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Episode 20: An Ode to Self-Care

Progressive museum work, particularly when focussed around community engagement, is often a form of emotion work that demands emotional labor. Museum professionals who are deeply engaged with the challenges of changing their institutions, negotiating a volatile political climate, or facilitating community work, can experience compassion fatigue, secondary traumatic stress, and burnout. So how can museum professionals look after themselves, in order to better care for their communities and colleagues?

In this episode, the Punks investigate the role of self-care in museum practice. Although the concept is often co-opted by marketing professionals as a kind of balm against open-ended anxiety, self-care first came to prominence alongside the rise of the women’s movement and the civil rights movement as radical, political act; a reclaiming of the body against a system that suggested it lacked value. Today, these ideas continue to resonate.

Suse Anderson:                    I’m gonna mute myself and go feed a cat.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     So, uh, did I tell you that I got um, that I, we got a new dog?

Suse Anderson:                    Ah, yeah, you did.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     And so, today’s his first day at doggie daycare. We’re trying it out ’cause we’re going on vacation this summer, and uh, they, the place that we take him has this uh, service, I guess, you can … This website you can go and watch like, the cam, on camera. (laughs)

Suse Anderson:                    Oh, that’s amazing.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     So I have like a tab open. I’m constantly just watching. Is Buddy okay? Is Buddy okay?

Suse Anderson:                    (laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho :                     (laughs)

Suse Anderson:                    That’s fantastic.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah. How’s you, how’s your cat doing?

Suse Anderson:                    (laughs) Ah, you know what, he really likes the house we moved into. ‘Cause now he … We moved into this spot, it’s got this amazing little courtyard in … Like in between all of the apartments and it attracts birds. So, he’s really excited ’cause he just gets to lay there all day and just watch birds.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    It’s the, he’s the happiest he’s ever been.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Cool. Pets are, pets are awesome.

Suse Anderson:                    (laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho :                     So, anyway we’re, we’re here. Suse, how you doing?

Suse Anderson:                    Good Jeff. How are you doing?

Jeffrey Inscho :                     I’m doing pretty, pretty well. Um, this is, uh, episode 20. Big uh, big milestone for us.

Suse Anderson:                    Hey, congratulations.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah, congratulations.

Suse Anderson:                    (laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho :                     We’re out of our teenage years and into, into our, uh, into our 20s, which uh, as anyone can say is a, probably a, a great time of life. (laughs)

Suse Anderson:                    Absolutely. Time for maturation.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Right, right, right.

Suse Anderson:                    (laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Cool, so we have any, uh, any followup from the feed, from the last episode? I mean I think feedback’s been pretty awesome. Um, thanks everybody for listening.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah, it’s been so nice. We, ah, I think people who follow us on Twitter would assume we put a call out for anyone who wanted a Museopunks sticker.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    And we had so many people contact us. And a few people have started sending back photographs of them using their stickers on their laptops and things, which is so nice.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah, that’s awesome. Thanks to American Alliance of Museums for hooking us up with those stickers. We do have some more, um, and we have some shipments going out at intervals, so … I guess if anybody wants a sticker, just uh, shoot us a note on Twitter @museopunks and we’ll make sure to get, get one out to you. But, I think we should probably do something for like the most creative display.

Suse Anderson:                    (laughs) I like it.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     That’s not like vandalism, right. (laughs)

Suse Anderson:                    (laughs) I, I think that’s a great idea. So, uh, yeah, send us your photos and uh, if you don’t happen to have Twitter, that’s okay. We, there are gonna be other ways to contact us, I’m sure. Jeff, can people email us at Museopunks?

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Uh, they, they … When this airs they will be able to. So yes, we’ll set up something. Uh, just email punks@museopunks.org.

Suse Anderson:                    Fantastic.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    Yes. (laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Um.

Suse Anderson:                    So what have you been up to for the last few weeks since we, since we started this show and since we last spoke?

Jeffrey Inscho :                     I’ve just been kind of checking out dinosaurs on Tinder really. (laughs)

Suse Anderson:                    (laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Really. Um, yeah, I don’t … No, um, things have been really busy. We’ve um, at work we’re, we’re working on this chat bot project which is pretty cool. Um, kind of breaking the mobile experience out of an app and into system level, um, um, functionality of, on our devices. So, it’s a year long project that we just kicked off. We’re really excited about it.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah, and you’ve been doing some research into chat bots and things, haven’t you?

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Well, yeah, and it’s interesting ’cause the, the whole project um, is supported by the Knight Foundation and they supported a year of research, development, um, human centered design. So, we’re starting right from the top, right. So we did um, we’re doing literature reviews. We’re doing kind of landscape analysis, and we’re doing um, you know, field studies of what our visitors actually want, right? (laughs) That’s one of those things that um, sometimes we don’t have time for. But, um, this project is nice ’cause it builds all that into it. So we’re taking uh, the first couple weeks, um, to, to really kind of dive deep into those things, yeah. Fortunate, yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    That’s … Really, really interesting. I think it might be something that we should revisit over the next coming months sort of what you’re finding out from that research. ‘Cause I think there is still this space for, for us to investigate further things like chat bots and how they work and what that response is, um, to a visitor, and those sorts of things. So, I’d love to hear more about this project as it, as it starts to come together.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah, definitely. We’re gonna be kind of documenting the process in real time. So, happy to chat about all that. How about you? The semesters have done, right?

Suse Anderson:                    Semester is done. Uh, you know what, I … So, this might seem very strange.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Are you just all like margaritas and bon bons this summer then? (laughs)

Suse Anderson:                    (laughs) Ba, basically. I mean more mocktails than cocktails, but sure. (laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Right, right. Oh that’s right, yeah, yeah, yeah. No, no margaritas for you.

Suse Anderson:                    No margaritas for me. No, you know, one of the nicest things. I had never been through a graduation with my own students. This was the first time I went through that. And something that might seem really weird since I have been to university so much myself is I avoided all of my own graduations. Um, I’m not quite sure what it is. I just have always found this certain awkwardness in graduating. And so, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel having to sort of be on stage and watch my, my students graduate. And I cannot tell you how moving it is to see people have reached a point of accomplishment and uh, to really know your students and to have seen their journeys through learning. And then actually be able to see them graduate. I, I was really shocked by how meaningful it was for me seeing, yeah, seeing my students actually-

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    All graduate.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     I, you know, I can only imagine, you know just kind of having invested that much time and that much um, you know, um, uh, just dedication to, to seeing them through and seeing their progress, and then that final kind of like culmination point I’m sure has to be, um, uh, moving for them and, and you as kind of the one who is their, been their fearless leader. Or one of their fearless leaders.

Suse Anderson:                    (laughs) One, one of many. But yeah, I think I was really surprised by how, uh, impactful. How, how well you really do get to know students when you are working with them full time.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    It’s quite different from other times that I had taught, where I’d really had a lot, uh, different level of investment. And then seeing that go through. And it really got me thinking, in fact, about today’s topic we’re talking a lot about self-care, that I was thinking about community care and the role of, role of mentors.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse Anderson:                    And how much, uh, having a group of peers or a, a group of colleagues or, you know, the, the importance of the communities that you surround yourself with, and how much that makes a difference when we’re starting to talk about things like self-care and just, (sighs) valuing yourself as well as your colleagues and your communities. And how, how much of a difference that makes in your, in your world.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah. So, you know, self-care is something that is very important and I’m really excited to kind of dive into that, um, this episode. But, I’m wondering Suse, do you, I mean, we all get overwhelmed. And I’m wondering if you have any, um, methods for kind of dealing with that, um, you know. We, we get overwhelmed with work or family or, um, you know, commitments, over-commitments sometimes. I’m just wondering if you have any ways that you personally kind of, uh, deal with that?

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah, so, many years ago, about a decade ago I got so overwhelmed that I effectively had a, a little breakdown.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse Anderson:                    I could not cope with anything. And it was, I think the first significant time that I had really understood um, what can happen to you physically, mentally, emotionally when everything builds up and you have not been making time and space for yourself. And when you have not been prioritizing what you need. Uh, that was the greatest thing to happen to me professionally in some ways. ‘Cause it made me much more aware of what, what my endpoints are.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    So I think, the biggest thing that I do now is just pay much more attention when I can start to feel those, um, the warning signs that hey.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse Anderson:                    I’ve gotta stop saying no to things. You have to stop uh, adding things to what you’re doing. So, so, saying no has become, uh, I think the biggest thing for me. But it’s not something I do naturally or easily. It’s something I do once I start already pushing those, those boundaries.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    What about yourself?

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah, I um, you know. Something over, over-commitment is something that I struggle with, um. You know especially I think kind of working in the areas of technology and innovation, um, you know, it’s so fast. It’s so, moves so fast that I feel like you know, constantly have to stay up to date and constantly have to pay attention, and.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Um, it’s part of what I love about it. But, it’s also part of what contributes to, um, being over, becoming overwhelmed really quickly. Um. And I also think that you know, you, you and I and many of the people listening work in this space. Museums or non-profits, libraries, whatever, because we’re passionate about them.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Because we believe in them. And so, um, we tend to go that extra mile for them. Um, which is again, part of you know, why we do this. Right. But, um, the, their, a, you know. I, I definitely struggle with, with going the extra mile and, and being kind of over-committed overwhelmed, and so some of the things that I do, um, on a tactical level to kind of like reset myself you know. I, I, I step away from the computer. (laughs)

Suse Anderson:                    Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     You know, I move away from screens a lot. Um, you know, phone, I put the phone down. Sometimes I want to throw my phone in the ocean.

Suse Anderson:                    (laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Play guit, I play guitar. I, uh, you know, go out in the yard with the kids. Walk the dog, um. You know, that type of kind of just stepping away from the environment. Um, the, the, the digital environment, the screen based environment, does a lot for me. Uh.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah. I definitely understand that. I think there are some, a number of times when I would really like to step away from social media.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    But as someone who teaches on that, I don’t feel that I can.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    And so there’s these, there’s these tensions that I think we’re constantly fighting against. One thing, uh, being pregnant has actually made me much better with my self-care. It turns out that knowing that my self-care is going to directly impact the health of someone else.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    Has really, significantly changed how, uh, how I eat, how deliberate I am with, um.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse Anderson:                    You know, things like taking vitamins and really sort of simple things. But their things that you, I certainly don’t prioritize for myself, uh, a lot of the time. And now, I have a reason to do that. And it has definitely helped sort of overall. And it’s been, it’s been such an interesting, uh, experience for me.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse Anderson:                    To be putting someone else first in looking after my own self.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    But actually to have that have a real impact.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah, yeah. That’s an interesting take on self-care. You know, it’s self, it’s self care for like the next couple months. (laughs)

Suse Anderson:                    (laughs) Yeah.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Um, anyway. So we’re talking with um, some interesting people, uh, related to this topic. Um, we’re gonna talk with Seema Rao, who is with Brilliant Ideas Studio. She has some interesting ideas around the politics of self-care. And then, we’re welcoming back, uh, Beck Tench who, um, was a guest on Season One, uh, one of the live shows at MCN in 2013. But we’re a, we’re asking her back to dive a little bit deeper into mindfulness and intention and, and caring for, for oneself when they’re … Kind of potentially overwhelmed or, or over-committed.

Suse Anderson:                    Seema Rao is the principle and CEO of Brilliant Ideas Studio, helping museums, non-profits and libraries bring their best ideas to light. Brilliant Ideas Studio specializes in content development and strategy, change facilitation and inclusive community building. With nearly 20 years of museum experience M. Rao has extensive experience in interpretation and programming for leading content development for all audiences. She’s used many of these teaching and drawing skills to facilitate meaning-making experiences. In her recently published book, Self-Care for the Resistance, a Workbook for the Socially Conscious and/or Stressed, available now through Amazon. And she’s currently working on a followup book focused on self-care for museum workers. Seema, welcome to Museopunks.

Seema Rao:                             Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Suse Anderson:                    It is so, so great to have you hear. So, we’re talking today about self-care. But, if we’re going to discuss this big topic, we should probably start with a, a bit of a definition. What is self-care? What do we mean by this term, and how do we practice it?

Seema Rao:                             So, I think it’s an interesting question, um, because it should be defined by your self. So, you, you might have a different definition in self-care. Part of it is knowing what makes you feel like you’re a little, feeling a little bit better. So, I, um, might have a very definition, very different definition than the both of you. I would guess if I asked you right now what makes you feel a little bit rejuvenated, each of the three of us would have a different definition.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Seema Rao:                             Um, and so, for, for me in the book I was sort of, and in all the writing I’ve been doing, in all the things I’ve been thinking about, um, particularly it came out of my own stress, uh, I guess since November. During political seasons, I’ve always been really political. I had to figure out what it meant to make me feel better. And so not, um, and my definition is, for example, different than my husband’s. You know, I might really enjoy reading. And for me that is, that’s what it is. So, both of us looked internally. I guess self-care, a good definition would be, you look internally. You think a little about what you think makes you feel better. You try it. Um, and then, then you try it again. And as you get, um, better at being able to check your emotions and understand how you feel, then you yourself build your best definition of it.

I don’t know does that make sense? Am I sort of talking around it?

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah, no. I, I think it does. Um, Seema. So, how, how do you realize or identify when, when you’re in fact in need of self-care?

Seema Rao:                             Yeah, that’s a great question. And I would say, um … So, I was raised a Hindu, and I don’t usually think a lot about faith. But one of the things that, that um, that my parents used to say is that um, suffering is partly because you, you need to realize that you’re suffering. And you’re suffering because you have desire. And so, while I’m not terribly religious, I think one of the things I realized is that like, hey, I don’t feel really good, and it’s not physical. You know, like I was just constantly agitated. I couldn’t read the news. Um, my husband and I, this sort of … Actually the book grew out of this fact that my husband and I decided that we, in November, we wouldn’t listen to any media for 30 days.

Suse Anderson:                    Wow.

Seema Rao:                             Anything. No Facebook.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah, yeah.

Seema Rao:                             No Twitter, nothing.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Wow.

Seema Rao:                             And it was because we felt like our, I felt like I was gonna crack. Like, you know, and I think that, the thing about self-care, thinking about your emotions as your emotions and your physical self are so connected. And so, you often have physical manifestations to me that make me feel bad. And for some people it’s different. I mean, I, you know, we’re all different human beings. We deal with things differently. So, you just figure out if it’s either that your brain feels a little fried. I read this thing recently about self-care that involved um, this great graphic. And that, that you felt like your brain, the, um, ideas in your brain were tipping out. Like it was truly full, like a cookie, you know like a cookie jar was full. Um, and it could be that.

Or you could physically, for me it felt like I was … I felt like I was constantly holding all this stress in my um, neck and in my shoulders. So, I would say, to answer your question Jeff, you would have to answer when you feel sort of like something is off.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. Ah, I, I know recently I’ve been going through just some stressful things with some personal changes in my life.

Seema Rao:                             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse Anderson:                    And it’s, I get snappy. It, it’s the time when I just know that I, suddenly don’t have room in my self to be generous anymore. And that’s where I start to notice that, oh, hang on, something is out of whack here. The, you know, the force is out of balance within me. So, I think um.

Seema Rao:                             Balance is a great word. Not, sorry, not to interrupt you.

Suse Anderson:                    No.

Seema Rao:                             It’s always hard when you can’t see the person. But, um, balance is a great word. I think it’s like when you know what your best you is, and if you’re out of balance you need to put yourself back towards your best you. So, it could be for some people exercising more. In fact, I’ve been walking the dog, and I’m not really an exercise person. But I’ve been doing that, not because I wanted exercise, but because I wanted to be outside. Because I used to be outside more. Not, and so it’s not, it wasn’t that I needed the exercise, it’s that I used to be outside more. Or whatever it is. And so it’s balance, I think that’s maybe … Self-care may be is when you take yourself to a point where you feel balanced again. Maybe that’s a good definition.

Suse Anderson:                    So, you were talking about how, you know, the book started to come about. And I know that a lot of the really influential work around self-care has come out of marginalized communities which consider sort of looking after the self and the body, uh, when it’s under attack from various forces as a political act. And in your own book, you do talk about this relationship between taking care of the mind and the body and honing political action. So, I’d love for you to talk a little bit more about this relationship between politics and self-care and what that meant for you. But also what it means for other people.

Seema Rao:                             Um, so I think that’s a, a great question. And it’s interesting because self-care has become like a real, um, kind of buzz word right now. And I, I probably, because so many people are you know, and I’m, I was actually very careful, and I will say this even generally. When, when, when I … I used to work in a museum for, you know, almost 20 years, and I don’t personally want to take a political stance in my public work job. You know, you have, everyone has their own political stance. And so the book even doesn’t take a decision on which, you know, what politics, what things in political life are the right things. Because, again, it goes back to you defining yourself.

Um, but for me, and I think that the thing about any activist, and there’s you know, a number of great quotes by people who are activists. And I pulled a few for the book, but I have a like a whole slew of them, um, that I just sort of look at every once in a while. Anybody who wants to make a change in the world can only do it if they’re at their best. And so, for me, I realized you know, I have two young daughters, and I wanted them to raise, be raised. My family had, I grew up in a very political family for generations, and my par, my grandparents were raised during a colonial state, and so that, that …

There was always this belief that you have to make the best of the world. You have to do something good. But in order to do it, you have to basically be able to stand up. If you’re so incapable, so upset, so emotional, you won’t be able to do that. And so, in order to make the best in the world, you have to be the best you. And so that’s sort of where a lot of my ideas grew out of and, you know, like I, I’ve made sure that my daughters understand and are able to articulate the best them. That’s something that I think self-care also says. It’s not about, um, you know, jammie time on the weekends. That could be your self-care, but that’s not the only thing. You have to be able to articulate and be able to act in ways that make you feel like you’re doing the best things you should do. And for me, that happens to be political.

Um, and political in the broadest sense of things. You know, I think in some ways working in museums is a political act. Because we, we’re … Politics in that you’re making a stand for arts. And I do, that’s an important part of, you know, my beliefs that I believe in museums. I believe in cultural good. And so, to be the best at doing that, that means that I have to not be burned out and um, in fact, I think I went to, um, working in a different kind of, part of the museum world and the consultant world partly because I knew I could make a better good if I was in a better place. And that, that’s sort of how I think of it. I think of any act that you do to make the world better is political.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah. And hearing you talk about politics and hearing you talk about being hon, kind of open and honest about the, the buzz word.

Seema Rao:                             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Nature of, of um, self-care. Do you think that it’s recently emerged around this idea of politics. I mean, I, I, I think about after the election. Like I kind of, I like you, I took 30 days, 45 days.

Seema Rao:                             Nice.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     And just took, tuned out, you know. Um, it, it … Does this political nature feed into, um, how self-care has become such a dominant public idea?

Seema Rao:                             You know, I’m like … I’m terribly suggestible. Like, if you said to me right now, we’re not in the same room. But, if we were in the same room, and you said, you know, I have a cold. I would definitely feel like I had a cold. So, I don’t know. But I think that there is something about that. That people are very, humans are social and we’re suggestible. And I think that negativity breeds negativity. And a lot of political situations, um, you know, starting in November, but even before that. You know, the, the … There’s so much media about the election and afterwards. And I all, so I think that there was a huge number of people who felt negative.

And so, my hope is that it’s not just, you know, a buzz word, but actually that all collective, a huge number of people thought, wait a second, we’re all out of whack. And we all have to do this better. Um, so, I, I think it does grow out of it. I also think it probably grows out of other things like, um, the fact that uh, so many, there’s sort of the backlash about being, you know, on so much social media. I love social media. But then you also feel yourself isolated. And again, I think people put themselves in, trying to find balance from these factors. So, politics or social isolation. And self-care is sort of the natural growth of it because people, I …

I mean, we want, we want to be the best us, you know. And I don’t know if, it’s sort of … I’m trying to talk around it because I don’t want anyone who … I’m not answering your question kind of on purpose, um.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Seema Rao:                             Because.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     No. No.

Seema Rao:                             Because, because I don’t want people who aren’t feeling political but also feel like they need to have self-care to feel like they can’t. Because the thing about this book and about sort of in the, the sort of feeling I’ve been in since the, since about January. Since the march actually. Is that I want people to feel open arms. And for me, self-care is incredibly open. And so for me it was political. And for me, and a lot of my friends who were using these, before I put it into a book, my husband, my kids, my you know, friends. I was giving them these sheets of paper and these practices that, um, it was political for them. But somebody might come to this book and not have been political. And I don’t want them to feel like, um, then this is not for me. You know, and I’ve had people say, you know, there are people who want to opt out of politics. And I might personally not be able to do that, but I don’t want them to feel like this is not a good idea for them. Because self-care is a good idea for anybody. But, certainly if you’re somebody who’s political you’re gonna feel, um, stressed and need it. Does that answer it?

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah. I think that makes a lot of sense. I think one of the things that I’m hearing you saying when I, when I read about self-cares, one of the ideas … There’s often a relationship between self-care and empathy. And when I hear you.

Seema Rao:                             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse Anderson:                    Sort of say, oh, if we were sitting in the same room, and I knew you had a cold I would feel like I had a cold. That’s sense that, um, there’s constantly a giving, uh, of ourselves to other people and one of the ideas that this starts to bring up, pref, uh, sp, specifically in a professional capacity is this idea of compassion fatigue. So this notion that you are, um, particularly if you’re doing say, work that’s community focused and you’re, you’re constantly seeking to, uh, work with others and put yourself in the position of other people. Uh, we get this, this notion, whether it’s personally or professionally, of this sort of compassion fatigue from witnessing, uh, the pain of others. From participating in the work of changing institutions. So, even when it’s not explicitly political, there is still this opportunity for exhaustion.

So, I guess, that’s then, starts to make me wonder how we care for other people and make room for the needs of others. So, it’s whether we work with them or interact with them, those in our museums and coming into our museums, even when we’re actually feeling quite exhausted.

Seema Rao:                             Oh, this is such a hard question. Um, yeah, I know. And this is what I, I’ve been reading a lot of sort of the literature of empathy. I think in some ways, um, to go back to the previous question about politics. Self-care is in some ways easier. Because you are yourself. I mean, admittedly, like you could be somebody who really has a lot of denial issues and you might (laughs) have a really hard time figuring out what makes you happy. Um, or what makes you feel centered. And you know, you have to work through all those. But, you are with yourself all the time, right? So you eventually either do or don’t.

But, empathy and learning to connect to other people, and then also being able to connect to them is so much harder. Because, you know, I can, you know … I think about people who maybe you want to be empathetic to, but they have so many barriers. You know, they just are so prickly and they’re just so difficult. And you, and you know, it’s hard for some people like I would say for me. You know, we all have our personal failings. I would say for one of my personal failings is that while I try to be empathetic, sometimes I can’t be empathetic without putting it through my filter. And a lot of people, humans have this failing.

So, I don’t think I’m alone, but, you know, learning to try to um, not own other people’s grief. Not own other people’s histories. You know, we all have things that make us, whatever it is that makes, makes your family, makes you, makes your experience, um, feel somewhere in society. Maybe marginalized. Maybe you don’t feel marginalized but maybe you feel empathetic to marginalized people. Whatever it is. And so I don’t know exactly the answer. I would say though the, the one thing I’ve been sort of thinking a lot about is, where, where do send, how do you put yourself in that position? Where do you put yourself in next to that person? Do you put yourself behind them? Do you put them, yourself … Do you center yourself in the conversation? Is it all about you? Do you put yourself to the side? You know, those kinds of things that where you’re basically reflecting on your actions are a good place to start.

Um, I, I think that empathy … A lot of people think that they’re empathetic and they’re in fact sympathetic.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Hearing you talk about exhaustion and you know, knowing the importance of balance on our lives … And, and I’m gonna speak generally here. But I kinda get, I kind of feel like museums are really good at, at being additive.

Suse Anderson:                    Yes.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     At adding things on on top of other things, and you know. But we can’t always do more, uh, because our resources aren’t additive. So, in, when we think about self-care, in your opinion, how can we strategically begin to start to take some things off of our plate?

Seema Rao:                             Yeah, that’s a great question. And I will say that um, I don’t know that I’m wonderful at saying no. I’ve tried to teach myself that, and um, one of the things … But I, I think that the first thing you need to do is be like … Well, you have to do what I said. You have to say to yourself, okay. So this is not a strong suit. Some people are very good at saying no. And really bad at saying yes. And that’s also has its downsides. So you start by saying, okay this is where I am on the no/yes boundary situation. This is where I am on, um, deciding on where priorities are. Because I think that’s what you’re sort of talking about.

Like in a museum, every bit, if you … Especially if you’re in a big comprehensive museum, and I know that at least the three of us have worked there. You know, lots of people who are listening obviously work on that. Your audience is everybody. And if you work an institution that has the name of the city in it, then that is your audience. You know, if you think about it. Or if you have a website, then the whole world is your audience. (chuckles) You could, you could be as expansive as people in, in the world are.

And so, then what you need to do is first as a person, teach yourself, um, to try to think systematically. Like, where can you do the best? Where is it that you probably aren’t needed? Where is it that your department isn’t needed? You know. And I say this, it sounds very cavalier, right, because I have … I don’t, um. There’s probably people listening who are the lowest. You know, you’re the person who doesn’t get to make any decisions. And so then, that’s … You know, it’s easier when you can make decisions. But, actually when you’re not making decisions, it’s your self-care and your decisions matter more. I always think that institutions, um, the people who have the most face time with the visitors. You know, like visitor experience, and guards, they are actually making the experience the people know. More than any, almost, you know, even, they … The directors don’t see the visitors as much as the guards do, usually.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Right, exactly.

Seema Rao:                             And so, their decisions really matter. And so what they can do, for example, is um, they can say yes to having a positive moment there. They can say yes to, um, just being in the moment and not checking their email at that moment. You know, it’s sort of like instead of saying no to things, where can you say yes to? You know, it’s like a code switching. And that’s what I’ve been working a lot on, just personally, to make myself feel a little bit less out of control. And when I, when I … I just left the museum, my museum job in February. So, you know, just striving to say, well, okay I’m saying yes to this really good experience for our visitors. And no to these bad ones.

You know, like you, you just sort of trying to think, okay, it’s um … Maybe imagine a, um, uh, a scale. You know, and you’re thinking okay, well, we could have 25 mediocre experiences or five really good ones. I could say no to five really terrible things and yes to two really wonderful things. You know like as you think about your life and your choices, um, like I could have chosen to not be on this podcast. Or I could chose to be on this podcast. And for me, it was a really great choice. ‘Cause I get to talk to really, you know, I was thinking. I get to talk to two really cool people. And I get, you know, get to talk about things I really like. And so, instead of um, thinking no to something, I was thinking what is the positive and what is the negative?

Jeffrey Inscho :                     We’re happy you said yes, Seema.

Seema Rao:                             Thank you, thank you.

Suse Anderson:                    (laughs)

Seema Rao:                             I am too. I am too. But, I mean you know, I mean, I’m thinking you guys. I mean you guys, we all make choices. And you know, you lead people, you teach people, and you know, you, if you think about all the times you’re saying no, often. Or, and I said no, certainly. Um, every time that you’ve probably said no in a thoughtful way you probably made a really good choice. You know, like you’ve got to a certain place in your careers. You’ve obviously made a lot of good choices. I bet that the nos really came out of something very thoughtful.

Suse Anderson:                    Ha, it’s funny you say that. Before I mentioned that I think when, ah, the way that I know that my, uh, that I’m out of balance is that I stop being generous. I become much better at saying no at that moment. So, I think my natural impulse is to say yes to things. And yet, it’s only once I start finding myself, um, stressed and unable to imagine how I can fit this thing I’d like to say yes to into my life. That’s when I get really good at saying no, so, it, it’s funny. I’m still not sure that then my balance is correct. Um, because it’s not until I’m under pressure and under stress that I start to figure out when exactly to start saying no. So I don’t know whether I need to be more deliberate earlier or, uh, whether actually that is my way of being in balance.

Seema Rao:                             But, it’s true right. Like the yes and no, it’s, it’s hard. You know, it’s hard because … It’s like and I, I’m trying to think of other analogies other than a roller coaster. But, you know, that there are so many experiences in life where if you’re paying attention to it, then you’re probably not at the best moment. Like, you know, you’re just … It’s like when you’re writing about love, or you know, you’re just … You’re not, you’re not really in it. And it’s when you’re really in it that you don’t even realize it. So, you know, like, I was saying that when you go up the roller coaster, you’re noticing you’re going up the roller coaster. When you go down you know you’re going down. But, it’s at that peak moment that you’re not paying attention. And you’re just in the moment. And that’s sort of yes and no. Like if you know that you’re saying a lot of yes, that means you’re kind of conscious.

And so self-care is a lot about it is, like the book or any of these books. And I mean I like my book, but I think there’s lots of good ways to do it. Um, but, but you know, like I’ve been um, doing different activities every day at noon, and I’ve been tweeting them, um, when they’re fun. And I think it’s like, I’m teaching myself. And so when you’re teaching yourself you’re very conscious of it.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Sure.

Seema Rao:                             Like you’re teaching yourself to say no or to say yes. And once you are actually doing it, you sort of not notice that you’re now good at it.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah. So, Seema I’ve, I know you’re working on a book about self-care specifically for museum professionals. Can you give us any tidbits there, or leave us with any top tips maybe for, uh, for museum professionals that you’ve, that you’ve, will be included in the book?

Seema Rao:                             Well, um, it’s interesting. I’ve been talking to a lot of people. I’ve been doing a lot of interviews with people. I don’t know if I’m gonna be using them or not in there. I’m kinda figuring out how to do it. Just to hear about other people’s experiences, so that it’s not just all about me. Um, and so some of the things that I really like that the people were saying … And it’s in- I’m not sure how I’m gonna take this. It sort of goes back to, um, some of the things we’re talking about. That like humor, and you were saying snapping, but sarcasm is for a lot of a … I mean I talked to a lot of museum people. I’m somewhat sarcastic. You know, humor, those are the kinds of things, um, people have been sort of talking about that sarcasm is sometimes a powerful tool for humor. So that’s one thing I’m sort of thinking about.

But at the same time, it’s sort of, I’m trying to be very open to that. So, I, because I’m taking other people’s advice. I’m trying to be open to all of them, you know, empathetic and thoughtful. Um, so that’s one. A bigger thing that I’ve been working a lot about is, um, kind of taking the, the tactics of appreciative inquiry, which is one of the sort of strategies people use for, um, strategic planning for example. And it.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Hmm.

Seema Rao:                             What it does is it starts with and what I really like, and actually, I’m hoping to um, try it out with some people, uh, before I write the book. I’m gonna do more case studies. I’m gonna have people try these tactics. More than just me. But, so I’m hoping to try it out this upcoming month. But, um, you start by kind of diagnosing a positive core. So, in an institution what you do is you work collectively and you all talk about what’s best about your institution. And um, I’m guessing many people have been through strategic planning. Often you start with what’s wrong with your institution. Um, and so appreciative inquiry flips that.

And so I’ve been thinking a lot about this for self-care, and I’ve been trying to find x, experiences that I could um … The book it will be like my previous book in that it has drawings and it’s sort of like a workbook. It’s an active experience. So, I’m trying to figure out ways to frame this. Where you would start with your positive core. And kind of talk about what you’re best at in visual and in text and in, you know, trying different ways of getting people at, understanding what they’re good at. And then after that, then you take a path that goes through um, your goals. And then, then sort of future-casting. So, you know, if it’s good for an institution, and I did do a little bit about this, um in the first book. I asked people to write their own personal mission statement, it’s those political people.

Um, but you know, even museum people, we, we, we all have such great ambition. And my goal for the book is that you’re able … That I want people to be able to find out what’s best about themselves, um, away from just the mission. Because one of the, the reasons I wanted to write the book is that so many of us, and I would say myself included, that we often um, devalue ourselves for the mission of the institution we’re working for. And that, you know, and just in small ways. You know, like I would say to my husband you know on a Sunday. I had to work on a Sunday. The girls had music. And you know, I can’t go to their music lesson, I have to work.

Well, do I have to work? I mean you know, and … I mean have to work … I mean obviously we all have to make incomes. But I also was choosing it. And you think about all these choices that you make. And I think I want people to feel, if they have … If they want to do that that’s okay. You know, if you want to overwork, that’s your choice. Um, I want to make sure that people are making that choice consciously. That they know when they’re choosing the mission, and they know why they’re doing it.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah. I think that’s a super interesting, uh, way to, to even think about what the choices that we make. And the priorities that you put forward. That actually we are often, you know, coming from mission driven places. And that can be really hard when you care about the mission. But you also care about the people in your life, and you care about yourself. And you care about your community. And if, in choosing one thing it means sacrificing some of those other things, whether deliberately or not.

Seema Rao:                             You know, I think also for you, as a teach, as a professor, but also a teacher. You’re, you’re profess, you’re obviously, you know, at a university level, but you are their connection to the field. It’s so important for … And I was an educator. That for us, in those positions, you know, what you just said, it’s so true. That we have to be conscious of our choices. Because we’re not just making our own choices. We’re sort of modeling this for other people. Um, and that, that’s a big part of it for me too. That, that so many of the educators are the ones who are real burned out. And we’re the ones who are really interacting with people and you know, we want to make sure that the field is, is healthy. And so being healthy as teachers is really important.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah, definitely. Um, Seema, thanks so much for, for taking the time to chat with us today. If people wanted to keep in touch with you, or follow your work on progress on, on the books, um, where can they do that?

Seema Rao:                             So, my blog is at BrilliantIdeasStudio/blog. And so that’s a good place to find me. I’m also on Twitter and I’m kind of obsessive about it. And I’m artlust.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     (laughs)

Seema Rao:                             I’m (laughs). I know.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Aren’t we all?

Seema Rao:                             It’s horrible. But, um, I’m artlust A-R-T-L-U-S-T.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Awesome. We will put links to, um, your Twitter and your website in the show notes. And Seema thanks again.

Seema Rao:                             Thank you guys.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     We really enjoyed this.

Seema Rao:                             Have a great day.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Beck Tench was formerly trained as a designer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and has spent her career helping people and organizations of all types embrace risk taking, creativity and change through technology and personal space making. Her work has been mentioned in the New York Times, National Public Radio, Scientific American, and several books and blogs. Some of her favorite work was done in partnership with the Museum of Life and Science, the Exploratorium, Michigan State University, Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, and Illinois State Library. In 2016, Beck began her studies as a PhD student at the University of Washington’s Information School, where she researches contemplative practice and information science. Beck, welcome to Museopunks.

Beck Tench:                            Thank you. I’m so happy to be here.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Well, we’re happy to have you back, actually. You were, ah, you were a guest at, ah, during our first season in one of the live shows at MCN.

Beck Tench:                            That’s right.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Montreal. Yeah.

Beck Tench:                            That’s right.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     It was a great, great time. We’ll drop a link to that in the show notes. But, it’s so great to have you back on the show. And part of Season Two.

Beck Tench:                            I’m glad that you’re back.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     (laughs) We are too. We are too.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah, it’s nice to be back.

Beck Tench:                            The museum world needs you.

Suse Anderson:                    (laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho :                     (laughs)

Beck Tench:                            More of you. It has you, but more of you.

Suse Anderson:                    Hey, hey. Beck can I just say, because you are, I think our first repeat visitor, I’m gonna get to use the phrase friend of the pod for the first time ever. (laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho :                     (laughs)

Beck Tench:                            (laughs) I’m so happy about that. And also just having that status. As the first repeat visitor is such an honor.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Right on, right on. So, Beck, last summer in summer of 2016, um, you and I exchanged hand written letters kind of exploring the topic of mindfulness and intentionality in museums as part of the Code Words Essay Series. It was great. Um, and so much of that exchange was actually happening at a very turbulent time for me professionally, and, and … The simple act of kind of stopping to reflect in a mindful way, um, with you, really helped me kind of navigate that time in, in a productive way. So, first of all, thanks for, for being a part of that with me. Um.

Beck Tench:                            Of course.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     And second of all, let’s start this discussion today kind of on the ground floor. So how did you personally begin down this path of mindfulness and intention?

Beck Tench:                            Um, well, Jeff, actually I’d like to, to react for a second to what you just said to, um, to, to acknowledge that your decision to engage in that, um, that exchange that we had was, uh, I think a piece of wisdom on your part. And I, I just hope that you, I hope you see it that way too. That, that you needed that and you made that happen for yourself. Um.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Beck Tench:                            And, and, that’s, I think, kind of partly my story.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Beck Tench:                            It’s something that you can see in hindsight. Um, a lot of times I’m going along and, um, (laughs) and just absolutely full of doubt and questions. Uh, those doubts and questions are evidence of the real work that I need to be doing, and it just doesn’t often feel like, um, it doesn’t feel like it’s the right thing at the time. And, and I look back I can see that it, that it’s exactly what was needed and I just basically need to continue to trust myself to do the right thing. Make space for myself to do that work and, and, and it will happen.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Hmm.

Beck Tench:                            So, um, I think that what you, what you experienced with Code Words and what I experienced and how we were there for each other and not really understanding in the moment what was needed is, is very evocative of what contemplative practice actually is.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Beck Tench:                            It’s a, it’s an openness and a trust.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     This kind of reflective practice, um, I, I, is it rooted in kind of intuition or following your gut, or um, learning from previous ah, experiences, or a combination of all of that. I mean how, like … How does it work for you?

Beck Tench:                            Yeah, thank you for that, that qualifier, for me. Um, I think it absolutely is intuition. Um, you know, there’s something about what we’re cultured to believe is okay with regards to work, um, that is problematic. Um, and I think that, I, I’m seeing that in this new field of academia. Um, and it’s certainly the case here, where sort of rationality and science thinking and evidence and all of those sorts of things, um, are very important. And, and, and, um, and respected and you can’t really. You have to incorporate them in how you communicate otherwise you’re not really seen as, um, doing the right work. And I, I felt that way in the museum world too. It’s everywhere in our culture.

Um, and so whenever you, you, you do things … We say … When you make statements that make intuition real for example, (laughs) uh, you know, it’s something that we get and we know, and at the same time we don’t feel like we can say. So, I’m gonna, I’m gonna just flat out say, yes, it is intuitive and reflective. Um, and that, that time spent respecting those two states, state of intuition, state of reflection, is critical and important time. And it’s not critical and important because at the other end of it you will be smarter or more productive or more efficient. It’s critical and important because you’re a human being living a life. And we have to incorporate these things, and the more and more I study about it, the more sure I am of that. And the larger the forces at play convincing us that we shouldn’t seem.

Um, and so, I guess what I have to say about that right now is, no one listening to this should feel, um, guilty or ashamed or embarrassed that they don’t value and don’t make time for themselves. Because that’s sort of what we’re inculturated to do. And it’s an act of, um, resistance.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Hmm.

Beck Tench:                            An act of self-care and a very, very important thing for us to be figuring out ways that we can tell each other how we feel about that. And how we struggle with it. And help enable each other to make that time. Just like you and I did last summer.

Suse Anderson:                    Beck, I find this incredibly interesting, this idea that, um, sort of these embodied experiences, but also these really intentional and deliberate experiences, are not necessarily valued, and not valued in a lot of contemporary work places. But even, whole professions. Why do you think that is? Is it a lack of trust in the body? Is it that it can’t be rationalized in the same way? What do you think is at the root cause of this?

Beck Tench:                            To be (laughs) really kind of frank and morbid, Suse, I think that the root cause of it is the fact that we walk around the planet aware that we’re gonna die. And we’ve …

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Hmm.

Beck Tench:                            Want to do whatever we can to distract us from that. And um, to sit with our selves and to face … Because, you know, that’s the problem I think with a lot of this McMindfulness, is a nice phrase I’ve heard.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Hmm. Yeah.

Beck Tench:                            That gets kinda spread around is it does not honor the fact that when you truly go there, it’s hard. And, and it doesn’t necessarily feel good. And you really have to wrestle with truths. Which is why, at the beginning, I said that, that statement about how doubtfulness is sort of a sign that it’s working. Um, for me at least, because, ah, can, just being in a contemplative space really just means being with myself in that moment. Not distracting myself from, um, the reality of any given moment. That reality may be suffering and sadness. That reality may be boredom. That reality may be joy that I dont’ want to let go of, and want to keep on forever. You know, whatever it is, and uh, there’s just so many things in the world. Um, a lot of them exist on our phones. (laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Beck Tench:                            That are just, just waving their hands ready to take us away from that reality, and allow us to not really deal with the harder, harder things in life.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah. So, Beck, um, one thing you wrote in the Code Words exchange that really hit a nerve with me, and along the lines of, of what we were just talking about is we need to stop elevating being busy and in demand and over-committed.

Beck Tench:                            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeffrey Inscho :                     And especially in the museum/non-profit sector. You know, we pride ourselves on those things. Doing more with less, right? Less money, less staff, less time. What are some things that people can do to start to, you know, combat this culture of over-commitment for themselves? You know, are there any kind of, um, simple exercises or just maybe ways that we can flip our thinking a little bit to start to, um, honor, honor the need for more space?

Beck Tench:                            Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, you know, I, I think that the answers, whatever they are, and I don’t have them, um, but, but I have some ideas. I think that, that the answers reside in two domains. The one domain is the individual and the other domain is the collective. Um, and so I don’t think change is possible without both. And, and I think that there’s a starting point that’s easier, and that’s with the individual.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Sure.

Beck Tench:                            So, my, I guess my, my advice and my caution is that you cannot do it alone, and there is so much to be gained from having connection with others with regards to wrestling with making time. I mean we’re talking very bare bones. Like how do you even give yourself five minutes? It’s, it … Like that same culture that I was talking about before that sort of distracts us all the time it also gives us self-esteem. Um, and, and it, it helps us feel like we are part of something and that we’re important and that we belong in the world and that we’re needed. And, and those things aren’t entirely you know, Mr. Burns in some closet, or some boardroom you know, rubbing his hands together trying to convince us of things. It’s just like, we’re creating this for ourselves because we need to know that we’re okay.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Beck Tench:                            And so, and so we, you know, whenever I quit working at the Museum of Life and Science and went on a two year exploration of what work would look like if I were more spacious about things, I really wrestled with not feeling like a valued and valuable member of society because I didn’t go to a work place every day, or wasn’t busy in the ways that I used to be busy. It’s very, um, like I said before with you know, engaging in contemplative practice, and it being kind of like a hard thing. Making time for yourself, um, and, and, and … And letting go just even for a few minutes of this identity we build around being very needed is hard work.

And um, and so, I, I recommend that um, I think that, that ritual is, is a very, very powerful thing we can borrow from some of the more successful religions of the world. Who use ritual and community very, um, very successfully. Um, you know, my rituals honestly are, are very coffee (laughs) focused. Like, I, I love coffee. Coffee, is something that brings me, you know, just, it feels like, um, such consistent, reliable happiness. And, and so, I take something that’s already … And I think for some people that might be, uh, a dog that they walk, or, or some you know, commute with, with on their bicycle or, or with their child, or whatever it is. But, you’ve got this sort of centerpiece that feels reliably good. And then I, I tack on a contemplative intention to either proceed or go after that experience.

So I, I ritualize things that are very easy to do.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Beck Tench:                            In order to, to, to just, just bank a little time on one end or the other. Or a lot of time. Um, to, to enable myself a reliable space.

I also, you know, right now we were talking before we started recorded about the fact that I’m on Bainbridge. Well, Bainbridge is far away from the University of Washington. It’s a two hour door-to-door commute. That is, of course, with bicycling. I’m bicycling and taking a ferry instead of a, a bus or a train or whatever. Um, and I, I engage in this four hours a day. Um, and, and, and it is, um, it is my life. It is not my commute. It’s my life. And, and I think that that shift in thinking to, to realizing that what, what exists in that time is, is completely as valid an education and connection space and thinking space and being space as any other thing that I do. It’s not getting me to school. It is my life that I am living.

If we start looking at all these little like interstitial moments of our lives as, as potential possibilities to be open to connection, to be open to just noticing the world around us, there’s actually a lot of, I think, time available for us to make choices that are more intentional than just sort of, um, prescribing that this is an activity I do to get somewhere and so it no longer has value in, in, in kind of like a, edify me in any kind of way or allowing me some time and space.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah. You know, Beck, I’m, I’m gonna keep kinda pointing back to this Code Words essay from last year. And you know, I, I think one of the really interesting questions that came out of that for me was um, you know, this idea of … You know, what if our institutions matter a lot less than the individuals who are in relationship because of them? And we’ve been …

Beck Tench:                            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Talking a lot about internal experiences, right. The work, the workplace, and self-care, in that respect. But, you know, the reason that we work with museums is because of, of, of the impact it can have on the public and the visitors and the communities that our museums are a part of. So, I’m wondering if, you, you’ve noticed, um, ways that museums or museum practitioners could potentially create spaces that could contribute to the emotional wellbeing of visitors and communities and the public? Um, any interesting observations, you’re now kind of being out of the museum world, in academia, looking in from, from, from that view that you’re noticing?

Beck Tench:                            Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, um. So, feel free to scratch this and edit it out if you, if you find it’s a little too controversial, but uh, my reaction to that, uh, to that question is … What I begin to see in my observations of the museum world and also in my memories of my experiences working for museums, um … And this isn’t, you know, whole cloth, but it is, it is certainly there, is a, is a really strong growth mindset and always trying to figure out how to scale and, um, stay alive. And, and by staying alive make money. And I just, I feel like that, that sort of money driven, attention driven, um, perspective is … It’s, it’s … It needs to be questioned, and, and we have a bit of uh, we’re, it’s a bit at odds for, for, for what we’re trying to do.

I mean, I felt that way specifically about technology in the Science Museum. We pulled off some really cool projects. But we spent a lot of money and a lot of time trying to engage people in ways that just putting a table with some blocks (laughs) on it could have in some ways done a better job.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Beck Tench:                            And, and I think that as we look at our institutions and our, um … Our motivations for how we interact with folks, we have to really, I think examine where is money and scale influencing and guiding what we’re trying to do? And really asking the question, what are the values that are informing that? Um, and being honest with the answers. I think that a lot of technology is built with really good intentions. And it manifests in the world problematically. And so, when we’re thinking about our role as museum practitioners, uh, I think that we need to basically play the doubting game with our own work.

We, we’re, we’re really good at playing the believing game. We’re really good at convincing ourselves that we are creating something for the public that will enrich their lives and we know better. And it wouldn’t, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for us to look at things from a different view, and say, you know, what if this didn’t exist? What could this person do with their time? And how can we enable that? Or does this really, you know, in all the ways that we can look at it, does it really ultimately end in what we think it ends in?

Um, it’s so hard to be a technologist right now. Technology just, it’s outta control. Like, when we put it into the world people do things with it that we would never imagine. And that’s in the best case (laughs). Like in a lot of cases, they don’t do anything with it at all.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Right.

Beck Tench:                            And, and so, I just, I think that the complexity of that picture is something that we need to be engaging with and be a little bit more critical and honest about, to be frank. And um, I say that because if we are, and we say we need to do less, then we have, um, more agility and, and, and more time to be thoughtful about how we do engage with people and we don’t just paint everything with this sort of magic that, uh, this magical tech, technology brush that uh, isn’t necessarily gonna, gonna do what we think it’s gonna do.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah, it’s sort of, as you talk, it really reminds me of the importance of time and space and the, you know, there is … Everything we add into our institutions, everything that we add into, um, what we’re trying to do that we ourselves have been feeling this rush of busyness is also things that other people, that our audiences, that our visitors, need to fit into their lives.

Beck Tench:                            Exactly, exactly.

Suse Anderson:                    So.

Beck Tench:                            That’s exactly what I was trying to say, Suse.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah, absolutely so we, we sort, we were just talking to, uh, Seema Rao, and we were talking a little bit about balance and the importance of balancing your life. And, and saying yes and saying no and I think bringing this sort of back to the audience and to, to the choices that we make, you know … We, we’re sort of reaching a point where it’s so difficult to fence off areas of our life because there is this sort of professional and personal blurring. And there’s this public and private blurring. And so thinking about how we create, um, we actually simplify that for ourselves, but also for the people who are coming to us. How we give them maybe fewer choices but richer choices as opposed to just more and more choices. Whether that becomes a better use of sort of institutional time and resources. As opposed to, uh, trying to do everything and be everything for everyone. Looking at how and where we’re actually utilizing our resources, and how that brings a difference into their, into audiences lives and where we can be most useful and most beneficial.

Beck Tench:                            Absolutely. And you know, I recently gave a talk at, uh, at a conference called Art Summit. It’s about creative place making. And I found myself wanting to really scaffold the talk. It was a workshop. Really scaffold it and provide as much, (laughs) kind of like, as much content as I could in those 90 minutes, you know. And then I, I kinda looked at what I had done and realized that in my experience of, of, of moments where I felt like I was in capable hands of a facilitator and teacher, there wasn’t … There was, there was an openness. There was not all this content totally structured and coming at me. There was a competency in the person sitting in front of me to handle whatever would come up, and then a big open invitation for that to occur. And, and so, I just scrapped all of it, and I went in with basically a really solid question. And then, had a great conversation over 90 minutes with people who were incredibly articulate and totally available to have a really good conversation. Because it was at the heart of, you know, what we’re all thinking about.

And, and I, and I think that all of our institutions have a mission that is at the heart of what it is to be human, frankly. It’s probably true for every single institution that is listening to this podcast. And that if we just trust people to show up and fill space that we provide, that space is so rare in life.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Beck Tench:                            It may be, it may be a little awkward at first, but that awkwardness is beautiful. And if you just sit with it, I think that we have a lot to provide by just being open and trusting and providing space, and not filling it because we are scared that people won’t fill it for us. I mean, I think there’s really something to be said for that. And I really appreciate that comment, Suse.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     You know, Beck, I think we could talk forever to you about this. There’s so much to dive into and, and, and explore. But if listeners want to stay in touch, or follow your work, or um, you know, just kinda stay up to date with your, your thinking and your practice, where might they be able to, to do that?

Beck Tench:                            Um, well, you know, I’m very Googleable. BeckTench.com is sort of my, my, my online home. Um, and I have also started a (laughs), I’ve started a Slack channel, uh, or Slack group that is about contemplative practice. And it’s, it’s, it’s a real, um, it’s a real experiment. I very well may just scrap it one day because it’s so counterintuitive. (laughs) We, and that’s actually one of the, the, the primary conversations we’re having right now about, uh, on the Slack channel. It’s about (laughs) the irony of using Slack to do something like this. But, anyway, uh, so Contemplatives, that’s plural, um, .slack.com uh, is a place to uh, to go to uh … I don’t know actually if … You may need to um, go to my website to get an invitation to it. Um, so, how about becktench.com/slack and I’ll do whatever I need to do to make sure that that works to a signup form. Um.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Cool.

Beck Tench:                            But uh, that’s also a play space to think together. Um, but you know, to be, to be real, I’m, I’m in this space where people are talking and publishing, and sometimes saying things when there’s nothing to be said.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Beck Tench:                            We just, (laughs) to get something out there and so, I kind of you know, if you don’t hear from, from me online, not meaning like if you contact me, I’ll of course reply. But, I’m trying to actually listen more than speak these days and just, um, sit with my thoughts a little longer than I normally would. And be very intentional about when I publish and why. Just because of exactly what we’re talking about. The more that we, you know, kind of grope for attention, even if we think it’s for really good reason, the more we are filling, uh, a finite resource. What, what, what the human brain and senses can attend to has limits that, um, we’re, we’re approaching. (laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Beck Tench:                            And, and so I, I kinda don’t want to contribute to that as much as possible. So, happy to meet up and you know, have conversations over email or Skype or whatever. And all that’s on my website. But, I’m trying to be a little bit more quiet these days.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Well, we definitely appreciate you taking the time to speak and be unquiet with us today.

Beck Tench:                            (laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Um.

Beck Tench:                            Of course, of course.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Beck, thank you so much.

Beck Tench:                            I, I, I am happy to any time. I think the two of you are wonderful. I’m glad you’re doing this work, and I’m honored to be a part of it.

Suse Anderson:                    So, I don’t know about you Jeffrey but I feel really, relaxed and really good having had those conversations.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     (laughs) Yeah, definitely. Uh, you know, it’s uh, it a … Taking time to reflect and step back and, um, consider these things you know, always puts me in, in a, in a positive frame of mind. So, I’m glad that, I’m glad that it, it’s doing the same for you right now. (laughs)

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah, absolutely. And I think, there was a point that Beck made during her, her um, discussion where she said people often can tell that she brings mindfulness practices into her world because she is exceptionally mindful even in her conversation. And I do have that feeling just from talking to her of, ah, I can, I can take this time and just be a little bit more deliberate myself.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah. Definitely. There’s something, there’s value in slowing down. There’s value in, in being intentional. Um, so show notes for this episode uh, can be found at museopunks.org. Um, and this episode of Museopunks is presented by the American Alliance of Museums. Thanks to AAM for the support. Suse, if somebody wants to stay in touch with us, or tweet us, where can they do that?

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah, on Twitter we are @museopunks, uh, and we would love to hear from you. As I say, having the response from people over the last month has been amazing. It’s so great to have so many people getting back in contact with us, and new people connecting with us for the first time. So we would really love to hear from you.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah, it’s amazing, those new people are great.

Suse Anderson:                    We’d love to hear, uh … Totally, absolutely, and it’s a … We would love to also just hear how you refocus, recenter, look after yourself when you’re feeling emotionally drained or physically drained or when work gets overwhelming, and if your museum has actually started to bring in any of these techniques. I know some museums have done.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    Yoga classes for their staff and those sorts of things. We would really, really love to hear about it.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Yeah definitely. Tweet us @museopunks and just a reminder that you can subscribe in iTunes or Overcast or Stitcher or any other podcast, um, app, that uh, that is your podcast app of choice. And if you do enjoy the show, we’re really love, um, just taking a moment to rate because that does help, um, enormously with, with spreading the word. Um, Suse.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah.

Jeffrey Inscho :                     Episode 20 in, in the bag.

Suse Anderson:                    In the bag. We are done. Ah, we will catch you again in a months time from now, and we cannot wait.

Guests

Seema Rao
Photo of Seema Rao
Seema Rao is the Principal and CEO of Brilliant Idea Studio (BIS) helping museums, non-profits, and libraries bring their best ideas to light. BIS specializes in content development and strategy; change facilitation; and inclusive community building. With nearly 20 years of museum experience, Ms. Rao has extensive experience in interpretation and programming from leading content development for all audiences. She used many of these teaching and drawing skills to facilitate mean-making experiences in her recently published book, Self-care for #TheResistance: A Workbook for The Socially Conscious and/ or Stressed, available through Amazon. She is currently working on a follow-up book focused on self-care for Museum workers. Seema tweets @artlust.

Beck Tench
Photo of Beck Tench
Beck Tench was formally trained as a designer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication and has spent her career helping people and organizations of all types embrace risk-taking, creativity, and change through technology and personal space-making. Her work has been mentioned in the New York Times, National Public Radio, Scientific American, and several books and blogs. Some of her favorite work was done in partnership with the Museum of Life and Science, Exploratorium, Michigan State University, Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, and Illinois State Library. In 2016, Beck began her studies as a PhD student at the University of Washington’s Information School, where she researches contemplative practice and information science.

Check out Beck’s website, or connect with her on Twitter.

Show Notes

Jeff’s new puppy, Buddy | Instagram

Museopunks Stickers!

Royal Ontario Museum’s T-Rex Teddy on Tinder

No App Required: Toward a Utilitarian Museum Mobile Experience

Brilliant Idea Studio

The Self-Care Guide for #TheResistance

Museopunks @ MCN2013: Communication Breakdown w/ Beck Tench

Mindfulness, Intention and Museums – CODE | WORDS: An Series of Epistolary Romances

Beck’s contemplative practice Slack experiment

We’d love to hear from you! How do you refocus and recenter when emotionally or physically exhausted? Hit us up on Twitter and share your best solutions with us.

Never miss an episode! Subscribe to Museopunks on iTunes or Stitcher

Previous Episodes

Episode 19: The State of Love and Trust

Don’t call this a comeback! After an almost three-year hiatus, Museopunks returns to explore progressive museum practice. How much has changed since the ‘Punks last hit the airwaves? Does Jeffrey have any new tattoos? Has Suse lost her Australian accent?

In this first episode of season two, the ‘Punks unpack the trials and tribulations of trust with Dr. fari nzinga and Adriel Luis. Report after report indicates that public trust in institutions is plummeting. The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, which surveys more than 33,000 people across 28 countries, showed the largest-ever drop in trust across the institutions of government, business, media and NGOs. Meanwhile, the Economist’s Intelligence Unit downgraded the US to a “flawed democracy” in its 2016 Democracy Index, due to erosion of trust in government and elected officials.

Museums have traditionally appeared to be cushioned against drops in trust. The American Alliance of Museum reports that museums are considered the most trustworthy source of information in America. Yet a 2013 UK study on public trust in museums showed that although museums are highly trusted, there was “a strong sense that if they started “telling people what to think” or became spaces for controversial debate, this might damage their integrity.” What does this mean for our institutions at a time when there is increasing pressure on public institutions to promote social justice, and intervene in political and social discourse? Join us to unpack these questions and more.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah, let’s, let’s do this whole bit.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah. Yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    Let’s start that again.

(Singing)

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Suse.

Suse Anderson:                    Jeffrey.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      It’s 2017.

Suse Anderson:                    How did that happen.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      I don’t know, but it feels good to be back.

Suse Anderson:                    (Laughs) It really does.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      How are you?

Suse Anderson:                    Good day. I’m (laughs) doing well. How are you?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      I’m doing, I’m doing okay. Yeah, it’s, it’s, uh, it’s like they say it’s like riding a bike and it, it is.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah. Who would have thought that podcasting would be the exact sort of thing that you can, uh, drop for a little while, a bit of a hiatus and pick up and still feel really at [harmon 00:00:48].

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah, a little bit of a hiatus. How long, what was it, three years?

Suse Anderson:                    Three years.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Wow.

Suse Anderson:                    A lot’s changed.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      A lot has changed in three years.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Um, what’s new with you?

Suse Anderson:                    Oh, um, just about everything. I think (laughs) last time we had spoke I had just arrived in Baltimore to work at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse Anderson:                    And that ta-, ti-, time just about everything in my life has changed. I am no longer at the BMA, although I am still in Baltimore. I am now an assistant professor in the museum studies program at George Washington University, which is-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Nice.

Suse Anderson:                    … fantastic. I am really loving teaching on museums and technology, but also museums and visitor experience, which is really lovely.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Cool.

Suse Anderson:                    Uh, still in Baltimore, though, so I guess that hasn’t changed, but, uh, married. There’s a, there’s a little, uh, kid on the way later this year.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      What?

Suse Anderson:                    So, I, yeah, the, uh, the world-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Holy cow.

Suse Anderson:                    … has definitely changed.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Wow, a lot has gone on with you in the last three years. That’s all awesome stuff, though.

Suse Anderson:                    Absolutely. Yeah, it’s all very exciting stuff. What about you? Tell me what’s been happening?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      What’s been happening with me? Uh, professionally I’m still in Pittsburgh. I am, uh, I’m running the studio here at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, which is kind of like the design, development, and workflow laboratory for our four museums. It’s really, um, inspiring, creative, uh, fascinating work. Um, yeah, so I think we’re, I mean, personally the kids are getting bigger, you know?

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Playing some rock and roll again, which is good.

Suse Anderson:                    Excellent.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      But, yeah, I know, but I’m super stocked to be, um, talking with you again. It’s, uh, something that I did miss over the years and, and looking forward to, uh, getting back into the swing of things and, and, and, and exploring, um, some really interesting ideas here in Season Two of Museopunks.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah, you and me both. So how did we get back together? Tell me a little bit as to why people are hearing our voices again.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      So, yeah, it was, um, you know, it was, it was one of those things where we were, uh, we were doing our things for a couple years and got a really great email from, uh, from Liz Neely at AAM, uh, and, uh, she basically asked us, you know, would we ever think about doing version 2.0 of Museopunks. And, uh, I think we both kind of jumped at the chance, right?

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah, absolutely. It’s so exciting to be back doing the podcast again and also doing a podcast that this time around is presented by the American Alliance of Museums. I think if you were to ask me about aspirations for this podcast when we’d started, I just hoped that someone would listen. I never-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    … imagined that this would actually become something that may live on a professional body [inaudible 00:03:43] as well as, as well as doing something that we just both get to love and explore what it means to be a progressive museum or a progressive museum practitioner.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah, so-

Suse Anderson:                    Do you think that’s something that’s changed for you over the last couple of years? How different do you think what you’re thinking about now is from when we last did this?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      I, uh, you know, I think a lot has changed in the sector, um, when it comes to thinking about, um, progressive ideas. You know, when we started this in 2013, um, you know, progressivism, at least for the focus of this podcast, was, was squarely rooted in kind of digital at this point.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      You know? A lot of our, our first 18 episodes were really focused on, on digital pro-, progressivism in the sector, and I think over the years, um, and, you know, some call it post digital, some call it, um, other things, but I think the, the holistic nature of progressivism is permeating through areas of the museum, um, you know, outside of digital into education, obviously, and, and curatorial and it’s all kind of mingling together with these really forward-thinking ideas. And so, you know, in my opinion I think that’s really where, where I’m interested in, in, in exploring. I don’t know, what do you think?

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah, I agree. It’s sort of been funny. Th-, the time away, sort of this maturation period has also been my time living in a different country and-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse Anderson:                    … in a country that’s really been going through a lot. I mean, I think internationally, the world has been going through some really interesting times and interesting conversations lately, but we have … I think the conversations now that we are having and that we need to be having are very different from the ones that I would have said were, was important three years ago. I think technology, uh, while still hugely important for being a catalyst for a lot of these decisions, I think my emphasis on it and my thinking about it, I started to get a very different relationship to where I think technology fits within, um, sort of, within the complexity of these discussions.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah. You know, I think, um, Season One is, is … will serve as a nice snapshot of, of, of where thinking was at a point in time for the museum sector-

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      And hopefully Season Two, um, you know, you know, five years down the road you’re looking back at Season Two and, hopefully, you know, it was serve as that, as that snapshot in time. Speaking of snapshots in time, Suse-

Suse Anderson:                    Yes.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Uh, and doing some research for this first episode, um, uh, I, I noticed that our last episode was published on September 29th, 2014.

Suse Anderson:                    Uh-huh (affirmative).

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Do you know … I, I did some triv-, let’s do some trivia. Do you know, uh, what the number one song in the United States was?

Suse Anderson:                    (Laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho:                      On September 29th, 2014?

Suse Anderson:                    I really don’t, but I’m going to … Ooh, had, had T. Swift’s album dropped by that stage?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      It was right before T. Swift.

Suse Anderson:                    Oh, okay. I, I don’t know. I, I will say I went and saw her live in concert, and that was pretty amazing.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    But, uh, okay. Tell me, what was, what was the number one song?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Okay, it’s just starting it’s eight-week reign at number one. It was “All About That Bass.”

Suse Anderson:                    (Laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho:                      (Laughs) You know, Star Wars had not been rebooted yet.

Suse Anderson:                    Uh.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      We were still six months away from the launch of the Cooper Hewitt pen.

Suse Anderson:                    (Gasp)

Jeffrey Inscho:                      And Donald Trump was still a wealthy real estate developed in New York City. So a lot has changed.

Suse Anderson:                    (Laughs) A lot has changed. I had not even experienced my, uh, my first Halloween living in America by that stage.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      (Laughs) Right, right, yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    Or my first Thanksgiving. There have been many changes (laughs). Wow.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah, well, it’s good to be back, and so what, what are we, uh, what this epis-, first episode, what are we going to be talking about?

Suse Anderson:                    So one of the things that I’ve been thinking about a lot is, you know, we’re talking about some political changes, as you just mentioned. Uh, last time we were on, there was a very different political, uh, space in terms of the President, et cetera, here in the US. And the last couple of months I’ve been noticing report after report after report which is really looking at how public trust in institutions has been plummeting in recent years.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse Anderson:                    And, you know, that’s often thinking about government and business, but it’s also reaching out to, um, non-profits, non-governmental organizations. In fact, in 2016, late 2016, um, there was even one particular scale that dropped America to the level of a floored democracy given the erosion of trust in government and elected officials. Now, museums have often been, um, I think saved from drops in trust, but I really wanted to talk to you and, and, and some guests-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    … to, to think about what these huge institutional shifts in trust mean for institutions. Are museums still trusted? What does the nature of trust look like? And how does this, how does the new political environment start to create different shifts for us as organizations?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah, I mean, it’s such an important fundamental topic for, uh, for museums to really think about. Um, and so we’re (clears throat), we’re very, um, fortunate to, to have some … A couple really great guests this episode. Um, we’re going to talk with Dr. fari nzinga, who is doing some interesting, uh, writing on the topic of public trust and art museums. And we’re, we’re also going to talk to, to Adriel Luis, um, from, uh, the, uh, Asian Pacific American Center, uh, in DC.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Who, who is thinking a lot about how, uh, and, and whether museums, in fact, trust their public. So two sides of a very interesting, um, issue there.

Suse Anderson:                    Absolutely, so why don’t we get into those conversations now?

(Music)

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Fari nzinga was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and graduated with a BA from Oberlin College in 2005. Fari earned both her MA and her PhD in cultural anthropology from Duke University. Having lived in New Orleans since 2009, her dissertation explored black-led, community-based institutions using art and culture to help achieve their social justice missions as well as the political economic landscape in which they operate. For two years she worked as the public policy officer at the New Orleans Museum of Art where she attempted to facilitate institutional transformation around issues of transparency, access, inclusion, and equity. Currently, fari is an adjunct professor of museum studies at Southern University at New Orleans, one of only two historically black colleges and universities to house a masters level museum studies program in the United States. Fari, thanks so much for, uh, talking with us on Museopunks.

fari nzinga:                              Thanks so much for having me.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Oh, our pleasure. Um, so I think Suse and I both discovered your work at MCN last year, uh, in New Orleans where you gave a talk called public trust and art museums. Um, and to the thesis of that talk really hinges on the nuanced differences between trust and public trust. Can you explain how these are different for our listeners?

fari nzinga:                              Sure. Um, I think that trust in interpersonal relationships is a two-way street and the way that public trust has been defined has largely been from within the art museum sector itself and hasn’t really taken to … into account, um, all of the contributions that audiences and other stakeholders are willing to make or wanting to make. So it seems to me like public trust in the art museum context is, is really, is really a, a way of thinking thoughtfully about why they’re doing what they’re doing on behalf of the public that they’re serving. Um, and so sometimes it can be a bit aspirational and sometimes it can act like a justification, um, but I think that for art museums in particular, or museums that have collections in particular, um, public trust is really about understanding the time scale in a way. Like everything we’re doing isn’t just for the now and isn’t just for today, but is really about preserving things so that the next generation or however many generations down the line people will still be able to look at these objects and interpret this information.

Suse Anderson:                    That’s a really interesting idea that public trust was defined for the public and not with the public, whereas you took that sort of interpersonal trust as being a two-way street. Do you think these ideas are mutually exclusive? Do we need to have, um, an inter-, sort of interpersonal trust in order to have public trust? Or are they such different ideas?

fari nzinga:                              Well, I do think there’s overlap and I … especially in museums that have a very close relationship with the communities that they serve. Um, and I do think that public trust should take into account the, um, the ways in which the public wants to interact with and engage with museums. So I see that museums over time are opening themselves more and more to understanding the visitor experience and to, um, really having conversations that try to move their practice forward, whether that’s, um, curatorial practice or whether that’s, you know, a new innovation in terms of exhibition design or technology, um, that helps, you know, make things accessible to people. I really do think that, hopefully, you know, we’ve been in a kind of 30-year period of conversation, so hopefully 30-something is the charm-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      (Laughs)

fari nzinga:                              … and, you know, we (laughs) can really start to put some of these ideas into action.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      You know, wi-

fari nzinga:                              And some of the best museums out there are already doing that.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah, most definitely. Um, you know, when I think of the term public, I think, you know, um, it’s so broad, right? And I, I come from kind of a communication background where there’s a general saying that there’s no general public. So, you know, what, what do you think museums can do to start to learn more about their public, um, and the communities and, and the, the people, um, and really start to identify who it is they’re, they’re serving?

fari nzinga:                              Well, one thing that I learned when I was at NOMO wh- … Our offices were in the basement of the museum and all the fun stuff happens on the first, second, and third floors. So what I had to do, even though, you know, I felt tethered to my desk on so many occasions, was really create reasons to go outside of my, um, office-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah.

fari nzinga:                              … and to get out of the basement and to see with my own eyes the visitors coming in and the field trips and how people are interacting with the space. Um, how people are interacting with each other in the space. And even going outside of the museum wholly and, um, talking to folks who don’t necessarily frequent the museum, but who are very much involved with arts and culture in the city or in the town where the museum is located. So I really do think that museums have so much, um, fertile ground that’s been … that hasn’t been tilled just yet in terms of going outside of their own walls to meet people where they’re at and to understand, you know, what it is that they want and how they would like to engage.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah, it’s interesting that you say that. I mean, you’re, you’re also just talking about people going inside their own walls and really spending time watching their visitors, talking to their visitors, and being with them, which it shouldn’t be a rare practice, but in some ways it actually is that notion of getting away from your desk to go and spend time with visitors often seems to be quite a rare one. But, I guess that also then brings up this idea that part of what we’re talking about when we’re talking about things like public trust is an element of access and access can be, uh, right across the museum. We can talk about the physical space to digital collections. What do you think are some of the key areas of access that when we really open them up can impact how museums serve their public and serve the public trust?

fari nzinga:                              One of my favorite quotes is by a woman named Anna Julia Cooper and Anna Julia Cooper was a black American woman who was born, um, enslaved, and who over the course of her lifetime eventually saw freedom. Her mother was enslaved to her father, in fact. And, um, Anna Julia Cooper would go on to graduate from Oberlin College, my alma mater, um, and write books and attend international, um, conferences around issues of Pan Africanism around women’s rights and she said, “When and where I enter the whole race enters with me.”

Suse Anderson:                    Mmm.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Mmm.

fari nzinga:                              And she was talking about the ways in which when you offer a seat at the table to a black woman, she’s not just going to represent her own interests, but she’s also going to represent the interests of the young people and the children in her community, the men of her community, as well as the women of her community. Um, and I think that that quote for me is so powerful because it rings so true. And she wrote this in 1892, by the way.

Suse Anderson:                    Mmm.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Mmm.

fari nzinga:                              Right? And it’s 2017 and I see, um, and I see museums as a place that can greatly benefit some people having access to go into that space on an equal footing, not just as visitors, but behind the scenes-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Right.

fari nzinga:                              … in order to make some decisions, in order to contribute to the conversation being had about art and culture, about civic engagement, you know, about some of the great Democratic values of our time, if you will.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      (Laughs)

fari nzinga:                              Uh, which I think that a lot of times museums love to tout themselves as these kinds of citadels where this heady intellectual, you know, thing is going on in the background even if they’re trying to make it accessible to the everyday person by not using language that could, you know, be confusing or exclusionary or what have you. Um, so all that to say that I think issues of access really … We do them a disservice when we speak only of, A, the physical plant, or, um, B, the visitors who are able to, you know, be in the physical space because a museum is a physical space, but it’s also the ideas that animate that physical space. And so when you don’t have people at the table behind the scenes-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

fari nzinga:                              … constructing those ideas, deconstructing those ideas, representing those ideas, engaging with them, interpreting them, and so forth, then you really get a very monotone narrative that puts people off, and in turn, makes visitors feel as though that’s not for me. And that’s where you start to see issues of access really jamming up the works, you know?

Suse Anderson:                    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

fari nzinga:                              But it starts at the root, not at the level of the diversity of your visitorship. That’s really just a symptom.

Suse Anderson:                    Fari, I think it’s really interesting to hear you talk about that. One of the things … One of the lines that really stood out to me, uh, in the piece that you wrote about public trust and art museums was this line that, “The trust of the public is earned when an art museum is seen as an authority on matters of artistic excellence.” But then when we talk about inviting people into the door and not just into the building, but actually behind the scenes, I sometimes worry, or not worry, but I’m, I’m curious about how those different ideas relate to one another. Do we … Is the museum still seen as the authority at that point when you’re, um, when you’re sort of handing over that authority? How does that work?

fari nzinga:                              Well, I think that’s a really interesting conundrum, but as a, as a professor when I am talking with my students, they always remark to me, you know, it’s so interesting that just by virtue of being in a museum an object becomes more valuable. An artist becomes more valuable, an idea becomes more valuable, right? And, and, you know, we may not have any idea what that object was because guess what? We might not have anybody who is culturally competent enough to judge whether this object is of artistic excellence, right?

So I think the anxiety that people, uh, have around, you know, if we let more people in, will we be lowering the quality, is really, um, it’s the wrong question to be asking, you know? I mean, you know someone smart when you see them. You’re not just inviting any old person into the space and say, “Here, have access to all of the treasures and the resources that we have.” You’re making a, a judgment and you’re going out and you’re trying to look for people who are going to have something to contribute, who are going to, um, also believe in the value of excellence, right? I mean, some people don’t believe in excellence. Some people don’t believe in perfection, right? It’s just a question of, you know, good enough.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Right.

fari nzinga:                              And then some people really strive and always want to push themselves, and those are the people that you try to find and those are the people that you try to partner with, and every community has that.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

fari nzinga:                              Unfortunately, that is not reflected in the museum sector, but that doesn’t mean that (laughs) they don’t exist. And I, I think that I speak for myself and for many other people when I say, “I’m tired of hearing museum workers, and especially people in leadership in museums say, we just don’t know where to find these people. Well, where are they? Are there qualified people out there who can do this?” Right, it’s like hello, yes (laughs), yes there are people of every race, of every sexuality, in every geographic region who are smart and interesting and have something to contribute. And if you can’t find them, then that really says something more about your skillset …

Suse Anderson:                    Mmm.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah, for sure-

Suse Anderson:                    … than it does, you know, about their lack of numbers or their existence or nonexistence.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah, and to, you know, speaking, you know, to your point of what is included or enveloped within the museum or within the organization as, as conveying meaning or value, if you look at what is not, right? I mean, um, there’s, there’s definitely, um, work to be, work to be done there, um, at, at, kind of analyzing the semiotics and meaning around, um, a lot of that. And speaking of, of, um, 2017 and the, you know, the status of things as it is at this point in time, you know, I look back at your MCN talk and realize that that was given mere days prior to the presidential election here in the-

fari nzinga:                              Yes.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      … United States.

fari nzinga:                              It sure was.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      And we, we all know how that turned out. Um, but how does this heightened level of polarization or uncertainty that we’re experiencing, um, you know, throughout the fabric of our society impact, um, the public’s ability to trust institutions in a way, you know, be it government or be it museums? Like, how is, how is the s-, the situation that were, that were living in impacting things in your opinion?

fari nzinga:                              In my opinion, everyone’s on edge (laughs).

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah.

fari nzinga:                              Everyone’s suspicious. That’s what polarization does, you know, it’s like, well, if you’re not on this end of the pole, then I have to be suspicious of you because I don’t necessarily believe in the spectrum. Um, and so the spectrum becomes unintelligible and I don’t know what to make of anything that’s not, you know, what I understand it to be, my position. I think that in this time museums have a tremendous amount of power that they can wield if they choose to. It’s the same amount of power that they had before Trump was elected, but this can add some urgency to it. Um, people want to know that institutions are indeed thinking of the public’s best interests. And one of the things that I think is a little bit upsetting is that, um, there … People want to kind of stake out this neutral territory and I think that’s very dangerous. And I think that that has gotten the museum sector into the jam that it’s in now, quite frankly. It’s so neutral that for scores of people who would be natural, you know, members, supporters, visitors, um, what … Not stakeholders, but what’s the word?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Mmm.

fari nzinga:                              Board members, right?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Sure.

fari nzinga:                              People who would naturally because they’re into the arts they’re upwardly mobile. They have a certain class status, a certain educational background, right?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

fari nzinga:                              I mean, that’s what we’re talking about when we talk about the museum community or the museum sector.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah.

Fari nzinga:                             Well, every race has this, every sexuality has this, every ethnicity has this, and every geographical region has this, right?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

fari nzinga:                              Um, however, the public always is assumed to be neutral and that neutrality always takes on a racial, uh, understanding, right?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      (Laughs)

fari nzinga:                              I don’t have to tell you what it is, but I bet you can guess it when we’re talking about the public, what does that mean and who then begin to envision in your mind as your every person.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Right. So, you know, looking back at this MCN talk, you, you know, you, you really astutely point out that, that libraries have been making great strides and kind of earning higher, higher levels of credibility by championing the rights and civil liberties of those they serve. And I, I might even go further and say that I think this is, this progress is really due to the fact that libraries have kind of successfully transitioned into a, into a service model, right, with a-

fari nzinga:                              Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeffrey Inscho:                      … a primary focus on providing access to knowledge for everybody.

fari nzinga:                              Yes.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Um, and so do you think, you know, A, do you think museums might learn from this, uh, transition to a service-

fari nzinga:                              I sure hope they will.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      And ho-, how? I mean, uh, you know, is there, are there things we can look to and point to and say, um, yes, this, this is where we need to pivot and this is where we should be, um, working toward, you know?

fari nzinga:                              Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Um, uh-

fari nzinga:                              Yes. So one thing is, um, when museums talk about diversity and inclusion, or they talk about cultural equity, or they talk about, you know, expanding their publics, um, you know, it’s, it’s not enough to just talk about it, but, um, you have to actually make those audiences aware of the fact that, A, you would like them to be, you know, at your table.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

fari nzinga:                              And then you have to court them just like you would court anybody because nobody’s going to give you the time of day just because, right?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah.

fari nzinga:                              No free lunch in this capitalist society we live in, right? Rule number one, econ. Uh, but I do think that, for example, when I was doing the research for this paper, I interviewed Arnold Lehman at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah.

fari nzinga:                              And he said, “You know, we have been so tremendously successful because we took an activist stance. We said Brooklyn is a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted, multi-cultural, multi-lingual community and we’re going to make sure that in every facet of our operation in, in our institution we’re going to reflect that. And we’re not going to settle for, oh, well, this is just how the cards fell, right? We’re going to go out there and if people aren’t coming to us, then we’re going to go to them and we’re going to find out why they’re not coming to us and what can we do differently?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Right.

fari nzinga:                              “And we’re going to be aggressive about it and we’re going to pursue,” you know, be not perseverant, but, uh-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Determined and, yeah.

fari nzinga:                              Yeah, determined or even-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Dedicated, right, like … yeah.

fari nzinga:                              … a little bit pesky, you know what I’m saying?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Right, yeah.

fari nzinga:                              Like he … Persistent is the word-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      (Laughs)

fari nzinga:                              … (Laughs) I was trying to say (laughs), yes, you know. Um, and so I think that libraries are kind of … They have an easier sell because there’s a ton of books there and there’s computers that people can use and there’s already stuff that people want. And in museums with collections, a lot of times that is the case, but a lot of times you have to tell people why they should want that stuff in the first place.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Right.

fari nzinga:                              And you really have to be active and you really have to be deliberate, um, and you, you can’t take anything personally and you can’t be willing to take no for an answer, you know?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    Fari, one of things that I think is really interesting coming out of this discussion is you’re sort of talking a lot about, um, neutrality and taking almost an activist stance. There was a 2013 study in the UK which was around public trust in museums and when the museum association in the UK wrote about it, they noted that it, it suggested that museums are highly admired because of their apolitical stance. And there was a strong sense and again, this was a few years ago and it was in the UK, but there was a strong sense that if museums started telling people what to think or became spaces for controversial debate, it might damage their integrity. In fact, the museums association in the UK went so far as to say, “Attempting to shape values even in a transparent way could be seen by the public as betraying a museum’s essential purpose of conveying factual information.”

But I think particularly because of the current political climate and even just in general, it really feels like there’s a lot of pressure from within our sector to be political and I think a lot of it actually comes from the people working within our sector see themselves, um, as seeking to make change. So I’m curious as to what you think about this tension and how we sort of resolve this idea, this gap, between almost a, a notion that public trust may relate to neutrality or, or does it? I mean, I’m really curious to unpack those ideas.

fari nzinga:                              Well, I guess what I would want to know more about were the kinds of methods behind the survey. Who was surveyed? Who were amongst the surveyors, you know? Uh, because one of the things I was put onto when I got MCN was the visitor of color project by Nikhil Tivedi and who is the other person that was with him on that?

Suse Anderson:                    Is, is it Porchia who does that? There’s Porchia [crosstalk 00:33:50].

Jeffrey Inscho:                      I believe it is Porchia, yeah.

fari nzinga:                              Yeah, Porchia[crosstalk 00:33:52]. Um, and I think it’s brilliant and fantastic and it is so needed and so necessary because until visitors of color tell museums look, we’re tired of the same hack-kneed narrative that you keep serving us.

Suse Anderson:                    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

fari nzinga:                              And we’re tired of your interpretation of our history and of our culture and of our contributions to science innovation or what have you, right? When will you … And this goes back to the question of excellence, right? So who gets to judge and who gets to interpret what from our rich history and artistic traditions is excellent and what is not excellent?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

fari nzinga:                              And why? And how … And what makes you the authority on that, right? And so, um, when I teach their, uh, entries in my class, a lot of times my students who also, you know, SUNO is as you said in the introduction, a historically black university. So my students are African-American for the most part, and when I, you know, expose them to this, they’re like, “Oh, yeah. I can relate to that. I can definitely relate to that. Let me tell you about the last time I went to such-and-such museum,” you know?

Suse Anderson:                    Mmm.

fari nzinga:                              And everyone had stories. Everyone has stories and some of them are recent, and some of them are like, “I don’t even go to museums because when I was in fourth grade this thing happened and it just turned me off completely.”

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah.

fari nzinga:                              You know? So I really do have to … I think that we all should question like you were saying, Jeffrey, this public, who is the public-

Suse Anderson:                    Mmm.

fari nzinga:                              … that gets to say, you know, this is what museums should do or should be?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Right, hmm.

fari nzinga:                              How, I mean, how can we say that attempting to shape values is at odds with, um, disseminating factual information? Are those two things not in alignment?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Mmm.

fari nzinga:                              Are those two things automatically contrary to one another? I don’t think so.

Suse Anderson:                    Mmm.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Big stuff.

fari nzinga:                              Yeah.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Um, before we let you go, fari, I … There’s, uh, uh, I’m just, I’m personally curious. I notice that when you, you write your name you use lower case letters. Why is that?

fari nzinga:                              Um, it’s kind of an homage to Bell Hooks who is a feminist, theorist, and also a writer and, um, a social critic, cultural critic. And that’s not her given name, but she writes under the name Bell Hooks because she is herself paying homage to her grandmother.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      (Laughs)

fari nzinga:                              And I love the way that she doesn’t capitalize it and I love the way that she takes her grandmother’s name because she is representing for everybody’s grandmother. She’s representing for all of those black women who, you know, had a contribution to this society that whose names we don’t remember and who we might not capitalize (laughs)-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Right.

fari nzinga:                              … because they aren’t seen as important.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Hmm.

fari nzinga:                              Um, in addition, she also doesn’t capitalize it because she’s like, “I want you to talk about my ideas, not my name.” And so I really, I really want people to engage with the scholarship. I want them to engage with the analysis. I want them to engage with the critique, with the level of imagination, you know? Um, and it’s not really supposed to be about a [inaudible 00:37:31] of personality.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Right.

fari nzinga:                              So that’s … Those are some of the things I’ve borrowed from, from her.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Very cool. So if listeners to the podcast, uh, want to stay in touch with your scholarship and with your ideas, um, where might they be able to do that?

fari nzinga:                              Um, actually, I’m on the editorial board of Createquity.com and so people can check out some of the work that I am helping to do research and writing on. Um, and until then I guess they’ll have to follow me on Twitter, @fari_nzinga.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Cool, and we’ll put links to all this stuff in, in the show notes so that listeners can, uh, can definitely stay in touch and, and stay up to date with, uh, the amazing thinking and, and work and, uh, scholarship that, that, that you’re doing. It’s, it’s, it’s fantastic stuff, so fari, thanks so much for, uh, being a part of, of Museopunks.

fari nzinga:                              Thank you so much for having me. It’s been an honor and really, really fun.

(Music)

Suse Anderson:                    Adriel Luis is a self-taught musician, poet, curator, coder, and visual artist who believes that imagination is key to transforming cultural paradigms. As the curator of digital and emerging media at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, he’s focused on exploring intersectional identities in the US and contemporary Asian diasporic art. He’s also part of the illiteracy art collective and sometimes moonlights on design projects with various artists and non-profits. Adriel frequently travels to different parts of Asian with particular interest in how digital space shapes global communities and how varying levels of freedom of expression channel artistic political imagination. Adriel can be found across online platforms as at Drzzl, D-r-z-z-l. Adriel, welcome to the show.

Adriel Luis:                             Hello, hello.

Suse Anderson:                    It’s so wonderful to have you joining us here on our first season back of Museopunks.

Adriel Luis:                             Ah, so excited.

Suse Anderson:                    We have just given you a, a sort of grand introduction with your full bio and I really want to drill down a little bit into the Asian Pacific American Center and the work that you do there. Can you tell us a little bit more about it? I’m not sure everyone, of our listeners, would be familiar with what, uh, one of the centers is at the Smithsonian and a little bit more about your job?

Adriel Luis:                             Okay, cool, cool. So, um, the Smithsonian is the institution that essentially presents the, the national museums of the United States, uh, so we are a complex that includes a bunch of museums and research centers and a zoo and observatories. Um, we are part of a center that, uh, or we are the center that focuses on Asian Pacific American history and culture, but we’re not a traditional museum in that we don’t have a brick and mortar building. We don’t have, uh, traditional kind of collection. And a lot of the work that we’ve been doing because of those circumstances have been I think a lot more along the lines of, uh, tackling topics that we hear our communities, um, you know, uh, who, who are interested in talking about these things. And, and so because we don’t have a collection, we, we do have a community and, and that’s kind of the way that we look at it.

Um, we … Our flagship project recently has been, uh, what we, what we call culture labs which are basically museum happenings that like museums feature art and, um, and historic objects and, uh, you know, are places of learning and realization. But they’re developed from start to finish using community organizing practices as opposed to, as opposed to going straight to sort of the traditional museum handbooks for putting this together. Um, and so we really kind of see, for example, as opposed to lineups for group shows, we’re developing arts collectives, um, artist collectives out of the people who are, who are developing the work instead of the curators telling the answers, the curators are asking the questions. And, and we see the work that we, that we curate as prompts for, for things that, uh, that our visitors can come in and actually engage with directly and on site with both the artists and the curators.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Nice, so, uh, one of the recent, um, culture labs was, uh, was called CrossLines and, um, you know, it was kind of, uh, pitched or talked about as a culture lab on the intersectionality and it featured, you know, more than 40 artists and scholars, right? Can … How did this particular … Was this the first culture lab that you did?

Adriel Luis:                             Yeah, yeah, that was the first culture lab. Um, it took place at, uh, the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Cool.

Adriel Luis:                             … which used to be the US National Museum. So before any of the other Smithsonian museums opened, this was the kind of where we showed off our stuff-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah.

Adriel Luis:                             … Um, back in the late 1800s.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Walk us through the process of how that, that particular culture lab took shape. I mean, how do you, um, how do you start talking with participants and, and, and that sort of thing?

Adriel Luis:                             Um, so I guess that all kind of starts with, like, when I, when I started at the Smithsonian, um, I had come fully from a background as a full-time artist, um, you know, who was also doing, you know, web and graphic design, um, on a freelance basis. And so going from that into becoming a federal employee of like the largest institution of the world was like yeah, definitely a big ice bucket of water.

Suse Anderson:                    (Laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho:                      (Laughs) Really?

Adriel Luis:                             Right (laughs). I was, like, why is it so hard to buy a pencil [crosstalk 00:43:37]?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      (Laughs)

Suse Anderson:                    (Laughs)

Adriel Luis:                             But, um, you know, I think it also just gave me a lot of, um, of avenues to think about things in, in just, like, in a kind of a scale that, that I, I just really couldn’t imagine when I was just kind of working, working on, on, on my own thing.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah.

Adriel Luis:                             Which I really appreciate and I think, um, you know, that, that’s where I kind of came to console myself whenever I was, like, going through crazy bureaucracy was, like, the fact that it’s, like, okay well, you know, at … what … at some points this was just an idea and, you know, there’s all these checks and balances now, but you know, like, you can actually be creative in the way that you navigate that stuff. Um, you know, that, that kind of goes into, um, you know, uh, when you’re reading my bio and I was talking about kind of different levels of freedom of expression, you know, like, we think about that in different societies, but in each setting you go into, you walk into a bar, you walk into a museum, you work in a museum, you’re constantly navigating what you can and can’t say and that’s kind of, like, you know, uh, a creative exercise in its own.

And so the culture lab was basically, uh, you know, what we came up with after, I think, several years of just learning the ropes of what it means to work in the Smithsonian, and, and how can we still have difficult conversations, um, but in ways that, that still, I think, are digestible to people who are, um, are used to kind of traditional exhibitions and stuff like that.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah, fantastic. In terms of the subject matter, CrossLines was an exploration of intersectionality.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse Anderson:                    We’re talking today a lot about trust and public trust. How important is intersectionality to this trust dynamic between museums and the public?

Adriel Luis:                             Sure, so intersectionality is a term that was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw,um, and it is essentially the understanding that, I think, past concepts of, like, diversity and things like that have still kind of segmented people into groups that are very, uh, one dimensional. And so diversity is often times, like, allocated to just race or to just gender and things like that. And intersectionality is, is really, um, recognizing that, that, uh, the ways that we as people, um, interact with each other and with the world is this really messy, complicated, um, smorgasbord of all the different things that, um, that, that encompass us. Um, you know, like the ways that, that my race and my sexuality and my gender collides is really how, uh, how my experience with the world is formed as opposed to, you know, like, me going through one situation and being, like, “This happened to me because of my Asian-ness.” You know, and so-

Suse Anderson:                    Right.

Adriel Luis:                             … Um, for, for me growing up in California in a very diverse neighborhood, um, and, and city and environment, intersectionality, you know, like, even though the word was relatively new to me, the, the concept was, um, you know, very organically understood. But, um-

Suse Anderson:                    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adriel Luis:                             … When we started talking about at the Smithsonian, um, you know, some of the reactions that we got within the institution was that, oh, this term is very academic, um, you know, can you use a different word to promote this event because, um, the visitors might not understand it? And, you know, I saw that as actually an opportunity to do what the Smithsonian does best, which is take concepts that are foreign and abstract and make them, uh, accessible, family-friendly, even fun, you know, and it’s like-

Suse Anderson:                    Hmm.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah.

Adriel Luis:                             … if you can, if you can, kind of, kind of what I say a lot is, you know, if the Air and Space Museum can explain rocket science, then surely we can explain how someone can be gay and a woman and black at the same time.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      So, uh, CrossLines and culture labs, they, um, you know, from the distance that I’m, I’m viewing them from, uh, seem to be really making some strides and achieving the goal of kind of growing trust between a, a museum and, and its, and its public. And in some ways, uh, and in interesting ways I think it, it kind of blurs the line between the two in, in fundamental ways. How has this idea, this progressive idea of cultural labs, how is it being received internally and particularly among your curatorial colleagues?

Adriel Luis:                             Mmm. Well, specifically within our center, we’re super-duper small, and so we’re, we operate like a grassroots organization on a day-to-day basis because we have, like, a staff of, like, seven or eight.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Okay.

Adriel Luis:                             And, uh, and, and so, you know, whether you’re a curator or an admin or education, um, when you have an idea it, it’s heard and it’s processed. And, um, you know, this whole idea of community organizing based museum practice isn’t just me. Um, most of the people on my staff come from sort of non-traditional backgrounds or backgrounds that are outside of museum scopes, and we all kind of bring that to the table. So, like, one of, uh, you know, one of my co-curators, um, [Kuluva Korea 00:49:02] is like based in the big island of Hawaii. He has done everything from, you know, like marine research to like farming his own land, and so he brings that to the table in ways that me, as digital and emerging media curator, you know, it’s very new to me, but I think that the, the idea of just kind of, like, trusting, trusting what’s around you and especially for museums. If, if you are to be a reflection of the society that you are contextualizing, then, then where can you loosen the grasp? Like, where can you kind of as a curator be the person or the group of people who are actually, uh, taking, taking down barriers, uh, as opposed to kind of putting up guidelines and, and, and, um, you know, rules and things like that.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah, it sounds like there’s a, there’s a really strong element of cross-disciplinarity or transdisciplinarity there that, um, really helps to enable these type of things.

Adriel Luis:                             Yeah, and I think it’s, it’s kind of scary for, for people who are coming from more traditional museum backgrounds, um, and I get it because you’re operating from a status quo of, like, the … your average visitor is going to come into a space expecting answers because that’s what, that’s what they’ve been raised, right? They’ve been raised with this certain kind of didactic, um, you know, with a certain kind of pedagogy that, um, you know, could be its own lesson in itself, you know? But, but that’s kind of where we I draw from my experience as an artist because I started off as a spoken word artist and so your, you know, a lot of the job is going into a space and saying I’m going to do poetry and then, and then proceeding to dismantle what people think is poetry by presenting something different, right? And then so that’s kind of what we’re doing with these culture labs is, like, we’re a museum. We’re going to do this museum happening now in real time while we do this amazing show. Let us also, um, complicate the ways that you, um, are used to interacting with museums.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah, I think that’s really interesting. In your curatorial practice you’ve champi-, championed this idea of sort of the democratic shine of information and how that gets unlocked by digital space. Can you talk to us a little bit more about how this concept comes together because it seems really, um, aligned with what you’re talking about and I’m, I’m curious how, how much of this has been formed by your world not just then in sort of, uh, spoken word spaces and artistic spaces, but also in digital spaces.

Adriel Luis:                             Mm-hmm (affirmative), um, yeah. You know, like, I, I didn’t think I was going to get the job when I applied for it-

Suse Anderson:                    (Laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho:                      (Laughs)

Adriel Luis:                             … and, you know, like, I didn’t know anybody at the Smithsonian. Someone forwarded me the job application and I just filled it out, like, like it was a, you know, like I was filling out an application for, like, Top Shop or something, I don’t know.

Suse Anderson:                    (Laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho:                      (Laughs)

Adriel Luis:                             Uh, and then and, and I didn’t really get, I didn’t really know what a curator was, um, and googling it didn’t help.

Suse Anderson:                    (Laughs)

Adriel Luis:                             Um, but what I do like to say is that I am one of the early results of the, the fact that to be a curator has become a more democratic concept. Um, you know, to the dismay of some curators who I think, you know, worked really hard and like to, to, to get that title. You know, by the same time it’s, again, it’s the same thing as like poets who, um, have their MFAs and are [inaudible 00:52:34] at like 13-year-olds who are, you know, like on, on the microphone and also calling themselves poets, right? Um, and, and that’s, that’s kind of tension I think is not necessarily to be resolved, but rather to be a case study for kind of how we as people just kind of, you know, decide how we’re going to move forward in, in the ways that we, that we communicate and share knowledge. Um, but, you know, a lot of how I’ve been able to excel has been specifically from people that I’ve encountered who’ve just trusted me.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah.

Adriel Luis:                             You know, like, despite the fact that I don’t have a traditional museum background or despite the fact that I’m new, um, you know, and, and that value, the fact that my questioning and my, um, my wandering around, uh, had the potential to make something better, because you’re able to ask questions that you can’t if you’ve been in the museum world for, for however long, right? And so, you know, I’m, I’m approaching my fourth year, um, in the museum would and I’m feeling that kind of, uh, unfamiliarity fade.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah.

Adriel Luis:                             I’m starting to get used to things and starting to assume stuff and, and you know it when you start referring to people or artists by just the last name and like just mo-, continuing forward without explaining things and, you know, using acronyms and stuff like that and, and living in DC, working at the Smithsonian, like, I am oh so susceptible to that, right?

Suse Anderson:                    (Laughs)

Adriel Luis:                             And so, um, you know, like, when I started realizing that that was happening, um, you know, which was happening the more and more I was being invited to speak at, um, you know, on podcasts and events and things like that and started, started being looked at as, like, sort of an expert, um, you know, which, which was also just kind of weird just because I am still very new to the museum world. Um, I found that, like, a solution is to hand off certain responsibilities to people who do not have the kind of, I would say, overexposure of, of museum, uh, manner-, mannerisms, right? And then so, you know, it began with, like, first making sure that I was just hanging out with enough artists and, and, and activists and organizers and people who completely don’t know the museum world, because then when I refer to certain things they can be like, what, what, what the hell are you talking about, right?

But then uh, also seeing well how can I actually rope these people into the work that I do? You know, like, how do, how do we make sure that we’re not just working with artists who have been through the museum circuit before? How do we make sure that we’re constantly also including organizers and, and, um, you know, people from other fields who can ask the questions that, that, you know, might seem like no-brainers to, um, to those of us who have kind of, like, just, you know, dri-, driven, driven in, you know, driven around the block en-, enough times already.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah, and, and, you know, thinking about this idea, um, of, uh, democratic sharing of information and, and doing research and … on, on this episode and, um, you know, kind of internet stalking you to learn about (laughs) your work-

Adriel Luis:                             (Laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho:                      … Um, I kind of, uh, you know, I kind of realized that you could potentially be taking cues from like peer-to-peer software and, you know, and that got me thinking of, you know, what, what is your take on this idea of museum as a node, rather than museum as a gatekeeper, right? Is that kind of what we’re thinking about and what we’re talking about here?

Adriel Luis:                             Yeah, yeah. Like, I grew up, I grew up, you know, stealing so much music via the internet (laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah, that [crosstalk 00:56:11].

Suse Anderson:                    (Laughs)

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Everybody did.

Adriel Luis:                             You know, um, and, um, you learn so much when you kind of stare at this progress bar on like [inaudible 00:56:19] or like BitTorrent, right? And, you know, peer-to-peer is a great example, right? The more, the more seeds, the more peers, the faster the download, right?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Right.

Adriel Luis:                             You want, uh, you know, and, and you’re literally, you know, trying to access a story. Let’s say you’re downloading a movie. You want to access a story. You’re, you’re going to choose, you’re going to choose the link that has the most peers because you know that you’re, you’re pulling information from a bunch of different sources as opposed to one person. Um, and if you have … If you’re trying to download a movie and you have one, and you have one seed, if that person decides that they just want to log off or kick you off, then you’re done, right? But if you have, like, you know, 300 seeds, then it doesn’t matter, you know, like who logs off, there, there’s always going to be someone else to kind of, like, pick up, pick it up, right?

And I think that that’s kind of, you know, where, uh, as a, as a, as a curator of digital, that’s, that’s where I, I’m really interested in stuff, um, because that can manifest in, in person-to-person situations that have nothing to do with pixels or, or touchscreens or, you know, like, uh, all those things that look really nice on like digital, digital program brochures at museums, but-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Right.

Suse Anderson:                    (Laughs)

Adriel Luis:                             … But, um, you know, like-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah, yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah.

Adriel Luis:                             … don’t really speak to kind of the potential of, of digital culture.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      For sure.

Adriel Luis:                             You know, I think we set, we set the bar so low when we think digital and it’s just like, you know, when people ask, like, but what’s, what’s the digital component of this project? It kind of irks me because it’s, like, you just really want to see a picture of seven-year-old with their finger on a touchscreen, you know, I can give that to you if that’s what you want, you know?

Suse Anderson:                    (Laughs)

Adriel Luis:                             But there’s so much more, there’s so much more, and so yeah. Democratic understandings of, of information is exactly why now people on Pinterest and Tumblr and, and Instagram and all that are calling themselves curators, and that’s empowerment, and, and I think that, um, you know, the more people who feel like they can be curators, like, the better because that’s just more seeds for these stories.

Suse Anderson:                    So, Adriel, one thing that I’ve been really thinking about and I can’t figure it out. So this is something that I’ve been stuck on for a little while. Lately there have been a lot of studies coming out showing that the public’s trust in the institutions, and that means government and financial institutions like banks, is dropping.

Adriel Luis:                             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse Anderson:                    But even institutions like science, the, the public’s trust is eroding and, in fact, it’s dropping to pretty unprecedented levels. And one of the things I’ve been trying to make sense of work out is whether there’s a relationship between this rise of the kind of peer-to-peer citizen curation where we trust, uh, we trust the person who happens to have the file we’re after.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suse Anderson:                    But we don’t necessarily trust the institution because that nature of authority is shifting. And I’m wondering if you think there is that relationship whereby we’re much more likely to trust someone we can connect to directly rather than someone through an institution? And if so, how that starts to have an impact for museums?

Adriel Luis:                             Yeah. Um, I think that, uh, you know, like sometimes I feel like museums, often I feel like museums are asking the wrong question, right? So-

Suse Anderson:                    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adriel Luis:                             … Um, you know, people are, are trusting institutions less and less and so the institutions then ask well, how do we get people to trust us again, right? And, and I think that that’s, that’s not necessarily the best way to, to tackle that issue, um, because I don’t think it’s about getting people to trust you again like the way that they did in the ’70s or whatever. Um, it’s about how do we understand the shifting nature of what trust means, right? And, um, you know, again using, like, uh, you know, an analogy of like social media, like, part of what makes social media social media is, you know, at least among, among individuals, it’s like on Instagram, I’ll like your post more if I see that you’re liking my posts more, right? Like, that’s kind of how it works, um, because there’s, there’s a presence and a conversation, right? It’s like, oh, this person is interested in what, in, in what I’m saying. Um, if this person’s interested in what I’m saying, I’m going to be interested in why they’re interested in what I’m saying and so, therefore, I’m interested in what they’re saying, right? Um, and, and, and that’s different than just kind of, you know, going to a well of information and just drawing from it, you know-

Suse Anderson:                    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adriel Luis:                             … and, uh, and, and then, and then having to, like, then evaluate without conversing with that source, um, you know, what it is that I can trust and what it is that I, that I, that I can’t, right? If I question something, um, there, like, where, where’s the room for me to process that, you know, like, uh, in the museum space? And I think that that’s, that’s hard to find, and then so people, you know, even if they’re getting their information from institutions, they’re processing it with their, with their friends and eventually, they’re just kind of, like, oh, well, I can just ask my friends in the first place because they’ll, they’ll talk back.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, so Adriel, I mean do you ever think about or envision what it would like to the sector if museums put complete trust into their publics, and, and, and never think about, like, how the museum practice would change if that were the case?

Adriel Luis:                             Um, yeah, they’re like culture labs.

Suse Anderson:                    (Laughs)

Adriel Luis:                             I mean, but, but here’s the thing, though. I don’t, I don’t … I’m not trying to replace anything. I think that that like people generally, you know, that’s the fear with digital, you know, like, people are worried that, like, well if, if you do a digital exhibition then, you know, no one’s ever going to look at a thing again. And it’s, like, no, we’re just looking at more options, right? And so right now, um, exhibitions have the monopoly on how people experience objects and art, um, and so we’re just kind of thinking, you know, and I think that there’s def-, you know, it’s not like I go into museums and every exhibition I go to I’m, like, this would have been better if it was a culture lab. I wish I could draw on this right now, you know? It’s, like, it’s not necessarily like that. You know, like I think there’s-

Suse Anderson:                    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adriel Luis:                             … There’s definitely a lot to be said about exhibitions. They are important, important formats that I think, um, you know, it is good in many circumstances to have someone who has thoroughly researched something and is providing, um, you know, their opinion even if framed as fact. Like, I, I see the value in it. I’m not trying to kill that, so I just want to make that clear, but um, I, I, I do think that there is something to be said about offering another way, you know, and, and when I was in Hong Kong, uh, in 2014 for the, uh, for the uprising, um, that was one of the, the first situations that I encountered where I was, like, wow, this is really … What organic, you know, curating with trust is. Because there was no chief curator of this occupation, but there were installations everywhere. There were sculptures, there were, um, posters, um, you know, people were making art live. There, there was, you know, there were workshops happening and all of it was, um, telling a story in a very concise and tight way, right?

And, um, and, and because nobody was trying to say that this was a great exhibition or that this is something that, you know, like museums should do, like that, just that, that, the, the limitations that you get once you bring that into the, into the, um, mind space just wasn’t there. But I got everything that I w-, all I ever wanted to get from all the other past times I had gone to Hong Kong and and left museums unsatisfied, I found there was local art. I had a sense of, like, what society there wanted to be. I had a sense of what society had been and, and is. You know, I was, I was entertained. I was, you know, there, there were certain things amazed me. I had moments where I was, like, how did they do that? You know, like all that stuff. And, and, and, and I also got a very accurate understanding of at least how society sees itself, you know, which is very different from-

Suse Anderson:                    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adriel Luis:                             … you know, and I, I would argue is no less accurate than how the state or, or whatever, whatever kind of institution sees, um, you know, the, the subject matter as.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah, just, I’m just curious. How, how do you refer to the non-APA entities that are involved with culture lab? Is it public? Is it audience? Is it community? Is it … Do you, do you, do you have some type of ethos when, when dealing with, non, uh, museum or center, um, participants?

Adriel Luis:                             Um, not really.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Okay.

Adriel Luis:                             Um, I mean, I think that’s actually been something that I been kind of wrestling with.

Suse Anderson:                    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adriel Luis:                             Like right now we’re writing our manifesto for the culture labs because eventually we’re going to, uh, we, we want this to be a model that, that other museums and organizations feel empowered to adopt-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah.

Adriel Luis:                             … um, at any scale. Like, we work with over 40-50 artists, but you could do a culture lab with three artists as long as you pay them and there’s local representation and you’re thinking intersectionally, you know, and so.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Right.

Adriel Luis:                             It’s like, um, you know, I’m … But we’re writing this manifesto and, and there’s certain segments where we’re thinking about, like, the institution, um, the artists, the art-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adriel Luis:                             … um, you know, the other kinds of participants that are, like, curated. But then when it comes to, like, the people who come into the space and engage with the stuff, like, sometimes I’ll call them users. Sometimes I’ll call them visitors. Sometimes I’ll call them the public. Um, I’m not really happy with any of those terms quite yet. Um, and so that’s something that I’m still kind of figuring out.

Suse Anderson:                    Well, I mean, in some ways you always made a term that crosses the intersectionality of their roles as well. You know, I mean, this is that people aren’t just one role even when they come into the museum, not just at a personal level, but even, you know, if we’re talking about someone who comes as a visitor but then becomes a participant, you know, throughout, there is also, I, I think that’s one of the things that we do in museums is we often have ways of thinking about our audiences or publics or visitors and even that do not themselves … They relegate them to one role whereas they’re not actually one thing even within one visit, and even at the same time within that visit. So even sort of the way the museum thinks about who its publics or participants are, there’s a, there’s a narrowing or a blanking of how we think, like, we think that down as opposed to broadening that out.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah, yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    Adriel, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for coming onto Museopunks and sharing with us the work that you do.

Adriel Luis:                             Yeah, this was super fun to talk about, and I know we’re just scratching the surface, and so I’m so excited just to hear who else you have on this series. Um, I’ll definitely be, be tuning in.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Awesome, and so, Adriel, if, um, if the listeners want to stay in touch, um, uh, follow your work with culture labs, um, where can they do that on the internet?

Adriel Luis:                             Um, so, um, I would say that the dashboard would be SmithsonianAPA.org. Um, and that’s also Smithsonian APA is also our, our user name on, um, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Um, and then for myself personally, it’s Drzzl with no vowels, so D-r-z-z-l. Um, it’s Drzzl.com for the website, and then I’m on, um, I’m, I’m on Twitter and Instagram kind of, um, I’ve been, I’ve been getting, like, worse at social, but, you know, I’m, I’m still around, um-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      (Laughs) It’s all good. It’s all good. Uh, thanks so much, Adriel, uh, for, for, uh, speaking with us today. It was, it was awesome.

Adriel Luis:                             Great, thank you. Thank you so much.

(Music)

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Okay, Suse, uh, a lot to digest there in, uh, from those guests.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah, a huge amount to digest. It feels so nice to be doing this show again and I have just remembered how stimulating these conversations are. Uh, you sort of forget, I think, uh, when you’ve had some time away from it just how interesting and how meaty these subjects are and how great it is to talk with really thoughtful people-

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah.

Suse Anderson:                    … about them.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Uh, you know, I really feel like Fari and Adriel kind of hit all, all sides of this issue, um, kind of balanced sides really, um, kind of strong inquiry into, into this concept of trust and how museums can, um, can start to operate in, in, in this, in this space. So, um, yeah, and I’m going to be, like you, I’m going to be thinking about this quite a bit over the next couple weeks.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah, I’d also really love to keep talking to people about it. I know that I will be reaching our to Adriel and to Fari online. They’ve both given their Twitter handles and will obviously drop those into the show notes as well. But if people want to find us on the internet so that they can continue talking to us about this issue, where can they do it?

Jeffrey Inscho:                      All the show notes for this episode can be found at Museopunks.org and you can tweet at us at Museopunks. Um, I think we both want to also send out a really big thank you to the American Alliance of Museums for, um, lighting the fire again.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah, absolutely. We are now officially presented by the American Alliance of Museums and it is such a great pleasure to be back on the, uh, digital airways so to speak. But I think also within that, we should give a special thanks to Liz Neely and Rob Stein for helping make this new season of Museopunks happen.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah, definitely, and with a new season comes a new graphic design for, uh, for, for Twitter and the website and, um, really just another shout-out to, um, Selena Robleto for, uh, the, the amazing graphic work she did for, for the, uh, reboot of Season Two. Uh, so definitely thank you.

Suse Anderson:                    Absolutely. I’m really excited. I’m hoping we can get T-shirts or something so that I can be wearing this logo everywhere.

Jeffrey Inscho:                      Yeah, sounds good. Well, Suse, this is the first episode of Season Two in the can and I, uh, I really look forward to, to, to next, uh, next episode.

Suse Anderson:                    Yeah, me too, Jeffrey. It has been so much fun and I can’t wait to speak to you for the next episode of Museopunks.

Guests

Dr. fari nzinga
fari nzinga was born and raised in Boston, MA and graduated with a B.A. from Oberlin College in 2005. Fari earned both her M.A. and Ph.D in Cultural Anthropology from Duke University. Having lived in New Orleans since 2009, her dissertation explored Black-led, community-based institutions using art and culture to help achieve their social justice missions, as well as the political-economic landscape in which they operate. For two years she worked as the Public Policy Officer at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), where she attempted to facilitate institutional transformation around issues of transparency, access, inclusion and equity. Currently, fari is an Adjunct Professor of Museum Studies at Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO) — one of only 2 Historically Black Colleges and Universities to house a masters-level Museum Studies program in the U.S. fari tweets @fari_nzinga.
Read fari’s thoughts on public trust and art museums

Adriel Luis
Adriel Luis is a self-taught musician, poet, curator, coder, and visual artist who believes imagination is key to transforming cultural paradigms. As the Curator of Digital and Emerging Media at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, he is focused on exploring intersectional identities in the U.S. and contemporary Asian diasporic art. He is also a part of the iLL-Literacy arts collective, and sometimes moonlights on design projects with various artists and non-profits. Adriel frequently travels to different parts of Asia with particular interest in how digital space shapes global communities, and how varying levels of freedom of expression.

Show Notes

Public Trust and Art Museums | The Incluseum
https://incluseum.com/2016/11/29/public-trust-and-art-museums/

Anna Julia Cooper | Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_J._Cooper

Visitors of Color
http://visitorsofcolor.tumblr.com/

bell hooks | Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_hooks

Createquity
http://createquity.com/

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center
http://smithsonianapa.org/

Crosslines: A Culture Lab on Intersectionality
http://smithsonianapa.org/crosslines/

The public puts great trust in museums, and now it’s time museums trust the public | Smithsonian.com
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/public-puts-great-trust-museums-and-now-its-time-museums-trust-public-180959237/

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Museopunks is a podcast for the progressive museum. Every month, co-hosts Jeffrey Inscho and Suse Anderson investigate the fascinating work and personalities in and around the museum sector. The pair explore some of the sector’s most stimulating questions, institutions, and practices, with a focus on emergent, boundary-pushing work and ideas.

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Museopunks is presented by the American Alliance of Museums.

All Museopunks published material is released as Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

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The ‘Punks

Jeffrey Inscho. Photo by Joshua FranzosJeffrey Inscho
Jeffrey is a museopunk and cultural hacktivist based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. His work plays thoughtfully at the intersection of digital culture, mindfulness, strategic subversion and DIY.

Jeffrey currently runs the Studio, a nexus of design, development and workflow at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. He has previously held positions at The Andy Warhol Museum, Carnegie Mellon University and the Mattress Factory. Jeffrey tweets @jinscho.

Suse Cairns Anderson HeadshotSuse Anderson
For close to a decade, Suse has explored the intersection of technology and culture, with a focus on the impact of digital technologies on the museum. She is currently Assistant Professor, Museum Studies at The George Washington University, where she teaches courses on museums and digital technology, social media, and visitor experience. She holds a PhD (Creative Arts) and a BFA (Hons – 1st class, Faculty Medal), both from The University of Newcastle, Australia, and a BArts (Comms – Journalism) from Charles Sturt University.

Since moving from Australia to Baltimore in 2014, Suse has fallen in love with the city she now calls home. You should visit her there one day, or connect with her on Twitter.