Monday, September 27, 2010

Countdown 3-2-1

Might as well
Jump . . .

When I was a young pup, I jumped off a bridge because a friend did it. Actually, I even went first. We were backpacking through New Zealand and my buddy just loved the thought of bungy jumping at the very birthplace of the 'sport'... and I knew her so well that if I didn't jump too, she would tease me for the rest of our lives for not trying something so outrageously fun and exhilarating. So I did it, with the request that I go first. I was in a bit of tizzy with nerves so my friend supported me with a lot of positive reinforcement. Somehow someone wrapped a giant rubber band around my legs (protected by a towel, no less) and then directed me to a platform over a vast river in a canyon where they instructed me to relax (huh! my fingers are sweating right now just WRITING about this!) and look to the horizon and think about... flying. I didn't quite fly but that jump was one of the most incredible sensations ever... it was obviously falling, but there was something more... like freedom. And maybe just a little stupidity with the level of risk. But not one ounce of regret, because I knew I would always remember this moment, this moment when I took a leap of faith.*


The beginning of my adventure into museum and heritage consulting feels like standing on that platform. It is not easy to fathom - and there are many more steps than a rubber band and a couple of towels and listening to someone who is trained in talking you through the steps... or talking me into it. There is insurance (HUGE cost), registering my name as a sole proprietor, getting a business bank account and a tax account number and the list goes on. It's a big responsibility, and it is a jump in responsibility to do this on my own. Sure, I have had my business cards and my office set up for a few years but still.... it is odd to go here every day. It takes a lot of focus. And there's a lot of waiting.... I have two proposals moments away from becoming contracts but it is all so slow! Then what will life be like when they come through? Will I be working 24/7 ?? I don't know, but something tells me consulting will be a little bit of falling, a little bit of freedom. And it could just maybe feel like flying...

* That is me in the striped shirt on the platform on the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown, New Zealand, on April 8, 1992. I jumped/fell/flew 143 feet (44 m). What a thrill! And, yes, I even 'got the t-shirt', which still makes me silly-grin. :D

Monday, September 20, 2010

Have You Seen this Owl?

Ah, BCMA's Owl . . .

The British Columbia Museums Association is desperately seeking Owl at Conference 2010. Our mascot was last seen at the Richmond Conference in 2007, and has been missing ever since. There have been rumours that s/he (no one knows) was abducted, went on the town and…flew away never to be seen again. Or has s/he? We would really like for Owl to make an appearance Conference 2010, and plan to call Owl out with special events such as an opportunity to meet a local owl cared for by a wildlife rescue agency. We will also be adding in ‘owl-rific’ elements to our Awards Dinner and throughout the Conference by…oh you just come and see! Owl will come Home to BCMA during Conference 2010.

Opportunity: Program Chair for a Conference

British Columbia Museums Association Conference 2010 . . .

I am cheating a little bit here with this post, as this article is set to appear in the BCMA Roundup magazine this month... but thought it would make a good entry as I have volunteered a lot on this conference, and have put particular attention into making a strong theme that would appeal to our sector. I hope it works out!!

Anyway, here is the article:

This year’s theme for the British Columbia Museums Association Conference, I, Museum: Community, Technology, Opportunity, declares who we are as a sector in our community - I am the museum, and I celebrate what I do! It is also is a play on I, Robot, a science fiction book by Isaac Asimov, which discusses society's errant relationship with technology; museums know have new ways of relating, but we want to be certain that these tools don’t take over. Bringing these two ideas together, we (shamelessly) adapted the Three Laws of Museums, from Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, to read:

  1. A museum may not abandon the past or, through inaction, allow the community and its material culture to come to harm.
  2. A museum must embrace the future, except when it conflicts with the First Law.
  3. A museum must protect its own existence as long as such protection doesn't conflict with the First or Second Law.

Such thought has gone into the theme because our sector has been – again – through a challenging time as of late: we need time to meet and regroup, have some great discussions and make a game plan for the future. Conference 2010 will help us do that by investigating and celebrating what makes museums unique (working with and for our community), how we can use technology to help us forward our goals (but not let it take over), and what we can do to survive and adapt to the changing world around us (by seizing unique opportunities). We also hope that we will have a little fun and success finding Owl (see the following post).

The Programming Committee has worked diligently since January to plan a fabulous program that will be relevant and engaging for the BCMA membership. We are lucky enough to have Nina Simon as our keynote speaker, who will talk about her book and museum ‘practice’ called The Participatory Museum, and how it can relate to what we are doing in BC museums. There are preconference workshops lined up that look at everything from discussing frontline strategies that make our visitors feel welcome, to updating current exhibitions on a shoe-string budget, to developing (and redeveloping) a museum gift shop. There are also over 30 sessions within the program that will discuss working with communities, review the latest in social media, as well as (gasp) look at entrepreneurial opportunities, including the √©conomus√©e movement. In addition, Robert Janes will lead a germane plenary session that title “A Sense of Urgency: Museums at the Future”; we should all be there just for that, as it is an important discussion on strategizing what we have to do to keep moving our sector forward.

We are also looking forward to webcasting several events, to make them available to online subscribers. This use of technology should help to make conference content available to our colleagues who are not able to attend conference, and keep the discussions going after conference has closed.

Conference is a time to come together to network, reconnect, attend some sessions and, yes, celebrate that museums are still here and reinventing themselves to remain relevant, vibrant and sustainable. Please join colleagues in Nanaimo from October 27 – 30 to discuss and celebrate I, Museum: Community, Technology, Opportunity, BCMA Conference 2010. You can register by visiting the BCMA website. We will see you there!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

One Career's Evolution

A Change of Heart...

This is the blog post I have been waiting to write. It has to do with how I see myself as a museum professional, and how my career has progressed at a rate that has challenged me and what I think 'should' be happening. With a slight change of perspective, I now realize, hey, this is the new way and it's so not bad at all. In fact, there is a lot of power and excitement here.

I have been saying one sentence that will be retired after I write this blog post. I have said it a lot over the past few years, to many different types of people in different circumstances. I see now that it puts something out into the Universe that I had not intended. But in order for us to move forward, I must state like Elton John and Candle in the Wind one last time:

I am "x" years old and I have never had a full-time, permanent museum job with benefits such as paid vacation, dental coverage, or a retirement plan. When will that happen? Why hasn't it happened yet??

This 'song' has set the stage for one of slight disappointment, as if I am not satisfied with my experiences. It is like I have been longing to be married, and I just can't find that special someone... and wonder, what am I doing wrong???

I have been looking at my career like a relationship. I had my first love of collection management work when I spoke to a volunteer coordinator who introduced me to the behind the scenes work of cataloguing a donation from a World War II veteran. I was certain, so young, that I was on to what I wanted to do with my career: I want to tell stories through objects, ensuring that I care for museum collections both physically and intellectually. I have been all about this ever since that first kiss of work, and that feeling has driven me more than money or status or anything else out there.

In graduate school, I continued my relationships with organizations and proving my love for collection management work. I had my flings through internships, including one with a sexy, older, sophisticated art museum. I was a little out of my league but ! damn ! what an experience and I do not regret the adventure. I also returned and interned in my home town, trying to recapture that first love feeling. It was okay, but circumstances dictated I be away from that city and so... this let me open myself up to a series of short affairs with a number of institutions. None quite fit, and none could commit due to economic constraints and circumstance. It was a bit painful for me, especially when I almost got one part-time position that worked fine. And then I had to move again.

Why was I being so fickle?? Shouldn't this be easy if I know what I want?

Then I took the bull by the horns. Once I settled into yet another town, I set my sights on what I wanted. I literally knocked on the door of a National Historic Site and said "You need me to inventory your collection." Cautiously they thought this over, underbidding my offer, but they agreed to 'date' temporarily and I accepted their terms. Well, I did an awesome job for this institution, and a four month contract turned into another, then 8 months contract, and on until I had been there over four years. I felt so committed, like I was moved in! The inventory was complete, the volunteers were happy and we even had a 'child' of an award-winning heritage conservation project. The problem? It was never intended to be a permanent position... we were never to marry, with benefits....and the work ended, and the relationship fizzled. And I was left with feeling "what have I done wrong?" Which, in fact, was not the right statement for the experiences I had there - but what I felt at the time was more akin to heartbreak.

It is hard out here to keep fulfilling that feeling of love for museum work, and finding a place to serve. Economic times are tight, and I am of a generation that has been waiting for well, everyone, to retire. (I will be talking about succession planning in a future post.) There are few jobs in institutions out there that are available... and when someone leaves, either the job is mothballed or there is fierce competition. (I once was one of 300 people who applied for a 6 month, entry-level position - three HUNDRED!). But what is out there is project-based work. Quite a bit of it, actually.

I see now that I have been wanting, desperately, for an institution to 'pick me' for this dance of a career. I have been so focussed on this fact of not being chosen that I have not stopped to notice that I have had some pretty amazing opportunities and projects. In future posts I will be addressing my current metaphor of how I see my career.... but for now, let's just say that this change of heart, this evolution, has opened me up to endless possibilities - how great is that? - for, you know, I am a museum consultant.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Here I Am!

Yes, it's time... .....time to start writing about what I love to do, and how much I enjoy, advocate, and want to do for the museum sector. I have been meaning to write and now, will. Look for musings (ha!) about caring for collections, working and contracting in the museum field, how museums ARE relevant in our communities, plus a rant or two on what we can do better. I will also be adding in information about the British Columbia Museums Association Conference 2010, as I am the volunteer program chair for this conference that is taking place in Nanaimo from October 27th - 30th. So, ready or not, here I am!