Just Do It (Museum-Style)
Behind the Scenes /
Last weekend, Katie Reilly (Head of Publications) and I attended the National Museum Publishing Seminar in Chicago, and I am happy to say our brains are still percolating. On the first night, print and digital media guru (and keynote speaker) Dan Sinker tried to calm everyone’s fears about the brave new world of digital publishing by advising us to just create something—anything—and see what works and stop trying to make everything “precious” and perfect. JUST DO IT. Dan went on to talk about how his DIY work ethic has been inspired by hardcore punk, but was I the only one in the room thinking about this motivational masterpiece? Okay, maybe.
That evening Dan’s words condensed into a nice little pep talk in my head. “Yes, I will do those things, Dan, and thank you for slapping us all in the face.” But then another thought hit me: “When will we have time for these projects?” This mixed feeling of hope and dread came full circle on the last day of the conference during a lunch presentation from Erin Coburn, Chief Officer of Digital Media at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Erin was showing us some of the incredible image and archive projects The Met is working on right now, and she made a comment that she would prefer not to say how many people were in her department since she knew some of us were from smaller museums. Of course, we yelled at her from our seats until she told us—58. “Did she just say ’58′? For one department??” That’s larger than our entire museum staff, and I’m sure we’re not alone in that. There was some faint sobbing at the back of the room.
At the Carnegie we definitely want to do more with our websites, social media, and other digital publishing intiatives. The major hurdle is typically having a small staff and not enough time. This all reminded me of a session I’d read about from the Museums and the Web 2012 conference this past April (sorry to say I couldn’t be there). Sarah Hromack (Whitney) and Rachel Craft (IMA) discussed the importance of digital publishing for museums as part of their overall content strategy. Hromack also explained some of the challenges the Whitney has experienced trying to keep up steam for their excellent Whitney Stories blog, and how it is sometimes a struggle for institutions like museums (often with limited staff resources, funds, or time) to maintain the frequency and flexibility of important projects like this.
Since our publications staff is small, we simply do not have enough warm bodies to create a full-on, blog-style magazine (or other dream projects) and maintain it on a regular schedule without falling behind in other responsibilities. But we don’t want to just throw our hands up, so we’re working on some smaller projects we can manage right now to coincide with our existing online and social media projects. For example, during the conference someone asked me if we had an Instagram account. “Ummm… not yet.” Waiting for my flight home Sunday night, I could feel the spirit of Dan Sinker looming. So I set up an Instagram account for the museum, and this past week we’ve started posting some photos of the galleries, artworks, building details, summer camps, studio classes, etc. Hopefully this is just the first of many projects that we can maintain on a regular basis. It’s just one little thing, and despite all of our other deadlines, doing anything to connect with the public just seems important right now. Some staff members from other departments—education, curatorial, exhibitions, and security—will also be contributing to the pool of photographs to add some diversity to the content (staff—if you’re reading this, I’m coming for you!). Dan warned against creating things that are overly “precious,” so I’m sure all of the forced-nostalgia filters on Instagram contradict the edict. We’ll try to take it easy with those.
Of course the whole idea of social apps like Instagram is to connect with others who might have similar interests—artworks in our museum, for example. Even though our photo policy prevents the public from sharing images of our museum online, it would be, well, rude to not connect with anyone who does it. As Joseph Mohan from The Art Institute mentions in his recent post about the conference, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it anyway. Some museums have already embraced the media, and the changes that come with it. If it means connecting with just a few more people interested in art and what we have at the Carnegie, I’m okay with that.
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For more responses to the NMPS conference, check out Liz Neely & Amy Weber’s Beyond the Printed Page: Museum Digital Publishing Bliki
And here’s a great post by Liz Neely, Katie Reilly, and Sarah Guernsey about the conference, including a rare photo of the ladies shredding on stage: Museum Geek