Friday, February 24, 2012

From the SMA Board President: John Pentangelo

SMA Board President John Pentangelo
Now that I’m back from Ocean City I just wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on this year’s conference. First I want to thank the attendees for coming. Conference costs are as reasonable as possible so that volunteers and staff from smaller institutions can afford to attend. It speaks volumes that so many of you make this investment and take time out of your busy schedules to share new ideas for building on the success of your museums. I also want to commend the committee for a fantastic conference. I’ve been attending for six years and have never heard so many positive comments about the sessions.  The incredibly hard work that went into registering attendees, organizing speakers, advertising, working with the hotel, coordinating with vendors, selecting scholarship winners, and setting up the banquet and silent auction certainly did not go unnoticed.
At this year’s conference, I attended a workshop on using Facebook and other new social media tools such as HistoryPin to engage and build audiences. During the session “Turn it Up,” the director and an intern at the New Castle Historical Society discussed some of the free or inexpensive tools you can use to create an audio tour. In “Collections that Bite” the Air Mobility Command Museum’s director focused on identifying and mitigating some of the health and safety hazards in museum collections. Perhaps the most rewarding session was a roundtable with emerging professionals also attended by trustees, mid-career professionals and directors with decades of experience. The free discussion about experience, job searching, and what to expect when you begin your career was extremely valuable. On behalf of the SMA board I thank all of the speakers for their preparation, enthusiasm, and hard work in contributing to the success of this conference.  Special thanks to Sarah Brophy and Cinnamon Caitlin-Legutko.
What I will take away most this year was this: there is a common perception that small museums should learn from larger museums. However, as plenary speaker Cinnamon Caitlin-Legutko reminded us, small museums can also be models for the rest of the field.  By our nature we are deeply embedded in our communities. We deliver programs, produce exhibits, and achieve high standards of collections stewardship with very limited resources.  By sharing our successes and failures we help each other succeed and that is a worthy model to promote.  Thanks again and I hope to see you next year in Ocean City!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

For the Love of the Small Museum: Propose Conference Sessions

Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko was the plenary speaker on Feb. 22 at the 2012 Small Museum Association Conference in Ocean City, Maryland. Below is an excerpt from her speech entitled “For the Love of the Small Museum: The Making of the Small Museum Toolkit,” where she reminds us about the importance of not only attending conferences, but of bringing the small museum voice to conference panels.

“Small museum people like you can do more to promote a dialogue. Time and again I have sat on conference program committees looking, searching for, and not finding many session proposals from small museum leaders. These are few and far between. More often, panelists from larger museums will propose a session that focuses on nuts-and-bolts work, and because of its basic topic, it’s touted as being for the small museum audience. And there’s no one on the panel who works in a small museum. ALL museum practitioners benefit from nuts-and-bolts sessions from time to time. This is not a “small museum thing;” this is a “continuing education thing.”

Advocacy groups, like AAM’s Small Museum Administrators Committee and AASLH’s Small Museums Committee, work hard to ensure conferences provide ample opportunities for small museum attendees. But I can tell you that too few of you are providing the proposals.

What the museum field needs are more session proposals from small museum practitioners sharing case studies, best practice strategies, and overall museum excellence with panels of colleagues from small, medium, and large museums. This will change the mistaken – and certainly short-sighted – perception that Steve Friesen, from the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, writes about in Chapter 1 of Book 1 of the Small Museum Toolkit:

“To many people a small museum is a museum that has too little money, too few staff, too small facilities, and even too little knowledge. This negative approach to the small museum brings with it a stereotype that the small museum is a place that is somehow incomplete or needs desperately to learn from big museums.”

Your participation in conference panels will focus attention on small museums in the best light. Yes, money is tight; it is for everyone. But please, find a way to attend AAM or AASLH (or both) each year and be a session chair or panelist. Maybe hatch a plan with some of your closest museum colleagues to take turns attending these conferences. Apply for scholarships. Get grant funding to attend. Many of you already attend, and I’m glad you do, but the small museum field needs you to prepare session proposals and show our colleagues how awesome we all are.

What will we get in return? More seats at the table, as we talk about the museum community’s future. More resources shared with us by our museum peers and awarded to us through grants. More visitors to our museums, allowing our missions to spread more broadly and deeply across America. This is our highest purpose and the reason why we do the work we do.”

Working in museums for nearly 20 years, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko has been a museum director since 2001. Cinnamon became CEO of the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine in 2009. Before that, she was the director of the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana, where she led the organization to the National Medal for Museum Service in 2008. She is co-editor of the recently released Small Museum Toolkit from AltaMira Press.   Cinnamon can be reached at

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Conference Presenter: Jesse Gagnon

Hi! My name is Jesse Gagnon and I’m currently a graduate student at the University of Delaware earning my master’s degree in history and my museum studies certificate. This past summer I was very lucky to intern at the New Castle Historical Society designing an audio walking tour. And I’m really looking forward to presenting with Mike Connolly, the executive director of the New Castle Historical Society, this year at SMA.

At the Historical Society, we often get visitors stopping by on days that our museum is closed or our buildings are full of school children. In the past we’ve had to turn many of them away since we didn’t have the resources or space to accommodate them. Now, with an audio walking tour, we can provide tours of our historic district for visitors year-round without having to schedule and pay extra tour guides. We wrote, recorded and produced the tour in-house, and saved lots of money in the process. And since we rent the tour, it’s a new revenue stream for the organization!

If you’d like to utilize technology to help with your interpretation and minimize personnel costs, but are intimidated by the equipment and software or just don’t know how or where to start, then our presentation, Turn It Up! Self-Produced Audio Tours For Your Museum, is for you!

Using inexpensive and readily available equipment and software you can produce CD-quality audio recordings, like this one, for next to nothing. We’ll help you choose recording software and equipment that will fit any budget. We’ll discuss how you can use audio immediately in the interpretation of your museum or historic site, and how the basic audio recordings you make now can be used to develop smart phone apps and other interpretive tools later. We’ll also provide an opportunity for you to try a test recording so you can see just how easy it is!

Give some thought to how an audio tour might help you better interpret your museum while stretching those precious dollars a little further! Then join us on Monday morning, February 20, at the SMA Conference in Ocean City.

See you then!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Plenary Speaker: Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko

Small museums and their employees and volunteers are a wonder and clearly attendees of the SMA conference know this.  Right?  Perhaps you need to be reminded why you rock.  

Join me for the plenary session, For the Love of the Small Museum: The Making of the Small Museum Toolkit, on Tuesday (2/21) 8:30 – 9:20 to hear why your work matters, what the museum community can learn from what you do, and how the Small Museum Toolkit was inspired by you, the small museum champion.  

Conceived during a marathon road trip to two back-to-back museum conferences, my co-editor, Stacy Klingler and I, tackled a dream to produce practical how-to resources for our over-worked small museum colleagues.  Partnering with dozens of authors, whose writings are spread over six books, the Small Museum Toolkit was published by Altamira Press last month. 

During my talk, I hope to challenge you, motivate you, and celebrate you; preparing you to return to your fabulous small museum with a focused and energized agenda.

Following the plenary, I will lead an informal conversation or "fireside chat," titled Big Ideas in Small Museums: A Conversation about Moving Mountains.  Session participants are encouraged to connect with colleagues and talk about the burning issues and solutions they may have that can improve the small museum environment.  Discussions will focus around the importance of assessment, planning, fundraising and board development. 

See you there!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Conference Presenter: John Orr

Your board is one of your most important and valuable resources.  Why not keep them engaged and informed while keeping your workload under control. 

E-governance can help! 

On Monday February 20, at 9:30 a.m. stop in for Board 2.0: Using Technology to Engage your Board and Committees. Learn about a few easy applications that can help you organize your work as you engage your board and keep them informed.  The session will cover a broad range of items from simple scheduling tools, to the all-inclusive board portal BoardEffect.    As the Executive Assistant and primary administrator for our e-governance strategy at the Fleisher Art Memorial, I have worked with a number of programs that helped organize our board, and kept our committees on task.   

This session is suited for individuals with limited, basic or no technology understanding.  If you can surf the internet, you can use e-governance!  I am not an IT professional, but rather an administrator who found some easy ways to keep my board on task. 

I hope to see you at the conference!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Keynote Presenter: Sarah Brophy

Finding Time for Greening Your Museum

For a lot of museums, ‘green’, or ‘environmental sustainability’, may be a good idea, but it’s not going to happen any time soon.

Don’t worry; I understand.

It takes a lot of brain space to figure out green-ness, and museum staff has rarely had much extra brain space (or time, or money, or helpers) for everyday responsibilities, let alone new chores, and especially during the last few years.

Why is it time?  Because your bottom line needs it, your public expects it, and pretty soon the law is going to demand it.  So why not get a jump on it with a few basic changes? Simple steps make a big difference, and each time you make that difference, you find it easy and even exciting to make the next difference.  It’s actually addictive.

Really -- it’s time to make brain space for green. It’s not that hard and I’ll help you do it.

Join me at the Keynote Presentation and I’ll tell you how to get started with the basics…and how to let go of the guilt!