The Jar of Awesomeness, Amplified

Been a little slow on the blogging side lately. My excuse is pretty lame, too– museum life has been crazypants busy the last few months and blogging was backburnered. Writing more was one of my new year’s resolutions, but, well, it’s the end of the month, sooooo….

In addition to end of year/beginning of year usual madness, we have some big, busy projects in process, all of which I’m super excited about, but also wishing that perhaps they hadn’t all ended up scheduled at exactly the same time. (Says everyone, always)

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One new development that I am really excited about is that I am co-chairing the Program Committee for MCN2016. First of all, this co-chair gig means I get to work with two amazing women: Suse Cairns and Trish Oxford. Not only that, I get to give back to the MCN community, which has been my go-to museum world touchstone, support, and inspiration since the first time I attended in 2011. And, and, AND, because I’ve never been one for half measures, I’m also co-chairing the new MCN SIG on the block— the Educational and Interpretive Media SIG (Special Interest Group), with yet another amazing woman, Emily Fry. Stay tuned for more to come on that front, and get ready to get inspired in New Orleans in November!

After coming back from some holiday time away things got pretty hectic pretty quickly. But right in the midst of it I received a wonderful moment of inspiration that made me feel both proud and grateful. Early last year I posted about the Jar of Awesomeness. At the end of 2015 we did open the jar and read out the notes that were in there, and it was something I really enjoyed.

In August I got to go to Museum Camp, which was fantastic. The whole group worked on a large project together– the creation of a Space Deck, a deck of cards designed to help the user or player create space for themselves and others. A couple of weeks ago my very own deck arrived in the mail.

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Hooray! It’s kind of amazing how incredibly satisfying it is to have this tangible evidence of one’s efforts, and it has been acting as something of a talisman, standing on my desk and reminding me of the lessons from camp.

On an even more personal note, in opening the box I was honored to see a couple of the ideas that I’d contributed made it into the final deck. One of which was the Jar of Awesomeness.

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Even better, I saw a notification from the Museum Camp facebook group that one of my fellow campers posted a picture of the Space Deck in use. When I went to look at the picture I found a colorfully decorated jar marked with the title Jar of Awesomeness.

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Spotted in the wild! Kind of can’t beat that.

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Ever wondered what would happen if you locked 100 museum nerds in a museum for three days?

At the start of August I got to go to camp. I do a lot of camping, but this was the first time I’d been to camp since 1984.There were fewer lanyards, friendship bracelets, and god’s eyes crafted than the last time I went to camp, but it was still chock full of fun stuff. Listen, y’all– I got to go to Museum Camp

While there were most definitely fun and games (literally and figuratively),

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there was also a lot of thinking about serious topics (sometimes in ways that were a lot more fun than thinking about serious topics usually turns out).

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The theme for camp was spacemaking:

“You can make space by empowering others. You can make space by inviting non-traditional partners into your work. You can make space by giving yourself permission or time or a paintbrush. Making space gives us a safe place to feel the fear and courage necessary for us to grow as individuals and organizations.”

For three days about 100 people- museum professionals, community members, activists, students, staff, and interns all but took over the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. (Elise Granata has a great post about the the process of co-creating the museum as a safe space for the camp here).

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Each day was broken into a wide variety of tasks, discussions, and experiences. We spent much of the three days working in teams,

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Team Ritual #7– Simon, me, and Vania

with work sessions interspersed between pecha kucha style spark talks and launchpad workshops.

I *loved* the workshops, particularly the first one I got to take part in: “An Introduction to Science Fiction Prototyping” led by Gregory Stock. It was a great way to put into action the idea of making space– for creativity, for learning, for fun, for yourself. Actively thinking about ways to create that space for ourselves in the work we do was a built into many of the sessions and team tasks throughout the weekend, and was a good, steady reminder to think about the thing we often put on the backburner: ourselves.

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For many of us, this eventually manifests itself in the form of burnout, and thinking about ways to unplug the burnout cycle was a truly fruitful process. If burnout is something you or someone in your life is grappling with, camper (and all around awesome person) Sara Devine talks about her working-through-burnout lessons from the weekend here. (You should go watch it).

I really appreciated the back and forth between the working sessions and the spark talks, which felt like touchstones, reminding me of the big picture reasons that had brought me to Museum Camp to begin with. There were some amazing, inspiring stories in these talks, and some incredible bravery from the speakers, from the courage to tell a secret to the courage to see an opportunity in a vacant lot and act on it. There were two that really struck a chord that resonated with me all through the weekend, and have been continuing to ring ever since. One was Beck Tench‘s talk about swimming with sharks, and how we often find that the shark we are swimming with is ourselves.

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Slide from Beck Tench’s spark talk

The other was Porchia Moore‘s talk about making space for everyone. She cited the recently released Mellon Foundation report on diversity in American art museums. Or rather, on the lack of diversity in many departments in American museums.

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It is space that must be made– in our programming, in our interactions, in our partnering, in our hiring, in our recruiting– and it is on all of us in the field to make that space happen. I saw her give a great Ignite talk at MCN last year that will be the most thought-provoking six minutes of your day:

From these two talks I felt like I walked away with as many questions as I did answers. (And perhaps that’s as it should be. I mean, who has all the answers?) Here are some of the ones that I wrote down at some point over the course of camp:

  • For whom are we, as museums, as institutions, making space? For whom, as staff members, colleagues, coworkers, and managers, are we making space?
  • How can we help and support visitors to make space for themselves in our institutions?
  • How can we create situations or spaces in which visitors can empower themselves?
  • How can we support each other (colleagues, coworkers, supervisors, reports, volunteers, visitors) in their space making?

Big questions. Important questions. I’ve got a few ideas. I’d love to hear yours.

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The setting for this adventure was okay….

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if you’re into that natural beauty stuff….

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TOASTED FLUFF TOPPING. Just sayin'.

TOASTED FLUFF TOPPING. Just sayin’.

Also: tacos. And ice cream. And the very best bus station noodles ever consumed. And lots and lots of laughing with awesome people.

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A huge thank you to all of the amazing people who made this such a thought provoking, affecting experience. Nina Simon and Beck Tench for creating the space for this experience; all of the staff, interns, and volunteers at the MAH for being super awesome and welcoming; the fantastic co-creators of Team Ritual; and all of my fellow campers for being such a great group of people to spend three intense days with.