How are you?

Well, hello there! It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? I haven’t gone this long without sharing something in over a decade. But 2020-21 has excelled at destroying habits. And, to be fair, I’ve been busy in other spaces–starting a business, teaching, writing. But this space, the space I made to be part of the larger conversations around cultural heritage, digital stuff and experience design is near and dear to my heart. Nothing has had as profound an impact on my career as blogging. In a very real way, I’m where I am today because of this site and I feel like I’ve been ignoring a friend by not posting. Luckily, my vacation was interrupted by a wicked nor’easter which killed power and Internet to much of Cape Cod and I had a couple of days with just my notebook. So…

Even before the storm the sea was rough.

Shout outs

How are you doing, friends? The international museum field is still a hot mess, and the systemic flaws that worried us in 2019 are all still with us, and mostly worse (Thanks, COVID!) than they were pre-pandemic. But there are bright spots out there, and I wanted to take a moment to go on record giving my thanks to some of the people doing the hard work of making things better, because many of them have taken more than their share of abuse. In no particular order, thank you to:

The union organizers who have decided to care for each other *and* the institutions that they love, despite the steady diet of empty platitudes from their administrations, the union-busting lawyers, and the inevitable patronizing press pieces. That I should have lived to see unionization in the museum field become a nationwide movement is nothing short of remarkable. Solidarity!

The troublemakers holding the field’s collective feet ot the fire about living up to the ethical standards we want our cultural organizations to uphold. To Dan Hicks, for writing “The Brutish Museums”, Corinne Fowler and team for their work on colonialism and historic slavery in the UK. To Monument Lab and others asking the hard questions about what our monuments say and don’t say about us. To all the committed people putting their time and effort into combatting looting, and dragging a verrrrrry reluctant museum field into doing better, like Erin Thompson, the folks behind Chasing Aphrodite, Rick St. Hilaire, and too many others to name. Every time I see a tweet from them, I know somebody’s probably gotten busted doing something wrong, and it’s usually a museum. Do better, museums. Honestly…

To Veronica Stein at the Art Institute of Chicago for taking the plunge (and a whole lot of heat) to replace their current docent corps with a new model of paid and volunteer opportunities. After years of listening to people in the museum field talk about change and indulging in a fair bit of it myself, it’s heartening to see people actually starting to dismantle problematic systems and hopefully build better ones.

To the folks trying to hold us up as we continue to blunder through this time of trauma and loss and rebirth, like Sophie Frost and all the people who contributed to People. Change. Museums. podcast, and Alli Hartley-Kong, Rachel Ropeik and Mimosa Shah for their upcoming Lost Jobs, Found Voices project.

I am grateful for all you do, you and all the others I didn’t name or don’t know. Despite being over a year out of museum work, I feel strangely more connected than I ever did when I was a fulltime employee of one museum or another.

I’m fine, thanks

Though it’s been awhile, I’m happy to say I’m OK, and better than OK. That’s saying a lot in a pandemic! I started a company back in March with my friends Annie Lundsten and Jim Olson, and out little experience design firm, The Experience Alchemists, has been slowly building a business. We’ve done work in Hong Kong and Australia, have some regular clients like the Boston Green Ribbon Commission and the Texas Association of Museums, and are starting new jobs here in Boston and in Sweden. It’s exciting and it’s exhausting. We spend a lot of time hunting for work, responding to RFPs we don’t get, and doing the “business development” chore of cold calling people we don’t know, and reconnecting with people we do. It’s rewarding and refreshing, and I’m not sure I could tell you much I miss about working for a museum, aside from the delight I always got telling strangers I worked at a museum. Now I tell people I started an experience design firm, and they look blankly while I do my “Here’s what experience design is” spiel. It’s a tradeoff I’m OK with. Hit me up, if you want to talk about working together!

Ed, Jim, and Annie sit on a short flight of stairs in an office, in a triangular arrangement.
Me, Jim and Annie all looking remarkably calm

My book continues to slowly come into its own. The pandemic knocked my schedule for a loop, but I may just be on the verge of finding a stable rhythm again that includes large blocks of writing time. I also want to give shout outs to all the friends and commentators who have already given their time to read chapters. It means the world to me! Stay tuned for more on that front, too!

So, life is good. Strange, and not at all what I might’ve predicted, but good. It’s exciting to go to work every day! There are things to do that feel important and constructive. The only thing lacking is you, my colleagues and friends. I look forward to the days when we can get together in person again and be out in the world safely.

Until then, hang in there! It was good to catch up. Don’t be a stranger!