INSIDE S E MC The Newsletter of the Southeastern Museums Conference
summer 2020 | www.semcdirect.net
ON THE FRONT COVER Fahamu Pecou, Tethered [detail], 2014. From From the grav•i•ty series. Graphite and acrylic on paper, 60 × 40. Image courtesy of the artist. Private collection. On view through the virtual exhibition Dis/placements: Revisitations of Home at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, College of Charleston.
39 Executive Director’s Notes Zinnia Willits 7 Interim SEMC President’s Address Heather Marie Wells 10 Interim SEMC Vice President’s Address Matt Davis 11 SEMC Virtual 2020 A Video Address from Zinnia Willits 12 Get to Know SEMC’s New Staff Members Zinnia Willits and Carla Phillips 15 SEMC Mid-Year Program Meeting, Louisville, Kentucky 19 ATL Emerging Museum Professionals Network 29 Compassionate Management Cassandra Erb 33
ON THE BACK COVER Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, Tennessee. One of the many wonderful host museums
that will welcome SEMC October 25–27, 2021 for SEMC2021.
61 Postcard Power! How Museums Can Support the Community through a Social Connecting Campaign 39 Thanks for Asking — I’m Struggling: Mental Wellness for Museum Professionals Susan Ward 47 When You Can’t Return to the Nest: Storytelling at the Home of Joel Chandler Harris Meredith Deeley 53 I Am Black First and Museum Professional Second Lance Wheeler 61 A Special Thanks: Endowment and Membership Contributions 67
People and Places 90 Important Dates 96 SEMC Job Forum 96 Get Social 96 Membership Form 97 Exhibitions 82
semc Alabama Arkansas Florida Georgia Kentucky Louisiana Mississippi
North Carolina South Carolina Tennessee Virginia West Virginia U.S. Virgin Islands Puerto Rico
staff Zinnia Willits Executive Director Carla Phillips Manager of Communications and Member Services
semc officers Heather Marie Wells Interim President email@example.com Digital Media Project Manager, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR
Matthew S. Davis Interim Vice President firstname.lastname@example.org Director of Historic Museums, Georgia College, Milledgeville, GA
contact semc SEMC | P.O. Box 550746 Atlanta, GA 30355-3246 T: 404.814.2048 or 404.814.2047 F: 404.814.2031 W: www.SEMCdirect.net E: membershipservices@SEMCdirect.net
Deitrah J. Taylor Secretary email@example.com Milledgeville, GA
Robin Reed Treasurer
Inside SEMC is published three times a year by SEMC. Annual subscription is included in membership dues. Design: Nathan Moehlmann, Goosepen Studio & Press
firstname.lastname@example.org Fort Monroe, VA
Darcie MacMahon Past President email@example.com Director of Exhibits & Public Programs, Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, FL
The deadline for the Fall 2020 newsletter is October 30, 2020. To submit information for the newsletter, please contact the Council Director in your state or memberservices@ semcdirect.net.
semc directors Scott Alvey
Director, Kentucky Historical Society,
Assoc. Dir. Office of Strategic Partnerships
Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Wash., D.C.
Manager of Education,
Director of Education, Knoxville Museum
Columbia Museum, Columbia, SC
of Art, Knoxville, TN
Catherine M. Pears
Director, Moundville Archaeological Park,
Executive Director, Alexandria Museum
The University of Alabama,
of Art Alexandria, LA
Moundville, AL Pody Gay
Director, Discovery Network
Park Manager, Redcliffe Plantation State
Museum of Discovery, Little Rock, AR
Historic Site, Beech, SC
Registrar & Asst. Dept. Chair,
Education & Public Relations Manager
Florida Museum of Natural History,
for the Margaret Walker Center and COFO
Education Center, Jackson State University Jackson, MS
Calinda Lee firstname.lastname@example.org Vice President of Historical Interpretation and Community Partnerships, Atlanta History Center, Atlanta, GA
semc executive director’s notes
Way back in March I interviewed for and was offered the position of SEMC Executive Director. I knew that accepting this position would change the course of my career. Although it would be difficult to leave my work family at the Gibbes Museum of Art, the opportunity to lead SEMC was what I wanted. That sixth sense we all have told me this was my path forward. As we know now, the timing of this decision, of the transition, of the change, collided spectacularly with the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. No need to recount the series of events that began in mid-March and continue to impact our lives as museum professionals, as caregivers, as human beings; this is truly a moment where every one of us has felt the effects. I will forever associate Spring 2020 with outgoing SEMC Executive Director, Susan Perry. We spoke every day during these first weeks of COVID, trying our best to navigate a transition in leadership during quarantine and a true global crisis. As the path forward became
less clear with each passing day, we began to shift our focus from the usual SEMC 2020 Annual Meeting timeline to galvanizing efforts to respond to the membership in real time. We moved swiftly to hosting (for the first time ever) multiple virtual meetups to keep our communities connected while physically isolated and did our best to offer professional networking, education and support during those first weeks of shutdown. Through it all we tried to navigate Susan’s retirement and my move away from the Gibbes into a very uncertain future. I will always remember how steadfast Susan was during this time. She remained positive, supportive and focused while providing the support and confidence I needed to soldier on without her. I want to acknowledge how important this was to me and how much I have missed our daily interaction. It is because of Susan Perry’s ten years of strong leadership and the foresight of SEMC’s past Council leaders that our organization finds itself able to look toward FY2021, a year we will not hold an Annual Gathering, on solid financial ground and without sheer panic. Susan Perry deserves 7
every blessing and ease that comes with retirement. We miss and love you and I continue to draw strength from your example. So here we are. In just five months SEMC finds itself a changed organization. We have had to pause our programming for the fall and winter of 2020/2021 due to concerns over COVID-19, due to staff reductions, funding and travel concerns, due to mental health and wellness concerns. As a regional organization, SEMC has seen and heard from many of you this spring/summer. We know you are hurting, and we understand that uncertainties persist. SEMC will remain constant. That will not change. I felt deeply our collective disappointment in postponing the 2020 Annual Meeting … through conversations with members who were hopefully positive that fall might be different; through conversations with corporate members and sponsors wondering how the postponement would impact their business, to notes from those who were to present
sessions wondering if their efforts to pull together panels and speakers would go out the window, and from gut-wrenching discussion with the amazing leadership in Louisville, Kentucky who spent two years planning every detail of what would have been a terrific SEMC 2020 about the necessary need to postpone. Through it all, there was support and understanding. All the immediate decisions I had to make as SEMC Executive Director in conjunction with SEMC Council were difficult and unprecedented but in the best interest of the health, safety and well-being of our membership. Speaking of the SEMC membership, WOW am I proud of all of you, my peers, my colleagues, my friends. Over these past months so many of you have answered the call to lead, time and again. Not only are you doing amazing things in this new virtual world for your own museums, but you have also answered SEMC’s calls … for speakers, for articles, for ideas about how to execute virtual programming. You have joined SEMC 8
committees hastily created to respond to current events, generously given of your time to SEMC and to each other, editing Zoom videos, sending me ideas for sessions and speakers and generally providing a lifeline of community for all to grab hold of, lifting each other up, regardless of where you worked, what your role in the museum, what affinity group you belonged to. We all came together time and again. Zoom cameras ON. I have never been prouder to be a part of the Southeastern Museums Conference. It goes without saying that the past few months of this turbulent 2020 have also seen a toxic mix of racist violence in addition to a pandemic that has threatened the very survival of our African American colleagues and friends and had a profound impact. Protests against police violence in support of Black Lives Matter have forced a realization that when we do finally reopen our museum doors it cannot be a return to business as usual. There must be necessary changes not only to the physical spaces of our southeast museums in response to COVID-19 but also revisions to museum policies and practices to ensure a culture of inclusion and racial equality. Museums need to do the work, act, and move beyond statements to address long-standing disparities of power in the field, and systemic racism within our walls and programs.
SEMC will be working hard in the coming months to use the energy of this distinctively disruptive time to create opportunities to engage our museum community in discussion and creation of action plans toward emergent solutions for our museum spaces, programs, and staffs. SEMC will continue the important Black Lives Matter discussion series this fall to amplify antiracist actions and keep us connected and focused on evolving best practices in Diversity, Equity, Access, and Inclusion. We will provide a platform for conversation and reflection and invite staff from museums who are taking positive actions to share their ideas about how we change our future by changing how museums operate today. Ending inequality is a shared struggle and we must work together to remove obstacles and create opportunity for all. I will end on that note of determination and hope. Stay strong this fall SEMC. 2020 has changed our course. We have made the adjustment. Now we move forward. Together. With respect, — Zinnia Willits, SEMC Executive Director
interim semc president’s address Greetings from Northwest Arkansas! Wow, has this been some kind of year or what?! The SEMC Council knew this would be a different year for us as we faced expected changes in leadership, but we were not anticipating a worldwide pandemic and further social justice issues. I know there is a lot of turmoil and anxiety throughout the country and, sadly, it looks like this will be our reality for a while. Our field has been hit hard with furloughs and some institutions even having to close their doors permanently. We find ourselves struggling even more to achieve some balance between work and home life. Many of us are worrying about our children, our aging family members, and loved ones who maybe living alone and experiencing even further degrees of isolation than most of us.
SEMC has also been pivoting to better serve our members in light of our new current world circumstances. SEMC staff have been hosting many free online educational and networking sessions in hopes of supporting you during these times of uncertainty, and I want to thank all of you who have volunteered to lead and present these sessions. Bravo!
Amongst all this upheaval and chaos, though, museums are still beacons of hope and safe places in their communities, albeit in new ways. Some museums put their culinary facilities and staff to work feeding their local communities through food-banks, others pivoted their normal programs to online, many museums began offering curbside pick-up for summer camp materials and started sharing videos or Zoom classes for projects using those materials. Still others are offering safe online chat events to foster discussions on the important social issues our country is still navigating through.
Now more than ever I feel we need to lean into the theme for what would have been our annual meeting— Compassion in Action. I’m so proud to be able to look around at my colleagues and see how they are already embodying that theme. I look forward to the day when we can all be physically together again. Until then, stay safe, healthy, and compassionate.
But that’s not all! We had a wonderful group of volunteers who were able to meet in Louisville before the outbreak to work on plans for the annual meeting, and although we will not be meeting in-person this year after all, this group of dedicated volunteers are now tweaking all their work to turn it into online learning and networking opportunities for us.
— Heather Marie Wells, SEMC Interim President
interim semc vice president’s address My name is Matt Davis and I am honored to be your interim Vice President. I currently serve as the Director of Historic Museums at Georgia College located in Milledgeville, GA. I oversee the operations of three historic houses Andalusia: the Home of Flannery O’Connor, Georgia’s Old Governor’s Mansion, and the Sallie Ellis Davis House, and work as an adjunct professor in both the history and museum studies programs. I am also honored to serve as the current president of the Georgia Association of Museums, and have had a variety of positions within SEMC, including chair of the Programming Committee, chair of the Evaluation Committee, and co-chair of the Mid-Career Professionals group. As we all continue to work through and evaluate the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on our operations and evaluate our missions, vision statements, and organizational structures to truly ascertain if we are reflective of our communities and fulfilling our duties as keepers of the public trust, I am excited to work with SEMC’s Council, staff, and our members to bring about positive changes to our field. I hope that you will join us for this fall’s professional development series and our ongoing zoom sessions. I am proud to be a member of our museum community and am humbled by the chance to serve in this capacity. If I can ever be of any service to you, please do not hesitate to contact me. Best,
— Matt Davis, SEMC Interim Vice President
Follow this link for the SEMC 2020 Fall Virtual Program Series Schedule
Follow this link to listen to a video message from Zinna Willits, SEMC Executive Director, about the fall 2020 SEMC Virtual Program Series
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Get to Know SEMC’s New Staff Members Zinnia Willits (Executive Director) and Carla Phillips (Membership/ Communications Manager) both joined SEMC this summer. Get to know them through these three questions they each came up with to ask the other!
Zinnia’s Questions to Carla What did you want to be when you grew up? When I was young, I wanted to be an artist because I was always very artsy-craftsy throughout my childhood. I would go outside and gather sticks, rocks, flowers and anything else I could find and turn them into my own works of art. I was deemed the “Craft Queen” by my family. Currently, I consider myself a “funk-tional” artist, designing cool journals and home items from recycled and repurposed materials to sell in my Etsy shop.
What are you most looking forward to about your work with SEMC? I am looking forward to engaging with the members to promote their initiatives and programs; provide them with support and resources; and help put together a dynamic annual meeting that gives members the tools to do their best work. Do you have a favorite museum or cultural space? My favorite cultural space to visit and hike is the University of Wisconsin Arboretum. The Arboretum 15
maintains more than 17 miles of trails through restored prairies, savannas, woodlands, and wetlands. I grew up in Madison so visiting the Arboretum is always a favorite destination when I visit home. I do have some museums I can’t wait to visit, including Whitney Plantation, the Getty Center, the Holocaust Museum, and, because I do like a quirky institution, one day I’ll get to New Mexico and visit the International UFO Museum and Research Center.
Carla’s Questions to Zinnia What is your most hated household chore? My first response to this is “all of it.” I am not a big fan of cleaning, but it must be done, particularly for a “Type A” like myself who likes everything a certain way. My most hated chore though is cleaning bathrooms followed closely by dusting. When I was growing up cleaning the house was my job (which came with a decent allowance so….) and I spent every Saturday morning for YEARS, cleaning the bathrooms, dusting every surface and watering the 1,000’s of plants we had in the house. The sight of a can of Comet still brings me back to those Saturdays. Dusting is just annoying…having to remove everything on a surface to make one pass with a dust cloth and then put it all back…tedious. I think most people who are Type A have way more patience than I do…. What three museums are on your “museum bucket list”? Over the course of my life I have been privileged to visit many great museums across the globe. Some of these travels were work-related courier trips in my capacity of as Director of Collections at the Gibbes Museum of Art; amazing experiences that shaped my career. A few museums continue to elude me, but I am determined to get there! The three on my bucket list: The Egyptian Museum in Cairo: I have always wanted to go to Egypt to see the pyramids. I am fascinated by every aspect of the construction, use and symbolism of pyramids and Egyptian history in general. The Egyptian Museum is the oldest archaeological museum in the Middle East and houses the largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities in the world. I must go there!
A little-known fact about me is that I have an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois in Anthropology with minor in historic archaeology and considered pursuing a career in archaeology. Antiquities and the museums that preserve and protect them continue to fascinate me to this day. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Massachusetts: In 2011 the Gibbes Museum of Art hosted a lecture series called Museum Scandals. I attended the presentation by author, Ulrich Boser, on his book The Isabella Stewart Gardner Art Heist: Unlocking the Mystery Behind the World’s Largest Art Theft, which details what happened at the Gardner Museum in the early hours of March 18, 1990—the night 13 works of art were stolen in the single largest property theft in the world. I was hooked! Since that lecture I have read numerous books on this fascinating, unsolved crime and will eventually make my way to see the empty frames (the paintings were cut out by the thieves) still hanging on the gallery walls at the Gardner as they did thirty years ago! I love a good mystery. Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Novia Scotia, Canada: Ok I’ll admit it…I have been obsessed with the sinking of the Titanic for as long as I can remember. I have read all the books, watched all the movies and documentaries (there is so much more out there beyond the King of the World,) and was thrilled to see the exhibition of Titanic artifacts that traveled across the country years ago at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. If I could go down in that little sub to see the actual wreckage, I would…except I am claustrophobic….so maybe not. Anyhow, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax is another destination on my Titanic-crazed journey that I must get to! Within days of the sinking, the White Star Line dispatched four Canadian vessels to search for bodies. Two of the vessels were the Halifaxbased ships Mackay-Bennett and Minia, which recovered 323 victims. In all, 150 unclaimed victims were laid to rest in Halifax, forever linking the city to the vessel’s tragic tale. Today, the city of Halifax and the Maritime Museum retain many reminders of the Titanic tragedy including gravestones of victims, memorial monuments, preserved fragments of the ship, original photographs and documents and new insights and discoveries. I will get there eventually! 16
What do you love about your position at SEMC? When I read this question the first two words that jumped into my head were “people and possibility.” I genuinely love connecting with the SEMC membership. Some of my best friends have come through this organization, and I think we can all agree that it can difficult to make those kinds of true friends as an adult. I always describe myself as an introverted extrovert; leading SEMC feeds the extrovert! I love to meet new museum professionals, understand what they do, what their museums are about, where their passions lie and how SEMC can play a role in an individual’s career development at all levels. I have said time and again…I WANT to meet all of you…I am here. Contact me! That being said, I often spend my five-hour commutes between my home in Charleston and the
SEMC office in Atlanta driving in complete silence… no radio, no phone…just thinking. I need this space to keep balance. As I learned (and loved) from Susan Perry, being the SEMC Executive Director is very public facing and social; but it is important to schedule quiet time too. Obviously, I have trouble answering a question without going off on tangent. What I also love about my position with SEMC is the possibility for our organization to continue to have real impact among southeast museums. SEMC is going through a period of rapid change; it is still difficult to see the end result of what we will become. I have a strong feeling that when the dust of 2020 settles, we will see that SEMC’s future holds the wonderful possibility to effect real change. We’ll get there together!
SEMC Mid-Year Program Meeting, Louisville, Kentucky
rom today’s vantage point, March 2020 seems like a completely different year. A different lifetime even. To many who attended SEMC’s Mid-Year Program Committee and Council Meetings from March 4–6 in Louisville, Kentucky, this was the last week of normalcy; the last in-person SEMC gathering before the bottom dropped out and COVID-19 shifted our world. However, this is but one (strange) reason the 2020 mid-year meeting was memorable. Mostly it was memorable because the Louisville Local Arrangements Committee made it amazing and rolled out the red carpet for SEMC. What is this “mid-year meeting” you ask? Each year in March, the SEMC Program Committee gathers in the
Annual Meeting host city to spend a day reviewing, debating, and ultimately choosing the annual meeting program sessions. This Committee always has its work cut out, and this year was no exception with over 100 session proposals to choose from for 60 available spots for SEMC2020. The review day is long, and the debate is spirited, but this year’s Program Committee Chair and Co-Chair, Michelle Schulte and Beth HooverDeBerry, did an amazing job leading the group of 30+ SEMC members through the process! And the group was still friends at the end of the day! Involvement in the SEMC Program Committee is a wonderful and FUN way to get involved in our organization and add your input to the Annual Meeting Program. Consider joining for SEMC2021 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Supreme Sultan, 1983. Lifesize Bronze by Patricia Crane. Located at the entrance to the American Saddlebred Museum, Kentucky Horse Park.
The SEMC Council also meets at the Mid-Year meeting to conduct Council business, approve budgets and strategize for the future. For those on both Program Committee and Council, it can be a jam-packed few days of work! 19
However, all work and no play….well, you know how that saying goes. Long and short, it’s bad. So, we add fun into the mid-year meeting too! Representatives of the Local Arrangements host committee attend both meetings to give SEMC an overview of the planned conference events. Council and Program Committee also tour conference spaces at the host hotel. In addition, these hard-working SEMC volunteers get a preview of what the annual meeting host city has to offer. Some
years we take tours of museums, others we gather at restaurants to sample the local cuisine. This year in Louisville we sipped Bourbon! Kentucky is the birthplace of bourbon. Distillers have been crafting batches since the 18th century and today Kentucky still produces 95% of the supply making it bourbon’s true homeplace with a third of that production in Louisville’s city limits. SEMC Program Committee 20
and Executive Council were treated to an Evan Williams Bourbon Experience courtesy of the wonderful generosity of local host and supporter, Heaven Hill Distillery which has been family owned and operated since it was founded in 1935. Located on Louisville’s historic “Whiskey Row,” the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience features an artisanal distillery, guided tours and educational Bourbon
tastings in a spectacular space designed by SEMC corporate member, Solid Light. Celebrating the legacy of Evan Williams, Kentucky’s first commercial distiller, this immersive experience takes you back in time to visit recreations of the Louisville wharf in the late 18th Century, learn how Heaven Hill’s modern Bernheim Distillery operates and discover how it is different from distilling in Evan’s era. The SEMC group also viewed a state-of-the-art, modern, operating distillery and 21
Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky.
were treated to Bourbon tastings. Special thanks to Jeff Crowe, General Manager of the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, for generously hosting SEMC members for this unique experience. We will be back! Our groups departed Louisville very excited to return to this vibrant, culturally rich city in October 2020. Sadly, COVID-19 changed our current course. Postponing the 2020 Annual Meeting was a blow to all, and although it was the right decision given the challenging health pandemic we are still mitigating, the disappointment runs deep. The Louisville Local Arrangements Team had a truly spectacular conference planned. Two years of work went into the programming and SEMC is so proud of our Louisville members. Their organization, creativity, savvy fundraising, camaraderie and terrific sense of pride in Louisville Museums and cultural sites was evident during the planning process. We are grateful for their effort and for the leadership of 2020 Local Arrangements Co-Chairs, Cynthia Torp and Chris Goodlett, who demonstrated grace, resilience, empathy and stability as we worked through the difficult decision to postpone. Now some good news….SEMC will be BACK IN LOUISVILLE in 2023. Mark your calendars for November 13-15, 2023, when our membership will finally gather in this great city...in person…together… stronger…better! For now, we fondly remember a wonderful 2020 MidYear Meeting and look to the future! Thank you, Louisville! SEMC would like to extend a heartfelt THANK YOU to all the members of 2020 Annual Meeting Local Arrangements Committee. We appreciate your hard work and leadership! Penelope Peavler, Frazier History Museum Andy Treinen, Frazier History Museum Jeff Crowe, Evan Williams Bourbon Experience Joanna Haas, Kentucky Science Center 23
Woodshop at Historic Locust Grove, Louisville, Kentucky.
Toph Bryant, Kentucky Science Center Andrew Soliday, Louisville Slugger Museum Kate Meador, Conrad Caldwell House Chris Kirkland, Conrad Caldwell House Carol Ely, Historic Locust Grove Hannah Zimmerman, Historic Locust Grove Scott Alvey, Kentucky Historical Society Jessica Stavros, Kentucky Historical Society Jennifer Foster, American Saddlebred Museum Amy Nelson, American Saddlebred Museum Ashlee Chilton, International Museum of the Horse Amy Beisel, International Museum of the Horse Kasey Maier, Waterfront Botanical Gardens
Eileen Yanoviak, Carnegie Center for Art and History Kat Abner, Fund for the Arts Julie Scoskie, Filson Historical Society Destiny Monyhan, Louisville Tourism Karen Gillenwater, 21C Museum Hotel Alice Gray Stites, 21C Museum Hotel Amethyst Rey Beaver, 21C Museum Hotel Beth Geiser, Solid Light Cynthia Torp, Solid Light Kathy Nichols, Farmington Devin Payne Serke, Farmington 24
Moira Scott Payne, Kentucky College of Art and Design at Spalding University Patti Linn, Riverside, the Farnsley Moreman Landing Kristin Lutes, Whitehall House & Gardens Patrick Armstrong, Kentucky Derby Museum Chris Goodlett, Kentucky Derby Museum Chelsea Niemeier, Kentucky Derby Museum Monty Fields, Kentucky Derby Museum Scott Erbes, Speed Art Museum Elizabeth Spalding, Speed Art Museum Stephen Reily, Speed Art Museum Aldy Milliken, Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft
Amy Parish, Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft Hunter Kissel, Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft Casey Harden, Muhammad Ali Center Colleen Wilson, National Society Sons of the American Revolution Don Shaw, National Society Sons of the American Revolution Aukram Burton, Kentucky Center for African American History Channa Newman, Louisville Water Company/ WaterWorks Museum Jay Ferguson, Louisville Water Company/ WaterWorks Museum 25
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ATL Emerging Museum Professionals Network E M I LY K N IG H T, M IC HEL L E LOPEZ , and AR I AN A YAN DELL
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ne of our main goals for the ATL Emerging Museum Professionals Network is to provide emerging museum professionals (EMPs) within the first ten years of their careers, a space to connect and offer a support system. Before March 2020, our group hosted bi-monthly meetups at an institution or a favorite local haunt, offering participants an opportunity to mingle and pose questions to the group. ATL EMP meetups became a much needed monthly ritual for many Atlanta museum professionals.Â Once the reality of the pandemic arrived at our doorstep, everything had to be reevaluated. The past few
months have been a struggling time for museum professionalsâ€”be it mentally adjusting to a new normal, losing work, taking on new responsibilities, having disjointed communication from remote working, and so-on. Our on-site, in-person meetups became monthly Zoom meetings that were more light and supportive and less focused on talking shop. All of this was to meet new needs and combat screen exhaustion. It became clear to us after the death of George Floyd that something else needed to change. We witnessed our communities uniting together in solidarity for Black lives against the atrocities of police brutality. And in that, we saw a stark contrast of how many museum 29
institutions provided little to no action of solidarity to end racial inequality. This lack of response compounded an already common theme of concern for EMPs entering the workplace, feeling that you do not have a voice in your organization. It became clear to the co-chairs of ATL EMP that we needed to fill a community need in Atlanta. We wanted to provide a space for solidarity and action to enable individual museum professionals to have agency in creating change. The form of action that seemed the most accessible to all potential participants was a letter-writing session. At this stage in the planning process, we partnered with SEMC Emerging Museum Professionals to broaden our reach and help additional museum professionals to be active in their communities. The two EMP groups then worked on a collaborative resource to provide contact information of local
officials, including various counties within the Atlanta metropolitan area and those within the Southeast region. We also added suggested topics for letters and additional resources that expanded on letter writing, hoping to give our participants a holistic guide to contacting representatives. On June 4th with SEMC EMPs, we hosted a zoom call providing EMPs a letter/email writing hour to send to local government officials regarding institutional change needed. We discussed our resource sheet and opened up the call for questions and conversation as well, each respectively worked on letters. In a sense, we were able to more closely reach our original mission of supporting each other more than ever by providing a safe space for EMPs to grieve, reflect, share, and support one another. ATL EMP is planning on creating more letter writing sessions to further conversations on institutional change.
The American Civil War Museum Opening 2019
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Compassionate Management C AS SA N D RA ER B Exhibits Curator, Louisiana State Museum
Dear Cultural, Museum, and Arts Professionals: The onset of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in our communities has been difficult for everyone. This unique moment created a perfect storm for anti-racist activism and the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) to be in the forefront of visuals and actions, across America and the world. On one side of the current human experience, people have been working on the front lines to provide services, transportation and health care, while on another side people have been living in quarantine. It’s important to acknowledge that there are differing experiences in the times we are living through and it’s important to acknowledge who is living which experience and why. People of color are being disproportionately impacted by covid-19 through higher death rates and heavy employment in the essential sector, making it impossible to quarantine. To then witness more acts of senseless police violence, a movement which had been growing was given the space to bloom. Cultural institutions are responsible for giving people the tools that they need to live their daily lives and in
Rumors of War by Kehinde Wiley. Travis Fullerton © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, December 2019
this moment that means watering this movement and being dissective about this pandemic. My institution reopened to the public on May 16, 2020. A very limited staff has returned to the office so far. We have since had to close our buildings twice after staff members either tested positive for COVID-19 or were exposed to the virus [all of these individuals have since recovered, thankfully]. The staff members who have been deemed essential are largely security, maintenance and the front line. These positions are held predominately by people of color who are underpaid and underrepresented by senior leadership. Unfortunately, I have not witnessed compassionate leadership towards the people in these positions, or towards low-level museum staff in general, across institutions. This reality presents a real problem moving forward. I am witnessing a schism between two camps: those of us who want to push this industry into a tangibly inclusive future, where we walk the talk of dismantling harmful museum practices with actions, and those who want our institutions to just “get back to normal.” To quote from a letter that Christopher Bedford (of the Baltimore Museum of Art) sent to his staff on June 2, 2020, “But I, like you, work in a museum, and historically we’ve done an awful lot of talking and not a lot of doing. But that time must come to an end. And I dare say many 33
of you have drawn a similar conclusion in the past few days. The asymmetry between the world we talk about forging and the one out there is unbearable.” There is a “new normal.” What this means, beyond how our personal daily lives have changed, is that there is a space and opportunity that has been handed to us to examine what our “old normal” was and how that can inform a better future. Most importantly, we cannot look back to the world pre 2020 and call it “the good old days.”
their family. We can make a commitment to shed the thinking that has shaped our institutions from their colonial beginnings through the present-day interpretation of objects and the voices who are heard through those objects. We should consider the relationship to these objects as exemplary of the relationships we share with each other. As cultural, museum and arts professionals, we are tasked with educating, interpreting and preserving objects, art, histories and stories. We have an ethical responsibility to be inclusive and empathetic towards all humans of every race, religion, ethnicity, and physical ability when organizing, accessioning and exhibiting the objects of which we are merely the custodians. Our field is acknowledged as an authority of cultural preservation and the caretakers of the stories of humanity — with that reality comes great responsibility. We have to acknowledge where we have been wrong and announce how we will change. We have the power and possess the tools.
Our interpersonal relationships, the economic equity in our budgets, and the representational equity in our content all need to be addressed. We need to have open and honest communication as a start. We need to be more deliberate in cultivating working environments which reward integrity, kindness and respect. We have to work towards equitable salaries for all museum staff, interns and partners. This piece is a direct link to diversifying the faces we see across the museum field. Without committing to provide competitive wages this field will only be able to retain those who have other sources of income or another primary breadwinner in
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The Alabama Department of Archives and History wrote in a Statement of Recommitment that they acknowledge their troubled founding and confederate collecting practices. One of their four objectives is, “We will continue and expand efforts of the past four decades to document and tell a fully inclusive story of Alabama’s role in the American experience. If history is to serve the present, it must offer an honest assessment of the past.” In a statement put out by The Dance Studies Association condemning global anti-blackness and white supremacy, one of six action steps is outlined as follows, “DSA will examine its current institutional structures, processes, and working culture to make changes that advance an explicitly anti-racist agenda, with transparency and accountability as guiding ethics. Wherein institutional racism is embedded in existing policies, DSA will change policies rather than being beholden to previous ways of working.”
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These two organizations, and many others, give me hope and inspiration. I am reminded that being a museum professional does not mean that we clock in and out for eight hours a day. What it does mean is that we’re always strategizing, learning and thinking about our work because we are fueled by our passion. I would like to acknowledge Ciara Ennis, Tim Chester and Miki Glasser, all of whom have taught me how to think more deeply and lead by example. Thank you to all of my friends and colleagues who took the time to give me feedback on this piece. We are stronger together. Kindly, Cassandra Erb Museum Professional
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Postcard Power! How Museums Can Support the Community through a Social Connecting Campaign E R IC A H A RMO N Copywriter, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
arlier this year as quarantine fell upon the US, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and its satellite contemporary art space the Momentary, both located in Bentonville, Arkansas, wanted to determine how best to help their region’s vulnerable communities and bridge the inequity gap created by the effects of COVID-19. After speaking with community partners and assessing resources, the organization identified the need to foster connections with vulnerable, isolated groups, such as patients in hospitals and residents in senior care facilities. The result was a Social Connecting Campaign, the components of which included a community-wide postcard campaign with art kits, commissioned original artwork by 9 local artists, and an art exhibition that traveled to 22 locations around Northwest Arkansas. As more organizations look for ways to connect with their local communities in the era of social distancing and beyond, museums may consider low-cost, highimpact projects that align with their mission, mobilize community members and partners to get involved, and spread messages of hope, comfort, and creativity, as outlined in the steps here. 39
1. Reach out to community partners to determine needs As Crystal Bridges and the Momentary assessed how to best help the community during quarantine, they turned to their community partners, an assortment of regionally based organizations from a variety of industries that weigh in on community needs. The need for a Social Connecting Campaign was realized through a series of community listening sessions with partners such as the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS)’s Community Health and Research team and Schmieding Center for Senior Health and Education. Community partners raised concerns about the negative effects of isolation for seniors, healthcare workers, and hospital patients. They were enthusiastic about using the arts to provide comfort and joy during this difficult time and to support mental health and well-being. This need aligned with the Crystal Bridges’ mission and resources, thereby making it a great opportunity to pursue.
2. Determine project scope and goals that fit within the organization’s mission, and get creative! As team members brainstormed meaningful ways of connecting the public and those most isolated during this time, their minds turned to one of the most reliable and appreciated forms of communication: postcards. In an effort to support local artists, the team reached out to local artists to create designs for the postcards and a temporary art exhibition that would be displayed at selected facilities. Nine local artists answered the call to create an original artwork inspired by the word “TOGETHER.” The artists included Kenny Arredondo, Stacy Bates, Kinya Christian, Tram Colwin, Leana Fischer, Octavio Logo, Matt Miller, Hannah L. Newsome, and Alan Rodriguez. You can learn more about each artist here. Their designs were inspired by images of strength in nature, memories of cherished time with family, and 40
appreciation for frontline workers. The interpretations range from personal reflections on the word and separation from family and friends, to broad messages of hope in coming back together again with love. In fact, you can listen to some of the artists speaking about their work in this video.
3. Mobilize staff, volunteers, and the community to bring the concept to life Once the postcard designs were created, Crystal Bridges and the Momentary put the word out via social media and eNewsletters to let the local community know about the project and invite participation. The public was asked to pick up a bundle of postcards, color in the artists’ line drawings and write messages of hope to those living and working in healthcare facilities across Northwest Arkansas. Once completed, the postcards were returned to Crystal Bridges, and the team included the personalized postcards in creativity kits that were distributed to patients and staff around the area. Local community organizations such as public libraries, non-profit support organizations, and individuals
in the Northwest Arkansas community mobilized their friends, families, and neighbors to write and color the postcards. Crystal Bridges and Momentary staff, members, and volunteers were also a huge support to the campaign, from assisting in distribution to hosting virtual postcard coloring parties with family and friends.
4. Provide opportunities for connection through art Virtual Postcard Party In June, Crystal Bridges hosted a virtual postcard coloring party to connect some of the postcard artists—Leana Fischer, Hannah Newsome Doyle, Kinya Christian, and Tram Colwin—directly with community members. The program provided connection between artists and the community as the artists explained their inspiration for the postcards and taught guests a few coloring techniques. Traveling Art Exhibition The second part of the Social Connecting Campaign consisted of a temporary art exhibition that traveled to 9 hospitals and 13 senior citizen facilities around the
Northwest Arkansas region. In addition to the postcards, the nine artists also painted large-scale colorful versions of their postcard drawings. Each drawing was brought to life on a 4x8-foot mural attached to a freestanding, custom-made support. Patients and staff were able to spend a moment with the works installed outdoors. Art kits were also distributed to encourage creativity while in isolation— kits which included a returned colored postcard from someone in the community! Community Response “The response from all involved has been overwhelming, and it’s brought joy to the lives of those most affected by this pandemic...This campaign demonstrates the excellence, generosity, and strong sense of service found here in Northwest Arkansas,” said Ayoola Carleton, Assistant Director of Research, UAMS Northwest Regional Campus. By the end of the campaign, Crystal Bridges and the Momentary was able to provide completed postcards and art kits to every patients, staff members, and senior citizens in the 9 hospitals and 13 senior citizen facilities 42
who participated. The team is also organizing a public viewing of the postcard exhibition which will be on view at the museum at later date to be announced.Â Remember to continue partnerships with social service, healthcare, and other local organizations to effectively understand the needs of the community and how your offerings can play a role in filling those needs. Museums can offer hope and inspiration for all, especially in trying times.
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Thanks for Asking — I’m Struggling Mental Wellness for Museum Professionals S U SA N WA RD Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor
ight shoulders. Glazed eyes. Pursed lips. Shaky voice. I see this in my clients. I see it in my neighbors. I see it in webinars. Some days we do better than others, but these are kaleidoscopic times, and we’re all struggling. As museum professionals, you’re facing change and uncertainty in multiple aspects of your lives. As a past museum professional—I was once curator of Biltmore House and other museum jobs—I know how challenging your work is even without all of the additional societal and health challenges that have been heaped upon us.
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In a recent webinar for therapists, Dr. Cathy Machloidi listed the stressors that are facing all of us. Summarized they include: • Global pandemic • Changes in routine • Physical distancing including lack of touch • Social upheaval • Health threats • Uncertainties regarding the future No wonder we’re all struggling! Small amounts of ongoing, everyday stress is appropriate for our nervous systems, and in fact helps us develop self-calming and interpersonal skills. However, the current level of stress is overwhelming our nervous systems. As a result, we’re sleeping poorly, dreaming weirdly, eating unhealthily, and drinking too much. It’s
up, and nauseaness can occur. Most of us adapt and adjust fairly quickly after typical life stress incidents— a fender bender, exhibit prep, late to pick up our child, grant writing. But we’re now facing chronic stress. The impact is greater. The strategies I’ve listed below address one or more of the following:
our body’s way of trying to find a point of equilibrium within the on-going stressors. Neurobiologically, stress activates our sympathetic nervous system—fight, flight, or freeze. Stress hormones get released, our brain functioning decreases, muscles get tense, breathing changes, heart rate goes
• Calming the back of the brain--where we feel strong emotions, so that the front of the brain—the prefrontal cortex—can work. This is the part that plans, make decisions, filters out unhelpful information, and generally keeps us on track and organized. • Connects the right side of the brain—the imaginative, creative part, with the left side of the brain— the logical, practical part of the brain, so that we can better process information. • Improves emotional resiliency so that our brains become quicker to recover from difficult situations.
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program. They might help you and they could even help your visitors! General stress relieving activities: • Increase serotonin (feel good hormone) through exercise, meditation (even 5 minutes helps), exposure to outdoor light, and spending time in nature. • Take up a new hobby or pick up an old one you haven’t done in a long time. Participating in creative endeavors builds mental wellness. Brains have neuroplasticity that means we can improve how our brain works. Some of these mental wellness strategies are individual activities. Do them yourself. Teach them to your children, your significant other, your staff, and your volunteers. Others can be done as a group—staff meetings, board meetings, or as the intro into an educational
• Butterfly taps. Cross your arms and tap your shoulders alternately. It can be slow or fast, gentle or more firmly. Set a timer for two minutes. Close your eyes or find a place to focus. Try and slow your breathing. • March in place while tapping the opposite knee with each hand. Do it fast. Do it slow. When I do this with
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kids, I keep changing the pace and ask them to follow along with me. • 4-5-6 breathing. Breathe in while you count to four. Hold it while you count to five. Exhale while you count to six. Repeat for one to two minutes. • Windmills. Stand tall, feet apart. Learn over and tap the opposite toe, stand back up, reach down for the other toe. Repeat the full sequence 10 times. • Rub up and down on your upper arms while you hum or say the alphabet or count by 5s. Do it until your breathing calms. • Finger squeeze. Hold middle finger firmly for two minutes while breathing deeply. Switch hands, repeat. • Art escape. Wander into a landscape drawing—the Metropolitan Museum of Art has great pubic access art, or use something from your own collection.
Imagine walking into the painting. What would catch your eye? Which direction would you walk? What would the ground feel like under your feet? What would you be hearing? What would you be smelling? What time of day do you think it is? What do you think the temperature would be? Rest in the comfort of that painting for several calming seconds. • Practice gratitude. Brené Brown’s research says that people who are joyful lean into gratitude. Not just an attitude of gratitude, but practicing gratitude— journaling, saying grace, speaking out loud about gratitude. Try taking one photo everyday of something you’re grateful for. Or, doodle one picture each day of something that fills you with thankfulness. • Picture postcard in your mind. Close your eyes and think of a peaceful place. It can be a real place or an imaginary place. Picture as many details as you can. What would you hear? What would you see? What would you feel with your hands or feet? What would
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you smell? As you create that picture postcard in your mind, alternately tap your toes or use your hands to tap your thighs or shoulders. Memorize those details. Pull up that postcard in your mind when you need to distract yourself from an uncomfortable feeling. Or use the image to calm yourself before you say something unkind. Group activities: • Start every meeting with a quiet transition. Use a singing bowl; everyone is quiet until the bowl stops singing. Or, have staff members take turns sharing a calming description of a stream, or a beach, or a mountain trail. (Google “guided imagery.”) Each person might close their eyes or lower their eyes, and breath slowly. • Spell in a circle. Pick a word or phrase—collections care, exhibition, visitor experience—and spell it out loud, person by person. Make it challenging by spelling backwards! • Hum together. Hum a silly song like Jingle Bells, Happy Birthday, or Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Add butterfly taps (arms crossed while tapping your shoulders) in order to better calm the nervous system.
Everyone is different. Some of these activities will resonate more with some of you than others. However, I always tell my clients to try something at least three times. And, modify these to fit your needs and the needs of your staff. Trying new things builds emotional resilience. And, these just might help reduce your anxiety during our kaleidoscopic lives.
Susan M. Ward is a psychotherapist in Asheville, North Carolina. Previously, she was in the museum field and active in SEMC. She’s glad to answer questions or suggest resources via text: 828-450-0300 or email, unquilted@ gmail.com. More at theartofmentalwellness.com and Instagram @artofmentalwellness. resources Cathy Machloidi, PhD, www.cathymalchiodi.com American Psychological Association (2019). Stress effects on the body. www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-body Metropolitan Museum of Art, Collection Search www.metmuseum.org/art/collection Brene Brown, PhD, www.brenebrown.com
• Tap and clap. One person starts a tapping, clapping, snapping pattern and repeats it over and over. Everyone else joins in as they figure out the pattern. Do it for 1 – 2 minutes. Mistakes allowed!
When You Can’t Return to the Nest Storytelling at the Home of Joel Chandler Harris MER EDI T H DEEL EY Education and Communication Director, The Wren’s Nest
he Wren’s Nest was home, in Atlanta, to Joel Chandler Harris and his family from 1881 to 1908. It became a house museum in 1913, making it the oldest house museum in Georgia. It is a physical link for visitors to the historic West End neighborhood’s past with its 19th-century Queen Anne Victorian architecture style and its 19th- and 20th-century furnishings. However, the challenge with a physical link to the past like a historic house is that it’s just that: physical. It’s not something you can easily send or share with others. In the wake of COVID-19, The Wren’s Nest has been closed to visitors since mid-March. Like so many businesses and museums, we have shut our doors until we know it safe for visitors to return. But we are more than just the house. And so, our 100-plus-year-old
institution has found creative ways to fulfill our mission to preserve the art of storytelling—including taking our storytelling virtual!
Joel Chandler Harris and Storytelling Joel Chandler Harris was a long-time journalist and editor for The Atlanta Constitution (now The Atlanta Journal Constitution), but he is remembered most as the author of the Uncle Remus (or Brer Rabbit) books. During his lifetime, Harris was an incredibly popular author, rivaling contemporaries like Mark Twain in popularity. When he published his first book, Uncle Remus His Songs and His Sayings, it sold over 10,000 copies in the first four months it was available! The book also became an international sensation and has been translated into approximately two dozen languages. 53
However, Harris did not create the stories. Instead, his books are recordings of the Brer Rabbit folktales he heard as a young boy. When Harris was fourteen years old, he worked as an apprentice for a newspaper called The Countryman, which was printed at Turnwold Plantation in Eatonton, Georgia. While there, he spent time with the enslaved men and women on the plantation, listening as they told the Brer Rabbit stories. Prior to Harris’s publications, the stories had only been told orally, passed from generation to generation. The roots of the stories have been traced to African, African American, and Native American folklore. While Joel Chandler Harris and his popular books may be the reasons The Wren’s Nest was preserved as a museum, at the heart of our history and our mission is storytelling. Therefore, a staple of the museum for the last 35 years has been our weekly Saturday storytelling hour. We love our Saturday storytelling sessions and the opportunity they provide to share these tales in the form in which they were originally told. We hated the idea of discontinuing them during our closure.
So, we adapted.
Storytelling Goes Virtual Thank goodness for technology. We realized storytelling in-person would no longer be an option, so we found a way to offer them in an online format. On Saturday, April 18, we launched the first virtual storytelling session, livestreaming the performance on our Facebook page at 1 PM (our regular storytelling hour). Wren’s Nest storyteller Chetter Galloway graciously agreed to be our guinea pig for the experiment, performing a delightful and somewhat modernized rendition of “Brer Gator Meets Trouble.” Since then, we’ve had 11 online storytelling performances with eight 54
different professional storytellers, and we’re scheduled for storytelling through at least the end of August. During virtual storytelling, visitors to our Facebook page can watch, comment, and share in real time. If audience members miss the livestream, they can still find all the performances on our website or YouTube channel. We’re glad we found a way to continue our storytelling performances and we are forever grateful to our regular Wren’s Nest storytellers—Esther Culver, Chetter Galloway, Akbar Imhotep, and Gwendolyn J. Napier— for jumping on board with this program. They have helpfully rolled with the new circumstances, figuring out how to do their performances online and, in some cases, mastering new technologies to make it happen. We are lucky to have them on our team.
Opportunities in Going Virtual Virtual storytelling hasn’t been without its challenges – who knew that Zoom calls would have trouble recording the sound of cowbells? However, the challenges have been minor, especially compared with the exciting opportunities virtual storytelling has created for our organization. First, we can now share the stories that entertained, inspired and taught so many (including Harris) to a
wider audience than ever before. We’ve had viewers during our livestream from all over Georgia as well as Maryland, Virginia, Minnesota, and even New Mexico! It also allows us a new opportunity to connect with our audiences. In the comments of the livestream, we’ve had viewers describe their love for the stories growing up, share the last time they visited The Wren’s Nest, and express their desire to now tell the stories with their own children and grandchildren. It’s been rewarding and enlightening to see how these stories continue to touch people’s lives. Second, we were fortunate enough to receive a matching grant from the City of Atlanta to help fund this program. In this fundraising campaign, the City of Atlanta agreed to match each $1 donation up to $2,000. We were thrilled when the campaign raised almost $5,000, meeting and surpassing our goal. Those donations will all go directly to supporting the professional storytellers performing for virtual storytelling. The third and arguably the most exciting opportunity has been the chance to share the talents of these professional storytellers, some of whom are new to us. With virtual storytelling, we decided to expand beyond our four contracted professional storytellers. We hoped this would both support more performing artists who might be struggling in the face of the pandemic and
alleviate some of the burden from our own storytellers. We reached out to the Kuumba Storytellers of Georgia and the Southern Order of Storytellers, professional storytelling organizations of which our storytellers are members or officers, to enlist new performers for the virtual program. The response was somewhat overwhelming as our inbox was flooded with interested performers. It’s been a delight to see the different, but equally talented performing styles and to infuse new stories into our Saturday storytelling. In addition to our beloved Brer Rabbit stories, we’ve had a performance of a Nigerian folktale from Gloria Elder called “Why the Sky is Far Away,” and Gwendolyn J. Napier recently performed an African folktale called “Oscar the Worm.” We also had a performance from Barry Stewart Mann of a trickster tale called“Coyote and Mouse,” which originates from the Native American and Hispanic traditions of Northwestern Mexico and the Southwestern United States. Stewart Mann even incorporated Spanish into the story, teaching our audience some new Spanish vocabulary. As reopening remains uncertain, we are glad we still have storytelling to look forward to on Saturdays.
Beyond Storytelling Virtual storytelling is just one example of how we’ve adapted to the world in light of the coronavirus pandemic. On May 26, we launched our first guided virtual tour of the museum, allowing visitors to explore this Atlanta fixture from the comfort of their own homes. The creation of this general information tour was funded by a grant from Georgia Humanities and provides an overview of some of the museum’s highlights using Google map technology. The Georgia Humanities grant also funded the creation of a new digital educational tool: an interactive version of the Harris family tree. With this tool, virtual visitors can learn more about all the members of the Harris family, including those still alive today. Furthermore, we converted our scheduled book talks with local authors to online events. Using Zoom, authors were still able to present on their new books and take audience questions. In fact, we had at least twice the number of attendees at each online book talk than we typically have in person. When schools closed in mid-March, we adjusted our middle school writing program, Scribes, to a hybrid inperson and online experience. In this program, we partner the students with media professionals who mentor them through the writing process. The goal of Scribes 56
Throughout the summer, we will share the students’ stories—both complete and partial—on our website in what we’re calling, Summer of Scribes.
is to produce a collection of stories that The Wren’s Nest publishes in a book. We’ve put out 10 Scribes volumes since 2010. Every Labor Day weekend, we host a launch party for the students and their families at the Decatur Book Festival, one of the largest and best book festivals in the country. Unfortunately, the festival has moved online as well so our launch party is not possible and too few students were able to finish their stories to warrant a publication. Fortunately, though, we have found a way to still share the students’ work.
The Wren’s Nest also has increased its online presence. Our once somewhat dormant blog is now active again. We are regularly sharing posts on a variety of subjects. From light and fun topics like a Brer Rabbit molasses cookies recipe to more difficult topics suggested by the news (such as the epidemic that brought the Harris family to Atlanta and the horrific race riot that landed on the front steps of the Wren’s Nest in 1906). We also hosted a Brer Rabbit drawing challenge, in which participants shared their own creative interpretations of the beloved trickster on social media (or via email) for a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card in a raffle. The resulting artwork was wonderfully fun, clever, and impressive! We compiled the entries into a virtual gallery now available on our website.
Looking Ahead We hope we can open our doors again to visitors soon. We can’t wait for our storytelling sessions to resume in person and for our tours to be safely conducted in the physical house, not just on a screen. In the meantime, we are pleased to discover all the ways we can incorporate 21st-century technology into sharing our 19thcentury house museum and all the history, programs, and stories it has to offer.
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I Am Black First and Museum Professional Second L A N CE W HEEL ER Education & Public Relations Manager for the Margaret Walker Center and COFO Education Center, Jackson State University, Jackson, MS
n February 26, 2012, a young unarmed, Black man-child was walking home from a convenient store in Sanford, Florida in the rain when a wannabe cop murdered him in cold blood. The sound of him yelling “HELP! HELP! F*** AWAY,” will forever be embedded in my mind. Eight years later, I can still hear his scream for “HELP”. I tell myself daily that I am you TRAYVON MARTIN. Not because I wear hoodies and eat skittles but because I am both black and male. Your black life matters. Your assassination is why I decided to pursue my career as a public historian and museum practitioner. The impact of your life will fundamentally change the ways I interpret African American history and is the driving focus of me becoming a museum curator.
Two years later, on July 17, 2014, I observed a Black man be thrown onto a Staten Island, New York sidewalk and put into a rear-end chokehold. Unlike Trayvon Martin’s death, I witnessed with the world as your soul and life left your body. The word HELP! echoed back into my head from the murder of Trayvon Martin when I heard, “I can’t breathe!” I AM YOU, ERIC GARNER, AND YOU ARE ME! Not even a month later, on August 9, 2014, another Black man-child was murdered by a white Ferguson, Missouri, police officer while walking home with a friend. I watched the news and read the reports as they left your Black body to lay on the ground for hours. The images of you laying there, alone, reinforces that I AM YOU, MICHAEL BROWN, AND YOU ARE ME!
I assure you that I make people remember your name and say your name. Three years later, on October 1, 2017, I was able to land my dream job as Curator of Exhibitions for the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum located in Jackson, Mississippi. At the age of twenty-seven and freshly coming out of graduate school, it’s not often one has the opportunity to work in a museum that has not been open to the general public and serve as the curator for the first state-operated civil rights museum in the country. When the doors of the museums opened that December, one of my biggest concerns was my ability to connect the strength, courage, and fortitude that occurred in the movement to the general public, specifically to young visitors. After a while, being Black and being in a space where the conversation is constantly about civil and human rights takes a toll on one physically, mentally and spiritually. My daily conversations consisted of the following: How does it feel being Black in this space? Do you get angry? How do white people react in the space? Are white people sympathetic? Are white people crying? Have things changed in this country? Where do we go from here? Can you believe that all this happened in Mississippi? How does it feel to live in Mississippi? What do you know about civil and human rights, being so young? As a museum practitioner, we are taught specifically not to allow our opinions and our personal beliefs to dictate our interpretation of history. Yet, how does my Blackness and personal experience not seep into daily language? To answer these questions, I normally responded with a quote from James Baldwin, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” I am enraged every day when it comes to the treatment and abuse of Black people in this country. Nonetheless, it is my job to encourage others to continue to have hope when there are days when I do not have any. When I fall to despair, I think about the martyrs of movement specifically Medgar Evers, Vernon Dahmer, James Chaney and Emmett Till. I acknowledge that these men and others like them were martyrs of the 50s and 60s. However, there is a growing list of Black martyrs here and now in the 21st century.
It is extremely important to recognize that the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not end the plight for Black people in America. As a public historian and museum practitioner, my blackness informs my work and how I interact with visitors. At the end of those conversations, I typically point out that Black people all over the country are reminded of our Blackness 24/7, 365 days a year. During my time at the Civil Rights Museum, I learned that my work was no longer just about interpreting Black history, it was more about empowering and uplifting the next generation of Black leaders. Fast forward to February 23, 2020, a Black man was shot multiple times by two white supremacists in a Glynn County, Georgia neighborhood. His name was AHMAUD ARBERY. You were shot like you didn’t matter, but you matter to me even if I didn’t know you personally. I AM YOU AND YOU ARE ME! A few months later, on May 25, 2020, while in the house due to COVID-19, I get on social media and see stories of another Black man gone in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I thought, “Damn, another Black person was murdered. We can’t even be left alone during a pandemic.” This death seemed familiar and different at the same time. Your Black body’s slow death reminded me of how Eric Garner’s life faded. He said your exact your words from 2014, “I can’t breathe…” You were suffocated for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Your life was taken like it did not matter but your life matters to me. GEORGE FLOYD, I AM YOU AND YOU ARE ME! I want to you all to know, no matter how highly educated I am, no matter my income, no matter my job title, no matter the car I drive, no matter my upbringing, no matter how hardworking and kind I am, no matter that I am a son and a father, the simple fact is; I AM ALWAYS GOING TO BE BLACK FIRST and I AM ALWAYS GOING TO BE THOSE BLACK MEN I mentioned above. It is important to realize that as a Black man, I am a reflection of Black women when you look at me. BLACK WOMEN are the heart and soul of my community. Nevertheless, history has shown us repeatedly that Black women aren’t safe from insults, threats, sexual harassment, rape, racial profiling, and murder. If it was not for a Black woman, I wouldn’t be alive. If it wasn’t 62
for the many dynamic black women in my life, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Women like Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Atatiana Jefferson, Natasha McKenna, Rekia Boyd. Riah Milton, Dominique Fells, Merci Black, Shaki Peters, Nina Pop (and the list goes on) have shaped my existence. I AM THEM AND THEY ARE ME! Being Black means I take on the pressure of the implicit bias and expectation of self to be ten times better than white people. It also means that I do not have the luxury to mourn daily life stresses. I must dust myself off and keep it moving. Being Black means that I have days that I am tired and drained from society. Let me tell you that being Black is no curse. It’s the dopest feeling in the world. Being Black means my people and I have stood against the test of time and we will continue to do so. Being Black means that I love and wear this title proudly even when the world tries to tell me it’s terrible. When it comes to being Black, my approach at work will always be drastically different from my white peers. I must continuously use my voice to ensure that my people’s voices are heard in spaces I occupy. If I don’t use my voice, I am doing a disservice not only to myself but to the Black people who laid the groundwork and the Black individuals who will come after me. It also means that the work I do every day is a privilege and honor. Remember this, “In order for you to see me, you must recognize the pain and joy that comes with my Blackness.” For those who say they don’t see color, they are purposely erasing me and my people. I am saying it LOUD and CLEAR, “I will always see your color and you will see mine and feel it!” When you walk into my museum space, when I’m asked to present and when I am asked to discuss diversity and inclusion, be mindful that I do not show up simply as Lance Wheeler, “the museum professional.” I show up as Trayvon Marin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Freddie Gary, Keith Lamont Scott, Breonna Taylor, Aura Rosser, Tanisha Anderson, Carleena Lyles, Bryala Stone, Dominique Fells, Riah Milton and the many other Black people. I AM THEM AND THEY ARE ME! BLACK FIRST! Lance Wheeler
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A SPECIAL THANKS SEMC Endowment Contributions Many thanks to our endowment contributors for investing in the future of SEMC! When you are thinking of honoring or remembering someone, please consider a contribution to the SEMC endowment. For more information, contact Executive Director Zinnia Willits at 404.814.2048 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Matthew Davis Mary LaGue Darcie MacMahon Robert Sullivan
THE PAST PRESIDENTS CIRCLE Members of the Past Presidents Circle contribute $150 annually for at least two years to the endowment fund: George Bassi Sharon Bennett David Butler Tom Butler Tamra Sindler Carboni Micheal A. Hudson Douglas Noble Robert Rathburn
Graig D. Shaak Robert Sullivan Kristen Miller Zohn
THE WILLIAM T. AND SYLVIA F. ALDERSON ENDOWMENT FELLOWS Thirty members of SEMC have made commitments of distinction as Alderson Fellows. Their investment of at least $1,000 each is a significant leadership gift, reflective of a personal commitment to the professional association that has meant so much to each of them. Platinum Alderson Fellows (minimum $5,000) Sylvia F. Alderson Bob Rathburn Graig D. Shaak Nancy & Robert Sullivan
Our Current Alderson Fellows (minimum $1,000) T. Patrick Brennan Michael Brothers W. James Burns Horace Harmon Brian Hicks Pamela Hisey Micheal Hudson Kathleen Hutton Rick Jackson Andrew Ladis John Lancaster Elise LeCompte Allyn Lord Michael Anne Lynn R. Andrew Maass Darcie MacMahon Robin Seage Person Allison Reid Steve Rucker Heather Marie Wells Kristen Miller Zohn
Medallion Alderson Fellows (minimum $2,500) George Bassi Sharon Bennett David Butler Tamra Sindler Carboni William U. Eiland Martha Battle Jackson Pamela Meister Richard Waterhouse
Other SEMC Contributions Angie Albright, Martha Battle Jackson JIMI Fund Scott Alvey, General Operating Julie B. Harris, Martha Battle Jackson Jimi Fund Darcie MacMahon, Leadership Institute Rosalind Martin, Leadership Institute Catherine Pears, Leadership Institute Susan Perry, Leadership Institute Scott Warren, Seasoned Museum Professional Scholarship L. Carole Wharton, Leadership Institute Zinnia Willits, Leadership Institute Zinnia Willits, Presidentâ€™s Travel Scholarship
New or Renewal Memberships Received SEMC thanks those who have renewed or joined our organization for the first time between March 1, 2020, and June 30, 2020. Without your support and participation we could not provide region wide services such as our Mentor, Awards, and Scholarship programs, as well as our outstanding Annual Meetings and nationally acclaimed Jekyll Island Management Institute. If you are an individual member and your museum is not an institutional member, please encourage them to join. To learn more about SEMC memberships and benefits, or to join online, visit semcdirect.net, email email@example.com, or call 404.814.2047. For your convenience, the last page of this newsletter is a membership application.
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GEORGIA The Georgia Museum of Art moved the UGA MFA 2020 exhibition online during COVID-19. This year’s Master of Fine Art Degree Candidates Exhibition was planned to take place at the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia April 11 through May 17, with an opening reception the evening of April 10. The annual exhibition highlights graduating master’s students at the Lamar Dodd School of Art and is a tradition going back decades. The COVID-19 outbreak and cautionary measures designed to slow its spread meant that the exhibition moved online to georgiamuseum.org. It opened the same day as planned but will remain on the museum’s website in perpetuity.
Christina Foard, 2018 Celebration. Oil on panel, 48 × 60 inches. Periphery statement on left side: “You can’t laugh and feel fear at the same time.”
Laurel Fulton, The Difference Between Hearing and Listening, 2020. Printed digital image, 25 × 40 inches.
Follow this link to view the gallery. This year’s candidates were Nick Abrami, Yana Bondar, AC Carter, Cristina Echezarreta, Christina Foard, Laurel Fulton, Mary Gordon, Alec Kaus, Leah Mazza, Robby Toles, Kim Truesdale and Rachel Watson. Elizabeth Howe, a preparator at the museum, acted as curator of the exhibition, working with the students to refine their initial proposals and making studio visits. “It’s a very good group this year, and I think the exhibition shows that range in the different mediums,” said Howe. Howe’s background in art installation brings a useful technical aspect to her curatorial duties, and she had created a layout that allowed candidates’ work to interact with one another and viewers. The online version sacrifices the immersive nature of some of the work but compensates by allowing candidates to include more
work, as their space is no longer limited. Howe describes this year’s work as “as contemporary as you can get” and says she enjoys working with “real, living artists” and creating a setting for their art to be brought to light. Cristina Echezerreta says that her art focuses on “how material culture affects the way in which we identify ourselves” and “draws inspiration from familiar experiences, marketing and consumerism.” Alex Klaus is interested in “the role history, archives, and folklore play in constructing narratives about our collective past, present and future.” The 12 artists work in media including video, photography, printmaking, sculpture/fibers, metals/jewelry, ceramics, painting and drawing. The Lamar Dodd School of Art will no longer publish a physical catalogue, but the museum incorporated essays by art history graduate students on the MFA students into the online exhibition. 84
SOUTH CAROLINA The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston in Charleston, SC is excited to share a virtual project for fall 2020 entitled Dis/placements: Revisitations of Home. This project will feature ten artists whose works deal with issues of displacement from their ancestral homeland in various capacities. All ten artists have been drawn from the exhibition history of the Halsey Institute. The core of the project will exist in a virtual format, functioning as an online platform designed to reach greater audiences and encourage participation and discussion. For each artist, the platform will feature ten to twelve images of artwork, a response to their work from a guest writer, short videos featuring interviews with the artists, blog posts by Halsey Institute staff and faculty and students at the College of Charleston, educational packets, and other contextual measures. The Halsey Institute will also host several virtual events with the
artists and other scholars and collaborators to further explore the theme of home. Ideas of home have taken on new meaning in this fraught moment of pandemic. For many, home has become a place to cocoon where hours run into days, weeks and months. For people less fortunate, home can represent insecurity and be charged with fear; and for those on the frontlines battling COVID-19 it may be a place newly tenuous, visited for momentary respite at best. As a formative dimension of the human condition, focus on home is a constant in the arts at scales from the family residence to the neighborhood to the homeland. Home is central to our collective imagining of our place in the world. For most of us most of the time, it can be taken for granted, celebrated periodically, before receding to form the backdrop against which life plays out. Made inaccessible or, worse, lost, it can be mythologized as somewhere to be coveted, spied from
Hung Liu, Imperial Garden, 2014. Cast resin mixed media on box, hand painted by the artist. Triptych, 60 Ă— 97.
afar, encountered, experienced, perhaps recovered, if only ephemerally. Artists included in the project are Shimon Attie, Riccarda de Eccher, Lonnie Holley, Yaakov Israel, Hung Liu, Jiha Moon, Fahamu Pecou, Hamid Rahmanian, Tanja Softić, and Renée Stout. The writers included in the project are Bryan Granger, Katie Hirsch, Mark Long, Marian Mazzone, Dr. O (Ade Ofunniyin), Ruth Rambo, Dale Rosengarten, Ted Rosengarten, Mary Trent, and Lilly Wei. Dis/placements: Revisitations of Home will be on view from August 28 – December 12, 2020. Find out more about the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art and this exhibition at halsey.cofc.edu Hamid Rahmanian, I Am the Fish, 2006.
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Fahamu Pecou, Sup With Dat, 2013. From the grav•i•ty series. Graphite and acrylic on paper, 42 × 26. Image courtesy of the artist. From the collection of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
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GEORGIA The Davenport House Museum, in Savannah, GA, welcomed a new class of Junior Interpreters. The Summer 2020 Junior Interpreter Program began on Tuesday, June 30, with six students participating. Members meet on Tuesday and Thursday evenings for training and to learn about their interpreter responsibilities. Junior Interpreter Day was Friday, July 31, 2020, when these young people gave their first tours to the public. Welcome and best of luck to these young museum professionals!
SOUTH CAROLINA South Carolina State Museum Commission and Foundation Board Names New Executive Director The South Carolina State Museum Commission and the South Carolina State Museum Foundation Board are excited to announce Amy Bartow-Melia as the new executive director of the South Carolina State Museum. Bartow-Melia joins the State Museum from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, where she most recently served as the MacMillan Associate Director for Audience Engagement. In her role Bartow-Melia was responsible for leading the museum’s efforts to engage and empower Americans to
be informed participants in their Democracy. For over 20 years she served in various leadership roles within the museum; overseeing education, public programs, including the Smithsonian Jazz Masterwork’s Orchestra, digital engagement and visitor services, among others. “The South Carolina State Museum has an important vision to be an ‘ever-changing, innovative institution reflecting the essence and diversity of South Carolina,’” says Bartow-Melia. “I am honored to be joining an amazing team of museum professionals dedicated to serving our audiences and look forward to building on the museum’s important work to be a welcoming and inclusive community forum and educational resource for the people of South Carolina.” As an internationally recognized museum executive, Bartow-Melia is active in the museum community, from serving as chair of the American Alliance of Museums Accreditation Commission, to leading two international art nonprofits based in the U.S. and London. “We are truly fortunate to be bringing Amy on as Executive Director of the Museum,” said Commission Chair John F. McCabe. “Her experience and expertise will be invaluable for the people of South Carolina.” Before beginning her notable tenure in in the museum field, Bartow-Melia began her career as an educator after graduating from The College of William & Mary, Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and 90
Education. She continued her education with a master’s degree in Museum Education from The George Washington University. She is also a graduate of the Getty’s Museum Leadership Program (MLI) and the Smithsonian Leadership Development Program. “We are thrilled to have Amy coming on as the leader of one of South Carolina’s premier attractions,” said Dedee Rowe, chair of the South Carolina State Museum Foundation Board. “She will, without a doubt, be able to continue the museum’s long tradition of being an innovative institution reflective of the state’s deep and diverse history and culture.” The announcement comes after State Museum executive director, Willie Calloway, announced his retirement in October of 2019 after serving in the position for 18 years. The State Museum search committee, consisting of Museum Commissioners, Foundation Board Members and DHR International search firm conducted a nationwide search. Bartow-Melia is expected to take on her new role in August 2020. About the South Carolina State Museum: As the state’s largest and most comprehensive museum, the South Carolina State Museum, offers a unique, entertaining and educational experience to visitors throughout its 225,000 square foot facility located in the heart of downtown Columbia’s Congaree Vista. The State Museum is housed in one of its largest artifacts, an 1894 former textile mill listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places. In addition to beautiful meeting spaces throughout the facility, guests can explore outer space in one of the largest planetariums in the Southeast, watch an interactive 4D movie and look through a vintage telescope in a one-of-a-kind observatory. These exciting opportunities are all in addition to the four floors of South Carolina art, cultural history, natural history and science/technology. Visit scmuseum. org to learn more. The Columbia Museum of Art (CMA) is pleased to announce it has been selected as a recipient of a CARES Act economic stabilization grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The $150,000 award will support public programming associated with the upcoming major exhibition, Visions from India: 21st-Century Art from the Pizzuti Collection. From October 17, 2020 through January 10, 2021, the
CMA will present Visions from India, a special exhibition exploring the recent history of Indian art and culture. The museum is eager to showcase this exhibition for diverse local and regional audiences, and believes it will make an important impact on the community. The NEH is generously providing support for exhibitionrelated activities that require retaining humanities staff to maintain and adapt critical public programs. Visions from India presents a breathtaking sweep of 21st-century painting, sculpture, and multimedia works from India and its diaspora. It features some of the most sought-after international artists alongside younger rising stars, including Sudarshan Shetty, Bharti Kher, and Jitish Kallat. The exhibition showcases a remixing of traditional crafts with radical new applications, interactive sculpture, and stunning paintings. Based on private collectors Ron and Ann Pizzuti’s original 2017 presentation in Columbus, Ohio, this will be the only other opportunity to experience Visions from India in the United States. The CMA has committed itself deeply to multi- and inter-disciplinary work that highlights the myriad connections between the arts and humanities. Indeed, the history of art is an ideal prism through which to reflect on literature, philosophy, religion, and the human endeavor. The museum has a long record of advancing the humanities for the benefit of the cultural sector and the general public. As a leading cultural organization in South Carolina, the CMA holds the humanities core to its mission. The CMA believes that art is meant to be experienced, not just seen—and that means infusing its work with rich connections to the humanities disciplines. The NEH received more than 2,300 eligible applications from cultural organizations requesting more than $370 million in funding for projects between June and December 2020. Approximately 14 percent of the applicants were funded. The resulting 317 grants,(61 of which went to institutions in the southeast) awarded across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, will allow cultural organizations—including the CMA—to retain staff to preserve and curate humanities collections, advance humanities research, and maintain buildings and core operations.
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The Newsletter of the Southeastern Museums Conference