Involving Your Community in Exhibit Planning

The following is adapted from a panel presentation for museum professionals at the American Association of Museums AAM annual meeting in 2001 held in St. Louis, MO. Though written from the perspective of a small museum, The Trenton City Museum NJ, its concepts apply to any museum that needs to tap the resources within its community on how to get started.

1.  Realize that the center of your universe is not the institution, but the community.

One way is to stop focusing on internal issues is to get outside your organization and ask people what they think of it and what they want from it. In planning for the baseball exhibit titled “When Trenton Baseball Roared Like Thunder” the museum sent out a call to the public through the press for baseball memorabilia. The response was overwhelming from the serious collectors with large amounts of memorabilia, families of outstanding players as well as individual collectors. Many of the owners wanted direct involvement in the planning so the museum formed an advisory committee made up of academics, business people, sportswriters and other interested baseball fans.

2. Make a decision to be open.

The first step of reaching out is an inside job. A community can sense an attitude from the institution. In some cases, the community approached us with ideas for projects, such as a hat exhibit reflecting Trenton’s former cottage industry. Whether you go out to the community or the community approaches you, as project facilitator it is strongly recommended that you stay open to possibilities as well as trust in the process.

3. Think locally as well as globally.

While it is essential to know what is going on locally, know also that it can mislead you. Keep up with regional news as well. It was only when a major Philadelphia news channel reported about the construction of the brand new baseball stadium in Trenton that we realized just how newsworthy the topic of baseball in Trenton was. If we had only been informed by the local news, we would not have even considered the baseball exhibition because the local newspapers listed almost daily only the mishaps during the stadium construction  and reflecting public cynicism for the project. (It would fail–taxes would increase to cover the shortfall, etc.) Now in its eighth season, Trenton holds the record for attendance for the entire league the past 7 years.

4. Have an agenda not to have an agenda.

Good planning requires a road map, of course. But make sure to leave space for creative turns. You have a great, innovative idea for a collaborative project. The committee is in place. Enthusiasm is high and everyone is set to get to work. Though it is you that will drive the project and keep it on track, in the early planning allow for the creative process to unfold as it builds successively on the suggestions and talents of those on the planning committee. The baseball advisory was a treasure throve of talent: a graphic designer scanned all the images, produced the outputs and publication design while two academics wrote the grant narrative and edited the proceedings from the symposia which was the museum’s first ever publication. Your motto must be that of Alexandre Ledru-Rollin  “I’ve got to follow them; I am their leader.”

5.  Become adept at collapsing boundaries and at drawing them.

Keep in mind that this entity that we call community is today an organic life form. At times there will be boundaries and pockets of self-identification to establish who is “in the community” and who is not, which is critical to a communal sense of identity. However at other times these can be seen as problematic in a world that seeks to eliminate those boundaries that divide and wound. (Mayeski) At the museum I learned about an important borderless community, the people who were “Trentonians at heart”—children and grandchildren of former Trentonians. Though they grew up in the suburbs, they defined themselves as Trentonians and were eager to contribute.

(to be continued)

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Pope Francis’ Ecological Conversion

In a 2020 meeting with a group of French environmental activists, Pope Francis went off script telling them the inside story of his own journey of having an “ecological conversion.” In his meetings and conversations between 2007 and 2015 with several chieftains from different indigenous cultures of the First Peoples of Puerto Maldonado in the Peruvian region of Amazonia, he recounted how his eyes were opened to “the harmony of wisdom.” His conversion was the impetus that led to his writing the acclaimed encyclical “Laudato Si’,” On Care for Our Common Home and that at the urging of the French minister of the environment, Ségolène Royal, he completed his encyclical ahead of the 2015 United Nations–sponsored Paris Conference on Climate Change. Pope Francis also told the activists that he saw on display before him the very “harmony of indigenous wisdom,” that brought him to the realization of the poverty of the “heirs of liberalism and the Enlightenment” in that “we have lost the harmony of the three languages: the language of the head—thinking—the language of the heart—feeling—and the language of the hands—doing.” In a forthcoming post I will give an account of an art historian on how he views nature and art as needs of the mind.

“Pope Francis on the ‘ecological conversion’ that led him to ‘Laudato Si’”. Gerard O’Connell, America, Sept. 3, 2020.

“Laudato Si’” https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html‘Laudato Si’

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George Floyd: A Monumental Anniversary

The tragic murder of George Floyd in America a year ago today not only catalyzed a moral revolution that rocked the country but one that reverberated across the entire globe. On the anniversary of Mr. Floyd’s death let us be reminded of a bedrock of the American identity that Abraham Lincoln set forth in his first inaugural address: “We are not enemies, but friends, though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”

As we saw last year it was a defining moment marked by artists and prophets who created impromptu galleries whether walled on temporary restrictive metal fencing as in D.C. or on city streets with their boarded-up storefronts as canvases. The ‘prophets’ pulled from symbolism from ancient wisdom traditions to aid in bridging the past with the present; other artists self-organized into a purposeful collectives making visible powerful images both cohesive in meaning and message.

Author-musician James McBride, who has built a career exploring American culture and identity through storytelling, credits the new Black Lives Matter movement to the youth—black, brown, and white bonded together in a shared purpose—to bring down institutional racism and legal immunity once and for all (2020 Amanpour & Co. interview).

Sidewalk artist-prophets have stirred the community’s collective memory with images of past Civil Rights icons along with memorializing Black Lives Matter martyrs. The young people have seen to the removal of Confederate monuments that McBride admits has been eye-opening for him —heretofore they had gone unnoticed. Investigative journalists B. Palmer and S. F. Wessler in their report titled “Monumental Lies” write how they uncovered the sources of funding on sites such as museums, cemeteries and historic houses in excess of 21 million dollars that came from the federal government—taxpayer money. 

The Ferguson activist, Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson echoes McBride on the crucial importance of being “a voice not just for children, but a voice with children and youth who have organized in so many ways to bring us to what could be a transformative moment.”

Going forward may we listen to the clarion call of our youth to tap what Lincoln aptly described as the “mystic chords of memory [that] will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” Only in this way, will we cooperate in the providential design in fulfilling Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream for society’s progress and achievement and together realize “The City on the Hill.”

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Revisiting HHDL’s message to NJ College Students

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama playfully deflected attention from his introduction by donning a Princeton University baseball cap before addressing a capacity crowd of mostly co-eds on a sunny Autumn day.   His relaxed posture and conversational tone bespoke that of a caring father unfazed by pressing time schedules. He began his teaching on the development of the heart by reminiscing on his childhood and the early markers on his Buddhist path of spiritual learning and compassion.

As someone who is warm and laughs so readily,  it is not hard to imagine the precocious youngster  he described who at a very early age exerted a strong will. He described  how he would signal his mother while astride her shoulders pulling one or the other pigtail to get her to go in the direction he wanted her to go. Looking back, he realizes that this gentle countenance of his mother was an early marker for compassion that was in sharp contrast to that of his father who having a short fuse was given to stricter discipline. His Holiness saw in his younger self his own predilection to wanting control and having his way—what Buddhists term as attachment, or self-cherishing—and shared antidotes to becoming more “other-cherishing” by growing in compassion through such practices as mediation to bring one to an understanding of a deeper reality that ultimately  lead to peaceful experiences. No matter what his busy life entails, His Holiness shared that he is a constant practitioner even when he is speaking in front of thousands of people. His equanimity is such that he is not the 14th Dalai Lama, but a member of the human community just as everyone who he encounters in his daily duties. Reflecting on his days as a student, His Holiness said one wish he has now is that he applied himself better, so his advice to the current students is use your time wisely and study. He also spoke of the important mental processes of listening and study, critical thinking and reflection without being dependent on one source-a text or even a teacher—but analyzing many different views  and arriving at a conviction as a result of a firm belief of moral value.  It is this conviction, he emphasized that is extremely important for it is what brings about greater change. After an hour and a half he was still asking for the next question from a stack of index cards submitted by students ahead of time: to the question  “What is the key of happiness?” “Money!”he quipped and then added “sex!”  and guffawed at his own joke on the audience.  The answer was this: to arrive at an inner strength that comes not from self-confidence but truth and honesty, is happiness.

The final question put to him was on the role of the artist and the poet toward a more peaceful existence at which His Holiness acknowledged was an excellent question.

October 28, 2014. HHDL on Princeton University’s motto and issue of racism: https://dalailama.princeton.edu/

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Revisiting Tom Friedman’s book [AMERICA] That Used To Be Us

Unpublished blog dated September 2011 is still a prescient warning today:

A recent discussion on museums being in the hospitality business on the American Association of Museums LinkedIn group sent sparks flying.  Yet other current cyberspace hot topics that may pertain to the museum field, either directly or indirectly, provide important crossover perspectives. First, museums collect and preserve the best of the past and Tom Friedman’s about to be released book, That Used To Be Us, reflects upon America’s former  innovator/inventor world role. Also, Forbes magazine ran a two-part article on K-12 education reform contributed by Steve Denning, a management consultant, highlighting lifelong learning;  and, a current Harvard Business Review article touts, of all people—museum curators! 

If the world was flat just a few short years ago, then it has morphed into something entirely different, according to author Tom Friedman in his new book That Used To Be Us— How America Fell Behind in the World it Invented. Less one think this is a maudlin trip down “memory lane,” Friedman insists he just wants to wake up and Americans and get them moving. Maybe Stella lost her groove for good, but Friedman and coauthor, Michael Mandelbaum end their book on an upbeat note and with a charge, hence the rest of the subtitle …and How We Can Come Back. Both authors are foreign affairs specialists: Friedman is columnist for the New York Times, and Mandelbaum, Professor of American Foreign Policy at Johns Hopkins University. The wake up call: don’t wait for the jobs to come back, because they’re not. It will take an idea that will start a small business and hire a few people, replicated over and over in towns and cities across America. Hierarchy, as we have known it, can no longer exist for it is not just leadership that can be the sole source of ideas and innovation—everyone is needed to contribute to the new global knowledge economy. As future Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Martin Dempsey tells Friedman, the future  isn’t going to be about men and women who are physically fit and follow orders but individuals who are willing to play an integral role in “a values-based group, who can communicate, who are inquisitive, and who have an instinct to collaborate.” Another writer attracting attention is Steve Denning, a management consultant and author who was asked to contribute his thoughts on the single most needed idea to reform K-12 education. In the first of his two-part article for Forbes magazine http://tinyurl.com/4xsgdxe, Denning writes of education’s roots in factory processes for efficiency. “The single most important idea for reform in K-12” for Denning is that “education concerns a change in goal that needs to shift from one of making a system that teaches children a curriculum more efficiently to one of making the system more effective by inspiring lifelong learning in students, so that they are able to have full and productive lives in a rapidly shifting economy.” Denning develops his argument thoroughly and provides what the implications would have to be to effect change: the changing roles of parent, teachers, administrators, overhauling tests and shifting the focus from command to conversations, and finally from outputs (factory) to outcomes. In the second part of his article, Denning responds to comments from readers which include those of national educational reformers http://tinyurl.com/3tqjk4e. Another education reform under discussion since the 2008 financial market meltdown is business school curricula and what MBA education lacked in preparing its graduates for the workplace. Obviously, ethical behavior and corporate responsibility are being taken into account. Another is what in addition to financial analysis skills what are ways of producing more creative and innovative thinkers. One approach cutting-edge business schools such as Case Western University, Rotman School in Toronto and others is the addition of design laboratories in their -schools to encourage “design thinking.” The next blog installment is my open-source article of a “case study” from Yuan Dynasty China (1279-1368).

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Stop.Hate.For.Profit.Now

Whatever your reading list includes for the Fourth of July weekend or after do not miss Politico’s Nancy Scola’s article “Inside the Ad Boycott That Has Facebook on the Defensive.”

I’m reminded of the oft quoted yet apt Margaret Mead quote Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

In the article, Scola describes the novel coalition of civil rights groups and advocacy partners  who have become the architects of the #StopHateForProfit campaign that many of the boycotting companies have signed onto.

As Scola describes, “the coalition has emerged as perhaps Facebook’s most formidable antagonist, when little else — not Congress, not European regulators, not public declarations by celebrities that they were once and truly deleting their Facebook accounts — has had much effect on how the site operates. And their campaign might offer a blueprint for how activist groups can tackle a modern tech giant: fusing novel pressure tactics with the weight of legacy civil rights groups.”

In fact, with all the daunting challenges facing the global community, it may be just the blueprint to tackle these problems by distilling longing into a world community not just tied to eradicating the pandemic, but also recognizing the marvelous signs of nature’s rebound in such a short span by seeing a noticeable restored environment -such as live fish Venetian canals, seeing the Himalayas for the first time in over 30 years just from the decrease in pollution from less
carbon emissions.

As the activist Rob Hopkins remind us we must do it for our grandchildren, and their grandchildren for the future is now.

07/03/2020 03:15 PM EDT    https://tinyurl.com/ycp6pzgq

Nancy Scola is a reporter covering technology for POLITICO. Follow her on Twitter @nancyscola.

#StopHateForProfit campaign

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Trenton’s “Lost ‘African-American’ Einsteins” Never More

…there are many ‘lost Einsteins— individuals who do not pursue a career in innovation even though they would have had highly impactful innovations.” Thomas Francke

My passion as the city museum director resided in its mission to inspire civic pride in the city’s youth based on their city’s industrial history. As an educator my passion is directed  to opening my college students’ eyes to the world of East Asian art and philosophy. I would also like to see the college curricula include this important influence  on Trenton’s industrial design history that can reinvigorate Trenton’s rightful genius standing by inspiring urban students—the ‘lost Einsteins’—to take their rightful place as inheritors of a once world-famous pottery industry.

As seen in their imaginative creations, the designer/potters’ had an uncanny global antennae for an East-to-West ‘mind-to-mind transmission’ that revolutionized Trenton ceramic design and its standing in the world. We educators should not squander the genius DNA map that is the heritage of all Trenton students. Its artistic pedigree can be traced to the Trenton School of the Industrial Arts founded for the Trenton pottery artisans in the 19th century that paved the way for the present-day Mercer County Community College, MCCC,  the former Trenton Junior College.

We cannot afford any more lost Einsteins–they are the solution to today’s most pressing problems. If this sounds like a provocative proposition, it is no more so than the outsized, audacious sign of the Trenton Makes The World Takes bridge as a reminder to keep stoking the invisible modern kiln of possibilities every day.

Check out a sampling of the contemporary art scene  BSB Gallery Trenton NJ

 

Reference:

Study: Rich kids 10 times as likely to become inventors, creating ‘lost Einsteins’

Children born into the top one percent of households by income are ten times more likely to become inventors as those from below-median income families, according to the study. A new study from Stanford and Harvard finds that lack of exposure to innovative mentoring and internships is inhibiting innovation. Exposure to inventors in youth increases the likelihood kids become inventors themselves.

 

“Hence, there are many ‘lost Einsteins,'” wrote the team “— individuals who do not pursue a career in innovation even though they would have had highly impactful innovations.”

Thomas Franck | @tomwfranck Published 11:12 AM ET Sun, 10 Dec 2017     CNBC.com

 

 

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East meets West: Krishna and Seneca and Comparative Ethics

Ashwini Mokashi”s Sapiens and Sthitaprajna: A Comparative Study in Seneca’s Stoicism and the Bhagavadgita (hereafter Gita), is an important addition to the growing list of publications of comparative ethics based on ancient wisdom texts. In contrasting Seneca’s writings with the text of the Gita, Mokashi makes an important contribution to the field of developing ethics in a global context. Such a dialogue can elucidate overlapping virtues despite great cultural and geographic variation showing that people from dissimilar cultures, follow a different ordering of values rather than hold differing values (1). In the Gita section of the Hindu epic, Mahabharata, two factions of the same family facing off with one another on the battlefield is put on “pause,” while the epic’s protagonist the warrior and great archer Arjuna, has an existential crisis. He confides his fears to his charioteer, Krishna, that he knows by day’s end all the casualties will be that of his own kin. Unbeknownst to Arjuna, Krishna, is actually the avatar of the Hindu God Vishnu, who walks Arjuna through the nature of life and its disciplines of knowledge, action and devotion that are not always fixed entities, but require, at times, expanding and re-ordering. The Sthitaprajna is the practitioner who has succeeded in conquering the “inner battlefield” of the warring self to reach a selfhood of moral clarity that is reflected in his actions conducted with equanimity and non-attachment. Sapere (v.), although negatively inserted into the Enlightenment war cry, to this day remains anchored in Greek, Jewish, Christian thought as the thread linking successive sources of Europe’s spiritual tradition of being “wise” or “knowing.” Morality was preserved in the lives of a Sapiens who singularly could make a great difference to the world by exercising his moral power so much so that the wise person becomes unconquerable in the world through understanding the laws of nature and following the Stoic ethical principles [p. 57]. Sapiens and Sthitaprajna advances the conversation with the classics at a time of waning general humanities curriculum. As, W. T. De Bary, author of The Great Civilized Conversation wrote, no other approach than studying the classics and the perennial questions will give us a clearer sense of direction for value judgments that have been informed by the experience of the best minds of the past and the best way to do this is to have engaged them in conversation (2).
(1) Rosemont Jr., Henry. (2015). Against Individualism: A Confucian Rethinking of the Foundations of Morality, Politics, Family, and Religion. Lexington Books. London. Pg. 21
(2) http://www.neh.gov/about/awards/national-humanities-medals/william-theodore-de-bary
Purchase at: https://www.amazon.com/Sapiens-Sthitaprajna-Ashwini-Mokashi/dp/8124609632/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=ashwini+mokashi&qid=1572275341&s=books&sr=1-1

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Greta Thunberg Rails UN Leaders for their Inaction on Climate Change

Teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg on Monday opened the United Nations Climate Action Summit with an angry condemnation of world leaders for failing to take strong measures to combat climate change.

Thunberg, visibly emotional, said in shaky but stern remarks at the opening of the summit that the generations that have polluted the most have burdened her and her generation with the extreme impacts of climate change.

“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you,” she said.

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” Thunberg said.

Days after millions of young people took to the streets worldwide to demand emergency action on climate change, leaders gathered for the annual United Nations General Assembly were to try to inject fresh momentum into stalling efforts to curb carbon emissions.

https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-03-26/what-politicians-debating-global-warming-will-look-soon

 

https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-03-26/what-politicians-debating-global-warming-will-look-soon

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In Response to Forbes’ 2018 Innovative Leaders List- A Book Review*

The Sustainable Enterprise Fieldbook TSEF could not be timelier for its process-driven action plans and groundbreaking sustainability frameworks. This week Forbes published its 2018 list of the most creative business minds, naming 99 men and only ONE woman, Ross Stores CEO Barbara Rentler, setting off a Twitter storm that found editor, Randall Lane, with egg on his face. Lane admitted the process was ‘flawed’ and vowed to bring together a task force to reassess its selection rubric used by BYU and INSEAD professors. Full disclosure, I am a contributor to the TSEF mental models chapter of the first and second editions.  It also means I witnessed a germ of an idea come into its own and materialize an action plan for a more equitable human flourishing buoyed by sustainable practices. The vision is largely owed to lead editor, Jeana Wirtenberg, who attracted enormous talent from all sectors to contribute to discussions, round tables and chapters that materialized into a book. Yet Jeana and her leadership team saw far beyond the book in envisioning a “living fieldbook” that would not only be fodder for business student papers and discussions but also be continuously updated with new research and solutions to new emerging challenges. A recent example is a pilot program spearheaded by Professor Wirtenberg at Rutgers Institute for Corporate Social innovation, RICSI, using TSEF as it textbook as a guide for “integrating a company’s full range of capabilities and assets within innovative business models to achieve positive societal impact while advancing success and sustainability of the enterprise.” Students could contribute valuable input to the Forbes task force members through an in-depth study of the chapter on metrics that can move corporations beyond tired models and fads by replacing them with more innovative, futuristic measures instead. At a time of the year, when Americans reflect on the tragedy of 911 eighteen years ago a finding of the 911 Commission that has stood out for me are missed cues leading up to the attacks that the commission attributed to the failure of the imagination. It is the hope of TSEF contributors to provide professors and students with new tools and techniques to create a more sustainable world with visionary CEOs imaginatively leading the charge by attracting and harnessing the diverse talents of its rich human capital in the important world of creating an equitable flourishing world for all.

*A version of this review is posted on Amazon.

 

 

 

 

 

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