Author Archives: Susan Breitkopf

Thank You—And See You in L.A.!

Now that the 103rd AAM Annual Meeting is completed, I’d like to say how much we appreciated your joining us in Philadelphia. More than 5,000 of you journeyed there—despite the budget constraints affecting us all. The result was an enriching and rewarding experience for everyone. Our Philadelphia Host Committee did a superb job, staging a memorable event and introducing all attendees to the cultural riches of a great American city. Keynoters Walter Isaacson and Malcolm Gladwell wowed us, and the more than 180 session provided enlightening discussion for every museum discipline.

Our theme in Philadelphia was “The Museum Experiment” and, keeping with that, we tried some new things. Let us know how you think we did—we welcome your insight. The city where the American experiment began provided the setting for proof that the museum experiment is stronger than ever, even with the challenges we all face. I look forward to seeing all of you in Los Angeles next spring, where we will undoubtedly have the chance to learn from each other once again.—Ford W. Bell, DVM, AAM president


The Future’s So Bright …

As a soon-to-be graduate of a museum studies program, I am often fearful of what lies ahead in the job market. The Mentoring Roundtables for emerging and mid-career museum professionals held on Sunday afternoon helped allay some of those fears. There were so many topics to cover and so many intriguing discussions that I was only able to sit down at a few of the tables.

  • At one of the roundtables, “Directing Yourself, Setting Goals and Reaching Out: A Career Strategy,” Liz Maurer, director of operations at the National Museum of Crime and Punishment, spoke about how to turn your skills into narrative “stories” and understanding what your abilities are and what abilities you would like to have.
  • At “Don’t Sell Yourself Short: Highlighting Transferable Skills,” Nichole Smith, former manager of education and public programs at the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum, gave tips on writing a good resume, including adding an inventory of everything you have done no matter how small or irrelevant you might think they are; experience from outside the field can be helpful.
  • Carol Bossert, a museum consultant and interpretive planner at CB Services Inc., facilitated a discussion at the roundtable “Education and Exhibition Professionals Finding Voice” about how to challenging the ideas of our superiors.

These roundtables and the others around the room were informal and as a result I felt a sense of camaraderie among the attendees. I gained, and I hope that the other attendees did as well, a wealth of strategies to use in my career.—Ansel Lurio, M.A. candidate, Cooperstown Graduate Program, SUNY Oneonta

Philly Food Fun

Attendees at the Philadelphia meeting have of course delighted in partaking of the cultural riches of the city. But they have also been occupied in sampling the taste of Philadelphia. A New York food critic once wrote that there were four worthwhile types of cuisine: French, Italian, Chinese and Philadelphian. Conference delegates have often gone in search of a real Philadelphia hoagie (forget about Subway; there’s no comparison with a Philly sandwich, from its roll to its oil to its salami).  And those brave culinary adventurers have even imbibed that most famous of Philadelphia creations, the Philly cheesesteak. Replete with fried onions, frightening fat and future strokes, the cheesesteak is a Philadelphia institution, from the famous scene in Rocky to the fact that even the finest Philly hotels include the delicacy on their menus.

Such is the popularity of this fare that it has been replicated everywhere. But, as with a genuine museum artifact, there is nothing like the real thing.—Dewey Blanton, AAM media relations

Success Stories: From Mozart to Fleetwood Mac and Back

Fleetwood Mac, quarterback Dan Marino, Mark Twain and Cezanne. What could they possibly have in common? Today’s keynote speaker Malcolm Gladwell had the answer: They have all achieved success through compensation.

Many of us know Gladwell from his work at the New Yorker magazine and his books The Tipping Point and Blink. Gladwell’s new book, Outliers: The Story of Sucess, investigates the factors that foster success by exploring the role patience and persistence play in achieving creative accomplishments. Gladwell’s insightful—and at times hilariously entertaining—keynote address showcased Fleetwood Mac’s ten-year and 16-album journey through trial and tribulations to their most popular 1977 album Rumours as an example of a group of people who achieved great success by compensating (i.e. effort and recovering and learning from failure), rather than capitalizing (i.e. building on strength and one advantage after another).

In today’s world, we’ve come to think of success as something that can be achieved over night (think “American Idol”), but Gladwell explains that success is the result of a trial-and-error process; an innovative experimentation that takes many years. And that’s what Fleetwood Mac, Dan Marino, Mozart, Mark Twain and Cezanne have in common—they all worked slowly and diligently, compensated for their various disadvantages and were hungry for success. Gladwell argues the genius of figures like Mozart and others is the result of their persistence and patience in their approach to creative accomplishment.

>Maybe it’s time we follow Gladwell’s urge to take compensation more seriously, rather than believing in the fantasy of immediate success. If we don’t, we run the risk of never letting true creativity blossom. Just ask Fleetwood Mac.—Silvana Pop, public relations relations coordinator, Please Touch Museum

Better Together

Maybe three is the magic number for great AAM session. Two of my favorites today brought together three unique perspectives to triangulate a common theme. First, Tsivia Cohen, Minda Borun, and Suzanne Gaskins shared their views on museum research as an educator, in-house evaluator and university researcher respectively. Their presentations played off each other beautifully and organically illustrated the different learning styles central to the research presented.

Later, the Huntington Library, Art Collections, & Botanical Gardens, the International Spy Museum, and the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum invited us into three distinctive immersive environments. The “town hall” forum used in place of Q&A encouraged the audience to make connections across the three presentations, a nice complemented to the session’s theme of adult learning.

For me, an intriguing connection between the two sessions emerged: Research applying Kolb’s experiential learning theory suggests much of the adult population prefer “puzzle-mystery” learning activities. Perhaps this is why the immersive environments, which leverage applied problem solving, are so popular with adult audiences.—Elizabeth Pokel, student, Harvard Graduate School of Education

An Eye on Accessibility

Starting with the comment at the general session on  Friday that the “Spark” video should have been closed captioning, access to museums, both for visitors and staff, has been a major issue at this year’s conference.

This is an impassioned topic: All of us know someone who has special access needs or have special needs ourselves. At the Q&A for a session on Friday afternoon, “Autism and Access: Connecting with Museums,” museum professionals who have children with autism and those who have high-functioning autism themselves, told personal stories of how museums they have visited deal with autism. The session not only dealt with autistic people as visitors to museums but autistic volunteers as well.  I know that it is often hard for autistic individuals to hold a job, and museums can help them with life-skills by welcoming them as volunteers.

“Universal Design,” one of the buzzwords at the sessions dealing with disability, involves adapting programs and exhibits for the disabled, museums instead create exhibits and programs that are designed with both the disabled and nondisabled in mind.  At a session on Friday morning entitled “Hear Art, See Music: Nurturing Aesthetic Development in All Children” the speakers on the panel explained how the Hear Art, See Music (HASM) program, which makes connections between art and music in a museum setting, is so valuable because it addresses so many learning styles.  This can help students with learning disabilities but it also is a great way for anyone to learn.

Many of the technologies on display at the MuseumExpo are also geared for people with disabilities. One of these technologies is a computer that can be moved with your eyes, partially created for paralyzed individuals.  As a wheelchair user, I was also asked for advice about the accessibility of many of the products on display.

It is obvious from the comment that the deaf woman made at the general session, that we still have a ways to go to be more inclusive of people with disabilites, but from what I have seen at this year’s conference, these pleas for inclusion are not being ignored.—Ansel Lurio, M.A. candidate, Cooperstown Graduate Program, SUNY Oneonta

Cheesesteak and Much More

cheesesteaksIf you’ve still got some time, pop next door to the convention center and sample the fares at the Reading Terminal Market. Established in 1892 at 12th and Arch Streets, is the nation’s oldest continuously operating farmers’ market. Local flavors and personalities shine in this one-of-a-kind venue.—Anna M. Bentson, director of public relations and marketing, Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest