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The Intergenerational Museum: Towards a Century of Dialogue

Museums are many things to many people, yet at their best museums offer up quiet spaces for looking and pondering. It should come as no surprise then that museum professionals, too, occasionally take a step back to look and assess their museum’s inner workings related to diversity, inclusion and equity. Last month, Greg Stevens, Director of Professional Development for the American Alliance of Museums, hosted “Getting Started With Working Across Generations,” a webinar on the intergenerational workplace covering five generations with the acknowledgement that the most recent, barely out of middle school, is “on deck”.

Museum colleagues Marsha Semmel, a Baby Boomer, and Millennial Sam Moore also joined Stevens, a self-described Baby Boomer/Gen X Cusper. The webinar’s guiding questions asked how to align the intergenerational workforce with the museum’s mission and at the same time acknowledge employee assets that sustain a flourishing workplace. The three skillfully modeled a collaboration marked by multi-directional cooperation, that of back and forth, as well as bottom up. For example, Millennial Sam Moore, in putting forth the concept of “reversed mentorship” expanded the conversation to imagine a workplace with individuals attuned to not one, but multi-directional flows of knowledge. The presenters deftly wove the strands of information from the latest research with those colored by personal experience—or as Moore summarily noted, relationships.

In the lead up to the museum webinar, I happened on a podcast of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s talk titled “Embracing the Beauty of Diversity in our World.” In it His Holiness said that although we cannot change past, we can learn from it in order to change the future. He pointed out that in the past century obstacles were often met with force. Now we are seeing a resurgence of the same in this century, which His Holiness attributes to past mistakes and negligence. Despite differences and conflicts that will always exist His Holiness insists that the 21st century can be the Century of Dialogue, one in which people come together in love as brothers and sisters. Only by working together will we find the means to reduce differences through dialogue stewarded by actions of mutual respect.

Museums lend themselves naturally to a stewardship model given their mission to collect, preserve and display the guiding “ideas” of the past for both the present and future generations for re-seeing, re-creating* their world. The webinar mirrored what His Holiness described as “genuine respect, genuine love” that goes into building trusting friendships. What then would the intergenerational workplace look like? It would be one that welcomes the “fresh eyes” brought to it by its youngest members with the more experienced members committed to guiding the younger generation as “elders” who support the younger generation emotionally.** In this way our young adults can take their rightful place in the workplace and globally in fulfilling what His Holiness envisions as the Century of Peace.

https://www.dalailama.com/videos/embracing-the-beauty-of-diversity-in-our-world
*Malcolm McIntosh notes this in his Thinking the Twenty-first Century: Ideas for the New Political Economy, pg.33.
** Doors drummer, Boomer, John Densmore. On “the 50th Anniversary of the greatest band, The Doors!” http://wapo.st/2y2UWEg
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The Beacon Dims on Women’s Rights, Human Rights

When candidate Trump promised to drain the Washington swamp who would have expected it would instead get an infusion of former Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil executives bolstered by clean coal and fossil fuel lobbyists. With tax cuts coming for the rich including tax breaks from healthcare costs, women, children, the poor and older Americans can now expect to shoulder the burden.

Moreover, women are suffering fresh assaults on their safety and dignity worldwide, a warning sounded by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the opening of a two-week conference and annual gathering of the Commission on the Status of Women. Where the United States has historically been seen as a beacon for Human Rights globally, just days into his new administration President Donald Trump’s “global gag rule” cut US funding to groups that offer abortion services. No surprise that this emboldened his Russian counterpart a few weeks later to ease punishment for domestic violence. Jail time is now reserved for the seriously bloodied woman whereas a ‘less’ serious assault or first offense now only results in a fine.

With its focus on women’s economic empowerment, particularly in the changing world of work, the Commission on the Status of Women will turn its attention to pay inequality and paid parental leave. Under the umbrella of gender quality, the United Nations has set its global goal for 2030. Otherwise, according to the International Labour Organization’s recent labor study, without stronger measures it will take 70 years to close the gender wage gap (1).

As for the American poor who stand to lose health coverage in the revised healthcare bill, Republican Jason Chaffetz proffered a solution: give up your phone and pay your health premiums. And if there is still not enough to pay that premium the House Oversight Committee Chair might also recommend a scaled down diet. Just as the GOP administration dishes American poverty, and science on climate change, it also dismisses in the name of ‘big government’ worldwide poverty and famine. As the UN reports today “in a perfect storm, the Trump administration is reportedly seeking deep cuts to UN relief programs, just as 20 million people face famine.” Once the largest funder to the UN contributing $10 billion to various UN agencies as UNICEF, World Food Program and the UN Refugee Agency, it is reported that President Trump wants to cut that amount by 50% taking away the last lifeline of the world’s most vulnerable (2).

There are important marches on schedule: please get out there and participate. Make an action plan to call and write letters regularly to your legislators. Get a copy of Sam Daley-Harris’ Reclaiming Our Democracy and follow his advice on activism. Finally, print this quote and read daily:

We’re not passengers on Spaceship Earth. We’re the crew.
~Rusty Schweickart

1.http://www.thedailystar.net/world/north-america/womens-rights-under-assault-un-1376200
2. http://www.undispatch.com/cuts-un-20-million-face-unprecedented-famine/

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2017 On Entering an Age of Uncertainty

Below is a copy of my guest blog for the Organizational Development Collaborative for a Flourishing World ODCFW posted on ODCFW.org, January 32, 2017

As a year-end special program, a New York radio station invited listeners to participate in paired on-air conversations. One segment featured an intergenerational exchange; a female twenty-year-old was paired with a septuagenarian (1). When asked what in particular marked their generations, the latter pointed to the Vietnam War as the defining event of his generation, whereas the former summarized and defined her generation in one word—uncertainty.

Coincidentally, results released the same day from a survey of UK chief financial officers assigned uncertainty to describing the “new normal.” Although optimism in that country is up since the summer Brexit vote, it remains to be seen what Brexit’s impact will be over the long haul (2). Here in the states, uncertainty also hangs in the balance with a new administration. One thing that is certain is that organizations will want to manage change that is transformational.

The intergenerational on-air dialogue may very well have contributed a spark to the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017, by harking back to the 1968 protests against the Vietnam war. What began this year as a one-city event for human rights mushroomed into a global phenomenon attracting individuals and organizations committed to equality, diversity, and inclusion and representing the rights and voices of progressive people around the world. The registered tally was 673 “official” sister marches across the United States and around the world on January 21. Moreover, participation far exceeded expectations: at the rally in Trenton NJ, 4000 additional marchers showed up in solidarity with the 2000 registered marchers.

True to its pledge that the march not be “a sprint, but a marathon” the national organizers posted its initiative the following day: 10 ACTIONS IN 100 DAYS (3). That is why we see the timing of ODCFW’s website launch at this time as an auspicious rallying point for organization development (OD) professionals to lead momentous change in the business world, as both internal and external consultants by facilitating meaningful collaborations that are transformational.

Collaboration, as Syracuse University Professor James Haywood Rolling, Jr., writes, is key to elevated change resulting in enduring human achievements (4). Who better than OD professionals who have always been proactive in the workplace by inspiring and supporting others to lead the way for sustainable, flourishing workplaces and communities? As women—as well as men and youth—affirmed at the March, we are not going backwards. Instead, let this be the year that we move toward a more equitable world for the communal enjoyment of the fruits of the world, all of which are for everyone.

(1) WNYC Brian Lehrer Show “Fresh, Non-Politics Conversation Starters for the New Year” December 28, 2016.
http://www.wnyc.org/story/fresh-non-politics-conversation-starters-new-year
(2) “UK firms’ finance bosses say uncertainty is ‘new normal’”.
http://www.bbc.com/news/business-38453908
(3) https://www.womensmarch.com/100/
(4) Rolling, J. H., Jr. (2017). The Challenge of Change. Art Education, 70[1], 4-6

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President Obama’s Farewell Speech, January 10, 2017

President Obama gave in his farewell speech a unifying label for all Americans –that of “citizen.” This perhaps is in sharp contrast to that idealistic Obama of many years ago in a convention speech exclaiming there are no blue states or red states but only the United States of America. Yet under its “united” moniker we Americans are often swirling in a soup of contrasts: Republicans vs. Democrats; whites vs. blacks; immigrants vs. native-born; young vs. old, etc. As the administration of the first black President who cut his political teeth on community organizing transitions to that of a wealthy, white real estate tycoon there is no mistaking the heightened sense of anxiety both here and abroad in these uncertain, complex times. Yet I’m reminded that the American poet Robert Pinsky, former US Poet Laureate, would remain unfazed. Instead I think he would see these events actually in line with a longstanding American memory and what he learned of the American psyche in reading American poetry. In his essay “Poetry and American Memory”, Pinsky writes

…the greatness of American culture is its ability to make it up as it goes along taking disparate elements and synthesizing resulting in such cultural products that range from the improvisational transcendent jazz of Charlie Parker to the embarrassing, dumbness of a Super Bowl halftime show. To recognize such continuities should be to acknowledge that the alleged absence of memory is an illusion: cultural artifacts, high or low, successful or failed, shining or dismal, draw on recollection. The supposed American lack of historical sense is itself in part a national myth or delusion: the nobility of Parker’s music and the half-time jumble are both acts of memory, as all cultural deeds must be.

Pinsky points out the characteristically American forms of memory concentrated on such themes as
the fragility of community, the mystery of isolation, and a peculiar elegiac quality that is almost self-contradictory in its yearning toward a past that in one way seems forgotten and sealed off, yet in another way is determinant, powerfully haunting the present.

As in the past, the arts are ever that much more essential to America not only as drivers of its outstanding creativity and innovation, but also to shore and strengthen our cultural identity as “Citizens.”

http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/m_r/pinsky/memory.htm

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How museums cultivate the imagination

Can art from ancient civilizations be relevant to young adult visitors, particularly Generation X and Y students? Can these objects prompt thinking or experiences relevant to the present day and tap the “capacities of the heart” that Michael Gallagher identifies in addition to wonder—such as “searching,” “listening” and “receptivity?” What might these capacities add to the museum experiences that would inform various experiences in everyday life? One way would be toward a disposition of deep listening and being receptive to others, rather than imposing our pre-conceived notions of what is, or should be. How does viewing and interacting with art objects contribute to this disposition? The Philosopher of Education, John Dewey, describes the process as that of cultivating the imagination and its resulting outcome as “intelligent sympathy” or good will.   Dewey explains what he means by intelligent sympathy:

Sympathy as a desirable quality is something more than mere feeling;

it is a cultivated imagination for what men have in common and a rebellion

at whatever necessarily divides them.

The important thing to keep in mind is that for Dewey it is a sincere benevolence—not meant to mask the feigned benevolence in an attempt to control another, but honor the other in thinking and feeling freely seeking and humbly allow them in finding whatever they themselves choose. An added value of cultivating the imagination is what Kant observed is that the mind’s awareness of freedom grows with trust in the power of the imagination.

An excerpt from “THE ART MUSEUM AS LABORATORY FOR REIMAGINING A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE” Theresa McNichol in Positive Design and Appreciative Construction: From Sustainable Development to Sustainable Value Advances in Appreciative Inquiry, Volume 3, 177–193 Copyright r 2010 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved ISSN: 1475-9152/doi:10.1108/S1475-9152(2010)0000003014

Updated research findings will be reported in forthcoming article late 2016.

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Giorgio Morandi’s Cosmos

A former painting student of mine can’t understand why painters like me are excited about the two concurrent Giorgio Morandi exhibitions in New York. How can one explain to the uninitiated that standing before a Morandi painting is like having a spiritual experience.

morandi-1

As New York Times art critic, Roberta Smith, writes a Morandi painting is a “universe on a tabletop.” Similarly, consider the painting “Six Persimmons” by the Zen painter MuQi (13th century). It cannot be explained, it can only be contemplated. The Chinese art scholar, James Cahill, invites his students to just LOOK at it. If you would like to give it a try: see his youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-X7NzvEnDhs

But if you can, go see the Morandi paintings in New York and be mesmerized.

six-persimmons

 

Credit Morandi images: https://lepulci.wordpress.com/tag/still-life/ Credit Mu Qi Six Persimmons: http://tinyurl.com/pqyqp6o

Roberta Smith: http://tinyurl.com/qjzz2t9

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Howard C. Nusbaum on the Science of Wisdom: Practical Benefits for Students

In a recent interview, University of Chicago Professor of Psychology, Howard C. C. Nusbaum talked about his early research particularly related to the ways in which experience changes us and how these experiences change us. As an artist art-historian my ears are naturally attuned to topics around perception, attention, and learning and the like that Nusbaum said engaged him as well. For the past 25 years, my community college students’ essays about looking at art objects in a museum became the basis of my research on their thinking processes about their museum experiences—not just what they knew about another culture but more how they came to know. Nusbaum’s current research interests have expanded to include wisdom along with a new course, Understanding Wisdom. For Nusbaum, being wise is not being all-knowing, but rather being in possession of epistemic humility: one who is knowledgeable in his or her field but also cognizant that it is only one piece, not the entire puzzle. Such a person is open to new and expanded knowledge rather than closed off to others thinking they know all that there is to know. Professor Nusbaum also sees value relativism as an offshoot of epistemic humility; i.e. the ability to appreciate “different people’s values as having importance in their lives and importance for their decisions and processing of information.” In my research, I have identified a similar quality in the students through the jing “reverence” they bring to the museum art objects and recording their careful and reflective thinking revealing a process of evaluative judgments.

On his recent trip to China, Nusbaum meeting with middle school educators was reminded of Philosopher of Education John Dewey’s sojourn in China (1919-21) and the emphasis Dewey placed on learning skills and knowledge in an applied setting. The “second Confucius”—as the Chinese referred to Dewey—was a proponent of “hands on” or experiential learning and saw democracy intertwined with the one ultimate ethical ideal of humanity, the latter being the foundational Confucian concept of altruistic moral conduct.

From my own reading, Dewey deeply admired traditional Chinese culture and the way in which the Dao, or The Way, was the standard of perfection for the individual to emulate and cultivate as modeled by the Sage Kings of antiquity. For the Chinese, intelligence alone was not enough for a successful career at court for great emphasis was placed on learning and the arts as the path to both authority and wisdom. From my background as Chinese art historian, the role of the arts played in this process was key for the ritualizing practice of the Three Perfections—calligraphy, poetry, painting— over one’s lifetime was as essential to a scholar- bureaucrat’s portfolio of excellence as was passing the civil examinations. Composing a poem or putting brush to paper by a person of the Dao gave coherent form to patterns unseen before so that they could be shared with as well as appreciated by one’s peers which underscored the communal as well as innovative aspects of practical wisdom. “The success of the Chinese literati tradition of politicized self-cultivation—that of becoming an “inner sage, outer king,” paid off: the scholar-bureaucrats were successful in administering the world’s largest economy and sustaining it over two millennia (private conversation Henry Rosemont, Jr.).”

Link here to the Jean Matelski-Boulware’s interview with Howard C. Nusbaum, an excerpt from the documentary film The Science of Wisdom: http://wisdomresearch.org/forums/t/1531.aspx#

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