Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Reclaimed "Things" From Our Commercial Past

Claimed and unclaimed artifacts from the city's former Commercial Museum will be on display beginning Friday April 30 in a new exhibit at the Slought Foundation in West Philly.

The exhibit's curators seem to be considering some very interesting questions about cultural ownership, forgotten history, and the nature of museum collections.

But even more intriguing is the foundation's invitation to "members of the community" to borrow artifacts from the display.

You too can display remnants of foreign cultures (with no known provenance), in your very own home!

I wonder if the foundation would consider adding bar-codes and tags to these objects a la "Tales of Things," letting users create and track new memories for these orphaned artifacts. (For more on the "Tales of Things" project, check out the Center for the Future of Museum's recent blog post about it.)

You can read more about the Slought Foundation's "Commercial America" exhibit in this Philadelphia Weekly article, or on the foundation's web site.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The End of Student Field Trips?

With school budgets getting tighter and learning standards more stringent, many museums these days are creating traveling educational programs, online curricula, or even videoconferencing to reach schools that are no longer scheduling expensive field trips.

This isn't exactly new, but the New York Times published a nice update on the trend on Wednesday, with some eye-opening numbers from the assortment of institutions surveyed.

At the Museum of Science in Boston, school visits have dropped about 30% since 2007. At the Portland Museum of Art in Maine, school visits have dropped more than 40% since 2007.

The big question left unanswered in the article: what do museum experts think this trend will mean long-term?

How do these drops in school groups compare to museums' overall attendance trends during this economic downturn? Is there any evidence that in-school programs create enough excitement for families to visit the museums at a later time? And, most importantly, does it matter to the long-term viability of these institutions if kids stop visiting in person?

I recently had an opportunity to get a glimpse of one local institution's new "traveling trunk," which holds all the goodies that an educator will use to present the museum's program in the school or classroom.

It looked amazing.

I don't have a handle on how widespread this trend is in the Philly region, but Bartram's Garden, for one, received grant funding in 2009-2010 to develop traveling trunks on colonial history and natural science for several local schools.

For inspiration on what your own institution might be able to present, check out the Chester County Historical Society's list of traveling trunk programs, focusing on Lenape children, the American Revolution, the Underground Railroad, and more.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Free PSA Air-time for History, Arts Groups

The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance announced a new partnership today that promises $500,000 in free media for local cultural organizations on the national cable channel Ovation, which is newly available in the Philadelphia region.

You can read the full announcement here, or read a good summary on the blog of Philadelphia's Chief Cultural Officer, Gary Steuer.

Local cultural groups have until May 6, 2010 to submit either 1) ready-to-go, 30-second public service announcements; and/or 2) content for one of the six themed "interstitial" short programs that Ovation is producing. You can find the submission/application form here.

So far, Ovation is planning one of the six themed short programs to focus on "history and historic sites," though on the actual application form, "science" sneaks in there in one mention.