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Navigating a Disrupted Future at #AAM2021

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

How is a talk different from a written report? How is a digital presentation different from its analog kin?

Earlier this week I gave my annual TrendsWatch session at the #AAM2021 virtual conference. As usual, I used the presentation as an opportunity to dig into some points I could only touch on briefly in the report. (Download your free copy!)

This year I also took advantage of the digital format to clone myself by recording the talk in advance. The digital me periodically invited the audience to use the chat feature to contribute thoughts, examples, and opinions related to the topics explored in this year’s forecasting report. The analog me spent the session engaging with attendees around the content. (This was so fun. I wish I could be two people more of the time.)

Another great feature of virtual meetings is—recordings! That means less pressure to choose between competing sessions in a given time slot. Registrants can view the recordings of anything they missed last Monday via the conference platform. And, you can still register to access all the recordings from day one, as well as the sessions that will take place when #AAM2021 resumes June 7–9. That will include keynotes from Bryan Stevenson and Sandra Cisneros, meetups with AAM Professional Networks, and much more.

If you watch the recording of the TrendsWatch session, we can use social media to replicate the Q&A and chat features of the original broadcast. Tag @futureofmuseums on Twitter, or comment on the CFM Facebook post about this blog post (meta!) to share your responses to my prompts in the recorded lecture or ask questions.

On Monday, I spent the most time on chapters 1 (Closing the Gap: Redressing systemic inequalities of wealth and power), 2 (Digital Awakening: Essential strategies for pandemic survival and future success), and 5 (Strategic Foresight: How to survive an era of uncertainty), with a shout out to academic museums (chapter 4: Covid on Campus) and a whirlwind tour of some of the great work museums have done to support the vulnerable in their communities during the past year (chapter 3: Who Get’s Let Behind?)

Here’s an excerpt of the recording:

And here are some teasers of the content (chosen from lines most tweeted/retweeted/commented upon):

  • How two historic events—the 1918 flu and the murder of 17 year-old Eugene Williams on July 27, 1919—may foreshadow the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd.
  • Seth Miller, founder and partner at Fearless Ventures, has said that “every time you spend a dollar you are creating the world you live in.” How can museums use the dollars they spend to create an equitable world?
  • Remote work may be here to stay, and many love it! But if workers disperse to smaller towns around the country because they are untethered from a physical office, will the economies of big cities, and the museums that serve them, be gutted?
  • When people know that their lives, their communities, and the nation would be poorer and more broken without museums, individuals, businesses, donors and the government will make sure museums endure to serve future generations. (That’s my favorite line from the talk!)

Here’s some of the great links, thoughts and ideas shared by participants in response to my prompts:

What issues do you feel TrendsWatch should address in the coming year?

  • Digital literacy and accessibility
  • Changing power structures (and does power always have to be tied to wealth?)
  • Overwork/burnout
  • Museum’s role in addressing structural inequity in education
  • Museums’ role in providing essential services – expanding the scope of “museum work”
  • Decolonizing the narrative
  • Diversifying volunteer and docent staff
  • Operationalizing DEI in practical ways in the museum environment
  • The post-COVID future of urban centers

How has your museum, or other museums, used their assets to promote equity in any facet of our national infrastructure–educational, political, economic or other?

  • Brooklyn Botanic Garden founded a public high school over 15 years ago to help turn around a failing school nearby, Brooklyn Academy of Science & the Environment (BASE). Many students now not only graduate but go on to college.
  • Old Sturbridge Village in MA runs a museum school (Old Sturbridge Academy)
  • The California State Railroad Museum is planning a museum school (read more about that on the CFM Blog)
  • The National Gallery is working with local artists to create materials support the DC Public School system, in addition to providing supplies directly to DCPS students. (See Art Around the Corner.)
  • The entrance plaza of the Denver Art Museum was a voter registration site.
  • The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum serves as a voting site.
  • After 9 months of discussion, the Frist Art Museum shifted 15% of its foundation assets to ESG investments (Investments screened for positive impact on the Environment and Society, and for Good Governance criteria.)

Examples of skeuomorphic design either in everyday design, or in museum practice.  (“Skeuomorphic” means “a derivative object that retains ornamental design cues from structures that were inherent to the original.”)

  • Online VR-exhibits that make you move through a virtual 3D space.
  • Apps that just replicate printed label copy.

Ways museums have supported their communities in the past year:

  • Offering free admission to anyone receiving a COVID vaccination at city no-registration clinics.
  • Free Art Kits and museum vouchers have been distributed through community partners.
  • Many botanical gardens created food distribution programs to provide fresh vegetable to local communities and to help community gardeners distribute their own produce.
  • Next week Greenwood Rising will open, a museum about the Tulsa Race Massacre and the community that survived it, and create a dialogue space to talk about issues like reparations.

I hope to see you June 7-9 in the virtual platform! I’ll be leading another session, Living in the Future: A Guide to Scenario Planning in Museums, on June 7 at 3:30 pm CT, and I’ve listed times I’ll be available to chat in the AAM booth in MuseumExpo in this post here.

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