Hanging Out in Philadelphia

Posted on September 5th, 2019 by

A blog post by JMM Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. You can read more posts by Marvin here.


I spent the last week in August in Philly.

It wasn’t exactly a summer vacation, more of a busman’s holiday. I had been invited to attend a feedback session on the Community Catalyst Initiative being developed by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). This was followed, two days later by the annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History. In between, I had a chance to visit the Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes exhibit at the Franklin Institute, the recently developed Philadelphia Holocaust Memorial Plaza, the Barnes Foundation and the new Museum of the American Revolution. I skipped NMAJH, Eastern State Penn and the Philadelphia Museum of Art on this trip, because I had visited those fine museums earlier this year.  I also met with former JMMers Avi Decter and Melissa Yaverbaum, who send warm regards to all their friends in Baltimore.

What did I learn from my sojourn to the city of brotherly love? Let me start with the friendly neighborhood Spiderman (pictured above) – one of several life-size figures in the exhibit positioned as photo opportunities. While the exhibit contained many original pieces of artwork, original artifacts from the movies, film clips and interactive devices, it was these statues that were the clear stars of the show. People came to the exhibit because they were interested in the stories of the Marvel characters, but they were even more interested in seeing themselves as part of that story. In many ways, the “theme” of the week was self-reflection in public spaces.

That theme could certainly be found in the demonstration of Augmented Reality (AR) in the Rare Books room of the Free Library of Philadelphia. There we were treated to a prototype of a new software package that combined a search for clues with AR icons as a reward. For example, finding three clues related to Edgar Allan Poe would make a squawking 3-D raven appear on your screen. Visitors could then put themselves into the picture, appearing to hold or pet the raven. The software, designed by Night Kitchen Interactive in Philadelphia, is something we might think about incorporating into a future core exhibit. I found an earlier version of what was demonstrated at the library at this online site.

The idea of a virtual presence was also an important part of the development of the new Philadelphia Holocaust Memorial Plaza.

Built on the site of America’s first Holocaust Memorial (a statue by sculptor Nathan Rappaport) right on the Ben Franklin Parkway, the plaza allows visitors to access the voices of Holocaust survivors tied to both the textual and aesthetic elements of the space. These pillars, for example, compare the US Constitution to the legal and social systems of the Third Reich. Voices accessible on your phone via the iWalk app allow you to hear witnesses of the deprivation of liberties in Germany. Yet another idea we might build on.

The Museum of the American Revolution is well worth a visit. While it remains at its core, a museum of military history, it goes out of its way to tell the battle story through multiple perspectives: loyalists as well as rebels, native peoples and African Americans, and women in many different roles. It benefits from a corps of knowledgeable docents who are proficient at tailoring the experience to the interests of their audience.

This map of North America at the start of the Revolution is typical of the scale and scope of their presentations.

Lest you think my week was all fun and games, there was serious business at both conferences. The IMLS workshop offered participants the opportunity to test and review new tools under development for helping museums engage with their communities. Tools like “Journey Maps” (sample below) help institutions to track and evaluate projects that involve substantial community engagement over a period of years.

We’ll be using this type of tool to map the development of our Evolution Plan.

The AASLH Conference was co-sponsored by the Sites of Conscience organization, an international coalition of more than 275 historic sites and museums dedicated to “turning memory into action.” The title of this year’s conference, “What are We Waiting For?”, was a reference to the desire of much of the history museum world to engage in the tough work of swimming in the troubled waters of our times, paired with the fear of drowning in contemporary controversies.

One of the best workshops I attended at the conference was on “dialogic conversations” – a methodology for engaging visitors in difficult conversations in the hope of opening up channels for discourse in a polarized nation. Hint: the method involves asking questions that make the visitor a part of the story. Some of this thinking may be incorporated into future JMM exhibits and programs.

So last summer was Houdini and this summer was Spiderman – I can truly say I get my best ideas just “hanging around.”


 

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The Impact of Federal Funding on JMM

Posted on February 10th, 2017 by

Performance Counts: February 2016

The JMM relies on many different funding streams to support our exhibitions, educational programs, public programs and ongoing operational needs. As our exhibits tend to be our most costly initiatives, we typically develop a multi-year fundraising strategy for each project that targets a mix of private and public prospects from individuals, foundations, corporations and government agencies. We have been especially fortunate over the past few years to have received significant federal support for our exhibits that have provided vital funds for such activities as planning, exhibit design and fabrication and have helped us leverage additional funding from private sources. Total government support in the FY 16 budget (including both federal grants and state funds through the Maryland State Department of Education SAI program and Maryland State Arts Council) was $493,000.

Happy 50th!

Happy 50th NEH!

Our two principal federal funders are the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Through its Public Humanities Project initiative, NEH funds exhibitions that are grounded in the humanities and offers support for both project planning and implementation. The application process is rigorous and requires an intensive amount of staff time for researching humanities connections as well as writing detailed responses to each question of the narrative and preparing budgets and other supporting documentation in the form of letters of support, bibliographies, staff resumes and other relevant material. Applications are subjected to several rounds of review by both NEH program staff as well as a peer review process that involves museum colleagues from museums around the country. The JMM has a long history of successful applications including our most recent award of an implementation grant in the amount of $300,000  for Beyond Chicken Soup. We have recently submitted a planning grant application for our new core exhibit, Belongings and are hopeful that it, too, will be awarded. The NEH stamp of approval is a powerful tool for fundraising and also serves as a mark of distinction among the museum community.

IMLS

IMLS

Likewise, we have frequently been awarded grants from IMLS. Our most recent submission, through the Museums for America initiative, was awarded $150,000 in support of Scrap Yard: Innovations of Recycling. As with NEH, the grant application process is challenging and requires many hours of staff time to complete. The review process is also similar and involves several rounds of evaluation by program staff and peer reviewers. Having participated in panel reviews of other institutions’ applications, which requires many hours of reading applications and then debating their merits over the course of two days of meetings with colleagues from other museums, I can attest to the rigorous vetting process in which applications are subjected before a determination is made of whether or not to award funding. This makes our track record of success especially rewarding.

Robyn and Esther at Museum Advocacy Day 2013.

Robyn and Esther at Museum Advocacy Day 2013.

Because both NEH and IMLS are federal agencies, their budgets are authorized annually by Congress. In recent weeks there has been talk about defunding NEH and IMLS funding prospects are unsure as well. Clearly cuts to these agencies would be detrimental not only to the JMM but to the larger community of museums and historic sites that serve as vital communal educational resources. We are actively engaged in several advocacy efforts to make our voices heard in this debate.  The Greater Baltimore History Alliance (GBHA), a consortium of forty local history museums, is developing a statement of support on behalf of the NEH. We will be represented at the American Alliance of Museums’ Advocacy Day, at the end of February, by JMM consultant and docent extraordinaire, Robyn Hughes. During the two days of meetings with congressional delegations, museum professionals and volunteers from around the country will convey the important message urging our representatives to maintain level funding of all federal arts and humanities agencies.

We encourage citizens who share the belief that history and heritage matter to let their voices be heard by their representatives on this important topic.

deborahA blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.

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