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How are museums growing institutional resources? How are museums working with their communities? How are museums using their exhibitions and collections in new ways? Explore original articles by MANY staff about NYS museums. 

What's happening at your museum? Submit your museum news and we might feature you in our next This Month in NYS Museums newsletter!

Email meves@nysmuseums.org 

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  • October 03, 2022 10:18 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)


    The Museum Association of New York welcomes proposals for conference sessions, workshops, panel discussions, facilitated discussions, and peer-to-peer learning experiences that focus on our 2023 conference theme, Finding Center: Access, Inclusion, Participation, and Engagement. We will be gathering in Syracuse, in the Central Region of our state, and the home of the Onondaga Nation, the Central Fire of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. 

    “We’re excited to bring people together in Syracuse, New York,” said Natalie Stetson, Executive Director of the Erie Canal Museum and Co-Chair of MANY’s Program Committee. “The Erie Canal once flowed through downtown Syracuse, transforming New York State, carrying goods, people, and ideas. Syracuse’s history and location in the state's center make this city an ideal location to gather to explore our theme of finding center for our institutions and audiences.”

    As we all discover new ways to use the transformative power of museums as places for human encounters and face challenges created by the ways in which our lives and our institutions have changed over the past three years, we hope that you will join us as we explore Access, Inclusion, Participation, and Engagement as pathways to finding center for our institutions and our audiences.

    We seek proposals for conference sessions that share how you and your colleagues: 

    • connect with and grow organizational and human resources;

    • build capacity, revenue, and access; 

    • align values with mission to create inclusive experiences;

    • research, accession, and deaccession collections; 

    • increase participation and engagement;

    • secure and improve endangered historic structures;

    • use objects and collections to tell complicated stories;

    • write new cases for support and increase economic impact;

    • identify digital divides and integrate virtual access; 

    • change organizational culture to build equity and inclusion within your staff; 

    • and create opportunities to support democracy.

    With challenging but significant historic occasions on the horizon - the 200th anniversary of the opening of Erie Canal, the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the 200th anniversary of the abolition of legal slavery in New York State - our goal is to create a community of practice to advance institutional change and perhaps even create one big New York team of collaborators that learn and create together.

    How to submit a proposal

    Proposal entry forms can be found on the MANY website: nysmuseums.org/call-for-proposals

    Presentations by individuals from institutions of all sizes, all stages of their careers, and from all disciplines are welcome to submit a proposal.

    We welcome proposals from graduate and undergraduate students in museum studies, public history, art history, non-profit administration and other relevant fields for ignite-style presentations. 

    Industry partners are welcome to submit proposals only if they include a museum partner and share how the partners worked together to achieve success. 

    Proposals from organizations in the Central Region can include Saturday Workshops and Tuesday afternoon tours. Workshops and tours should offer a close look at museum practice and exemplary projects. Hands-on learning opportunities and site-based experiences are also welcome. If you are interested in hosting a workshop or a tour, but aren’t sure how to proceed, please contact MANY staff at conference@nysmuseums.org 

    Proposals will be required to identify whether they will be 75 or 90-minutes in length. You may also propose a longer session for consideration as a two-part session or as a pre-conference workshop on Saturday. 

    Proposals will be peer-reviewed by a committee composed of MANY board members and Central NY museum professionals.

    The strongest proposals will share the “why” as well as the nuts and bolts, present case studies with input from all involved, share projects that question foundational processes, and propose discussions about challenges that we all face. Proposals that include only one voice and one perspective will not be competitive.

    If your proposal for our 2023 conference is accepted by the review committee, we are pleased to offer a modest honoraria of $50 per presenter; $200 maximum for group panel discussions. This opportunity, limited to the 2023 conference, is an acknowledgment of the work that our colleagues invest in preparing a proposal and presenting at a MANY conference. Presenters will also receive a discount on conference registration.

    Have an idea, but you are not sure it fits the theme? Looking for a partner to present with you? Send an email to conference@nysmuseums.org and we will arrange a time for you to speak with MANY staff. 

    Deadline for proposal submission: Monday, November 14, 2022 at 5 PM. 

    Notification will be on December 15, 2022.

    Registration Opens January 23, 2023

    Learn more about the 2023 annual conference in Syracuse, NY at nysmuseums.org/annualconference


  • September 28, 2022 12:45 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Building Capacity Across the State

    –Eli McClain, Building Capacity Project Fellow

    Over the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with over two-hundred museum professionals across New York State as the Building Capacity Project Fellow. Entering this role in the middle of the pandemic, I faced new learning opportunities every day and grew as an emerging museum professional with the support of my colleagues and our 96 museum participants. This week, the project comes to a close after more than 9,000 miles on the road, 555 1:1 meetings, 3,581 contact hours, and more than 90 workshops and training sessions.

    MANY staff designed the Building Capacity, Creating Sustainability, Growing Accessibility as a rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The project’s goals were  to help museums reach their audiences virtually by providing much-needed hardware and software, increase digital literacy and skills among museum professionals through training, offering personalized support, and peer to peer learning opportunities, and helping them to utilize the new technology and skills to develop and deliver virtual programming. In the changing pandemic environment, the project team strove to reflect, reassess, and pivot to best meet the needs of our partners. 

    Building Capacity sparked countless conversations amongst the the MANY staff and with the participants across the state about what it means to engage audiences digitally, how to balance in-person and digital projects with staff capacity, and the need for sustained incremental growth of technical skills for museum professionals. 

    As I look back and reflect, I want to share some of the lessons we’ve learned and share just a few innovative and impactful projects created by our partner museums from across the state.

    Facilitating New Forms of Engagement

    At the Percy Grainger House in White Plains, Museum Coordinator Ann Occone and Director of Bands at Brown University and International Percy Grainger Society Board Member Matthew McGarrell proposed a unique project to create new ways to access and interact with the museum’s collection. GLOSS, the Grainger Library of Sampled Sounds, invites users to interact with the museum’s collection through recordings of Grainger’s instruments and ambient sounds around the house. Built on Google Sites, GLOSS includes multimedia content to learn about Grainger and his “Free Music” philosophy and provides access to download sound recordings and create new compositions. In Spring 2022, the Percy Grainger House piloted after-school composition workshops at White Plains Middle School students to test GLOSS with target audiences and to receive feedback for continued project development. Looking ahead to this school year, Anne and Matt are hoping to build off their successes and work to deliver additional composition workshops for middle school students.

    Percy Grainger Museum’s GLOSS website

    Sharing New Research

    The New York Transit Museum used new research to develop Communities Through Time: Placemaking and Displacement through the Lens of Public Transportation –a new virtual school program that explores the impact of the transportation system on three communities across the City. Education Manager Polly Desjarlais is hosting professional development workshops in partnership with the Center for Brooklyn History. These workshops will provide educators with tools to discuss with their students the role of transit in the city and the development of communities. The museum is also exploring opportunities to facilitate virtual public programs that share their research findings on various neighborhoods and strengthen relationships between the museum and its multiple audiences.

    Highlighting Different Perspectives

    Many of the stories we tell about the past come from the perspectives of adults. At the Seward House Museum in Auburn, Education Outreach Coordinator Kate Grindstaff worked to highlight a different perspective through an interactive website focused on the daughter of William Henry Seward. The Fanny Seward Story gives users the opportunity to learn about the youngest daughter of Senator William Henry Seward in the late 19th century. This interactive website explores Fanny's life as a young, privileged teen girl during the Civil War using digitized collection items including her diary. The website’s target audience is 4th and 5th graders who explore Fanny’s life, family, world and legacy, and includes activities for further exploration into Fanny’s story.

    Building Off of Successful Models

    In Year 1, Fort Ticonderoga created a companion program to their successful A Soldier’s Life virtual program. A Provincial Soldier’s Life, used the museum’s existing virtual program space andwas designed to teach students in grades 3 to 8 about the French and Indian War through the lives of American soldiers and their daily experiences. The program includes discussions about resources and trade networks using inquiry and object-based learning. In addition to developing this new program, Museum Education Coordinator Katie Long and School and Youth Programs Interpreter Corri Swart redesigned Fort Ticonderoga’s digital education resources and teacher packets using Adobe software to create a cohesive online presence.

    School and Youth Programs Interpreter Corri Swart presents Fort Ticonderoga’s Year 1 project at a regional workshop

    Connecting with Community

    In Utica, the Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute (MWPAI) brought voices from the community together to respond to the museum’s summer exhibition on Norman Rockwell and encourage critical reflection on the artworks. Spearheaded by Musuem Educator for Docent and Tour Progams Amy Francisco and Digital Marketing Manager Kaytlynn Lynch, Communities in Conversation is three-part web series featuring brief interviews and prompts that explore community members’ perspectives on art. Visitors are invited to respond to these prompts at the museum, at the Utica Public Library, or online. The project builds on previous work at MWPAI to integrate community voices into the galleries, and experiments with different ways of looking at and responding to art. Amy and Kaytlynnbuilt and strengthened relationships with members of historically underrepresented residents in Utica.

    Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute’s Communities in Conversation space

    Working Across Departments

    At Genesee Country Village & Museum (GCVM) in Mumford, Director of Education  Jennifer Haines and Youth and Family Programs Manager Alyssa Lynch collaborated with colleagues across the organization to develop a three-part video series that highlighted one of the historic structures on their campus. Museum staff produced stories about the history of the Livingston-Backus House, the relationships between members of the Backus family, their disagreements on important social and political issues of their time, and the role of pamphlets and circulars in spreading these differing perspectives. This collaborative project allowed GCVM to leverage the strengths, interests, and skills of staff members to increase access to relevant stories from the past.

    Partnering Far and Wide

    Virtual programming provides greater flexibility when working with external partners and presenters and alleviates  budget pressure from travel expenses. At the Slate Valley Museum in Granville, Executive Director Sarah Kijowski and Museum Associate Wendy Bordwell used the hardware and software provided by Building Capacity to deliver a variety of virtual and hybrid programs. During the past two years, the Slate Valley Museum staff gained confidence partnering and running programs with other museums from outside their region. In May 2022, they presented Exploring Slate Around the World that gave their audiences an inside look at Belizean Artist Jorge Castellanos’ slate carving workshop. This virtual program transcended national borders, highlighted culturally specific stories about  slate, and opened the doors to future international partnership opportunities.

    Reaching New Audiences

    Curator of Education Brenna McCormick-Thompson, Museum Educator Maria Fischetti, and Assistant Director Gina Van Bell at The Whaling Museum & Education Center of Cold Spring Harbor expanded the geographic reach for their activity-based Museum-To-You programs through synchronous and asynchronous virtual offerings. As the pandemic progressed, the museum saw continued interest in pre-recorded, kit-based programs that provided more flexible participation options for families. In the summer 2022, the museum virtually reached audiences from 67 different libraries across the tri-state area. This increase in reaching new audiences spurred new conversations about sustaining digital programs in the long term. 

    Curator of Education Brenna McCormick-Thompson leads a tour of The Whaling Museum

    Digital Accessibility

    While virtual programming has increased accessibility, it also created new barriers for individuals without access to stable high-speed internet, devices to access digital programs, or the digital literacy to engage with program platforms. In North Tonawanda, Executive Director Ian Seppala and Outreach Coordinator Marissa Seib at the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum increased accessibility to their virtual programming by partnering with libraries across three local systems to host live, in-person viewing events. Carrousel Chats lectures include discussions on carrousel painting, restoration, maintenance, lost parks, and kiddielands from presenters across the country. These programs are recorded and uploaded to the museum’s YouTube channel to provide continued access to these valuable conversations. Moving forward, the museum is exploring sponsorship opportunities to continue to offer these programs free of charge to the public.

    Hybrid Programming

    As the pandemic environment shifted, more museums began discussing hybrid programming; what it means to go hybrid, the benefits and drawbacks, and the technical logistics. The Rockwell Museum was among many museum partners that explored hybrid programming. In March 2022,  Interpretation and Public Engagement Educator Kate Swanson and Events Coordinator Janelle Steiner partnered with staff at the Southeast Steuben County Library to deliver Buffalo Soldiers & the African American Experience in the Army with guest speaker Dr. Krewasky Salter. “This partnership paved the way for future hybrid programming,” commented Kate and Janelle in their final project report “Since March, we’ve hosted several hybrid programs of varying scales…Thanks to this partnership, we now have the experience to speak from an informed place about any possible requests for a hybrid program and have a better understanding of the staff and resources it takes to create a successful program for both audiences.”

    It has been incredibly rewarding to witness and reflect on the growth across the Building Capacity cohort over the course of this project. I am proud of the work of all of our partners who have experimented with new stories, formats, models, and methods during uncertain times and have built new best practices through their work. As we look ahead, I believe in the strong foundations they’ve developed to support their next steps and look forward to seeing how they continue to build capacity, create sustainability, and grow accessibility.

    To learn more about Building Capacity and the work of partners across the state, visit nysmuseums.org/BuildingCapacity


  • September 28, 2022 11:36 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Dear Members, Colleagues, and Supporters,

    Born in Trinidad in 1932, the Nobel Prize-winning author V.S. Naipaul struggled while trying to write his autobiography. After multiple drafts, the threads he found to weave his story did not lead to his birthplace, but to a moment in time when he faced tremendous challenges. He described the process as finding center.*

    We are all working to find center as we face, embrace, and grow beyond challenges and changes in our lives and our institutions. Many of you know that my husband and I have a ceramic studio in our home and that I work with clay as an avocation. I have learned that I can’t create until I am as centered as the material in my hands. 

    With historic commemorations on the horizon –the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Erie Canal, the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the 200th anniversary of the abolition of legal slavery in New York State– we have chosen Finding Center: Access, Inclusion, Participation, and Engagement as the theme for our 2023 conference. The call for proposals opens on Monday, October 3; soon after you will see calls for scholarship and award nominations. 

    From April 15-18, 2023, we will gather in the city of Syracuse, in the Central Region of our state, home of the Onondaga Nation, the Central Fire of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Our conference hotel will be the four-star Marriott Syracuse Downtown, recently restored to its original 1924 glory, with affordable accommodations and state-of-the-art meeting rooms. Syracuse is a walking city filled with marvelous architecture, theaters, boutiques, and great places to eat. From the hotel’s tenth-floor ballroom, you can see rolling hills and rooflines of historic buildings. People from all over the world have come to call Syracuse their home. The arts, culture, and food of the city reflects that diversity. 

    A local host committee is helping us plan exciting conference events in downtown museums and we are creating a map of the dozens of amazing museums conference attendees can visit in Central New York. Syracuse is easily accessible from anywhere in New York State: it is a two-and half hour drive from both Albany and Buffalo, flights from New York City airports can be found for under $250, and the Amtrak station makes train travel a great option. 

    As plans for the conference come together, our excitement is growing for all that can happen when we come together and find center. I hope you will join us.

    With thanks for your support, 

    *Naipaul, V.S. (1984) Finding the Centre, The Chaucer Press, Penguin Books, Ltd. Great Britain



  • September 28, 2022 11:34 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    MANY Board Spotlight: Michael Galban, Historic Site Manager and Curator, Seneca Art & Culture Center, Ganondagan State Historic Site


    Michael Galban is the Historic Site Manager of Ganondagan State Historic Site and the curator of the Seneca Art & Culture Center. Ganondagan is a 17th-century Seneca town site and is nationally regarded as a center for Iroquoian history, and cultural and environmental preservation. His current research focuses on historic woodland arts, Indigenous/Colonial history, and lectures on the subject extensively. He sits on the board of directors of the Museum Association of New York (MANY), the editorial board of the New York History Journal, and is currently working in the Indigenous Working Group component of REV WAR 250th NY commission.

    He recently curated the exhibit “Hodinöhsö:ni’ Women: From the Time of Creation” at the Seneca Art & Culture Center which is open through 2023. Michael is currently researching moose-hair false embroidery of the northeast as part of his Ph.D. work in the University of Rochester’s Visual and Cultural Studies program. Michael recently collaborated with the Museé du Quai Branly - Jacques Chirac on the exhibit “Wampum – Les Perles de la Diplomatie” which opened this Spring and will travel to the Ganondagan in 2023 as the exhibit “WAMPUM/OTGO:Ä”.

    What other jobs have you had in the museum field?Can you tell us about your journey to get to your current role?

    I’ve worked at Ganondagan since 1991. Before that, I was more or less a young kid really so I honestly didn't have any other museum jobs. I worked at the Helmer Nature Center for a while  that was related in terms of interpretation, but really nothing else in the museum field other than Ganondagan. At the nature center, I gave tours and worked in the nature camp. They had a wildlife rehabilitation so I was learning that too. It helped me understand how to communicate with the public. When I started here I did a lot of things from mowing the lawns to community outreach. I think that I grew into the position more than was recruited into the museum.

    I was in college at SUNY Geneseo and the site manager Peter Jemison knew of my family from being in the urban Native American community. He reached out to see if I wanted to work here and I took the job. 

    The job was not very specific, so it didn’t have a title or a defined role description. So I was doing maintenance and interpretation. The first week I was here I was asked to lead an ethnobotanical plant walk with a group of Haudenosaunee Elders –which was like being thrown right into the fire. I did it because my understanding of interpretation at the time was to share what you know, make it interesting, have a goal, and your audience will like it. The Elders liked my tour and were really receptive. For me as a young person, it was very encouraging. 

    It was pretty frightening because you feel unprepared maybe and I lacked the confidence of a seasoned interpreter. My undergraduate degree was in fine art. Of course, I had an art history component and anthropology minor and you know those are all well and good but don’t exactly prepare you for the position that I was in. And to be frank about it I didn’t take it very seriously because I didn’t expect to be here thirty-plus years later. It was not part of my life plan. 

    Would your 18-year-old self imagine that you would be where you are today?

    I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do. My course of study was art and I imagined that I would be this well-known, accomplished Indian artist. That’s what I expected to be and that was my vision to produce art and do shows, and just live that artist life. 

    Can you tell us about where you grew up and what was it like to grow up there?

    I moved around quite a bit with my family but when people say “where did you grow up?” what does that exactly mean? What is place? How does place impact you and your development and worldview? 

    The place that really had the greatest impact on me is when we lived in Reno, Nevada. I maybe only lived there for four years from when I was nine or ten until I was fourteen years old. But it had such a profound impact on me. It’s where I say I grew up even though before that I was in Rochester and then afterward we moved back to Rochester.

    But those formative years when you’re an adolescent and you become conscious of all kinds of things, that occurred to me in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. 

    Why did this place have such a profound impact on you in your adolescent years?

    When you look back and review things that happened to you and evaluate how things impacted you, for me it took place when I was in grade school. 

    I went to the school which served the Native people from the Reservation which was about a third of the student population and the rest of the students were from Reno of various backgrounds, but mostly white children. Even though I was a new student, I was immediately accepted by the Native kids and even learned that one of the kids was my cousin. It was really welcoming and an incredibly warm and accepting feeling. It was a beautiful experience to kind of find your family, find who you are, and find that kind of acceptance into your group, your people. But at the same time in parallel, I didn’t realize that we were not actually being taught. 

    We were situated in the back of the classroom against the wall with one or two rows of seats dividing us from the rest of the students in the class. We were just allowed to goof off, draw, and pass notes and not really pay attention because we weren’t really part of the class. When the marking period ended and my parents received my marks it was a shock to them. I am not a D student so my parents were wondering what was going on and as a ten-year-old, you don’t really have an answer to those questions.  I remember going back to the classroom after school with my parents and sitting in front of her desk. The teacher was a young white woman, probably in her early twenties. My parents asked her why I was doing so poorly and she kind of sat there. I remember taking it all in and remembering what the teacher said to my parents “oh I thought he was just another Indian kid.” At that point my parents stood up, they didn’t say a word to the teacher but grabbed me and left. I never went back to that school. My parents went to the superintendent to bring the issue to them and somehow they got me to enroll in another suburban school. 

    It was very confusing when you find your place where you’re supposed to be as a kid and when you’re a kid acceptance is huge and then it’s being taken from you and you don’t understand why. 

    What was the first museum experience that you can remember?

    Outside Reno, there is this little town called Virginia City. Virginia City historically is a mining town. You can visit and see the old western wooden buildings and a wooden promenade. It’s a touristy area. I remember when I was 11 or 12 we went to this part restaurant – part cabinet of curiosities –  kind of tourist attraction place. In the back, there were carnival-type signs that read “Come see the Paiute Giant.” In this back room, there was a velvet rope around this sunken rectangular pit in the middle of this room. We were told to look down into the pit to see what was called the Paiute Giant but it was an excavated grave with a skeleton. It was real. You were looking at a real human being. 

    I remember looking into that pit and seeing cigarette butts and gum wrappers in and around the grave. There wasn’t anything protecting it. It was very hard to process. I do remember thinking that “I’m Paiute. That’s who I am. Is this somebody from my family?” and it was really confusing and upsetting.  I didn’t know how to process it. Honestly, even now I don’t know how to process it. It brings up a lot of sad feelings but that was one of my most profound museum experiences to see one of my ancestors lie in the ground and people were literally throwing garbage at it. It’s really hard to explain the complicated feelings that it brought up in me. 

    How do these pivotal experiences impact your work at Ganondagan today?

    It absolutely informs my work because I would be very upset to have a young Native person have to experience those things again. They’ve become, in my mind, the most important visitor just because of the personal connections that I have. I’m always imagining what we are doing and looking at it through that lens to make sure that kind of experience doesn’t happen to someone else.

    I think about the young Native person coming here [to Ganondagan] to experience, to see, and to learn. I want them to come away with feelings of pride, feelings of empowerment. I want them to have a very different experience than what I got as a kid.

    What are some of your biggest motivations in your work? 

    Someone once told me when you end up at this level at an organization you can be dragged down by what used to happen, or what you used to do, or how it’s normally done. You focus so much on maintaining what was, so you have a harder time visioning what could be or what should be. 

    I’ve been very conscious of trying to keep that list in my head and physically on my corkboard of things I want to accomplish and the ways in which Ganondagan can become something different and better. Those kinds of things excite me. Stepping outside yourself and looking at what you’re doing and knowing what you want to do. It’s important to always keep in mind what motivates you and what you really want to see happen and never forget them. You have to keep that visionary focus.

    What are some of your goals for the Seneca Art & Culture Center and Ganondagan State Historic Site?

    We’re a decidedly small museum. We have a small staff but we don’t act like a small museum. We act like a large museum and I feel like that’s the way we have to be. 

    We’re making connections in the International museum community and that’s a goal - to be recognized nationally and internationally and to be a leader in what we do. We’ve gained the confidence of Native people which is a huge goal. To have the confidence within the Native community to represent, and share stories, and art and history, that’s huge. We take that very seriously. 

    Can you describe a favorite day on the job?

    The best day for me is when you don't even know what happened that day when you’re done. And then you think about all of the conversations you had, and all of the people who came here to share or to visit, and the connections you reestablished with people you work with, or with new people…those are some of the best days. You’ve built that energy all day long and you can just sit in a mental inner tube, let it push you down your river, enjoy what you've done, and what people have done together. 

    There are a lot of great days here, but we did a program a couple of years ago where we tried to bring the Bark Longhouse exhibit to life. We had people inside the Longhouse living, cooking, eating, and in historical dress. When we did this program we always made sure that we invited Native school kids so we had Tuscarora, Seneca, and Onondaga. One year, Tuscarora kids came and they were just young enough to still be pretty vocal and open. There was this one little kid - maybe nine or ten - who said “I want to live here” because they recognized that this was one of their ancestral homes and they were so swept up in the atmosphere we created. It was such a yes moment. 

    Do you have any key mentors or someone who has deeply influenced you? Is there any piece of advice that they gave you that you’ve held onto?

    I’ve been very fortunate to have had lots of mentors but someone who stands out in my mind and kind of pushed me to a state of more professionalism was George Hamill. George worked at various museums and he ended his career at the Rochester Museum & Science Center as the Collections Manager for the Rock Foundation. He was one of the curators at the New York State Museum for a long time. He was very gentle with me but also pushed me towards what is considered a more museological ideology. In terms of well-cited research and constructing an exhibition from the ground up. He was very helpful and I could never repay him for that kind of mentorship. One thing he told me that I thought was very wise and maybe a little humorous was he said to me that “an exhibit is never completed, it is only installed.” There is always work to be done. 


  • August 31, 2022 9:24 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

     

    A Good Time to Host a Polling Site

    By Assembly Member Danny O’Donnell

    Chair of the NYS Assembly Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts, and Sports Development 

    Across New York, museums serve as anchors as well as reflections of your communities. Your missions to connect individuals to culture, history, and information is deeply needed and commendable.

    In keeping with the pivotal role museums play in civil society, right now you have an opportunity to become a part of history by contributing to New York State’s efforts to expand voter access.  Today, I am asking you to reach out to your local board of elections and offer to host a poll site during future elections. Not only will this support your communities’ civic engagement, but it will also improve your museums’ engagement with community members.

    New York has taken dramatic and exciting leaps forward in expanding access to voting in the past two years. My colleagues in the State Legislature and I passed laws implementing automatic voter registration, cementing vital civil rights voting protections, and establishing 10 days of early voting before each election in NY. Although New Yorkers now have increased voters’ access to the polls, there are still a few wrinkles to iron out – one of which I believe New York Museums can help resolve.

    With the recent expansion in voting opportunities, Boards of Elections have found it difficult to secure polling sites at locations other than public schools. New York’s museums can help address this by stepping up and volunteering to host more voting locations for our communities. I believe it is a fantastic opportunity for both community members and museums to strengthen civil society and advance your missions in tandem.

    I would like to relay a few concerns that demonstrate the urgency of this matter and the difference your contribution will make. After the Boards of Elections create their list of potential polling sites, they reach out to these locations to determine their availability. While many sites have the option to opt-out, public schools do not. More often than not, this is the case. 

    Although the recent expansion in voting opportunities is great for the larger community, serving as polling sites often disrupts students’ academic performance. As an Assembly Member, I have heard concerns from students, parents, and school administrators about students unable to access areas of their school, such as gymnasiums or other common areas, for days at a time. Even during the summer, polling sites can interfere with classes and activities scheduled for some locations. Public schools recognize their role in supporting our communities’ civic engagement, but I believe museums have similar values and obligations to contribute to the public good.

    The good news is: I have no doubt that hosting a polling site would lead to positive outcomes for your organizations, too. While the COVID-19 pandemic stymied foot traffic in many NY museums, serving as a polling site can help bring back visitors through increased community engagement with museums. Although many New Yorkers already frequent museums, voting brings in a broad cross-section of the community, including some people who rarely or never visit museums. I have no doubt that coming to your building to vote will encourage these individuals to visit their local museums more often. 

    Further, as more New Yorkers experience first-hand the ways museums contribute to their communities, support for these museums will only improve. Community members often contact their representatives to advocate on behalf of their favorite organizations, institutions, programs, etc. If hosting a poll site isn’t a great way for museums to increase their visibility and popularity among community members, I don’t know what is!

    In addition, hosting a polling location is a meaningful expression of museums’ values, and furthers your mission to strengthen civil society. It builds on the recent series “Museums and Democracy” hosted by MANY in collaboration with Museum Hue - focused on improving democracy and civic engagement. Now more than ever, we need every part of civil society to step up and recommit to maintaining a strong, vibrant democracy. You can be a critical part of this shared mission by making sure voting is accessible to New Yorkers. 

    I urge you to consider my request: help New Yorkers, and yourselves, by volunteering to host a poll site for future elections. If you need a place to start, try reaching out to your local Boards of Elections and tell them you want to help. You can find their contact information here: https://www.elections.ny.gov/CountyBoards.html. 

    I thank you and the Museum Association of New York for your invaluable contributions to our society. I also thank you for your time and attention to this matter. 

     

     


  • August 30, 2022 4:57 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    April 10, 2018 Naturalization Ceremony at the New-York Historical Society. Photograph by Howard Heyman. Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.


    Dear Members, Friends, and Supporters,

    As summer comes to a close and we begin to gear up for a busy fall, I am excited to report on “Museums Support Democracy,” our webinar series produced in partnership with Museum Hue and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and Humanities New York. The seven programs featured fifteen museum professionals from around the nation discussing Citizenship, Environmental Justice, Ethical Collecting and Deaccessioning, Expanding Interpretive Lenses, Healing Historical Legacies, Museums and Civil Rights, and Protest Through Visual and Performance Art. 869 people from 48 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, the US Virgin Islands, as well as Barbados, Canada, China, Hungary, Mexico, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom participated in the webinars. 

    I encourage everyone to take an hour if you can and listen to one of these conversations. MANY members can access the recordings from the member resource page on our website. The speaker's comments and questions asked by attendees point to ways that museums can sustain and strengthen democracy in their communities. Thoughts and experiences generously shared during these inspiring discussions have been fueling my hope for the role of museums in our nation’s future. I also want to take this space to express my gratitude to Megan Eves, MANY’s Assistant Director for Programs and Communications for her exceptional work organizing and producing this important series. 

    Fifty-seven years ago this month, President Lyndon Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In his timely, open letter to New York’s Museums, Danny O’Donnell, New York Assembly Member and Chair, Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts, and Sports Development invites museums to support democracy by partnering with their local election boards to become polling sites. The central location of many museums and their open public spaces can make them ideal polling site locations. Serving as a polling place can also be a wonderful way for museums to welcome people who might not have otherwise visited their spaces. 

    MANY will continue to support and amplify the work of museums who incorporate the plurality and multivocality of our nation’s history, art, and culture in their core programs. Earlier this month, we submitted an application for funding to the National Endowment for the Humanities for a project we are calling “A New Agora for New York: Museums as Spaces for Democracy.” In Ancient Greek cities an Agora was both an assembly of people and the physical setting in which they gathered. It was an open space in which intellectual and thought-provoking discussions formed the foundation of a civil society. If funded, this humanities discussion series will use the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street Exhibition Voices and Votes: Democracy in America as a launching point for twelve museums and their communities to explore, reflect on, and tell the story of their role in the evolution of American Democracy. We won't receive notification of the NEH’s funding decision until April of 2023, but I extend our thanks to project partners, Humanities New York, the New York State Museum, and OurStoryBridge. We are also grateful to NY Senator Gillibrand, Rep. Tonko (NY-20) and the 100 museums who signed on to a support letter for the project.

    Advocacy is a key part of the democratic process and has been part of MANY’s mission since the organization’s founding 60 years ago. As we await the advance of the Museum Study Bill, and plan our 2022-23 legislative agenda, we welcome your input to help guide us. Click here to let us know your interests for our advocacy efforts

    I wish you the best as the pages of the calendar turn toward to the end of this year, 


    Erika Sanger

    Executive Director 


  • August 30, 2022 4:16 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)


    Founded in 2014, Museums for All is a nationwide, cooperative initiative between the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) aimed to remove financial barriers for museum visitors, encourage families of all backgrounds to visit museums regularly, and build lifelong museum habits. Museums for All encourages community partnerships, peer to peer learning, and serves as an entry point for museums to address equitability. Today there are over 960 participating museums across the country, and the US Virgin Islands with a total of 4.5 million people visiting museums through this program since it began.

    Ithaca’s Sciencenter was one of the first to join Museums for All in 2014


    “Back in 2013, the ACM board at our annual conference adopted the mission statement that all children deserve access to high-quality museum experiences,” said Brendan Cartwright, Museums for All Program Manager. “At the same time, IMLS was looking to put a program together that would increase access to museums by removing financial barriers.” In fact, ACM had many of its members already offering free or reduced museum admission through SNAP or EBT cards. “ACM and IMLS entered into a cooperative agreement where we would take the approach that was already happening at individual museums and codify it by building a framework and making it available on a national scale.” The program was piloted in children’s museums and later expanded to include museums of all disciplines.

    “It launched with the goal to make museums as accessible as possible and remove any financial barriers. This initiative particularly looks  at financial barriers for people, but fit in well with organizations as they look to self-assess how they can make their museums as accessible as possible.”


    Participation and Eligibility

    Museums join Museums for All once and can exit the program at any time. The registration process is open to all museums, including for-profit museums. Museums for All uses a categorical list of museums generated by IMLS. “If your museum fits within one of these categories, then you’re eligible to participate,” said Cartwright.

    To participate, museums offer reduced or free admission to individuals and families that present a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, and a valid form of photo identification. Reduced admission must be $3 or less for up to four people per EBT card. Visitors do not have to register for this program in order to participate.

    “One of the things that set this program apart from other similar access programs like Philadelphia’s Art-Reach and Mass Cultural Council’s Card to Culture is that you can show an EBT card from any state to any participating museum,” said Cartwright. SNAP is administered on a state-by-state basis resulting in different-looking cards. “So if someone from New Jersey wants to visit a participating museum in New York, they would be able to.” Included in the Museums for All toolkit is a PDF with a sample of all the cards from different states. “We figured it was the least intrusive way to establish a financial need. Some museums ask to see the physical card to apply the discount but others won’t ask to see it.” 

    Museums that don’t normally charge admission can also participate in Museums for All. “Primarily, it’s about making that active invitation to the community,” said Cartwright. “It can also serve as an opportunity to look for other areas in their operations that they might reduce some barriers like with membership or in the gift shop.”

    Program guidelines also include clearly publicizing Museums for All by posting information about access on museum websites and other collateral materials, use of the approved Museums for All PR toolkit resources for branding guidelines in all communications, training for sales and front-line staff, and regularly reporting visitor numbers. 

    Participation is intentionally designed to be flexible. “We’ve set a baseline, but we encourage museums to feel free to build on it with whatever makes sense for their communities. Some museums will accept WIC [Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children] in addition to SNAP/EBT. Other museums go even further by offering discounted memberships,” said Cartwright. “It’s part of the flexibility of the program…it’s ready to go where someone can just show their EBT card and gain access to the museum or museums can really emphasize it where they go out into the community, talk with their SNAP office, and let people know to come to their museum. You can participate as little or as much as you want. We want museums to be responsive to their communities.” Many Museums for All participants use the program to broaden their visitor base and reach out to underserved communities. “Whatever works best for your museum and your community works for us and we will try to support however we can.”


    Resources and Support

    In the Museums for All Toolkit (available in English and Spanish) prospective participants can listen to or read the transcript of a webinar that introduces the program with speakers from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Boston Children’s Museum, and Zimmer Children’s Museum explaining why they chose to participate and how Museums for All works in their institution. The toolkit includes branding, editable bookmarks, postcards, sample press releases, social media images, and training recommendation guidelines. Training recommendations include the importance of understanding SNAP/EBT, sensitivity training, and how to respond to visitors that don’t qualify for Museums for All by offering other ways the museum supports access and inclusion like other free or reduced admission hours. 

    “We also try to bring together museums as much as possible through virtual hangouts, sending newsletters that share experiences and stories and what makes things work or get input on areas where something isn’t as successful,” said Cartwright. “These peer-to-peer learning opportunities have been pretty successful with a dedicated core of museums.” 

    Museums for All encourages partnerships between community groups, schools, and other museums by sharing materials and sharing social media content and email lists or by providing brochures to waiting rooms and to the local SNAP office. 


    Hub Cities

    “As the program’s gotten bigger with more museums joining, we’ve begun to identify cities that have three or more participating museums and we call these cities ‘Hub Cities,’” said Cartwright. “We try to give them a little more resources and try to get them to work together. ‘Hub Cities’ have more opportunities to do more cross-marketing and outreach like perhaps a family starts at the children’s museum and then as the children get older they get more interested in the science or art museum but then the whole family wants to go to the zoo, etc. It’s a way to expand on the cultural offerings when more museums participate in one city.”

    There are about 70 Hub Cities with three in New York State; NYC, Rochester, and Ithaca with the Sciencenter being one of the very first museums to join.

    "The Sciencenter adopted the Museums For All initiative early on because we strongly believe in providing all members of our community with access to hands-on science experiences,” said Kelly Barclay, Public and Media Relations Manager at the Sciencenter. “In 2022 alone we've had over 1,500 people visit the museum using MfA entry. This program allows families who cannot afford the price of admission a chance to explore, connect, and create with science at our museum. We've received great feedback from our community regarding this program and we will continue to prioritize it at the Sciencenter."

    Since joining in 2014, the Sciencenter has seen almost a total of 18,000 visitors using the Museums for All program or representing 3% of total visitors. Most of those visitors turned out to be graduate students. “I think that they were expecting one type of visitor would be taking advantage of this program and then were surprised about who was actually coming throught the door. We give training and we really try to emphasize that you cannot make assumptions about why someone might be eligible but you’re there to share the museum with them.”


    Reporting

    Cartwright conducts and shares quarterly attendance reports through a reporting page on the Museums for All website. “It varies a little bit but overall about 3% of total museum visitors are using the Museums for All program. That percentage is a bit higher in children’s museums averaging closer to 6% and history and art museums are a bit lower averaging closer to 1%. But regardless of size or geographic location, that 3% is pretty solid across the board. 

    In New York State, there are now 62 participating museums, which combined have served 53,435 people through the program. Museums in New York State average Museums for All attendance is at 1.5% with the highest percentage of total visitors at the Utica Children’s Museum with 6%. New York State is third overall with the most participating museums. 


    Additional benefits 

    According to a 2018 report, 45% of museums join Museums for All as a way to help them provide better access to community members and 27% join because the initiative fits the museum’s mission, vision, or larger diversity, equity, access, and inclusion plans.

    “I joined ACM in November 2021 and one of the reasons that I was very interested in this role and what they were doing was because of Museums for All,” said Keni Sturgeon, Director of Strategic Initiatives for ACM. “What’s been interesting to me is those who’ve been members that offered low-cost admission are now exploring reduced membership options. Museums are using Museums for All as a conversation starter about what it really means to be an equitable museum around the financial side. To me, it’s been really interesting to see those conversations emerge and people reaching out to Brendan or sharing with others in the virtual hangouts about the work they’re doing in that area and it’s really wonderful to see.”

    In the 2018 report, more than 25% of museums saw an increase in attendance, development revenue, and program and membership subscription. 20% reported significant shifts in visitor demographics. 

    While IMLS and ACM don’t distribute any funding to museums through this program, participating museums are allowed to fundraise or seek sponsors on behalf of Museums for All at their institution and 30% of museums stated that it was actually a revenue driver to join the program. “Because Museums for All is about removing a financial barrier, you’re not necessarily giving up a full-price admission by offering it for $3 or less because your museum is reaching people that weren’t coming before. There’s usually no loss of revenue and some build development opportunities around the program.” 


    Where to learn more

    Museums interested in Museums for All can visit museums4all.org or email questions to Brendan Cartwright at brendan.cartwright@childrensmuseums.org. He also recommends taking a look at the current list of participating museums. “If a museum is curious about the program, they can visit our website to see if any of their neighbor museums are participating. I would encourage them to reach out to learn more about their experience.”


    Visit https://museums4all.org/ to learn more. 

  • August 30, 2022 4:13 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Joshua Ruff is the Deputy Director and Director of Collections & Interpretation at the Long Island Museum of American Art, History & Carriages, in Stony Brook. He is a graduate of Syracuse University with a dual major in Broadcast Journalism and in History, and Stony Brook University with a MA in History. Ruff has worked at the Long Island Museum for 25 years including as Curator of its History and Carriage Collections and has curated more than 60 exhibitions. 

    Recently named the next co-Executive Director of the Long Island Museum and elected to the MANY board this past April, we spoke with Ruff to learn more about this museum experience and what his new position will look like. 



    MANY: How did you get into the museum field? What was your career path like?


    Joshua Ruff: Maybe by accident. It wasn’t the life that I had planned for myself when I was thinking about a career but now I’ve been predominantly at one institution for 25 years; working with the museum’s collection, exhibitions, and all of the special projects. I've been very fortunate to have had worked with incredible mentors including the chief curator at the museum, William Ayers. I worked with him for 16 years before he retired and then I was promoted to his position  Our outgoing Executive Director Neil Watson was also a mentor. Those are just two incredible people who have left a great mark on me that I've been lucky to have known and worked with. 

    Working in museums was nothing that I imagined or anticipated but it’s been a progressively deeper experience. I've worked in curatorial positions throughout my career but with more administrative responsibilities as time has gone on. 


    What other experiences outside your museum career have you found most helpful in your role now? 

    While attending Syracuse University as an undergrad majoring in Broadcast Journalism, public speaking,  working with the press and media, and video production. The Long Island Museum produces videos for exhibitions and our YouTube Channel. So I have a big role in video productions using those skills.  

    The ability to ask questions about what is interesting and to communicate with a broad audience is an important skill that I learned early on, even if I didn’t know what I thought I would do with that skill, but now it’s incredibly useful in my museum career. It’s important to connect beyond a specialized audience, especially in museums. We need to be able to talk to a variety of people and the only way you get better at it is to do it as often as you can. 


    What are some of your biggest motivations to do what you do? What do you get excited about in your role as both Deputy Director and Director of Collections & Interpretation?

    The ability to work with and preserve our collections but also develop a long-term goal and vision about how we do that. But also it’s really the folks that I work with.

    I have twenty-seven colleagues at the museum. The curatorial department is small, but we have a great work culture where there is a lot of interconnection, sharing, and creativity. We’ve got each other's backs and that motivates me more than anything. I want to do my best to help my colleagues. I think museums do great things, especially when they have people working together, creating in harmony, and putting in an effort which is not a small thing to be able to achieve. 



    How do you create that environment?

    You have to set the tone every day in meetings and the work that you do. For me, I’m in the thick of things and I've worked for people who didn’t sit in a chair and tell people what to do. That's not my style nor is it the style of the people that I've worked for. I think you have to trust and respect what people are good at, learn what they’re good at, come together, and have trust in the process. I’m the first one to admit that I will never know everything, but I trust the people that I work with that are more specialized to do the job, but I will be involved in the discussion about where we need to go. 


    You were recently promoted to the position of Executive Director sharing the duties with Sarah Abruzzi set to start this fall. Can you tell me more about how those duties will be split? How will the decision to have co-Executive Directors impact the museum? Is this a long-term plan for the museum?

    It’s definitely a long-term approach. Sarah and I were interviewed together by the board of trustees and it was very much “this is our path moving forward” conversation. Sarah’s responsibilities will be advancement and operations and mine will be collections, programming, and visitor services. We will work together on all of this too. I think the reason it will work for us is we have great mutual respect and work well together. This is years in the making. We’ve been Deputy Directors together for four years and in that role, we worked closely with our executive director Neil Watson. So when people ask “how will this work?”, well it has been working. It’s something that has been successful over these last few years, especially the last couple of years as museums reimagine their futures.

    In the complicated world of running museums, an approach where you have shared responsibility in leadership can be a great model for an institution. 

    We feel really confident that it will work at the Long Island Museum and that this structure will  expand our footprint and allow us to build community partnerships and meet our constituents. We’re also going to be learning and know that learning will be a part of the process. 


    Would your 18-year-old self imagine that you would be where you are today? 

    I thought I was going to be a sports broadcaster. Growing up, I was consumed by sports and I thought that’s what I was going to do. I went to Syracuse University for Broadcast journalism and it was only while there as a student that I started taking history classes and adding a history major. For me going into museum work was nonlinear. I had formative experiences growing up and those experiences brought me to museums. Then once I was almost done with graduate school at Stony Brook, I started working with the Long Island Museum as a curatorial assistant. I remember thinking that it was only going to be a couple of years and then I was going to go back into grad school and be a professor of history, but they got their hooks in me, I decided to stay with it, and it became my career. 


    Can you tell us about where you grew up?

    I grew up in Upstate New York. Both of my parents went to Cornell University so I grew up in Ithaca and then after they split up, I went to live with my mom in Johnson City. We definitely visited a lot of museums when I was a kid growing up. I remember many trips to the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell and just being in awe of their African Art Collection and some of their Hudson River School paintings where you could kind of see yourself in this vast wilderness. My parents had a 10-acre farm and we were outside constantly.

    After I graduated from college, I volunteered at the Roberson Museum in Binghamton, and it was the first time I ever worked in a museum. I helped catalog their glass plate photograph collection. The privilege of being able to handle that collection that you normally would just see on display, I’m still addicted to that kind of stuff, all these years later. You get to know these things as intimately as you would people and that’s a real privilege. 


    What are some of your favorite moments while on the job? Is there an achievement that you are most proud of?

    I would have to say the fact that over the course of COVID our staff all stayed with us. We had one educator leave for a new job and other than that, we entirely stayed together. I don’t say that’s my achievement but something that we all achieved together. 

    Favorite moments include when an exhibition goes up or when the last label is written.I love it because of the long process to get to those moments. I’ve done a lot of exhibitions throughout my career and it’s always been exciting.

    I would say the last thing I’m proud of is that we recently completed our Land Acknowledgment with the Setalcott Nation. It was a very eye-opening process and I’m proud that it’s a start of a long-term relationship that is going to help the community and give them an understanding of our heritage and history of this land. 


    Blue sky question, what would you want to do at the museum, no limits? What’s a project you would love to do? 

    I keep thinking that there are a lot of museums partnering with contemporary artists who are using a museum’s collection as inspiration to create a new perspective. I would love to hire a contemporary artist or artists to use our William Sidney Mount painting collection that has some heavy things to say about race and class in America’s 19th century and here we are in the 21st century looking at many of the same issues but through a different lens and with a different understanding of it. 

    We also have a carriage collection at the museum and with our current conversation about the future of electric transportation, i think that maybe having a contemporary artist do a take on the horseless electric carriage of the future might be a fun interesting throughline connection that goes back to the beginning of it, a connection from past to present.  

  • July 27, 2022 9:34 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Zulmilena Then, Preservation Manager, Weeksville Heritage Center at the 2022 annual conference in Corning, NY –MANY’s inaugural recipient of the Scholarship for BIPOC Museum Administrators

    As a native Brooklynite, grassroots organizer and activist, Zulmilena Then works in various capacities to preserve her home community. She holds a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Pratt Institute and currently serves as the Preservation Manager for the Weeksville Heritage Center (WHC). In this capacity, she ensures the integrity and long-term preservation of the Historic Hunterfly Road Houses, the only remaining domestic structures of 19th-century Weeksville. Before WHC, while working with the Black-owned architectural firm Michael Ivanhoe McCaw Architect, P.C, renovating historic buildings throughout Brooklyn, mainly in Bed-Stuy, she realized the power historic buildings have in anchoring our communities. In 2015, this inspired her to form, Preserving East New York (PENY), an organization focused on celebrating and elevating the voices of the predominantly Black and Brown East New York community to make a real social and political change to protect the neighborhood through historic preservation.

    Zulmilena Then is the inaugural recipient of the Scholarship for BIPOC Museum Administrators. As part of her conference scholarship, we asked her to share more about her role at Weeksville and her reflection on the conference.

    ----

    Stepping into the museum field at the start of 2020 at Weeksville Heritage Center (WHC) in Brooklyn, NY, was not what I expected as the Preservation Manager. I came into the institution to care for the historic Hunterfly Road Houses, the last residential remnants of the historic Weeksville neighborhood, one of the largest 19th-century free African American communities in the United States. But two months after starting my role, COVID-19 shut down our worlds and forced us to stay at home. Suddenly separated physically from the structures the institution hired me to care for was perplexing; how do I do my job from home? The pandemic changed how I engaged with the site, the historic houses and my work and opened the doors to incite thinking beyond the traditional ways we previously had conformed to fulfill our roles at work and in life.

    While the world swiftly learned to adapt to different ways of living and working, the events unfolding shortly after the shutdown sparked a fire for the Black Lives Matter movement to rise again, unequivocally triggering the racist roots and oppressive systems we have inherited since birth. The pandemic has been a shifting moment for people, organizations, and governments to re-evaluate themselves and their roles in enforcing systems that have not been equal and just. With Envisioning Our Museums For the Seventh Generation, the Museum Association of New York's Annual Conference opened up a space to reflect on what that would mean for each of us within the museum field, what role we play, and how our actions will take shape for the seventh generation. The Seventh Generation Principle is an Indigenous philosophy about being mindful of our present-day actions and decisions and the impact they will have on the seventh generation.

    During the conference opening, Jamie Jacobs of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation, Turtle Clan, curator at the Rochester Museum and Science Center for the Rock Foundation, welcomed us and delivered his message in the Indigenous Seneca language, followed by English translations. I marveled at the poetics of his tongue and rich expressions. With a room filled with English speakers, I thought it was a beautiful and powerful move—a reminder of where we stand, the sacred land of the Indigenous. It was also a reminder to come up, show up as you are, and take up space. As a person of color, a daughter of immigrants where English was my second language growing up, and as a preservationist and professional just starting in the white-dominated museum field, it was a moment of empowerment. While listening to them, I reflected on information access in museums. How are museums working to be more inclusive? Are digital, audio and printed materials available in languages other than English? Are we gatekeeping information by not doing so? Why are we not reaching beyond the English language? Or are we using language to separate ourselves and exclude others? 

    After Jamie Jacobs followed the Opening Keynote by Chloe Hayward, Associate Director of Education at the Studio Museum in Harlem, who delivered a phenomenal introspective speech. One question she asked that stuck with me was, "How are we as museums co-creating with communities we are with and a part of? How are we making space?". This question made me reflect on who has access to information, how information is shared, and who the targeted audience is for museums. When in early 2020, the world closed its doors for in-person connections, the internet opened its doors and provided broader opportunities we hadn't explored before. While the internet provided closeness in the digital world, it also excluded those without access to the technology. While the internet can facilitate instant and wider outreach, how are organizations and institutions connecting to the surrounding community beyond the museum's building and digital walls? Is there community outreach in person? Is the targeted audience representative of the surrounding neighborhoods, and are we creating opportunities to give underrepresented communities access? Are those communities sitting at the table to influence our programming and engagement? Are we asking what their needs are, and are we supporting them? Are we invited to sit at their table? If not, how do we build community trust? 

    While hope for a better place exists, change can only start from within. Are we doing the work within ourselves to bring about the change we want and need in the world? Only then can we dismantle the racist, oppressive, inequitable and unjust systems we've inherited. Only then can the world and its institutions start being shaped by how the nation should move forward into a just and inclusive environment. A better world we can begin to birth for the Seventh Generation.

    –Zulmilena Then, Preservation Manager, Weeksville Heritage Center, July 2022

  • July 22, 2022 10:29 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Dr. Callie Johnson is the Director of Communications & Community Engagement at Buffalo AKG Art Museum, formerly the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. She is an award-winning marketing, communications, and nonprofit leadership executive. Dr. Johnson serves in an executive role stewarding the rebranding of America’s sixth oldest art museum, which is in the process of becoming the Buffalo AKG Art Museum. She is the former Executive Vice President of Marketing for Girl Scouts of Western New York and a current member of the Forbes Communications Council, an invitation-only community for executives in communications, marketing, and public relations. She is the winner of two Buffalo Business First awards—40 Under 40 and 30 Under 30 —for making a difference both on the job and in the community. She is a Buffalo-Niagara 360 Spotlight Professional for her career success and her commitment to strengthening the Buffalo Niagara region. She was awarded three Girl Scouts of Western New York Finance Certificates of Accomplishment and a Commitment to Excellence Award. We spoke with Dr. Johnson about her career journey, lessons learned from her previous jobs, and what makes her excited about her role at the AKG Art Museum.


    Dr. Callie Johnson volunteering at Buffalo Promise Neighborhood reading to students

    Can you tell us more about your career path? What was your journey to your current position at the Albright-Knox?

    My journey to the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, formerly the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, was a welcome surprise given that I had been in my former marketing executive role for several years. I began my career in product and advertising sales and shifted to the nonprofit sector. I have spentmore than 15-years as a marketing communications servant leader in multiple areas, including human services, education, the arts, and practically everything in between. I always want the work that I’m a part of to serve as a catalyst for greater positive changes in the lives of people, society, and the world. 


    What other experiences in your career have you found most helpful in your role now? 

    Being a mentor and a mentee throughout my career have been excellent ways to both gain valuable lessons from peers or other more seasoned professionals and to pay it forward. I always like to keep building my skill toolkit along the way with the important lessons that I learn from either a process or an interaction. It’s the collection of these lessons and skills that helps to make me a stronger and more effective professional. 


    What are some of your biggest motivations to do what you do? What do you get excited about in your role as the Director of Communications & Community Engagement?

    My biggest motivation and excitement are around knowing that I’ve joined the Buffalo AKG at a historic time, during the rebranding and expansion of the campus. I’m extremely excited about having the Communications and Community Engagement areas under one umbrella to work in tandem and help broaden our visitation, membership, and inclusivity as an institution. We are engaged in extensive groundwork by being out in the community, building new relationships, and strengthening existing relationships that we have treasured for years. We are also using marketing communications mediums as tools to communicate the evolution of the museum and its many offerings. 


    Albright-Knox is undergoing a massive transformation. From your expertise in community engagement, public relations, and communications, what are some of your goals/strategies for keeping the community informed of this process and how will these goals change when the museum opens?

    In order to ensure everyone in our community is aware of the construction and opening of the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, we have embarked upon a strategic communications and marketing campaign that represents the most substantial public outreach in the museum’s history. Through owned, earned, and paid media, we are working hard to speak directly to everyone in our community and around the world. At the same time, we are also pursuing extensive community engagement in a way that dovetails with our communications efforts. It is essential that we communicate clearly and consistently both with the thousands of individuals and families who already know and love the museum and with countless others to whom we are introducing ourselves for the first time. 


    Would your 18-year-old self imagine that you would be where you are today? 

    My 18-year-old self had a fierce determination to be successful. I know at that age, I never would’ve imagined that I would earn a PhD, so that would be a huge shocker moment for 18-year-old Callie.  


    Can you tell us about where you grew up? (school, family, hometown, etc.) What was it like growing up there?

    I grew up on the east side of the great city of Buffalo, NY. The area on the east side where I grew up was challenging, but there was always a steady supply of faith, love, and laughs. I am one of five children and very proud to be a first-generation college graduate. 


    Since you started last July, are there any particular memories that stand out to you? Any favorite moments while on the job? Is there an achievement that you are most proud of?

    I would say that a favorite moment is completing my first year on the job at the Buffalo AKG and successfully transitioning our Publications and Digital Experience Department such that it is now under the umbrella of Communications and Community Engagement. Starting a new role is seldom easy—in fact it can be very scary—and I am proud that I continue to challenge myself in this new space and work through the growing pains to lead my team, be a good colleague, and help us reach our institutional goals. Even though there is a lot more work to be done, I’m proud that we are being more intentional and moving in the right direction to start reaching the communities who have not traditionally visited the museum in the past. 


    For fun, you have an entire museum to yourself. What do you do?

    True to my job, I would have a big community day and activate the whole campus indoors and outdoors with fun activities for 24 hours. I would have six, four-hour blocks of time filled with different amazing and awe-inspiring experiences for people of all ages and abilities. 


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