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.

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Calm Before the Storm

This week has felt like the dip between waves. After a series of clustered deadlines there are a few moments to think before the next cluster of deadlines arrives. Often the troughs are great moments to start stirring up new notions, and it has been a week of exciting ideas and a great team meeting. Each time we meet we refine and clarify a bit more, and every day we get closer to filling this up with our plan for the year:

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There is little as exciting as a blank slate.

Planning and Projects

We’ve had an incredibly busy couple of years in our department (and in the institution), and it is just recently that the manic pace has started to slow a bit. There are still a lot of balls in the air, but we seem to be past the point where we regularly forget what day of the week it is (or on at least a handful of occasions, what month it is). So we’re taking the moment to, in the immortal words of Vanilla Ice, stop, collaborate, and listen.

We thought about making a music video, but opted for planning with post-it notes instead.

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We had an incredibly productive discussion, and I’m really excited to see what directions the process takes us. I work with amazingly creative, perceptive, empathetic people, and I see fantastic things on the horizon. Including a panoply of new and interesting projects (more on that soon).

Plan A and The Year of Living Experimentally

After a very long winter (we just had a snow storm that was almost six months to the day after the first snow of the season), there are birds chirping, daffodils blooming,  and it’s finally starting to seem like spring might actually come. Which can only mean one thing.

Budgets.

Actually, it means two things, because with budgets comes planning, and planning is the exciting part of budgeting, even if you have to make two plans for everything (the with and without funding plans). This year I wanted to try making a small change to the process: flip Plan A and Plan B.

Often, Plan A is With This Many Dollars We’re Going To Do This Awesome Program/Project, and Plan B is With Fewer Dollars We’re Going To Do What Could Have Been An Awesome Program/Project, But Is Now Going To Be Less Awesome By The Power Of X, In Which X Is Correlated To The Size Of The Cut In The Budget. (Or sometimes Plan B is With No Dollars We’re Going To Weep Mightily At The Funeral Of The Awesome Program/Project That Never Had A Chance To Live). So this year we’re going to try starting with what we can do without funding. Here’s what I’m hoping will happen:

We’ll devise Plan As that are Awesome Programs and Projects, and Plan Bs that will expand the awesomeness of the Plan As through the wonders of funding for things like printing and supplies and outside services. And when our final budget is in place we’ll have funding for some (dare I even hope for many?) of the programs/projects, but because we started from unfunded awesomeness, all will be awesome.

Okay, that maybe isn’t exactly what will happen, but having experienced budgeting at a variety of institutions (the thrill of victory! the agony of defeat!), I wondered if a turn of mind would have an impact both on the experience and on the plans that come out of it. Necessity is the mother of invention, right?

Interestingly, something has come out of it. We’ve started thinking about what to do in the next fiscal year and the big things that have bubbled up have been experimenting and evaluating. Which is not to say that neither of these were part of what we were doing before– they definitely were– but rather that one of the big themes for the year will be iterative experimentation– including documenting what we tried, how it worked (or didn’t), and what we learned.

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Welcome to The Year of Living Experimentally.