used for illumination and lubrication.  Think about that – American lighthouses, lamps, candles, street lights, and industry machines were all powered by whale oil, and kept our economy moving forward.  As Herman Melville said in the great whaling novel Moby Dick, it was considered “as rare as the milk of queens.” 

Checking out the Morgan’s blubber room.

Her effect on our economy is not the only important story.  The Morgan literally sailed all over the world, and attracted an incredibly diverse global crew who eventually became U.S. citizens.  The ship is the last surviving reminder of a major international economic force, but also, a living piece of history that tells great stories of adventure, hardship and immigration. 

All three of these amazing ships still sail.  All three have been, or will be, on the water again – the Mayflower II at its 50th anniversary in 2007, the USS Constitution this summer to commemorate its 200th anniversary victory, and next summer, the Morgan will embark on her 38th voyage to the New England ports she visited decades ago.

So here’s to the ships, their passengers and crews, that so bravely shaped our history.  Huzzah!

 

March 26, 2012

Coming up in Affiliateland in April 2012

Spring has sprung in Affiliateland!

WASHINGTON
The Museum of Flight will host Dr. Sharon Shaffer, Director of the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, to present a training seminar in Seattle, 4.1. 

FLORIDA
The Orange County Regional History Center opens SITES’ Beyond Baseball: The Life of Roberto Clemente, in Orlando, 4.7. 

MASSACHUSETTS
National Portrait Gallery Senior Historian Dr. Sidney Hart will present a lecture on the Art of the War of 1812 at the USS Constitution Museum in Boston, 4.11.

TEXAS
The Frontiers of Flight Museum celebrates the completion of the restoration project of the V-173 “Flying Pancake” aircraft, on loan from the National Museum of Air and Space, in Dallas, 4.16

NEW YORK
SI Gardens’ Cynthia Brown will present a lecture on Gardens in American History at The Long Island Museum of American Art in Stony Brook, 4.22.

CALIFORNIA
The San Diego Museum of Man opens SITES’ Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America in San Diego, 4.28.

October 27, 2011

Remembering America’s Real War of Independence

Most of us know little about the War of 1812.  What were its causes, when did it start, who were its heroes and how did it end?  If we remember anything at all, it may be the burning of Washington, D.C., the bombardment of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry – the event that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen our national anthem – and perhaps Andrew Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans (fought two weeks after the signing of the treaty that ended the war).  For most of us the rest is a long-forgotten chapter in dusty old textbooks.  An upcoming exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery will assemble a remarkable number of paintings and artifacts from the War of 1812 in an effort to remind us that it was this war that completed the unfinished business of the American Revolution and secured our true independence from the British, once and for all. 

The Star Spangled Banner at the National Museum of American History. Photo courtesy National Museum of American History.

As the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812 approaches, two artifacts stand out as enduring symbols of this era:  the original Star Spangled Banner, on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and the USS Constitution, the victorious naval vessel, still commissioned and now docked at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. 

The USS Constitution near the USS Constitution Museum in Boston. Photo by Smithsonian Affiliations.

On October 20, I had the honor of announcing our new Affiliation with the USS Constitution Museum, thus symbolically joining these two great artifacts into one family.  Both tell us much about the sacrifices of prior generations and the many hardships endured along the road to freedom. Both are also amazing examples of the combined efforts of generations of concerned citizens, public officials, historians and museum professionals to preserve these precious legacies  of our nation’s early and fragile years. 

We hope that the upcoming Bicentennial of the War of 1812 will draw further attention to the work that museums are doing to preserve our nation’s past and draw lessons for our future.  Are there any War of 1812 stories, artifacts, or historic landmarks in your communities?  Let us hear from you so that we can work together to present the fullest picture of this critical part of our history. 

Harold A. Closter
See more photos from Harold’s visit to the museum here.

Smithsonian Affiliations Director, Harold Closter, with USS Constitution commanding officers. Photo by Smithsonian Affiliations.

September 26, 2011

coming up in affiliateland in october 2011

Autumn is always a busy time in Affiliateland!  Hope you can catch one of these opportunities to experience the Smithsonian in your hometown.

KENTUCKY:
The Ten Thousand Springs Pavilion architectural model, on loan from the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute, is on view at the Headley-Whitney Museum in Lexington, through 3/2012.

WASHINGTON:
Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden will be speaking about his book Falling to Earth at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, 10/8.

CONNECTICUT:
The Mashantucket Pequot Museum will open the IndiVisible exhibition, on loan from the National Museum of the American Indian, in Mashantucket, 10/8.

NEW YORK:
Smithsonian National Board member Abby Joseph Cohen will speak at the Museum of American Finance in New York, 10/13.

LOUISIANA:
The Ogden Museum of Southern Art will be celebrating their 10th anniversary as an affiliate in New Orleans, 10/15.

ARIZONA:
The Arizona State  Museum will open the Through the Eyes of the Eagle, an exhibition developed by Affiliate the David J. Sencer CDC Museum) in Tucson, 10/15.

KANSAS:
Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden will be speaking about his book Falling to Earth at the Kansas Cosmophere in Hutchinson, 10/15.

MARYLAND:
Curator Michael Neufeld will lecture on the National Air and Space Museum Autobiography at the College Park Aviation Museum in College Park, 10/15.

MASSACHUSETTS:
The USS Constitution Museum will be announcing their affiliation at a Launching Party in Boston, 10/20.

GEORGIA:
Dr. David W. Penney, Associate Director for Museum Scholarship at the National Museum of the American Indian, will present a talk on historic Native American objects at the Southeastern Cowboy Festival at the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, 10/21.

NORTH CAROLINA:
The Charlotte Museum of History will open SITES’ Native Words, Native Warriors exhibition in Charlotte, 10/22.

SOUTH CAROLINA:
Affiliations staff will be on a panel with colleagues from the Headley-Whitney Museum, the Museum of Arts and Sciences, Tellus Science Museum, and York County Culture and Heritage Museums at the Southeastern Museum  Conference in Greenville, 10/25-27.

 

 

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