Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Aspiring, Thriving, or Struggling Changemaker? Join us for MuseumCamp 2016.

Each summer, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History hosts MuseumCamp, a professional development experience that is part retreat, part unconference, part adult summer camp.

MuseumCamp will be August 31-September 2, 2016. This year's theme is CHANGEMAKERS. We will host 100 diverse people who are making change in the world, our communities, and our institutions for 2.5 days of fun, fellowship, and active learning. Whether you are dreaming about change, making it happen, or have faded battle scars to share, we want you here this year.

As always, MuseumCamp will be a high-energy, all-in experience... with enough downtime for introverts, too. The 2.5 days include lightning talks from campers, team design bursts to tackle your thorniest change challenges, MAH community programming, movement and meditation, delicious food, and late-night conversations. Yes you can sleep at the museum. Yes you can swim with sea lions. Yes you can--and will--learn things about yourself and your work that surprise and enrich you.

We're proud that MuseumCamp brings together a very diverse group by design--campers are 50% people of color, and 50% people from outside museums/visual arts institutions. You do NOT need to work in a museum to attend... and we especially want you to apply if you are making creative change in the civic, social, political, environmental, or economic sphere.

The MuseumCamp website has more information about this year's camp and how to apply. It also has testimonials from past campers and information on past years to help you get a sense of the experience.

MuseumCamp is for activists. For designers. For knowledge workers. For people on the front lines. For managers. For creative types. For anyone seeking to make positive change in your community. If you are interested in applying to attend camp, please check out the site and fill out an application today. We will accept applications through March 25 and inform people of selections in early April. Space is extremely limited and the process is competitive. I encourage you to apply soon.

And please, help make space for others by spreading the word. Many campers share that the best part of the experience is the diversity of campers. The strength of our experience together is partly based on the opportunity to come together across different disciplines and perspectives, and we want to continue pushing for that. In that spirit, we would especially love for you to apply if you:
  • identify as a gender other than female 
  • identify as a person of color 
  • are over 50
  • work in a field that is not visual arts/museums 
While MuseumCamp has a registration cost (sliding scale $150-$250), we work with sponsors to underwrite all scholarship requests. Most sponsors are amazing companies serving museums, libraries, performing arts organizations, and grassroots community organizations. If you are interested in helping provide financial aid for this amazing event, you'll be in good company. Thanks in advance for considering it.

Want to make a change? Please apply now to MuseumCamp--and if you have a friend who you think would love this, encourage them to apply too. Let's make creative change together.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

One Simple Question to Make Your Work More Participatory

Photo by CLoƩ Zarifian, MAH Photo Intern
We're working with a guest curator, Wes Modes, on an upcoming experimental project at our museum. Wes is an artist, and this is his first time running a museum exhibition development process. In a recent meeting about the exhibition process, Wes asked me: what am I not thinking of that I should be doing?

I said to him: I can't really answer that question. I'm sure you're thinking of a lot of steps to make this process work, and many more tasks will arise. The key question is, every step of the way: how can you invite people beyond yourself to help make this step better?

This is the question I ask myself anytime I'm working on something with a participatory intent. How can people--staff, volunteers, community members--help make this project better?   

In the case of the exhibition process that Wes is leading, we talked about how others could be involved in an experimental exhibition/residency in which artists work with visitors in the gallery. The obvious start was to think about how we recruit the artists--using an open call to invite anyone, anywhere to participate. But even developing that open call was a participatory process:
  • Wes worked with other staff to think through how the residencies could work. Their input helped shape the entire project, which in turn shaped the call.
  • He asked staff and artist friends for feedback on the concept. Their input helped shape the messaging of the project and the key questions to be answered in the call.
  • Once the call was 95% ready, Wes circulated it to a small group of existing museum partners and artists for feedback. Their input helped us get to 100%, and it created a group of invested collaborators who were ready to help spread the word once the call was live.
  • Once the call was ready, Wes circulated it to even more museum partners, as well as to artist listservs and our general membership. These people were both potential participants and promoters of the call, helping it continue to spread.
All of these steps helped make for a better call to artists, one that has gotten way more response than I ever expected.

This open call project may sound like one that is uniquely suited for participatory input. But I find that the more I live with that question of how others can make something better, the more naturally it infuses all kinds of work at our museum. Developing new staff policies. Prototyping all gender bathrooms. Creating an event or exhibit. All of these activities involve ongoing collaboration and co-creation with people beyond the staff member(s) responsible.

How can people help make your project better? Here are a few tips to asking this question successfully:
  • ask the whole question. It's not just a question of how people could get involved or participate. It's a question of how they can make it BETTER. You can always come up with ways people could participate. But if those approaches require a lot of time or effort and don't improve the result, they're a waste. Be generous and creative about what "better" could look like, but hold onto that goal. That way, you'll build a virtuous cycle where you keep wanting to find opportunities for participation to continue improving your work.
  • share your work. It's impossible to ask this question if you work so close to the chest that no one can even see what you are doing, let alone get involved. Inviting starts with sharing. Share what you are doing, the questions you have, the things you're unsure of, and you'll naturally encounter people who want to help make it better. This takes confidence in sharing half-baked ideas, and also the time to type them out, circulate them, have a meeting, etc. It's part of a culture of learning and curiosity--something I hope that museums can embody.
  • define "people" in the way that works for you. At my museum, the people who participate may be staff, volunteers, community members, organizational partners, Facebook folk... it depends on the project or task at hand. It's always good to start closest to home. Ask your colleagues. Ask your friends. And then as you build confidence in their ability to help make your work better, you can start inviting participants who are further from your comfort zone.
How are you inviting other people to help make your work better?

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