Wednesday, August 31, 2011

ISO Brilliant, Business-Oriented Professional Who Wants a Job in a Museum

Psst... want to move to Santa Cruz and work at my museum? Or do you know someone who might be perfect for this job?

We are looking for an obsessively detail-oriented, highly resourceful, financially savvy, culture-loving individual to be the Administrative Manager of The Museum of Art & History. You will work as the direct assistant to the Executive Director and manage the finances for the museum. You must be a proactive self-starter, extremely organized, and able to juggle multiple deadline-driven tasks simultaneously. You must also have accounting experience or high financial acuity. This is an opportunity to be involved with every aspect of a changing organization. If your career goal is to become the CFO or CEO of an arts or educational nonprofit, this is the perfect early career opportunity for you. This is a full-time position with benefits and a starting salary of $28,000-$32,000 depending on experience.

The Administrative Manager’s major responsibilities include:
  • Enter and track all accounting transactions and accounts including booking of accounts payable and receivable, invoicing, daily cash transactions, fixed assets, inventory transactions, and subsidiary organizations
  • Process payroll and coordinate yearly worker’s compensation audit
  • Create monthly reports such as departmental spending reports, cash flows and forecasts, financial statements, endowment analysis
  • Relentlessly research and implement systems to make the museum more effective from a business perspective
  • Manage employee records, administer benefits programs, and field basic HR questions
  • Oversee daily administrative tasks: ordering supplies, copying, faxing, mailing, maintaining office equipment
  • Support the Executive Director in communication with donors and trustees, preparing meeting notes, and handling internal scheduling
  • Lots of little projects across museum administration, fundraising, and programming
Our ideal candidate:
  • Has a bachelor's degree and has had courses in accounting, finance, or business
  • Has worked for 2 or more years in an accounting environment or has run a business
  • Is a whiz with Quickbooks, Excel, and Google applications (Mail, Calendar, Docs)
  • Is not afraid to monkey with the printer to make it work
  • Writes beautifully and is a stickler for good spelling and grammar
  • Has experience in a museum, retail, or other public-facing environment
  • Is just as comfortable welcoming visitors as preparing a spreadsheet
  • Loves working in a team and balancing lots of different tasks and priorities
  • Knows how to handle confidential and sensitive information with professional discretion
  • Has solid knowledge of the principles and practices of human resources
  • Immediately responds to requests with, “Yes, I can help” even if it’s something you’ve never done before
To apply, please send a single PDF document to that includes two items:
  1. A cover letter that addresses the unique skills you bring to the table, your long-term professional goals, your salary requirements, and your availability (2 pages maximum).
  2. A resume with at least one professional reference.
When you send in this document, we will send you a short application with questions and activities you will be asked to perform (at home) to demonstrate your abilities. These activities are not optional; you must return the application to be fully considered for the job.

And now back to our regularly scheduled blog programming...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Quick Hit: Long Interview

There is a long interview with me in this week's Good Times (Santa Cruz's leading weekly). I had a wonderful conversation with Geoffrey Dunn and he did a great job pushing the conversation all over the cultural and educational map. We talked Paulo Friere, what museums can learn from dentists' offices, and the challenges of not feeling stupid while viewing art.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Supporting Museum Tribes & Fans through Shared Ritual

Many people (Paul Orselli, Linda Norris, Pete Newcurator) in the museum field have written about the question of museum "tribes"--based partly on Seth Godin's book, partly on the longstanding fan culture that pervades our lives through sport, celebrity, and shared experience of mass events. The question is usually, "How can museums cultivate fandom among visitors?" or "What would a museum look like that embraced and supported tribal followings?"

I spent an (early) morning today with the local chapter of Kiwanis that got me thinking about this question again. I was struck by how ritualistic their meeting was--idiosyncratic nametags, a special song to welcome guests, a donation pool in which people offer "sad" or "happy" dollars to commemorate recent events in their lives, a raffle to choose who will create the trivia game for next week. There was a lot of camaraderie among the participants, but it was apparent that the structured ritual was just as important as the friendships to holding the group together.

So often when we talk about fans, we focus on shared affinity. People like the same sports team or band or craft activity, and therefore, form tribes based on that interest. But sometimes we forget how important ritual is to heightening that tribal sense and transforming individual collective fandom into something more communal. It's knowing the cheer as much as it is caring about the team. It's knowing when to stand up and when to clap. Fandom without shared ritual isn't tribalism--it's loneliness.

These tribal rituals, while often fan-driven, are hardly spontaneous. Professional cheerleaders of all kinds lead us through the motions, show us the way to fit in, and model the experience. And that makes me wonder if museum staff members should be starting rituals to help fans get involved.

I realize this may sound like social engineering, but in practice it's often quite charming and lowkey. At the Indianapolis Children's Museum, they have a "closing parade" every day to usher (potentially upset) children and families out the door. There are staff in plush costumes. They hand flags to little kids to wave. I even think there's a goodbye song. This ritual doesn't just leave families with a warm feeling about the museum--it encourages fans to share the experience with each other (as I'm doing with you right now).

Do you have institutional rituals that involve visitors or members?

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Engagement, Distraction, and the Puzzle of the Puzzle

Note: Thanks to Lisa Hochstein for allowing me to quote her emails in this post. She is a fabulous and thoughtful artist. You can learn more about her work here.

Two weeks ago, we inaugurated a Creativity Lounge on the third floor of our museum. It's a little living room in a lobby area that invites people to lounge on comfortable chairs, leaf through magazines and books related to art and Santa Cruz history, and generally hang out.

The area that houses the Creativity Lounge also shows art. The same day we opened the Creativity Lounge, we opened new exhibitions throughout the building, including a paper collage show in the 3rd floor lobby by local artist Lisa Hochstein. Lisa was thrilled that her work was on display at the museum. She was less thrilled about the Creativity Lounge--or very specifically, the art jigsaw puzzle in the middle of the coffee table.

Lisa emailed me to ask us to remove the puzzle, commenting:
It seems to me that there's a fine line between something that is inviting versus something that is distracting, and for me this falls into the latter category. I think it also sends a message that you don't trust the exhibits to engage the public and that, instead, you will bring in something else to entertain them.
I disagreed, and the puzzle stayed. We started a pretty fascinating (and yes, a little frustrating) dialogue about the puzzle and the question of what constitutes desired engagement in the museum.

Lisa and I have fundamentally different ideas of what a "good" museum experience is. For Lisa, the goal is for people to engage with the exhibitions. For me, the goal is for people to have an enjoyable, educational, cultural, social experience. That includes exhibitions, but it is not limited to them. I consider visitor experiences successful if people walk out inspired by art, stimulated by history, and eager to come back and share more with friends and family. I think it takes a diverse range of components to provide these outcomes, and I see the museum as a holistic experience comprising these components.

But for obvious reasons, Lisa cares about the experience people have with her exhibition specifically. When Lisa and I first discussed this, I argued that increased dwell time in the area and increased visitor comfort would likely lead to people spending more time looking at her work than would otherwise occur. But Lisa questioned this. Would visitors remember the puzzle or the exhibition around it? Is a contact high really sufficient when it comes to exhibition engagement?

This is a version of what I call "the petting zoo problem." An unnamed art museum once created an incredible interactive and participatory installation related to a temporary exhibition. This installation was a big hit by exhibition evaluation standards--high dwell time, high engagement, high satisfaction. But some people on staff at the museum questioned the validity of the installation, saying, "Of course people like it--it's a petting zoo. People love petting zoos."

To Lisa, the jigsaw puzzle is a petting zoo. Interestingly, she sees art and history books as more sympatico with the goals and intent of a museum, and she feels positively about people perusing them. I don't see the puzzle as different from the books--both are tools that offer people alternative activities, and I don't see one as more absorbing or distracting than the other. From my perspective, if one part's a petting zoo, it's all a petting zoo. But it's an on-mission petting zoo--and that's what matters to me.

There's no question that the Creativity Lounge (and the puzzle) is a hit with visitors. We've received several positive comments about it, and we've observed a major increase in dwell time and repeat use of the third floor lobby since the installation has gone up. Families who used to zip through in under a minute are now spending thirty minutes working on the puzzle and looking around. Teenagers are curling up with art magazines. One woman worked on the puzzle for two hours last week--when I asked, she said her teenage daughter was out shopping and she decided to come play in the museum while she waited.

To me, this is all good news. It demonstrates that we're on our way to becoming the "thriving, central gathering place" in our strategic plan. But it doesn't necessarily mean that more people are engaging with Lisa's exhibition more deeply. In the future, I'd love to make custom puzzles based on work in our collection (like the Columbus Museum of Art does) so that people can engage more deeply with those specific works. But I'll always also feel great about opportunities for people to engage with each other around culture in ways that are not exhibition- or collection-driven, because that's our mission too.

Now, two weeks later, I contacted Lisa again to ask if her opinion had changed after spending time in the space. Lisa wrote:
I do see a value in creating a space where people like to spend time and where they feel comfortable to just unwind and be. It's good for the museum to become important in more peoples' lives, thereby assuring (hopefully) its longer-term viability. If attendance and membership go up as you add more of the types of features that I would consider distractions, then maybe they're a good thing. Personally, it's a bit of a disappointment to me to think that the displays in the museum aren't sufficient to accomplish those goals, but I recognize that my own biases are just one piece of a much larger picture (or puzzle).
Kudos to Lisa for being open to a thoughtful dialogue about these issues. It's interesting to me that she talks about the displays not being "sufficient to accomplish those goals." I don't think of exhibitions as the be-all end-all of the museum experience, and so I don't think they should be sufficient on their own to accomplish our visitor experience goals. I don't think I'm devaluing exhibitions by adding the puzzle--I see it as an "and" that makes the whole museum a more desirable place to be.

I'm curious if you've dealt with similar debates at your own museums--either with external partners like Lisa or internally with other staff. What's your experience, and how have you resolved issues like this?

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

QR Codes and Visitor Motivation: Tell Them What They'll Get with that Shiny Gadget

We just opened new exhibitions at The Museum of Art & History, including one on woodworking that includes QR codes. For those who don't know, a QR ("quick response") code is a two-dimensional matrix that can embed more complicated information than a standard barcode. Why would you want a fancy barcode in your exhibition? When a person with a smartphone and a QR reader app scans one of these codes, it can launch a webpage on the phone, pulling up videos, images, and other additional multi-media content.

I presume that most Museum 2.0 readers are familiar with QR codes. I've been seeing them in museums (and parks) for a couple of years now, and I've used them in a couple projects, but I never felt a desire to write about them. I've been skeptical of their impact on museums. They're only accessible to the minority of visitors who attend with smartphones, and they're only used by the small percentage of those visitors who know how to download apps and are motivated to access additional content in museums. They've seemed like a sexy "gee whiz" technology that delivers very little so far.

When the woodworkers with whom we were working on this exhibition came to us and suggested using QR codes to access additional content about their work, I was determined to make sure we'd do a little better than just sprinkling codes around the room. What we did isn't rocket science, but I thought it might be useful to anyone who is considering using QR codes in their own institution.

From my perspective, the biggest issue with how QR codes are deployed in museums is that there's very little information provided about WHY a visitor would want to scan a given code. There's often an object label, a code, and an unwritten mystery about what you'll get when you scan the code. When I visited one contemporary art museum last year, this mystery took on an almost poetic scale. Sometimes, I'd scan a code and get a 10-min video of the artist working on a piece. The next code would take me to someone's website. There was no consistency and few pointers to let me know what I'd get.

QR codes without context are appealing to two audiences: museum geeks and technology geeks. At the MAH, we want to reach a broader audience of people with smart phones who are digging the exhibition. The woodworkers gave us fabulous multimedia content, and we created a very simple label format to advertise what visitors get when they scan a code. There's an object label. There's a code. And then there's a single sentence explaining what you can access and its duration. Here are some examples:
Scan the QR code to see the inside of this cabinet (1 min slideshow).
Scan the QR code to listen to the artist playing this instrument (40 sec audio clip).
Scan the QR code to watch the artist carving these pieces (9 min video).
This is just our attempt to help visitors understand why they might want to scan the code and what they'll get. Over the weekend, I had several (mostly elderly) visitors approach me and ask, "Can you help me watch this video on my phone?" They weren't generically interested in the QR codes. They were interested in specific content--hearing the harp played, watching the cabinet come to life.

It can be easy to forget this anytime we have a new gadget at our disposal. I can't count the number of museums I've been to that advertise an exciting multimedia add-on, lavishly describing the technology without a peep about the content or the value added. Yes, people want behind the scenes and inside the cabinet and the artifact in action. But with the possible exception of labels--an incredibly familiar technology--visitors aren't ready to trust that any interpretative technology has merit in its own right (see Peter Samis and Stephanie Pau's fabulous 2009 paper on the topic). And the more futzing it takes to access the content, the more motivated they'd better be by what they're going to get.

What are you doing to help visitors understand why they'd want to use your technology?