campus museum week: resources & thanks

Thanks to everyone who contributed to Campus Museum Week! From the comments on this blog, to those who offered their thoughts via LinkedIn, Twitter, and in-person conversation, I’ve learned that the issues facing campus museums are as complex and varied as the museums themselves. Yet for every challenge there is an equal amount of determination to help these organizations achieve their missions.

This isn’t the end of the conversation by any means. I encourage you to explore the resources below and feel free to share your thoughts and reflections.

University Museums and Collections Journal
Association of Academic Museums and Galleries
The Campus Art Museum: A Qualitative Study
Campus Art Museums in the 21st Century: A Conversation
The Future of the Campus Art Museum: Join the Conversation

campus museum week: questions & answers

When I put out the call for opinions on campus museums, I posed a few questions to get the conversation started. The answers were thoughtful and engaging. A few of them are posted below: 

What are the pros and cons regarding campus museums?
Pros: Funding comes directly from the university; Access to a large audience; Smaller staff is highly engaged with their surroundings because of their “umbrella” roles. Cons: Student awareness or interest is not as high as it could be; Smaller collection compared to larger institutions; Lack of awareness and engagement from student audience. – Sarah Ditlinger, Indianapolis Art Center

One of the major pros to campus museums is that they offer serve a niche. On campus, you can include things that the campus community is interested in. This pro ties into one of the major cons – people who aren’t part of the campus community may not be interested in the museum. –Sara Hall, Education in Zion Gallery, Brigham Young University

Pro: They provide a learning/teaching tool for any major within the Arts; Museum Studies, Art Conservation, etc. What better way to introduce “the world of Museum work, Gallery installation, etc.” than in an actual Gallery space! Con: Few may even know a Gallery or Galleries exist on campus, so while there might be amazing work on display, it is never being seen. –Matthew Mickletz, Winterthur Museum

How can campus museums raise their profiles?
First, you need to determine your target market/key public. As a campus museum, this will probably be students and faculty of the university. Something we have done is becoming active in social media, since this is where students are. We have “like” contests and activities that bring the students in. We also have begun working with faculty members who in turn have integrated the Gallery into their class. Depending on the museum’s focus, the museum could help professors teach concepts from their class, etc. –S.H.

What should be done to engage students, staff and faculty, and the community at-large?
I would also like to reiterate the value of having events. You could have a scavenger night, a date night, basically whatever that could bring people in. We actually were able to have a dance, tying it a topic of our permanent exhibition. It was super popular. –S.H.

How can campus museums respond to changes in how university and colleges are structured? (online classes, satellite campuses, commuter students, distance-learning, etc.)
I think getting the professors involved could help. For online classes, maybe part of a class could be filmed in the museum with the professor highlighting parts of the museum that he/she likes. –S.H.

What should be done to engage students, staff and faculty, and the community at-large?
In-house events, promotions,and community engagement that are directed towards the target audience and that appeals to their wants from the institution –S.D.

How can they respond to changes in how university and colleges are structured? (online classes, satellite campuses, commuter students, distance-learning, etc.) 
Work with professors by utilizing their collections as a contribution to coursework and classroom engagement. —S.D.

I think coupling the Gallery with programs and classes is big, along with…community outreach. If it is near a downtown or community as the larger of the Galleries I work in was, make it part of “First Fridays” or “Art Strolls”. Make them as accessible to students as possible; create study areas, promote it as a “quiet spot”. This might plant some “seeds” in the student body. Maybe start a Pinterest account with tons of shots of what the Gallery has. Facebook, a must anymore, start a page, tag artists, mention other galleries featuring an artist the museum may be featuring, tag people and places. While it may not be practicable, attempt to promote exhibitions that link campus culture and Gallery. University big on football? Have any old football trophies, equipment, plans for the stadium, old tickets? Might be able to get a bunch of donated things from alums. Encourage students to take photos at games and post them tooooo . . . ta da Facebook or Pinterest, linking back to the Gallery! –M.M.

Are campus museums necessary?
YES: Campus museums provide a way for students to easily access collections for little/no cost; helps students gain a greater understanding of culture, art, social and political issues, and etc.; additional benefit to classroom education. –S.D.

I hesitate to say it, but while I believe campus museums are necessary, I’d say most do not. When it comes down to it, physically they are necessary only to display old stuff, art stuff and sometimes weird stuff. Culturally, they are an outlet for inspiration, art appreciation and object connection to the past (of the US, the world or just the campus itself). I believe they are necessary as a learning environment/tool within the larger learning environment, but unless they are utilized as such, that doesn’t stand out. Unless the collection and museum is amazing, little revenue is pulled in from them. –M.M.

campus museum week: pros & cons

Not only is it Campus Museum Week but I’m also in Portland, Oregon, attending my first Museums & the Web Conference. The two events actually dovetail quite nicely as I’ve already had a couple of mind-bending conversations about museums embedded in larger systems and the potential for smaller museums to model for larger institutions rather than the other way around. More on that once my brain settles down next week! 

Today I’m sharing a response I received to the question, “What do you think of campus museums?” from Amy Smith, Geology Collection Curator at the Central Michigan University Museum of Cultural and Natural Sciences.

The current museum that I work at as well as the previous museum that I worked at are both campus museums. The previous museum, the Museum of Geosciences at Virginia Tech, is essentially a single room within the building that houses the geology department. The Central Michigan University Museum of Cultural and Natural History occupies an entire half of a building on campus, the other half of which is occupied by Human Resources. Both of these museums are fairly small, but can be just as effective as their larger counterparts (at the end of my stay at Virginia tech, I wrote a grant proposal that later awarded the museum over $120,000).

Ways that I find that small campus museums hold their own among standalone museums: 

1. Grant awards are not affected by size of the museum nor by its affiliation to a university, but rather by the community impact and application of the museum’s plans for the funds.

2. At both museums, I integrate state-level Science Standards of Learning for pK-12 students and educators. The CMU museum leads tours regularly, and includes interactive exhibits in the overall suite of exhibits.

Advantages of being a campus museum include: 

1. As a worker at a campus museum, I also the ability to match content to the needs of university students, faculty, researchers, and to specific university courses. I am currently creating a a geology teaching collection at the CMU museum that will support several Michigan Standards of learning, as well as supporting various CMU courses such as GEL130, GEL102, etc. Exhibits and collections at campus museums also provide possible homework or projects for faculty who want to send their students to the museum to fill out a worksheet, draft an educational resource, and so on. During my first semester teaching at CMU, I actually had roughly 70 introduction to geology students (some were geology majors, but most were non-majors) visit the museum exhibits pertaining to Michigan geology and create educational resources in the formats of their choosing (worksheets, brochures, webpages, posters) that could be contributed to the museum. The majority of students did very well with this project, and so as an added bonus, they gained experience that could be listed on their resumes as contribution to museum outreach.

2. I get to facilitate the professional development of undergraduate volunteers and independent studies within the geology collection at the museum at CMU. Due to the museum’s affiliation with the school, training and supervising student workers is a largely seamless process. The major of the student is also not a barrier, as the volunteer whom I am training is not a geology major (in fact, she has never taken a college-level geology course), and my independent study is a geology major. Both workers are constantly demonstrating their grasp of new skills within collections management.

3. A campus museum is another opportunity for faculty, postdocs, and other researchers affiliated with the university to showcase their latest research. Museum workers can collaborate with researchers to interpret scientific progress performed by people in their local area to the various members of the museum audience. Such a a contribution could in turn help the contributing researcher apply for grants and funding, as a museum contribution of their work would be a clear example of community impact.

The only tricky things about campus museums are:

1. It has been my experience at both campus museums that I have worked at that 9 out of 10 people, especially university students, had no idea that these museums even exist.

2. Faculty are so busy with the work they are hired for, that it is often difficult to entice them to work with the museum in addition to their established responsibilities.

Amy’s response hit on a topic key to my work: customization. Can campus museums react more nimbly to the emerging trend of personalizing museum interaction for multiple audiences: general visitor, scholar, arts practitioner, etc.?