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  • Writer's pictureErin Salthouse

AAM 2019 part 2

For part 1, see last week's post.

Author standing in front of red brick building in black straw hat, glasses, red lipstick, black and white scarf, and black sleeveless top.
Day 2 in New Orleans

AAM: Sustaining Vibrant Museums

As I said before, most of the sessions I attended focused more on Community Collaboration and inclusive hiring from local community.


Show me the Money: Tips and Techniques for Writing a Successful IMLS Grant Application

Moderator: Mark Isaksen ( IMLS)

Panelist: Linda Blanshay (Museum of Tolerance), Marian Carpenter (John and Mable Ringling Art Museum), Lisa Sasaki (Smithsonian).

I was very excited about this session. The premise was not only information about the types of IMLS grants available, but also a panel of previously anonymous grant reviewers from the field. Anyone can apply to be a volunteer reviewer, but only a few get picked a year. Still, Mark emphasized that wants to keep cycling in new, fresh perspectives from the field. The audience was able to hear what readers did and did not like in a proposal and could ask specific questions at the end.

Things reviewers liked: inclusion of all the documents for submission, concise explanation of need, evidence of what work your institution has already been doing with partner community/ on the project, detailed explanation of a plan and its impact on community. Also the inclusion of images, paid teen interns or paid transport and lunches in the budget plan that shows commitment to sharing resources with community partner, and asking for a realistic budget to meet the needs of a project (rather than the highest possible amount) are much appreciated.

Things reviewers didn't like: missing documents for submission, especially in phase 2 of a grant funded project- how did phase 1 go?-, copy and pasted sections of submission, a budget that fails to match the narrative, and jargon.

The reviewers stressed the importance of reapplying if your original submission was not accepted and asking for feedback if the detailed notes on the rejected application don't answer all your questions. One interesting trend was the emphasis on community collaboration projects, even for things like collections management and digitization grants- the advice was to demonstrate how a collections update would benefit and draw in the community.

They ended with a round of questions about why the panelists chose to volunteer to be a reviewer. One said, "It's like passport to museums" and others mentioned it provides an opportunity to learn new ideas. So, will you sign up? I think I might give it a go.

Of/By/For All: First Wave

Moderator: Lauren Benetua (Of/BY/FOR ALL)

Panelist: Tina Menendez (History Miami Museum), Hatuey Ramos-Fermin (The Laundromat Project), Emily Reynolds (Niagra Falls Underground Railroad), Nina Simon (Santa Cruz Museum of Art &History).

Of/By/For All presented a brief history of this initiative, the website, and announced how Nina Simon is breaking off from the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History to be fully involved in Of/By/For All. They all promoted the online assessment tool and then each panelist spoke for a short time about a project they were involved in.

Tina described the process of inviting a local LGBTQ teen group, the YES institute,to exerience the museum and to create an exhibit at the History Miami museum.The youth created the concept called "doors". She described some moments where museum staff became educated by the teen group, and the YES institute, in order to learn better how to create a safe space and expressed the overall value of sharing curatorial authority.

Emily opened by explaining that sometimes we think we know a community but in fact only imagine them. She described a gallery experience, where the white board wanted to request artwork for an exhibition from an artist that they did not even have a 2nd connection with. The board also didn't have an answer for the questions:

How would this choice benefit the community?

How will you continue the relationship with the artist and community?

But she needed to approach the community anyhow and gave these tips for successful collaboration.

Meet in Person. Listen with empathy. ask about the challenges, values, goals, and potential commitments from the partner community's perspective. Ask what success looks like to the community.

I liked Emily's focus on the perspective of the community- often I feel that museums don't put in adequate effort to shape themselves around their communities.

Hatuey represents an artist organization in NYC that is POC centered, nurtures creativity, aims to create change, values place (an complex community history) and is propelled by love. Hatuey acknowledges that the staff hold themselves accountable and sometimes make mistakes. The Laundromat Project tries to think of abundance rather than absence and share space and hold space for the community. Unfortunately Hatuey was racing the clock. I wish I could have heard more anecdotes. But luckily I live in NYC and I can go check it out in person!

Nina described the progress they made with the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History by bringing in staff who represented the local community and expanding programs that invite and showcase the community interests. One anecdote she shared reveals the extent of the change and perspective shift necessary. In a board meeting, with the museum about to close, she was asked, "how do we get new people?" with an implication that "those people" (in the surrounding community) don't have an appreciation for culture. So Nina decided to ask instead, "what are we willing to change to welcome new people, to make them feel like they belong?" This seemed to boil down to representing the community in staff (MAH is now %40 Latinx) and co-creating with the community, rather than for the community to make programs that inspire yearlong engagement. .

This session ended with some key takeaways:

You cannot force change unless people are ready.

You can't do it alone.

You need buy in from leadership.

This change can't happen without resources.

Change can't happen without a "why", a reason for driving involvement.

How could you make a program or museum Of/By/For All? Is it possible? What happens to Freelancers when museums collaborate with community groups instead of creating their own programs?

Building Relevant Public and Educational Programs Using an Equity Lens

Presenter: David Rue ( Seattle Art Museum), Nico Weadon (The Studio Museum in Harlem), Lauren Argentina Zelaya (Brooklyn Museum).

Slide from David Rue, talking about building an interdepartmental Equity Team at S.A.M.

This panel started with a group movement activity led by David Rue, who then told us about how the Seattle Art Museum built an equity team. One of the results of the equity team was programming to transform the SAM for a dance party focused on previously marginalized artists and public.

Nico Weadon described the new building for the Studio Museum of Harlem and some of the programs which have been happening in the meanwhile out in the community in the sculpture gardens, for example.

Lauren Aregntina Zelaya described the Brooklyn Museum’s dance parties, which highlight artists of color and try to make the museum an inviting fun space for Brooklyn’s young population. One interesting thing Lauren mentioned was how, in trying to straddle reaching both the historic population and the new gentrifying population some tensions arose. For example, the museum’s stance on its late night events is that they are open to all. However some nearby residents have complained that the events are too loud and have called the police and the fire department on the Museum.

This is an issue I think many museums fear when thinking about taking on more social justice or activist roles. If they take bolder steps- won’t that annoy someone? Won’t that someone generally be wealthy white people? What do you think about this issue?

Interested in New Orleans Museum reviews? Stay tuned next week

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