Monthly Archives: November 2015

Museums Will Save the World

SHA is about museum leadership and it will change you. Today is graduation day and I am a strikingly different person from the “three weeks ago Janna”. The seminars are mind-expanding and challenging: they question not only what one is doing in life and leadership but also how one is doing it (including the anatomy of values and principles underlying the “what”), how to do it better and most importantly, why.

Orientation and finding connection are important in these seminars. The first week was an “entry” week, a “come on in”, setting tone and character with humor and insightful sessions. It felt like an invitation, but in the best sense it was an imperative. Do you remember a time when you stumbled in somewhere and suddenly felt at ease, utter camaraderie, urgency to become a better person, to contribute to creating a more inclusive and thoughtful society? This characterizes SHA. It has provided me with the tools, connections and inspiration to make the world better.

We (individuals) can do this. We (museums) can do this. But first things first. The organizational health which is the foundation of the museum will determine how big your big ideas can grow. Pay attention to the details, have them guide you, give them tough love: finance, budgeting, organizational structure, planning processes.

Museums are integral businesses. The business case is relevance.

Great management of the pieces of the “plant” are of value, but if not relevant measured in the context of society, community and culture, they lend nothing to meaning. The “relevance” makes these institutions real and allows them to share transformational experiences with visitors. Relevance spurs support, ideas flourish, and lends sustainability in that it creates revenue. Relevant museums do well in every sense. They are truly healthy entities in and of themselves and in what they deliver and contribute to community.

The big idea is that museums are places of community spirit – its their raison d’etre. They are places which provide for reflection in that they help us know ourselves. Museums talk about us, how we came to be, who we are, about what is happening today, and they give us a space to talk about what drives us: family, economics, dreams, whimsy, safety in a turbulent world, personal or family vision.

What is transportation? What is Yukon transportation? A two dimensional appraisal suggests that it is about engines, containment vessels (for humans or things), and infrastructure such as roads, airports, and rail track.
When looked upon from the third dimension, the entire frame changes.

Transportation becomes a human endeavour and it is the stories behind the movement of people, their physical things, and most revealing, their ideas. It is a necessity of all humanity and a unifying story. It is that airplane you first flew into town on. Its reliance: how the Yukon froze (figuratively speaking) when a backhoe in the northern British Columbia (our southern neighbor) dug up the only internet cable that links the 38,000 Yukoners to the World Wide Web. it is a memorable trip of the highway that made you want to live here. It is that Toronto newspaper in the Macs Fireweed Books that reminds you of home, it’s a recreational snowshoe trip where you made a friend, its all the times you ran your trapline because of the many ways it sustains you. It is trucks and planes and crazy overland Cold War Land Trains. And, it’s an international trip two hours to the US port of Skagway because it has a great Thai restaurant.

Where the Yukon Transportation Museum is concerned, it is a place to discuss urgent issues of social conscience: a drinking culture where drinking and driving remain commonplace; energy reliance and how we feed thirsty vehicles (a 98% reliance today); dog adoration and abuse; food security and networks and mixing locally grown with necessities from elsewhere.

It is a place where conversation can take place about current issues like Syria and immigration with our community. Where debate around the acceptance or rejection of refugees can be put in context by comparing and contrasting the changes experienced in the Yukon by its two historical and particularly frenetic times of territorial change – the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, and the building of the Alaska Highway in seven months over an initial 1800 miles. More recently the temporary foreign worker debate is a pertinent discussion of transportation in the Yukon. People live here and people come from elsewhere. Let’s talk about it.

YTM is now 25 years old and is firmly rooted in the community. Its ongoing success will be measured by its endeavours to engage new audiences, to reflect on the present and to deepen its relationships with current audiences. It’s relevance and therefore its business case is in its ability to help us all know ourselves more and to want to make the world a better place. This is where the physical meets the value proposition, which is the need to realize imagination and thinking within society, ultimately the pursuit of a civilization of quality, measured through its overarching societal health: physical, intellectual, spiritual.

Charting a Course for Home

Here we are in the middle of week three! As I come down the final stretch, my thoughts are inevitably turning homeward. I’m double-checking travel plans, making arrangements for our class party on Friday, and occasionally thinking about that large inbox of work e-mails in need of replies. Yet, there is still much to do here in the final days of SHA. During these final few days, my task is to start synthesizing the parts of what I’ve learned into a feasible whole. What course do I chart from here?

I presently work at Mystic Seaport, where I serve as a supervisor for interpretive programs. We are in the early stages of developing a new strategic plan for our institution, and are also constructing a new 5000 square-foot exhibition building. These projects offer an opportunity for creative thinking and fresh ideas.

Yesterday, we spent the day with Susan West Montgomery of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Marsh Davis of Indiana Landmarks. Marsh gave us a lovely tour of his institution’s headquarters, located at the former Central Avenue Methodist Church in Indianapolis. Thanks to some tremendously generous individuals, the building is stunning inside and out. Beyond the aesthetics, the building provides a wonderful venue for concerts, meetings, and other performing arts events. He also took us through the Morris-Butler House, a lovely Second-Empire style home that is transitioning from a traditional house museum to a multipurpose event rental space conducive to smaller, more intimate gatherings.


(Photos courtesy of SHA classmates Anne Petersen and Dani Stuckle)

During our discussions in the afternoon, Susan noted a growing sentiment in our field – “the period of relevance is now.” This point has struck a chord with me. Humans are not static by nature – we are constantly changing, growing, and trying to adapt to new situations. Why should our historic sites be any
different? If the needs of our communities change, is it up to us to change too? When done well, preservation efforts can both strengthen an institution and the communities surrounding it.

Building on this idea, Tim Grove of the National Air and Space Museum joined us on Tuesday morning to discuss recent technology trends in museums. He raised many interesting philosophical questions about user-generated content. Is a history museum best understood as an authority, a forum, or both? What is the right balance?

In the afternoon, Larry Yerdon of Straberry Banke Museum took us through an institutional case study to develop a new operating model for a history organization that was facing some challenges. He reminded us of the importance of looking both inward and out. Looking inward requires a
willingness to be honest about where the proverbial belt can be tightened, while looking out entails identifying community needs and aligning our efforts towards meeting them. As Burt Logan reminded us in his keynote address, a museum cannot thrive by simply “being about something,” it must also be “about somebody.”

As I chart my course home (pardon the nautical references), I know that as my institution moves forward, we must not only look after our own assets, but also strive to be an asset to the communities we serve. Looking outward may help us understand ourselves better. As T.S. Eliot wrote, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Fair winds!

– Erik Ingmundson

Two Thirds

Today is the two-thirds mark for SHA 2015. This is a bitter-sweet realization. I have already learned so much, yet there is so much more left to learn and the time is dwindling fast. The past two weeks have flown by and been filled with so many topics that are both thought-provoking and a little overwhelming at times.

The first week seemed be a series of non-stop activities and completely overwhelming. My head was spinning with all the concepts we had discussed and by Friday night, I was not sure how much more I could learn. However after a relaxing weekend spent exploring Indiana I came back this week feeling refreshed and ready to start again.


Now here we are; two-thirds of the way through and we have tackled topics relating to the need to change to meet the needs of our changing audiences, making sure our institution is relevant, interpretation, and how to create and manage change, and all that was just a glimpse of the first week. The second week was chocked full of more important topics, understanding the budgeting process, how to fundraise in both the political and public environments, how to create a participatory experience in your institution, and how to evaluate those experiences. Now that just takes us through Thursday of this second week.

Friday for me was a day I was dreading a bit. I had read online about the “Follow the North Star” program at Conner Prairie; and I had read the pre-readings that John had assigned us. This research and reading only intensified my weariness. I am not one who particularly seeks out any form of live interpretation and will almost always shy away from a participative form of live interpretation and that is what “Follow the North Star” is. But after a day of listening to Sarah Pharaon discus the International Coalition of Conscience and learning about creating exhibits that would open dialogue and create discussion, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and give it a try. I am glad I did. I am glad I did. Since I went into the whole event with the mindset of this is not real and it is then I did not have an earth shattering moment when I could say it transformed me. I cannot say the activity even gave me a lot of insight into what it was like to be a slave. What ended up being the most enlightening to me was actually the result of a mix up. Instead of having two tours reserved for our group there was a reservation snafu and we ended up going through a few at a time with other groups. My group went through with some 7th grade students and I learned a lot from watching them. Much of what I have learned in the first two weeks was reinforced by just watching these students participate and become engaged in the experience as well as watching they process it.

On that note we finished the second week and brought us to the two-thirds mark. Now if I made it sound like it was all work I assure you it wasn’t. We had our fun to.

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Work Hard, Play Hard

By Melissa Peterson, MNHS Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site

After a weekend of exploring Indianapolis, it was time to get back to work!

Kajsa, Matt, and Stewart experiencing the Vietnam exhibit at the War Museum.

Kajsa, Matt, and Stewart experiencing the Vietnam exhibit at the War Museum.

Today marks the half way point of SHA.  It’s hard to believe that we have reached this point as it feels like we arrived only a few days ago.  That is until I think about all we have covered in the past the days:

  • museum finances
  • advocating for government support
  • raising revenue through entrepreneurial strategies
  • building and influencing relationships with board members and donors
  • building community engagement

It is enough to make one’s head spin!  These sessions alone have given me much to think about for when I return to the office.  They have challenged me to look beyond where my museum currently is, dream big, and creat a plan to find a way to accomplish the dream.  Change doesn’t come overnight, but I can take steps now to be ready to implement larger changes.  I can brainstorm with my team – what are our wasting assets and how can we use them to create new revenue streams.  What relationships in my community do we need to start building?  Small steps along our journey.

Class of 2015 enjoying an Pacers game!

Class of 2015 enjoying an Pacers game!

To give our brains a break for solving all our museum conundrums, this week we have gone to a Pacers game.  For many it was our first NBA experience!

Some of us also headed to a local pub for traditional Irish music, while others have set up camp in the Canal room at the hotel creating our own space to hangout, play cards and discuss everything from work to sharing bad pirate jokes!  I am thankful for my classmates – they are a fantastic crew and I am learning just as much through our social time as official class time.

Janna and Deb showing off their team spirit.

Janna and Deb showing off their team spirit.

A Member of the Class of 2013 Reflects…

SHA is a professional development program to be sure. But built within the formal leadership training is time to network and engage with peers in a deep, meaningful way.

On her personal blog, Redeveloping History, Class of 2013 member Melissa Prycer reports on the impact SHA has had on the past two years of her career.1374797_10151852708398460_583809438_n

Here’s a snippet. Be sure and read the full post.

I’m still not completely sure how I feel about Facebook’s memories that pop up unexpectedly in my feed. Over the last two weeks, four of them have been about what I was up to two years ago. I’ve never had Facebook hone in on a year quite like that before. But how on earth does Facebook know that was such a turning point in my life?

Two years ago, I was in an Indianapolis hotel room, alternating between a comfortable bed and a very uncomfortable couch with my roommate, Natalie. Luckily, we became friends almost immediately (which certainly makes sharing close quarters easier!), and now, two years later, I certainly count her among my closest friends

I can’t give credit to all of the good things that have happened in my career and at DHV to SHA two years ago. But I do know that SHA helped build my own confidence in my leadership abilities. I know I gained new tools to analyze and react to new opportunities.And, perhaps most importantly, I gained some pretty amazing friends. I’m the first of my museum educator peers to take the big step into leadership, and I was feeling pretty lonely–the museum world definitely looks different when you’re the boss. Two years ago, I found my people for this stage of my life and career.


We often say that our alumni are the best recruiters for SHA and Melissa’s post gives you an indication why that is so.

Wrapping Up Week 1

By Kajsa Harley

We made it through Week 1 of SHA! After six days of sessions, discussions, and field trips, the class of 2015 wrapped up our week this morning with a facilitated discussion with John Durel. This morning has helped me to process at least some of the many ideas and themes that we’ve covered during the week, and I’ve started to more clearly put some of my ideas into more concrete thoughts, both about leadership and the field in general as well as how this week applies to my work at Hanford Mills Museum in East Meredith, NY.

I left Hanford Mills Museum for SHA in the midst of a slew of planning efforts for 2016, and while the museum has joined AASLH’s StEPS program, we have yet to actually start the process. And now that I’m here at SHA, I can’t think of a better time to be starting a self-assessment program than after completing these three weeks. I have a section of my notebook set aside for ideas from our sessions that I find especially connected to my own work, and the assessment process will be a setting where I can share what I’ve learned as I think critically and collaboratively with my coworkers about Hanford Mills.

This week has been action-packed, and some of my most valuable discussions have also come out of the evenings when our class has been able to unwind and talk informally. I love being able to continue our conversations outside of the formal sessions, especially when the weather is warm enough for us to include a cookout for dinner! I’ve found one of the greatest strengths of this program to be not only the quality of the faculty, but also of my classmates. I’m surrounded by 18 other smart, thoughtful, articulate, and passionate professionals who are as eager as I am to get the most of this program and our time together. And with a statement like that, it’s probably no surprise that my work style tends towards Integrator.


At the beginning of the week we set some goals and talked about why we are attending SHA. I feel like I have already made some great progress in seeing new perspectives, networking and connecting with both classmates and faculty, and gaining clarity in many small ways.  After enjoying a day and a half of some more museum visits and downtime, I’ll be ready to jump back into sessions for Week 2!


Civil War medicine demonstration at the Indiana State Museum – not for the squeamish!

SHA Class of 2015 – Welcome to Indy!

Hello, everyone! My name is Matt Cassady, and I’m from the Minnesota Historical Society and am an excite member of the 2015 SHA class! It’s been a busy first week so far, and I’m sure all of the alumni are interested in our progress, what we’ve seen, and our thoughts on the experience.

I can only speak for myself, and I must admit that when I first arrived on Saturday evening I felt overwhelmed as I heard from my classmates where they work and what they’ve done. Holy cow, I thought, do I really belong here? But very soon I began to feel right at home with my new colleagues as we shared stories of our own trials and tribulations, as well as our hopes for what we’d get out of our experience here in Indianapolis.

At a whirlwind pace, we’ve explored lots of important issues and topics and had great conversations, both in the classroom and over a pint at local eateries. Our keynote presentation was give by Burt Logan, the director of the Ohio History Connection. He challenged us to think about how we can be effective leaders, and to take what we learn over the next three weeks and apply it to make our work that much stronger.

Over the next few days we met with SHA faculty who really challenged us to think outside of our proverbial boxes. Susie Wilkening shared recent research on trends in our society and their implications for historical institutions. David Young challenged us to think of ways to make our institutions relevant and essential to our communities. We had lunch with staff of the IHA and learned how they got where they are, and the challenges and opportunities they face. Margo Carlock and Stephan “Zach” Zacharias of NAI joined us to explore ways to use interpretation to connect on a personal level with our guests. We were also joined by Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko who challenged us to think about how colonization is not something that happened in the past, but continues through today, even in the language we use. We followed that up with a visit to the Children’s Museum to see their powerful exhibit, the Power of Children, and to the Indiana Medical Museum to see first-hand the challenges facing that unique institution. Finally, we spent today talking with Barbara Franco and Laura Roberts about how to strategically plan for the future, and how to effect change within our own organizations.

I for one am VERY excited to learn more and to share in this SHA experience with my fellow classmates. Now I feel as though I understand what my friends and colleagues back home meant when they said that SHA can be a transformative experience, because I really do feel different than when I started only a few short days ago. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

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