Change is Required: Preparing for the Post-Pandemic Museum is a book about the future of American museums. Like other institutions, museums and zoos, historic sites, gardens, and arboreta, were powerfully affected by the nested crises of the pandemic. These unprecedented crises challenged American museums. Adapting to novel circumstances and uncertainty became the order of the day; improvisation in policy and practice the new norm.
Amidst upheavals and disruptions, a number of American museums have charted new directions for themselves and their communities. Many museums have taken a decisive turn to digital programming. Others have taken a turn toward community, developing new kinds of collaborations with their neighbors and local audiences. Still others have moved issues of equity and justice—internally and in the world—to the center of their institutional concerns.
In every part of the country—and in every type of museum--museum workers are challenging old assumptions, conventional narratives, and customary practices as they look to the future. In Change Is Required, a unique array of 50 museum professionals--representing different disciplines, positions, and experiences--share their thinking about assessing needs and possibilities, managing people and resources, and building productive new relationships with neighbors, communities, and partner organizations.
These authors argue that change is necessary--inside and beyond the museum. It is futile and unproductive to default to the old “normal.” To achieve greater relevance, impact, equity, and inclusiveness, museums need to reconsider their leadership models, organizational culture, internal structures, and community collaborations Bristling with personal passion, informed by experience, and focused on the future, the essays in this volume convey the urgency to rethink traditional museum practice, offering visionary—yet practical—routes to future museum success in a volatile, complex, and ambiguous world.
In its depth and range, this book constitutes an invitation to join in the growing, lively discourse about possible futures for museums in America. The invitation extends not only to museum professionals, but to all those interested in cultural affairs and institutions.
Avi Decter, Managing Partner of History Now, is known for interpreting difficult subjects, including labor unrest at the Boott Cotton Mill Museum in Lowell, MA; civil war at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA; and genocide at United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Over the years, he has helped to plan new museums in six states and the District of Columbia. Decter is the author of Interpreting American Jewish History at Museums and Historic Sites (2016) and Exploring American Jewish History through 50 Historic Treasures (forthcoming). With Ken Yellis, he writes the "History in Progress" column for History News.
Marsha Semmel is an independent consultant working with cultural and educational organizations on leadership development, strategic planning, and partnerships. In 2019, she published Partnership Power: Essential Museum Strategies for Today’s Networked World. Semmel has served as Senior Advisor to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement, and the Noyce Leadership Institute. She has taught at the Bank Street College Graduate program in museum education since 2015. Previously, Semmel served in leadership roles at the Institute of Museum and Library Services and NEH. She has been President/CEO of Conner Prairie, in Indiana, and Women of the West Museum in Denver.
Ken Yellis, Principal of Project Development Services, served as guest curator for Passages through the Fire: American Jews and the Civil War. A historian with four decades in the museum field, Ken has been involved in over 100 history, science, and art exhibitions. Ken served as grant writer and content developer for The Brooklyn Navy Yard: Past, Present and Future (2009-2011). He has worked for the Touro Synagogue Foundation, the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, Plimoth Plantation, and the National Portrait Gallery.
Table of Contents
Foreword Gretchen Sorin
Part I. Confronting the Crisis
Chapter 1: A Wake-Up Call Kristin Leigh
Chapter 2: Making Lemonade: Learning from the Pandemic Judy Gradwohl
Chapter 3: Beyond Command and Control: Inclusive Leadership in a Crisis Su Oh
Chapter 4: Getting Lost on Purpose Andrea Jones
Part II. The Turn to Digital
Chapter 5 :The Virtuous Circle: From Local to Global and Back Again Robin White Owen
Chapter 6: Expanding Museums into Digital Spaces Lath Carlson
Chapter 7: I Went to a Bar for Time Travelers Michael Peter Edson
Part III. The Turn to Community
Chapter 8 :Beyond the Handshake: Effective Steps in Community Engagement Armando Orduna
Chapter 9: Notions of Permanence, Visions of Change Darryl Williams
Chapter 10: Slaves Lived Here/Esclavos Vivieron Aqui Meredith Sorin Horsford
Chapter 11: We Are Each Other's Harvest: Prospering through Partnerships LaNesha DeBardelaben
Chapter 12: Communities Over Collections: Three Principles for Partnership Nafisa Isa
Part IV. The Turn to Equity
Chapter 13: Speaking Truth to Power Begins Internally Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell and Janeen Bryant
Chapter 14: What Keeps Me Awake at Night: A Letter on Decolonization Brandie Mcdonald
Chapter 15: Museums, Disability, and "Uncertain Afters" Izetta Autumn Mobley
Part V. Re-Thinking Stewardship
Chapter 16: Caretakers of Our Histories Sven Haakanson
Chapter 17: The Collective Collection: Active, People-Centered, and Collaborative Mariah Berlanga-Shevchuk
Chapter 18: Broadening the Institutional Purpose of Zoos in the Post-Pandemic Era Scott Carter
Part VI. Re-Thinking Visitors
Chapter 19: On Bearing Witness Erin Carlson Mast
Chapter 20: Holding the Space We Make Beck Tench
Chapter 21: Discovering Connections: Supporting the Quest for Meaning and Well-Being Dawnette Samuels
Part VII. Re-Thinking Leadership
Chapter 22: Self-Worth, Trust, and Wonder: Leadership Lessons from Fred Rogers Mariruth Leftwich
Chapter 23: Protect People, Not Things Franklin Vagnone
Chapter 24: Courageous Imagination Nannette V. Maciejunes and Cindy Meyers Foley
Part VIII. Re-Thinking Structures
Chapter 25: From Silos to Social Networks Christian Greer
Chapter 26: Equity and Collaboration: Transforming Structure and Narrative to Center Community Brian Lee Whisenhunt
Chapter 27: Collaborative Knowledge Production for the 21st-Century MuseumJ uliana Ochs Dweck
Chapter 28: Hitting Reset on Hiring and Advancing in Museums Sam Moore
Part IX. Re-Defining Success
Chapter 29: The (Unfilled) Promise of Evaluation Cecilia Garibay
Chapter 30: Word Processing Joanne Jones-Rizzi
Chapter 31: Measuring Our Value(s): Let's Start with Structure Ben Garcia
Part X. Expanding Purpose
Chapter 32: Museum Relevance in the Context of the Earth System Emlyn Koster
Chapter 33: Social Justice: Framework for the Future of Museums Elena Gonzales
Chapter 34: Are We Serious about Changing the Equation? Deborah Schwartz
Chapter 35: Purpose Is the Only Thing Dorothy Kosinski
Part XI: Voices from the Future of Museums
Chapter 36: Thoughtful Agility Marcy Breffle
Chapter 37: The Unredeemable Museum Rebekka Parker
Chapter 38: Museums, Aesthetic Experience, and Design Justice Rina Alfonso
Chapter 39: The Water We Swim In Tramia Jackson
Chapter 40: More Show, Less Tell Rachel E. Winston
Chapter 41 :The Optics of Museum Equity Karen Vidangos
Chapter 42: Will We Love to Labor at Museums? Shivkumar Desai
Chapter 43: Make Me a History Museum I Actually Care About Emma Bresnan
Chapter 44 :Collapsing Enclosures Qianjin Montoya
Chapter 45: A Constellation of Interpretation: Object Labels in the Polyphonic Museum Sara Blad
Chapter 46: “If an object sits on a shelf in a dark warehouse, does it make an impact?” Jonathan Edelman
Chapter 47: Change and Opportunity: Resilience in a VUCA World Deja Santiago
Chapter 48: Co-Designing the Future Kirsten Mcnally
Postscript: What We have Learned
About the Editors
For Further Reading
Some of the most insightful and forward-thinking people in the museum field weigh in on this moment…. How we got here, what it says about our field, and what opportunities it presents for long-overdue change. We need this book.
A remarkable exploration on the future of museums that contains powerful responses to the challenges we're facing, reflections on past and potential practices, and calls to action that offer the possibility for change.
This book is a must-read if you or your museum is grappling with how to remain relevant to the broader community, to enhance visitor numbers, and/or to deal with the role of technology and virtual learning. If you are not considering these issues, then it is an even more important read.
This volume of collected essays is an immensely valuable gift to museum professionals. It is a banquet of possibilities offered by people willing to share their experiences of one of the most difficult times through which we as humans and professionals have ever lived. But as with any memorable banquet, I advise readers to approach the feast with small plates filled with only enough that can be digested in a single sitting to fuel their courage to embrace uncertainty, inspire adaptive leadership skills, and spark hope for transformation as we grow to embrace lessons learned during the pandemic and how they will shape the future of museums.