Category Archives: Change
If you’re fortunate enough to attend Developing History Leaders @SHA you’ll get the chance to learn from some amazing faculty. When I attended SHA in 2009, during the last week one of the presenters was Kent Whitworth, Executive Director of the Kentucky Historical Society.
Kent spoke openly and honestly about communication in the workplace, and how getting everyone on the team rowing the right direction is a key part of a leader’s job. He discussed using meetings to reach this goal, and how he used healthy conflict among the leadership team to improve performance. It was an eye opening day.
That talk changed my life in multiple ways. First, I immediately purchased Patrick Lencioni’s Death by Meeting which transformed how I thought about meetings and their fundamental purpose. After I got home, I told my wife, “I’d like to work for someone like Kent someday.”
Several months later a position opened at the Kentucky Historical Society. I was not looking to move and the timing was terrible, but my wife convinced me that if I did not apply I’d regret it, so I did. I worked for the Kentucky Historical Society for six years before taking my first director & CEO position at the Nebraska State Historical Society in 2016.
Your SHA experience may not be as transformative as mine, but it has the potential to be. That’s part of the reason @SHA is such an incredible opportunity.
Trevor Jones is Director/CEO of the Nebraska State Historical Society. He is a member of the SHA Class of 2009.
By the time I attended what is now Developing History Leaders @ the Seminar for Historical Administration in 2005, the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites had been through 6 different CEOs in 7 years. In our final exercise as a class, the great history leader, Denny O’Toole, lead us in a conversation regarding what we, as a class, felt were the 5 best characteristics of a good leader.
3. Big Picture Thinker
2. Communication Skills, particular listening
As you might imagine, I took special note of these, writing them down and posting on the wall in my office immediately afterwards where it has stayed ever since (yes literally for going on 12 years now).
The ISMHS was caught in a whirlpool. Not only was the institution floundering, but the staff, especially those of us who had endured the revolving door of leadership, was worn down and spinning in slow circles. Before the spinning stopped, we had 8 leadership changes in 9 years. Luckily, our collective stakeholders finally became aware of what was needed and the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites has come roaring out of the tail spin, moving forward with renewed vigor.
The author’s office wall with its many inspirational quotes and various facts. The 5 characteristics of a great leader as determined by the SHA class of 2005 are circled in red.
A series of challenges were overcome to get us where we are today. Like many similar state institutions, the history of the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites is long and complex. The museum was established in 1869 and state historic sites established beginning in 1917 and continuing throughout the 20th century. A move to the former Indianapolis City Hall in 1967 brought the museum and sites together based on their basic missions of collecting and preserving. Then, in 2002, the State of Indiana built and opened a new state museum building (the first in the state’s history built for that specific purpose). The opening required immense paradigm shifts: quadrupling our exhibition space, moving massive collections, dealing with a sudden, much larger public profile in the Indianapolis cultural arena and adding needed staff, along with everything else that went with such a change.
The Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana
One of the changes anticipated with the building’s opening was a transition from a state agency to that of a quasi-governmental entity, allowing flexibility for such common museum practices such as rental of traveling exhibitions, funds generated from deaccessions used for artifact acquisitions, etc. However, the attempts to create this quasi-governmental entity proved more challenging than anticipated.
In 2009, ISMHS stakeholders began to realize that the struggle required someone who had both an understanding of Indiana’s political landscape as well as extensive fundraising and organizational skills. The selection of Tom King, former CEO with the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and also recently retired president of the omnipresent (at least to the Hoosier State) nonprofit, Lilly Foundation, was an extremely wise choice. He worked first to build the board, using extensive communications skills and sharing his larger, long term goals and then establishing a core group of invested and interested individuals from around the state. He firmly and forcefully showed his integrity by ensuring all aspects of the ISMHS were properly represented.
Then came the successful legislation in 2011 that established the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites Corporation, as “a public body, corporate and politic.” To say that lots of careful thought and effort went into establishing the corporation is not even half of it. We thoroughly and carefully examined every word, punctuation mark, and so on: from careful wording of what constitutes a quorum to the definitions to the abilities of the corporation. Once again, Tom demonstrated all of these characteristics in that process. And then the real work began…
Very soon after we became a corporation work began on INvision, a capital campaign for the State’s Bicentennial in 2016 and for the museum’s sesquicentennial in 2019. It was no small effort with a $17 million goal, major rehabilitation of the permanent galleries at the Indiana State Museum, and a large project at each of the 11 State Historic Sites. But we are moving forward confidently and surely into the institution’s next chapter. When Tom King retires from the ISMHS this spring, he will have brought about all this transition, this turnaround, through his strong, steady, and sure leadership. With our board, he will also have helped hand pick his successor. He has done all this with integrity, passion, humility, great listening skillsm and by thinking very big about what the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites could be. Unsurprisingly, those 5 characteristics of a great leader that my SHA Class of 2005 identified all those years ago.
A new day dawned Dec. 8, 2016, for the Levi and Catharine Coffin State Historic Site when the ribbon was cut to open the visitor center there. The white building in the photo is the visitor center sitting just north of the Levi and Catharine Coffin Home. The project was one of the highest profile in the ISMHS’ INvision campaign.
Laura Minzes is Associate Vice President of Historic Sites, Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites Corporation and a proud member of the SHA Class of 2005.
Periodically, I take out the massive binder that I received my first day at Developing History Leaders @SHA in October of 2012. As my desk groans under its weight, I flip through its pages and look for answers to questions that although may be appearing for the first time for me, have been raised since the first year of SHA – and probably for as long as museums have existed. On this particular day, I turned to the section entitled “Visioning for Impact.” I looked over the article written by (the now sadly retired) John Durel and I reflected on a few of the questions he posed when trying to identify an institution’s core purpose:
“Why does your museum exist? Why is it important? Why bother?”
When I had first arrived at SHA I couldn’t have answered any of those questions. I was in a unique position in that I hadn’t worked a single day at my institution yet. Some time between getting accepted into SHA and arriving on that first day, I had quit my job as Executive Director of the Queens Historical Society in Flushing, NY, and accepted a position at the Kupferberg Holocaust Center (KHC) at Queensborough Community College in Bayside, NY. The three weeks in Indianapolis was the transition period between what would be two varied parts of my employment history. While a historical society based in a landmarked house is very different from a Holocaust resource center on a college campus, I feel that no matter where you are and what aspect of history you are preserving, it all comes down to telling a good story. When you are passionate about history, it’s contagious. And if you are somehow able to show your visitor how this history impacted you – then they can be impacted as well.
My “a-ha” moment took place in July of 2015. A friend from high school, who I hadn’t spoken to in years, contacted me through Facebook about a unique object she had found. Jillian, who deals vintage clothing and jewelry as a hobby, went to an estate sale in the suburbs of NYC. In the back of a walk in closet, buried among a lifetime’s worth of clothing, was a striped jacket. She quickly purchased it amid a few other pieces for $10, and when she looked at the jacket once outside in her car, her suspicions were confirmed. The blue and gray stripes, the years of dirt, the distinctive numbers written on the left breast – it appeared to be the jacket of a concentration camp uniform. When she sent me the photos I was stunned that she could have potentially found something this rare at a yard sale. Immediately I thought of the Dachau Concentration Camp, where I had seen photos that showed similar uniform patterns. With that tiny bit of information, Jillian cross-referenced the number on the jacket with an online Dachau prisoner database and she got a name – Benzion Peresecki. She looked up the name of the homeowner from the estate sale – Ben Peres, a name too similar to the prisoner not to be connected.
Jillian donated the jacket to the KHC and that’s when our research truly began. The first step however, was contacting the family running the estate sale to confirm its authenticity and to find out how something this precious might have been overlooked. When we got the owner on the phone she was in disbelief. Lorrie, the daughter of Ben Peres, born Benzion Peresecki in Lithuania in 1926 and died in 1978 of a stroke, was in fact a Holocaust survivor who had been imprisoned at Dachau. But Lorrie was unaware of the jacket’s existence or any other material connected to the Holocaust because her father never spoke of his experience. When we invited her to the Center to see the jacket for herself, she was stunned. Lorrie was surprised that the jacket existed, and overwhelmingly grateful that Jillian happened to discover it and donate it to the Center before it was discarded with other old clothing.
Lorrie was so moved that she returned a few weeks later with over 1,500 documents, photographs, passports, home movies, and other materials that had belonged to her father that she found in the house they were in the process of selling. A story came together. Benzion Peresecki/Prisoner 84679/Ben Peres became one person who lived three very different lives. With the jacket and all these archival materials from Lorrie, we were able to launch an exhibition here at the Center in October 2016 that tells the story of the Holocaust through one man’s unique journey. Every time I give a tour of the exhibit I feel personally connected to Ben Peres, and I know that this is conveyed to the visitor. I feel privileged to have played even a small role in this project’s coming to fruition.
Now, just over four years after attending SHA, I can now easily answer those seemingly “basic” questions about my institution. There’s the more technical answer – To show the community the significance of past genocides, the dangers of prejudice that remain today, and inspire them to become advocates for social change. But then there’s the more personal answer – to remind ourselves that every story of the Holocaust or any human rights violations is our story as well. No matter our race, religion, nationality, when one human suffers, we all do. The more time I spend at the KHC, the more I realize how important it is for this Center to exist and how as an educator, I can impact the lives of visitors through connections made from primary sources.
Throughout your careers in museums, archives, historic houses, and any other type of institution that works to preserve history, you will have many questions. The beauty of having participated in SHA is that you will always be able to find someone who has dealt with that same question at some point or who can point you in the right direction. And you can always take out that huge binder.
Marisa (Berman) Hollywood (SHA ‘12) is the Assistant Director of the Kupferberg Holocaust Center at Queensborough Community College – CUNY in Queens, NY. A doctoral student of English at St. John’s University, she is a museum professional and historian specializing in Cultural Studies, Costume and Textile History, Museology, and Historic Preservation. Always seeking new and innovative ways to get people interested in their local history, she has written two recent books about Long Island history.
The Jacket from Dachau: One Survivor’s Search for Justice, Identity, and Home is on view at the Kupferberg Holocaust Center through June 2015. For more information about the exhibit, click here or check out this video about the story of the jacket’s discovery.
The Journey from Thought to Action
Chris Goodlett, SHA Class of 2016
It’s been about a week and half since I returned from SHA. I think about the experience daily and am still coping with the challenge of how to turn thought and discussion into action at my own institution, the Kentucky Derby Museum. Returning to the office during a holiday week allowed some time for reflection, and I spent ample time reviewing things. I went back and listened to the keynote address by John Fleming. I found myself adding key details to my synopsis of his discussion on implicit bias. I reviewed other presentations as well and again found details that I had missed.
Of course, as great as it is to return to the experience that is SHA, at some point you have to think about what it means for your institution. I have an advantage as we are currently going through strategic planning. What better time to introduce some of the concepts I learned from faculty and peers at SHA. Presenting the ideas as action items is the first challenge. As my fellow SHA graduates can attest, your head is swimming with ideas after your three weeks away, and you need to find ways to translate these into something measurable.
Of the many ideas I brought back from SHA, one I keep returning to is community outreach. As I listened to faculty discuss history relevance and asking “so what?” and “for whom?” I felt that KDM can be more intentional in asking these questions in its community. As an entity that looks at the history and culture surrounding an iconic American sporting event, the citizens of Kentucky commemorate the Derby in unique ways. Many SHA faculty related stories of how engaging potential audiences with stories relevant to them transformed their institutions, and it’s my hope that KDM can engage the surrounding community with similar results.
That’s just one small, but important, idea to start. I hope to be able to report successes on the road to relevance. I’m very interested in learning about the efforts of my fellow SHA 2016 alums, as well as others who have taken ideas and thoughts from SHA and turned them into action.
Developing History Leaders @SHA gets underway at the end of this week. The Class of 2015 will gather in Indianapolis to begin three weeks of learning and dialogue about the many ways we bring history to communities across the country. A distinguishing characteristic of this year’s class is its geographic spread, with greater representation from the West than is usually the case. This class includes students from Texas, California, Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, and the Yukon Territory in Canada.
While in Santa Fe last week visiting our son, Anita and I had the pleasure of having breakfast with Denny and Trudy O’Toole. For those who don’t know, Denny was the coordinator of SHA prior to my taking the position in 2010. The O’Toole scholarship is named in his honor. Denny was a leader in our field for decades, and inspired and influenced many who now lead and work in history organizations. It has been an honor for me to follow in his footsteps.
Denny was eager to hear about the 2015 class. We talked about what has changed, and what has not, since he passed the baton. Some faculty continue to serve – Conny Graft on evaluation, Barbara Franco and Laura Roberts on organizational change, Kent Whitworth on team building – and we continue to engage with many of the same local organizations – the Indiana Medical History Museum, the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, the Eiteljorg Museum, and Conner Prairie, where we will again participate in “Follow the North Star.” John Herbst and the amazing staff at the Indiana Historical Society continue to host the seminar and provide invaluable support.
Of course, much has changed. Every year there are a few new topics in response to student suggestions and emerging new practices. This year, building on changes made over the past two or three years, we will place emphasis on historical interpretation of contested history. David Young from Cliveden of the National Trust will frame the issues by addressing the role of public history in communities today; Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko from the Abby Museum will present her approach to decolonization in working with the native peoples of Maine; and Sarah Pharaon from the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience will engage the students in methods of dialogue when addressing difficult topics.
We will also continue to tackle the basic challenges of leadership of history organizations: building financially sustainable organizations, stewarding collections, engaging communities, and leading change. Also, a number of the faculty have been involved in the History Relevance Campaign, so we’ll have frequent discussions about the value of history in contemporary life.
I’m really looking forward to seeing what this year’s class thinks and has to say about public history and the work we do to bring history to people in our communities. See you in Indy!
Getting to be a Habit
By Rachel Abbott & Jacqueline Langholtz
Habit: A settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.
They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. By the time we head back home on Saturday we will have been here in Indianapolis for 21 days. Coincidence? Yes, but an interesting one when reflecting on our time here so far and anticipating the return home.
By coming to SHA, what were we telling ourselves we were going to try for 21 days? What habits were we hoping to form?
1. Practicing reflection & self-examination.
RA: Since being here I’ve gotten in the habit of asking “why?” a lot. “Why are we doing it this way?” “Why do you say that?” “Why are we struggling to accomplish our goals?” Seeing so many different strategies, styles and models has made me even more aware than I was before that we have options. We can choose to shift focus, to take risks and even to let some things go. It’s been incredibly useful and beneficial to look at my organization with a critical eye and I hope I can continue to do that.
2. Asking for help.
RA: I wanted to come to SHA and learn as much as possible from everyone. I wanted to ask my classmates questions, ask our speakers questions, ask local museum leaders questions. I wanted to get into this habit in order to squeeze as much professional development juice out of this experience as I could. And now I find myself hoping that this is a new habit, a new way of working. I work with experts in my “real life” too, and I could be doing a better job of asking them questions and learning from them every day.
3. Going outside our comfort zones.
JCL: Participating in SHA requires taking risks, showing vulnerability, trying the unknown, and trusting in others. Many days have been spent immersed in areas of the field that are foreign and unfamiliar territory: developing a case for support, making a fundraising pitch, strategic planning, creating an entrepreneurial venture plan, and more. A phrase we’ve heard echoed throughout SHA is if you’re feeling uncomfortable you’re doing it right. The hardest seminar days included their fair share of discomfort – they’ve also yielded the most growth, both individually and for our group. It’s easy to do what you’re already good at, avoiding both discomfort and growth. Two weeks into SHA, our class is finding that growing pains are worth it.
4. Focusing on the necessary.
RA: I hoped that being removed from day-to-day work would bring priorities into sharper focus. By stopping everything I would see that some things are more critical than others. We’ve been talking about the importance of the field of history being seen as necessary rather than just nice. I hope that when I get back to work I’ll be better equipped to let go of the activities that might just be nice in order to focus on the things that are most necessary.
5. Nurturing relationships.
RA: Both Jacqueline and I are very social people at home. We prioritize the relationships and community-building in our lives. So we wanted to maintain those habits at SHA. But we also hoped to do a better job of focusing on the people right in front of us. Here in Indy our social circle is always right in front of us. And I think it’s been great practice in not spreading ourselves too thin while still maintaining relationships. Hopefully we can take this habit home with us.
6. Nurturing ourselves.
JCL: Both of us came to SHA with personal habits we wanted to start, something we bonded over early on. While here, we’ve both made daily workouts a priority, Rachel now starts her day an hour earlier than usual, and I’ve abstained from eating meat. These might sound more like lifestyle choices than seminar work, but the intention is aligning “best self” with “best work” and recognizing that the two go hand in hand. It will take discipline to continue the many habits we’ve started here, and may mean creating new boundaries and structure once home. It can feel selfish to make yourself a priority; you may need to say no to others in order to say yes to yourself. After SHA, I plan to do more to protect that balance.
Typically our jobs are about setting and accomplishing goals. Attending SHA, however, is much more about forming new habits that we hope will make us more productive, efficient and effective leaders. We came into this experience with hopes to establish some new habits and now, after 21 days, we may have laid the groundwork. Some bad habits are waning and better habits are taking shape. But returning home is the real test. That’s when we’ll see whether the habits stuck, when we can choose to continue these habits or not.
We know we’ll encounter some triggers – challenges that might cause us to revert to and accept our own old habits. Institutional inertia. Difficulty in communication. Disagreements over priorities. Hearing the word no.
While we hope that the 21 day rule is real and that our new habits have taken root, we’re confident this experience has given us the tools and support to keep working at it.
Rachel Abbott is the Program Associate for Historic Sites and Museums at the Minnesota Historical Society. Jacqueline Langholtz is the Manager of School & Group Programs at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Both hope the habit of working together will last long past their stay in Indy.
Today begins the 2014 Class of Developing History Leaders @SHA. Twenty-one public history practitioners from across the nation have gathered in Indianapolis to learn from leaders, and from one another, about changes that are occurring in our field. Increasingly history organizations are finding ways to be more relevant to the people in their communities, states, the nation and the world. Innovative and courageous leaders are addressing tough issues, as the world around us continues to change.
First up will be Jan Gallimore, Executive Director of the Idaho State Historical Society, who will discuss the challenges she has faced in getting her organization “to the table” at the state level, in helping state leaders to address issues of education and economic development. So often history is left out of discussions about the big issues confronting our communities. History is viewed as something nice to have, but not especially useful when it comes to improving the lives of people. This has to change.
Tomorrow David Young from Cliveden will engage the class in thinking about some of the critical and tough issues facing their communities, and how history can be part of the solution, using his own experience in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia.
But wait a minute, why do we have to change? Can’t we continue to operate our organizations as we always have, caring for the historic collections and buildings, sharing our expert knowledge through exhibitions and publications, and inviting the public to do research and enjoy events at our places? Tomorrow afternoon Susie Wilkening from Reach Advisors will discuss changes external to our field that compel us to change: demographic and economic trends, changing views of the value of museums, new philanthropic priorities, changing expectations of the public regarding leisure and education, and more. Institutions that don’t change will be left behind.
On Tuesday Tim Grove from the National Air and Space Museum and Jamie Glavic from the Ohio Historical Society will present changes in technology. In this case we have begun to embrace change as younger people have entered the field. Tim and Jamie will help us understand what is happening and what is coming in technology.
Stay tuned for more blog posts over the next three weeks.
Developing History Leaders @SHA is for public history practitioners who are ready to improve their knowledge and skills for leadership in a world that is changing rapidly. The forces of change – technological, economic, demographic, cultural – demand a response. To remain vibrant, history organizations must find new ways to serve the public and steward their collections. There is no single way to do this. Rather, leaders must create environments where staffs can be innovative and responsive to the needs and aspirations of the communities they serve.
This year’s seminar will offer many opportunities to learn and discuss the many challenges we face. We’ll see how current leaders are setting new directions and managing change in their organizations. We will also look at fundamentals, such as how to raise money, how to measure impact, and how to lead change in your organization when you’re not the boss.
To set the stage for our discussions, Janet Gallimore from the Idaho State Historical Society will give the keynote. She has been one of the leaders of the History Relevance Campaign, which originated in a conversation over dinner at the seminar in 2012. What started out as informal discussions has become a broader network of individuals who desire to elevate the value and position of history and its inherent skills in the United States. The intent is to serve as a catalyst for discovering, demonstrating, and promulgating the relevance of history for individuals, communities, and the nation.
New this year will be sessions by Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, Executive Director of the Abbe Museum, on principles and practices of leadership that foster meaningful engagement in the life of a community; Sarah Pharaon from the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience on using historic places to facilitate understanding and dialogue on issues of social justice; and Susan West Montgomery from the National Trust on what role your organization can play in helping to save historic places in your community and region.
It’s an exciting time to be working in history organizations – to be preserving the past and using history to benefit others. So if you want to ready yourself to be a leader in our field – whether as an executive director or as head of a major function – then I urge you to apply. There is no better way to further your career.
John Durel, Coordinator, DHL@SHA
Applications for SHA are due Monday, May 19. For more information, click here.
I recall in 2010, my first year as coordinator of Developing History Leaders @SHA, a student showed me an email she had received. She was the director of a local historical society, and the email concerned a local historic building that was threatened with demolition. Her question for me was: should she do anything, and if so, what could she do? Her hands were already full managing the historical society, and the property developer was one of her donors.
This incident led to a new session last year, offered by Brent Leggs of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, on ways to assist grassroots preservation efforts. Members of the class made contact with Reverend Cory Grady, pastor of Bethel AME Church, which is only a block from the Indiana Historical Society where the seminar meets. Brent adapted his session to include a tour of the historic church, and a discussion with Rev. Grady about his efforts to preserve it. It was great “on the ground” learning.
The National Trust is one of our Partner organizations, and for many years has provided funds that have made this program possible. This year we are fortunate that the Trust’s annual meeting is in Indianapolis during the first week of the seminar. We are planning to have the students attend a portion of the conference to learn about preservation issues.
Also, Estevan Rael-Galvez, Senior Vice President of Historic Sites, will join the seminar faculty and lead a session on “Re-Imagining Historic House Museums,” a project funded by the Innovation Lab for Museums. The Innovation Lab is a program of the American Alliance of Museums, another one of our partners. The funding is enabling the Trust to prototype innovative approaches to historic site sustainability, stewardship, and programming.
The seminar continues to evolve in response to issues and trends facing our field. If you work in a history organization – a museum, historical society, archive, historic site, preservation organization, etc. – and you see yourself as a leader, the seminar is the best way for you to advance your knowledge, skills, and network. If you are the executive director of a history organization, consider sending one of your star performers. It’s the best investment you can make in leadership development.
Click here to get application guidelines. The deadline for submitting applications is May 13, 2013.