TAM FAF2 Post 1: Introducing Ed Rodley and the Experience Alchemists
Hi all, and welcome to the first in a regular series of blog posts on the Finding Alternative Futures, Phase 2 (FAF2) project! This project will examine digital readiness and easily-available technologies that can help move the Texas museum community forward! Over the next year, as FAF2 unfolds, every month on the TAM blog we’ll be exploring the topics being covered in the workshops, pointing you at examples of interesting work happening elsewhere, and hopefully helping you think about how to apply FAF2 learnings to your work at your institution. This way, all TAM’s members can take advantage of what’s going on with the current FAF2 cohort!
Even though these posts are being written by me, it would be a mistake to think that this is a solo project. It takes a team, and this editorial team has 2 players; me and Alex Freeman. I’ll give you a little background on each of us, and what our roles are.
I am an experience designer and lifelong museum lover. I am a co-founder and principal at The Experience Alchemists, an experience design firm serving the larger cultural sector. Prior to that, I was Associate Director of Integrated Media at the Peabody Essex Museum, and senior Exhibit Developer at the Museum of Science, Boston. I’ve worked for over twenty five years in science, natural history, and art museums. Incorporating emerging digital technologies into museum practice has been a theme throughout my career. I’m a frequent speaker at industry conferences and events on issues around digital transformation of the cultural sector. I teach and write about these subjects, and if you’re looking for more reading material, some of my more recent publications appear in The Routledge International Handbook of New Digital Practices in Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums and Heritage Sites, Humanizing the Digital: Unproceedings from the 2018 MCN Conference, and CODE | WORDS: Technology and Theory in the Museum.
For FAF 2, I have been contracted to research and write a series of articles for TAM over the course of the project that let you explore the same issues that the FAF2 cohort are engaging with.
Alex Freeman experienced the power of museums when attending Harrison Arts Center in Central Florida that was hosted on the second floor of a local art museum -- that experience has driven a career that began in the arts and has extended to a deep interest in museums of all sizes and types. He has served as the Executive Director of the Texas Association of Museums since late 2018. Since 2012, Freeman's work has focused on how new technologies impact teaching and learning in formal and informal learning spaces. Prior to TAM, he served nearly 6 years at the New Media Consortium in a variety of capacities. At the NMC, Freeman served as the Senior Director of Membership and Special Projects where he managed membership services, produced online professional development programs, and was a co-author and researcher for the NMC Horizon Report series, which analyzed technology uptake across global museums, higher education, K-12 education, and a few other sectors and regions. Prior to the NMC, he honed his museum practice as the Education Director at Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin and Education Curator at Artpace San Antonio.
Working on a distributed project
The pandemic has changed many of the norms for how we do business, and though prediction is a fool’s game, they’re probably going to become standard practice in the future. Distributed work teams, where folks are in different locations and collaborate exclusively online, is the most obvious example of something that will be with us to stay. The process we use to create these blog posts is a good example of what that can look like in action.
- Alex is in Austin, I’m in Cambridge, MA. All of our meetings happen through Zoom.
- We passed a contract back and forth via email, and sent signed PDFs to seal the deal.
- Alex and I meet regularly on Zoom, and use a shared Google Doc as a workspace when we talk; taking notes, discussing themes, and deciding when the drafts and finals are due.
- Those notes become the basis for a post. I’ll make a new Google doc for that month’s post, write a draft, and share it with Alex. He makes edits and comments right in the document and lets me know when he’s finished. I’ll go back in once he’s done, and address all his comments, add images and credits where needed, and tell Alex when the final draft is ready.
- Alex will take the final draft, share that doc with the web designer, who will import the text and graphics into their Content Management System (CMS, not to be confused with a museum collections management system, also called a CMS) and format it into the nicely designed post you’re reading.
It’s a remarkably robust and fast system. Most of the issues I face have to do with the limited features in Google Docs as compared to Microsoft Word or other full-featured word processors. It’s also worth noting that most of the tools we use to create this are free (aside from CMSs, and even they often have free versions). They also are not housed in a single computer, so we can access them with any computer anywhere with Internet access. I’ve had meetings on my home computer and on my phone, and worked on the posts from at least three different devices. In the Before Times (2019 or before), I would probably have flown down to Texas for the TAM conference and maybe one other meeting. Airfare, room, and board could easily have added another thousand dollars to the cost of the project. Instead, almost all of this correspondence, scheduling, writing, and editing is happening inside a browser window, which is quickly becoming the default frame through which we use the Internet.
The Big(ger) Picture
We’ll dig into specifics in the future posts, but to start off, Alex and I thought it’d be good to provide some of the larger context around the current moment and how museums are responding to it. Here’s a short list of links that we think are useful and helpful for anyone trying to understand how museums can and should be inventing their futures.
- The Museum Learning Hub (MLH) - Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
- The Institute of Museum and Library Services launched the Museum Learning Hub (MLH) this year. It is a nationwide initiative organized by the six U.S. regional museum associations and dedicated to providing free, self-paced training resources for small museums. Part of the Digital Empowerment Project, the Hub provides digital media and technology capacity-building programs and resources.
- One by One Project - University of Leicester
- ‘One by One’ is a multi-partner international initiative, bringing together cultural organisations, policy makers, academics, professional bodies, support agencies, and communities of practice, to build digitally confident museums. ‘One by One’ helps museums of any size better define, improve, measure and embed the digital literacy of their staff and volunteers in all roles and at all levels.
- Digital Readiness And Innovation In Museums - Knight Foundation
- To develop a fuller understanding of digital readiness and innovation maturity in the museum sector, Knight Foundation recently conducted a field survey. This survey was deployed in partnership with the American Alliance of Museums and captures anonymous data from 480 museums of all sizes across all 50 states.
- Digital Readiness and Pandemic Adaptations - American Alliance of Museums
- One of the first reports out there from early 2021, convened thought leaders from AAM, Knight Foundation, and Balboa Park Online Collaborative to look at emerging trends and adaptations museums were considering at the start of the pandemic. It’s behind AAM’s paywall ,but if you’re a member, it’s interesting to look back and see where the luminaries thought the field was going.
- “Pulling the future forward: The entertainment and media industry reconfigures amid recovery” - Pricewaterhouse Coopers
- Pricewaterhouse Coopers has been charting the ongoing evolution of the entertainment and media industry dynamic and fast-changing sector for more than two decades. They collect and analyse a deep trove of proprietary data and forecasts. And they apply their collective expertise to generate new perspectives and insights that will help shape strategies for the next 12 months and beyond.
- “Measuring the Impact of COVID-19 on People in the Museum Field” -American Alliance of Museums
- This AAM publication analyzes the devastating effect the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the US arts and culture sector—both on the nonprofit organizations that form an essential part of our civic infrastructure and on the individuals who work for them. To illuminate the impact that the pandemic is having on people in the museum field specifically, AAM surveyed current paid museum employees, employees who had been furloughed or laid off, independent contractors, volunteers, students, retirees, and board members.
- Follow-up Survey on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on museums in Europe - NEMO Final Report - Network of European Museum Organisations
- This survey was answered by 600 museums from 48 countries between 30 October and 29 November 2020, the majority coming from Europe. It follows NEMO’s initial survey, report and recommendations about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on museums from May 20201 during the first lockdown and sought to investigate the different themes that emerged in the first survey and which have been discussed in the museum community. The themes are: 1. Consequences of income (and other) losses 2. The increased importance of digital museum offers 3. Adapted operations and preparedness during and for crises
- How are museums using artificial intelligence, and is AI the future of museums? - MuseumNext
- Artificial intelligence has been a topic of discussion in museums for some time. At MuseumNext 2018 in London, Sara Boutall of big-data analytics service Dexibit said, “AI has been seeping into our lives, often without us actually realizing, on a daily basis. And we use it to accomplish absolutely fundamental tasks”
- "A larger segment of the Gallery’s audience is now local" - National Gallery of Singapore
- Dr Eugene Tan, Director of the National Gallery Singapore and the Singapore Art Museum. A great look at one institution’s realization of shifting audience demographics and their pilot toward being more focused on serving a physically local and regional audience, in the face of uncertain tourist numbers. We especially like the conclusions at the end, which aim to encourage and inspire modern and contemporary art museum professionals worldwide to keep their museums operational.
- 1.Museums are Safe Spaces
- 2.Museums are an Essential Service
- 3.Museums are Drivers for Economic Recovery
- 4.Museums can Act Collectively
- 5.Museums can Adapt
- 6.Museums should Maintain Dialogue with the Government
What to expect over the next 12 months
That’s all for now! In future posts, we’ll be going over specific topics being covered by FAF 2, and trying to pull together the big ideas into some digestible white papers that you can use to have these important conversations at your institution. In the coming months, you’ll see posts on:
- An Overview of FAF2,
- Operational Capacity and Continuity,
- Digital-Savvy Leadership,
- Online Public Programming,
- Community Engagement.