This chain of questions, posed – in various iterations – to a number of museum bloggers, started with #Museum Blogger day on Twitter on March 19th. Thanks to Gretchen Jennings for asking me to answer these questions.
1. Who are you and what do you like about blogging?
After working for 15 years as a full-time staff member of various museums, I have moved to a new role, that of consultant. As I no longer see and talk to colleagues every day, blogging provides me with a space in which to explore and share ideas. And the world of museum bloggers has offered me a new set of engaged and informed colleagues.
2. What search terms lead people to your blog?
I’m new to this – I’d like to know that, too!
3. How long have you been blogging, and has your blog changed in any way since you began it? How?
I started blogging in September 2014. At first my blog was part of my consulting website, but I moved it to its own space. Although the two sites are linked, I now think of it as a separate space – not part of my work for clients, but a space to hash out ideas.
Because I have always focused on finding and posing interesting questions, my blog is called “Museum Questions.” Gretchen Jennings brilliantly suggested that I title each post with a question, so I now do that. This also helps me think, with each post: What questions does this issue raise for me? Why is it interesting?
4. Do you have a sense about what impact museum bloggers have in the field?
I am not sure that museum bloggers are impacting the field, as much as extending it. The blogosphere reminds me of the shared workspaces that are so popular now. Blogs are a space for those of us who want to share ideas with others. Some of these ideas catch and spread. I think the world of museum blogging can be compared with any museum, which offers exhibitions and programs which serve visitors well. A few of these might reach the broader field, but even those that don’t are important: both for the museum / blogger to try out ideas, and for those who visit / read.
5. If you had a whole week just to blog: which subject would you like to thoroughly research and write about?
My particular interest is in what types of thought processes help us constantly improve what we do. How can individuals and institutions ensure that they have feedback loops which constantly inform practice? How can these feedback loops promote and contextualize innovation?
Right now I’m also interested in conceptualizing art interpretation as a form of philosophizing. If interpretation is philosophy, what can we learn from the field of philosophy that will help us better facilitate conversations with visitors?
6. If you could ask anyone to be a guest blogger, who would that be?
I’m interested in what we can learn from other fields. I have learned a lot from people in the education field. So perhaps Daniel Willingham, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Virginia. He writes about what we know about how people learn, and implications of this for educators.
7. Share your favorite photo with us that you took at a museum or historic site.
I’m not a particularly good photographer, although I do use my camera to capture museum displays that intrigue me. This was the wall text at the 21C Museum and Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. I used it in a blog post – I’m intrigued by how un-museumy this space feels, just by having a sofa underneath museum signage. To flip that idea around, what are the things museums unconsciously do that make displays less welcoming?
8. What was the last museum you visited and what was the experience like?
I visited the Guggenheim Museum last week when I was in New York City. I recently taught my undergraduate students about Futurism, so I was looking forward to seeing the current Futurism exhibition. I made a plan to meet friends there, and ended up barely looking at the art. It made me think about how hard it is to really look at art. This is especially true in the Guggenheim, where the ramps exert a force that pulls you along, encouraging movement rather than pausing. But, more generally, careful looking is a lot of work, and is rarer in museums than we would like.
9. If time and money were no object, what museum would you most like to visit?
The Uffizi when it’s closed to visitors (other than me, of course).
Closer to home, I’m very curious about the Crystal Bridges Museum, and hoping to make it there soon. And I’ve heard wonderful things about the City Museum in St Louis, and am planning a visit there with my family in July.
10. What’s the biggest lesson you have learned from failure?
Failure, and how we can learn from it, is a very popular topic right now. But I don’t think it’s quite that simple. Labeling something a failure or a success is less useful than creating a reflective environment in which we are always learning and improving. Most projects are not flat-out failures or radical successes – and pausing to figure out what was successful, and what was not, and why, and where we want to go next, is how we learn.
11. If you had to identify the biggest issue for museums (globally) today, what would it be?
Finding ways to measure success outside of visitorship and income. In our society we equate and express value with numbers. But some museums have so many visitors that it is nearly impossible to see the objects, and some museums do amazing work on tiny budgets. What new ways can we identify to measure success?