Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Why I Blog

I spent the weekend queuing up posts for my forthcoming blog-cation--nine weeks of guest posts and reruns from the Museum 2.0 vaults that will commence next week. It feels like a real gift to myself (and hopefully, to you) to schedule all this content now and not have to worry about it when my baby is born. Thank you to everyone who recommended a favorite post from the past or who helped out with a guest post. You're in for a treat, with upcoming posts on creativity, collections management, elitism, science play, permanent participatory galleries, partnering with underserved teens, magic vests, and more.

I've never taken a break from blogging before. Every week for almost seven years, I've made sure to get new content up on the blog. And as I leafed through the back-catalog, corresponded with brilliant guest posters, and watched my blog-related stress float away, I found myself wondering: what the heck took me this long?

And that got me thinking about why I blog in the first place. I blog for four main reasons:
  1. I'm a self-directed learner who likes to write. Blogging gave me a way to formalize out-of-work learning in a format I enjoy. I didn't want to write about something I was an expert on; I wanted to write to explore new ideas, share my questions and ideas, and learn from the experience.
  2. I'm sufficiently externally-driven to realize that having a public place for my learning helps me stay focused and keep producing. Whether I had three readers or 3,000, I feel accountable to those folks to keep writing and sharing. Sometimes, this has led to an unreasonable amount of stress for an entirely extra-curricular activity. But for the most part, you keep me going.
  3. Reflective time is important, especially when your work is hectic. Especially over the past two years, while I've been working as the executive director of a small museum in transition, there have been many, many late nights when I cursed the blog and wished I could just call it quits. But I know that even in times of chaos--especially in those times--it's important to take time to reflect on what you are doing and making and learning. Blogging forces me to have a reflective part of my practice on a weekly basis, even when I feel about as reflective as a black carpet.
  4. I crave community, but I am not naturally outgoing in large group settings like conferences. I went to several big museum conferences in 2004-2006 where I identified and started admiring heroes in the field. I had no idea how to reasonably approach them or talk to them in the cocktail party milieu of big conferences. So I started writing, and sharing, and using the blog as a tool that gave me the courage to reach out to heroes and learn from them. Over time, the blog has itself become a hub of community that has significantly transformed my professional work and social life. It has been a catalyst for speaking and consulting gigs, and the laboratory for a book. But I never really saw the blog explicitly as a business development vehicle. It is these other aspects--learning, reflection, community--that keep me going.
It is this community--you--that I want to reflect a bit more on. 

I have always approached blogging as an open invitation to "wander along with me" in a learning space driven by curiosity. At the same time, I'm aware that only a tiny percentage of readers have actively pursued relationships with me and other Museum 2.0 folk through comments, emails to me, and hallway conversations. As the readership for Museum 2.0 has grown, I've struggled to feel the same tight-knitted-ness that characterized the early years. 

The total readership from 2010-2012 was more than double that of 2007-2009 (and has been flat since 2011). I've struggled with some of the "celebrity" aspects of having a big audience. It's overwhelming to go from being that person who felt anonymous at conferences to being mobbed by strangers who want to meet you. At the same time, the blog continues to introduce me to extraordinary people who enrich my life and work in many ways. Particularly in the last two years, the blog's readership appears to have expanded in two unexpected and delightful directions: out of the museum field and into the broader arts sector, and locally here in Santa Cruz, where "participatory" has become a familiar word because of the work we are doing at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH). I'm equally amazed when a comment comes in from a MAH member as I am when one comes in from an Australian opera director. And I feel incredibly grateful that the reach of the blog makes it possible to launch projects like Hack the Museum Camp and feel confident that people will want to participate.

To me, Museum 2.0 is most successful when it allows me to pursue my original goals: to learn, to reflect, and to do so in an engaged community space. Sometimes, I commit the sin of presuming what the audience expects or wants from me. It's an incredible gift to realize that, for the most part, it's OK for me to keep focusing on the questions and ideas that keep me up at night--even as those shift with my personal and professional growth.

So I want to close out this long season of blogging with a note of gratitude. THANK YOU for pushing me to keep thinking, learning, and writing. Thank you for sharing your ideas and case studies and comments and questions. Thank you for emailing me to tell me about a post that really helped your team. Thank you for inviting me to come to your museum/conference/art center/home. Thank you for making me feel like I am part of a community, even as we acknowledge the transactional and anonymous aspects of this kind of relationship.

Please feel free to share any thoughts you have on what does/doesn't work for you about Museum 2.0. The greatest gift you can give me is your thoughtful comments. Enjoy these next two months of posts from diverse perspectives, times, and places. I'll see you on the other side.
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