On leaving and arriving

The junk in the bottom of the desk.
The junk in the bottom of the desk.

A long silence on the old blog. It is a well-known fact that an idle blog is a dead one, but this has been more of a medically induced coma.  It’s not that I’ve been lazy, just preoccupied.

I submitted my resignation on Wednesday and am leaving the Museum of Science, some thirty-odd years after I first walked through the doors as a very junior Junior Volunteer. And the planning, worrying and waiting that accompanies leaving an institution after so long has consumed most of my brainpower. It’s exciting, scary, and very odd to think of myself going somewhere different every day. Grad school feels like a walk in the park compared to the prospect of diving into a new job, and a completely new culture. But, dive I will.

I have accepted the job of Associate Director of Integrated Media at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, and for the next four years will be managing a wide range of media projects projects for their temporary exhibitions *and* preparing for the 2017 reopening of the museum, which will entail 175,000 square feet of new exhibit space and a complete reinstallation of the collection! They don’t lack for ambition at PEM, and that’s exciting! My interest in the intersection of the digital and museums is pretty obvious if you’re reading this blog for more than the first time, and my position at PEM will be a great opportunity to turn ideas into practice. A trifle overwhelming right now, but invigorating.

Which doesn’t make leaving any easier. When you’re engaged in project-based work, there’s never a good time to leave other than at the end of a project, and like so many other colleagues, I rarely work on only one project at a time any more. So I’ll be leaving loose ends that my coworkers and friends will have to tie up. That’s a hard thing to come to terms with, but that’s the reality of it. I won’t see the final version of that interactive. I won’t be at the opening of that exhibition. I will have not any stake in who the Museum hires to fill vacant positions, including mine.

Time to mount up and move on.

And arriving

I’ll be at Museums and Web representing my my new employer, so if you’re in Portland, do come by and say, “Hi!” I’ve been going to MW since the late 90s and always gotten something out of the experience. I’m really looking forward to going in my new role, to see the conference with a fresh perspective and different questions and hopes for what I can learn there. It’ll be fun to be an oldish newbie.

Which brings me to my first question for you:

What resources would you recommend I check out, as a freshly-minted art museum professional, to get a start on understanding the state of art museum educational theory and practice? 

Anything is fair game; books, articles, websites, people, places outside the field worth looking at, etc… I know it’s a broad question, but it’s intentionally so. I’m in the divergent phase of my research and I like to throw the net wide and gather as many data as I can.  There’ll be time later to process and converge. For now, I’m hungry and I hope you’ll feed me. And don’t limit yourself to technology. As an example, I’d been dabbling a bit in Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) at the Museum of Science and wondering how they might apply in a science museum context.

I’m also an experiential learner, and like to immerse myself in places. I’ve always got a list of museums I’m dying to go visit, but I’d like to ask one more question of you:

Which art museums are on your top ten list of institutions doing interesting work?

I know, I know… It’s another stupidly broad question, but bear with me, OK? I’m new to this! 😉 If you could tell me a museum that’s on your list and what about it puts it there, I’d be grateful. As an example, my personal list includes Cleveland Museum of Art because of the philosophy behind Gallery One, as well as the technological details of implementing it. The list also includes Dallas Museum of Art for their “DMA Friends and Partners” program. Ditching paid admission and membership for an interaction-based economy is endlessly fascinating to me and I look forward to seeing how it plays out.

As always, I look forward to your thoughts and input.


  1. Hi Ed,

    Good luck with the new gig!

    Consider a visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts. The DIA completely re-envisioned itself after shutting down to reinstall its collection. Lots of nice visitor-oriented touches, both high-tech and low-tech.

    If you get to that neck of the woods, you could also see The Henry Ford Museum in nearby Dearborn for interesting approaches toward creating more immersive situations in a collections-based institution.


  2. Congratulations on your new position, new museum, and new role! You have left some big shoes to fill at Boston. The Peabody project sounds like a one of a kind opportunity and they are fortunate to have someone so experienced, thoughtful and intelligent to be part of the leadership.
    My first suggestion for stellar visitor friendly art museums and art museum pedagogy texts, The Denver Art Museum anything written or edited by the wonderful Patterson Williams, head of their school and teachers program.


  3. Vastari.com might be of interest if you are putting together new exhibitions.

    The reaource is for museum professionals to gain access to works in private hands for loan. If you are planning anything that needs some other objects for perspective it’s a new way to find out what’s out there.

    Good luck with the new post at the PEM, it must be a very exciting time to be involved for the next 4 years! Looking forward to reading your blog.


  4. If you come to Dallas, a visit to the DMA is a must, but you might also want to make the drive to Ft. Worth for the Kimbell Art Museum (permanent collection admission is free of charge – https://www.kimbellart.org/) and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (free admission as well – http://www.cartermuseum.org/). I recommend that you pick up a copy of “Ignite the Power of Art: Advancing Visitor Engagement in Museums” by Bonnie Pitman and Ellen Hirzy. This book documents eight years of visitor study at the Dallas Museum of Art. By the way, you will also probably be interested in the Center for Creative Connections (http://www.dm-art.org/CenterforCreativeConnections/index.htm) at the DMA. Best of luck in your new position!


    1. Thank you, Catherine! Indeed, I will be joining the ranks of commuter rail folk at North Station daily. At least it’s a reverse commute, though frankly, for an opportunity like this, I’d commute a lot further!


  5. Congratulations, Ed.

    I recommend the Columbus Museum of Art, for their unselfconscious approach to in-gallery interactives, and going to ArtPrize in September in Grand Rapids.

    Also, in answer to a question you didn’t ask, I really really recommend the book The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins. For me, it was an invaluable resource when jumping into a new position of leadership.


  6. Congrats on your new position! It sounds really exciting. Museums that are doing interesting work: Walker Art Center, Milwaukee Art Museum, Oakland Museum of California, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Luminary Center for the Arts, Perot Museum of Nature and Science, M Shed, Museum of Old and New Art, any museum in Balboa Park, Houston Museum of Natural Science.

    As far as readings: anything on vtshome.org, the McGraw-Hill Museum-Goers Guide, Making Museums Matter by Stephen E. Weil, Identity and the Museum Experience by John H. Falk, Reinventing the Museum: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Paradigm Shift by Gail Anderson, Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach by Beverly Serrell, The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History by Dolores Hayden, How Visitors Changed Our Museum: Transforming the Gallery of California Art at the Oakland Museum of California by Barbara Henry and Kathleen McLean.


  7. Congratulations, Ed! How exciting! And as a new art museum professional, I’m going to watch this list for great reading recommendations. I’ve found the http://artmuseumteaching.com/ blog incredibly helpful. Project Zero has some great stuff–Artful Thinking in particular (the report & web design is very, very sad, but the content is very, very good): http://www.old-pz.gse.harvard.edu/Research/ArtfulThinkingFinalReport.pdf.


    1. Thanks, Jen,

      I agree. I love the community that formed around Art Museum Teaching already. Good stuff! Thanks also for the Project Zero reminder. MY lovely and talented wife worked with them for years and I absorbed a bit of it osmotically. It’ll be good to actually read it firsthand. Their book should be coming out soon, too.


  8. Hello Ed,
    Congratulations on the new position! So very excited for you and excited to see the new projects you bring to life. You know I have a list of very nice Acoustiguide projects to think about… but for now, I’ll skip those and suggest if you make it to DIA look at the Art of Dinning. Its not new – but it is a visitor focused use of technology to help people understand the static object. Still a favorite of mine.
    – Julie


    1. Hey Julie,

      Thanks! We’ll have to talk at MW, MCN or somewhere about possibilities. Thanks for the DIA recommendation, too! PEM has lots of dining-related objects, so there’s another motivation to go.


  9. I only just now came across this–very exciting! I’ll look forward very much to hearing about your new position! I too am a crossover between arts, culture, and science museums, and so I’d love to hear more about that aspect in particular on your blog (hint, hint 😉

    Speaking of dining-related museums, I’m so impressed with the Hull-House Museum in Chicago and their amazing storytelling in a small museum, as well as their community involvement. I think they’re not only a model for history museums/house museums, but also for ANY kind of museum hoping to engage with audiences in an emotional and meaningful way, and museums trying to get involved with a very local community: http://www.uic.edu/jaddams/hull/


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