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Intern Weekly Response: Get Social

Posted on July 18th, 2019 by

Every week we’re asking our summer interns to share some thoughts and responses to various experiences and readings. This week we asked them to explore the world of social media. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here. 

~From Intern Elana: Instagram

This week, each intern was assigned a social media channel to analyze and consider. I was assigned Instagram and I could not be happier with this assignment. Instagram is the social media platform that I have personally used the most and that I have engaged with in museum settings from both a visitor and staff perspective. Therefore, I was excited to take a deep dive into the JMM’s Instagram account and think about what could make it better.

Let’s start with the things I really like about the JMM’s Instagram account. Firstly, I love how much we feature the collection and the different parts of the collection that we feature. Instagram is all about images and the aesthetic. When I scroll through a museum’s Instagram account, I want to see images of the museum, the things it has, and the things that happen in it, not a bunch of advertisements for programs that have long since passed or text posts of announcements. The main Instagram feed is not the best place for those sorts of posts. Generally, the JMM does a great job of maintaining this aesthetic. The photographs used are almost all extremely high quality and show an appealing image, whether it’s of an object, document, or event at the museum. I also really enjoy how the JMM uses “Throwback Thursday” and funny national holidays as an excuse to display the collections. It makes the posts more light-hearted and fun. Similarly, the tone used in the captions and the caption length are great. It is not overly professional or casual. The tone gives the impression that the JMM is simultaneously a place of learning and a fun place to go. The use of hashtags, especially in a place where they are hidden from the initial caption, is great. They allow the post to be seen by more people while not distracting from the primary caption. Lastly, the frequency with which the JMM posts on Instagram is great and helps the museum continuously connect with its followers.

Now, I’d like to move on to what I would like to see the JMM do on Instagram. Honestly, I really like what the JMM has been doing, so the changes would be fairly minimal. Firstly, I would delete posts of events that have passed. Though I do think Instagram is a good way to advertise programming, it might be best to do that within the Instagram stories feature or to delete the post once the event has passed. Because Instagram is all about image and aesthetic, it is best not fill up past feed with advertisements. I would also love to see the story and story highlight functions of Instagram used much more. The story function is not as great at capturing collections as the main feed, but it would be great to capture events in real time. Likewise, I think the story would be an effective way to promote blog posts. The story function allows you to link directly to a post so a viewer could read the post immediately. Then, the highlights feature could be used to show selected parts of past events on the JMM’s account page.

On the other side of the equation, as Jonas Heide Smith highlights in their “The Me/Us/Them Model” article, is the visitor posting of and about the museum. The article discusses the National Gallery of Denmark, which is an art museum. The approach that this museum took is highly different than what I believe the JMM should take, but some of the lessons learned can apply to the JMM’s Instagram. In exhibitions and programs, the JMM can encourage photo taking and sharing. I think the encouragement of sharing in Fashion Statement is great. This encouragement should make sense within the exhibit or program and not be a distraction from the goals of said exhibit or program.

To conclude, I would like to suggest some museum Instagram accounts that I think are particularly interesting:

@metobjectsconservation (or metpaintingsconservation, metphotoconservation, textilesmet, etc.) – This account features the “activities of the Department of Objects Conservation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” Although this account has been less active lately, it illuminates the work that the typically “elusive” department is doing and allows the public access to what is happening to the objects that the Met holds.

@Smithsonian – This account is not for just one of the Smithsonian institutions, but for all of them. Thus, it features parts of all of the Smithsonian museums and institutions. I appreciate their posting frequency as well as the variety of parts of their collection that they show, from photographs to objects to archival pieces.

~From Intern Ariella: Tumblr

Fact: social media is important for museums.

If I had to condense all three articles we read this week, that would be the summary. Each of the articles discussed the implementation of social media platforms in museums. The museums that create an online presence range from huge institutions to smaller ones. They use the most popular platforms to engage their audience. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter were the most commonly cited.

JMM has a social media platform that wasn’t discussed in any of the articles, though. None of the three discussed Tumblr.

After doing some Googling around, though, I realized why that is. A lot of museums don’t bother to use Tumblr.

It’s hard to explain what Tumblr is, and I say that as someone who has vaguely browsed through various Tumblrs for at least five years. According to the organization itself, “Tumblr is a place to express yourself, discover yourself, and bond over the stuff you love.” According to Wikipedia, it is a “microblogging and social media website.” Basically, it can be whatever the designer wants it to be.

JMM takes that idea and expands it. Its Tumblr is a combination of elements: promotions for upcoming events, themed posts for each day or week, links to blog posts. It’s relatively easy to scroll through. A simple blue background keeps audiences from getting distracted, so the focus is on the posts. Pictures are accompanied by short blurbs, long enough to convey information without boring the reader.

Looking at the JMM’s account, I was impressed that Tumblr was able to be such a viable platform for the museum. It’s more versatile than Instagram or Twitter, and easier to focus on than a Facebook wall. JMM’s Tumblr formats blog posts in yellow, so they quickly catch the eye. It offers videos as well as pictures, making great visual content. It even lists staff emails when they relate to a particular post. All in all, JMM uses Tumblr to connect audiences to the museum, even while they’re remote and behind a screen.

It’s great that JMM is making the effort to use Tumblr, especially when so many other museums have left it behind. But there are some ways it can improve its presence on the site. Most simply, it should be easy to find the account — the Tumblr should be promoted on the JMM website. Both Facebook and Twitter are listed at the top of the webpage, but Tumblr is nowhere to be found. At the moment, visitors are more likely to stumble across the account than to intentionally search for it.

The actual Tumblr can be changed a bit as well. Perhaps a different background can replace the plain blue: a wall from the Lloyd Street Synagogue, for example. Tumblr urges museums to “build rapport with their local communities and amplify their audiences by marketing events, education programs, and more to other localities.” If that’s JMM’s goal, they’re doing a pretty good job.

If you want to see more museums on Tumblr, there’s a couple that also use the platform impressively. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) utilized their Tumblr almost like an additional website. Unfortunately, they’re one of the museums that has abandoned Tumblr for other social media endeavors. But their posts are all online, and definitely worth checking out. The “Teens” section of the site is especially detailed – perfect for drawing in the audience that would be using Tumblr anyway.

Another account to check out is Turning the Book Wheel. Run by the Smithsonian Libraries, the account is much simpler than MoMA’s. Posts highlight the collections held by the Smithsonian’s 21 libraries, often matching up with a theme for the day or month. It also includes a healthy dose of puns, which I will always welcome.

~From Intern Hannah: Tumblr

The Jewish Museum of Maryland’s Tumblr right now features a mixture of links to the Museum’s blog, photos from school group tours, and photos from our collection. Other museums tend to focus on items from their collections on their Tumblr and other social medias, so the inclusion of the school tours gives an emphasis on education, one of the main tenants of museums. This focus of visitor experience is really great, and stretches across all of the JMMs social medias. I love how the JMM’s social media has a large focus on the school and camp groups that come to learn at our museum. As an education intern, that is the Jewish Museum that I know so it’s great to see that same focus on education displayed for all of those who visit the JMM’s social medias. I also really enjoy the #DYK series that the JMM does, where they post a photo from their collection that correlates to a special holiday, like their ones for National Go Fishing Day and World Snake Day. I think that it adds some fun to the posts on top of just posting the great things we have in our collections.

I think that the way that the JMM’s social medias are set up now are great, they emphasize things that are important to the museum, such as our educational programs and staff blog posts. However, I think that it would be interesting to turn to how other museums are treating their social medias and think about diversifying the types of posts included.

Many museums now are actually encouraging visitor interaction within their social media. This means that the museum not only allows, but encourages (non-flash) photography in their exhibits, and inspiring their patrons to post their photos when they leave, with the inclusion of a certain hashtag or while tagging the museum of that the museum might be able to share the post.

This opens up the conversation from just museum administration to the public, who are the ones that the museum is made for in the first place. The National Gallery of Denmark encourages visitors to take photos, with a sign in their lobby that reads “please take photos.” Although some museum professionals feel uncomfortable with the separation between human and exhibit when smartphones are added to the equation, I think that allowing visitors to interact with exhibits in a way that feels most natural to them makes for a more rewarding experience for them. Many museums, including the National Gallery of Denmark have set up exhibits and programs specifically for people to take photos of/with and share on social media. Whole museums dedicated to aesthetic and Instagram-ability is also a very large trend right now.

Museums such as the Egg House offer visitors an experience meant to be captured and shared on social media.

Increased social media interaction increases the amount of people who keep tabs on the museum and their social media, meaning hopefully more visits in the future. Museums are for everyone and I think that holistic experience should extend past your stay at the museum. Many museums are now encouraging their staff to post museum-related posts to their personal feeds, which I think is an interesting strategy, but should be up to personal discretion instead of the rule. Also, the JMM already puts a large emphasis on staff voices through its very active blog. I think that the longform format of Tumblr could be better utilized by the Museum. Social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter benefit from short captions along with photos, while platforms such as Tumblr and Facebook allow for more lengthy posts and multiple photos. I think that the Museum could better utilize the format that each platform uses to better create interactions with the public, ensuring their following of the account and maybe their visit to the museum.

Two museum Tumblrs that I found that I enjoy a lot are the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Jewish Museum of New York. Honorable Mention: Ashmolean Museum, which is University of Oxford’s Museum of Art and Archaeology.

~From Intern Mallory: Facebook

Social media is an aspect used every day by everyone. It’s a way to keep in touch with those who we don’t see, and to keep track of a wide variety of events and locations. In a world shaped so sharply around social media, it is common to see different companies and organizations using the various platforms of social media as a way of outreach.

For museums, social media is an excellent way to connect with the community. We had to read three articles for this week, each of which are discussing museums and using social media. I found these to be very interesting as, while I consider social media to be a quick and easy way of keeping in touch with others, actually looking at the time and effort placed into some of the things posted is amazing, and those working behind social media have to be able to balance so many aspects and ideals all at once while still getting a message across.

JMM uses several different social media platforms. For this week I was looking into JMM’s presence on Facebook. Personally, while I have a Facebook I don’t use it a lot. Yet I know that Facebook is an excellent way to reach out to the community and to spread information.

Just a quick glance at JMM’s Facebook page makes it clear how frequently they post, with daily posts. Daily posting is an excellent way to get people engaged, a frequent posting schedule providing new posts for the viewer which can increase traffic on the page.

I really like how, while there are daily posts, the posts span all aspects of the museum, not just the exhibits. The posts include events, education, archives, and even more. I really like this as it shows all sides of the museum, not just what the public sees at a visit. As it was said in an article we read for this week’s post, visitors “want to get a sense of how things are made. You want to build an audience before you have the big launch, rather than just sit on something and have it appear” (Keep the Conversation Going: How Museums Use Social Media to Engage the Public), the public wants to see behind the scenes. And JMM does an excellent job highlighting alternate aspects of the museum that visitors usually don’t interact with.

Out of JMM’s many posts, I enjoy the National Day posts the most. They provide not only a unique aspect of the museum and the collection but they also give a fun new bit of information for the day itself. I think that these days are very fun and engaging for everyone, for those already within the community and from outside the community.

For advice towards future posts on Facebook by JMM, personally, I don’t like clicking on links. I know that links can easily provide more information on a simple subject, but when I’m scrolling through social media in my free time I tend to stick to images and descriptions, rarely clicking on links. But, I do think that the mix of links on posts and images are an excellent way to grab attention, as they tend to be colorful and images draw the eye.

A few other museums that I looked at while working on this projects were the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute and the International Spy Museum. For the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, something that really stood with me was how not only would they talk about events, they would post every time they welcomed a new animal to their facilities, which provides a warm sense of connection, introducing the animal by name and providing facts about the species. This created a family-like community connecting the zoo to all who interacts with it. For the International Spy Museum I really liked how they highlight the lives of various spies, talking about their training and achievements. I also like how they provide not only behind the scenes shots but also reposting articles about more current events that relate to their topics.

~From Intern Megan: Twitter

Today I am looking at JMM’s twitter page and discussing what I notice and what I like, including any further ideas I have.

I like how the museum is employing the use of text posts and images. Many twitter feeds either lack captions to photos or lack photos. I like how almost each post has both. I do not think I was necessarily surprised by any posts but I really enjoyed seeing the photos of people from years ago being identified. I think these types of posts caught my attention and probably do the same for others; they open one’s eyes to a piece of history and allow one to relate it back to themselves. In a way, these posts are glimpses of the exhibits at the museum because they are part of the stories that JMM is telling.

Another thing I noticed is that the page is very active. This shows the viewers that a lot is going on at JMM and there are certainly things to get involved in, even outside visiting and seeing the exhibits.

My favorite post included a picture and description of the McKim Center’s camp group visiting the JMM.  I like it because it displays the connectedness that JMM has with its surrounding community. I think the description is the perfect length because it is brief but also tells what the group of campers did while at the museum.

One other museum twitter page I recommend is MoMa’s. I recommend it because just like JMM they make good use of pictures and captions. Further, they use videos and gifs in their post to catch people’s attention. I think this is a good strategy.

Another museum twitter page I would recommend is the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s page. I recommend it because in addition to notifying people about events they also post informational material and allow visitors of the page to be referred to articles and more.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Travel Tuesday: The Interns Do DC!

Posted on July 16th, 2019 by

For this week’s #TravelTuesday post, we’re putting #TravelingWithGrace on hold to share some reflections from our summer interns. Last Friday they went on their DC Day field trip, exploring a variety of museums on the national mall. We asked them to share their thoughts here.

~From Intern Elana

Last Friday, the other interns and I had the opportunity to visit various museums of the Smithsonian. Personally, I started with the Freer/Sackler Museum and went to the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) afterwards. I had been to the Freer/Sackler before, so I am not going to touch on that museum here.

(Though I did get some great photos of my “flat friend,” Steven, there.)

This past Friday was my first visit to the NMAI and it was an amazing experience. I started with the cafeteria, as it was lunchtime, and was able to try some Native American food, or something relatively close to that. Then, some of the other interns and I went on a gallery tour with one of the museum educators. Our guide was part of the Indigenous community and from a fairly local tribe. I really enjoyed his tour. He was able to relay the facts of the exhibition while inserting his own personal opinions and experiences as a part of the Native American community. After this tour, I explored two of the museum’s other exhibitions, “Americans” and “The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire.”

I had an amazing experience at the NMAI and had some takeaways that could apply to my future museum career and my future museum visits.

The NMAI took such care in allowing the voices of Native people to shine through in every aspect of the museum, from the architecture of the building to the food served at the cafeteria to the tour guide who told his own story. As I continue in my museum career, I hope to share voices and stories as carefully and effectively as this museum has. In addition, I learned to value tours in a way I hadn’t before. I am typically not one to take a tour and though this tour, I realized that tours aren’t necessarily some random volunteer relaying facts, but that they can provide more personal insight to an exhibition. I was able to experience the exhibit in a completely different and insightful way that added to my experience.

~From Intern Megan

During the intern field trip to Washington D.C., I got the opportunity to visit a couple Smithsonian museums. This opportunity was very exciting for me because even though I live close to the district, I do not visit the city a lot. I decided at the beginning that Instead of rushing to visit a lot of museums I wanted to take the time to really look in depth at two different ones.

The first museum I visited was the Freer Gallery of Art. I looked at a few different exhibits and took the time to really process the details of the art; something I have not really done before. My favorite two exhibits were the Japanese art exhibit and the Buddha exhibit.

One piece in the Japanese art exhibit really caught my eye.

It had a very big, white canvas and the only two things on it were two women sitting in a boat on one side and some birds in the sky on the other. Overall, it was a very simplistic piece of work and I enjoyed its minimalist style; it showed that not everything that is beautiful must be complex/there is beauty in simplicity. At the same time, it was still able to portray traditional Japanese clothing that the women were wearing.

The second museum I visited was the Hirschhorn museum and sculpture garden. This museum had a lot more eccentric art which was enjoyable to walk through.

One of my favorite pieces from this museum was a painting of a person who appeared to be made out of gum or a similar substance and was stretching their face to the left and right with their hands.

I liked it not just for its uniqueness but also because the person being portrayed is not explicitly showing any emotion, leaving the audience to interpret the emotions that they want after looking at it. The artist left it up to the viewer to decide how they want to understand the piece even without knowing anything about the artist’s intentions.

Overall, the trip allowed me to take my time in the exhibits I visited and pay attention to each piece. I found that, in relation to interning at JMM, I also looked more in depth at the layout of each exhibit and wrote down some positives and negatives of the different types of setups. This is important to analyze because when creating an exhibit, it can be make-or-break how easily/effectively people are able to walk through and see everything.

~Intern Hannah

I was very excited to embark on our DC Day field trip, as I had not been to the Mall in Washington DC since a family vacation when I was in middle school. I was very excited to see some of the Smithsonian Museums there and told myself that I would try to hit as many as I could in our nearly six hour trip, where we were let loose to find our own way. I was able to go to three, which I think is pretty good, but gives me room for improvement.

At first, all the interns stuck together. We went to the Freer Museum, where we saw their exhibit called Body Image: Arts of the Indian Subcontinent. This was a beautiful exhibit focusing on beauty standards in the Indian Subcontinent, and especially how it related to their Gods. The center of this exhibit was the thirty-two body marks, called Lakshanas that make a Buddha. These marks range from long fingers and smooth and golden skin, to “jaw like a lion’s” and arms that extend below the knees. It was interesting to compare this exhibit, which was very focused on physicality, to one of the exhibits present at the JMM, Fashion Statement. Fashion Statement emphasizes the personal clothing choices that we make and asks each viewer to think about what their clothes and personal expression mean to them. I think that the Body Image exhibit leans more towards examining societies expectations of us and our bodies. Personal expression is a response to societies expectations, whether that is in the form of conforming or non-conforming, there must be something to set as a hegemony. The euro-centric standard of beauty that we hold to be true and right in Western culture is new and flawed. The beauty standard shown in this exhibit is old and true for many people. It was really refreshing to be surrounded with yes, perhaps fictional representations of the human body, but ones that felt so real and were round and robust.

“Flat Friend” Dimitri Visits the Freer.

I spent some more time walking around the Freer’s other exhibits before heading over to the National Museum of Natural History by myself to watch a tarantula feeding. I grew up deeply invested in zoos, living fifteen minutes away from the Bronx Zoo and attending summer ‘Zoo Camp’ there for many summers. Zoos and animals have a very important place in my heart so it felt very grounding to be in that space. I have visited the Natural History Museum in New York many times and I love it. It was very beautiful to stand in a circle and watch a volunteer feed this tarantula a cricket, surrounded by people of all ages, including kids, teenagers, college students, and adults. It was really cool to see how another museum, much different than the JMM, does educational programming. I then wandered around the insect area of the museum before venturing downstairs to look at all the fossils and skeletons, which is my favorite part of any natural history museum. I only spent about half an hour in the National Museum of Natural History, but I had a great time.

Dimitri at the Tarantula Feeding. He is scared of spiders, but put on a brave face.

After a nice iced coffee on the Mall, I joined interns Ariella and Elana for lunch at the café at the National Museum of the American Indian. I do not have a picture of my lunch, but let me tell you, it was delicious. The café at the NMAI features native and native-inspired recipes. We all had their version of tacos, which was fried bread topped with veggie chili and some fixing’s, which was absolutely delicious. The three of us then took a tour of the museum. The tour was really fascinating, led by a docent who is Native American himself and gave us his own views and opinions on certain topics brought up in the exhibit. It was a greatly beautiful museum, with unique architecture and layout. There were also a lot of digital interactives in the exhibits, which was very cool to see and interact with. My favorite parts of the museum were its main exhibit, Nation to Nation, which covered different treaties and agreements that the United States Government has made (and broken) with Native American Nations, and Americans, which discussed representation of Native Americans in mainstream American pop-culture, from Land-O-Lakes Butter to Pocahontas. After about an hour and a half of exploring the museum by ourselves, we met back up with the rest of the group to head home.

Dimitri and I enjoying an iced coffee and people watching in-between museums.

It was a really great day, and I had the opportunity to explore museums I had not been to before. I connected with art from around the world, my childhood, and the history of the land that we stand on. It was a very powerful day in Washington, and I hope to return to the National Mall soon to finish my journey in seeing as many museums as possible.

~From Intern Ariella

Last Friday, we had an intern trip to DC. We had the freedom to check out any museum that we wanted, with two conditions. One: we had to consider questions designed to make us think about the museums we visited compared with JMM. Two: we were given new monster friends and had to document their experiences during the day.

Coming at the day from that perspective made me visit the museums with a new perspective. Two of the institutions really stood out to me: one that I’d never seen before, and one that I’d just visited a few weeks before.

The first museum I saw was the Freer|Sackler Institute of Art. Both display the Smithsonian’s collection of Asian art and are connected underground. I’ve never paid much attention to Asian art, so I decided that this was a good time to really look at some for the first time.

At the Freer|Sackler, I was most intrigued by two exhibits. Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, designed by James McNeill Whistler, is an entire room that doubles as an art piece. Golden peacocks are painted on the dark green walls, and blue and white porcelain lines the shelves. The colors don’t seem like they should match each other — technically, they don’t — but the combination is mesmerizing regardless.

Kombucha, wide-eyed and mesmerized, in The Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery of Art.

The second exhibit I loved at the Freer|Sackler was Encountering the Buddha: Art and Practice across Asia. The gallery is set up with statues depicting the Buddha, but the main draw is the other qualities of the exhibit. The walls are deep purple, creating a calming atmosphere. Two smaller rooms off the exhibit lead to extended experiences: the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room, and a three-screened video depicting a day of Sri Lankan practice at the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa.

Both The Peacock Room and the Buddha exhibit showed me the power of creating an immersive space. Visitors literally step into Peacock and can sit down at a wooden table in the center of the room and observe for as long as they want. The room is silent, except for the sound of the security guard and visitors talking.

Encountering the Buddha, on the other hand, is louder. Recorded chants boom out from the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room, and it’s audible from the second one enters the room. The videos of Sri Lanka have music as well, and visitors can sit on comfy couches to watch. Both exhibits succeed because they allow viewers to become as much a part of the exhibit as they can.

After leaving the Freer|Sackler, I decided to get some lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). I’d already seen NMAI, but liked the museum so much that I was happy to return. Plus, I hadn’t previously eaten at Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe, the museum restaurant.

Grabbing lunch at Mitsitam wasn’t meant to be a learning experience, but I’m glad that it turned out that way. The other interns and I got the Indian Taco, a delicious combination of fry bread, veggie chili, and classic taco toppings. I loved the meal but had no idea where it originated from. Mitsitam, which is set up buffet style, didn’t explain which foods came from where.

A quick search on the NMAI website showed us what the physical space did not explain: the Indian Taco was inspired by the Great Plains cultures. It made the experience that much more immersive to know where the food we were eating had come from. I just wish that NMAI had made it more distinct from the actual lunchroom itself. They could have followed the Freer|Sackler example of fully including visitors into the experience by explaining how they were a part of the museum displays.

And because interns shouldn’t be the only ones having fun, Joanna and I also tagged along and enjoyed our own “DC Day”! We started at the Museum of Natural History, where Joanna shared with me some of the highlights from their new fossil installation, the Deep Time ExhibitionBeing an old school dinosaur nerd, I was in heaven! But possibly my absolute favorite, surprising moment was discovering the mini-display by the bathrooms – all about poop!

(Fossilized poop, to be exact.)

After a delicious lunch at the AMNH cafe, Joanna and I headed a little further afield to stop in at the National Portrait Gallery. I was hankering to finally see the Obama portraits in person – and I was not disappointed! We also explored the current exhibit Votes for Women: Portraits of Persistence. The mix of personages highlighted in the exhibit was fascinating, and I really appreciated the attention paid to various schisms in the suffrage moment, particularly those about race.

I didn’t pick up the catalog on this visit, but it’s definitely going on my wish list.

~Intern Wrangler Rachel


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Intern Weekly Responses: Trendswatch 2019

Posted on July 11th, 2019 by

Every week we’re asking our summer interns to share some thoughts and responses to various experiences and readings. This week we asked them to choose one of four articles from the Center for the Future of Museums Trendswatch 2019!  To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

~From Intern Hannah Balik: Give Me Shelter: Everyone deserves a place to live

Homelessness is an issue that disproportionately affects already marginalized populations including disabled persons, formerly incarcerated individuals, the elderly, people of color, and people in the LGBT community. Baltimore has a large homeless population, with a report by the federal Department of Housing stating that on any given night in 2017, there were 2,669 individuals experiencing homelessness. However, that number is not the full story. That number only counted people in certain shelters that participated in the study, and not those on the streets or in programs who were not counted. The true number is much higher and continues to grow. One quarter of Baltimore residents live at or below the federal poverty live, with half of poor residents living in deep poverty, meaning they live at or below 50% of the poverty line. It’s easy to feel helpless when confronted with a large systemic issue such as homelessness. However, there are certain things we can do to alleviate as much of the burden that we can in a museum context.

From the Museum of Homelessness: Snapshot of poem ‘What is Homelessness’ by Steph Evans.

First, we can make sure our museum’s doors are truly open to all. This means keeping our courtyard available for anyone to sit or rest in, and our restrooms available for anyone to use. We already let the public use our courtyard and restrooms during museum hours, but we could make that more known or provide care packages in the restroom for those in need. We can talk to some of our Jonestown neighbors, such as the delis on Lombard Street to donate some food or give us some vouchers to include in these packages. Besides that, accessibility is one of the main things that a museum can do for its community. Making sure we are available to all of those who want to learn, not just those who have the means to make donations. Free admission, or a sliding scale admission for those who are experiencing financial insecurity is a great option. We have a wealth of knowledge inside these walls, and it is our responsibility to share it, especially to those who cannot afford museum admission or would not normally seek it out. The museum could also facilitate more free public programs aimed for a wider audience. These events could include things like free food and personal items along with the educational experience that comes with museums. The JMM also has a large network of members, volunteers, and staff. We can coordinate a clothing drive or send out email-blasts with ways that they can help their community, including organizations that they can donate both their money and time to.

The issue of homelessness is systematic and cannot be solved by one group of people. However, we can do certain things as a community to uplift those who need assistance in our own community. Museums can help facilitate donations and educational opportunities for those in need. We can also give people who have experienced homelessness themselves jobs at the museum to help create an environment at the museum that is as welcoming and accessible as possible. We can also do our best as a cultural institution to uplift the voices of those who call Jonestown home, however that looks for them at that moment. We can listen to the stories that these individuals have to tell and celebrate them by including them in our exhibits in some way. Our permanent exhibit, Voices of Lombard Street, is a great place to show these stories. Museum across the country and world have done similar programs in the past, such as the Portland Art Museum and the Museum of Street Culture. In the UK, there is even a Museum of Homelessness which aims to tell these stories and educate the public and hopefully make change through research, public events, and exhibitions. We could easily follow in these footsteps and show off the community the museum sits in, while offering a way for these often-silenced voices to be heard.

A man walks past a boarded-up row of houses in Baltimore, April 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Some of the Museum’s neighbors are already doing a lot in the community in terms of helping those who are homelessness. Around the corner from the museum sits Helping Up Mission, an overnight shelter that also has a long term recovery program for addiction aimed at those experiencing homelessness. The museum donates leftover food from programs and events to the Mission, but we could work more closely with them. Also in our neighborhood is the headquarters for HealthCare for the Homeless, which helps provide necessary medical services and housing for those in need. We, as a museum, can help support our neighbors who are already doing great work in our community. Beyond monetary and personal care item donations, we could help coordinate events together that provide basic needs but also educational and culturally enriching experiences for the men in their programs. We could put a donation box in the front of the museum, where the money goes to Helping Up and HCH. It is not enough to sit silently while systematic injustices are happening. Even though we cannot fix homelessness, we can aid and uplift those in need in our community the best that we can.

Please consider giving a donation to the amazing people at both HealthCare for the Homeless MD and Helping Up Mission.

~From Intern Elana Neher

This week, I chose to read Take Care: building resilience and sustainable practice from the Center for the Future of Museums Trendswatch 2019. When I saw the title, I assumed that the article would be discussing sustainability from an environmental standpoint but boy was I wrong. The article does not address taking care of the earth, but about taking care of oneself. It starts by defining “self-care,” what it has meant in the past and what it means today.

The beginning of the article explains that self-care has been used throughout the past to “affirm the self-worth of marginalized people and foster the physical and psychological resilience they need to assert their rights” (41). The idea that caring for oneself could be political was a thought that had never crossed my mind before. I had always assumed self-care was just “broadly synonymous with personal wellness and healthy living” (42-43) and, in recent years, seen it associated with mental health as a way to cope with the increasingly stressful world that we live in. The article opened my eyes to how self-care can be highly individualized. For example, I had often seen self-care as stepping away from the hyperconnectivity of technology, but the article explains that self-care can also be using technology to access a community of support.

After all of this definition and explanation of societal trends, I was confused about how this relates to museums and, again, the article threw me for another loop. In the museum world, we so often get attached to the idea of how to best serve the public and I assumed that this is where the article was heading, using the museum as a space to allow the public to foster self-care. However, as museum staff, we often forget about ourselves in serving the public. The article addressed this and discussed self-care for museum staff. It explained some of the stresses put on museum staff and concluded by urging museums to “attentive to and flexible about individual needs” of their staff (45).

This article broke every expectation that I had for it going in and forced me to reevaluate myself and how museums operate. It resonated with me highly as I do see museum staff forgetting themselves as a part of who the museum should be serving. I think every museum, even the JMM, can consider how they are both serving and stressing their staff and see how they can better inspire staff to care for themselves. Directors, administration, and human resources staff can assess where their support for the self-care of their staff is lacking and attempt to address it as best they can. A “quality of life” survey, as the article suggested, might be a good way to start, but I believe that listening to employees and caring about their individual needs would be the best way.

~From Intern Ariella Shua

Every year, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) puts out its TrendsWatch report. The report tracks trends and changes relevant to the museum field. Some of these developments seem more obvious than others. I was expecting to find pieces in TrendsWatch 2019 that discussed the problems museums face when it comes to keeping the public happy. I was not expecting to read a report that criticized museums themselves: apparently, museums don’t often do enough to keep their staff happy.

In TrendsWatch 2019, I was most interested by the report on self-care. Titled “Take Care: building resilience and sustainable practice,” the article takes the reader through the history of personal restoration. It begins with an analysis of the term “self-care.” Apparently, the phrase used to signify the act of marginalized communities empowering themselves. Self-care was largely political: the claim that every group deserved baseline resources, regardless of sex, religion, race, sexual orientation, etc. These movements continue today. But in modern times, the article points out, “self-care” is more likely to refer to personal wellness initiatives. TrendsWatch 2019 explains that non-profits, including museums, struggle with providing adequate self-care, and employees suffer burnout as a result.

The report made me consider the JMM’s work environment. From my perspective, it is definitely a positive atmosphere. Individual employee needs are given attention. At the same time, it’s always clear that visitors come first- and this is typical of any non-profit.

The JMM does everything it can to make everyone who walks through the doors feel welcome. This goes for visitors, volunteers, and staff members. Little things in JMM make it a pleasant place for employees. I can say that I definitely take advantage of the free coffee and the candy bowl, for example.

A break room at a Cisco Systems office. The open layout and removed atmosphere resembles employee lounge areas offered by other tech and business companies.

At the same time, there are areas where the JMM can improve. For example, the JMM has no traditional break room, seen in many office buildings. While volunteers are waiting for their shifts to begin, there isn’t any one space for them to stay. The library and the kitchen are the only options. But these aren’t the same as a typical office employee lounge.

One of the ways to provide self-care, without changing the building’s current layout, is to escape the confines of the actual building. As interns, we go on field trips to other local museums. These trips are a nice break from the typical daily structure. Plus, there’s the great bonus that the visits are often behind-the-scenes tours. Perhaps the JMM can offer these trips to the entire staff (I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that they already are).

Other museums work around or within the physical space that they offer. TrendsWatch 2019 mentions the Museum of Science in Boston, for example, which offers employees calming tours of the Museum’s own planetarium. Bringing in speakers or wellness experts are other ways that the JMM, or any institution, can offer employees an experience focused solely on them.

The Charles Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Science in Boston. The Museum occasionally offers quiet break sessions in the Planetarium for staff, a smart use of their existing space.

The most important point TrendsWatch 2019 makes comes towards the end of the article. It explains, “Rather than obsessing about applying one set of policies ‘fairly’ across the board, many organizational experts recommend focusing on what an individual needs to get done, and what support they need in order to do a good job.” Museums already do this when it comes to taking care of the need of every visitor. They must put an equal effort into doing so for the self-care of their employees.

~From Intern Mallory Connaughton

The article I looked at from Trendswatch 2019 was “Give Me Shelter: Everyone Deserves A Place To Live”. The article discusses homelessness and housing insecurity not only in America, but also globally. Before this article I knew that homelessness was an issue. But the article gave direct statistics for the population of the world as to the amount of homeless and how difficult it is to obtain a stable housing type.

While I myself have never experienced anything similar to homelessness, I understand the stresses of finding a home that one can afford; having been with family and friends when they move. I understand that affording reasonably priced housing can be challenging, and that it’s something that many people struggle with.

From Google – MuseumNext.

While reading through the article, one thing that struck me as odd was that it mentions how museums aren’t considered welcoming and inclusive; “Museums are not commonly treated as safe spaces by large portions of their communities, including people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurities”. This took me off guard, as I had never thought of that. I always loved visiting museums; I still do. But I never really thought of them from others’ perspectives. I had always viewed museums as places for everyone, to learn new things and look at artefacts and be with friends. But, as the articles pointed out, museums are viewed as a part of Maslow’s hierarchy, residing at the top – and that “Museums need to serve not just people who have reached the ‘tip of the pyramid’ but those who are not yet adequately housed, fed, or safe”.

This got me thinking of different ways that museums could open more to their communities – all aspects of the community. The end of the article does a great job highlighting actions museums can make, although a few stood out to me as things that all museums should be doing. The first is educating not just the staff but also the visitors about homelessness and housing insecurity, the second is sharing stories of those who have/are experiencing homelessness and housing insecurities. These two are easy steps to take, educating the public and providing insight to these communities who may not be able to tell their stories in a common setting, raising awareness.

From Google – Career and Recovery Resources, Inc.

Within my past few weeks at JMM, I’ve experienced several programs where people told their stories, one being two classes from a local middle school and elementary school, the other being a second-generation Holocaust survivor. Sharing our stories is a strong part of the museum, even the permanent exhibit, The Voices of Lombard Street, does it. At JMM we can share stories in an inclusive and welcoming way, starting to create the welcoming and inclusive environment that some people don’t see at museums. It may be just a start, as there are many factors that go into fully welcoming a community into a shared space, but it would be a great start that could progress into something amazing.

~From Intern Megan Orbach

In an effort to investigate certain trends and data and their relation to museums, I read an article titled, “Give Me Shelter: Everyone deserves a place to live”. This article tackled the issue of homelessness and what museums can do to help.

I agree with the article’s claims that museums can make a great impact on the homeless community and the greater community in general by being accessible to everyone and by making sure staff understand how to be inclusive and resourceful.

“The Museum of Street Culture employs clients of the Stewpot, an organization providing a safe haven for homeless and at-risk individuals of Dallas, as docents and tour guides. Photograph by Alan Govenar, courtesy of Documentary Arts.” Via.

The JMM specifically can apply the issue of the lack of home security to its goals and mission. For one, JMM already does programming with students of diverse socioeconomic, race and gender backgrounds and can continue to do so in order to make sure that it is maintaining its inclusive status. Further, the museum, along with all other museums can provide multiple ways for people to process information from exhibits. This could be through digital exhibits, for example, or audio learning, which JMM is already working towards. Audio based learning does not just serve the visually impaired community, however, it also serves people who may not be able to read. I do also agree it is part of a museum’s duty to serve its surrounding community and not just serve the elite.

Even though museums may not directly be able to give individuals homes, they can allow homeless individuals a chance at forming a network and a chance to learn more about their community. This in turn, will likely make them feel less isolated and more able to get support.

““Looking for Home” at the Museum of Street Culture in Dallas features the photographs of Mary Ellen Marks documenting the life of Erin Blackwell Charles (a.k.a. Tiny). Photograph by Alan Govenar, courtesy of Documentary Arts.” Via.

Prior to really being immersed in a museum and learning a lot about museums and their functionality, I did not realize just how much of an impact they can make on their communities. The issue of homelessness and isolation is not one with no relevance to museums; in fact, museums have great power in their respective communities and they must come up with effective ways to positively impact their cities.


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