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Your Guide to the Future at the 2013 Alliance Annual Meeting

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

Once again, I’m sharing a selection of futurist picks for the upcoming Alliance annual meeting. The advance registration deadline is April 26, so if you are not signed up yet, jump online!

First, an overview of what CFM is up to in Baltimore (besides the sessions mentioned in my list below):

  • We are hosting a 3-D Digital Scanning and Printing Demonstration in the Alliance Showcase in MuseumExpo. With equipment loaned by MakerBot Industries, and the help of staff from the Art Institute of Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, New Mexico Highlands University, and others we will be exploring this emerging technology profiled in CFM’s TrendsWatch 2013 report and how it may shape museum research, conservation, packing & shipping, exhibit production and public engagement. The demo will be operating during the open hours of MuseumExpo. (We would welcome more volunteers to help with the demo—for more information email me.)
  • I’ll be interviewing Rob Walker, co-instigator of the brilliant Significant Objects project, on Tuesday, May 21, from 10:15–11:30 a.m. Museum folk know objects derive their power from the stories associated with them. What if those stories are fictional?  Rob and his colleague, Joshua Glenn, invited master storytellers (best-selling novelists, television writers, comedians, up-and-coming literary talents) to create stories for “insignificant” objects acquired at thrift shops and yard sales, and then tracked how these stories increased the objects’ value when they were resold. What lessons can museums learn from this escapade?
  • Liz Dreyer and Richard Evans will offer applicant counseling for museums interested in applying for funding in round 3 of the MetLife-funded Innovation Lab for Museums, a joint project of CFM and their organization, EmcArts. (Contact Liz to set up a time.)

Now, on to the featured sessions.

This year, CFM is offering these session recommendations with a twist: LearningTimes, sponsor of the 2013 CFM Digital Badging experiment, will use a mobile app called Credly to offer digital credentials for participation in live events. Interested in helping us try it out? Here’s the deal: if you download the app, attend any of the recommended sessions and submit a brief and pithy insight summarizing what you heard, you’ll earn credit towards a CFM Badge. (The badge can be shared with your employer, included on your digital resume or on social media or on your blog or institutional web site.) I’ll draw on your insights for a blog post reporting out on the annual meeting. You can get a head start by creating an account at

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A future blog post will give instructions on how to participate in badging at the meeting, but for now, check out this year’s futurist picks:



2 p.m. 


Embracing Access for All: Children with Autism and Museum Experiences. In an increasingly neuro-diverse future, museums have the opportunity to create experiences tailored to audiences with a variety of particular needs. Presenters include staff from the Warhol Museum, Dallas Museum of Art, Walters Art Museum as well as a researcher from Johns Hopkins.

Museum Teen Summit: Teens Share Expert Advice. Who better to tell us how teens can use museums to build their own personal learning platforms than teens themselves? Marit Dewhurst, associate professor of Art & Museum Ed at the City College CUNY Art History and Museum Studies Program, moderates the discussion by 10 teen presenters.

3:30 p.m.

2012 Horizon Report Museum Edition. If you aren’t familiar with this annual forecast of  emerging technologies, and their potential impact on and use in museum education and interpretation, well, you should be. Join Alex Freeman and Holly Witchey for a showcase of micro-presentations projects utilizing new technologies highlighted in this year’s report.

Or, in this same time slot, you can choose between two sessions on participatory engagement:

Democratization of Content in Art Museums, sharing lessons from projects at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, Wis.


If You Build It…Creating Community Space in the Museum chaired by all-round smart cookie and small-museum maven, Janice Klein.


8:45 a.m.

TrendsWatch 2013 (CFM Session)—Phil Katz and I romp through a brief overview of CFM’s new trend report, punctuated by examples that have come up since we published it all of two months ago (by the time of the session).

Museums and Homeschool Learners: A Story in the Making. Did you know the number of children being homeschooled in the U.S. is comparable to the number who attend charter schools? And yet charter schools seem to get all the attention. When it comes to forecasting the future of education, I think there is as much, or more, to learn from people who have opted out of the public education system as from those trying to innovate from within.

Shared Guardianship and the Future of Collecting in Museums. This looks like it will be an interesting glimpse at a new model for shared ownership of 21st century museum collections. The program description says the session will examine recent news in repatriation, digitization and joint purchases that may be early signals of a significant trend.

1:45 p.m.

Ethics Smackdown. This debate, moderated by Sally Yerkovich (direct of the Institute for Museum Ethics) grew out of the Forecast of the Future of Museum Ethics CFM coordinated for IME last year. Two champions from the museum field will square off over the resolution “Whereas, cultural, financial, technological and political trends are changing the world in which museums operate, American museums should revisit the Code of Ethics for Museums and relax the restriction on the use of funds from the sale of deaccessioned collections.” Your vote on who wins the debate may influence whether and how our field tackles revisions to the Code.

No Walls? No Problem: Taking your Mission to the Streets. How can I resist a session that riffs on the “pop-up culture” trend we featured in TrendsWatch 2012? Staff from the Wolfsonian at FIU, the Sandy Spring Museum and the Chandler Museum share stories of taking their mission beyond the museum walls.

3:30 p.m.

The Inclusive Museum and Active Citizenship Forum. For those interested in continuing to explore the challenges CFM described in Demographic Transformation and the Future of Museums.


8:45 a.m.

On the Road: Two Years of a Teacher Training Program. How can museums scale up their educational impact to be major players in the American learning landscape? One promising avenue: train the trainers. This session looks at the National Museum of American History’s national teacher training programs.

Rethinking Museum Membership: How Participation and Philanthropy can Impact Visitor Engagement. I’ve been watching with interest the Dallas Museum of Art’s experiment combining membership, gamification and digital badging to create a new economic model for members and income. This is your chance to hear about it first hand from DMA staff.

10:15 a.m.

Diversifying the Museum Field: Transdisciplinary Education for Museum Professionals and Students. You may have read one of my soap box rants about the need for museums to develop non-traditional pipelines if they truly want to build more diverse staff. From the description, sounds like this session may explore one such experiment, a collaboration between Morgan State University’s Center for Museums and Historical Preservation and the James E. Lewis Museum of Art.

1:45 p.m.

Keeping Museums Young: Best Practices for Out-of-School Teen Programming. See all my notes above on the importance of exploring the future of education! This looks like another good session on that theme.

Magnificent Masters of Museum Mysteries: Narrative Games in Museum Contexts. In CFM’s inaugural lecture, Dr. Jane McGonigal contended that “Gaming is the Future of Museums.” In this session staff from the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art share how their organizations used narrative games to bring their collections to life.  If you miss this, (or want to explore the topic in more depth) check out the session in the next time slot:

3:15 p.m.

Gamification and Museums. I can’t tell for sure from the description, but it sounds like this might take a more general approach to using the principles of games design to make compelling museum experiments, not just games per se.

Magnetic Museums: Stories of Engagement. Phil and I highly recommend! Beth Tuttle and Anne Bergeron will share results from their research into the factors that combine to create high-performing museums.

City History Museums: Canaries in a Coal Mine. This session promises to explore “hybrid institutions that are part community center, part contemporary art space, part digital information hub and part city plaza.” I approve, as I’m in favor of museums getting over their rigid concepts of self-identity and doing what needs to be done.


8:45 a.m.

Direct Care: Pushing the Exterior Envelope. For those of you who don’t recognize the phrase, “direct care” are the waffle words the AAM Code of Ethics uses to delineate the allowed use of funds from deaccessioning, if a museum isn’t going to use those funds to buy more stuff. This could be a good follow-up for those of you who come away undecided from the Ethics Smackdown on Monday.

10:15 a.m.

On the Edge: A Museum Talk Show about Risk and Reward. I can sneak this one in under the general CFM charge to encourage risk taking and innovation. But honestly I’m listing it because—a conversation between Kathy McLean and Nina Simon, how can it not be awesome?

Nude Pregnant Women with Animal Heads and Chippendale Chairs. Which gets my vote for best session title of the entire conference. It also happens to be apropos of CFM trendswatching as it explore how Winterthur loosen the grip of curatorial authority a bit, and let artists go behind the scenes to create a special exhibition.

There are many other fabulous sessions, of course, but this is diverse selection complements many of the trends we are following in CFM scanning and research.

When I am not otherwise assigned, I will be in the Alliance Showcase in MuseumExpo, hanging out with the 3-D printing demonstrators. Stop by for a chat—I would love to hear your feedback on the work of CFM, and your ideas for what we might do next.

Yours from the future.


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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for including If You Build It. I've just found out that Angela Ellsworth, Associate Professor of Intermedia in the School of Art at Arizona State University, will be moderating this session. Her classes are focused on Community Engagement and Social Practices as does her own art.
    I'm still moderating the Small(er)(Green(er) session which is for those of us can't even contemplate LEED, but still want to do what we can to improve our museum's environmental footprint.

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