Finale with Cafe Cubano, Ikat, and Lots of Talk

With Suzanne (and flowers) on D.C.’s Spanish Steps en route to The Textile Museum

On Friday, Suzanne and I begin our finale at the Washington Post‘s annual museums luncheon. We listen to presentations from advertising and editorial arms of the Style section and catch up with a handful of peers from D.C.’s museum community. The most interesting takeaway is a sense of openness and accessibility. Editors outline parallels between museums and the newsroom with sincerity and humor. The question and answer period launches a worthwhile discussion on interactive strategies and tools in museums.

Back at the Phillips, I share points of pride–our profound Antony Gormley exhibition, surprising installation of John Cage watercolors, recent Villareal acquisition (an infinite, digital Rothko?), The Migration Series. Touring offices, we stop to say hello to Ann (my boss and longtime mentor), who invites us in to chat. She poses a question: at the end of six months, what do you each take away from this exchange? Suzanne replies that benefits span the professional to the personal. She has increased familiarity with key platforms, received positive feedback from peers at AAM, made a friend. I’ve grown in confidence, gained insight into communications processes at a different type of institution, made a friend. Our impromptu answers, of course, only scratch the surface.

Next stop, recaffeination (some things don’t change). At the new Tryst at the Phillips cafe, Suzanne tries the cubano and I opt for iced americano. We have an extended conversation about our current work projects (press trips, strategic planning, art, artists). We also talk about Suzanne’s earlier life as a textile artist and conservator.

4:15 and time to squeeze one last adventure out of the day. Tentative itinerary involves a jaunt to H Street, NE, to introduce Suzanne to an evolving D.C. neighborhood and see Villareal’s show at Conner Contemporary, but when we realize she has never been to the Textile Museum we happily change course. A short walk up the Spanish Steps through Kalorama and we arrive with 30 minutes to spare. The Textile Museum represents a formative, museum experience for me (I visited regularly with my godmother as a child), and it’s a pleasure to be back with Suzanne. She brings a practitioner’s expertise and wonder (and enlightens me as to how the beautiful ikat piece we’re staring at was made).

Suzanne will soon sprint to catch a 5:50 train back to Richmond, but on our walk to the car we focus on what’s next. How do we extend the benefits of our experience? Does “mentorship” describe what’s valuable in our relationship? It has been so exciting because it’s reciprocal, catalytic, creative. We start brainstorming alternate terms with little success. After all, people understand “mentorship.” It has history and context. Would our exchange be useful under a different name? With that open question, and a hug, we say farewell.


Noon Hangout: Media, Networks, Continuing Ed

UPDATE: Due to technical difficulties we have rescheduled this chat to Wednesday, June 13–10:30 am EST. Thanks for your patience and hope you’ll join us then.

May has come and gone but the Media, Networks, & Continuing Education exchange is still on! A new hangout time is in the mix for Monday, June 11–noon EST. Suzanne now has webcam access in the office so we’ll take advantage during our lunch breaks and hope you’ll join us. To do so, visit where you’ll find a hangout underway. Participate between now and then by posting questions and links here and/or on our Google + page.

This topic is rather free form. Some areas we plan to address:
*Media Relations
*Reading lists
*Professional associations
*Professional events, conferences, trade shows
*Tech trends

Of particular interest to me at the moment–press trips. I’d like to learn more about informal, regularly scheduled visits to check-in with press contacts in other cities, as well as best practices for offering trips domestically or abroad to an individual or group of journalists to seed a story.

Taking Stock

May was a busy month for both mentor and mentee. Suzanne opened Maharaja: The Splendors of India’s Great Kings (on view through August 19), and I prepared to open Jasper Johns: Variations on a Theme and Antony Gormley: Drawing Space (both through September 9), as well as a new museum cafe, Tryst at the Phillips. To manage the sheer volume, we gave our May mentorship exchange a miss and took a little break from blogging. But silence can be deceptive. Throughout the month, mentorship was especially on my mind as I noticed changes in my work, evidence of Suzanne’s guidance and ideas sparked by our conversations. Some highlights:

  • I packed my latest press release with hyperlinks, program highlights, and relevant citywide events
  • Accessibility and welcome is the core of a summer ad campaign I’ve been involved in, which positions the Phillips as the “place to be” and features extended hours every Thursday night (social networks are fully integrated)
  • We paid it forward with a guest post about mentorship on the Emerging Museum Professionals blog
  • I now augment press releases with timely blog posts (coordinated through a new layer on Google calendar)
  • Plus, spring yielded a flourishing first vegetable garden for the Wichmann family. I’d be remiss not to note Suzanne’s encouragement on the work-life-balance front.

Recommended Reading: A Life in Museums

Today I had the great pleasure of seeing Wendy Luke. She came to the museum to speak with a group of my colleagues who she’ll coach over the coming months (a couple of us who worked with her previously joined the discussion). She brought along a gift for me–A Life in Museums: Managing Your Museum Careera book she edited with Greg Stevens, published by the American Association of Museums. From “powering up your personal brand” to “managing from the middle,” the volume is packed with practical wisdom for museum professionals at all career stages. Chapter titles like those, plus Wendy’s diverse background (with non-profits to multi-billion-dollar corporations), give me a strong feeling that the book can be an important professional development resource beyond the museum world. Suzanne and I were honored when Wendy invited me to write a sidebar on this experiment for her chapter on mentorship. You’ll find “Practically Speaking: Open-Sourcing Your Mentorship” on pages 184-185. If you’re traveling to AAM’s annual meeting in Minneapolis next week, be sure to attend the Meet and Greet and Book Signing with Wendy and Greg on Wed., May 2, 1-2 pm, in the AAM bookstore.

This Event is Worth Your Weekend

photo of Habitat for Artists' work for the 5x5 public art project--a 6'x6' artist-in-residence space bearing the phrase "What is this?"--at THEARC

Habitat for Artists' 5x5 public art project--a 6'x6' artist-in-residence space at THEARC, host of the recent TEDxWDC conference.

A big part of mentorship happens in casual conversation, offhand remarks, about what your mentor is up to or interested in. The mentee must fine-tune her listening skills to benefit. She must be curious and open to checking out something new without immediate pay-off. The seasoned mentor knows to push as many potential experiences to her mentee as possible, without making all opportunities compulsory or expecting them to stick. When Suzanne got an e-blast from AAM about a storytelling workshop, she forwarded it to me. She didn’t “assign” it, or even suggest that I attend. She just asked if I had heard about it and said she was looking forward.

I recently had the great fortune of coaching sessions with Wendy Luke, an expert on mentorship (among other professional/organizational relationships and issues). Reaching out to a mentor outside of my organization was Wendy’s idea–hence this blog. She also talked with me about ArtTable and suggested pointedly that I get involved. So when the Phillips’s Center for the Study of Modern Art hosted an ArtTable-organized panel on the 5×5 public art project, I made sure to be there.

I would not normally have attended–the thrust of the discussion was curatorial and, while I’m fascinated personally, the immediate, communications-driven, tactical necessity to carve out the time was not there. I’m glad that I did anyway. Hearing about projects like Natalie Jeremijenko’s Butterfly Bridge and Wilmer Wilson IV’s  Henry “Box” Brown: FOREVER was inspiring and made me a more engaged participant in the DC arts community. I had a chance to ask questions about the logistical challenges of placing public art in DC, which is directly applicable to a strategic wayfinding project in my professional pipeline. I also got to say hi to Wendy, and ask her about her upcoming weekend plans, which happened to include TEDxWDC.

Notices for the upcoming TEDx talks had blipped on my radar, but I’d been ambivalent about committing a Saturday. It wasn’t until a day or two after my run-in with Wendy that I felt compelled to register. Again, I’m glad I did. In addition to hearing from 26 colleagues about DC’s creative economy, I made my first visit to THEARC, saw Habitat for Artists building their project for 5×5, and spent time in Anacostia for the second time in my life (an embarrassing admission for a nearly-DC-native).

Curiosity and open-minded participation has a ripple effect. Because of soft suggestions from mentors and colleagues, I hope to also attend:

What am I missing? I would love to hear what workshops, conferences, and events you’re excited about, and–if reasonably accessible from DC by car or train–I’ll attend.

The Social Hub: Facebook vs Blog

Part of a series on key takeaways from The Communications Plan session

An organization’s website is a source for reliable information, brand identity, mission, expertise. Hopefully it’s also a forum for visitors to engage with each other, rate experiences, share recommendations, stream videos and podcasts. But unless you work for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc, your website is not a social network.

So organizations have learned to go out and meet people where they are. We set up pages (or, shortly, timelines) and work hard to engage fans. We join conversations (and #followtrends). We offer incentives to check in. And we try to make sure all of these activities are easily associated with our organizations and drive traffic home.

Suzanne and I discussed Facebook as a hub for our many scattered profiles, a digital 3rd place. Pages are highly customizable–this recent New York Times piece gives a how-to on 12 less-known functions from polling to blocking abusive comments. I wonder how the shift to timeline will affect our organizations’ Facebook identities.

In my experience, an organization’s blog can also be a social hub, and maybe a more useful one. Its content and style can be carefully vetted yet remain spontaneous, responsive, personal, collaborative, authentic, and out just a little ahead of the “institutional voice” represented by your website and press releases. A blog may seem as if it would share your website’s issues–it’s not a well-known digital gathering place, at least not yet. But as readers become engaged, it can steadily infiltrate RSS feeds, Google+, reddit, delicious, FB social reader, and help you jump to the top of search results. Why not use it as your daily newspapers and glossy magazines use their blogs?

Facebook, blog, or something else? Will Google+ play a roll, especially with the hangout function? Take the poll, comment, and tell us about your efforts to build a hub online.

On the Docket: The Communications Plan

Coming soon, our first scheduled conversation. Topic is The Communications Plan, including:

  • Strategy
  • Long-range scheduling, sequencing, timing
  • Written/electronic materials
  • Social Media
  • The Press Room
  • Vocus for contact list research and management
  • Harvesting coverage
  • Measuring results

Who needs to know what, when? And how do we tell them so it sticks? If there’s a backbone to our profession, this might be it. Continue reading