Monday, April 28, 2008

Live Blogging from AAM: Recommended Social Media from the "Can and Should Small Museums be Leaders in Technology?" Session

Technologies that the panelists recommend small museums use in order to be leaders in new technology:

Podcasting--Make use of already existing content--podcast your lecture series. Try to use software and hardware that can be used for other things as well, even when the tools are free. Be aware, however, that podcasts take up a fair amount of server space, so you may need to purchase more space.

Blogging--However, blogs are not always well indexed on Google. (Instead they use social tagging and keywords...) As with podcasting, make use of content you already have on hand. Blog your press releases, blog whatever you already have to type up for your museum. There are still issues of transparency and content control with blogs. Is it always appropriate to offer such a free and unmoderated form of discussion? Or do some museums address such controversial subject matter that blogging would be inappropriate? Remember: blogging is not about being a broadcast medium; it is about dialogue and interactivity. Remember, too, that if you don't take part in blogging or photo-sharing and so on, others will do it for you.

Social Networking--George recommends MySpace. The Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas will conduct an experiment similar to the one conducted by the Brooklyn Museum: they will hold an event but post a different time for the event on MySpace to see how many people get their museum information from MySpace. George advises against Facebook because in the past they did not support organizations, however, this has changed. What's more, while MySpace has been the primary social networking site for younger people, this is changing. Just as Friendster fell out of favor, MySpace is now following that same pattern while Facebook is rising and offers philanthropic opportunities. LinkedIn is good for professional networking but not for audience outreach.

Virtual Worlds and SecondLife--I agree with George that SecondLife "isn't there yet" in terms of getting museums up onto the site. Generally only larger museums or people from outside of the museum world have experimented in SecondLife. The Van Gogh museum in Second Life doesn't appear to be affiliated with the actual Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Again, if you don't do it, someone else very may well. The barriers to entry are high and the learning curve steep with SecondLife, but this is really just the first wave of its kind. However, if you want to get involved, contact your local new media department at a university and they can help you.

Photo and Video Sharing--Yahoo! owns Flickr and indexes the photos really quicklymeans that your photos will be found through Yahoo! searches relatively soon after posting them. This makes Flickr a valuable marketing tool, but you must fill in all titles and keywords for each photo. Flickr can be used with mashups as a cost-saving device--you can also use Flickr as your online image database for things like online exhibitions, however, beware of using it as your actual database; these sites will change, or change their terms of use or go out of business and so on.

There is a penalty for not participating in web 2.0--you will become less and less visible in Google and Yahoo! searches if you are not engaged in these ways.

Be aware that if your museum is part of a government, many or all of these social media sites may be blocked, prohibiting the use of these technologies through third-party sites.

And beyond all else, while the technology is fun, be sure to only use strategies and sites that really fit with your mission and vision and make the best, most appropriate use of your assets and resources. Find young people to implement these technologis for you.

Live Blogging from AAM: Can and Should Small Museums be Leaders in Technology?

The question being posed by the panelists at the "Can and Should Small Museums be Leaders in Technology?" session is not whether or not new technologies should be used to connect to new audiences but rather, should small museums blaze the trail, paving the way in use of new technologies.

Arguments in favor of being leaders seem to hinge around the fact that online technologies offer marketing and outreach opportunities for free and because they cannot afford not to pioneer new technologies, despite the fact that the technologies are rapidly changing and today's best solutions may not even be applicable next year.

The moderator has just paraphrased George Laughead's comments as, "If you're not doing this, you're stupid."

Another way to look at it the arguments in favor of leading the way in new technologies is simply put as this: "Why not?"

Sunday, April 27, 2008

AAM 2008

Well, here I am in Denver, CO for the 2008 annual AAM conference where I will be chairing a session on--you guessed it--revenue generation strategies, entitled Leading the Way in Revenue Generation Strategies for Museums.

My co-presenters will be Kua Patten of the Center for Museum Partnerships at the Exploratorium, Kathy Sklar of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian and Stephanie Turnham of the Bell County Museum.

This time around the session presentations will be relatively short so that we can try to better engage the audience and foster discussion but I still will have a brief powerpoint presentation, viewable here.

The session isn't until Wednesday, so in the meantime, there will hopefully be plenty of opportunities for live-blogging from interesting sessions. Be on the lookout for thoughts on sessions and session synopses coming soon!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What Happened in Vegas Should be Told All Over the World!

That old marketing slogan, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" goes right out the window once you move away from The Strip and hit some of the museums in town. The Clark County Museum for example (technically located in the suburb of Henderson), presents fun and important stories that should be shared with a larger audience.

The main museum building consists of a timeline exhibit relating the history of Clark County from prehistoric times up until today through the use of dioramas, reconstructed period rooms and immersive areas such as the inside of a mine. Although this is a fairly standard approach to exhibitry for a history museum, there are two elements that really set the Southern Nevada Timeline apart from the rest.

The first are the little touches of humor and irony sometimes thrown in by the Curator of Exhibits--a disarming honesty in the label copy such as the acknowledgment of the use of a particular exhibit technique to elicit a desired response from visitors, or the unexpected placement of an animal or object designed to surprise visitors. The second is the sheer number of antiques devoted to gaming. Seriously, where else will you find ivory-inlaid roulette wheels from the nineteenth century?

But the main building is really only the tip of the iceberg. The real treats lie out on the grounds on the Ghost Town Trail and the Nature Trail and particularly on Heritage Street.

Heritage Street looks like a suburban street off of the Universal Studios backlot tour, with six neat little houses (and one original motor inn cottage) lined up on either side of the street. Wally and the Beaver could have grown up on this street. If they had, it would have been in the P.J. Goumond Heritage House, a 1950s Tudor revival home where a mannequin lounges on the couch in the front room, tie loosened and martini in hand following a hard day's work.

Each of the historic houses on Heritage Street transplanted to the museum from someplace in southern Nevada has been refurbished according to their appropriate time period, bringing to life the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s. The attention to detail is exhaustive, as is the research on the time periods and the results are utterly transporting.

The Clark County Museum really is a timeless sleeper--I was disappointed by the attendance during my visit. Again, where else will you find a vintage Spartan trailer (made by the company owned by J. Paul Getty) in perfect condition, sitting next to a motor court cabin in this day and age?

But maybe the problem is with the museum's pricing structure. In a town known for glitz, glamor and high rollers, it's not all that surprising that a museum--no matter how amazing--that charges only $1.50 would be ignored.

Monday, April 7, 2008

An Explosive Time off the Strip

The wooden bench beneath me is uncomfortable. I note that there are no seat belts, no guard rails or other protective devices. "How bad can it be then?" I reason with myself.

The walls look like concrete cinder blocks, as if we are in a bunker. In real life, we would have been out in the open in the dry and dusty desert, a vast and empty land that was about to become even dustier by an order of magnitude.

The countdown begins. We don't have the protective sunglasses that we would have worn in real life; again, I ask myself, "Really, how bad can this be?" But I'm nervous just the same. I start to brace myself.

A blinding flash and the bench shakes beneath me as the mushroom cloud appears in the distance on the screen. Smoke rushes at us on the screen and air blasts my face.

I cringe.

It wouldn't have mattered how many times I sat as an observer, I know I would have been terrified each and every time I witnessed an atmospheric atomic detonation. The lesson of the Ground Zero Theater at the Atomic Testing Museum has struck home solidly with me; mission accomplished.

Although a thrilling and effective experience, the Ground Zero Theater is not the only highlight of this remarkable Museum. Through historic news reels, videos and memorabilia, the Atomic Age Gallery draws in visitors—particularly Baby Boomers—as it contextualizes atomic theory and atmospheric atomic testing.

A nearby gallery illustrates how atomic testing was welcomed by the city of Las Vegas as both a tourist attraction and a means to make the burgeoning town seem more "legitimate."

In the Innovators Gallery first-person stories are told from the contractors who ate lunch sitting on bomb casings, to the secretaries and security guards in charge of day-to-day operations at the Nevada Test Site. This adds a wonderful human element to the exhibit, forcing visitors to realize that atomic testing is not just about nuclear physicists in white lab coats.

The museum seems to peter out a bit towards the end, however. A lot of real estate is dedicated to technical explanations about and artifacts from the underground testing that replaced the atmospheric tests. Many people breeze through this gallery. Similarly, the gallery devoted to the various uses of the Nevada Test Site is far less compelling than the nearby Innovators Gallery where personal stories are featured instead.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that the experiences of Generation X are virtually ignored. Despite the fact that Gen Xers grew up in the shadow of the bomb when the hands of the Doomsday Clock pointed to two minutes to midnight and the made-for-TV movie, “The Day After” inspired nightmares for months, the museum is clearly designed with Baby Boomers in mind to the exclusion of other demographics. This is problematic both in terms of relevance and marketing to non-Baby Boomers and the museum’s own narrative. The final Today and Tomorrow Gallery feels rushed and tacked on. A piece of the Berlin Wall symbolizes the end of the Cold War—the impetus for atmospheric atomic testing—while a piece of the World Trade Center symbolizes the fact that there are still threats to democracy and American safety, justifying the need for continued testing.

Frankly, though, a far more compelling motivation for continuing nuclear testing can be found in the testimony of one of the scientists from the Innovators Gallery. He believes that there should never be a time when no one can remember from firsthand experience the actual devastating impact of a nuclear explosion.

Hopefully the museum will help to serve as solemn reminder as well.