Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Book Review - The Green Museum: A Primer on Environmental Practice

The Green Museum by Sarah S. Brophy and Elizabeth Wylie is one of the best museum books I've read all year. First published in 2008, Brophy and Wylie released an updated version in 2013. The Green Museum's book cover touts it as "the leading handbook for museums seeking to learn ways to implement environmentally sustainable practices at their institutions, whether they are planning new construction or want to find out how to green their day-to-day operations." Once you read it, it's easy to see why this claim is made. It is inspirational. And I don't use this term lightly.

We often say that museums have no idea how powerful they really are, and the authors encourage museums to use this to their advantage. "As environmental sustainability becomes mainstream, museums are finding they have an expanded role in education about environmental issues and connecting them to their institutional missions. Showing visitors the consequences of overconsumption and poor environmental practices, while also showing them alternatives to those behaviors, is a way to stimulate collective action." Too often museums take a "just the facts" approach rather than championing healthy change that will benefit society as a whole, but "if we cannot lead by example, then why should people listen to what we are saying?"

One of the premises that weaves through the book is the notion of the quadruple bottom line; that in everything the museum does it should consider people, the planet, profit (financial sustainability), and program (tying everything back to the mission statement). The many, many case studies featured include some wonderful quotes from the individuals who have embraced the idea of "being the change". One of my favourite examples of from the Madison Children's Museum:
"Museums are agents for social change and cultural content shapers in their communities. As such, they have an incredible obligation to help positively shape local and national agendas, and thus our children's futures. ... Museums are in a unique position to lead by example and proactively address these challenges in a non-threatening, educational, and public way - through the topics we choose for exhibits, and, more importantly, through the way we do business."

Brophy & Wylie focus a lot of attention on the preliminary work such as policy development and planning. To be honest I expected that their version of "starting small" and assertions that their book was for museums of all shapes and sizes would fall flat; that the "small" museums would actually be much larger than the small museums of Nova Scotia. But, I'm happy to say I was wrong. The ideas and tips run the full spectrum and even encourage an approach of climbing the ladder towards bigger and better green activities. First steps include picking the low-hanging fruit of energy reduction through the use of energy efficient lightbulbs, reducing paper and water consumption, and using green cleaning supplies. This is often stuff that we are doing at home, so just need to extend those practices into our work lives.

Another underlying theme of the book is that we should be seeking gradual improvements and be celebrating these changes when we communicate with our community. Planning is key, as is monitoring. Not everyone will have a green mindset at first, and it's important to be able to demonstrate positive impacts. For instance, some museums report a drop of 15-30% in electricity bills when they switch to LEDs. That's something worth bragging about!

There are so many good suggestions...too many to share here. So here's a quick list to pique your interest:
  • Establish a Green Team - coordinate efforts and ensure 'green' is worked into strategic and other plans and projects
  • Recycle, compost, and provide visitors opportunities to do the same, identify local sources for food and program supplies, turn off computers & lights at night, carpool/bike/bus to work, print sparingly, switch to green cleaning products, avoid packing in gift shop items, don't sell bottled water, ban styrofoam, use zero-VOC paint only, use occupancy sensors in exhibit rooms and task lighting in work areas.
  • Remind people about your green practices - put statements at the bottom of your e-newsletter and email signature that these are green, tree-free communications, and to please consider the environment before printing emails or attachments.
  • Create an alternative admission fee where visitors can bring in CFL or LED lightbulbs, or other green supplies to help cover the costs of switching to sustainable practices and lower the museum's energy consumption. Or offer a discount when people arrive by foot, bicycle, or public transportation. Think of all the green street cred you'll get!
  • Brainstorm to figure out the best way to share the local climate changes you're seeing to tie in with the bigger story. Studies show that 75% of people would like to know more about climate change.
  • Incorporate best practices around effective environmental education, including being learner-oriented, using discovery-based approaches, placing learning in the context of the local, being action-oriented, and focusing on relationships (more listed in the book)
  • Have a Home/Building Energy Audit conducted, results & recommendations can be worked into long-term plans with other bigger ideas/plans like tankless water heaters, geothermal energy, green or cool roofs or living walls, aerators and low-flow toilets, monitoring system, fuel cells and photovoltaic panels, etc etc. 
  • Refer to industry leaders' websites for tips and resources - Energy StarLEED Canada (info on certification or just use the checklists in project planning as goals)
  • Get inspired by what other museums are doing - check out the Chicago Community Climate Action Toolkit, Green Parks PlanGreen Tips,  Only Local Toolkit, Property Care White Papers, Shades of Green Guide
Richard Piacentini's remarks at a "Green Museums" symposium session just might say it best:
"It is very important that we operate our buildings and programs so that they are consistent with our missions, visions and values. We are creatures of habit and tend to do the same things the same ways over and over again. Too often our actions are not consistent with our values. It is easy to let some of the little things slip through the cracks...but people can see through that and we can lose credibility when everything does not align. That is why, as trusted public sources of inspiration and knowledge, it is essential for museums to walk the walk - to not just talk about sustainability but to make it a part of everything we do."

I hope this whet your appetite. If so, be in touch and borrow the book so you can learn even more about public expectations, funding options and positioning, change management, and a myriad of case studies to help you see how to implement green practices at your museum.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November 2016 Update

CHIN Update
Important news arrived from CHIN this month. They are moving away from a membership model, which unfortunately also means that they are discontinuing the internet support program, effective 2017. What does this mean for museums? If you signed up for internet support as one of your membership benefits, this means you will no longer be receiving $300/year to help offset the cost of internet at the museum. Whether this is a big or small line item in your budget, we don't want anyone to be blindsided by this change.

Regional Heritage Group Meetings
As in October, Anita and I hit the road this month to attend regional meetings. The Northeast Regional Heritage Group met in Truro at the Colchester Historeum, and it was a packed room! It was really encouraging to see some new faces and museums represented. As with other meetings, a roundtable let museums share news of the summer season and activities, which was overwhelmingly positive - lots of great news was shared. Thanks to Margaret and her team for hosting and for having some tasty treats ready for us.
The other meeting we attended was the Heritage Cape Breton Connection meeting at the
Wagmatcook Culture & Heritage Centre. While it was great to hear about HCBC activities, the highlight for me was having Evan Googoo come in and share traditional Mi'kmaq teachings and a kujuwa dance lesson. I think that this is something we are really missing at a lot of our meetings and conferences - a strong First Nations presence and celebration of Aboriginal heritage. We were also shown a fantastic video made by Aboriginal Tourism Canada that everyone should watch. Or maybe you've already seen it and I'm just behind the times because I don't have cable tv at home. Sincere thanks to the folks in Wagmatcook for hosting and sharing with us. It was wonderful.

As I mentioned last month, if you aren't attending these meetings in your region and have questions about them, you can get in touch with us or sign up for the Beacon e-newsletter to hear when they are going to take place.

IMAC Meeting
The Information Management & Access Committee finally reconvened this month after a fairly long hiatus (we didn't meet while all the evaluation stuff was going on). A lot of our meeting consisted of updates on various projects, membership activities, and NovaMuse work. We had to discuss some big NovaMuse and CollectiveAccess work as we're facing a substantial migration project and new and exciting turf with Canada 150 plans (more on that below).

Museum Evaluation Program
The steering committee met for its post-evaluation debrief. At this point you're probably wondering if I only attend meetings. I don't, but sometimes there are a lot of them. I know I've said it before, but this committee is seriously invested in this program. We had some really great discussions and people were brimming with ideas on how to address issues and make improvements to the program and process.
The big report finally got finished and went off to the provincial government. The biggest takeaway was that the museums that are actively engaged in their local and professional communities are the ones that scored the highest. I know, that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, but every element that was analyzed kept demonstrating this fact more than any others. Positive results were not dependent on having paid staff or a lot of resources in place. They were dependent on the museum's institutional mindset, a serious approach to evaluation preparations, and generally being engaged. We've identified a number of areas/issues that we will try to address over the coming months and years - some of which are not quick fixes. A lot of museums struggled with management and community engagement in general, and specifically we saw some big holes in human resource practices around contracts and performance reviews. And the state of disaster plans is downright disastrous. We are already working on a plan to address that particular issue next year.
With the 28 Nova Scotia Museum sites being evaluated in 2017, we are talking a lot with NSM staff in Halifax about how to support those organizations in their preparation work. The list of documentation to submit by May 5th has been circulated and very shortly I will be sending along additional resources.

Collections Database & NovaMuse Info
In geeky news, one of my bus books this month was Donald Mackay's Silversmiths and Related Craftsmen of the Atlantic Provinces. I'm not going to do a book review on it because to be honest it's basically an enhanced directory (people on the bus with me probably think I read the weirdest books), but I am very excited to reconcile the Nova Scotian entries with our Made in Nova Scotia database. After a few preliminary searches, it looks we'll be able to add a good number of new artisans and beef up the information about existing entries. If you have any cool resources like this we'd love to hear about them. We've got a little stockpile to work through, but we don't mind adding to it.

In terms of general CollectiveAccess progress, museums have definitely gotten quiet in the off-season and leading up to the holidays. 345 new artifact records were added, and many more records were updated. 754 new images were added, which means we've passed another milestone - 125,000 images!! This is exciting and I hope you will all join us in taking a cake break to celebrate. We now have 232,896 artifacts documented with 125,131 associated images.
Regionally, that means:
Southwest region - 124,002 artifacts, 56,138 images
Central region - 46,663 artifacts, 30,682 images
Northeast region - 32,855 artifacts, 24,538 images
Cape Breton - 29,376 artifacts, 13,773 images

Congrats to the Central region for adding the most records this month and to the Southwest region for adding the most images!

Your image of the month is a quick one, and quite possibly a repeat. But if it is a repeat, it is warranted. Let's talk about books. As we've been preparing for #150Touchstones, I've been noticing how many school and other books we have in our collections. Wonderful books I would love to read. But we are often scant on their details (like not noting the publishing date in the begin & end date field) and the images don't always do them justice. Here is an example. A Brief History of Canada, Nova Scotia Edition - how appropriate for our #Canada150 project!? In this case, a tight scan of the book cover would do far better justice than a photograph taken at a distance. You want to get rid of all the dead space and really show off the cover design, font, and author/publisher/other information. Compare your book images to Amazon's book covers if you want inspiration, and if you want to redo some images, they will be refreshed on NovaMuse within 24 hours of your adding them.

#150Touchstones for #Canada150 
As you've probably all heard by now, perhaps our biggest news this month was in launching #150Touchstones, where the public can vote on its favourite artifacts to include in a virtual exhibit that celebrates #Canada150 (and much more provided the funding comes through) . Yes we are using hashtags...a lot. And we'd love for everyone to get in on this. For museums, share and solicit votes for the artifacts in your collection that you want to see included. Sandi has been putting up posters around Halifax and we're working on other advertising means as well. For individuals, please vote! Browse through NovaMuse and vote for as many things as you want, as often as you want. We've already got a good range of artifacts in the top list, but we want to see many, many more votes. And since museums added another 754 artifact images this month, there are even more things to choose from.
You can read about the project here.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

#150Touchstones to Celebrate #Canada150

Hello everyone!
We have very exciting news to share! As you’ve been hearing ANSM has some big plans to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. These include crowd-sourcing a virtual exhibit, working with high schools to make the final selection and conduct the curation, and then working with performance artists to tell Nova Scotia’s story through theatrical interpretation of the selected artifacts and stories they contain – 150 touchstones.

Working with the 50+ museums that contribute to NovaMuse.ca, we will be seeking to identify the top #150Touchstones that celebrate Nova Scotia and its role in Canadian national development and identity. The first step in the process is to get people to vote for their favourite artifacts – for the 'touchstones' to include in the project that they feel really represent their community, its stories, and Nova Scotia as a whole. 

NovaMuse now hosts 213,000+ artifacts from over 50 museums. Even though only 112,000 of those records have images, we know that is still a LOT of stuff to sort through to find your favourites. To help show the diversity of the collections ANSM and contributing museums will be showcasing some favourites on social media using the tag #150Touchstones. But we hope that people will also check out the collections of their favourite museums to find and vote for the artifacts they think should be included. 
Timeline view of some confederation-era artifacts

We have some really cool artifacts that relate directly to confederation, like the simple but impressive anti-confederation banner at the Desbrisay Museum. We also have a lot of artifacts that date to this era, like military forage caps at The Army Museum. But Nova Scotia's role in Canada isn't limited to the 1860s. We have amazing artwork, inventions, and cultural touchstones that represent the diversity of the province and the adaptability of its people. From Mi'kmaq quillwork to African Nova Scotian basketry to Acadian dyking shovels to Planter and Loyalist furniture brought from elsewhere to modern folk art, we have a lot of stories to share.
Voting Button View

So let's get down to business. To vote for an artifact, just go to its page and click on the Vote #Canada150 button underneath the image. You'll be asked to answer a simple math question to confirm you are a human, because we don't want any spambots to mess up the results. We want to hear from people, not computer programs, so this little security measure had to be added.

If you want to support a particular museum you can use the contributor map tab to click on that museum and see its collection, or you can use the browse tab to refine general searches until you see the types of artifacts you're interested in. There are no limitations on voting, so enjoy exploring the collections and voting for as many artifacts as you would like, as often as you would like. And keep an eye on social media to see which artifacts are being shared by museums. If you want to see how other people have voted and look at the top contending artifacts, you can visit the "most voted" page.

Most voted page view
This is an opportunity for us to hear from Nova Scotians (and our broader audience) what they appreciate about our museums and their collections. This has been one of the goals of NovaMuse since its inception and I for one am excited to see which artifacts rise to the top. Getting this kind of information will enable us and the museums to better serve Nova Scotians through our exhibits and programs. We're constantly adding new artifacts and information to NovaMuse, and would love to align those efforts with the public interest.

So let's start spreading the word and getting out the vote!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Book Review-New Solutions for House Museums

“New Solutions for House Museums: Ensuring the Long-Term Preservation of America's Historic Houses,” by Donna Ann Harris

In “New Solutions for House Museums,” Harris encourages those involved with the operation of house museums to embrace change and plan strategically for the future. Museum work requires a lot of dedication, especially from volunteers who are juggling day-to-day life with the responsibility of running a museum. Those who work in smaller museums may start to feel trapped by their establishment, as if the walls are closing in on them as new problems arise. Harris encourages those in small museums to look past this and start looking at the bigger picture. She realizes that moving in a new direction can sometimes feel both daunting and worrisome for those who only see house museums as a historic representation of the past. Harris encourages readers to look beyond this representation in an attempt to explore other possibilities:

Image Courtesy of: Amazon
"Part of the clear appeal of house museums to the public is that they do not change. They are beacons of the past that provide stability in communities that often are reeling from change. These buildings, because they are fixed at their location, are easy landmarks, whether in one’s memory of the place, or as a symbol of all that has come before.
As much as we would like the historic site and landmark to be permanent, perhaps the organizations that manage them are not permanent, and must change so that they can better suit the building for the coming generation. Nonprofit organizations after all are human creations, made up of caring people committed to a cause and an ideal. All organizations go through predictable life cycles as they serve their mission. For most, organizational change is inevitable. Boards that embrace change are able to prepare for the unexpected and deal positively with life’s upheavals. " (41-42)

Throughout the text, Harris delivers insightful case-studies, which guide the reader through different scenarios that house museums deal with daily. Let us dive into a few of those examples now.

She introduces Black's Castle as a site struggling with marketing and visitation: "Despite the real efforts being made by Black's Castle board and staff to market and interpret their site, they are frustrated that their visitation is dwindling" (32). It can be of great concern when visitation drops and sometimes the reason(s) is unclear. Harris suggests gathering statistics to better understand the shift in the community. It is important to gather information about current visitors to gain knowledge about current variables. Like many other house museums:

"The Black's Castle staff has collected statistics that indicate that their audience is changing, which provides a good start to begin to explain the revenue downfall. However, the organization needs more detailed information about their current visitors. These data can be garnered through a formal survey process by brief questionnaires, surveys on their website, or through telephone interviews. Once the organization understands what these new visitors want, they must refashion their programming to meet their needs ... Another strategy would be to develop joint marketing campaigns or partnerships with neighboring sites or attractions. At a minimum, they should share visitor statistics formally or informally so that the decline in attendance at Black's Castle can be judged against others." (Harris, 33)

In this example, Harris describes a common problem in house museums. It is important to note that no matter the size of the establishment, house museums can make a difference. A decline in visitation does not necessarily mean a loss in popularity, instead, it can be a sign that things are changing in the community. If a decrease in foot traffic is a growing concern in your museum, I encourage you to take Harris' advice. There is no better time than the present to start gathering statistics from multiple sources (surveys, online, telephone, etc.) and review them with a fine tooth comb. You may think you know your audience but do you know who visits today? Ask yourself, "When was the last time statistics were reviewed for my museum?"

Harris provides another great case study that deals with building maintenance and lack of funds. Harris discusses the board's role in fund development and the need for change at Orange House. She encourages board members to evaluate strengths and weaknesses within its operational structure of the board, the board's current pool of donors, and the need to search for new revenue streams. Orange House is dealing with a common problem, a need for a new roof when funds are dwindling. For smaller institutions, sometimes funding museum operations and building maintenance becomes a juggling act. Again, Harris encourages readers to embrace change and take a hard look at funding opportunities:

"For the Orange House board to solve their deferred maintenance problem they will need to fundamentally change their efforts to raise funds ... Broadening their donor base and seeking larger gifts and donations for specific restoration projects ... They should also seek grants from governmental entities, private foundations, and direct appropriations from city, country, and state government." (30)

Harris provides great insight on where to look for funding opportunities in this case study. She also encourages small museums to look at productivity in-house: "the board should make a several-year good-faith effort to raise the necessary funds, including staff realignments (if necessary), and adding new fundraising board members" (30). Realignments are a natural progression of change. Evaluating staffing needs and performance will help museums better understand what movements are necessary. Performance reviews for staff and board members are healthy! Example: A staff or board member may be able to contribute better in a different role-a performance review will most likely highlight this fact. Performance reviews also keep team members motivated and focused.

It is important to be honest and open-minded when discussing funding options, marking and revenue streams, and building maintenance and upkeep. Harris outlines possible ownership and reuse solutions with supporting real-life examples from museums across North America who made these transitions. These solutions are meant to aid house museums that have exhausted all other possibilities. You will find these examples outlined in Chapter 7 to Chapter 15.

In Chapter 6, Harris lists the eight solutions:

1. Creation of a Study House with Limited Visitation, House Museum Use
2. Reprogram the Site for a Mission-based, Non-house Museum Use
3. Enter into a Formal Co-Stewardship, Cooperative Relationship, or Lease with Another House Museum Organization to Manage the Property as a House Museum
4. Formal Merger with Another House Museum Organization
5. Long-Term or Short-Term Lease to a For-Profit Entity for an Adaptive Use
6. Sale to a Private Owner with Easements
7. Sale to Another Nonprofit Stewardship Organization with Easements
8. Donation of the Property to a Governmental or Other Nonprofit Entity

A few important notes from Harris in this chapter:

  • When considering ways to increase funding the "organization may be motivated to enter into a cooperative or co-stewardship agreement because the property would become part of the larger entity that could draw more financial support" (86).
  • When considering a formal merger with another house museum organization it is important to note that a "merger is unlikely to create a better organization if two small, struggling nonprofits with limited resources are merging. A merger will not work for historic sites that insist on autonomy" (89).

  • Harris stresses the importance of keeping the community informed when making decisions about offering a long-term lease to a for-profit entity for an adaptive use: "the board should consult and involve the community and other preservation partners in the area. Community involvement in decision making will help tremendously in preventing adverse publicity" (92-93).
  • When considering sale to a private owner "[i]t is recommended that any sale be subject to easement restrictions ... to permanently protect the property from demolition and insensitive alteration" (94).
  • When discussing donating a property in poor condition to a governmental or other nonprofit entity, Harris recommends that an "elected official ... serve as the champion for this [type of] proposal" (99).

There is great value in reviewing all of these options if your house museum is struggling with day-to-day operations and maintenance. There is also great comfort in knowing that options are available. Although these may seem extreme, unfortunately, this sometimes becomes the harsh reality for those who avoid change and do not plan for the future. It is important to take these case studies with a grain of salt. Many of you may already find yourselves working for a house museum that is quite successful. You may just be on the lookout for relative examples. Much like Harris, I encourage you and your team to work collectively towards the same vision, openly discuss strengths and weaknesses, and be creative with your marketing, funding, and programming. Believe in developing not only your collections but also your business. And most importantly, continue making connections with the public and communicating information along the way. Building this type of relationship provides stability and reassurance between the museum and community.

I will leave you with an example from the Emily Carr House, which at the time of Harris' research was managed by Jan and Michael Ross. During an interview, Jan Ross said that she considered "other uses of the house to build the business ... [she] work[ed] with an MBA candidate at a local business school to develop a business plan to host small meetings and conferences at the Carr House and other sites in the Victoria area. The idea ... [was to] develop the site for small meetings, especially on the off-season, and market the facility to book clubs, board meetings, showers, teas, and the like" (Harris, 170). Due to a shift in government there was budgetary cutbacks within the Heritage Branch (British Columbia) starting in the year 2000. The Emily Carr House was managed by the Heritage Branch at that time. The Heritage Branch was then a part of the British Columbia Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services and is now located in the Local Government Department (Harris, 155-156). Ross thought about alternative revenue streams during this period of change. Like Ross, it is important to stay positive and proactive during times of change in order to keep moving forward in museum work. I encourage you to explore this text further, Harris provides a great number of tangible tips for house museums.

Sandi Stewart

Advisory Assistant

Friday, November 11, 2016

Museums and Remembrance Day - 2016 Edition

from Wikipedia Commons
This Remembrance Day I'd like to talk about a classic - Lt. Col. John McCrae's poem "In Flanders Fields". And I want to talk about authenticity, depth, and understanding.

I think that over the years we have lost the power of this poem as it was written. Schoolchildren have memorized it en masse and recited it in a choir of robotic voices at assemblies; a recitation method that has become so accepted it was even used in the Heritage Minute about McCrae. If this rings a bell and your experience was anything like mine, you were told that "In Flanders Fields" was written by a Canadian military doctor who died near the end of the war, and very little else. This is of course only part of the story. It is a very basic understanding of both poetry and history.

I had a wonderful high school teacher who taught us to read the poem as it was written; to embrace the punctuation and pauses. The result was eye-opening. We all thought we knew the poem already, but it turned out we didn't. We thought it was okay to just rattle it off without taking a breath until absolutely necessary, to not think about the words we were saying or the places and circumstances they represented.

So let's add some context to this poem shall we?
This, is the unassuming bunker where McCrae worked during the Second Battle of Ypres. This, is the confined space that was filled with the smell of burned, broken flesh. This, is the cold, stark reality he faced day in and day out. Imagine the sights, the smells, and the sounds. If you take care to read the poem the way McCrae intended, they will overwhelm you as they surge from between the lines, desperate for attention.

If you visit Essex Farm and the John McCrae Memorial you are in essence visiting an outdoor museum. You can walk into the dank, dark rooms that served as surgeries, where visitors often leave Canadian flags and poppies and little wooden crosses with handwritten messages. You can walk through the farm's fields that are now a sprawling cemetery and read the names and military units. You can also see the many unnamed Soldier[s] of the Great War and the respect they have been shown by visitors.

And yet just around the corner from all this concrete and stone is a beautiful, agricultural area, cozied up to a canal - the fields that McCrae wrote about. The poppies between the rows are now carefully manicured rose bushes, and the crosses are etched onto the gravestones rather than being the marker themselves. But you can still watch and listen as birds fly overheard and flit from tree to tree. When you see this first-hand, McCrae's poem gains a new dimension.

Museums are the caretakers of our history. Our collections are filled with both tangible and intangible information, which when read properly can speak volumes. But many times the authenticity and depth of this material and intangible culture has become clouded over time; the power has been lost. Significant stories and artifacts are hiding in plain sight, on display or in storage, their full potential not being realized. It is easy for both museum workers and visitors to walk by the familiar information because 'we know it already' or 'we've heard it before'. This makes it far more difficult to take the time to pause or to look at that familiar information from a different angle.

As the caretakers of our history, it is [literally] our job to help people move from that basic understanding to a place where they can pause and breathe in the depth of information. We need to turn those empty rooms into places where homage can be paid, where grief and tribute can be expressed, and where appreciation of the sacrifices of those that came before us can be cultivated.

In a week that has highlighted the divisiveness and fear that grips our world, let's try to be more authentic in our sharing of information and promotion of understanding and depth of issues, past and present. Let's be the poetic, punctuated voice that educates and truly serves the public, encouraging people to dig deeper and challenge their understanding, rather than just sharing our history without stepping back to pause or take breaths.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Marketing and Revenue Generation Workshop

Last week ANSM held a two day Marketing and Revenue Generation Workshop (Nov. 3-4) at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (MMA). We were thrilled to welcome Rosalyn Rubenstein as our presenter. Rosalyn holds a Master’s degree in Museum Studies and provides museum studies training to a number of museums across the country.

During this workshop, participants were challenged to identify their: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in their museums. It is crucial to ‘be in the know’ when working with your museum, you can do this by looking closely at day-to-day operations and performance. Once you have identified these four things, you can use this knowledge to develop a strong business plan.

Participants were asked to think about ways to create effective marketing for museums. Rosalyn noted that museums are not only selling tangible things, like gift shop tokens, they are also selling intangible things, such as the visitor experience. She prompted participants to think about ways to put in place effective marketing in museums. Group ideas included:

-connect with local organizations that focus on community outreach/public programming at their own facility to develop new relationships and cross-promote
-host museum events and workshops to generate interest in the museum (creating a fun and unique experience)
-work with museum archives to find related material to boost public programming/event content
-think about opportunities in marketing materials and website design
-search for grant opportunities and actively pursue funding

One of the things that Rosalyn repeated is that business plans should be reworked and revisited, especially when pursuing grants. Museums are ever-changing. There can easily be a shift in staffing, volunteers, board of directors, public programming, etc. It is crucial to review and update your business plan when developing grant applications because you want to submit a business plan that reflects current activities, goals, budgets, and marketing strategies. It is also important to work collectively as a group, be open to sharing ideas and brainstorm when developing your business plan.

Rosalyn asked the group to explore the exhibits at the MMA in an effort to identify ways the museum generates revenue. Participants noted that the MMA thinks beyond their collections when creating opportunity for revenue generation. They learned that the MMA generates revenue by:

-creating an opportunity for learning through public programming (i.e. workshops that focus on developing skills that directly relate to the museum’s mandate, such as ropework)
-facility rentals, including theatre
-partnering with local festivals, such as Devour! The Food Film Fest

In conclusion, Rosalyn reminded participants that those involved with their museums are leaders in their communities and that it is important to embrace the social value of museums. In order to develop a successful plan for marketing and revenue, museum representatives must work together to identify the museum’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats and actively network in the community to build both strong and lasting relationships.

Sandi Stewart
Advisory Assistant

Monday, October 31, 2016

October 2016 Update

Regional Heritage Group Meetings
Southwest Curator's Group Meeting
Yarmouth County Museum
Anita and I hit the road a fair bit this month; twice for regional group meetings. The first was the Central Regional Heritage Group. Thanks to the NS Sport Hall of Fame for hosting this one. They have a pretty sweet board room, and Katie even had sweets ready for us. Cake culture is alive and well. 12 people from 10 organizations were present, and there was lots of talk about how the summer went, and closing down for the season. Kellie McIvor joined the group in her new capacity as Cultural Asset Manager for HRM, and she gave lots of info about various HRM work and activities. The second regional meeting we attended was the Southwest Curator's Group, hosted by the Yarmouth County Museum. Bria brought some much-appreciated mini chocolate bars, which were shared while everyone did a roundtable on their summer activities. The scope of programs and fundraising efforts was impressive. At both meetings, we talked about the various ANSM work on the go - upcoming workshops and training, the evaluation program, MuseFund, NovaMuse and the advisory service. It's so important to get around a table and talk shop. If you aren't attending these and are wondering when they are, you can get in touch with us, or sign up for the Beacon e-newsletter since we advertise them there as well.

Museum Evaluation Program
As I mentioned last month, my big job for this month was analyzing statistics and writing a report for the Department of Communities, Culture & Heritage and the ANSM Board of Directors. But before I could really dive into report work, I had to dig my way out from the vacation email backlog. I/We received a lot of feedback from museums. 54 of the 67 museums (80.6%) responded to the evaluation reports in some capacity. A number of museums said that they will be using the report as a guide to assist in developing plans for the coming years, which is really encouraging to hear. We really wanted the reports to be helpful.
In terms of the big report for CCH and our board, it's still growing. There are some very interesting trends in the scoring, and as I have mentioned to a few people, it is far more complex and nuanced than just a matter of museum size. We can see which areas museums struggle with the most, and are already talking about how we can provide more and better support in these areas. Once the report is done we will put some snapshots on our website for all to see.
making weird gestures while talking
about evaluation in White Point

The other thing we did this month for this program was more orientation sessions. Back on the road, Anita and I led 3 orientation sessions for Nova Scotia Museum sites - in Halifax, White Point, and Port Hawkesbury. We had good attendance at each session and some really good questions and conversations. Since a lot of NSM work is coordinated from Halifax, we will be meeting with people over the coming weeks in order to see how we can coordinate and be efficient in providing support to the museums as they prepare for their 2017 evaluation.

Collections Database Info
October has been a bit of a blur, but the backlog of images from #ProjectVicky has been worked through, and museums have continued picking away at collections work. I took a peek at last year's numbers because it seemed to me like everyone has been very productive this year, and I was right. I won't spoil the surprise, but you'll definitely want to read the year-end review because it's been a good one for database work. You should all pat yourselves on the back and take a cake break - it is well-deserved.
On that note, let's check out this month's regional stats:
Southwest Region - 123,942 artifacts, 55,803 images
Central Region - 46,481 artifacts, 30,436 images
Northeast Region - 32,804 artifacts, 24,367 images
Cape Breton Region - 29,324 artifacts, 13,771 images

Congrats to the Southwest region for adding the most artifacts and images this month!

Your image lesson of the month is this adorable 1930s costume that was worn by a little girl named Grace. I think you'll agree it's looking a little flat these days, even though it's easy to imagine Grace twirling and skipping as she was trick-or-treating. We were recently talking about Hope's textile project from a few summers ago, so this seems even more appropriate to share. When photographing the collection, remember to put the item in its natural position. In the case of costumes, this means dressing up a mannequin. The sleeves will puff out, the skirt will billow, and the costume will really come to life. It will be so much easier for you to understand it. There are a couple other things I would adjust in this, both along the right side of the image. One is the scale - I'd put it in the lower left corner just like it is for all the other images in the databases and on NovaMuse. Consistency = professionalism. And I would have cropped out the extra dead space from the right side of the image, aligning the centre of the dress with the centre of the image so that the eye is naturally drawn there instead of being skewed off to the left a bit. A good lesson from this photo: the light backdrop is perfect for dealing with this brought and colourful dress, especially since the dark colouring in the skirt would make some details disappear.

That's all for this month. We are working on a number of funding applications and plans so stay tuned for developments. In the meantime...

Happy Halloween!!

Book Review - A Handbook for Museum Trustees

Photo courtesy of Amazon
A Handbook for Museum Trustees, by Harold and Susan Skramstad, is set up in a way to help board members grasp the vital role they play in museum operations. It outlines the important steps board members must take collectively in order for operations to run smoothly. It also stresses that board members come from all walks of life, which means it is extremely important that they communicate by sharing their differing ideas to ensure everyone is on the same page. These ideas should also reflect a common goal and the museum mandate. Topics of discussion in this text include: expectations and roles of the board of trustees; improving museum and board performance; recruiting trustees and staff; and, lastly, how to address difficult board issues.  Overall, the Skramstads provide thought-provoking insight on board operations with supporting notes on how to proactively improve board relations. The points I would like to focus on include: board makeup, board operations, and board mandate.

The Skramstads help us envision the board of trustees as a human body, comprised of separate operational parts that work together for the greater good of the whole: “A board is an organism, not unlike the human body. The parts that make up the human body-eyes, ears, nose, arms, legs, teeth, feet-are different and distinct, each with a separate function, contributing to the health of the whole in a different way … The same is true of a museum board.” (16) So if you are on a board, it is safe to say it is crucial to analyse your role and the impact it has on how the board operates. Unfortunately, many times this is an oversight in the museum world. In order for a board to be successful, members must actively work towards a common goal; one of the first steps in doing so is the analyse and understand what each board member contributes. Once you understand your role on the team, you can actively identify goals, contribute ideas, and collaborate on projects together.

Many times the board remains static instead of fluid, concentrating on set ideas with little movement. I am a strong believer that one of the best ways to gain a fresh perspective is to open the line of communication between the board of directors and frontline staff. Those who work in the trenches everyday know what your community likes and they too like to share ideas about how to fulfill your museum mandate. And do not forget, this includes your volunteers as well. This text repeats the importance of ensuring that you do just that: “board members would be well served to get to know some of their museums’ best and most active volunteers [and staff], who will have great insight into the institution and its visitors. They know what the visitors like and don’t like better than anyone, and they’ll be glad to tell you all about it. For board members to provide this kind of listening post for the museum is not micromanagement but good stewardship of resources” (53). One of the best ways to do this is to communicate and collaborate with your frontend staff. Remember, all decisions must reflect the museum mandate and focus on sustaining the wellbeing of the museum collections, exhibits, and other assets when working collaboratively with others in your institution. It is important to know what your core values are, what your mission statement represents, and where you plan on heading in the future. As a board member, is it crucial that you work on this vision with those in your museum in order to be successful.

Boards, like museum staff (paid staff, volunteers, etc.), are comprised of people with different personalities, backgrounds, and levels of training. Yes, it is important that we embrace diversity but sometimes with diversity comes differences of opinion, which can lead to negative board culture if not monitored properly. The Skramstads dive into different ways to eliminate negative board culture, which include: motivating the board and retaining good board members, addressing terms of service and succession, performing exit interviews and evaluating board performance (86-95). It is healthy to put structure in place and I am an advocate of this in the museum field. People succeed when given direction because their work is now serving a purpose. Much like in your museum, this text suggests to assign a mandate for the board as a way to provide added direction and support:

While the magnet for all museum activities and for all staff and board activities should be the institution’s mission, the board should have its own mission. A mission provides a rationale, and a charge for the board’s work and may help prevent misunderstandings amoung trustees. Similar to a museum’s mission statement, the board’s mission should clarify three things: what the board does, the outcome of that activity, and the value of that activity (76).

So, in conclusion I encourage you to ask yourself the following questions: What is your mandate? What goals have you set? How will you reach these goals? What do you have planned for the future? What are the expectations for each board member? Do they understand what is expected of them? Is the board’s performance being monitored? Do board members actively work with museum staff (both paid staff and volunteers)? And, are ideas and opinions shared in a positive and supportive environment? I agree with the Skramstads belief that when an institution starts asking themselves these kinds of questions, they are one step closer to creating a unified and supportive board and museum.

Sandi Stewart
Advisory Assistant

Monday, October 17, 2016

September 2016 Update

Museum Evaluation Program
It was a monumental task, but we managed to send out Evaluation Reports to all the sites by the second week of the month. And then I left the country. Okay, so it was for a much-needed vacation, but it still makes a good joke. The reports ended up being a lot longer than we initially thought they would be, in part due to comments and photographs from the evaluators, but it sounds like the museums on the receiving end were appreciative of all this extra effort and input. 

The next step is to conduct various analyses on the scoring and write a report for the Department of Communities, Culture & Heritage. Due at the end of October, this is a chance to identify trends and share feedback that we have received from museums and evaluators with CCH. As you can imagine, having such a vast array of information for 67 museums across the province gives us a lot of data and statistics to work with. We already have several ideas and plans to address the results and help museums move forward. We will also be having a meeting with the Steering Committee to review the process and discuss how things could be improved (date tbd). As you can imagine, taking on this program has been, and continues to be, a major adjustment to ANSM life. Just like researching museum evaluation programs around the world, getting feedback from all the stakeholders is extremely helpful to us.
SME Update
I have been thoroughly impressed by the response Sandi has gotten to SME (Subject Matter Expert) discussions with everyone during site visits. It didn't matter where she went, she always came back with suggestions and contact info for potential SMEs. This is awesome. It shows how invested everyone is in NovaMuse, and how eager we all are to address holes in our collections documentation. Now here comes the bad news. We're a very small office. We wanted to reach out and do some information gathering, a little recon project if you will, but it's impossible to commit to working with all of these newly identified experts immediately. Funding deliverables and other existing commitments require our focus right now. I have spoken with both Algonquin and Fleming colleges about our work in this area, not to mention our other projects on the go that would be great experiences for interns. We think this will be a nice enticement for potential interns, and until other projects settle down a bit, this is the approach we will be taking. Thanks again for the interest. It's really exciting to think about all the possibilities here. 

And now, handing things over to Sandi: 

Desbrisay Museum collection
Hello everyone! Can anyone else believe how quickly September went by? To our partnering sites, I hope you had a busy and fun summer and a smooth transition into September. The leaves are now changing, which means we have been bundled up in ANSM headquarters working away at editing and uploading photographs to CollectiveAccess from our annual site visits, responding to inquiries, and making headway on exciting future projects!
In the month of September, I visited another 6 sites. Again, I want to thank the teams at all of our partnering museums for their dedication and passion in the field. I have been fortunate enough to work with motivated staff and volunteers on the road this summer. And as you start to unwind from your busy season, I look forward to seeing all of your hard work pay off as your records grow and flourish on NovaMuse! Keep a look out for your photographs from this year’s visits, they should all be uploaded shortly. The photos turned out very well!

Collections Database Info
We've had a pretty busy month with database activity, partially because we helped a museum import a photo collection into their database, and partially because of all the #ProjectVicky digitization work that took place over the summer during site visits. It was great to be able to sit down and work through the backlog. Here are the regional stats:
Southwest Region - 113,419 artifacts, 55,468 images
Central Region - 39,704 artifacts, 30,181 images
Northeast Region - 24,900 artifacts, 24,300 images
Cape Breton Region - 22,864 artifacts, 13,771 images

Congrats to the Central region for adding the most artifacts this month, and to the Southwest region for adding the most images!

Canada 150 
We will leave you with a quick update about ANSM’s Canada 150 Project. We have received a number of responses from our partnering museums regarding interest in participation. We are excited to see such a positive response and an already deep understanding of how large of an impact a project like this can have on our communities. We look forward to reviewing inquiries from interested museums in detail and will be making selections in the near future. For those of you wanting a refresher on our vision and goal for Canada150, please see below.
Our Vision:  The purpose of this project is for students throughout Nova Scotia to be given the opportunity to choose 150 artifacts from NovaMuse that they feel best represent Nova Scotia’s story and the province’s role in Confederation. From these artifacts, a community engagement piece will be created and circulated through participating high schools. The result will be a performance piece inspired by Nova Scotia’s story. Using mime, puppeting, digital presentation techniques and informed by your artifacts, students will explore and experience our story in a new and participatory way. There will also be an opportunity for two participating museums to host the performance piece, either at their site or in their community.
Our Goal: Is to establish a sense of community amongst participating partnering museums as we work towards sharing the benefits of NovaMuse as an educational platform within Nova Scotian classrooms. Canada 150 has given us the opportunity to celebrate Nova Scotian heritage and culture in new and exciting ways. We will use NovaMuse to help circulate the history and stories of everyday objects found in the database. By broadening our audience and focusing specifically on sharing the benefits of this learning tool with students and teachers, we are encouraging our wider audience to engage, learn, and share ideas about objects found within museum collections one of our focuses in the NovaMuse User Engagement Plan. The goal of NovaMuse is to help tell the story of Nova Scotia through its material culture, and Canada 150 is giving us the opportunity to take this idea one step further. It is now time for us to give students the opportunity to help tell the story of our province and its role in Confederation by sharing objects that highlight this monumental moment in Canadian history. We believe that this project will engage youth and ignite a passion for Nova Scotia’s history, the same passion that many of us already share in the heritage sector.

That is all for now folks! We look forward to working with you in the cooler months. Please reach out anytime if you have questions about CollectiveAccess and NovaMuse, we are here to help!
 Sandi Stewart, Advisory Assistant

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Celtic Baskets

Typical "stake-and-strand" gathering basket. DesBrisay
Museum, 413 P; 69.2.17
          Last but not least, our final basket-related blog post is all about Celtic baskets. European and British settlement in Nova Scotia came about in the late 1600s. If you're wondering why the term "Celtic," the movement of Celts across Europe meant that these practices became ingrained in many different places like Hungary, France, England, Ireland, Scotland, and so on. As people with these skills moved to Nova Scotia, the practice was brought with them. Celtic is a generalized term that can be used to describe the cultural aspect of these baskets. People brought three styles of baskets:  

  1. Willow “stake-and-strand” round-bottomed baskets and double-funneled eel pots/traps woven of witherod “withes” or “wits."  Basket makers also use alder, dogwood and willow. Bottom woven as a disc into which longer, heavier withes inserted, bent up for the “side-stake” warps woven to desired height.  Free ends interwoven for rim.
  2. Fingerwoven braided straw, rush and wood chip hats as well as wood chip baskets in a variety of patterns.
  3. Coiled straw baskets.  
Describing the Baskets
Gathering basket made using the twine-
woven technique. Fort Point Museum,
As with any basket, there's a lot more to them than meets the eye. 

Bottom: bottom sticks twine-woven/wicker-woven.

Side-stakes: inserted into bottom weave, bent up, wicker-woven (single round weft in an over 1/under 1 pattern); twine-woven (twisting two round wefts in a variety of patterns over 1/under 1; over 2/under 1; over 3/ under 1, etc.)

Rim: woven tips of side-stakes in a variety of patterns.  Heavy work baskets may have additional woven bottom rim to lengthen the life of the basket.  They can be removed and replaced to extend their use. 
German "brotkorb" bread basket. DesBrisay Museum, 40; X.40

Handles: overhand; side-handles.  Usually covered
with roped withes or wrapped rope twine.    

Celtic coiled straw “bread-raising “brotkorb” baskets: with core-bundle of straw wrapped and sewn to the previous row with long, narrow lengths of split wood or de-thorned blackberry cane, creating a continual spiral from centre-bottom to rim. 

Handwoven Hats, A history of straw, wood and rush hats in Nova Scotia.  Joleen Gordon.  Halifax, Nova Scotia Museum, 1981.

Withe Baskets, Traps and Brooms, Traditional crafts in Nova Scotia. Halifax, Nova Scotia Museum, 1984.

Older Ways, Traditional Nova Scotian craftsmen.  Peter Barss with Joleen Gordon.  Toronto, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1980. (Bernard Mossman and Victor Bush)