Week of 08/18/16-08/26/16- Wrapping Up

08/18/16-08/19/16

The last two weeks of my summer internship passed unremarkably yet quickly. I was kept busy with necessary administrative tasks to ensure a smooth entry into the “application phase” of the program, particularly making final changes to the program application so that it can be posted on FashioNEXT’s forthcoming microsite. I also sent out the document to everyone I reached out to earlier in the summer.

I mentioned in my last post that I will continue working on implementing this program throughout the fall and spring, so I will get more experience constructing and populating a microsite. I am looking forward to getting more hands-on experience dealing with digital media in museums and historic institutions. I also continued ordering materials and attending to fundraising duties.

08/26/16

My last day of my “summer” internship occurred last Friday. I continued sending out program applications and made meetings to discuss participation with youth programs in the city. These meetings are often spent explaining in detail the program’s outcomes and discussing how it can fit into a curriculum and/or existing program schedules. My former teaching experience comes in handy  because I am well acquainted with lesson-planning and articulating how materials relate to state/national standards

All in all, the program is coming together but the work is far from over. The work I did this summer will be essential when the application period opens this September. This internship has helped me to understand the necessity of time in creating educational programs for cultural institutions. This internship also emphasized the importance of creating annual programs at museums. Having an established network that grew over multiple years has helped me immensely in forming a base for outreach and fundraising while also providing necessary context for which audiences have yet to be reached. It was my goal this summer to get more diverse youth organizations from throughout the city to apply for the program. I am optimistic with the outreach  I performed over the summer that the Chicago History Museum will see new audiences this fall when the application window opens.

A major highlight of the summer for me was getting experience with Connected Learning, a method of instruction that combines 21st century media with educational program development. I wrote more about Connected Learning in a previous post so I won’t go into the particulars here, but having background in this method of instruction will be useful in future programs I develop elsewhere.

 

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Catching Up– July 28th-August 12th

This blog post will serve to catch me up to the present in terms of posting schedule. I did some traveling at the end of July/the beginning of August to New Orleans and missed a week of work I only have two weeks to document instead of three.

Week of July 28th and July 29th

The highlight of this week for me was when my supervisor and I led a meeting with the  heads of the Marketing, Exhibit Design, and Education departments to discuss the design of the exhibit space that will be used to showcase the winning entries of the FashioNEXT program. Having very little to no experience in the realm of exhibit design I was interested to see the how meetings like this set the stage for final development of an exhibit space.

I soon found the biggest concerns for the Exhibit Design team as well as the Marketing team were the deadlines for the contest myself and my supervisor has tentatively established. Working backwards from the time of the FashioNEXT exhibit “reveal,” we had to factor in deadlines based on the demands of another large-scale exhibit slated to open at the Chicago History Museum in the winter. I learned that museum Exhibit Design departments and Marketing, especially with institutions as large as the Chicago History Museum, have to deal with tight deadlines throughout the year from various projects. Although not illuminating per se, it did give me a new-found appreciation for the behind-the-scenes work done to support the success of museum exhibits. Needless to say we pushed the deadlines back a week to give these departments plenty of time to shift gears from one exhibit to another.

In the meeting we also discussed restrictions of the given exhibit space and how to display the items to their best effect in spite of the limited area the museum allocated for the exhibition.  The space allocated for the exhibit is very small and beside the donor wall in the main lobby of the museum. Lighting, banners, floor decals, and panels were all considered to make the smaller space more visually interesting. It reminded me of discussions in Digital Media that stressed the importance of usability, interface, and appearance of the online resource as well as the content. In this particular case, the concerns of the design teams were to be as attractive as possible visually in order to invite engagement. I am looking forward to seeing how the exhibit attracts viewers given the uniqueness and limitations of the given space.

Week of August 11th- August 12th

Since I am approaching the end of my internship at the museum, one of the final tasks I must perform to prepare this program for implementation is purchasing supplies, or ideally, getting them donated to the museum. Throughout the summer I have done a lot of work sending out fundraising letters and cold-calling retailers and supporters of the museum to assess their interest. Fundraising has been the biggest chore for me thus far as I rarely hear back from anyone I reach out to; however, I have managed to acquire additional funding from arts organizations in the city to go toward the purchasing of supplies. I was able to confidently approach many organizations because of the experience I gained from Public History Methods & Theory designing a fundraising project for the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society. I’m not as concerned about the slow response time since there is still so much time left before the program begins– more urgent and aggressive methods would probably need to be used closer to the event. Luckily, there is a generous budget already for supplies so whatever is not donated can be bought.

Keeping track of the event budget, purchasing supplies, reaching out to organizations for donations, and performing outreach to community organizations generally fill my days as an Education Assistant. My next two weeks are meant to be my last but my supervisor approached me to see if I might be interested in seeing the event through to the end. If my schedule permits, I hope to continue the work I’m doing at the Chicago History Museum into the school year. Having the experience of planning a large-scale educational program like this would be a valuable credential to take with me into future career prospects.

 

 

“Outreach, Outreach, Outreach” 07/14/16-07/22/16

The week of July 7th and 8th I took a break from work and visited beautiful Milwaukee. It was a great trip and no work things happened. I returned to work on the 11th and things kept moving right along.

Week of 07/14/16-07/15/16

Here’s what I wrote in my log the week of 07/14/16:

Thursday: “Wrote a letter requesting in-kind donations in the form of materials from community retailers and members of the Costume Council (Note: The Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum is sponsoring the exhibit and FashioNEXT program). Reached out to Peter Alter (Note: Chicago Historian) about contacts for East Garfield Area Schools.”

Friday: “Sent invitation letter to Veronica Roth’s representation at New Leaf Literary. Reached out to local community groups and youth organizations that may be interested in the project. Began scheduling meetings to talk over conditions of participation, scheduling, etc.”

Week of 07/21/16-07/22/16

Thursday was a unique day for me because I attended a HIVE Chicago Meetup at the Harold Washington Branch of the Chicago Public Library. HIVE Chicago is a consortium of 84 local organizations, including the Chicago History Museum, that aim to support Connected Learning pedagogy into their youth programming (for more on Connected Learning click here). Essentially, Connected Learning is a style of lesson planning and education program development that strives to integrate technology and new media into the learning process to inspire greater connectivity. The themes of this pedagogy were very reminiscent of the discussions my classmates and I had in the Public History and New Media class last spring, particularly the discussions of differences of Web 2.0 platforms versus interactions the public has with the Web in the past. The meeting brought to light for me many of the challenges faced by various disciplines and organizations  that strive to keep their content relevant and meaningful to young audiences using digital and new media.  Time was set aside during the meeting to discuss strategies to face some of those challenges (called “Moon-Shots” by HIVE…still not sure why…) as well as generally network and advertise upcoming programming.

On Friday I continued my routine of reaching out to community organizations and setting meetings to discuss participation in the program. I wrote in my log for 07/22/16, “Outreach, Outreach, Outreach!”

Next Friday we meet with the Exhibit Design Department, Marketing, and the rest of Education Department to discuss the design of the exhibit space where the winning entries of FashioNEXT will be displayed for three months. I am looking forward to learning about some basics of Museum Exhibit Design, a section of museum work I have little to no experience with.

 

 

Trucking Along-June 23, 2016-July 1st, 2016

It’s been awhile since I’ve update this blog, in part because I went to Milwaukee for vacation. This means I didn’t work at the Chicago History Museum last week (and I was too preoccupied touring Milwaukee’s many, many breweries to write a lengthy post). Here is an update of what I accomplished at the museum the two weeks before last:

The week of June 23rd and 24th I had the special privilege of meeting the president of the Chicago History Museum, Gary T. Johnson. The CHM staff coordinated an event for all of the museum’s interns to have a sit-down lunch and meet-and-greet with Gary in order to provide us with the opportunity to ask questions about the museum and show face with the head of one of Chicago’s largest museums.  Gary spoke to us more about what his position entails (lots and lots of meetings with donors) as well as his opinion on current events in the field. As a group we spoke at length about the battle the Friends of the Parks waged against the Lucas Museum’s plans to build on lakefront property. As a whole the group seemed to mirror the frustrations of the president, expressing their disappointment that the city had lost such massive cultural capital; however, this is unsurprising given the fact we’re all for the most part aspiring museum professionals and will be looking for jobs sometime in the near future.

I also assisted the Education Department in helping with last minute preparations for the museum’s 52nd annual July 4th celebration. This mostly entailed ordering decorations and working with vendors to arrange drop-off before the day of, but it gave me a good idea of the logistics required to operate a large-scale and the detailed planning needed in advance. The event usually attracts 1000+ people, so there are a lot of moving parts to consider, not excluding streamers, balloons, and , thousands of miniature flags.

On June 30th and July 1st I was back working on my own assignment, FashioNEXT. I continued to work on targeting community organizations to market the event too as well as preparing the packet of materials that will go out explaining the program and its educational outcomes. In the fall, this process will continue with local schools when they are back in session. The highlight of this week for me was meeting with the curator of Making Mainbocher, Petra Slinkard. Since FashioNEXT will be implemented to support engagement with this exhibit, I was very excited to talk to the curator in depth about the source material the participants will be using down the line to complete their own projects. In this meeting, I learned more about previous incarnations of the program to inform my current planning, including what worked and what didn’t work in past years, and got more insight into the politics of funding educational programs in a large museum (i.e there isn’t a whole lot).

The most valuable thing I think I learned from those two weeks was the importance of planning events backwards. Selecting your dates (sometimes a year in advance) not only cements to time in the museum’s own busy schedule, but it is essential for marketing and outreach purposes to have those dates in stone in order to plan effectively. I also learned from Petra that it is important to creatively incorporate various collections into programs for the greatest educational impact. Even though it seems counter-intuitive to draw attention to many collections when the program is centered around one single exhibit, doing so creates opportunities for wider engagement with several museum collections at once. As a result, participants are more likely to leave the experience with a deeper understanding of historical events. Even though FashioNEXT is primarily inspired by an exhibit focused on one fashion designer, several collections within the museum can be used as supplemental information for students. Collections narrating the histories of  WWI and WWII could inform participants of the anxieties people felt in response to the conflicts, including what they should or should not wear. Designer Mainbocher created some of his most celebrated designs during these turbulent years.

Next time I’ll have to include some pictures of Milwaukee. The city is very unlike Chicago- in a good way! Until next time.

 

Getting to Work — June 9, 2016-June 17, 2016

The first two weeks of my new internship consisted chiefly of becoming familiar with the logistical details of my work for the summer and set the foundations for outreach I will perform later in the summer. Getting in and out of the building, preparing my work space, becoming familiar with the museum and its exhibits: all of these aspects filled my time and made the time I spent at work fly by.

On my first day, my supervisor encouraged me to become acquainted with past iterations of my current project, FashioNEXT, as well as become familiar with the subject of the Chicago History Museum’s upcoming exhibit Making Mainbocher: The First American Couturier: Main Rousseau Bocher (I wrote more about the exhibit and project in a previous post). The FashioNEXT program will use the designer and his work as inspiration for their own designs, so I needed to study up on the man his lasting significance to the academic discipline of costume history.

To help me get started, I was able to take a look at the most current exhibit narrative as well as images of the clothing selected for exhibition. A detailed floor plan allowed me to see where each article of clothing would be placed in order to tell the story of Mainbocher’s rise to prominence, from his beginnings on the West Side of Chicago to his return to New York after years designing haute couture in his Paris atelier. This was extremely useful in regards to strengthening my own understanding of story-telling as it relates to curating museum exhibits. On my own, I found articles in scholarly journals like Costume: The Journal of the Costume Society and researched the online archives at Vogue to flesh out my understanding of the man and his lasting significance.

I also started tackling the groundwork of researching schools, community groups, and art centers that the museum could reach out to for its teen-aged participants, making a possible materials list inspired by the fabrics and design elements from the collection. In addition, I compiled a list of potential sources for in-kind donations of materials for the competition when the time came. I was glad for the experience of doing this for the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society last fall in Methods class! It came in handy when compiling information for potential business partnerships and crafting the e-mail that I will send out requesting donations.

The most valuable experience for me from my first two weeks happened rather spontaneously; my supervisor asked if I could take minutes for a debriefing meeting for one the Chicago History Museum’s larger functions, the ChicaGO24. The programming managers, members from marketing and social media teams, visitor services representatives, and website coordinators all met to go over the data they compiled from various sources including their website, social media accounts, and SurveyMonkey (which fellow grad students and I used for feedback of our own bar crawl/history tour this past May). Invaluably, I got to see the methods the museum uses to compile data and what trends they found most important for future reflection in smaller work groups.  The main theme I noticed throughout the meeting was that demographic data was a cause for concern among the staff, something many museums I know grapple with in conceptualizing how to reach diverse audiences and tell stories for every audience. Also, converting attendees to members was  a matter of principal concern. In the meeting they offered different ways they might incentivize membership for future or existing visitors.

All in all I had a busy few weeks! I will most more in two weeks time.

 

 

A New Direction

Until recently, this blog consisted exclusively of assignments that I completed for my Public History and New Media course last spring. I reviewed online exhibits, reflected on course readings, and explored the interactivity of New Media as it pertains to the field of Public History. Since the class is now over and done with, this blog will be taking a new direction.

This summer I am working as an Education Assistant with the Chicago History Museum in their Education Department. In my new role, I will work closely with the Manager of Public Programs to plan an educational experience for Chicago-area teens related to their upcoming exhibit Making Mainbocher: The First American Couturier. This experience, called FashioNEXT, is a design competition that challenges creative young people to create, construct, and exhibit garments inspired by the clothing found in the new exhibition. This blog will now serve as a journal of my experiences working on this project as well as my reflections on the process of creating an education program for a museum from start to finish. It will also consist of a log of my activities.  In this journal I hope to connect my work to the theories I learned in my coursework from this past school year, as well as more largely to my knowledge of the profession of public history.

To learn more about the Chicago History Museum click here. A microsite for the Making Mainbocher exhibit and the FashioNEXT program are currently under construction, but the exhibit is featured on the Chicago History Museum’s exhibit page here.

Sustainability and the Women & Leadership Archives

The sustainability of digital exhibits and collections is fundamentally important to the lasting significance of a cultural institutions online presence. Why bother going to the lengths of creating an engaging, interactive, and most importantly,  costly website if it will not work in a few years time? In our reading for this week, Ithaka S+R’s Searching for Sustainability: Strategies from Eight Digitized Special Collections  provides case studies with examples for curators of digital content to consult when formulating sustainability at their institutions. The examples from the study portray the following strategies:

  1. Building a comprehensive digital collection and creating a vital revenue stream through commercial partnerships

  2. Sustainable growth through collaborative partnerships

  3. Building User Engagement for a Sustainable Future

  4. Cultivating a targeted user group for support and content

  5. Upfront investment in user-friendly back-end systems allows for continual growth

  6. Investing in distributed capacity-building for continuous growth

  7. Shared infrastructure supports long-term sustainability and modest growth

  8. Securing institutional support for a national mission 

(source: Deanna Marcum, Nancy L. Moran, Sarah Pickle. http://sr.ithaka.org/?p=22647)

Since I work for the Women & Leadership Archives (WLA) on Loyola University Chicago’s campus, and my project group is currently building a digital exhibit to be housed on its website, I decided to look at possible sustainability problems that may arise with one of the WLA’s current exhibits. One exhibit in particular may prove to be more difficult to maintain later on: The Legion of Young Polish Women Digital Exhibit.

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The Legion of Young Polish Women exhibit is hosted on Loyola University Chicago’s server and uses Omeka to display the artifacts and papers that articulate the narrative of the organization’s history. Along with scans of correspondence and images of individual founders, the exhibit includes audio and video from members narrating accounts of certain charitable events the legion participated in. The files videos download in the .mov format, which uses Quicktime as its player. However, a major problem that emerges for digital historians is keeping file formats up to date with the latest technology. In fact, that reality has already come to pass. For example, older versions of Quicktime, like the one this exhibit utilizes, will no longer be supported on Apple products as of January, 2016. Certain portions of this exhibit may already out of reach for a specific audience of user if they use Quicktime 7.0 or earlier. Unfortunately, these are the harsh realities of working with sustainability in the digital world

When considering our own exhibit, we will have to consider the formats that will be the most sustainable for future researchers to use for years to come.

 

 

Exhibit Narrative for Mollie West: A Century of Activism

The structure of our final project’s narrative focuses on the life of one woman, labor leader and activist Mollie Leiber West, and traces her life story from her birth in Poland in 1916 until her death in 2015. During the course of her long and productive life, Mollie experienced some of the most significant events of the twentieth century including the Great Depression and World War II. Along the way, she fiercely advocated for the rights of workers to unionize and peacefully demonstrate and advocated for the equality of women in the labor force. Her collection, house at the Women and Leadership Archives on Loyola University Chicago’s campus, offers researchers not only essential information concerning the labor movement in Chicago, but also showcases the life of a singular woman who dedicated her life to causes of social justice.

Our exhibit will follow Mollie’s life chronologically from 1916 onward. Beginning in Poland, we will recount the early years of her life and their lasting significance throughout her years of young adulthood as an immigrant to the United States. Overcoming a language barrier and education gap, Mollie enrolled as a freshman at Marshall High School in 1930 after only a year of catch up at Shepard Elementary School.

We begin the narrative of Mollie’s work as a labor activist in 1934 when she and some of classmates were arrested and held overnight preparing for a strike to oppose cutting funding for extracurricular activities at their school. This event spurred her involvement in larger organizations defending the rights of workers to unionize. Her subsequent involvement in labor union leadership and sympathies toward the  Communist party can be traced back to the events of May 30, 1937, when Mollie witnessed the police brutality against peaceful protesters in what became known as the Memorial Day Massacre. In addition to turbulent political activities, Mollie experienced great personal tragedy during the years of World War II when her first husband Carl Leiber died in France. In the face of this tragedy, Mollie would go on to hold leadership positions in a number of labor organizations, found CLUW, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and be entered into the Chicago Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990.

Since the Women and Leadership Archives houses the records of Mollie West, and will host the exhibit through the Loyola University Chicago Special Collections, the social media campaign will mostly be focused on reaching out to the public through both of these institutions’ blogs, twitters, and Facebook pages. In addition to publicizing the exhibit through these channels, we will reach out to the Illinois Labor Historical Society, as Mollie was a member of their Executive Committee, to do promotion of the exhibit. By reaching out through those channels, the exhibit will reach the Loyola University Chicago Community and potentially all of Chicago.

 

Online Exhibition Review: 150 Years of Wonderland

The Morgan Library & Museum hosted a temporary exhibit in late 2015 entitled “Alice: 150 Years in Wonderland” celebrating the 150th anniversary of the classic work of children’s literature and its lasting influence. This exhibition featured the Morgan’s own unique collection of Alice and Wonderland memorabilia and original illustrations as well as  materials on loan from the British Library. To supplement the in-person temporary exhibit the Morgan Library and Museum created a companion online exhibit that boasts several innovations including transcriptions of correspondence detailing the history of the original manuscript,  a Spotify playlist listing songs inspired by the story, and video of early film adaptations.

alice-intro

“Alice: 150 Years of Wonderland” uses video as a method to enhance the engagement of its audience by offering original footage different film adaptions of Carroll’s book. This section, Alice on the Silver Screen, offers three very different film adaptations for the exhibit viewers. The first film version of Alice in Wonderland, released in 1903, was the first instance of Lewis Carroll’s book being adapted to a film version. The original film is housed in the British Film Institute’s Archives. The second and third versions of the film shown on the site are from 1915 to 1931.  Each of the films are available to stream on the exhibit using YouTube as a platform.

In addition to using video to show digitized versions of film classics, the exhibit creators also produced a video in partnership with NYC-ARTS Choice describing the process of bringing the exhibit to life, the inspiration behind the famous story, and its legacy through the ages.  The video can be found here.

In the Videomaker Guide to Video Production, John Burkhart describes the benefits of using video as a medium to place an audience there with the subject, allowing viewers to experience the space on screen despite restrictions of time and space.  The Morgan Library & Museum uses this facet of the video-making process to their benefit. Using footage from the exhibit space and placing it online, like they did with the NYC-ARTS Choice video, creates opportunities for potential exhibit patrons to view the space and artifacts from the comfort of their own home, no matter how far away. Furthermore, allowing access to original film footage through a third party streaming service enables viewers to watch film from a different era, improving understanding of the different ways that the classic story has inspired popular culture in the years following its publication. Both experiences vastly enrich the educational content of the exhibit for its audience while accomplishing a primary goal of video-making: to entertain.

 

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Digital Storytelling: Where to begin?

ebooks

A comprehensive guide to the theory and techniques of story-telling in the digital age, Bryan Alexander’s New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media is a consummate “How To” guide for anyone wanting to take their unique stories, fiction or non-fiction, and put them online. Whether in a series of YouTube videos, blog posts, tweets, or something more extensive like a game or an exhibit, Alexander provides models of best practice for how to undergo the process of taking an idea from its beginning stages to its release. A section in Chapter 12 called “Digital Storytelling on Your Own” articulates two methods of digitizing a story concept:

  • Small-scale repetition

Perhaps the easiest way to jump into the world of releasing stories online, Alexander encourages storytellers to “begin with a small media horizon”– like single blog posts or updating sequential images to a Flickr account. The idea of this method is to intrigue your audience into following the progression of the tale being told as it unfolds. The important thing here, Alexander emphasizes is to start small. He writes, “The idea is to start a sequence, because the next step is to extend the story in time. If it’s an image on Flickr, write comments to carry the story further. Or create another image and make a pool of the two…If it’s a wiki page, make a second one, then a third listing the first two in order. If it’s a blog post, add comments and then a new post”(Alexander, 194.) Then you release it onto the web!

  • Large-scale project management

For larger projects with higher stakes, Alexander suggests relying on frameworks from the world of project management, particularly constructs from the film world. He highlights a multistage process for undertaking bigger digital story-telling projects:

1.Deliberate brainstorming

It takes time and energy to enter into a creative mindset–especially for those who do not enter it naturally. The brainstorming section, Alexander notes, is as psychological as it is technological. Taking the time to enter into this creative space and formulate a solid idea is crucial to the success of a project and requires time to accomplish.

2. Preproduction planning

After the process of brainstorming, the more technical section of planning happens. This is the time when project participants lay out timelines, milestones, and risk management strategies are developed here.

3. Production and creation

Actualize the story and make it live!

4. The social life of a digital story

The story-tellers must decide how to interact with the social life of the story. Will the creators create social media accounts for the story? How engaged will the creators be with the public? How involved will the public be with the story? How will harmful responders be handled? These are all questions that need to be considered.

5. The afterlife

 

Finally, Alexander addresses the importance of story creators formulating the plan for what will happen when the story reaches completion. The idea of sustainability is an important consideration for all digital projects, digital story-telling included. “Creators should decide how they will archive materials: perpetual hosting by themselves, outsourcing it to someone else, or relying on one of the major digital memory projects (Internet Archive, Google)” (Alexander, 195). Making the story available through sustainable means ensures the longevity of the project and its significance for future users.

Taking these methods into consideration makes the prospect of creating digital stories online a far less daunting prospect, at least for me. These frameworks, particularly the second, will inform my group’s work into developing our digital exhibit describing the life and career of labor leader Mollie West. As public historians, we construct engaging narratives all the time to engage audiences with the collections of particular cultural institutions. These frameworks will help me to do that work more intentionally going forward.