As part of my scholarship, I needed to attend the UMA Award Gala and breakfast. It was very early in the morning, so a lot of what was said just slipped through my ears, but the coffee was good and there was some sort of free breakfast going down my throat, so I was happy. I sat with a group from the Utah Museum of Fine Arts – nearly all of us were scholarship kids – and a woman named Chris from the Hogle Zoo that I met a few weeks ago when she came down to Boulder for the Beaver Festival. Chris told me that they were looking to hire a Distance Learning Coordinator at the zoo, and that I should consider applying. I was like, “That sounds awesome! But I know nothing of animals!” She laughed and said that they can teach me the biology, they just need someone familiar with technology. Well, that would be me, wouldn't it? Born 'n' raised in Silicon Valley, donchaknow. But anyway, so that might be a potential opportunity. I mean, a zoo? Awesome. What kid (or grown-up) doesn't love a zoo?
After the breakfast, I went to a session called Do More Spending Less: Low Cost Technology and Engagement Strategies. Megan was one of the speakers, so I wanted to go for moral support – but also, the session promised to be very useful. One of the interesting things that came up was QR codes – I'd decided to implement a QR code in my flintknapping exhibit to connect a video to my exhibit sign, and I was curious to hear how the codes worked at other institutions. The feedback generally wasn't good – as a rule, people don't scan them very often. But it is my hope that if I tell people the QR code links to a video, it'll get more hits, because who doesn't get excited about a mini-movie? But anyway, yes, QR codes weren't a runaway success. One of the women on the panel was not with a museum, but she was the programs coordinator for LiveDAYBREAK, which sounded like a homeowner's association. I thought it was super cool that the HOA had such a position – it sounded really, really fun. I wish RHA could implement something like that...
I think my next session was Diverse Approaches to Collaborative Exhibitions, but I should have walked out of it and found another one because it didn't really fit my needs at all. The panelists discussed ways in which they invited communities to share their gallery space through working with local schools and whatnot. Most of the approaches didn't sound all that successful; one curator admitted that when they exhibited high school art, they got the vast majority of the high school students on opening night and then never saw them again. But the last speaker, the museum director of the Willamette Heritage Center, was very dynamic. She explained that once a year, her museum spotlights smaller regional museums in her area. They're given a space in her gallery to exhibit something from their museum, which gives her an exciting collaborative experience and increases exposure to these other museums. It seemed like a great idea that I could totally see working in the San Francisco Bay Area. I mean, we have so many large museums with fairly steady traffic, and smaller ones that would probably interest a larger audience if only people knew they existed.
My favorite session of the day was probably the next one, Enhancing the Visitor Exhibition Experience through Digital Media and Electronic Resources: A Case Study Involving the Washington State Historical Society's COOPER Exhibition. I'm not gonna lie – a huge part of my interest stems from the fact that they were talking about a museum exhibit dedicated to DB Cooper, a 1970s airplane hijacker who successfully ransomed a plane for cash and then escaped the FBI by jumping out of the plane with a parachute. The exhibit was stuffed with technology – tablets with apps for visitors to play with, a downloadable app that lets you check the serial number of your bill with the money DB Cooper had in his possession, video screens, and all sorts of general coolness. The panelists talked about the challenges of curating an exhibit about a man who is still technically a wanted criminal, and whose victims are still alive and may not want the attention the museum show may invite. Theorists certain they know the real identity of DB Cooper popped out of the woodwork, wanting to have their pet suspect added to the museum. But the focus of the exhibit was not on DB Cooper himself, but more on the effect his hijacking had on airport security, copycat hijackers, and pop culture. If I could afford to do so, I think I would plan a trip to Seattle just to see the exhibit – it looked amazing.
The last panel was Turning Curator Drafts into Compelling Text, which I thought was absolutely necessary because I'm still fine-tuning the text for my flintknapping exhibit. I mean, the text I have now is fine, but could it be better? The point emphasized over and over again that text should be kept to a minimum – yes, there should be some, but the vast majority of visitors do not read it so it should be accessible and easy to understand (but not “dumbed down”). The one representative from an art museum was rather defensive of text, claiming that art museums need to provide context and history and therefore need more text than a science or history museum. I'm not sure that's true, but then again I definitely believe art history can't be reduced to mere images; context and background needs to be supplied through text, too. Especially modern art – goodness knows, artists don't make their work intuitive anymore. Protocol practically demands a written artist's statement for every piece! (This could be why so much contemporary art has not caught on with the general public.) But the basic points of keep text simple and keep it focused were important, and needed to be reiterated for the academics in the crowd.
And that was it. The last session was over. I found my friends and together we walked over to The Church History Museum for the closing reception. Once again, food was provided (I've never seen so many kinds of salad in my life!) and I was really impressed with the exhibits at the museum. There was one about Boy Scouts that I thought was really cool – very interactive and well-planned. Another gallery talked about life in Mexico, which I found very puzzling – what's the connection to the LDS? What does dancing like a Mexican or throwing tortillas in a pot have to do with the Mormon Church? I was so confused. But the gallery was really well-designed and incredibly interactive – I think just about any kid, Mormon or not, would love it.
As part of the closing reception, there was also a series of “Ten Minute Museum Talks” based on the idea of TEDtalks. It was so awesome that I'll write a separate post about the four speakers, but after the talks Megan and I were hyper and full of energy. Granted, all we did with that energy was go back to her house and watch TV, but we felt so happy and excited about being museum people and getting to attend such awesome programs. It was the perfect note with which to end the conference.