Now Panic and Freak Out: Capstone Mode

Short, sweet, to the point: Final semester has started. For real. Pedal to the metal, writing due almost every week, plus more research and interviews to do.

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel: graduation. I’m so ready to be done with this program. Its taught me a lot, that’s for sure, but I’ve also changed a lot because of it. Become more jaded in some regards, and discovered much of what I do and do not enjoy about this field. I’m hoping getting through this capstone and finally walking away with my diploma will lift some of that weight off my shoulders.

Anyway, all this to say, I’m going in to hibernation mode. I may pop up every once in a while, but chances are you’ll find me in the library on campus. Drowning in books.

Also, if anyone has any case studies about deaccessioning in history museums in Massachusetts and wants to share them with me, that’d be awesome.

-a.

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Now Panic and Freak Out: Capstone Mode

“Everywhen” at the Harvard Art Museums

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Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia

I had originally started this post as something more rigid and defined. It was a review, an art review, something I’ve really never written in my life and don’t think I’d be very good at if I tried. When I stepped away from my computer and went outside with my notebook, and really thought about how the art on display in Everywhen spoke to me, how it elicited reactions within me, I realized that there’s no point to writing a review of this exhibit, or any exhibit for that matter. Not for me, anyway. Instead, this is a reaction, from my point of view.

Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia, is the new exhibit at the Harvard Art Museums, and it opens to the public this Friday, February 5th. If you can, I’d suggest heading to the opening reception on Thursday evening, and you might get a chance to go to the opening lecture, a conversation between Stephen Gilchrist and artist Vernon Ah Kee. Everywhen has been guest curated for HAM by Australian Studies Visiting Curator Stephen Gilchrist, an Indigenous Australian of the Yamatji people of the Inggarda language group of Western Australia. I’ve only ever met a handful of folks from Australia in my life, and none of them had ever identified as Indigenous, so to have Stephen give this tour was a real treat; knowing that he had curated the exhibit made it even better, because he has a deep connection to the art on display.

Gilchrist spoke of ancient narratives reinterpreted in abstract concepts, of connecting the past to the present to the future in a cyclical manner (the everywhen), of reimagining your way of being in the world and considering how you interact with it. The exhibit, he says, is an invitation to question how we discuss Indigenous art in the context of contemporary art today – is it other? Do we need to redefine art history? “This is not about rescuing indigenous art,” Gilchrist says. “We are indigenizing art history.”

For me, the most important aspect of the collection represented in Everywhen was the history. If you know me, you know that generally I don’t care for contemporary art; but if it is reinterpreting history, or expressing pain or grief or demanding justice for wrongs committed in the course of so-called “enterprise”, then I’m much more intrigued and open to understanding the artist’s interpretation of their own history (the last contemporary piece I wrote about was William Kentridge’s Refusal of Time).

20160201_144703674_iOSHistory cannot be separated from art, nor should it be. The Indigenous artworks on display in Everywhen are personal reactions to the events of the past; attempts to cross the divide between the present and what once way, spanning almost 40,000 years of history. Julie Gough’s piece Dark Valley, Van Diemen’s Land (2008) (at right) connects the artist, born in Tasmania and part of the Trawlwoolway language group, to her ancestor’s tradition of creating necklaces out of shells, reflecting the maritime culture of her people. The large chunks of coal tell the tale of Aboriginal exile and extermination, in the name of economy and progress; the story of The Black War hangs in the gallery, bringing back the voices of thousands of innocent victims slain in the name of industry.

IMG_5101Yhonnie Scarce’s The silence of others (series of six) (2014) (at left) is another piece that throws history in the viewer’s face, demanding to be remembered. Scarce uses yams as the shape of her blown glass trapped under bell jars. Each piece engraved with an archival number that represents one of her immediate family members; each of them treated as inhuman and “other” by having their body parts measured and catalogued as a taxonomical specimen (sound familiar?). The yams are representative of the Indigenous peoples’ affinity and connection with the natural world, and an attempt to remind us of the strength of that connection, as it flies in the face of colonization and Western “progress”.

It’s important to recognize that this is the first exhibition of its kind in the United States in 25 years. Narayan Khandekar of the Straus Center for Conservation pointed out to us in the gallery, as we looked at a bark painting by Manydjarri Ganambar, that up until recently there had been no technical studies of the materials used to create bark paintings. Narayan worked with art galleries and museums in Australia to study 200 samples of pigments and bark types to learn more about how contemporary Indigenous artists are using materials to connect with their ancestors and the past.

As a student of history, I think everyone should come to this exhibit and take the time to consider similar events that occurred in our own country’s history. Every piece on display in Everywhen tells a story; every brush stroke, every weave is entrenched in the history and ancestral narrative of the Indigenous peoples of Australia. The exhibition is an amazing opportunity to learn about the culture and history of a population I know very little about, and I recommend you visit often. I know I will.

Thanks to Becca Torres at the Harvard Art Museums for giving me the opportunity to join the press preview of Everywhen, and thank you to Stephen Gilchirst (Australian Studies Visiting Curator) and Narayan Khandekar (Director, Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies) for the tour of the gallery and the insights into the historical and technical aspects of working with the collection. Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia is on display at the Harvard Art Museums until September 18, 2016.

“Everywhen” at the Harvard Art Museums

#NEMA2015 – Portland, ME!

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Sunrise over Casco Bay.

If I had to choose one word to describe what the 2015 New England Museum Association conference was like, it would be WHIRLWIND. In the best, most positive way possible, it was definitely a whirlwind. We had fantastic weather, a great location, beautiful and historic scenery, and just all around a great conference. A big congrats and thank you to the staff and volunteers at NEMA for working their butts off to put the conference together — you guys are amazing!

I feel lucky that I got to help Dan Yaeger run a pre-conference “Networking About Networking” session the Tuesday before conference started. It was great to see so many new faces, meet new folks and hear their stories, and most of all, hear how different people take the first leap into networking. Mary Case made a really great point of making sure if you bump into someone you want to have in your circle (your network), to be sure you bump into them again before conference is over. Make that connection. Keep in touch. Monika, Scarlett and I loved running the Conference Preview on Wednesday morning. It was so nice that the group was small enough that we could have everyone go around and introduce themselves to the group. I hope some of you connected again during conference!

Monika and I ran a session on Thursday called Redefining the Internship. It was a think-tank style session, where we asked our participants to take a deep dive into the problems inherent in today’s internship models, and come up with some creative solutions for how we as a field might start to fix these issues. Y’ALL WERE AMAZING. Seriously. This should be a separate post. The brilliance that came out of that session made us both so happy. We are so thankful to all of you that came and worked with us. It was so hard to make our small groups stop discussing the creative ways to fix internships, how to make them better for the intern and the host institution, how to help first-time supervisors…. Really, you all did amazing work. We are crafting a white paper using list of fixes our participants came up with, in addition to creating a follow-up session for the 2016 conference in Mystic, CT.

This post should be longer, but as it’s already way overdue, I think I’ll keep it short. But really, truly, I had an amazing experience up in Portland. Meeting new people and hanging out with old friends and colleagues is always a treat no matter the setting, but something about NEMA conferences always gives me excited butterflies in my tummy and a pep in my step. The New England museum community, as I know I’ve said before, is one of the friendliest and most innovative groups of people I know, and I feel so incredibly lucky to be growing in this career in this setting. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

– a.

 

#NEMA2015 – Portland, ME!

Objects & Archaeology: Where Does the Story Take You?

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Bow of the wreck. Site protected by law.

[This should have been posted MONTHS ago. Sorry for the delay!]

I feel pretty lucky to still be connected to some of my undergraduate professors. Not only have they become my friends, they let me know when something interesting is happening at Salem State. Back in March, I found out about the first-ever Maritime Archaeology Field School that would be held during a week in July. Holy crap was I stoked on this! I signed up as soon as it was possible.

The class was broken down into 2 days of classwork, and 3 days of field work. Our first day of field work was spent at the Friendship in the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, where we practiced taking offset measurements from a baseline, and learned a bit about the ship. This was also my first time ever being on that ship, even though I had lived in Salem for 3 years AND my roommate at one time used to work at that park site! It was awesome to be able to check out the ship and learn about her construction.

Day 2-4 was spent on site. We were working on Steep Hill Beach at the Crane Estate, which is managed by the Trustees of the Reservations. The wreck we were working on is most likely the Ada K. Damon, which was wrecked during a Christmas storm in 1909 while she was carrying sand from Plum Island to Pennsylvania. The story is really quite sad; the owner of the ship sunk all of his money into the ship, and she wrecked on her first voyage. That’s rough. You can still see the wreck if you visit the beach at low tide, but keep in mind that the site is protected by law, so please don’t try to take anything from it!

We dug, a lot. Day 3 it poured on and off for most of our time on the site, but that didn’t stop us from digging up the port side and taking offset measurements. In fact, I think day 3 was probably the best day; we all laughed through the rain, and really got to know each other while digging with the outgoing tide crashing against our backs. We had 3 instructors – Dr. Calvin Mires, Captain Laurel Seaborn, and MA State Underwater Archaeologist Victor Mastone – and 2 Ph.D students with us to help us take measurements while working around piles of sand and the fact that none of us had ever been on a dig before. We really had to work as a team to make sure our measurements were correct, we weren’t getting in each other’s way, but most importantly we were helping each other figure out what we didn’t understand (scale? huh?). While day 4 was a bit of a wash – incoming tide meant we took sketches of features on the starboard side before they were buried by the water – we DID get an awesome tour of the Crane Estate and learned how to do trilateration measurements. Day 5 we spent at school, creating a site map that will be kept in the public record. How cool is that!? Our work will be the basis of future research done at the site. So flippin’ sweet.

Working in museums and being a collections gal, something Calvin said on day 1 really stuck with me. He talked about what archaeology is and isn’t, but what he made clear was that “shipwrecks are stories about failure.” Shipwrecks are STORIES. He emphasized that archaeology is an examination of past human existence based on objects found at the site, and that maritime archaeology is concerned with all aspects of material culture. Wrecks are cool, but what can they tell us about the people involved with them? The time period? The culture? While this course focused primarily on the how-to’s of maritime archaeology, Calvin made sure we all understood that beneath it all, what is important is what we can learn about a person, a group, or a place from the wreck site and any artifacts found.

We didn’t find any artifacts. In fact, we were told on day one that we wouldn’t. This wreck has been buried for over a century, and had been picked over after wrecking for resources (wood, iron, etc.). But that didn’t diminish our insane enthusiasm for what we were doing. To be able to work on a site and become part of the site record, to be encouraged to dig deep and get messy, was an opportunity that doesn’t come around every day. It was a great learning experience and I think all of us came away from the dig with a better appreciation of the work that goes in to an archaeological dig, and that even the smallest, seemingly insignificant task contributes to the larger picture in a big way.

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Word cloud I sketched out during class over the summer. These are just some of the stories that can be connected back to one wreck.

Learn more about SEAMAHP and The PAST Foundation

 

Objects & Archaeology: Where Does the Story Take You?

Full Heart Gratitude (An Overdue Update!)

Summer fun!It has been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve posted here. I guess I could use the excuse that it was summer, and I was busy doing summer things, which to a degree is true. But I took part in a great maritime archaeology field school through Salem State that I’ve been meaning to post about; I got to visit Rochester and check out the George Eastman House Museum (which is now the George Eastman Museum); I went to Maine and spent almost an entire day at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport and it was AMAZING and you should all visit…

It was a great summer, seriously.

In addition to doing all those fun summer things, I worked hard. I put in a lot of time at my internship with the Bostonian Society, and just completed my official 200 hours for credit today (!). We’ve managed to get a lot done, a lot more than I think we had initially expected; we even got to celebrate this month when we loaned the door to the suite that Charles Dickens used to stay in from the original Parker House (pre-1920s demolition!) BACK to the Omni Parker House. Man, that was a great night. Seeing how thrilled the house historian, Susan Wilson, was to have another piece of Parker House history back at the hotel was worth all the work.

Of course I worked at Harvard as well, but y’all know what I do there. Gift shop is doing pretty well — we have an Instagram account now, @shop_hmnh, so go check it out and follow us!

On top of work and play, I got asked to be a course assistant for a professor at the Extension School that I really admire, and have so far really been enjoying how strange it is to be on the other side of the syllabus. But beyond that, I am so so grateful. I had emailed this professor to discuss her work as a consultant (because I’m curious about how that works), and she ended her response with, “Oh, by the way, do you want to be my course assistant this semester?” Heart, full.

I’ve also accepted a volunteer seat on the Collections Committee at the Cambridge Historical Society, something I didn’t think I’d be able to do until I was mid-career. I’m so grateful a coworker at Harvard passed the email along and that Marieke Van Damme, the Executive Director at CHS, believes in me enough to welcome me to the Committee. We had our first meeting tonight, and I can’t tell you how awesome it was to sit there amongst peers and feel that my opinions were valid and genuinely desired.

Walking home from CHS tonight, along beautiful Brattle Street, I realized something: I may never make much money working in this field; I’ll work long hours; I’ll take on more projects than I can handle. But if there is one thing that I have come to love about the cultural heritage sector, it’s how amazing the majority of the people who work in it are. I have yet to meet someone who left me with a sour taste in my mouth, or feeling stupid or ashamed or unqualified. I have received nothing but encouragement and praise and support from the people I have started surrounding myself with, and I want more of those people in my life.

3 weeks from today (oh my god WHAT) I will be delivering my first conference session at the New England Museum Association’s annual conference with my amazing friend Monika. The two of us, plus our co-chair of the YEPs PAG, Scarlett, will be hosting events throughout conference, to welcome and encourage emerging professionals in the field (come running with us on Friday morning!). I get to help run a pre-conference networking event with some of the amazing folks from NEMA. And on top of all of that, I get to be at conference, I get to meet so many more amazing and wonderful colleagues and reconnect with people I haven’t seen in a while.

Guys, I am so incredibly grateful for every single one of you. You know who you are. You know what you’ve done. You know what’s coming for you (a hug, of course!).

I’ll get back to posting regularly soon. But for now, just know, I love all of you.

Full Heart Gratitude (An Overdue Update!)

Thoughts on Missing Art at the BPL

On May 20th, 2015, the Boston Public Library reported that it was missing two of its most valuable pieces: an engraving by Albrecht Dürer, and a Rembrandt etching. If you have been keeping up with the story, then you know that as of today (June 4, 2015), both artworks were found in the library’s archives, 80 feet from where they were supposed to be filed.

Originally, I had planned on writing a longer piece, trying to explain why it was possible for these two very valuable pieces to be missing within the collection. Since I’ve only started to get my feet wet in the museum world, though, I have no real expertise on the matter, so I’ll hold back – for the most part. I had planned to defend the Boston Public Library because I assumed the comments on articles written by the Boston Globe and WBUR would have many people up in arms about “how could the BPL lose objects?!”. While I didn’t comb through every article’s comments with a fine-toothed comb, the comments that I did read were not as harsh as I expected. In fact, they were much more critical of the way Mayor Walsh handled the situation than anything else (a thing I will stay silent on).

What happened at the Boston Public Library is not good. It sucks. (It also sucks that President Amy Ryan is still leaving, resigning only a day before the artworks were found.) But it’s also a very real problem in most cultural heritage organizations. Organizations that have existed for over 100 years have gone through reorg after reorg, and have had to constantly keep up with ever-changing standards and ways of doing things in order to stay on top of ever-expanding collections. This is not an easy feat when your entire sector is drastically underfunded. It means relying on underpaid, overworked staff. It means relying on unpaid interns. It means relying on volunteers. The public is outraged when situations arise like the one at the BPL, expecting us to have all of our objects organized and filed to perfection. The truth is, they aren’t. With tens of thousands of objects, how could they be?

And so I say this, to you, to anyone who will listen: Cultural heritage organizations need better funding and public support. How can you help make that happen? Email your Senators. Email your Congressmen and Congresswomen. Email your mayors, your governors – heck, email President Obama. Let them know you support the arts and culture. Let them know you want to increase funding for these institutions, so situations like this will become less of an occurrence in the future. With better public support, more organizations can embark on digitization and inventory projects, and can build a foundation to help them survive the next 100 years.

Click HERE to access the American Alliance of Museums’ Take Action page, to email your legislators about issues surrounding the cultural heritage sector.

Thoughts on Missing Art at the BPL

Adventures with Periscope

I hate to admit that after being a Massachusetts resident my entire life, and living in Boston for 4 years, I have never been to any of the Boston Harbor Islands. That is, until Monday, when my boyfriend and I decided to have our Memorial Day picnic outing on George’s Island.

If you’ve never been to George’s Island, you should go. A pleasant 45 minute boat ride from Long Wharf, the island feels like a huge escape from the city (while keeping the iconic downtown skyline in view the whole time). It’s so quiet, and to know that you’re on an ISLAND…it’s a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle and not pay an arm and a leg for it ($17 a ticket!). Plus, you can explore much more of Fort Warren on your own than you can of Fort Independence, which is very freeing.

Anyway, the point of this post. While I was on the ferry, I decided to experiment with Periscope. What is Periscope? It’s a live broadcasting app owned by Twitter that allows you to broadcast a livestream from wherever you are, and your followers can tune in and watch your broadcast. They can also ask questions through the handy chat feature. You can choose whether or not to upload your broadcast for people to watch later, which is pretty great as well. Because its owned by Twitter, you can login to the app using your Twitter account. This comes in handy later when you begin a broadcast: Periscope will autopost a tweet for you to let your followers know you’ve started your livestream.

I walked the ramparts of Fort Warren until I found a spot that had decent LTE signal (damn you, T-Mobile). Did you catch me live? What did you think? It was pretty brief because of the wind, the iffy signal, and because I was nervous. I mostly just talked about the fort, where we were, and that was that. I thought the experience was cool! It’s definitely a great app for showing your followers around a place you find interesting, especially one that others might not make it to. I think the next time I use it, I’m going to prep a little more. I know, I know, I should be spontaneous! And to a degree, it will be — I won’t be reading a script. But having an idea of what to say ahead of time will definitely cut back on the “uhhh”s and “so”s.

I’d definitely recommend Periscope to anyone with a story to tell. It’s a great platform for sharing the knowledge you have about where you are, with an audience that might or might not know you. I wouldn’t recommend using it in museums, only because so many of them have strict policies about recording and you don’t want to get in trouble! That being said, it would be great if museums embraced this app. The Field Museum has done a few broadcasts and have asked viewers to submit questions (which you can do via Periscope!) to be answered live. It’s definitely a great tool for members nights, spontaneous behind the scenes tours, and special events. I would also say, anyone visiting a historic house or property, use this app! Share where you are and how you’re feeling in the space, especially places that have outdoor grounds for you to explore.

My next broadcast will most likely be about the Chestnut Hill Reservoir Historic District, a place I know far too well, but want more people to know about! I’ll get on that next week, so keep an eye out!

– a

PS: Big thanks to Giles Parker for sharing my broadcast with his followers! You can follow him on Twitter @YourIslandPark.

Adventures with Periscope