Buffalo Public Schools and Mark Bradford: Five Buffalos

We’ve had a gorgeous exhibition up this summer called Shade: Clyfford Still/Mark Bradford.

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Knowing that this exhibition was in the works, Eric Jones from the Public Art Initiative started a project with the Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts earlier this year. Students from this high school created a work of art inspired by the work of Bradford, and Bradford visited the school to talk with the students back in May. I got a chance to visit BPS192 and to talk with the students and their teacher about the project:

The project has made me think a lot about what kinds of opportunities there are when you can work with the artist. This wasn’t always as present an opportunity when I was working in encyclopedic museums where contemporary art was part of the collection, but one of a larger pool of collections. This project also highlighted some challenges– people have their own, very full schedules and aligning institutional schedules, public school schedules, the schedules of a dozen museum staff members, and the schedule of the artist is something of a moving target. That you’re trying to hit with a bow and arrow. From a thousand yards. While riding a galloping horse. Backwards.

Shark Girl’s Birthday Party

So we did a little experiment with a program pretty unlike anything we’d tried before, and it turned out pretty well. Not perfect, but pretty darn good.

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We had a birthday party for Shark Girl.

DJ! Temporary tattoos! Sparkly birthday cupcakes!

Definitely had a couple of discoveries along the way (the sculpture garden is DARK at night), but also had a pretty good time with some happy participants, and we’re working on what we might do in the future to celebrate the Public Art Initiative.

And since doing things halfway is for wimps we rolled right into a brand new event on Monday– yoga on the portico:

img_1416We started things off with a tour of the collection, focusing on the theme of balance. It was a great group of participants (even if 61 is a bigger group than I’m used to touring), and the class that followed was fantastic.

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And the week kept right on rolling along with a fantastic visit from Interpretation peeps from Cleveland. I miss you guys! So good to see you!

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CMA + AK with Jim Hodges

 

 

 

New Projects: Outspoken

Right now things are still new enough that absolutely everything feels like a new project, but one has really started to take flight and I’m pretty excited about it.

The Albright-Knox’s is an institution focused on modern and contemporary art– I like to say that it’s the oldest art museum (founded in 1862) in the U.S. dedicated to the art of the now. They’ve been collected contemporary art since the start, and continue to do so. One of the things this means is that there are regularly artists coming through the building, installing or giving talks, so this new project is all about catching them when they are there to talk about their work. And since we always have another artist lined up to come through we’re planning for it as a series, which we are calling Outspoken. (Kudos to Tom Loonan for coming up with that title).

The first Outspoken video is now out, cut from great discussions with artist Amanda Browder

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and Public Art curator Aaron Ott about the project Spectral Locus.

More Outspoken to come!

 

Never Work Half Heartedly

When I started in my new position I had had great hopes for getting back into blogging more regularly.

Rather predictably, I have not been blogging more regularly. I have managed to do a few other things, but blogging has not been one of them. That said, there have been a couple of blog-worthy things to come up.

New Job, New City, New Department

All the new things! It’s a really exciting time at the Albright-Knox, and I am having a blast getting to know the collection, the institution, new colleagues, and a new city. My first week here one of my favorite contemporary artists came to give a talk, which was fantastic.

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And so far, since coming to the A-K, we’ve had several exhibitions open and close,

hosted Art Alive, a giant event in which dozens of groups create tableau vivant of works of art,

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Art Alive entry recreating Amanda Browder’s Rapunzel

and danced the night away at the annual summer fundraiser.

I’ve been getting to know the docents and have been heading out to the galleries to practice:

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And I’ve been able to put all my media development skillz straight to work, interviewing artists that have come to the A-K for exhibitions, projects, and talks.

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From an interview with Amanda Browder

We’re building a new team in the education department (complete with new job openings), and building out new programs and working on our plans for building new audiences (including trying some completely new programs).

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While it has been a pretty packed few months for me personally, it is also a hugely exciting time for the institution itself: the selection of an architect to design the A-K of the (near) future was announced.

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Shohei Shigematsu of OMA at the A-K

AAM and Interpretive Planners

In the meantime, I had the great pleasure of working again with two amazing women– Julia Forbes from the High Museum of Art and Emily Fry from Peabody Essex Museum– on annual the Interpretive Planners’ pre-conference. It’s such a fantastic group of people, and always an inspiration to see everyone.

I also got to be on a panel at AAM with fantastic folks from Detroit Institute of Art (the incomparable Swarupa Anila and Alison Jean) and the Art Gallery of Ontario (the awesome Keri Ryan).

Sadly, I was only able to stay for one day of the conference, but I did get to see some interesting talks and got to see the amazing Sara Devine collect awards for the Brooklyn Museum’s Ask app (go Sara!). I did also get the chance to run through the Renwick exhibition of so much (justifiable) instagram fame. AND I managed to get folks out for karaoke in Chinablock– including my much-missed former crew from VMFA.

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YEAH

#MCN2016– New Orleans here we come!

Meanwhile, I’ve been having a ball working on the upcoming MCN conference. I get to work with amazing co-chairs, Suse Cairns and Trish Oxford, along with all of the fantastic folks on the program committee and so many others who put so much into making the conference a reality.

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Conference schedule planning: ALL THE POST IT NOTES

We’re really excited about the program and the really incredible submissions that came in (a record number!). I’m also very excited about everything going on with the SIGs this year, and (of course) with the Educational and Interpretive Media SIG (which means I get to spend even more time with Emily Fry!). Can’t wait for New Orleans!

Lots more in the mix, and more things on the horizon. Now, I really am planning on getting some more blogging done.

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Sage advice from the Cornell Art and Architecture school on a recent trip to my alma mater

Museum Reconnaissance, Continued (with special appearance by the Cheesebarn).

Last week the team headed south to the Columbus Museum of Art to check out their Center for Creativity and to chat with the awesome Merilee Mostov. Such a great trip! Such great discussions!

At the moment the museum only has a couple of galleries open as they are in the midst of an expansion and renovation project. It’s set to reopen later in the year, and they’ll have a snazzy new wing when they do. In the meantime, the Creativity Center continues to be open so we headed to Columbus to check it out.
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The main spaces are hubs of ideas jam-packed with opportunities for creating, thinking, solving, and playing.

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Each of these points was directly connected to works of art that were hung nearby, such as the station that is set up to allow visitors to create their own images using their phones along the lines of photographs by a Russian photographer from the collection displayed on the wall next to it.

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The center also includes a space called The Wonder Room that incorporates works created by local artists specifically for the space.

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There are opportunities for visitors’ imaginations to run wild.

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And the team jumped right in (we will always take an opportunity to play, apparently).

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The Imagine the Possibilities installation was really exciting– visitors had created so many different things, all using only one material in only one color. Some of the objects were just amazing, and it was fantastic to see they way that participants built off of one another’s creations.

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I was also really impressed with the inclusion of feedback stations throughout both the Center and the museum as a whole. They are taking the responses that they receive at the feedback stations and categorizing and analyzing what they hear from visitors. They get a lot of feedback, which means a lot of data– so much to work with!

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Denver Museum of Art, African Gallery

I think one of the themes in our museum reconnaissance missions this year has been creativity as a medium of engagement. It’s run, like a thread, throughout the conversations we’ve had with our colleagues and counterparts, and some of the installation at Columbus made me think a lot about what the Denver Museum of Art is doing, as well as some of the things happening at the Art Gallery of Ontario. One important piece that both the Center for Creativity and DAM have in common is real estate (always a commodity in short supply). As we’ve been visiting museums that have incorporated this into their floorplans, we’ve been thinking a lot about what positive experiences we can take away from the installations that can be done without (permanent) space. Are there spaces available for shorter periods of time? What can we do that would last a week? A day? A couple of hours? As we’re winding up our (fiscal) year this month, these are all questions that we’re going to be focusing on in the year to come.

Interpretation team goes to Columbus!

Interpretation team goes to Columbus!

Also, icing on the cake that was a great day out was that on the way back to Cleveland we stopped in at Grandpa’s Cheesebarn. We tasted cheese. We tried out jams. We met Grandpa. It was all the awesomeness you would imagine Grandpa’s Cheesebarn to be.

Grandpa's Cheesebarn!

Grandpa’s Cheesebarn!

Museum Reconnaissance Missions

Our department went on a couple of really fantastic research trips last year, and I’ve had the folder with my notes in it in the to do pile for an embarrassingly long time with all sorts of plans for writing about what we saw.  No better time than the present, right? Each of these trips was so incredibly valuable for us as we think about projects that we have coming up and the direction we would like to head towards with interpretation in the future.

Detroit Institute of Arts

The team visited DIA to meet with the Interpretation team, as well as some members of Education, Exhibitions, and Curatorial. It was a fantastic visit–it is always such a boon to have the chance to talk with colleagues at other institutions, learn how they are organized, and to see the culmination of their work in the galleries. Interpretation departments and teams are all grappling with so many of the same issues, it gives tremendous food for thought to hear about what processes and solutions are being put into play at other institutions– particularly ones with long-established histories in interpretation. This is particularly true when it offers the opportunity to spend the day with awesome people– and the DIA has an army of awesome people.

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Interpretation team field trip!

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There were quite a few takeaways from this trip, but I think the biggest one for me was hearing about how they were using visitor research, and how much it informs the work they do. We love having visitor research data, and do use it to inform our thinking about projects, but it was so great to hear about some of the ways in which the folks at DIA had used their data, how it had influenced decisions, and how it informed conversations around the work.

(I actually got to visit the DIA twice in the last year, most recently for a VTS practicum in March,  I visited the Diego Rivera & Frida Khalo in Detroit show while I was there, which is gorgeous and so worth the visit).

Portland Museum of Art

We were able to take a whirlwind trip out West to the Portland Museum of Art to meet up with their Education Department (as well as a number of folks from several other departments).

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Interpretation museum adventure! #pma

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We have been working on a storybooth prototype, and the PMA’s Object Stories project offers a well known  museum storybooth example, and one that we’ve been very interested in learning about as we’ve been thinking about our own project.

Object Stories Booth at PMA

Object Stories Booth at PMA

We had such great discussions with everyone at Portland– from hearing about the fantastic programming that they are doing to what they learned from Object Stories and more.

Kevin checking out the Object Stories stories at PMA.

Kevin checking out the Object Stories stories at PMA.

They are doing some amazing things at the PMA, and it was really inspiring to hear about the ways in which they are connecting to a variety of communities in Portland.

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Our discussions about Object Stories were incredibly helpful for thinking about our upcoming project, and that was just one of the great takeaways from the visit. It was great to hear about projects they are working on, and inspiring to hear about the ways that they have experimented with making connections with visitors. In particular, I really admired how much of their work was informed by the community at large, and the really important ways they are thinking about the many audiences and potential audiences there are in Portland. We were also excited to hear how the museum was tackling social media, in which many departments are directly involved.

Denver Art Museum

On the way back from Portland we stopped in Denver to visit the Denver Art Museum.

We happened to get there not long after they released their report on creativity and community, so I had some really interesting reading material for the flight. For example:

But although irreverence is good, irrelevance is not. When polled, visitors consistently express a preference for rich, meaningful, object-based content.

DAM was full of surprises– at least for me. As a (probably over-) seasoned art museum visitor I walk into museums with a framework of expectations (as do many of us).

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At the Denver art museum

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DAM had many of the things that one would expect in an art museum visit.

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Excited for our day at the Denver Art Museum today

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But it also had some surprises tucked into spaces throughout the galleries– maker spaces that give visitors the opportunity to create themselves.

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We spent a lot of time in the maker spaces.

For me, having the opportunity to create something– even something simple (or perhaps especially something simple and low stress) was a great experience. I left thinking a lot about creativity and ways that supporting visitors’ creativity (even those who don’t think of themselves as creative) can expand and enhance visitors’ experience in the museum. We’ve been exploring ways that we can do even without having dedicated maker spaces, including programs like writing workshops and the storytelling workshop that Bethany wrote about recently).

We were also able to visit one of their special exhibitions, Matisse and Friends, which included unique interpretive elements, such as a single audio stop designed to facilitate contemplative looking, super comfy seating to encourage longer engagement with the paintings, and the opportunity to share a journal response to the works in the exhibition. We watched visitors interact with each of these elements, engaging with each one.

These visits and discussions were amazing and we will be thinking about what we’ve seen for a long time to come. I want to extend a huge thank you to all of our colleagues at the DIA, PMA, and DAM, who were all incredibly generous with their time, their knowledge, their ideas, and their experiences. We came away inspired, impressed, full of ideas, and completely wowed by the amazing things happening in the field.

Senufo, Shiva, and the Jar of Awesomeness

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Shiva probably never had to dance in the snow in India. (This particular bronze has been in Cleveland since the 1930s, so perhaps he has acclimated?) Dancing, driving, walking, and sliding through the snow is a pretty standard part of how things roll in wintertime Cleveland. Usually. (It’s been a light winter for snow this year, but we’ve been making up for lost time in the last couple of weeks.)

We’ve put the finishing touches on the Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa multimedia tour, which has been exciting. The app is now in the iTunes store (which is even more exciting– did I mention that it’s free? It’s free!), and there’s lots of work is going on in the exhibition space this week.

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Today I had the rare moment of having lots of things that need doing, but none that are due in the next 24 hours. Huzzah! It also gave me the opportunity to open up a folder of raw pieces for some ArtLens segments that I’ve been hoping to get to for a Very. Very. Long. Time. Double Huzzah! (Also? some of these raw bits are reeeeally interesting, and I think will lead to some great final outputs). *And* one of those bits-of-flarn projects that has been hanging out for months and refusing to get done basically got done this morning. Triple Huzzah!

We cover a lot of ground in our department. (I mean a *lot* of ground).

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We do heaps of programs and videos and lots and lots and lots of app content and gallery interpretation and interactives and things with docents and many, many things. It is exciting to have such  varied work, and I feel really fortunate to be able to do interesting, meaningful work, and to be a part of a team of talented, fantastic people. Toward the end of 2014 I was talking with someone that I don’t get a chance to talk with all that often and they asked how my year had been. And I said, “oh it was great, we did great things, and worked on great stuff, and had great projects.” To which he said, “Oh, yeah? Like what?”  And I said, “………..”

Because in that moment I couldn’t really think of an example of the great things we’d been doing throughout a great year. Of course there were challenges along the way (definition of every year), but there were also great things that we accomplished in 2014 and I didn’t have any of them on the tip of my tongue.

I think a big part of it is that it is sometimes hard to find a moment to step back, even briefly, at the end of a project and to really think about what worked, what didn’t, what you’d do differently, what you would like to do again. In some ways the nature of how the work our department works: we are always working on multiple projects simultaneously. And many of our projects are ongoing (we’re always creating something for ArtLens, so it’s never really done). The end of one project doesn’t necessarily lead to a natural moment of reflection.* More often, it leads to freeing up the time you were putting into project A to let you put it toward project B. In the end it sometimes makes it difficult to delineate what was accomplished in a given period of time (like, you know, last year). Which is ridiculous and needs fixing. If not for 2014, then for 2015.

To wit, The Jar of Awesomeness:

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The plan? To fill the jar with all things awesome, large and small as a reminder to ourselves (and me in particular!) of all of the great things that happen, the moments of good fortune, and the hard-earned achievements that come from the dedication of the team. The bottom of the jar is already covered with more to come.

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* Which is why we schedule post project discussions after big projects.

Congratulations, Bethany!!

We have a winner!!

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Bethany, who is  the Audience Engagement Specialist member of the Interpretation team, has been named the winner of 2015’s Cleveland Emerging Museum Professional of the Year Award. GO, BETHANY!! Bethany first came to the CMA as the Nord Fellow in 2010, later joining Interpretation in 2012 as Audience Engagement Specialist, where she focuses on public programming for adult audiences. And program she does! Lectures, gallery talks, plus a whole heap of new programs from Art Bites tours to mediation in the galleries, art making activities at MIX events,

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dozens of (very popular) yoga classes for last summer’s Yoga exhibition (she wrote about her experience back in December), and the large scale fashion shows for the Wari and Forbidden Games exhibitions.

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This award also signals her nomination for the Ohio Museum Association’s Emerging Professional of the Year, which will be announced at the OMA Conference in March. Congratulations, Bethany, much deserved!

Bethany

Do We Make “Content”?

Last month I went to Dallas (my first time in the Big D, at least out of the airport) for the annual MCN conference.

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It’s one of my favorite conferences, and is one that I always feel like I walk away with ideas and inspiration and thinking about lots of big questions– it’s the one where I spend the plane ride home thinking that I’m going to get home and Do All The Things! Make All The Things! Make Very Very Good Things! And then I get home and my inbox is full and there are voicemails and deadlines and maybe even a fire to put out, and I think, I will do All The Things a little later.*

This year I presented in the case study group, which was really enjoyable– there were some great conversations about what makes a trusted museum brand. I was also on a panel that was organized by Robert Weisberg from the Met (who compared his institution first to pre-revolutionary France, and then to a space ark) that was downright fun. (You can read his thoughts on this year’s MCN here). Corey Pressman gave an inspiring (and often hilarious) talk about orality’s shift into the authority of print, and the potential for opening authority as we move into a time of secondary orality. Kimon Keramidas talked about his (supercool) projects with students at the Digital Media Lab at the Bard Graduate Center. (The audio from the panel is here).

The panel touched on a lot of things that I spend a lot (I mean a lot) of time thinking about. Much of what I do professionally is “content development.” If someone had said to me when I was tied to a carrel in the library in grad school that I would grow up to develop content I would have looked at you like you’d told me I was going to find myself living out my middle years on Mars. Content development? What does that even mean?

I don’t really recall hearing the word “content” (the way it is used now) in grad school. I might have, but if I did it didn’t make an impression. It’s a word I hear all the time now, both in my professional life and outside of it, but it is a term that I find hard to pin down. What does it even mean?

The seeming ubiquity of the word doesn’t, for me, negate it’s inherent slipperiness. What does it actually point to? First and foremost, it points to its holder (“content,” after all, says up front that it is contained, which means there must be a container) while not pointing at all to its own identity. It’s stuff that goes in the thing– it’s only identifying feature being that it is held in something else. It seems to function as a placeholder for whatever we happen to be talking about at that moment. Labels, videos, software, tours, public programs, whatever. We seem to have tacitly agreed to use this catch-all word to catch all we do– and it the process it’s lost whatever meaning it might have, at some point, had.

And then we use it with visitors.

Ug. The internal/external meanings of museums’ weird nomenclature are rarely aligned. In my experience museums have extensive taxonomies so esoteric that only a select few have been initiated into the highest levels of knowledge. For visitors, much of it is just wordswordswordsthatIdon’tknow.

And who actually wants to make “content”? Content sounds like vitamins: something you don’t enjoy ingesting but do it because you’re supposed to. Who wants to listen to, watch, see, read, or make that? Content is a word that sounds desiccated. And it’s so overused that at times I think it no longer has a referent.

When I think about what we are actually doing, when I think about what I actually love finding out about and listening to, and watching, and learning about when I go to a museum (and I go to a lot of them– and not just the one where I work), it’s stories. Because we’re humans, and humans are hardwired to hear, tell, and process narratives (literally). It is how we make sense of the world; but it is also a critical way in which we derive joy from it as well. We don’t want to hear “content”; we want to hear a good yarn.

This may seem like just semantics, and it is semantics, but it isn’t only semantics. Externally, is it realistic to expect our visitors to get excited about something we call “content”? Internally, does approaching the work through the framework of “content development” have an impact on what we produce? [I would say that it does, and not for the better].

That said, I don’t have a solution for a better word. Ideas, stories, narratives, something else…. I don’t know, but would love to hear suggestions.

***

Meanwhile, I heard some fantastic panels and discussions at MCN, including a super fun panel on games with Emily Lytle-Painter of LACMA and James Collins of the Smithsonian that really had me thinking (again) about games (again) and museums (again). Our little department has several people who are gamers themselves (analog and digital) and the idea of bringing games into what we do at the museum comes up somewhat regularly. The session had lots of great advice, but was done through actually trying different things out– which is a great way to make the message stick.

I also really enjoyed a panel on museums and social media, and have been thinking ever since I left Dallas about Alli Burness‘s question: What do selfies mean?

And of course I visited the Dallas Art Museum:

Went to a honky tonk:

And had epic karaoke:

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Before heading home:

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*And over the course of the next year I usually get to Some Of The Things, which probably isn’t half bad.

Yoga and the Museum

Yoga: The Art of Transformation opened at the Cleveland Museum of Art last summer. From June to September, over 1400 visitors participated in:

  • Three lectures.
  • One four-week seminar.
  • Four gallery talks.
  • And FORTY-FOUR yoga classes.

Gallery talks and lectures? Easy. We do these all the time. Where we really had to stretch ourselves (pun absolutely intended) was the yoga classes. Sure, lots of museums offer yoga in the galleries, but for us, this was a new challenge.

Yoga on the Lawn

Yoga on the Lawn

It wasn’t difficult to find people to teach. As soon as the exhibition was announced, yoga teachers in the area were calling and emailing, wanting to know how they could get involved. Even before plans for a yoga studio were added to the exhibition’s design, I had a list of excited teachers and studios ready to offer classes. We started out by scheduling two classes each Sunday of the exhibition’s run (with the creative title “Sunday Yoga”). When Sunday Yoga sold out, in some cases months in advance, we first added more spots to those classes and then more classes during the week, evenings, and Saturdays. We also had a weekly drop-in yoga session out on the lawn.

Even though these programs were successful, there were still aspects of the summer that could have gone more smoothly. Here are some of the lessons learned.

Stretch Yourself…

Every time we do a new program at the museum, there’s an element of anxiety. Will people come? Is this actually worth it? Will the art be in danger? Will yoga enthusiasts be running around the galleries shoeless?* All valid questions, and sometimes, the answers make it seem like an idea is impossible. But often, these new programs are welcomed and enjoyed by our audiences. We learned that a new program can be successful, even if it requires implementing new ideas, and it’s worth trying.

Full classes!

Full classes!

…But Not Too Far

When the yoga classes filled up and more and more studios wanted to get involved, I got excited. I wanted to keep this momentum going and really celebrate how enthusiastic the community was, but I didn’t consider how much more work it would be. Yes, it was exciting, but by the end of the summer, I was completely exhausted and behind on a lot of my other responsibilities. It would have been better to look at what resources the museum could expend and consider more carefully how much we could take on.

Be Flexible

Working with nineteen different yoga studios and teachers also meant working with a lot of different personalities, ideas, and methods. While I tried to clearly lay out our expectations and resources, there were inevitably classes that required special arrangements, like bringing in musical instruments and props for yoga and harmony experiences or setting up chairs for meditation and therapeutic yoga. Some of these I knew about in advance, others were a surprise. Expect that no matter how many times you ask for details, you might not get them!

Deep Inhale

Sometimes your volunteers or your yoga teacher won’t show up. Sometimes people will get mad at you when they buy tickets for the exhibition and don’t realize the yoga class wasn’t included (or vice versa). Sometimes you schedule a kids’ yoga class for the first week of school and not realize it until you get to the empty studio. Sometimes your speaker will get laryngitis. Sometimes people will ask you if a black teacher is doing “African” yoga.** The potential for random, disruptive, or unfortunate happenings is there in any program, and even more so with forty! It’s easy to let it get to you. Take a minute to yourself when something like this happens. Don’t just run off to the next thing, no matter how busy you are; wait a second, breathe, and let it go.

The exhibition sign was a popular photo op.

The exhibition sign was a popular photo op.

 

Be In the Moment

Because there is so much advance work that goes into making a program happen, I sometimes feel like the actual event is anticlimactic. Once all the paperwork is in and the arrangements are made, the actual day-of feels easy. But if you’re already thinking about the next thing you have to do, you miss what’s going on right in front of you. I was reminded of this in one particular class, when I overheard a very experienced yoga practitioner chatting with a complete beginner about how much they both enjoyed one of the works in the exhibition. That moment of connection, when someone can relate a centuries-old work of art to their own life and is so excited that he or she wants to share it with others – that’s what it’s all about.

Practice

Last summer’s experiences showed that there is a deep interest in yoga in the Cleveland community. With many of our programs, we try to meet people where they are by incorporating their favorite experiences into the museum. Thinking about the success of these programs, we’re looking at ways to make yoga a regular part of the museum. Like yoga, viewing art can be a relaxing and inspiring experience. What could be better than bringing them together? 

Even if they weren't taking part in the class, lots of visitors enjoyed watching!

Even if they weren’t taking part in the class, lots of visitors enjoyed watching!

* This was brought up in an early meeting. I thought, “No way. Who would forget their shoes?” That first weekend, I had to run after two people who got all the way out of the studio, into the lobby, and onto the escalator completely barefoot. Yeah. 

** And yet not one question about whether the white teachers were doing “European” yoga.