There is no “right answer”
Well, here we are about half way through week one of SHA 2014 and oh, my! I hope I speak for the rest of my classmates when I say that I have run the gamut from energized to overwhelmed and back to inspired. We all survived the Sunday afternoon introductions, laughing, dancing and drawing our way through the lives of our quirky colleagues. My big take-away? We’ve got humor and talent, folks!
Some themes are starting to emerge as we move through this first week. The big one is that no two history organizations are exactly alike and so there are no absolute solutions to the problems that face us. However, there are approaches and philosophies that can be applied, so that is what I will attempt to summarize. I hope that my classmates, our speakers, and SHA alums will pipe in with their own opinions.
The history field is not for spectators. If you are going to be relevant in the 21st century you need to commit time for change. Janet Gallimore (Executive Director, Idaho State Historical Society) showed us the path she used to take a fully irrelevant organization from nice to necessary. It takes time (5 years to establish sustainable change) but the results are worth it. So many of our speakers have presented pictures of success based on energy, both staff and community generated. If we have power, strength, vitality and spirit vibrating from our very core, we can meet budget challenges, overcome disinterest and ennui, inspire future history professionals and, yes, change the world around us.
Does anybody care?
We have all experienced empty public spaces during open hours. Some public history staffs breathe a sigh of relief and think “now I can get some work done.” Well not for this SHA class! We worry, fret and downright panic at the very thought. Providing relevant, inspiring and positive experiences for our users is as important as collecting and preserving the authentic, real stuff that makes up our collections. Meeting our audiences where they are is part of our discovery process. Perhaps we have to stop thinking of it as history programming and just view it as engagement activities. How do our communities view us, what do they want from us and would they care if we disappeared? There is no one right answer to these questions but we really need to be asking them.
Technology is evolving so rapidly, the tech industry can barely keep up. Small and large museums are facing serious financial
challenges. Federal, state and local agencies are making decisions about support and inclusion for history organizations every day which threaten our organization’s futures. A less stalwart group might think “there is no time to plan or prepare” but many in the history field are trying new things, taking risks and exploring new collaborations and partnerships. Again there is no secret formula to cure all but the organization that wants to succeed needs to be looking around at what success looks like in all forms. If Target and Wegmans can offer inspiration for customer service and community expansion, then by all means, we need to be paying attention.
One common thread running through it all is, regardless of your title, you are now part of the leadership in this field. Each of us brings different skills to the table, but we all want to see our organizations succeed and thrive. We hope to absorb as much as possible from each leader we speak with over the next three weeks and then go home to integrate all we have learned into our daily lives. Today, we each wrote down a strategy we hope to implement over the next six months. When that note comes to us in the mail next April, how many of us will have been empowered enough to follow through?
A huge shout out to all the folks at the Indiana Historical Society who are making us feel so welcome and smoothing our way where ever we go! You guys rock!
Posted on November 6, 2014, in Seminar for Historical Administration, SHA and tagged colleagues, History, history leadership, Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, Inspiration, seminar for historical administration, SHA. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.