Tag Archives: writing

Telling Stories about Storytelling @ AAM 2014

One of the highlights of my AAM 2014 experience (and the source of the most dread), was the storytelling panel that Seattle-based exhibit planner Judy Rand and I organized. AAM included a “storytelling” format this year in the call for proposals, and we thought it’d be interesting to put together a session that wasn’t the usual “people sitting behind a table talking while the slides went by” kind of presentation. Judy suggested we explore the power of storytelling based on the model of The Moth Radio Hour. I suggested the theme of “The thing I wished they’d told me when I started in museums” and we were off!
A big room can still feel like a stage with a little light control, oval seating... and a rug and plant.

A big room can still feel like a stage with a little light control, oval seating… and a rug and plant.

Over the next few months, we expanded our roster of speakers to include Catherine Hughes, Director of Interpretation at the Connor Prairie Museum and Nina Simon, the Executive Director from the Museum of Art and Science in Santa Cruz. Catherine’s an actress, Nina’s a former slam poet, and we knew they’d rise to the challenge of telling compelling stories within pretty rigid time limits. Judy and I, both more writers than speakers, had more to worry about. Coming up with a way to tell a compelling story is very different than writing a compelling story. Writing for the ear is, for me, much harder than writing for the eye. I don’t think I ever spent as much time practicing a conference presentation, cutting and tightening, as I did for the eight minutes I was alone in front of a room full of my peers telling my story.
The Storytellers: Nina, Judy, Ed, and Catherine

The Storytellers: Nina, Judy, Ed, and Catherine

In the end, depsite the angst it caused me, it was a great session. The stories we heard were amazing. Judy told us of her intense shyness in public and of the revelation of taking a personality test and finding out that it classified her a “people person.” Catherine described her love of museum work as an addiction and drew out a number of very funny, if slightly disturbing, analogies between her career path and an addict’s. Trust me, it was good. Nina told the story of her struggles as a new museum director and what it means to really be an activist instead of just talking about it.
Judy sharing her story with the audience.

Judy sharing her story with the audience.

When we asked the 200-odd people in the room to pair up and tell each other a 2-minute story, the noise level was deafening. Instead of having the usual question and answer session at the end, we invited audience members to come and share their stories with the audience. It was great.  Here are the handouts we made:

Our Storytelling Resources handout

Our 2-minute storytelling activity handout

I wrote about my own story over at PEM’s blog, and that prompted me to get this recollection down, and to include Judy’s and Catherine’s stories as well, in future posts.

Now back to editing CODE|WORDS essays and trying to write my own!

CODE│WORDS: An experiment in online discourse and publishing

by Ed Rodley

CC BY-SA 2.0 image by Flickr user djandyw.com

CC BY-SA 2.0 image by Flickr user djandyw.com

So, another long silence. February was the month of the endless head cold, and tons of stuff going on at Peabody Essex Museum.  The March shows will be opening soon! But, I haven’t been completely idle.  There have been secret plans afoot, which are finally cooked enough to announce. The big one is an experiment in online discourse and publishing that Rob Stein, Suse Cairns, and I have been discussing for a couple of months.  Let me tell you a bit about it, and see if it sounds interesting to you.

Background
As you already know, 2013 was a pretty fruitful year for museum blog conversations. I was very grateful for both the quantity and quality of the discourse that happened, and how much of it seems to have influenced discourse in the broader museum community. Conference sessions and other publications continue to flow out of conversations that started as blog posts. By default, these tended to be reactionary, driven by current affairs and mass media. To step it up a notch for 2014, here’s an idea for an experiment that might do just that, and possibly pay further dividends down the road.

Suse Cairns (she of museum geek and Museopunks) and I have been talking about collaborating on a book for some time, once her PhD work wound down.  Both of us are interested in the intersection of the digital and museums and figured we’d find fertile ground there, but we hadn’t really gotten much further than that.  Late last year, Rob Stein wrote a comment to a Dallas newspaper article about visitors and smartphones that Suse and I both thought deserved a wider audience, so I asked him to consider reworking it as a guest post on my blog. However, Rob being Rob, he had a larger vision than just a one-off blog post.

“How about this instead?” he asked us,  “What if a group of museum blogs tackled a set of interrelated issues at the same time, with an eye toward some kind of publication being the final product? The process itself would be an interesting experiment, and the outcome – some hopefully substantial discourse and new knowledge – could be a real benefit to the field.” The basic idea was to strategically identify some interesting issues, divide up the issues among a group of collaborators, and  then tackle them sequentially, developing them simultaneously and collaboratively, so that we could heavily cross-link between them to create a more coherent narrative than the usual call and response of blogging. To this, we added the idea of using the blog posts *and* their associated commentary as the basis for revised essays that could be collected and published as an edited volume later. The conversations around the initial posts would thus become part of the final essays.

So we had a bunch of Google hangouts to hash out what this strange hybrid might look like and how it should function. Here’s what we came up with.

I stink at getting Hangout screenshots.

I stink at getting Hangout screenshots.

The project in a nutshell

CODE | WORDS as we originally conceived it comprises three primary phases:

  • Phase I is an open, online discussion via a shared Google document, where we set up the initial parameters for discussion, topics, and framework for the project.

  • Phase II will be a focussed blogging project in April-May 2014, which will initially be located on Medium and later archived. During a six-week period, 12 authors will post 2,000 word essays on related topics we chose in Phase I. You, the interested public, will discuss these essays and help the authors reflect on the issues they raise. In addition, a number of selected respondents will write 1,000 word responses to the initial essay. We think this approach will allow the project both depth and considered commentary, as well as responsiveness and the capacity to adapt the discussion to new questions that arise.

  • Finally, Phase III will (hopefully) include a published book that draws together the ideas from the blog posts and commentary, and develops them into formal, considered essays.

This will doubtless change somewhat, once we get down to sorting out the details with the authors, but at this point, this is what we think is going to happen.

How it came about:

We needed first and foremost to identify commentators/ thinkers willing and able to participate in a kinda strange-sounding nameless project. It was clear it needed a codename, because they make everything cooler! Thus was born CODE│WORDS : Technology and theory in the museum (working title). We wanted people who might challenge us and each other, and bring different ways of looking at things, whether from different countries, or different types of museums. We looked through our Twitter feeds and LinkedIn connections and quickly assembled a list of people we thought would bring a variety of interesting perspectives to the project, and we asked them. Stunningly enough, virtually everyone we asked said yes and the CODE | WORDS crew grew to include:

  • Seb Chan, Smithsonian Institution, USA  @sebchan
  • Susan Chun, Cultural Heritage Consulting, USA  @schun
  • Mike Edson, Smithsonian Institution, USA @mpedson
  • Beth Harris, Khan Academy, USA  @bethrharris
  • Courtney Johnston, Dowse Art Museum, NZ  @auchmill
  • Sarah Kenderdine, National Institute for Experimental Arts, COFA, UNSW, HK/AUS
  • Luis Marcelo Mendes, Museum Consultant, BR  @lumamendes
  • Mike Murawski, Portland Art Museum, USA  @murawski27
  • Nick Poole, Collections Trust, UK  @nickpoole1
  • John Russick, Chicago History Museum, USA
  • Merete Sanderhoff, Statens Museum for Kunst, DK @msanderhoff
  • Koven Smith, Kinetic Museums, USA @5easypieces
  • Thomas Soderqvist, Medical Musieon, DK @museionist
  • Beck Tench, Museum of Life and Science, USA @10ch
  • Marthe de Vette, Van Gogh Museum, NL
  • Bruce Wyman, Museum Consultant, USA  @bwyman
  • Steven Zucker, Khan Academy, USA  @drszucker

We wanted to collaboratively identify a series of topics around the impacts of digital technologies on museums that are most interesting to us, most useful for the development of the field, and/or most in need of poking at. That’s where we are right now, sorting out which topics to tackle.

Originally, we thought we’d use people’s existing blogs to make use of their built-in audiences, but for the sake of continuity and critical mass, we decided to try out Medium as our platform. Their commenting feature is kinda interesting in that it lets you pick a paragraph to attach your comment to, rather than just tacking it onto the end of a 2,000 word post. I’ve been meaning to give Medium a whirl for awhile, and am looking forward to seeing how it works out.

The next step in the coming weeks is to collaboratively work on topics in such a way that they naturally build on each other and can be heavily cross-linked. We do this already, but in a more reactionary manner. This experiment would be an opportunity to be more strategic about it, and hopefully more successful in building a larger hypernarrative.

We want to create an online community of interest on Medium around these essays and try to practice being as inclusive as possible. One of the benefits of Medium is that other authors can write their own posts and tag them so that they can hopefully join the scrum. Our current plan is to launch in April, and to release 12 essays over a six week period, to keep interest as high as possible and hopefully build a community of commentators who would respond to more than just one essay – or even contribute their own. That’s where you come in, gentle readers, so strap in and get ready for a few tons of museumy goodness to drop on you soon. Seriously, though. The success of this experiment depends on us engaging as broad as community as possible to join us in the work. Otherwise it’s just another edited volumeWe want you to share your expertise, your ideas, your experiences with us, and a global audience of interested peers. If you have never written a blog post before, or just want to dip your toe into a digital discussion, this could be a great way to start and test the waters.

Obviously, we want to document the process and results, if this model winds up having any utility. A logical place to disseminate finding will be at conferences. A bunch of us will be at Museums and the Web and AAM, and I’ll be trying to convene groups to hang out during the conferences. Stay tuned and let me know if you’ll be in Baltimore or Seattle. On our current timeline, we’ll be done with the initial essays by June, so MCN in November should be a good distance from which to look back on the process and reflect on lessons learned for the initial phases.

Once we have finished the initial round of essays, their authors will take them and the commentary they engendered, and use both to write new essays. Rob, Suse, and I will try to convince a publisher to release the resulting collection as a digital/physical publication. If you represent a publisher and want to talk more about CODE | WORDS, email me! 

If all goes well, then we’ll celebrate doing something cool and useful.

Once we’re ready to go, we’ll announce the URL and let the games begin! So stay tuned!

On interviews and editors

Sorry for a two-headed post, but two ideas were fighting with each other and got all tangled up in each other’s business. They are related, at least in my mind, so bear with me…

Interviews

Today was a very exciting day! We are working on a project with the Dutch kinetic sculptor Theo Jansen, of Strandbeest fame. Strandbeest! And since Theo was in Salem for the first time, we set aside part of the day to interview him about his initial impressions.

Setting up in East India Marine Hall with Chip and Corbett.

Setting up in East India Marine Hall with Chip and Corbett.

The curator, AV producer, and I sat down to come up with a list of interview questions that I would ask, since I’d done it before. Interviewing is one of those skills I picked up along the way by working with some really great interviewers over the years. It’s not easy to both maintain a conversational poise with someone, while remaining completely silent. So much of the infromation we use to gauge how a conversation is going comes from those small grunts and nods, and “Mm hmm”s that signal “I’m paying attention!” and “Yes, I hear you.” to the person talking. You have to learn to use your smile and eyes and body language (without getting in the way of the camera) to add those cues.

It’s also hard to focus on all that and keep your mind focused on the big picture. When you’re coaxing answers out of an interviewee, you get into a flow, questions lead to new questions, and it’s easy wander into very interesting, irrelevant territory.  So our division of labor for the shoot consisted of me doing the talking, Chip doing the shooting, and Trevor, the curator, keeping watch that the big picture goals for his project were met. If he had questions, he could feed them to me, and I could ask Theo. I missed something important, he could add that to the list. I’ve worn both hats, sometimes at the same time, and I definitely prefer not doing both. There’s an interesting parallel between this and writing and editing.

… and Editors

"Every Word Counts", Susan TImberlake's shiny new blog

“Every Word Counts”, Susan TImberlake’s shiny new blog

My former colleague  and good friend Susan Timberlake has just started a blog on museum writing and interpretation called “Every Word Counts” which you should subscribe to if you do any kind of writing. Susan’s one of the best editors I’ve ever worked with in 20+ years, and even after five years I still miss not having her in arm’s reach when I have a problem trying to say what I actually mean. If you’ve never worked with a good editor I pity you.

When I’m in the process of writing something, I find it hard to pull myself back up out of the words and paragraphs and remember what was the point of it all. Editing my own work becomes really difficult, and doing something like writing exhibit labels, where every single word counts, it can be excruciating. Ah, but when there’s an editor! Such a difference! All the fudge words I used, the sentences that don’t quite lead from one to the next, and the awkward phrasings get caught and marked up. Her probing questions and relentless focus on clarity would invariably lift the quality of my writing out of the slough it would normally wallow in. I quoted Orwell in a post some time ago about writing, who claimed that all writers were by nature lazy. I am guilty of that, as Susan could doubtless tell you. But it’s hard, too, to be defendant, judge and jury of your own work. I know lots of people hate having their work in progress read by others, but it is so much more efficient when it comes to crafting tight, hard prose.

So, if you’re interested in writing in a museum context, I imagine you’ll find Susan’s blog a useful one. The posts currently up are a mixture of case studies, examples of rewrites, and insights on writing and interpretation. I look forward to seeing what else she comes up with!

 

Ice Cube & AFP: What makes for successful narrators?

We’re getting ready to host LACMA’s California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way”
exhibition in the Spring, so we’ve just begun talking about our interpretive strategies and exhibition design. As I started screening the videos that were produced for the exhibition I was reminded of one of my favorite museum advertising campaigns; Pacific Standard Time’s use of the rapper Ice Cube.

Ice Cube and the Eames

image linked from kootation.com

It’s more than just a nice ad. To appreciate it, you have to watch his celebration of Charles and Ray Eames. It’s only 2:16. Watch it now, OK?

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xmujq2_pacific-standard-time-presents-ice-cube-celebrates-the-eames-extended-video-edit_creation#.UeH7V8u9KSM

In two minutes, he gives you a sense of his connection to California, art, architecture, and design. He drops the little bomb that he studied architectural drafting, so he knows something about the subject, and he’s able to draw parallels between what he does and what the Eames were doing, bringing in mashups and sampling. It’s authentic, it provides an interesting insight into both the Eames and Ice Cube, and it’s enjoyable as hell to watch. “That’s going green 1949 style, bitch! Believe it!” Priceless… Watch it again if you want.

Beth Lisick and Alexander Calder


After annoying everybody in the office with insistent calls to come into my office and watch it, I started trying to unpack why I liked it so much, and recalled an earlier piece that I think I like even more. To go along with a Calder show they did back in 2006, SFMOMA commissioned Bay Area spoken word artist Beth Lisick to do a short piece on Calder for their podcast series. This one’s short, too, and both a brilliant work in its own right and great, intimate take on Calder that isn’t didactic in the slightest, yet manages to work a lot of content into only a couple of minutes. Start at around 13:02 and enjoy an imagined evening with Beth Lisick and Alexander Calder.

Podcast with teeny, iPod-sized images
Podcast with just audio

I liked this so much the first time I heard it that I bugged a rather bemused Peter Samis to pleeeeaaaaase give a copy of that clip. It stayed in heavy rotation in the spoken word list on my iPod for several years. The concept, the writing, her delivery, even the background music, all worked to tell a tight little story, full of emotion. I can’t imagine what the first meeting must’ve been like when they read the script. “You’re ordering Chinese food and asking Alexander Calder if he wants to put on sweatpants? Umm….OK.” But it works so well to bring Calder to life for a couple of minutes, to humanize the great artist and turn him back into a person who might’ve come home one night, tired and hungry, and had someone waiting at home for him to tell her about his day.

After this segue, I realized that instead of being two things I liked, they might share some attributes that would be worth analyzing to see what common threads link them. I thought back to all the other celebrity media appearances I’d seen or heard that I liked, from breathy Jessica Tandy voiceovers, to Jeremy Irons’ smooth pronunciation of “Wenudjebauendjed” in an Egyptian archaeology show. And I only came up with one more example that really stood out as particularly inspired.

Amanda F**king Palmer (AFP) and Edgar Degas

from boston.com

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston did an exhibition called “Degas and the Nude” a couple of years ago, and had local singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer narrate the audiotour. It’s an inspired choice. Unfortunately, the MFA’s tours are only available on-site (boo!) for a rental fee so I can’t share any of the performance with you. I reviewed the exhibition back when it opened, and Palmer wrote about her take on being an audiotour narrator in a long post that is NSFW towards the end.

The choice of Palmer might seem odd at first blush. What does a punk cabaret singer have to share about a French Impressionist painter? Quite a lot, it turns out, because Palmer was an artist’s model in her student days, so she knows a lot about being nude in front of an artist, and the relationship between artist and subject. Take my word for it, it was a great tour.

So what do these three very different interlocutors do that works so well?

They bridge the gulf between audience and expert
One thing I think all three do an excellent job of doing, is placing the narrator in the position of helping the audience approach the subject. Unlike a subject matter expert like a curator, or another expert in the same domain, they stand in between the completely uninitiated and the cognoscenti, and provide a scaffold for us to learn more and move closer to the subject. Ice Cube knows a bit, but not a lot. He contrasts the Eames’ House with McMansions. Palmer isn’t a painter, but she modeled for them. Lisick places herself in the position of someone living with Calder who’s heard all the stories, but doesn’t seem to be part of the Surrealist world.

They bring interesting expertise of their own
Both Ice Cube and Amanda Palmer have actual credentials that allow them to have a different relationship to the subject matter than the audience. Ice Cube may have only studied architectural drafting for a short time, but it’s enough. When he’s talking about prefab wall sections and off-the-shelf windows, you can feel his appreciation for the Eames. When Palmer talks about nude modeling, you can almost hear the hours of standing still, and carry that into the paintings and imagine the process of their creation.

They personalize the subject matter
Back in the day when I worked on audiotours, one of the things I hated about using celebrity narrators was that they were being used for their name recognition, their voice and nothing else. Nothing of the performer came out in the performance. These three pieces all provide the audience with not only insight into the subject matter, but insight into the performer as well. It’s like two for the price of one!

They’re not just reading lines
It’s obvious, but it has to be said. I’ve been through a spate of unfortunate museum videos recently, where some well-meaning curator or director delivers lines like, “We’re very excited to welcome you to…” in a solemn monotone to kick off a video. Painful stuff. Successful narrators can deliver crappy lines and make them engaging. Crappy narrators can kill the best written script. A great narrator with a great script, like the ones above? Magic!

Got any other examples like these? Send ‘em my way!

Review: The National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) in New York City

The National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) in New York City

The Entrance to MoMath.

The Entrance to MoMath.

These impressions are based on a quick visit on a crowded Friday afternoon during a school holiday two weeks after the grand opening of the institution.  So bear that in mind as you read on and give MoMath some mad props for trying to tackle mathematics in an interactive science center format. They do a great job of portraying mathematics as colorful, surprising, and capable of both producing beautiful results and having a deeply beautiful order.  I’ll definitely be going back after they’ve had a chance to hit their stride…

 No front-of-house, just house

When you enter MoMath, you’re confronted with a row of machines vending the badges that visitors have to wear in the museum. No staff, no elaborate instructions, just machines that dispense these.

MoMath doesn't give you tickets. You get a badge.  Makes it seem like everybody works there...

MoMath doesn’t give you tickets. You get a badge. Makes it seem like everybody works there…

Surprisingly, they worked really well. We got our badges in short order and, I have to say, I was pretty impressed with how smoothly it all worked. The lines moved quickly, and people got about their visiting with minimal fuss.  It is a nice solution to the dilemma of collecting admissions without having to resort to hiring typically low-paid staff to be both ambassadors and money collectors.  It’s a job I held myself once, and it’s often not fun.  I’m glad to see institutions trying to find ways to provide service without doing it the way it’s always been done.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had recently with a director who was getting rid of the task setting up projectors for meetings as a someone’s job. I professed amazement, and I think I even said “Then who’ll set up the projectors?” The reply, of course was that staff would have to learn how to set up their own projectors. Having a specialist technician who did this job was an obsolete task in the same way that organizations used to have highly-trained specialist typists, who learned how to use expensive electric typewriters and were able to type letters quickly.  Now, everybody is expected to type their own dang letters, and in some organizations they have to figure out which end of the plug goes into the projector. Progress occurs in strange ways.

A square-wheeled bicycle that rolls smoothly. A crowd pleaser to be sure!

A square-wheeled bicycle that rolls smoothly. A crowd pleaser to be sure!

MoMath and digital media

Barry Joseph at AMNH was at MoMath a week before us and wrote a nice review focusing on their use of digital media. It’s worth reading.   I was less taken with their overall strategy for using digital media to carry all the interpretive content, though I am very excited to see how well some of their strategies work out.

Playing with inclined planes. Galileo would be proud.

Playing with inclined planes. Galileo would be proud.

Where’s the math?

MoMath has obviously made the decision not to provide interpretive content at the exhibits, just minimal instructions. If you want to get the meat of the educational content, you have to go to a separate kiosk, several of which are scattered around the exhibit halls.  Sometimes, just figuring out which exhibit went with the content on the screen was difficult. “Is this the Coaster Roller? No it’s that car thingie over there.” Doubling and tripling up of exhibits covered in each kiosk certainly cuts down on screen clutter, but I felt that as a strategy, combined with too-clever titles, it introduced too much of an obstacle to getting at the content I sought. I thought, too, that the separating of the experiential (doing the interactive) from the educational (using the kiosk) seemed like a way to both please visitors who were already mathematically-inclined, while allowing those weren’t to skip having to ingest any icky math.

A typical information screen.

A typical information screen.

Choose your level

My favorite part of our visit was seeing the concept of customizable digital content implemented at a decent scale. And done with no fanfare, too. I’ve listened to people talk about digital labels for years, decades, even. MoMath has developed a scheme that provides visitors with three levels of content and lets them switch on the fly seamlessly.

Close up of the level selector.

Close up of the level selector.

That’s it. At the top right of each screen there’s icons of three fractal triangles corresponding to the levels of content available. They seem to always default to basic, but you’re never more than a press away from changing it.  I loved it, but found that the actual implementation was spotty. Some labels had identical text at progressively smaller type sizes. Hopefully they’ll flesh it out as time goes on.

Where’s the math?

A projection that uses an image of your body to make a fractal display.

A projection that uses an image of your body to make a fractal display.

A multi person math maze.

A multi person math maze.

Despite liking the idea of presenting customized digital labels, one concern I had as we muscled our way through the happy vacation crowds was the dearth of real math available as part of doing the activities. I knew enough to be able to see the connections between what people were doing and mathematics, but I wonder how much new math most of the visitors were acquiring.  This disconnect between experience design and informal education is one I’m seeing a lot of these days and it’s a little disheartening. It’s engaging, sure, but is it reaching the ostenisble audience? We’re actually looking at a possible research project to study what kinds of engagement lead to long-term knowledge gains.

An out of order sign, I think. It's hard to tell sometimes. The clever writing's a bit over the top.

An out of order sign, I think. It’s hard to tell sometimes. The clever writing’s a bit over the top.

I’m past clever signs, in case you hadn’t noticed. This out of order sign is a classic example of being clever at the expense of saying what you mean. I watched two different groups of visitors try to use the exhibit these signs were attached to because the signs don’t actually tell you anything useful, like “Don’t push the button because nothing’s gonna happen”.  I’ve written about my views on writing before. Museum writing shouldn’t be about demonstrating one’s cleverness. It should be clear as glass.

The exhibit titles, too I found really unhelpful. “Mathenaeum”? What happens in there? No idea… The point of an exhibit title is to allow someone to decide that they want to approach an exhibit closely enough to maybe use it.  Opaques titles may draw in some curious passersby, but they’ll turn away just as many. MoMath was full of those. If you knew a fair bit about math, then the plays on words could be amusing. If you didn’t, then they didn’t make it any easier to figure out what those exhibits were about.

So there you have it. It was a quick visit at a busy time in a brand new place that is taking on a steep challenge. And judging from the audience, they’re on a path with promise. Go see for yourself next time you’re in NYC.

Next up: Sleep No More!

Tales from the Blog @ MCN 2012

  1. My bit

  2. As the organizer of this little carnival I went first and for the first time ever told the story in public of how and why I started blogging, which was something I’d avoided for some time, and later told people in small groups, over drinks, and informally. Doing it in front of an audience while being filmed was a bit more nerve wracking than I let on, but boy am I glad to have come out! “Hi! My name is Ed, and I blog.”
  3. cshteynberg
    The blog post that started it all for #erodley: seeing two amazing exhibits and writing down observations #mcn2012tales http://ow.ly/f8lQ7

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:19
  4. adriannerussell
    Tales from the blog! I’ve found my museum blogging tribe. :) #mcn2012tale #MCN2012

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:19
  5. shineslike
    @erodley’s post that he’s referring to is the first post I remember reading of his. #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:19
  6. 5easypieces
    Shoutout for Halsey Burgund’s “Scapes” Roundware app at #mcn2012tale Evolver article here: http://bit.ly/RlWbQW

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:19
  7. 5easypieces
    @erodley sez: “We’re a niche community; it’s not like we’ll ever rise to the top of Reddit.” #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:20
  8. adriannerussell
    “Blogging is way to explore ideas that are interesting to you & your colleagues.” via @erodley #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:20
  9. adriannerussell
    Blogging is fast, responsive & a vehicle for engagement and immediate conversation. #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:25
  10. DWCabinet
    When thinking about blogging – “Feel the fear and do it anyway” #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:21
  11. cshteynberg
    @erodley: “If I had to describe blogging in one word, I’d say ‘terrifying’” But there’s no substitute for it. #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:21
  12. 5easypieces
    @erodley made a conscious choice to separate his blogging persona from his work persona. #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:22
  13. forwardretreat
    “Tales from the Blog”: Confession: I was busted for blogging in 2001, as a curatorial assistant. http://bit.ly/PH9aOY #MCN2012tale #MCN2012

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:22
  14. cshteynberg
    .@forwardretreat What happened as a result? #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:22
  15. forwardretreat
    I never stopped, & the folks who were upset now get it (and me!). Moral of the story: Blog carefully, but blog no matter what. #MCN2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:22
  16. forwardretreat
    @cshteynberg In 2001? Not much—Internet was a smaller place; no FB, no Twitter though I would re-pub anything from then, now. #MCN2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:23
  17. cshteynberg
    @forwardretreat Glad you were brave enough to do so! #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:23
  18. cshteynberg
    No surprises here: content is king, traffic comes from search engines, and it’s not all the same people talking to one another #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:23
  19. 5easypieces
    @erodley sez: “Blogging makes me do my thinking properly.” #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:24
  20. Mike Murawski, Portland Art Museum

  21. When I was putting the panel together, I looked for someone who ran a collaborative blog as a way to round out the kinds of blogging represented. I had just started reading Mike’s fabulous “Art Museum Teaching” blog, and I am so glad he agreed to join us. His presentation was great and the discussion it triggered was fascinating, both in the room and in the Twitter backchannel. And I’ve made another professional contact.  I may have moaned about how oversubscribed I was at MCN2012, but getting to really connect with the people who I served with on panels was a highlight of the event. I recommend it. If you’ve got people you’d like to meet, then coming up with a conference session that you can invite them to is a pretty neat way to meet and work together.
  22. cshteynberg
    Blogs as way to continue awesome conversations that start at places like #mcn2012 #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:24
  23. cshteynberg
    @murawski27: How we should blog: less about “look at how awesome I am” and more about testing ideas/experiments #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:24
  24. 5easypieces
    Wow–@murawski27 says that http://artmuseumteaching.com is 25% posting and 75% commenting. #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:24
  25. DWCabinet
    Clickership = understanding your audience. #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:25
  26. 5easypieces
    @murawsi27 estimates that museum blogs reach several million people a year. #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:25
  27. cshteynberg
    @murawski27 Sometimes museums do suck, so need space to talk that through (for example, teen engagement: http://ow.ly/f8o2O ) #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:25
  28. cshteynberg
    @murawski27: instead of waiting three years to publish article in journal, start conversation now with colleagues by blogging #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:26
  29. forwardretreat
    “How well do we, as bloggers/digital authors play across national, global boundaries, fields, networks?” Excellent question. #MCN2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:26
  30. erob1
    @5easypieces Wow, looks like some good convos happening at #MCN2012tale. Think I might have to make the trip next year

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:26
  31. DWCabinet
    How do we connect cross disciplines and professionals in the blog sphere? #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:27
  32. adriannerussell
    @shineslike “kamikazed” her way into blogging. Nice! #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:27
  33. 5easypieces
    @shineslike sez: “My blogging persona defines my professional persona.” #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:28
  34. Suse Cairns, University of Newcastle

  35. Suse is a dear friend and her blog “MuseumGeek” has really blown up over the past year. It’s a delightful blend of deep thought rooted in theory (PhD programs can do that you, I’m told) and soul-searching questions about the profession that hooked me and loads of other people almost immediately. Her experience of blogging really being her persona, as opposed to the rest of the panel, made for some lively back and forth.
  36. forwardretreat
    @shineslike: “My blogging persona defines my professional persona.” But ideas aren’t smart just because they’re spoken loudly. #MCN2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:28
  37. cshteynberg
    @shineslike: no institutional affiliation can be freeing for blogging, but sometimes cowgirl approach can get you in trouble #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:28
  38. DWCabinet
    Many different approaches to blogging – cowboy and kamikaze #mcn2012tale can be scary and risky

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:28
  39. 5easypieces
    @shineslike sez: “Hitting ‘post’ right before you go to bed is a really bad idea.” #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:29
  40. cshteynberg
    @shineslike conflict is worth it if your blog creates genuine, thought-provoking conversation! #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:30
  41. Eric Siegel, New York Hall of Science

  42. I’ve known Eric longer than anybody else on the panel and his work at NYSci and now online is amazing. While we slave away in our cubicles, he’s working with MakerFaire, Björk, TMGB, and loads of other interesting folks.  And blogging as a senior manager carries even more burdens than other kinds of blogging.
  43. innova2
    Blogging allows you to share the behind-the-scenes of your museum and richly interact w/ ur users/readers #MCN2012tale #mcn2012

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:30
  44. Jennifer_Dick
    #mcn2012tale Speaking truth to power is important! Marketing voice v. authentic voice in museum blogs; there’s a way to balance I hope

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:30
  45. 5easypieces
    Eric Seigel sez: “In order to keep a listserv healthy, people need to meet in person at least once a year.” #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:30
  46. 5easypieces
    NY Hall of science encourages staff to blog within an “ecology” of blogs. #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:31
  47. cshteynberg
    Listservs don’t always make people think long and carefully before talking, plus the convo is clunky = why I like blogs better #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:31
  48. nealstimler
    @5easypieces ? utility & real connective power of listservs. Can they be reformatted for social media environment? #mcn2012tale #MCNbuzz

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:32
  49. shineslike
    @nealstimler @5easypieces Or do you think their power is the fact that they aren’t visible? A safe space. #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:32
  50. nealstimler
    @shineslike @5easypieces if we support openness & transparency as #musetech values – why hide ideas in listserv silo? #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:32
  51. cshteynberg
    Plus, if search is king, than as @nealstimler says: transparency and searchability is important #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:32
  52. shineslike
    @nealstimler @5easypieces Because not everyone is comfortable in public. Different affordances. #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:32
  53. forwardretreat
    @shineslike Yet, that is precisely what subject-specific blogging does: establishes authority by creating a public record. #MCN2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:33
  54. forwardretreat
    @shineslike The professionalization of blogging has reified this authority. See also: blogger payment models (i.e. Gawker). #MCN2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:33
  55. forwardretreat
    @shineslike So, subject-specific blogging is an ongoing public job interview, in essence. Establish authority –> hired. #MCN2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:34
  56. Question and Answer

  57. adriannerussell
    Museums can use blogs to share information, archive work, & encourage conversation. #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:34
  58. cshteynberg
    With professional writing, you what kinds of people are going to read a piece of writing, with a blog, that’s up for grabs #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:34
  59. DWCabinet
    How far is too far and how do you know when to filter yourself when blogging? Do you ask colleagues? #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:34
  60. forwardretreat
    @5easypieces @erodley Let’s discuss separation of personal/professional personas online. Functionally impossible, I suspect. #MCN2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:35
  61. cshteynberg
    Many props to those bloggers in #mcn2012tale who risk job security and put the risky ideas out there to have the meaty, difficult convos.

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:35
  62. shineslike
    @erodley “Blogging is a place to ask questions.” Yes, I think so. #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:35
  63. Decipher_FP7
    Completely agree we need to focus on discussing process not product. But it can be scary! #mcn2012tale #MACDecipher

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:36
  64. DWCabinet
    Blogging about process- just as important as end product &excellent way for us to learn from each other during building stages. #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:36
  65. forwardretreat
    @thisisaaronland Re: Blogging: “We are terrified of being wrong in public.” This is radically, palpably true. #MCN2012tale #MCN2012

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:37
  66. cshteynberg
    @5easypieces: on an individual level we’re able to go out on a limb, but institutionally we’re not–why? #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:37
  67. innova2
    The most succesful posts when I blogged at the Museu Picasso where always those abt processes not results #MCN2012tale #mcn2012

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:37
  68. cshteynberg
    Part of problem: until blogging is part of job description, people won’t be able to have convos online. Must be sanctioned! #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:38
  69. nikhiltri
    Is remaining anonymous the only way to separate your personal and professional personas? #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:38
  70. forwardretreat
    @thisisaaronland #MCN2012tale #MCN2012 What is your most favorite mistake on the Internet? When were you *most* wrong in public?

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:38
  71. DWCabinet
    “Send us your resume and link to your blog” #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:38
  72. cshteynberg
    What role does individual “brand identity” play in professional blogging? #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:38
  73. Polackio
    @cshteynberg Individuals face smaller risks. Individuals also have less robust mechanisms for assessing risk so cognitive bias. #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 09:18:24
  74. adriannerussell
    Blogging definitely = branding. #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:39
  75. dustinkyle
    Is it a “build it and they will come” type of thing? How do you build an audience? #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 09:18:24
  76. shineslike
    The best thing aout my blog is the community around it. It’s the people who respond so thoughtfully that define it to/for me. #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 09:18:24
  77. Jennifer_Dick
    #mcn2012tale attendee: “Blog is for process. You can put results at the website.” Awesome distinction.

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 09:18:25
  78. shineslike
    If you want to get comments, you need to ask for them. #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 09:18:25
  79. 5easypieces
    @DWCabinet Anonymity consistency is authoritative. Lack of either of those is somewhat problematic. #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 09:18:26
  80. shineslike
    I want to know who in this room either blogs, or has thought about it. Why, why not? #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 07:47:36
  81. 5easypieces
    “Hello, my name is Judy and I’m a lurker.” “Hi, Judy.” #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 09:18:26
  82. innova2
    Blogging is about storytelling & offering a personal approach. For the neutral, institutional communication there’s the web #MCN2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 09:18:26
  83. micahwalter
    Internal blogs are called meetings #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 09:18:26
  84. 5easypieces
    Great point. RT @ChristineHealey: @shineslikeconcerned about the IP issues around it. Personal vs Professional boundaries… #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 09:18:26
  85. cshteynberg
    Key to increasing blogging audience/convo: Identifying key people in field and directly contacting them by email to weigh in #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 09:18:26
  86. shineslike
    The Q about time is interesting. How long does everyone spend on the blog a week? For me, it definitely eats up hours. #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 09:18:27
  87. 5easypieces
    @shineslike I try to keep up with a demanding 2-posts-per-year schedule at http://kovenjsmith.com #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 09:18:27
  88. erodley
    @shineslike How do you manage to live-blog *and* present? #mcn2012tale #overachiever

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 09:18:27
  89. rosemarybeetle
    @5easypieces: List of museum blogs http://bit.ly/XnNXNa from #mcn2012tale updated

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 09:18:28
  90. cshteynberg
    @shineslike: Even though it’s slightly corporate, this WSJ article made me think of #mcn2012tale discussion re: brand http://ow.ly/fbsqR

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 09:18:28
  91. The Aftermath

  92. And now, the processing begins. Mike was first out of the gate with a great recap. This counts as my recap. Soon the actual video will up, courtesy of MCN and your registration fees. I’ll add that link when I get it.
  93. murawski27
    @shineslike @erodley @erictsiegel @5easypieces let the post-MCN blogging begin – “When Bloggers Collide” http://wp.me/p1V79B-ix #mcn2012tale

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 09:18:28

“Murder your darlings”, and the importance of rewriting

This Friday I got a fat manilla envelope from IMLS. We had submitted a proposal for the IMLS’ National Leadership Grant program, and hadn’t made the cut. Disappointing, but not unexpected.  Competition was fierce this year, and we’d never applied before, so there was no institutional knowledge base to draw on.  I am super-excited that Rob Stein and Co. at IMA got some serious funding for TAP and TourML.

The envelope contained the reviewers’ comments on the proposal along with the “Dear John” letter explaining IMLS’s budget and criteria for rating proposals.  I didn’t have much time, but I skimmed them, trying to glean what I could. Going through anonymous comments on your work can be painful, especially when it’s a rejected piece, but it’s a great learning experience. It made me realize I needed to go back and reread the proposal before I went through the reviewers comments more thoroughly.

What happened?
This proposal was for a project I’ve been working on, in fits and starts, since January 2006. It’s been fleshed out several times, rejiggered a few times, and tweaked to appeal to different audiences enough times that I have trouble sometimes remembering which version of the project I’m currently in. As I skimmed the proposal before leaving work, it became clear to me that next time I was going to have to start from scratch and rewrite the entire thing.Why? I didn’t sketch enough for one. It also suffered form a bad case of cut and paste syndrome, combined with loving my darlings too much for my own good.

Sketching
Months ago I wrote a post on the importance of sketching, rapidly producing coarse-grained representations of your thinking.  If you’re a designer, you draw sketches, if you’re a writer, you write what I call “sketches” for lack of a better term. The point is that you make them, you make them right then in response to the situation that created the need for a sketch, and that the expectation is that the sketch is just a first approximation of something much more detailed, later. It’s hard for me to do, and I have to keep at myself to keep doing it, and not get hung up on making it “better” than it needs to be. Looking at my proposal, I think it suffered from not being sketched first. I took an existing document and reworked it, and then reworked it again, and again, but I never put it aside, sketched a fresh new proposal out and filled it back in with detail from older versions.

Kate Haley-Goldman talked about her methods for searching for inspiration in my series of posts on cognitive load. One of the things she said that I immediately recognized as truth was that taking ideas and rewriting them yourself is a way of making them your own, of internalizing something so you can find out what you can do with it. I think with this proposal, I hadn’t done enough rewriting, and instead monkeyed around with what was already there. This is ironic, given that one of my few rules of label writing is,

“The more you monkey with it, the more it sucks.”

The tyranny of Word
The trouble is that word processing makes it a lot easier to monkey, and rewriting is still every bit as hard as ever.  The tyranny of Word and cut and paste mean you have to be a lot more vigilant about flow and tone. Whole chunks of documents can move around!  If you’re doing something like writing a proposal for one funder and then writing another proposal on the same topic for another funder, the temptation to cut and paste is overwhelming. For me, I think it has a lot to do with preferring to work with text I think is “good enough” rather than rough, first draft-y text. It’s a syndrome Anne Lamott covered beautifully in “Bird by Bird”. She has a whole chapter called “Shitty First Drafts” that almost made me cry with laughter the first time I read it. She writes so eloquently about the feelings of unworthiness, the self-doubt and loathing that plague me when I read first drafts of my own writing.  It might be time to reread that book again.

Murder your darlings
Another problem I think the proposal suffered from was that it wasn’t tightly enough focused on what the funder wanted because I was too attached to ideas and chunks of writing that were important to me. As Orwell would have said, I got too attached to my own ego to make the document adequately serve the purpose it was intended for. Almost a century ago, Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch wrote  in “On The Art of Writing”,  “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscripts to press. Murder your darlings.” Faulkner later shortened this to “In writing, you must kill your darlings.”  What they mean is not that you must not write things you like or love, but that you must be extra suspicious of them and be willing to expunge them when they don’t serve the purpose of the text.  This is why God created editors and first readers.  When you love a piece of writing, it’s hard to be critical of it. Grant proposals, with their straightjacket page limits and rigid format, are no place for deathless prose for the sake of deathless prose. They are place where your writing should be clear as glass, so that the ideas are immediately apparent by the reviewers who will decide its fate.

Live and learn, right?