Brining our own humanity into the museum space

By Daniel Caulfield-Sriklad, Fulbright Visiting Researcher, Drexel Digital Museum, Westphal College of Media Arts & Design at Drexel University

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!

DanielCaulfieldNick Cave Soundsuit_Blog


The Cherry on the Cake, No Wait, Spoon: A Taste from an MCN First-Timer

 By Laura Hoffman, Manager of K–12 Digital and Educator Initiatives, The Phillips Collection

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:

LHoffman-Spoonbridge and CherryClaes 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.LHoffman-Mia-Charles Walbridge (1)

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.

LHoffman-Ignite MCN-Sina (1)

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.

LHoffman-Mill City Museum Observation DeckView from Mill City Museum Observation Deck; Photography by Laura Hoffman


Co-Powering to Create Inclusive Museums

By Hana Maruyama, Multimedia Producer, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center


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 speech22427701979_55bb515d8c_z 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.

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.


An archivist goes to a Museum Technology Conference…

By Lesley Parilla, Cataloger, Smithsonian Field Book Project


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 t22510488477_ebf47c5f24_zhe 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.


Making Hidden Collections Visible: Highlights from MCN 2015

By Nicole Lovenjak, Library Practicum (2014-2015), The Banff Centre

Earlier this year the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) reached out to its members and asked for submissions that addressed MCN’s conference theme from our own perspective. As a new art information professional, having just recently completed my MLIS, I jumped at the chance to gain insight into this different sector.IMAGE 1_ MCN Blog PostI am so grateful that the scholarship from MCN allowed me the opportunity to travel (20 hours by the Greyhound bus in fact!) to Minneapolis. I came to the MCN conference to not only present a Case Study that explained my motivations and challenges in pursuing my independent digital research project, Artists’ Books Canada, but also to be inspired and learn of other ways that museums are giving visibility to their collections through digital initiatives. Below are some of my highlights of institutions from the conference pursuing new ways thinking about promoting and opening access to collections:

The Walker Art Center’s Kiosks and Displays

In the afternoon of the first day of the conference I was able to attend a tour of the Walker Art Center, which included a demonstration of the new Mediatheque, the Cinema, and a private tour of the Library and Archives’ artist’s book collection.

IMAGE 4_ MCN Blog PostThe Mediatheque gives interactive access to the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson moving image collection. Much like a jukebox, an iPod on the side wall of a small theatre allows visitors to select films, create a playlist, and project these films on the big screen. This kiosk is an inspiring way to give access to archives that gives choice and autonomy to visitors.

IMAGE 5_ MCN Blog PostSelections from the Rosemary Furtak Collection of contemporary artist books at the Walker Art Center’s Library and Archives

One major challenge in promoting a collection of artists’ books is their display and integration into exhibitions. Books often lay closed within glassed-in display cases—withdrawing the contents from view and touch.

However, as I walked through the Hippie Modernism exhibition at the Walker Art Centre, I was so excited to see the way access was offered to printed matter. It was brilliant to see tablets beside the closed books. Visitors may virtually flip through the books and magazines, of which physically only the covers are visible.

IMAGE 8_ MCN Blog PostPrint media from the traveling exhibition, Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia

Open Images and Museums

“The art of humanity belongs to humanity” — Gray Bowman, Lead Software Architect, Indianapolis Museum of Art

The panel “Let’s Talk about Open Images and Your Museum” included a series of Lightning Talks. Tax funded museums should follow their mission statements in their actions as this pertains to image dissemination. If one’s mission is to serve the community, disseminate knowledge, or connect people to creativity, knowledge, and ideas then it should be followed through in all aspects of the organization, including open access to images. To achieve this, panelists suggested thinking big but starting small such as allowing online access to images of works which have no copyright restrictions. If your museum only has a tiny fraction of images not under copyright, all you have to do is start with one.

“nothing bad happens” — Merete Sanderhoff, Curator and Senior Advisor of Digital Museum Practice, National Gallery of Denmark, offering the panel audience an undeniable truth about the result of opening access to images of artworks

Making Hidden Collections Visible: Artists’ Books Canada

The main reason for my attendance at this year’s MCN conference was to present on my current digital solution for promoting access and giving visibility to artists’ books collections.

IMAGE 9_ MCN Blog Post

Artists’ Books Canada will become a national directory of artists’ books collections across the country. This project, initiated at the Paul D. Fleck Library and Archives at The Banff Centre, hopes to identify the locations of these collections; provide descriptions and links to useful resources; and ultimately promote these amazing, but often hidden collections. 

Presenting at MCN was a very positive experience. During informal networking many colleagues offered design ideas for the project.

Accessibility = Availability

“It is about the ability for all people to use a product.” — Sina Bahram, President, Prime Access Consulting, Inc.

Another way to open collections to visitors is to use universal design. What really struck me is how this can be critical for one, but immensely useful for others, such as having transcripts for audio tours or having captions and searchable videos. Before arriving at the MCN conference I was concerned that the sessions and workshops would be too technical. But the opposite was true: speakers emphasized the human element and the visitor experience. I hope to keep this in mind as Iembark on my career in the library sector.


MCN Scholars to Share Their Conference Experiences

Each year, MCN offers scholarships to qualified applicants from the cultural sector to attend the annual conference. The scholarship includes free registration and hotel stay for the duration of the conference, participation in a free workshop, and a stipend to defray travel costs. Scholarships are made possible by the generous support of our sponsors and provide the recipients with valuable career-building and networking experiences.

This year we received over 130 applications from over 35 U.S. states and 13 countries, making it extremely difficult to narrow down to just 15 awardees. Scholarship recipients are encouraged to assist MCN in sharing their conference experiences with the wider cultural sector by capturing important ideas and themes that they see develop during sessions and events. Stay tuned for blog posts and #MCN2015 tweets for insights from this year’s scholarship recipients:

Tracey Berg-Fulton, Database Associate, Carnegie Museum of Art Collections

Daniel Caulfield-Sriklad, Fulbright Visiting Researcher, Westphal College of Media Arts & Design at Drexel University

Laura Hoffman, Manager of Digital Engagement, National Museum of Women in the Arts

Mikkel Kirkedahl Nielsen, Curator, Sydvestjyske Museer Museumsinspektør

Nicole Lovenjak, Library Practicum, Paul D. Fleck Library and Archives, The Banff Centre

Samip Mallick, Executive Director, SAADA

Diana Marques, Digital Media PhD Candidate & Doctoral Fellow, College of Engineering, University of Porto, Portugal &
National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Hana Maruyama, Multimedia Producer, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project cataloger, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Phillippa Pitts, Associate Educator for Gallery Learning, Portland Museum of Art

Rachel Ropeik, Manager of Public Engagement / Teacher Services Coordinator,
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum / Brooklyn Museum

Cristina Salvador, Collections Manager, Santa Fe Botanical Garden (SFBG)

Jessica Suess, Digital Partnership Officer, Oxford University Museums (UK)

Jocelyn Wehr, Digitization Services Coordinator, University of Kansas

Shari Winard, Social Media Coordinator, Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

Page 3 of 3 123