“Everywhen” at the Harvard Art Museums

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!

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?

Bow section of Ada K. Damon
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.

Office Lens 20151117-095501
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

Thoughts on History Museums

I like to keep my work life — my museum life — separate from my personal life when it comes to Facebook. I love talking to colleagues on Twitter and Instagram, but Facebook has always been a personal platform for me, and so very rarely will I “friend” people that I do not know well enough. However, I will admit that after listening to Museopunks’ episode 15, “Professional Identity”, I went out on a limb and added Nina Simon as a friend on Facebook — only because she said she accepts everyone’s friend requests. (Listen to the Museopunks podcast here) Has Nina ever commented on anything I post? Nope. And I’m ok with that. I really added her because I assumed, if she was open to accepting anyone as a Facebook friend, she probably posted some interesting stuff about the world of museums — which I don’t always get on Facebook, as you might imagine.

Last week, Nina posted about nostalgia. Her comment was, “Spending the weekend in DC reminds me that nostalgia is not just for elders. Even little kids look back and wonder: how and why did this change? If history museums tapped into our nostalgia more deeply, I think they could engage us more powerfully with how and why we can change the future.”

As you might expect, the comments on this post were all well thought out and engaging. It really got me thinking, about how nostalgia could work when a history museum took advantage of it. My thoughts are still abstractions that I have been unable to really get down into coherent paragraphs, but so many questions began running through my head:

– How can nostalgia function as both community engagement and a way to welcome visitors to your town or area?
– How can a history museum use nostalgia based on its community, while remaining inclusive of those from outside your community?
– Can you get specific about your historic house or history museum while still remaining relevant?
– What aspects of your community do you focus on? Could this be a way to engage and invite participation of multiple generations of your local community?
– Do you create exhibits? Do you create special tours? Do you have monthly events that focus on different periods of time?

One comment stands out to me, from Lin Nelson-Mayson, the director of the Goldstein Museum of Design at University of Minnesota Twin Cities, College of Design. She wrote, “Whose nostalgia, though ? I wonder. If nostalgia is a starting point for seeing your experience in the larger context of constellation of experiences, it could be a useful point of departure in empathy. Otherwise it’s become reinforcement for “Take our country back”-ness” (my emphasis is added in bold) As someone who has always loved the feeling of nostalgia, and as someone who has a background in history, using nostalgia as a starting point for wider empathy is a perfect example of utilizing the powerful effects history and nostalgia can have on us as human beings. I also agree that, if we use nostalgia to make history museums more effective, we need to be mindful of how we use that nostalgia; we need to remain inclusive of all visitors.

Funny enough, the following day I had the pleasure of attending a talk at Harvard given by Leah Dickerman from the Museum of Modern Art, and Tom Rockwell of the Exploratorium. Both curators talked about the process of developing a new exhibit they had just launched at their respective institutions, and while Rockwell’s was fascinating (I cannot wait to check out the Exploratorium while I’m in California for Christmas!), it was Dickerman’s that really struck a chord with me. Dickerman recently curated MoMA’s new exhibit, “One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Works”, and her talk went into how she developed the exhibit; this included working with the history of the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North that began in the early 1900s. It fascinated me that Dickerman was so conscious of the history behind Lawrence’s art (though I would expect this, since she is a curator).

Listening to her talk raised some questions; my biggest one being, why is there so much history in art museums? Think about it. The last time you visited an art museum, did you walk away learning a new historical fact? Every time I visit the Museum of Fine Arts or the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, I learn more about history than I do about the art. And this intrigues me. How can we get visitors to engage in history AT history museums, in the same way they do at art museums? What are art museums doing that history museums should learn from? How can history museums attract the same level of donor-based funding that art museums do? Where do we draw the line between what is history and what is art?

These are all questions that I think we should be asking in history museums and art museums. Perhaps the two need to start working together for mutual benefit. The Peabody Essex Museum has a historic house INSIDE THE MUSEUM. I realize that’s not something many art museums are outfitted for, but it’s a thought, to pair art museums with history museums. I can imagine the benefits many of the history and historic house museums in Boston would reap if they were affiliated with the Museum of Fine Arts.

I’d love to hear thoughts on this. Please leave comments!


Thoughts on History Museums

The Ship That Shaped the Future of Texas

Star of Texas outside the Bullock Texas State History Museum.
Star of Texas outside the Bullock Texas State History Museum.

Hey all! Back from Austin, and I’m refreshed and ready to roll. I had a fantastic time and got to meet up with a few folks from Austin institutions. I would definitely recommend Austin to anyone who is thinking about going (I would also recommend renting a car while you’re there…I did A LOT of walking!).

Anyway, let’s get down to business. I managed to visit three fabulous museums during my trip: the Blanton Museum of Art, the Harry Ransom Center (both on campus at the University of Texas at Austin), and the Bullock Texas State History Museum. All three were amazing, world-class museums, but it’s the Bullock that left me spellbound.

Opened in 2001, the Bullock Texas State History Museum was the brainchild of Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, who was a master of Texas history and who thought it was vital to have a state history museum in the state capital. In 1995 he began discussing this idea with the state legislature – at the same time that one of the most incredible shipwrecks was discovered off the coast of Texas.

The wreck was of the La Belle, a 17th century French barque longue that had set out from France in 1865 with three other ships on a journey to found a French colony at the mouth of the Mississippi, led by famous French explorer, Robert de La Salle. A series of unfortunate events struck the mission, with the ships eventually landing at Matagorda Bay — in Spanish-controlled territory. Not good! As the colonists established Fort St. Louis, a storm swept the La Belle into the bay, eventually sinking her under 14 feet of muddy water (this story is actually much longer and much more interesting than it sounds right here, but I’m not writing a novel!). All that remained of the La Belle was a 17th century map, indicating where she had sunk.

Fast-forward to 1995. Bob Bullock is discussing a state museum, and the Texas Historical Commission gets funding to do another sweep to try to find the La Belle, which at this point they had been searching for since the 1970s. Going off the 17th century map, the historical commission divers begin their search…and return with a cannon that could only be from the La Belle.

Cannon from the La Belle

The way they excavated this ship is AMAZING. Instead of taking the route of the Mary Rose and the Vasa, the archaeologists in Texas decided to build a steel cofferdam around the site, and pump the seawater out from the area so the could excavate the ship from the floor of Matagorda Bay. The project took a year, and at the end of it all, they recovered over 1 million objects from the wreck, and had a pretty decent chunk of the hull intact. Everything was brought to the conservation lab at Texas A&M, where they built a freeze-dryer to clean the hull. The freeze-drying process restored the wood to its 17th century look! How cool is that?! And, as if this story couldn’t get any more awesome, putting the ship back together was (relatively) easy. La Belle was originally designed as a kit ship: meaning, she would be stored in pieces aboard one of the other ships on the journey, and reassembled in the New World. But that plan was scrapped, and La Belle was assembled in France. However, that meant that her keel was numbered with Roman numerals, and all the ribs were numbered accordingly. You can still see the Roman numerals today!

The Bullock Museum was built to house the La Belle, as well as tell the story of Texas. Currently, the ship is being worked on by conservators and archaeologists as they continue to stabilize her; the ship and many of the artifacts are on display in a temporary gallery. The permanent exhibit for the La Belle is currently under construction in the center of the museum — meaning you, as a visitor, get to see the exhibit as it’s built from the ground up. Yes, this means you have to hear saws buzzing and hammers…hammering, but it’s still an amazing opportunity to watch your museum build an exhibit! I think it’s a great way to show your local community what goes into creating an exhibit space.

What has really stuck with me from this exhibit is this: the La Belle landing at Matagorda Bay had a lasting affect on the future of Texas. Because of this one event, the Spanish doubled-down their control of the Texas territory, spreading their influence much further than they initially had, and creating the Texas we know today. If it hadn’t been for this singular event, who knows what Texas might look like! What if the Spanish hadn’t gotten word of the landing of the La Belle? Maybe parts of Texas would be much more French! The possibilities are endless and I can’t stop thinking about it! And I think this is such an important part of why we need history museums in our communities; it forces you to think about how events shape the future of the world around us. They bring us together and help ground us in our common ancestry; in events we can all share as our collective history.

I could go on and on about this exhibit and the Bullock Museum, because they absolutely blew my mind. If it helps at all, I Storified my #itweetmuseums journey through the exhibit, check it out here. Honestly, if you really want to hear about this exhibit and hear my enthusiasm, come meet me this Wednesday, April 15th at 6pm at the Hong Kong in Harvard Square at Drinking About Museums! (shameless plug).

Stay tuned, the next post is going to be about something a bit closer to home…the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture.

Until then!
– a

The Ship That Shaped the Future of Texas

A Follow-Up to Yesterday

Wow. Did yesterday happen? Yes, Alli, it did, and it was awesome. But now what? What are you going to do next??

I will admit, when I first started this blog in 2013, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was hoping to do something similar to what Emily had over at the UMZM and Field Museum, but I didn’t have the access. I thought, well, maybe I’ll do something similar but with the Waterworks Museum; now I’ve left there, and while I think I did a pretty decent job running their social media, I had dreams for what it could have been if I had infinite time and money and resources. I think I also got bogged down in the process of blogging – what do I talk about? How often do I post? Who is going to care? Will anyone even read this thing? So eventually, I stopped.

Yesterday was amazing, and not only because of Emily’s unofficial official nomination. Yesterday I got to meet Hopi Hoekstra, the Curator of Mammals at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, and it was awesome because we got chatting about how awesome it would be if Hopi could get Emily to come visit Harvard and give a talk to kids and students about getting involved with science. Yesterday was amazing because I got to go to work at the HMNH and spend my day surrounded by fascinating collections pieces whose stories have yet to be told. Yesterday was amazing because I got to spend time with my best friend, seeing one of our favorite bands live.

Now, I feel recharged, refreshed, and filled with a new sense of purpose. Today, I go to work with the reminder that people are curious and want to learn more, and that I have the opportunity to facilitate that learning and help fuel that curiosity, in kids and adults alike. Today I go to work with a storyteller’s eye, seeking the tales (haha, tails/tales, get it) that have yet to be told; hoping to awaken long-dead species to tell their stories to whoever will listen; determined to no longer remain dormant. I am once again an active volcano.

My new goal for this blog will be to post twice a week about something I find fascinating at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, the Harvard Semitic Museum, and the Harvard Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments (collectively known as the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture). I don’t have a backstage pass for any of these museums (yet!), so what I’ll be delivering is what I can find through research and asking the right people. It won’t be just natural history focused – there will be history woven in as well, because that is my background and my ultimate passion.

I still need to think of a tag for these special posts, but I will come up with something, don’t you worry. Keep an eye out: things are about to get interesting.

– a 

A Follow-Up to Yesterday

So, it’s been a while.

Hello, world. What’s new? I realize I haven’t posted here in…jeeze…forever. Sorry about that. I think I started blogging just to have a blog, which is never a good reason to start blogging. Take that as a lesson!

I’ve moved on from the Waterworks Museum, where I was briefly (for 8 months) running their social media, in addition to occasional work on the collections, scheduling Waterworks Wednesdays, and anything else I could fit in to my 15 hour work week. It was a great learning experience, but after a combined 2.5 years there, it was time to move on and seek new adventures. (Don’t worry, you can still find me in the gift shop at the Harvard Museum of Natural History)

Now, I’m a graduate intern at the Bostonian Society, which runs the Old State House Museum in downtown Boston. I’m working with an off-site collection, and that’s really all I can say until I get a better sense of TBS’ social media policy. I’m hoping I’ll be allowed to blog here and there about my experiences there, but we’ll see. I’ll be there for a year (I started in January and will end in December), so there’s a lot of room for growth and discovery. I’m really looking forward to the journey.

I’ve completed all my classes for my graduate degree, and I’ve realized I’ve been spending my days spending money I don’t really have. I feel like I should be reading museum books, but do I really need to be reading more theory? I had an idea while I was tweaking the appearance of this blog (dear lord it took forever to figure out that social menu below my title) — wouldn’t it be cool to visit one or two historic houses and museums in Boston a week, and blog about them? I think that would be neat. And it would get me to write. So I think I’m going to do that. I should make a list of all the historic houses in the area (helloooo Google) and try to get to as many of them as I can.

In other news, Drinking About Museums: Boston and NEMA are co-hosting a networking 101 evening at the Hong Kong on April 15th, 2015. I helped come up with the idea and get it together (sorry to brag but I gotta take some credit, right?), and I’d love it if everyone came! Click the DAM:B link above to RSVP (and make sure to come to the event this Wednesday for casual drinks and chats!).

Speaking of Drinking About Museums, I’m pretty glad the Google+ group exists. I’m heading to Austin, TX in a few weeks (for funsies), and posted in the group to see if anyone wanted to get together — BOOMSAUCE! Got a fun date with a bunch of Texan museum pros on April 6th now. I love the internet. Don’t you?

Time to make that list.

– a

So, it’s been a while.

What’s Your Dream Job?

Yesterday, a friend from high school (and far outside the museum world) asked me what my ultimate museum dream job was once I graduated from my MA program. I’m not going to lie, I was a little pressed to find the answer. What is my dream job? I’ve thought about it loads of times, what I want to do when I graduate, but I’ve also noticed that the answer has changed dramatically over the past two years.

When I first started my MA program, I was convinced that I could only do well in a collections environment, not dealing with the public, meticulously researching old artifacts to discover their provenance and going home at the end of the day confident in the knowledge that I had served my purpose. But now, that really isn’t my goal. I still want to work in collections – where else am I going to be able to do research on old artifacts?? – but I don’t want that information to remain static in the storage room, hidden away in a database, accessible only by those with passwords and knowledge of how to navigate the program. I want to increase the accessibility of my research, and the research of countless other curatorial assistants, associates, and researchers. I want interns to know that the research they do during their semester-long internship goes somewhere beyond the object files. Most importantly, I want the public to know what it is we’re researching, why we’re doing the research, why it’s important to the museum and to the community, etc.

I think half the allure of museums is what isn’t on display in the galleries. People are constantly asking me about collections not on display; pieces they remember seeing 30 years ago, do I think they’ll ever come back out? Those kinds of things. Before, when the internet was not as prolific as it is now, and when museums weren’t on social media, it was understandable for the off-display collections to be a mystery. But now, it isn’t: people want to know. Visitors want to know about conservation techniques; why certain objects have been moved off-display; why collections research is never really complete; what the importance of voucher specimens in a natural history collection are; most importantly, why we collect in the first place. And while it isn’t always feasible to explain all of this to visitors in person (unless you are able to have viewable conservation labs, like the MFA), the far-reaching capability of social media, blogs, and museum websites has given us a tool that some museums have taken full advantage of, and others have ignored. These tools have given us the ability to explain so much more of what we do to visitors who are interested in learning more than what we can deliver in our brick-and-mortar buildings.

Take Emily Graslie’s YouTube series The Brain Scoop. The Field Museum has given her the opportunity to share with the world the inner workings of the museum, giving online visitors a chance to see what kind of research goes on behind the scenes; the stories of some of the specimens that have been in the collection since the early days of the museum; and what really goes on in the exhibits shop. Graslie hosts meet-ups at the museum and around Chicago, encouraging her fans to visit the museum and see the real thing as opposed to only engaging online.

For a while, this is what I thought I wanted to do – become what Graslie had achieved, just at another museum. And to a degree, I still would like to do that. I would love to be the face of a museum, sharing the amazing secrets and mysteries of the collection with folks who are genuinely interested. But I don’t want to be another Emily Graslie. I want people to know me for me. Graslie has increased the accessibility of the Field Museum, and that is what I would like to be able to do for whatever museum I end up working for. But not just through the online community. I want to help with education, bringing school groups through the storage areas and to labs to show them what kind of work goes on at museums. I want to engage with community groups to help understand their needs and what else the museum can do to foster a relationship within the community we serve. Sure, Chief Curiosity Correspondent is an amazing job title, but I want something like, Collections Accessibility Coordinator. I want to go to schools, to community centers, and be able to communicate with these constituents and bring them the museum when they can’t come in. I want people to be able to appreciate and understand the importance of museums and cultural heritage institutions, even if they have never been to one.

In a nutshell, I want to increase access to collections through increased transparency and technology. I want to share everything that is amazing about the institution I work at with the world. So…does anyone have a job like that?

What’s Your Dream Job?