As the creative strategy team at Luci Creative, it is vital for us to understand what is going on in the museum world and any new approaches to exhibits and experiential learning. Our continuous goal is to gain a greater understanding of what engages our clients, their visitors, and what makes them struggle.
One of the best learning moments for us this last year involved rubbing elbows with our museum collaborators at the 2016 American Association for State and Local History conference themed, “The Spirit of Rebirth.”
We were amazed by the diversity of subjects and split up to cover as much ground as possible. We took part in sessions on everything from design thinking for museums, telling difficult histories, embracing fundraising, interpreting food, connecting with art in the classroom, dismantling race in museums, interpreting military histories and many others.
Here are our top four takeaways from the conference:
- Design thinking is everywhere and it is not just a trend.
Through human-centered design or “design thinking”, we learn to understand target visitors (or users) and build empathy for them before we attempt to design for them. It is through this discovery that we can interpret, ideate, prototype and test. Based on the results we move forward and evolve the solution.
Jon Carfagno, Christopher Bruce and the Grand Rapids Art Museum have taken a human-centered approach to development of everything from strategic planning to their visitor experience. What we heard as their three keys to success:
- Make it an institutional commitment.
- Don’t go it alone.
- Start with small experiments
We also recommend checking out the book Innovating for People: Handbook of Human-Centered Design Methods for inspiration and resources.
- Fundraising sucks! #embracetheraise
How do you ask for money and how much money do you ask for? In “Strangelove: How to Stop Worrying and Start Fundraising” we were encouraged to identify our fears of fundraising and then move beyond them. Presenter Jamie Simek explored ways that museum staff and volunteers can take part in the fundraising process. Kevin Pazour’s key advice: “Build relationships. Real relationships.” Good advice for any kind of interaction but particularly useful when asking for money
- Historic storytelling need to be inclusive.
There were three sessions that we attended that addressed this very timely topic.
How do you tell stories of violence? How can you share the pain of history in a way that heals and moves us forward? Don’t let difficult histories be reburied. Museums across the country are grappling with histories of violence. From military history to our own American racial history, how do we tell stories that are politically contentious?
In “Reaching Out: Contested History & Community Engagement” a panel of museum leaders addressed the importance of communities in presenting stories that include the perspectives of all, including those whose voices are traditionally silenced. To accomplish this work, you have to go beyond mere focus groups. It demands a consistent and ongoing relationship between historians, museums and the communities they represent.
This approach helps us understand that histories of violence do not end when historic events do because their legacies trickle through the generations. With each story we tell, we have the opportunity to change the legacy, to give power and voice back to those who have been robbed of it.
Museums & Race is a group of museum professionals interested in effecting radical change in the museum world, by finding ways to connect with and support people of color inside their museums. Check out the movement.
- Critical thinking skills can be learned through traditional stories and creative interpretation.
Since we are in the midst of a multi-year effort of creating a new gallery for one of the nation’s premier military museums, The First Division Museum, this session was particularly interesting to us. In “Connecting Audiences to Traditional Stories: Interpretive American Military History in the 21st Century”, Marc Blackburn explained the concept of interpretive opportunity, or (What is interpretive opportunity? Can we explain what it is…), as a useful way to engage audiences with histories of violence.
We learned the value of providing visitors with their own interpretive skills by showing and teaching them how to make their own observations. In our new world, where knowledge is readily accessible, museums have the unique opportunity to curate knowledge so that visitors are empowered to build their own critical thinking skills.
In “Toward a More Democratic History”, David Thielen addressed the interpretive power of democratic contingency, or the myriad of alternative possibilities for realities and histories to exist. For instance, what might have happened if we lost WWII to the Nazi’s?
Engaging visitors to see history as fluid and open-ended so they realize the immense number of different possibilities, allows visitors to think about history in their daily lives and ask, “How might I be effecting history today with my choices?”
Staying on top of what’s important to museums is at the core of staying relevant. Each conference we attend, and each person we speak to, helps us tap into our client’s motivations and anticipate their needs. Based on what we learn, we can continue to refine our process to benefit our clients exhibits.
Thanks AASLH for an incredible experience–we look forward to next year in Austin!
̶ The Luci Strategy Team