I’ve gotten a few request lately from folks wanting to know, “What is this “Drinking About Museums” and how do join/start one in my town/find out more. I’ve sent out descriptions via email in the past, but I guess I’ve never posted anything, so here is both a brief history, and a bit of the philosophy behind how we do Drinking About Museums in Boston. Your mileage may vary.
Drinking (by which I mean informal, after-hours socializing. Alcohol is obviously optional) and museum work have a long history. If you’ve been in the field for any length of time, or been to even one museum conference, you will have noticed how much we like to talk about our work and hear what our colleagues are up to. Cities with large concentrations of cultural heritage organizations like NYC, Washington, London, etc… have long had informal groups who’d get together and drink and commiserate. For me, I find out as much at the evening events at a conference as I do at the sessions, sometimes more. A constant refrain at the end of a good conference would be the heartfelt goodbyes as people said goodbye until next year.
Two years ago at Museums and the Web, a bunch of us were sitting around the hotel bar, doing the end-of-conference “I’ll miss you guys!” when Jesse Kochis said, “You all work around Boston, you could just get together!” and said he’d find a place if I’d collect email addresses. So in May, 2011, a group of people descended on the Eastern Standard and we had our first meetup. The name went through many unfortunate iterations, like “Boston Museum Geeks” and “Boston Museum Tech Meetup Group” and at least one other I’ve blocked out. A few months later, I heard from Koven Smith in Denver that they had a Meetup group they called “Drinking About Museums” and I said, “Oh, that’s perfect! Can I steal that name for our group, too?” Being straight-up, generous folk, Koven and Kate Tinworth, who run the Denver group gave their blessing, and the name expanded to Boston.
The power of a good idea is impressive to see in action.
#drinkingaboutmuseums starting appearing on Twitter. Within months, there were Drinking About Museums announcements popping up in D.C., Sydney, Melbourne, S.F. and more places. There is now a Google+ group where you can find where Drinking About Museums is happening around the world. It’s been gratifying to watch, and kinda strange to become associated with a brand.
I used to email everybody, trying to find a time that worked. It was a huge time suck and I was bad at it, too. Eventually, I stopped trying to find a time for everybody and just picked mid-week nights that worked for me. Even the email list management proved to be a real job. I tried to do all my notifying by Twitter and on the blog, but that didn’t work out well. Luckily, Jennifer Schmitt from deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum volunteered to handle the list, and has done so admirably. Koven also set up a Google Plus group, which has been a great aggregation site for DAM activity.
Drinking About Museums: BOS
So here’s how our group currently functions. It’s a coalition of the willing at the moment.
If you want to take on a larger role, come on in! For several months running, we went to different museums each month, and had behind-the-scenes tours of things that members were working on. People did presentations. One month, a member needed a test audience for a workshop on game design she was making. Other months, it’s just social. We get together and enjoy each others’ company. It gets as big and as small as it’s most active member wants it to. I’m currently obsessed with trying out a version of Museums Showoff in July if I can find a venue. Who knows we’ll do in the future?
It’s a completely open group at the moment.
That was both a philosophical choice and a workflow choice. I didn’t want to be a gatekeeper and decide whether someone belonged. I didn’t want to field requests to join. Koven and Kate have Denver set up as a closed Meetup group that you have to apply to join. If you’ve got the bandwidth to tailor the group to your needs and wants, that might the best option for you. Being completely open worked for us. It means sometimes people come who know nothing about museums but are interested in culture in general. I still field requests, so that didn’t change.
It’s museums focused at the moment.
My own biases came to the fore when I was in Australia last summer. I got to go to TWO Drinking About Museums in two weeks in Sydney and Melbourne, and the Melbourne group was more broadly GLAM-oriented, than just museum focused. It was really interesting to hear about the isssues librarians and archivists were having and how they were similar/dissimilar to mine.
When we’re ready to have a new Drinking About Museums:Boston edition, here’s what happens.
Pick a date
Jenn and I will chat publicly about place and date on Twitter. If anybody joins the conversation, we’ll loop them in. If not, the two of us will pick a place and time. If somebody has agreed to host, then we all try to find a night that works. I’ve never gotten a Friday night event to work. Don’t do it.
Tell the world!
The first rule of Drinking About Museums is…
Unlike Fight Club, the first rule of Drinking About Museums is to get the word out. Jenn sends out an email to the list, I blog about it, advertise it on Twitter and post it on the Google Plus group. If you want people to come, you have to talk about it. I used to worry about talking too much about it, but I haven’t found it to be an issue. And those months when three people came? Yeah, they kinda coincided with months I didn’t do much promotion. Go figure…
Send out reminders
Posting only one notice two weeks before the date is a guarantee that most people won’t show up. Using only one channel is also a way to not get a decent turnout. I tell everybody at work, I call people. I tell people to tell their friends.
Get to know the folks at the venue
If you’re going to a bar or restaurant, it’s worth letting them know in advance that you’re convening a group there. Some places will let you know in no uncertain terms that they’d prefer a group where everyone is buying dinner, not standing around nursing cheap drinks. Other places will be happy for the business, especially if you tell them you meet regularly and you meet on a night that isn’t a busy weekend night.
Get there early
Let the venue know you’re there and where you’ll be so they can send people over. I’m “that museum group guy” at several Boston-area establishments.
Meet everybody and take names
Seems like a no-brainer, but I had to train myself not to immediately grab a drink and dive into a conversation with my friends. Especially with an open group, there will people who show up and know nobody, brave souls. Making them feel welcome and giving them that first connection to the group is important. Also, we need to maintain our email list to make sure we capture new people contact info.
Solicit ideas from the group
The people coming to a Drinking About Museums are obviously motivated and wicked into museums. They have been the source of some of our best ideas, from hosting us at their institution, to using the group as an informal focus group, to showing off exciting new work. Put the group to work!
Mixing things up has worked well for us. After a string of just social events, we went on a several month long binge of visiting area museums and then adjourning for drinks. Lately, we’ve been having special guests. Maybe our test of Museums Showoff will be such a success that we make it a regular feature. Who knows? Come and find out if you’re in town!