CultureSpots lets you tell ALL the stories!

Greetings CultureSpots family,


As you know, context is neither static nor unidimensional.  A single work of art is always layered in a multitude of contexts.  In order to understand (and sometimes appreciate) a work of art, it helps to know the context.  And in order to share stories about the context, you need to make choices.  Are you going to focus on the artwork’s aesthetic, historical, philosophical, social or cultural context?  Or perhaps let the artist’s individual, personal, familial, educational or professional aspects take the focus?


With CultureSpots you don’t have to limit yourself to just one or a few contexts.  And we understand there is not just one story to tell, but many.  Sometimes you want to share them all at the same time, or just share one, or many different ones at different times throughout the year/exhibition.  The CultureSpots platform provides you the ability to create an infinite amount of content that can coexist in digital space without taking up any of your precious physical space.

By creating several Spots for one work/item you can also speak directly to the many different audiences.  For instance, you can create audio tours that include the same artworks for kids as adults, but with content that is specific to and different for those two audiences.  And, then create other tours for even more specific audiences.  The only limits to what you can do in terms of the audiences you can speak to, and the types of stories you can share with them is your imagination, prioritization and dedication.

 

And since now you can create Spots on CultureSpots without audio, you can share all kinds of other types of content and information too!  Like, a documentary video about the artist or artwork, photo galleries of other works of art by the same artist, other online articles about the styles, symbols, techniques, inspirations and anything else that your visitors would love to know.

We would love to help you leverage this opportunity to share multiple layers of interpretation with your audiences.  Please reach out when you’re ready to learn more!

 

We look forward to working with you!

Cliff Stevens

Here’s the Promise vs the Reality of AR & VR

The museum community has always explored and embraced fun and innovative ways to interact with visitors.  Especially since audio tours entered the scene back in the 1950s, museums have been experimenting with new technologies as a way to more creatively and effectively engage their audiences. Today, as museums and galleries continue to branch out, they are finding smartphones and apps to be an exciting way to connect with their visitors, and broader audiences, even from the comfort of their own homes.

One of the latest and most talked-about ways for people to enjoy the cross-over between art and technology are Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. VR is perhaps the more recognizable of the two, with the current state-of-the-art being big goggles that cover your eyes and ears and take you into another dimension. AR is actually turning out to be the more practical and readily available solution since anyone who has a smartphone can use it.  If you are wondering what AR is, think of it as a way to bring a real physical environment to life on your screen with layers of digital augmentation visible on top of it. For instance, some museums have apps where you point your mobile device at an object and you’ll see on your screen both the object you’re pointing at, and layered on top of it, background information about the artist, the object, and a carousel of other works by that artist.

While VR and AR solutions are wonderful ways to connect with your audience, they’re often very involved and cost-prohibitive to design, develop and maintain, especially for small to medium-sized museums and galleries. Thankfully, there are other solutions that get you most of the way there, but with far less demand on your limited time and resources.

CultureSpots is of course one such solution, and we believe, the most appropriate, effective and capable one for the vast majority of museums and galleries today.  With CultureSpots, you can rapidly publish intuitively-organized tours for your visitors that optionally include images, audio, text and links to anything else online (ex: videos, webpages, social media content, e-commerce storefronts, etc).  CultureSpots makes it super easy to get up and running quickly, with the control and flexibility you need to keep everything updated and relevant in real-time, all while keeping your costs way down, and visitor engagement up, since anyone with a smartphone can access it anytime, anywhere.  It’s all on the Mobile Web so that neither museums nor visitors have to download any new software/apps – it’s all online and available via any browser. All visitors have to do is point their smartphone camera at a little sticker on the wall, or enter a short URL, and POOF your tour content pops up!

If you’re interested in setting up a tour on CultureSpots or need help finding a way to reach your audience better, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Enjoy your journey!

Cliff Stevens

Why Going Live NOW and Adjusting Continually in Real-Time is SO HUGE.

Greetings Friends,
 
Today we want to share some thoughts on (READ: “grab your attention about”) how CultureSpots gives you the unique ability to easily post your content online and adjust that content, in real-time, as often and as many times as you like – AND, even MORE importantly, how and why that benefits you when you are running a museum or a gallery. 
 
In this digitized world, we are all craving authenticity more and more. This is evident in the way social media trends are evolving and the rise of Podcast Culture. For instance, Instagram Stories and Facebook Live are filled with raw content. And some of the most popular Podcasts aren’t professionally produced and “perfect”, they’re just real.
 
We are drawn to things that make us feel connected and a part of a meaningful experience. Being able to experience things in real time creates a feeling of inclusivity and being part of what’s happening. With CultureSpots you are able to connect with your audience in a similar way. Next time you have an artist talk, a conversation with a curator or a live performance post it immediately after the event is over so your ‘at home’ audience can experience it too.
 
At first glance this idea can be intimidating. Naturally anyone putting themselves out there would want things to be flawless. But we feel it’s more to your advantage to just get it out there and don’t sweat the small stuff. This way you can stay relevant and connect with your audience. And afterwards you can edit it and have it online for your audience to enjoy whenever. Being able to do this will not only allow more people to enjoy your event but you can also share it with future audiences and get them excited about being physically present at the next one. How great is that?
 
This ability to go live and edit along the way can come in handy in other settings as well. Sometimes you might organize an exhibition that grows and changes throughout its course. This is where you can really take advantage of going live instantly. Now you can keep up with the exhibit as it changes. So no more wishing you could go back and change something. No more worrying if people will be able to get the content and context you want them to experience. With CultureSpots you can stay ahead of all of this simply because you can publish and edit your content in real time, anytime, as many times as you want. How wonderful!
 
Going live so quickly gives you more relevance, timeliness, and creates a greater sense of urgency, while also giving your audience more ways to connect with you. It builds community and is a perfect way to play into social media trends. 
We hope that by adopting this stance, you’ll be even more excited than before to take full advantage of CultureSpots – and remember, share it sooner, perfect it later. THE SOONER THE BETTER! 
 
Sign up today and get started. If you’re already a subscriber, we would love to hear about a recent experience you’ve had with going live and adjusting along the way.
 
The video below shows one example of how quickly and easily you can record, edit and publish (“Go Live!”) new audio content on CultureSpots: 

Thank you, be well, and enjoy!

Cliff Stevens

Founder, President/CEO of CultureSpots

cliff@culturespots.com

(VIDEO) Want to See What an Audio Tour Is Like WITHOUT Audio on CultureSpots?

A few weeks ago, we announced (here) the end of audio being a requirement for you to be able to publish tours on CultureSpots. In case you don’t already know, CultureSpots is our mobile audio tour platform that works on all your visitors’ smartphones via the mobile Web, without any apps for them to download, and without you having to buy, build or install any new hardware or software.

Today I’ve decided to show you, rather than tell you about it.

In this short video (<2mins), you’ll see, and hear, from the perspective of your visitors’ smartphone, how great your tours can be, even without audio.

Pop in for a look and listen – here we go….

BY THE WAY, if you want to play with the demo featured in this video, go here with your smartphone browser: spts.us/demo2

Thanks for tuning in!

With love,

The CultureSpots Team

How was your 2017?

Dear friends,

For us, 2017 was all about the amazing things you are doing with CultureSpots and the communities you are positively impacting with your work.  Check out a few examples of what you’ve all been up to…

  • A natural history museum published a comprehensive audio tour of its diaoramas, specimens, programs and much more! – spts.us/ansp
  • A public arts organization created multiple audio tours for visitors to learn about and appreciate the region’s wide array of sculpture, historic figures, buildings and natural points of interest. – spts.us/bca
  • A children’s hospital created a companion audio guide for a beautiful sculpture garden that visitors can enjoy in memory of a family’s beloved child. – spts.us/wm
  • A historical society published an audio guide of notable stories and contextual information for an exhibit about a well-known historical figure – spts.us/chs

See and hear what I mean?  Just AWESOME!!!  And so inspiring.

As we wind down another year, we didn’t want to start our holiday season without letting you know how grateful we are for you and your support.  You have made it possible for CultureSpots to – little by little-  fulfill our mission of helping create deeper meaning and more emotional connectedness between us all.  The incredible work you do is so important, and so relevant, particularly during these times.

Though we’ve been rather quiet for a while, it’s not without good reason!  Besides spending quite a bit of time envisioning and designing the technology enhancements we hope to share with you next year, we’re also expanding the markets that we serve while staying true to you and our vision.

We’re excited and look forward to working with you in 2018.

Have a fantastic holiday season!

Together all is possible.

 

With enormous appreciation,

Cliff Stevens

Founder, President/CEO of CultureSpots
cliff@culturespots.com

Don’t Forget to Invite Your Neighbors - Whoever and Wherever They Are.

If you were to plan a massive Grand Re-Opening party at your museum or gallery, who would you invite?  Would you invite just those folks who’ve already been visiting for years, or would you try reaching out to new people who’ve never stepped foot inside before?  Would you want to do something special for them, […]

Read More

Amplify Your Marketing Impact with Audio Tour Content from CultureSpots

Enabling museums and galleries to create high quality, creative and engaging mobile audio tours has always been the goal for us at CultureSpots.  But did you know that the content you create for your audio tours can also be used elsewhere as a great way to promote and generate interest in your exhibitions, events and […]

Read More

Work smarter, not harder with CultureSpots

Usually with a new exhibition comes the desire for a new audio tour.  Of course, the process of creating an audio tour doesn’t just happen all by itself, and will require a bit of effort.  But, we want you to know there IS a way to make this process easier and less stressful, even when […]

Read More

New (Optional) Configuration Option!

Back in October 2014, when we had our CultureSpots launch event at Drexel University’s Pearlstein Gallery, there were some photographers in the audience who pointed out an aspect of CultureSpots’ mobile Web application design that they wanted us to reconsider.

They explained that our design decision to overlay text on top of COVER images (for both the SPOT screen and TOUR screen) could be problematic for some people — especially photographers — who can be very particular about the way their images are displayed, no matter the context, location, constraints, etc., and that having anything overlaid on top of their images could be an unacceptable deal-breaker.

Since then, we’ve been on a sort of “high alert” for this to become a problem.  And it never really has, though admittedly, not many professional photographers are using CultureSpots (yet?).  It has come up in conversation a few times, where some of our clients asked if they could remove the “Name” text from their “Cover Images”, but never did this become a recurring, urgent issue, or a reason for anyone to not use our system. These “Names” are created by our clients, usually very brief, and overlay only the most bottom part of the image, not the entire image – often only a quarter or a fifth of the bottom of it, if that. (See sample images below).

 

BUT, recently, we received an interesting request from a business partner that was different, and inspired us to reverse course on this particular design decision.  They wanted to use their Cover Images for text, and only text.  It was not for photos/imagery.  Instead they were going to create mini poster images that would only contain text, and only the occasional symbol, chart or graph.  Now it really DID become an issue that we were overlaying the Spot’s and/or Tour’s “Name” text on top of its associated “Cover Image” because it would be in the way, and potentially make the “Cover Image” text unreadable or at least very aesthetically unpleasing for our business partner, and their users, all of whom are strategically important for some of our new business initiatives.

So with an update we just made to the CultureSpots system, we can now change a single setting and hide the “Name” text from all your “Cover Images” !  For now, this is a setting that only we control , and you’ll have to contact us and let us know if you’re interested in having us do this for your CultureSpots environment.  It‘s a single mouse-click for us to turn it on and/or off, and it takes effect immediately, so it’s no trouble for us at all, and we’re happy to do it.  Just realize that it is “global” in nature, meaning that the “Name” text will be hidden from all your Spot and Tour detail pages, as well as your main landing page where your organization’s name would normally be. 

This might be GREAT NEWS for some of you, and overall, this new option further enhances the “visual identification” of spots and the real objects/places that are associated to them.

With CultureSpots, your visitors have 4 easy ways to easily find the right audio spot for an object in your Museum or Gallery:

  • AUDIO ID NUMBER: Your object’s label on the wall specifies an AUDIO ID number, that you visitors can quickly type into CultureSpots to go directly to the right audio spot.
  • QR CODES: Your object’s label on the wall contains a QR code that you visitors can scan with their phone to go to the right audio spot.
  • PRETTY URL: Your object’s label on the wall (or a brochure) gives your visitors a super short “URL” that they can type into their phone’s browser to go to the right audio spot.
  • Visual navigation and identification: This is where today’s enhancement announcement comes to play. No labels, no signs needed. Allow your visitors to easily and intuitively navigate CultureSpots, by visually identifying the audio spot they’re looking for.  With large images and NO TEXT in the way.

This is what we mean:

 

Obviously, we aren’t going to make any changes to your account settings without your expressly telling us to do so.  Meaning, nothing changes if you do nothing — everything stays the same as it is now.  But again, if you’d like us to do this for you, just let us know and we will do so immediately.

Do you have any ideas, suggestions for improvement, or other feature requests?  We’d LOVE to hear them!

Let us know if we can help with anything, and thanks again for being a part of the CultureSpots family!

Thank you for your continued support.

Enjoy your journey!

Cliff Stevens

Founder, President/CEO of CultureSpots
cliff@culturespots.com

Don’t Forget to Invite Your Neighbors - Whoever and Wherever They Are.

If you were to plan a massive Grand Re-Opening party at your museum or gallery, who would you invite?  Would you invite just those folks who’ve already been visiting for years, or would you try reaching out to new people who’ve never stepped foot inside before?  Would you want to do something special for them, […]

Read More

Amplify Your Marketing Impact with Audio Tour Content from CultureSpots

Enabling museums and galleries to create high quality, creative and engaging mobile audio tours has always been the goal for us at CultureSpots.  But did you know that the content you create for your audio tours can also be used elsewhere as a great way to promote and generate interest in your exhibitions, events and […]

Read More

Work smarter, not harder with CultureSpots

Usually with a new exhibition comes the desire for a new audio tour.  Of course, the process of creating an audio tour doesn’t just happen all by itself, and will require a bit of effort.  But, we want you to know there IS a way to make this process easier and less stressful, even when […]

Read More

Greetings – we’ve got cards!

Hello CultureSpots family!

We’ve been busy tinkering away with our CultureSpots platform and recently released an update that includes a very cool new feature we’re sure you’ll love knowing more about…

Cards!

With our new “card-style” feature on CultureSpots, your Tours and Spots get more visual (thus, easier to see and navigate) than ever before!

Why might this matter?

  • Visual appeal:  People like to look at pretty pictures.  Enough said really.  In this case, bigger is better.
  • Easier visual connection between a Spot/Tour and its associated physical object:  Larger images on your visitors’ smartphone screens will make it easier for them to make a visual match between what they are seeing in their physical surroundings, and the related digital content available to them on CultureSpots.
  • Modern look:  Our new “card-style” layout is probably how your visitors have come to expect content to be laid out on the mobile Web, as it’s become standard on Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.

This brief 1-minute video will quickly give you a sense of how our new look compares to our “classic” version:

 

This new feature is TOTALLY optional to implement.  And we have not done anything to change your default/current “classic” layout.  If you want to turn it on, you can login with your account anytime and make the changes with just 2 mouse-clicks.  Or feel free to ask us to do it for you — no problem — it takes just a few seconds!

To turn it on  (immediately, and globally), login to CultureSpots with your admin account credentials (forgot?  Go here.) and go to your “Branding” screen.   

 

Once there, scroll down: 

 

Select the checkbox next to “Layout – Use card-style tour and spot design”,

 

Then scroll down further and click the green “Submit” button.   

That’s it!  (Now, take a look at your audio guide site on your smartphone)  To undo it, uncheck that same checkbox, and click submit.   

If you want to toggle back and forth between this new “card-style” layout, and the default/current “classic” layout, you can, anytime, and with immediate effect, just remember, you’re doing this globally, so if there are any visitors using your mobile audio tours at the moment, they’ll experience this toggling back and forth in the layout too, so maybe do it off-hours?

What do you think?  We’d love to hear from you.  How about some suggestions of your own?

Thank you for your continual support.

Enjoy your journey!

Cliff Stevens

Founder, President/CEO of CultureSpots
cliff@culturespots.com

Don’t Forget to Invite Your Neighbors - Whoever and Wherever They Are.

If you were to plan a massive Grand Re-Opening party at your museum or gallery, who would you invite?  Would you invite just those folks who’ve already been visiting for years, or would you try reaching out to new people who’ve never stepped foot inside before?  Would you want to do something special for them, […]

Read More

Amplify Your Marketing Impact with Audio Tour Content from CultureSpots

Enabling museums and galleries to create high quality, creative and engaging mobile audio tours has always been the goal for us at CultureSpots.  But did you know that the content you create for your audio tours can also be used elsewhere as a great way to promote and generate interest in your exhibitions, events and […]

Read More

Work smarter, not harder with CultureSpots

Usually with a new exhibition comes the desire for a new audio tour.  Of course, the process of creating an audio tour doesn’t just happen all by itself, and will require a bit of effort.  But, we want you to know there IS a way to make this process easier and less stressful, even when […]

Read More

Guest Blog Post by Rebecca Herz: How do museums help to create a better world?

Hi everyone!

Many of you haven’t heard from us in a while, and that’s because we wanted to give your inbox a break while we work on developing some new audiences in other dedicated email campaigns that we’ve got rolling now.

That being said, hello again!  And haven’t these been an, a-hem…interesting…few months?!?!…

I suspect that a fair number of you, like us, have been scratching your heads, trying to make sense of what just happened, wondering what it means going forward, and how best to adjust to this new reality.

For us, the last few weeks of post-election existence have been an emotional maelstrom bringing with it a potentially very different set of eventualities than the ones we were looking forward to.

One thing we’re sure of is that this moment is providing us all with an intense re-awakening and realization that thoughtful dialogue, deeper understanding and most importantly, more empathy, are going to be especially critical now, and must become a more purposeful part of why and how we do what we do in our businesses, our organizations and our personal lives.

It is within this context that, once again, we found Rebecca Shulman Herz’s blog post at MuseumQuestions.com to be a fantastic way of starting a conversation on how we can all “help create a better world”.

As she wisely says:

It is not traditionally the job of museums to make a better world. Our job is to collect, protect, and interpret the material culture of the past. Our job is to engage people with these objects in ways that helps them understand the importance of our collections, and make personal connections to these objects so that these collections remain relevant.
That said, it is everybody’s job to create a better world. And right now we want to use all platforms available to us to do so. Are museums an effective platform from which to take a stand, or make change? I don’t know. But here are some thoughts on how we might start trying.

Rebecca Shulman Herz is the Director of the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum — https://www.peoriaplayhouse.org — in Peoria Illinois. She also blogs at museumquestions.com, where this post was originally published.(November 21, 2016)

Here is Rebecca’s post…

 

>>>>>>>>

Because we live in a culture in which we primarily receive information written and shared by those who think just like us, I have spent the last two weeks immersed in a flood of media that deepens my despair at the world this election has cast us in to. Some day, it will be the job of history museums to sort out how we got here, so that we can prevent this from happening again.

But in the meantime, many museum professionals are grappling with the only way we can address the situation: How do we, and our museums, help to create a better world? How do we protect people, and our democratic ideals, over the next four or more years?

word-wall-democracy

First, I want to note that this is not traditionally the job of museums. Our job is to collect, protect, and interpret the material culture of the past. Our job is to engage people with these objects in ways that helps them understand the importance of our collections, and make personal connections to these objects so that these collections remain relevant.

That said, it is everybody’s job to create a better world. And right now we want to use all platforms available to us to do so. Are museums an effective platform from which to take a stand, or make change? I don’t know. But here are some thoughts on how we might start trying.

(1) Address bigotry by promoting tolerance

This election has brought hate out into the open, creating an atmosphere in which minorities feel (and are) threatened. In order to address this we need to reach the voters who are happy to promote intolerant viewpoints – even when they don’t see themselves are racist. Read, for example, these interviews with Trump voters from the New York Times.

How do museums change these people’s minds? For years museum professionals have been arguing that museums are particularly effective at engaging people in empathetic responses – see, for example, the recent book Fostering Empathy Through Museums, and Mike Murawski’s posts on empathy in Art Museum Teaching.

How do we reach people who are starting from a place of active intolerance? A recent study shows that it may be possible to change people’s minds by engaging them in frank conversations about a topic – for example, imagining themselves in the shoes of a transgender person. And museums have important objects and spaces that help them start these discussions. But, importantly, first we need to connect with these people.

In museum education we talk about motivation, or advance organizers – where we start a lesson in order for it to make sense to the learners, how we connect new ideas to their existing knowledge and beliefs. We need to find a way to connect with the large number of people who feel threatened by an anti-Trump agenda, in order to change their mind. The article in Vox about this study extends empathy to white rural poor Trump voters by imagining how these voters might feel:

While terms like “racist,” “white privilege,” and “implicit bias” intend to point out systemic biases in America, for white Americans they’re often seen as coded slurs. …Imagine, for example, a white man who lost a factory job due to globalization and saw his sister die from a drug overdose due to the opioid painkiller and heroin epidemic — situations that aren’t uncommon today. He tries to complain about his circumstances. But his concerns are downplayed by a politician or racial justice activist, who instead points out that at least he’s doing better than black and brown folks if you look at broad socioeconomic measures….This is how many white Americans, particularly in working-class and rural areas, view the world today. So when they hear politicians and journalists call them racist or remind them about their privilege, they feel like elites are trying to distract from the serious problems in their lives and grant advantages to other groups of people.

If our goal is to engage people in rethinking bigoted ideas, we will need to make an effort to understand where they are coming from, and move them from point A to point B, rather than just insisting that point B is the correct one.

This is easier to say than to do, and raises more questions than it answers. At the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum we have a program called “Celebrate Peoria,” where we celebrate the diversity of Central Illinois. We celebrate Hindu festivals, Muslim and Jewish holidays, African American culture, Mexican culture. But in the past we have not celebrated Christian holidays. As I wrote in a previous post, when we celebrated celebrated the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Fitr, a visitor approached the manager on duty that day, and asked her if we would be celebrating Christmas. When she told him that we do not have plans to do so, he let her know that he might be asking for a refund on his membership.

jo-lakota-11-22-15-e1452883693196

 

Do we have to celebrate Christmas in order to reach these visitors? Will celebrating Orthodox Easter, on our calendar for 2017, be sufficient? How could it possibly make sense to share Christmas traditions with a largely Christian population, in the name of celebrating diversity? But how does it make sense to leave out people who feel disenfranchised, and who we care deeply about reaching through this series?

 

(2) Help those with resources understand the danger presented by Trump

Recently, Elizabeth Merritt wrote a post called  “Healing the Partisan Divide” in the Center for the Future of Museums blog. Merritt addresses the concern that museums operate in a bubble. She looks at statistics about which political party museum staff belong to, and notes that “data support my general impression, from years of working in and around museums, that our field leans largely liberal & Democratic.”

What this doesn’t take into account are our boards and funders. An article in the Guardian notes, “Of the one in three Americans who earn less than $50,000 a year, a majority voted for Clinton. A majority of those who earn more backed Trump.” I was unable to find statistics for the very rich. But it is clear that while some Trump voters are rural, poor whites, a large contingent of Trump voters are suburban wealthy, many of whom sit on our boards and work closely with museum professionals.

I don’t know if museum staff are prevented from furthering a politically liberal agenda by board members or funders who disagree with that agenda. I suspect that the answer is yes – if not because museum staff are actually prevented from taking action, then because of their fear of losing funding.

But more to Merritt’s point, we do in fact have access to Trump supporters, to both understand them and try to convince them. While both of these interest me, ultimately I want these resourced stakeholders to understand the danger inherent in an authoritarian, bigoted administration. So many people who could speak out against Trump and his key advisers are refusing to do so. Can we – liberal museum staff who have the ear of the very rich, who may themselves live in a bubble – change minds? I think we need to try.

Of course, this feels dangerous because we depend on the support of the wealthy to survive. But it is more dangerous to have an administration staffed with people who suggest that a national registry of Muslims is a good idea, and a man whose recent history is one of promoting racism and sexism masquerading as news:

breitbart

One needs only see Trump’s tweets in response to the Hamilton cast’s speech to Pence to feel that the arts, like the media, will soon be under attack.

There is at least one PlayHouse supporter who I know voted for Trump (because he told me), and who I am contemplating talking to. It will take me a few weeks to find the best way to frame the conversation, and prepare my arguments. My husband suggests reading about Turkey under Erdogan and Hungary under Orban. Maybe museum staff need a primer with information supporting arguments that will connect with the wealthy and powerful.

 

(3) Promote facts and truth

This election was won in large part through lies and fake news. The Trump team showed no consideration for the truth, and a huge number of people accepted everything they were told. As noted in my last post, museums can and should be places where visitors not only learn facts, but work to understand how they know what they know, and the relationship of new information to known. It is not enough to ask, “What do you see that makes you say that?” We must also ask, “How do you know what you know?”

facts

(4) Stand up for what you believe in

The Thursday after the election PlayHouse staff members went for “drinks for our country” to commiserate with each other. I asked staff to think about what they felt we could and should do to stand up for what we believe in, for the things that now feel under attack. The list included:

  • Continue to focus on “Celebrate Peoria,” bringing attention to diverse cultures.
  • Find a way to help the Syrian refugees, and let visitors know that we are doing this – perhaps through a donation box or collecting things needed. A friend of the PlayHouse is looking into existing programs we can participate in.
  • Stand up for the rights of women, and in particular survivors of abuse. I have a meeting in a few weeks with someone from the Center for Prevention of Abuse.
  • Put an “all are welcome here” sign in the window, and make a banner from the billboard, below, created by our local interfaith alliance, to hang on the museum’s porch rail.

interfaith-alliance_14x48_fnl-page-001

It doesn’t seem like enough, but at least it is something. Most importantly, perhaps, is the active engagement of staff in considering and promoting tolerance and social justice.


What else can we do? How can museums play a positive role in today’s environment? How can we support each other in doing so?

>>>>>>>>>

 

Thank you for your continual support.

Enjoy your journey!

Cliff Stevens

Founder, President/CEO of CultureSpots
cliff@culturespots.com

Don’t Forget to Invite Your Neighbors - Whoever and Wherever They Are.

If you were to plan a massive Grand Re-Opening party at your museum or gallery, who would you invite?  Would you invite just those folks who’ve already been visiting for years, or would you try reaching out to new people who’ve never stepped foot inside before?  Would you want to do something special for them, […]

Read More

Amplify Your Marketing Impact with Audio Tour Content from CultureSpots

Enabling museums and galleries to create high quality, creative and engaging mobile audio tours has always been the goal for us at CultureSpots.  But did you know that the content you create for your audio tours can also be used elsewhere as a great way to promote and generate interest in your exhibitions, events and […]

Read More

Work smarter, not harder with CultureSpots

Usually with a new exhibition comes the desire for a new audio tour.  Of course, the process of creating an audio tour doesn’t just happen all by itself, and will require a bit of effort.  But, we want you to know there IS a way to make this process easier and less stressful, even when […]

Read More

Guest Blog Post by Professor Neville Vakharia of Drexel University: Reimagining a Museum – The Mutual Benefits of Experiential Learning

Hello friends,

As many of you know, CultureSpots came to be, in large part, because of the expert guidance we received from, and long-time friendship we’ve had with Professor Neville Vakharia at Drexel University.  We continue to stay in very close contact, and occasionally ask Neville to contribute here as a guest blogger, especially when we find out about one of his (MANY!) projects that we believe will especially resonate with our museum audience.  And this is certainly one of those occasions, as Neville has graciously agreed to share his story about the intense strategic planning collaboration he and a group of his grad students recently finished up with a notable local museum.  Lots of inspiration, aspirations and important principles to glean here!  Enjoy 🙂

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By Neville K. Vakharia

Assistant Professor and Research Director, Arts Administration

Drexel University

The idea of “learning by doing” has been around since the middle ages. Apprentices learned their craft from master craftspeople, creating a new generation of practitioners. This tradition continues today and is a key part of workforce development worldwide. In higher education, we take a similar approach by incorporating experiential learning into the classroom. Experiential learning is more than just “hands-on” learning; it also requires reflection on what has been learned. Often, experiential learning approaches are critical for those who teach concepts that are either very theoretical or that require a practitioner’s perspective.

This was the case when teaching my graduate course in strategic planning for arts administration and museum leadership students at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. Strategic planning is a complex, messy, and non-linear process. It’s something that can’t be taught simply through a textbook and theoretical examples. It needs to be lived, experienced, and reflected upon.

Fortunately, Drexel University had recently launched its Center for Cultural Partnerships, which seeks to develop mutually beneficial experiential learning opportunities for students through partnerships with regional cultural organizations. Through this new center, my strategic planning course was paired up with the African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP), an institution at a critical juncture in its existence and in need of strategic guidance. This created the perfect opportunity to integrate experiential learning into my course.

AAMP was founded in 1976, as part of Philadelphia’s celebration of the nation’s bicentennial. It is the first institution funded and built by a major municipality to preserve, interpret and exhibit the heritage of African Americans. Now in its 40th year, the museum faced a range of critical issues that required new approaches, solid research, and strategic thinking – exactly what we wanted to instill in my students.

Working Together: Commitment and Process

To create a true collaboration that would ensure mutual benefit to both AAMP and the students, a memorandum of understanding was created to outline the roles and responsibilities of the students and the museum’s leadership. Each party had to be fully committed to the process, accessible to each other, and willing to share in order for this collaboration to succeed.

Prior to the start of the course, students knew in advance that they would be engaging in this experiential process with AAMP, and specifically opted into the course. The museum provided a wealth of documentation and financial data up front so that students did not need to spend time tracking down critical information. Our first class session was held at the museum, where the museum’s President & CEO provided an extensive history of the museum, an overview of the role of culturally-specific organizations, and AAMP’s current challenges and opportunities. This provided a solid foundation for students to initiate their work. A subsequent session with a small group of AAMP board members provided additional insights into AAMP’s governance and board dynamics. These honest and open conversations provided students with a level of access that could never be achieved in a traditional classroom setting.

Students were split into four teams, each addressing a key strategic area of the museum: (1) Operations and Finance; (2) Programming, Exhibitions, and Communications; (3) Education & Community Outreach; and (4) Physical Space & Facility Design. Outside of class, each team conducted field research on peer and competitor museums through interviews with key leaders, compiled and analyzed a range of data, and conducted in-depth conversations with AAMP staff and board members. Students also made multiple visits to AAMP to observe the visitor experience and view the range of programming offered. Each course session included both traditional, pedagogical learning of strategic planning fundamentals as well as time for groups to develop their strategies and goals for their respective areas of focus. Each team also had time to reflect on their efforts and engage other teams in a dialog on their process and learnings. This demonstrated in a very real way the differences between theory and practice.

The final session of the course was a presentation by each student team to the leadership and board of AAMP. Each team shared their key research findings, strategies, and recommendations in their area of focus. The combined presentations provided the leadership and board with a vision of a truly reimagined museum, combining both short-term, practical approaches and longer-term strategies.

The Results: A Strategic Path Forward

Feedback on the students’ work was extremely positive. The AAMP board and leadership were impressed by the scope and depth of the work done by the students. They acknowledged that this level of effort would not have been possible without this collaboration.

Student evaluations at the completion of the course demonstrated the clear value of this experiential learning opportunity. Students acknowledged the heavy workload and the challenge of combining traditional learning with experiential learning, but all were extremely satisfied with the outcome of the course. Several students wished to stay involved with AAMP in some capacity, feeling a real bond with the institution and its future.

While a strategic planning process alone cannot guarantee success, we believe we have given AAMP the tools they need to become a relevant, sustainable, and engaging museum. This intensive, mutually beneficial collaboration helped an important institution reimagine its future while providing an experiential learning opportunity for a new generation of arts and cultural leaders. I’m looking forward to our next experience.

Click through to learn more about Neville Vakharia and Drexel’s graduate Arts Administration and Museum Leadership programs.

Photo Credits:

Student Photos = Julie Hawkins

Museum Photo = GFDL  https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26210640

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Thanks for reading – we’re sending positive vibes your way 🙂

Enjoy your journey,

Cliff Stevens

Founder, President/CEO of CultureSpots

cliff@culturespots.com

 

Guest Blog Post by Rebecca Herz: How can museums contribute to dialogue about social justice when we are exemplars of segregation?

Hi everyone!

We’re fans of Rebecca Herz’s blog at MuseumsQuestions.com, and found her most recent post about the role museums can play in social justice issues to be particularly prescient, and so with her permission, are sharing it here with you.

Interestingly, the many issues that Rebecca discusses from the viewpoint of social justice dovetail nicely with many of our own motivations for creating CultureSpots: to help museums expand their audiences, and make their visitors’ experiences more personal, engaging and relevant.  It is our hope that museums continually strive to heed Rebecca’s call, and in-so-doing, become more diversely representative of the communities they serve and the infinitely fascinating stories that can help bring them together.

Rebecca Shulman Herz is the Director of the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum — https://www.peoriaplayhouse.org — in Peoria Illinois. She also blogs at museumquestions.com, where this post was originally published.(July 18, 2016)

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At the PlayHouse last weekend we celebrated Eid-al-Fitr — the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan — as part of our Celebrate Peoria series. One visitor approached the manager on duty that day, and asked her if we would be celebrating Christmas. When she told him that we do not have plans to do so, he let her know that he might be asking for a refund on his membership.

Eid-al-Fitr at the PlayHouse. Left: A visitor gets henna on her hand. Right: Two visitors try on traditional Muslim clothing.

Eid-al-Fitr at the PlayHouse. Left: A visitor gets henna on her hand. Right: Two visitors try on traditional Muslim clothing.

Within our wonderfully diverse country, we live shockingly segregated lives. According to a recent article in The Atlantic, 75% of Whites have entirely White social networks. In Peoria, there are very few, if any, public spaces where one mingles with a population that mirrors the diversity of the city. When I lived in Brooklyn, while the playground was integrated, for a long time our local school (like many New York City schools) was not. Recently my facebook feed featured links to articles on how to talk to your child about race and how to educate yourself about race. We wouldn’t need these articles if we occupied social spaces in which meaningful cross-racial dialogue were common.

I visited Milwaukee recently, and went to both the Milwaukee Art Museum and to a beach located just north of it. The museum was fantastic (kudos on the amazing building, the phenomenal educational spaces and materials, and the wonderful and well-curated permanent collection galleries), but the visitors I saw were almost all White, and I suspect skewed toward the economically privileged end of the spectrum. The beach, on the other hand, was beautifully diverse. Not only were people of all colors present; there were people in all sorts of family groups and clothing choices, signalling differences in cultural background and economic means.

Two images from the Milwaukee beach

Two images from the Milwaukee beach

How can museums contribute to creating broad social understanding, and meaningful dialogue on social issues, when we are exemplars of segregation?

Museums historically serve wealthy, white audiences. In a country that is 63% white, museums serve an audience that is 88% white (see this 2010 report from Reach Advisors). We are historically, and continue, in large part, to be elitist institutions, run by Boards comprised of the 1%.

For those of us who want museums to be spaces of social justice, the most important first step is to attract and welcome an audience that represents the diversity of the United States. When we foster dialogue with others just like us, we leave satisfied but unchanged. When we address social justice issues with our current audiences, we are primarily reaching White liberal educated audiences. We are rarely reaching the people who would leave a museum because it celebrates Eid-al-Fitr and not Christmas, or hearing other perspectives in the dialogue we promote.

When someone walks into the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum, I want them to see a group that represents the full diversity of Peoria – to see a crowd more like the Milwaukee beach than the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Is this possible? I’m not entirely sure it is, but it is important to try. And while I think many museums envision and work towards a truly diverse visitorship, it may be that children’s museums may have a particularly important role to play, because our target audience is still malleable – they are the potential social justice advocates, and potential bigots, of the future.

Here are a few thoughts on how to create happily integrated museums, a list of ideas I hope readers will add to:

(1) Offer free or reduced price admission for at least some visitors. Welcoming only visitors who can pay full admission, or only offering free admission on selected days, means that most of the time we drastically limit who we let in the door. Diversity means economic diversity as well as racial diversity. We need mechanisms in place that allow everyone to enter at a price they can easily afford.

One of the things I admired about the Milwaukee Art Museum is that their membership sign very clearly listed its access membership program, allowing low-income families to purchase $20 annual memberships. I did wonder if it would have been useful to list something similar on the admissions sign – an access admission ticket that allows new visitors to enter free or for $1, before deciding to spend $20 on a membership.

Membership sign at Milwaukee Art Museum

Membership sign at Milwaukee Art Museum

(2) Prepare to orient new audiences. Museums have myriad unspoken codes of behavior. When visitors do not know the rules, they are uncomfortable, and act in ways that are uncomfortable for other visitors. At the PlayHouse we have found that offering free admission (whether for low-income families or for military families) leads to more visitors who “misbehave.”

When we are able to determine that visitors are new to children’s museums (often a tricky call for the front-line staff) the best approach is to gather the group and explain the museum rules in a welcoming way. In this way, instead of telling visitors that how their behavior is incorrect, we can orient visitors by clarifying the code of behavior needed to successfully navigate a new space, while preventing behavior that alienates other visitors. This is surprisingly effective, stopping behavior such as splashing other visitors at the water table and throwing things down from our mezzanine.

(3) Explicitly invite minorities to be part of the museum. “Shared authority” is a popular phrase these days. And museums are sharing authority in many effective ways. At the PlayHouse, through our Celebrate Peoria series, we invite cultural partners to create programming sharing their heritage and traditions with visitors. Partners include the Islamic Center of Peoria, the Jewish Federation of Peoria, and the Hindu Temple of Central Illinois.

I do think these events are useful in diversifying the museum beyond these events: Once people are welcomed, they may come back. At our Eid-al-Fitr event, a number of members of the local Muslim community purchased museum memberships. But this approach has its limits. First, it is problematic to celebrate a culture only once a year. Second, there are groups we want to recognize and invite in to the museum that don’t fit neatly into this programmatic structure. We celebrate Kwanzaa and have talked about celebrating Juneteenth, but how many Black families in Peoria really celebrate either of these? And we want to explicitly welcome families with two moms or two dads into the PlayHouse, but celebrating LGBT families doesn’t fit neatly into the Celebrate Peoria model, either.

As a side note, we are currently planning a half-day, facilitated retreat for Celebrate Peoria lead partners, and selected other community members, during which participants can really get to know each other, including asking all of their questions of each other. We hope that this retreat will help us form a committee that is knowledgeable about the diversity in our city, and help us find ways to deepen our Celebrate Peoria initiative.

(4) Get the word out. Advertising in the same newspapers and magazines you read, purchasing billboards in the parts of town you frequent, and posting on facebook are effective to tell people just like you about the work you are doing. But they are not very effective at reaching other groups.

At the PlayHouse we have an “Explorer Pass” program that invites low-income families to visit for free, and to purchase $10 annual memberships. While people do use these memberships, I suspect the vast majority of eligible families do not know about them. We are still figuring out how to let low-income families who have never heard of our museum, or who feel it is inaccessible to them, know about this program.

(5) Involve the entire museum. Many of the calls for social-justice-related programming, and meaningful dialogue in museums spaces, come from the Education Department. But the entire museum needs to be involved in order for these initiatives to work. Curators must think about how objects, exhibits, and text can contribute to (or detract from) this goal. Marketing departments are essential to getting the word out about any program. Visitor Services staff must be fully invested in welcoming new visitors. If this initiative is not embraced from the Board level down, it will not be effective.

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I hope that a few years from now, at least visitors like our Christmas advocate will have changed their tune. That the biases of their world will become apparent to them through introducing them to the people who live all around them, and who they rarely, if ever, meet.

Recently the wife of the Imam at the Islamic Center of Peoria had a terrible experience: she was driving down the street and a man in a car next to her started yelling racist things at her. I want this man, and his children, to visit the PlayHouse and learn about Muslim culture, and Hindu culture, and Jewish culture; to meet and talk to African Americans and gay parents; and to understand that we live in a world beautifully populated by people from different backgrounds who all make up this city.

We have a long way to go.

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