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, 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