Hi Folks. Long Time No Blog.
The subject of today’s blog may seem strange at first but I hope you will read on. Nik Honeysett and I had an interesting gig this week. We were invited by the U.S. Army to present a session entitled “Hidden Treasures: Marketing Your Collections to Meet the Mission, Challenges, and Opportunities in the 21st Century” at the 2007 Annual U.S. Army Museum System Training Course held in Lafayetteville, NC, home of Ft. Bragg.
This week long meeting, held annually (duh Holly it’s in the title) is now in it’s 35th year. Representatives from U.S. Army Museums and installations gather–as many of the sub-groups in the museum community gather–to compare notes, learn from the field, and find comaradery with people who do similiar jobs under similar conditions.
I don’t carelessly use the phrase “paradigm shift” because I think museums have already made the term jargony and have applied it to minor issues when it is really meant to describe a situation in which you suddenly see the world from a totally different perspective. I have experienced a paradigm shift in the past couple of weeks as I prepared for this session and then had it fully brought to me after spending two days with the attendees at the course. Like many of us they are museum professionals–curators, collections managment specialists, subject specialists, and directors–but the world they live and work in is very different from the one I inhabit as a museum professional at one of the country’s larger art museums.
Here’s a few solid facts for those of you who think that you are over-worked and under-staffed.
1) Active Army employs slightly more than 200 full-time civilians in 58 museums world wide
2) This full-time staffing is supplemented by 500 volunteers as well as occasional military personnel, contract employees, and part-time help
3) Total over half a million pieces of historical property (and growing) with individual collections ranging from a few hundred artifacts to more than 40,000
That, my friends, is a significantly small number of extremely dedicated individuals doing their best to preserve their part of the cultural heritage of the United States. However you feel personally about the military, wars, or governments–these are museum professionals just like you trying to deal with issues of increasing complexity in their jobs as they come to grips with the impact of new technologies on the field and a primary audience (the mission of these institutions is to educate the current active military on the history of the U.S. Army) who are almost without exception digital natives.
Now, having said that, I don’t think I could possibly be prouder of my newly-discovered group of colleagues than I was at the end of the conference banquet. After a lovely dinner we were entertained by the 82nd Airbourne Chorus (here’s a link, not to our event, but to them performing at another event http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8695306014152499727) — all these men are active paratroopers in addition to chorus members. Afterwards, General James J. Lindsay gave both an interesting and moving talk about the joint efforts of the military and civilian communities at Fort Bragg and LaFayetteville to build the striking The Airborne and Special Operations Museum ( http://www.asomf.org/index.php).
The evening closed with the presentation of awards–small but welcome financial awards, to several museums for outreach projects and joint projects–presented by Emma-Jo L. Davis, who headed the U.S. Army Museums for many years. She offered the attendees three pieces of advice which I thought were useful, not just for U.S. Army Museums but for all museum professionals. And her words were addressed to a community that she well knows take their duties and cultural stewards very much to heart. A community that has understood and internalized it’s overall mission.
Her advice is simple and speaks to all of us:
1) Do your job flawlessly. Don’t whine.
2) Increase your direct contact with your primary audience.
3) Be a bridge to your community.
To the active and retired officers and enlisted military personel and to the civilian museum professionals who attended this week-long session, Ladies and Gentlemen. It was an honor to meet you. Whatever you may have learned from me was not nearly as much as I learned from you all. Keep up the good work.