Thursday, June 30, 2011

Proposition 84

The California Department of Parks and Recreation Statewide Park Development and Community Revitalization Program grant went out in the mail today. This was a 59-page grant with a request of $2.175 million. The grant is for the creation of "new parks." It just so happens that when the museum property was transferred in 1987 by Congressional Act 990, it was conveyed to be “reserved, maintained, and utilized for public park (including museum) and recreational purposes.”

The grant has taken almost the whole month of June. This included several public meetings, estimating the construction of a dozen recreational features, getting a willing seller agreement for the 48 acres behind the museum in the last 24 hours, and finding a consultant to draw a site plan with a two day turn around.

If you have attended any of the public meetings we certainly appreciate your time and your input. Several ideas that were generated in these meetings went directly into the grant. Grant recipients will be notified in six months.

From what I have gathered about 47 grants will be awarded. This will maybe be 10-20% of the applications. Not very good odds. But if it was a lottery everyone would buy a ticket.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bats and Lasers

Several years ago I read a story about a bat exhibit that had been installed at a natural history museum. The exhibit was about how bats navigate with sound waves and they used an interactive laser to illustrate the point. When they previewed the exhibit, everyone wanted to play with the laser. No one wanted to read about bats.

What do you do in this case? Clearly the visitor is not getting it. The museum exhibit is about bats.

The museum removed the exhibit about bats and installed an exhibit about lasers.

When working with children in any program, the key is to create an environment where they can be successful and learn on their own. I received a comment a few weeks ago about the museum mind map we created. The mind map included a large discussion of "EDUCATION" which is something the museum does...and said nothing about "LEARNING" which is what the visitor does. Learning is a user directed activity.

Most museums think of themselves as educational institutions, as was evident to one of the readers of our mind map. When in reality, we should think of ourselves as learning institutions. 

Making coiled clay pots is hard. But working with clay is fun. On Thursday, there were a bunch of kids here. Most of them had never been inside the building before. They were not very successful in creating pots. But they were very successful in creating small things out of clay.

What do you do in this case? Clearly the visitor is not getting it. The museum program is about pots.

When they were leaving I heard one of the little boys tell his sister, "this place is fun."

I did not have the heart to tell him its not fun

...its a museum.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Kind of a Bummer for the Blog

Well, its kind of a bummer for the blog, but my camera was stolen out of the car while it was in the Starbucks parking lot in El Centro today. All of the great pictures from kids making pots yesterday are gone.

We might be able to take some pictures with phones, but there wont be pictures on the blog for a while.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Day Two: Coil Clay Pots

By Martin Hitch

Yesterday marked day two of the Museum's coiled pottery program. Both of Wednesday's attendants retuned, along with their youngest brother and two friends. We were also joined by a second family of four. So with total of eleven people in the building we were quickly out of space at our one table. We improvised and by putting a sheet of drywall on one of the round tables...presto, we were back to work.

On Wednesday Donna had the idea of attempting to build the pottery around a balloon, with the hopes that it would help the coils keep their form. When she returned with her grandchildren today she brought balloons.

This idea proved much more difficult than we had anticipated. The balloons quickly turned into a game of "keep the balloon from hitting the ground" and only one pot was compleated using the balloon meathod.

Despite the falling apart of the first couple of attempts, all the the students, as well as a few of there mothers compleated pots, a few of which turned out exceptionaly well for a first attempt.

Not to mention the production of a miniature tea set and a few mishapen snakes along the way.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hands-on Coiled Clay

Today the coiled clay pottery pilot program started. For the past week or so we have been demoing the activities to see whether or not children could successfully make a coiled clay pot. We quickly realized that the pot making was much more difficult than anticipated. However, after about our third attempt at making one, they really started to look good.

Today, we had two guests, Destanie and her grandmother Donna. This was the first time they had ever been inside the museum.

This was also their first time making pots of this style, and at the end of the session both of them had produced pieces that they were happy with. They both said that they would return tomorrow along with several other friends and family members.

If their experience goes anything like ours, tomorrows final products should be even better than today's.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Mind Mapping

At the last Strategic Planning session, participants and board members worked on creating a mind map of the idea of "Museum." A mind map is a graphical representation of an idea. Two ideas from our mind map of a museum are very interesting. One is that the idea of a museum as a gathering place for social change can be an overarching goal of a museum. In fact, this is an idea at the center of the 21st century museum. This is one of the foundational principals of the National Museum of the American Indian.

The second idea is that one of the most important parts of a museum is the area of "Do Things." I think this is the area where the museum lives, within the yellow bar above. Doing things can be understood as creating Experiential Hands-on Connections. This is important, because I believe that Physical Participation=Knowledge. The mind map can be seen as just a fun exercise. But it can also be seen as an important planning tool.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

It is Really Exciting when People are in the Building

This week the BLM hosted another meeting at the museum to discuss a recent archaeological study that has just been completed. It is really exciting when people are in the building looking at artifacts and discussing big ideas. It feels like a real museum.

One person commented to me that the museum must be moving forward. This was the second time he had been in the building in as many months. The last time he was here was two years ago.

The archaeological company brought several of the artifacts that had been collected. They are still undergoing curation, so they were just on display for the day. It was great to see "stuff" in the building, though.

The best comment made all day was when someone said they hated the fact that that one particular artifact was labeled "core," given a number, and listed with its weight in grams.

"When this gets put away in a box, no one is ever going to see anything  but that tag, and that means nothing," she said. "But when I pick it up and hold it in my hand, it speaks to me, it is more than number."

This is exactly why I work in museums. And this idea is what I hope the museum can become: A museum filled with stuff that "speaks" to people.

Now that's a mission statement.