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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Intern Weekly Response: Trendswatch 2017

Posted on July 6th, 2017 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 three articles from the Center for the Future of Museums Trendswatch 2017!  To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.


 

Supporting Migrants at a Small Scale Museum

By Exhibitions Intern Tirza Ochrach-Konradi

“Reshaping the World: Migration, Refugees, and Forced Displacement,” is an article out of Trendswatch, a publication of the Center for the Future of Museums, about how museums can more effectively support and include migrants. The piece stresses that migration is at an all-time global high since directly after WWII, and concurrently anti-immigrant sentiment is also reaching a zenith.

This is a letter out of the Jewish Museum’s collection which discusses the arrival of Judka Josek Fried in Baltimore from Russia in 1903. JMM 1988.209.004

This is a letter out of the Jewish Museum’s collection which discusses the arrival of Judka Josek Fried in Baltimore from Russia in 1903. JMM 1988.209.004

The Jewish Museum has a particular imperative to work to support the cause of migrant groups. In this social climate where anti-immigrant sentiment is high and people are convinced that the different traditions and ideas immigrants bring will erode the strength of the US, the Jewish Museum provides examples of an immigrant community which has both maintained its own culture and participation in and strengthened the existing community. The Jewish Museum aims to collect and share the stories of Jewish Maryland. The story of the Maryland Jewish population is one of migration, assimilation, and preservation of culture. The museum is based on the idea that these histories that are particularly Jewish should be saved and celebrated.

News coverage of the Jewish Museum’s Naturalization Ceremony. Image from ABC2 News.

News coverage of the Jewish Museum’s Naturalization Ceremony. Image from ABC2 News.

I had the opportunity to attend the Naturalization ceremony that the Jewish Museum held on national refugee day.  It was a great way for the museum to support and connect to the immigrant communities in the Baltimore area. Not only is the ceremony in clear support of immigrants it also introduces the individuals that participated to the Jewish museum as a resource. I wish that the article gave examples of what else smaller museums or museums with a very specific focus, like the Jewish Museum, can do to support migrant groups. The examples give in the article, which included designing exhibitions around global migration and providing direct programing and support services to migrants are not attainable with Jewish Museum’s infrastructure.


 

Not All Questions Have Answers

By Education Intern Erin Penn

the article’s cover page

the article’s cover page

While reading “Failing Toward Success: the ascendance of agile design,” there were a few points that truly resonated with me. First, the article states in the future a “report card may be sprinkled with Fs that laud little failures.” Today pressure engulfs students to maintain a perfect GPA: even a report card sprinkled with Cs is a failure. But if this article is right, grades and test scores will just be building blocks instead of death sentences. In addition, this article argues that minor mistakes can reap huge rewards. For instance even in a small risk there is still much to learn. Both these insights are important to me as a student and an intern.

Coming Soon: this article argues this failing report card will celebrate a  student’s hard work and not hold such a negative connotation.

Coming Soon: this article argues this failing report card will celebrate a
student’s hard work and not hold such a negative connotation.

On one hand, this article motivated me to push myself to make mistakes and try new things. However, I still wonder how perfectionism and failure will change in the museum world. First, with historic museums and exhibits about the past, shouldn’t several years of preparation be allowed? Can museums afford to lose an audience by taking risks that alter the fabric of the institution? Will these small changes really have a domino effect to elicit huge change in museums? This trend is an interesting and poignant shift and it’s ok that these questions do not have answers.


 

The JMM’s Push for Empathy

By Education Intern Sara Philippe

A Mile In My Shoes describes the growing lack of empathy in the United States and suggests that museums can and should have a role to play in making sure their work actively attempts to increase visitors’ empathy. I often notice evidence of the trend of the empathy deficit as groups of people become more segregated and closed off from people of different opinions, backgrounds, etc. While I think technology has the potential to foment rather than decrease empathy in its users, I also believe that social media often serves to further segregate people, creating “homogenous bubbles,” as the article describes. However, when technology is used in spaces like museum that are specifically motivated to create connection.

A suitcase full of clothes in the Voices of Lombard Street exhibit that allows children to become the people they learn about in the exhibit through literally putting on different clothing.

A suitcase full of clothes in the Voices of Lombard Street exhibit that allows children to become the people they learn about in the exhibit through literally putting on different clothing.

The article discusses the success many museums have in employing the human capacity to empathize. For example, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City found that empathy, more than anything else, was what allowed people to connect to the exhibits they viewed. In my time at the Jewish Museum thus far, empathy has also loomed large. Though it is not necessarily specifically mentioned, much of the work that goes into designing educational supplements to the exhibits revolves around finding the best ways for visitors to viscerally connect with what they view in the exhibits. One of the main focuses I have noted in creating a successful tour or educational resource is an appeal to empathy. What matters most is not that the visitor share a similar ethnic or religious background to those they are learning about in an exhibit, but rather that they are shown how such a background does not and should not have to pose any barrier to empathy and compassion. Both of the JMM’s exhibits currently on display do a good job of appealing to such sensibilities by making the voices and words of its protagonists central to the visitors’ experience.

A station in the Just Married! exhibit that encourages visitors to share their own wedding stories, thus demonstrating their personal connections to the characters showcased in the exhibit.

A station in the Just Married! exhibit that encourages visitors to share their own wedding stories, thus demonstrating their personal connections to the characters showcased in the exhibit.


How I gained empathy at the Holocaust Museum

By Exhibitions Intern Ryan Mercado

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

This week, we interns were asked to read articles from the Center for the Future of Museums Trendswatch 2017. I chose an article entitled “A Mile in my Shoes: Closing the Empathy deficit.” This article is about how more and more people are becoming less empathetic to other people and their experiences, and how museums are places where people can gain empathy for other groups. Such is the mission of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, where we help people to understand Jewish life and understand where we come from. For me, this article really struck a personal note for me. As some of you know, I am not Jewish by birth, but a Jew by choice. I began my conversion to Reform Judaism last year and while I was going through the earlier parts of this process, one thought in particular came to my head many times: How does a non-Jew understand and gain empathy for certain aspects of Jewish life, such as the Holocaust. I had no family members involved in that terrible event so I can’t understand a personal connection like so many Jews do. In comes the Holocaust Museum in DC.

Part of a class back in College was a Saturday trip to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC. It was my first visit to the famous Museum. By that time I had already decided I would become Jewish so this visit only seemed logical. I did not expect the powerful visit I had. Throughout my visit I learned about topics and events and people I never knew. I saw things that made me think. The most impactful moment of that day was when I walked into a room and before me was a clay model of Jews being marched into the gas chambers. My mind could not take any more of that and I went to the corner of the room and began whipping tears away. That simple clay model struck a chord with me. I could see expressions of sorrow, of fear, of death in those clay figurines. I finally began to understand the scope and pain that happened so long ago.

I won’t say that I now know what it feels to be personally affected by the Holocaust like many Jews do, but that visit struck a chord. It allowed me to get empathy for an event I normally would not have had. In this case, The Trendswatch article was right; Museums are a place to gain empathy, sometimes in the form of sorrow, sometimes in the form of appreciation, such as at places like the Museum of the American Indian. I still have much to learn about the Holocaust and much more empathy and understanding about that sensitive topic. Perhaps I’ll gain more empathy in a future trip to Yad Vashem.


 

Empathy & Museums

By Collections Intern Amy Swartz

A view of one of JMM’s exhibits that relates to the local community featuring a school group.

A view of one of JMM’s exhibits that relates to the local community featuring a school group.

This week I read an article named A Mile in My Shoes: Closing the Empathy Deficit which spoke about empathy or more, the lack thereof in America’s current culture and how museums can be a way to introduce or foster empathy. I found this article as a way to reexamine the purpose of museums. Often when one thinks about a museum they think about the art, the artifacts, the history. Yet one usually forgets that these exhibits that showcase these artifacts and art are creating a dialogue between the visitor and the context. This dialogue is important to help develop connections; whether they are between the past and present, different communities, or different ways of life.

A picture featured in the article A Mile in My Shoes: Closing the Empathy Deficit showing a museum exhibit that focuses on creating and encouraging empathy.

A picture featured in the article A Mile in My Shoes: Closing the Empathy Deficit showing a museum exhibit that focuses on creating and encouraging empathy.

Museums such as the Jewish Museum of Maryland help to bridge cultural gaps, helping viewers to relate to Jewish experiences even when they are not Jewish. However, I think one of the major challenges museums face in bridging the gap on empathy, particularly in regards to different social classes, races, religions, etc., is getting visitors from different backgrounds to visit. It is important to have collections and museums that showcase different minorities or groups that are often sidelined in larger museums. However, how much do these museums increase empathy or understanding when only people belonging to that sect visit? Or more specifically, how can the JMM build trust and empathy when only those of a Jewish background (and thus those who already having an appreciation or understanding of the Jewish culture and religion) visit? I think this is one of the many challenges museum today face when trying to create exhibits and spaces for understanding and cross-cultural experiences.


 

 The Role of Museums in Teaching Empathy

By Collections Intern Joelle Paull

The assertion that “museums’ inherent strengths position them to be effective ‘empathy engines’” is a compelling one. However, the article “A Mile in My Shoes: Closing the Empathy Deficit,” from the Center for the Future of Museum’s 2017 Trendswatch, never fully explains how these “empathy engines” run. The strength of the article is the amount of data on the increasing loss of empathy in society. It presents a persuasive argument for a change in education, the justice system, health care, and range of practices. Despite this research, the article fails to explain where museums fit into this picture.

Image via USHMM

Image via USHMM

The examples given are museums like the Empathy Museum and the Museum of Broken Relationships, which have opened in the recent years with the goal of encouraging visitors to look past differences and divisions. But can art museums and history museums teach empathy? What was perhaps more interesting than these examples was the statistic that found that students after one visit to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art “exhibited increased ‘historical empathy’ and high levels of tolerance.” This data supports the claim that museums can function as “empathy engines,” yet stops there. Still lacking is a discussion of museum curatorial and educational practices that foster the increasing ability to empathize among visitors. The question remains, what makes museums vehicles for change and key players in “closing the empathy deficit.”

School group walking in the shoes of Lombard Street residents.

School group walking in the shoes of Lombard Street residents.

Museums have the benefit of being at the cross section of many of the issues the article discusses. Art museums like Crystal Bridges have wide ranging collections, many objects dealing with identity, social justice, or even simply offering a historical perspective. History museums, which deal in narrative, similarly engage the visitor in a dialog.

 

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