Here is a list of recap blog posts and Storify stories from #MCN2015. Of course, we have our 2015 scholarship recipients blog posts but we wanted to make sure we collected as many of the conference recaps we could find. Enjoy!
By Rachel Ropeik, Manager of Public Engagement, Guggenheim Museum
I’ve been wanting to attend an MCN conference for years now, and I was excited and grateful that the scholarship made it possible this year. I’m a museum educator who’s always been interested in how digital tools can impact visitors’ experiences in museums. I expected to come away from MCN with inspirational ideas about creative uses of technology that might eventually spark programming ideas and keep me up to date on what other museums are working on.
That happened, for sure, but even more than that, the conference turned out to be much more than my expectations. It turned out to be all about the people.
That was true in officially scheduled ways like the excellent workshop on design thinking led by Dana Mitroff Silvers and Susan Edwards in which we each had to interview a partner and prototype a plan to make our own museum a more comfortable place for that partner. There was Liz Ogbu’s inspiring keynote, reminding us all to pay attention to the people at the heart of any of our projects. There were Ignite talks and conference sessions about accessibility and cultural agency that called for all museum professionals to focus on how we can open our field and our institutions to new voices and new visitors.
There was a great session about mentoring in museums (collective notes photos by Jennifer Schmitt).
But it wasn’t just the scheduled events that reinforced the human heart of MCN2015. In addition to the above official session about mentoring, there was the unofficial #musewomen mentoring pilot helping people connect (shout out to my clever and cool peer-to-peer mentor, Alie Cline!). There was a group field trip to the Mill City Museum organized through Slack and graciously hosted by Jesse Heinzen.
(here we are, looking panoramariffic[ally distorted in some cases])
There were dinners and bar conversations and fireside chats (literally, thanks to the hotel lobby) that dug deep into why we’re all in this field to begin with. There was even karaoke in a bar well outside the city that cemented some bonds between people who’d never met in person before this conference.
It was all this focus on people that got my brain and my heart revved up. That’s what sent me home with a list of new collaboration ideas and the people to collaborate with. That’s what made leaving feel like it was the end of summer camp (cheers to Ed Rodley for finding just the right metaphor for that one). That’s what made a conference that’s ostensibly for museum technologists feel like a welcoming space to this museum educator.
There are people out there (I’ve read the articles) who claim museums are misguidedly jumping on the digital bandwagon because they’re seduced by the lure of shiny, new tech. I dare those people to attend MCN and walk away still singing the same tune. Because I have never been to a professional museum conference anywhere that was as much about the human side of what we do.
As a first time MCN attendee, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m not entirely in the technology world, but I’ve got one leg in
and so I was worried I’d be overwhelmed by talk of frameworks, blasted by acronyms, and completely unable to contribute to the conversation. That, my friends, was completely unfounded.
I’ve attended many, many museum conferences, and I have to say that MCN was the most welcoming and refreshingly honest conference I’ve ever been to. I’m impressed that there was a safe space policy, which, as a woman, says that you take concerns about harassment, intimidation and assault seriously. I was also impressed that the Ignite talks openly and publicly talked about power, inclusion, equity, and accessibility, and that these issues were not seen as a niche but a thread that continued through the conference.
MCN was also really important for me in terms of my professional development. I was paired with an amazing mentor through #MuseWomen, and not only did my mentor talk through things with me, the people he introduced me to were also more than willing to connect around some of my career progression questions. Further, I was finally able to put faces to all of the amazing people I follow on Twitter, and see just how equally amazing they are in real life. I’ve not had that many hugs from “strangers” in a very long time.
The continued coalescing around the Museum Swear Jar, my accidental side project, really surprised me. I continue to learn that the problems we experience are pretty universal across departments, we just call them different things. I’m hoping that the physical manifestation of the Swear Jar can keep the conversation going, and I’m curious to see how the Jar can help the profession, aside from being a venting vehicle.
I always refer to the first day back from a conference as the conference hangover, and not only because there was a sweaty group rendition of Wonderwall at 2:15AM. I came away from MCN feeling like I immediately wanted to go out and code the snot out of an HTML interactive, go through and make descriptive captions for all our images online, and write an amazing social strategy. Buuuut then I open my e-mail and the reality sets in that I’ve not been doing my normal job for four days, and these projects will have to wait. Sadness ensues.
To fight the post conference hangover, I’ve got a plan. I’m going to follow up with my mentor and the others I met so that we can keep the conversation going. I’ve forked the Stele repo from Bryan Kennedy’s talk on dumping Flash for interactives, and I’m going to challenge myself to code a rudimentary interactive before St. Patrick’s Day. Why Saint Patrick’s Day? Why not? And in response to Sina Bahram’s Ignite talk, I’m going to get with our Diversity Catalyst and Web and Digital Media Manager to see how we can include audio descriptions into the upcoming work on our website, and try to evangelize it into the curatorial workflow.
And so, armed with a few goals and guidelines, let’s do stuff!
Having been aware of the existence of the Museum Computer Network for years, this year I applied for a scholarship and was very lucky to receive one! A great thank you to the MCN organizers for giving me such an opportunity!
Somehow having missed the registration desk when I checked in at the hotel, I met with an enthusiastic group of peers at the Science Museum of Minnesota, who immediately adopted me into the group. At the science museum we went through the galleries discussing the design and affordances offered to visitor experiences through the design of the exhibitions. This culminated in a meeting with a group of staff members who were brave enough to take in all our comments. Such exercise can be very fruitful and inspiring, and maybe museum professionals should more often just go into the galleries and meet their users face to face.
Yes, MCN is something special!
Driving from St. Paul to Minneapolis in a vintage, sixty+ years old bus provided from Minnesota Transportation Museum set the scene for further discussions and networking as well as it brought us safely to the Pourhouse, and an evening full of talking, food, drinks and a very inspirational Ignite session. On stage, Koven Smith from the Blanton Museum of Art demonstrated excellent moderator skills and should consider pursuing a career of hosting the Oscar’s, Emmy’s and similar grand events. The “Igniters” came through with important messages, demonstrating the great diversity of the community. These inputs made my brain rumble ever since: No matter what kind of output you are producing through your particular job, you are most probably going through numerous highly creative processes of which you may be unaware.
Museums inherit qualities of great importance to the society and individuals. It is critical to continuously evaluate and unleash these powers. Museum visitors and non-visitors have a lot to offer museums, and both sides should be considered as equal partners, which should also be reflected in communication models describing this relationship and in the accessibility efforts conducted by the museums. Awareness of the relationship needs to be emphasized constantly and may even lead to anti-oppression. How do we involve people, and how do we communicate with them? Many of these topics may involve digital technology, but what do people actually mean when talking about the digital?
At The Pourhouse: Nikhil Trived igniting us Towards an Anti-Oppression Museum Manifesto
Thursday morning, Keynote Liz Ogbu asked her audience the important question “What is it that you want to change by the work you are doing?”, and encouraged us to be a human being! Important reminders that should spring into mind, when struggling with everyday annoyances like spreadsheeds, budgets, visitor numbers, or technological calamities. The responsibility addressed by Ogbu is of great importance for museum professionals as we are in a powerful position: as David Fleming from the Liverpool Museum advocates, museums change lives.
As a lucky recipient of a MCN scholarship, I was able to attend this year’s Museums Computer Network conference in Minneapolis. It was a great opportunity to get new ideas and inspiration, both for my organization, and to share through my role on the Museums Computer Group UK committee. You can read a detailed post on my conference thoughts here – and I wanted to share a few overall thoughts on the MCN blog.
Two sessions really established the main themes of the conference for me, and these came up again and again in all the sessions. Liz Ogbu, an urbanist and social innovator, gave an amazing keynote that left me with two main messages:
Take a holistic approach to identifying ‘the problem’ by looking at the broader context
Examine the user’s perspective – consult them as experts in their own lives and behaviour.
The session on Implementing Digital Strategy, featuring Jane Alexander from Cleveland Museum of Art and Douglas Hegley from Minneapolis Institute of Art among others, also framed the conference.
For me I took away:
The importance of investing in underlying infrastructure and processes
The need to transform where we see digital in our organizations – it is core activity!
These messages reverberated in all the sessions I attended. For example, there was a focus on digital asset management throughout the conference, and I particularly enjoyed a talk by Nik Honeysett from Bilboa Park Online Cooperative who described DAMS as ‘mission critical’ for rich media organizations like museums. In another session Nik focused on shared services to reduce expenditure as a business model in a time of financial constraint. That same panel also saw Kaywin Feldmen from the Minneapolis Institute of Art considering the changing demographics of our audiences and the difficulties of balancing the priorities of traditional museum visitors and the emerging American demographic – this is a ‘wicked problem’ that could benefit from Liz’s holistic approach.
Liz’s other key message about approaching problems from the perspective of the user was brought out for me by Laura Mann from Frankly Green + Webb talking about designing multimedia guides for the Van Gough Museum. They had to move the project away from one of a list of guide ‘features’ and refocus on user needs. The problem from the user’s perspective was not that they were unhappy with the content – and recent research shows that more sophisticated technology does not improve visitor experience – the problem was how long it took for them to purchase and understand the guide. In the end it was a service delivery project
Overall I found the conference hugely inspirational and I am so grateful to MCN for the scholarship that enabled me to attend, but also a bit worried, as I think I may now be an addict and will need to come back next year.
Bio: Hi! I have a background in Biology and specialize in Visual Scientific Communication, working with technology, illustration and animation in a variety of scientific subjects and techniques, for museums, publishers and researchers. I’m a Smithsonian fellow pursuing a doctorate degree in Digital Media, focusing on the museum visitor experience with augmented reality technology.
Did you ask what I was up to last week? Well, let me tell you about my great experience attending the MCN conference in Minneapolis. Not only it was a double first time – at MCN and in one of the twin cities –, it was also the result of a generous MCN scholarship that supported my participation.
I set out on this trip to share and learn among museum professionals. I shared part of the doctoral research I’ve done in the last 3 years with augmented reality technology at a presentation room full of interested attendants with well-elaborated questions posed during and after the Q&A. And I learned above all how to prioritize the museum visitors in my work by listening to their stories and focusing on their preferences, and how digital tools can help in that process.
Much praise to the organization. Even though this was the most attended conference in the almost 50 years of existence of MCN (more than 500 attendees), it felt like a gathering of new and old friends and like a comfortable space for a newcomer. And the care and attention to details of the Scholarship Committee were heartwarming. On MCN’s signature welcome event, it was a nice surprise to find a corner with comfy couches for the scholars to perch and watch the Ignite talks – I had never been called a “scholar” before, it sounds so wonderfully Greek! –; so we had a privileged view to the set of dynamic 5-minute presentations that touched issues of accessibility and anti-oppression in museums, the meaning of digital and effective ways of storytelling. Can’t think of a better way to kick-off a conference. Or maybe I can, given that the keynote presentation on the following day was equally or even more inspiring. Liz Ogbu shared her approach as a designer and urbanist to make social impact among the communities she works for and works with.
Minneapolis was a great setting for the conference. It gave us the possibility of visiting iconic museums like the Walker Art Center and the Mill City Museum. It also gave us the opportunity to meet many museum professionals from the Minnesota Historical Society and the Minneapolis Institute of Art where the banquet took place. Overall very progressive museum thinking in a culturally vibrant location.
I joined a SIG and look forward to be more involved with MCN until next year’s conference in New Orleans. In the meantime, I’ll keep following the mcn-l mailing list, one of my go-tos for being up to date with the questions and challenges that museum professionals experience.
Connecting with like-minded professionals is one of the most valuable and enriching professional experiences. There are exciting movements with digital technology and the arts however; it is fundamental to share these movements so that we can progress in a conscious and informed manner. My experience at MCN 2015 was very empowering in this regard. The work that I have been engaged with at Drexel covers a number of areas at the forefront in digital transformation. To hear how these practices are being implemented in other institutions and from world leaders, I feel has greatly contextualized and informed my learning. MCN provided me with a unique opportunity to engage with a multitude of individuals from various backgrounds working within the industry.
However, the most profound and impactful insight I have taken away from MCN has come from the keynote speaker, Designer, Social Innovator and Urbanist Liz Ogbu. It was incredibly refreshing and courageous to initiate a conference on the subject of digital transformation within the museum with a speaker who is not directly connected to either of those fields. As her presentation went on it became clear that she was in fact more connected than I had imagined. Liz spoke of focussing on the importance of the end user and looking beyond the object to the larger system. I particularly resonated with this idea of learning from the end user as one of the fundamental elements for interpreting our collections. I’m a strong advocator of moving the idea of museum as a precious, restricted space to that of a social space that allows for emotional connection. Liz reminded us all of the importance of empathy and bringing our own humanity into the museum space to effectively generate this change. Also, that to make any significant amount of change it is necessary to have the end goal in mind but implement small steps to get there. I tapped into all of these core ideas that were presented during the keynote throughout the course of the conference and will continue to do so as I progress through my professional and personal journey.
During my stay in Minneapolis I managed to make it to both the Walker Arts Center and Minneapolis Institute of the Arts (MIA) in order to balance the information overload of the brain with some visual stimulation. Physically being immersed within these spaces I also found myself referencing a number of discussions and ideas presented at MCN 2015. At MIA I stumbled upon one of my favourite artist’s Nick Cave and captured my second Soundsuit I’ve seen while being in the United States – a personal highlight!
What’s it like being a first-timer at the MCN conference? It’s hard to fit into one post. Working within the digital sphere of museums for the past five years, I kept hearing more and more about the MCN community and its conference. As a scholarship recipient and a presenter, I wanted to absorb as much as I could from my peers as well as share some of my own experiences. Now, a week post-conference, I’m still digesting everything I’ve learned.
Here’s a taste of my time in Minneapolis:
Claes Oldenburg, Coosje van Bruggen, “Spoonbridge and Cherry,” 1985–88, Walker Art Center; Photography by Laura Hoffman
I started the conference with the half-day workshop, “Computational Photography Techniques for Cultural Heritage: Photogrammetry and Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI)”—a mouthful, right? Leave it to imaging guru Carla Schroer to make the complex concepts of 3D imaging and texture mapping understandable to a wide range of participants from expert photographers to enthusiasts/educational technologists, like myself. Charles Walbridge’s live demo in the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s photography studio showcased the concepts’ practical applications and was just plain cool.
In the evening, we were whisked off to The Pourhouse for the highly anticipated Ignite MCN. Having used videos from prior Ignite events in my teaching, I was looking forward to this the most, and it did not disappoint. Brave, inspiring speakers had five minutes each to explore topics that ranged from accessibility to anti-oppression to a shared vision, also known as the endless immensity of the sea.
After my first day of the conference, I was already full of new ideas. Throughout the week, I attended in-depth presentations, enlightening keynote, pithy case studies, diverse panels, and engaging networking events. From participating in my panel, “How Did I Become the Ringmaster? The Art of Juggling Digital Projects” to inventing and putting into practice a new social media game, I felt invigorated.
Before I left Minneapolis, I managed to squeeze in some museum visits because I’m of the mindset that it’s a sin not to visit the local museums. In addition to getting a behind-the-scenes view of Mia in my workshop, I was able to explore the museum, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, during MCN’s opening reception through special digital and exhibition tours. Additionally, visiting the Walker Art Center (also celebrating an anniversary—75!) is a must, and it remains one of my all-time favorite museums. I was also fortunate enough to visit the Mill City Museum, where I learned about the rich history of Minneapolis. Since I couldn’t possibly sum up all that I learned in my time at MCN, I’ll leave you here with this awesome view from the observation deck.
View from Mill City Museum Observation Deck; Photography by Laura Hoffman
In museums, we talk about empowering and we talk about sharing the stories of communities of color, but we need to do more than that. If we were succeeding at sharing these stories, museum audiences and workers would not be overwhelmingly white and Michelle Obama would not have said earlier this year, “You see, there are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers and they think to themselves, well, that’s not a place for me, for someone who looks like me, for someone who comes from my neighborhood.”
As Liz Ogbu put it in her keynote speech at the MCN Conference in Minneapolis, instead of empowering, we need to co-power. When we empower, she explained, we keep the authority of our institutions and bestow it unto other communities, but when we co-power, we acknowledge the power those communities innately carry—power that too often has been dismissed. This power includes oral storytelling traditions that have been dismissed in favor of the written word and artistic traditions that have been dismissed as craft and dialects that have been dismissed as improper. Until we move away from a method of storytelling that keeps us as institutions in the position of authority and toward one in which we recognize the power of communities in telling their own stories, there are limits to how far we as museums can progress. This is a lesson that was reiterated to me over the course of the conference.
I heard this lesson in Nikhil Trivedi’s ignite talk when he said, “As educational institutions, it’s crucial that we recognize that the histories we use have been written by those who have held power over time. … We have to be vulnerable enough to hear how we oppress others in spite of our intentions.” I heard it again when Adrianne Russell, in her talk on #museagency with Porschia Moore, asked, “What good are external ‘outreach’ initiatives if your internal systems are oppressive?” and when we talked about social change in social media in the Social Media Unconference.
Museums love to avoid things for fear of upsetting people. Be brave, fellow museum pros! Complaints also mean people care. #MCN2015
I saw a museum co-powering local communities firsthand when I visited the “We Are Hmong Minnesota” exhibition at the Minnesota History Center, which was curated by Hmong community in Minnesota. Are there biases? Sure. But where are there not biases? As Adrianne Russell put it at MCN, “Museums are not neutral spaces so we should just throw that out the door.”
Until there is no center, no norm, we will still be entrenched in our systems of power. The museums we create, the exhibitions we prioritize, tell us at every turn whose histories are “important.” Meanwhile, the museums we don’t create, the exhibitions we don’t prioritize—or, arguably worse, the communities to whom we don’t grant the authority to tell their own stories—tell us whose histories were not important enough to make the cut. And, despite our best intentions, these absences show us that museums are “not a place for me.” We all have bias, museums included. Is this wrong? No, it’s just a fact. Only by destigmatizing bias and recognizing our own biases can we take away the power they hold over us. In fact, our own desire for objectivity could be called a bias. Why do we aspire to objectivity when we could aspire to authenticity?
Let’s continue the discussion we started at MCN #museagency.
I’ve attended library and archive conferences, but found 2015 MCN conference in Minneapolis to be one the most relevant to my work I found in years. Why? Because the project on which I work blends library and archive techniques. It can be challenging to explain this blend of approaches and use of technology to those who work in the heart of archives processing or library description. It’s easy to get lost in the details and lose sight of the purpose. So we often share stories from the content we describe and digitize to clarify.
This is where MCN comes in…
From the keynote address by Liz Ogbu of Principle, Studio O, the conference focused on how to approach challenges as a whole, and use one’s resources for the goal, whether that involves technology, social media, or creative thinking (without the “shiny” stuff). She spoke about a project in the San Francisco neighborhood, Hunter’s Point. A neighborhood activists successfully worked to shut down a local power plant, and the company was investigating ways to physically rehabilitate the site. Ogbu was on the team brought in to suggest ways to work with the community. One major challenge was a lack of trust between the neighborhood and the company. The team’s holistic approach identified concerns about the neighborhood memory being lost, and brought in Storycorp to collect local’s stories.
This moment from me was emblematic of the conference sessions. Conference attendees and speakers seem unusually cognizant of technology as a tool. Attendees and sessions both exhibit a flexibility in thinking and approach that is imperative, so that one does not lose sight of the goal in face of the “shiney” stuff. Sessions focused on knowing a project or institution’s goals and using technology to forward those, not using technology for its own sake. Know the audience, the tools, and the goal.
The conference sessions also focus on how technology can help museums utilize the power of stories in social engagement and in person so that audiences not only feel represented in the exhibits, but also interact with the content. This included a wide range from the in MIA stories at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, content creation with the National Music Centre in Alberta, Canada; or the National Gallery’s #ArtAtoZ initiative.
I thank MCN attendees, speakers, and organizers for their passion (seen from the first night at the Ignite MCN showcases); their welcoming nature to a first time attendee; and innovative thinking. Each of these qualities has helped me rethink my approach and reset my enthusiasm as I return to my project.