Friday, May 21, 2010


Today I met with a guy who had a $100,000 check in his pocket.  He is the DIA's new grant writer.

We met to discuss what kind of program information grant writers find useful when applying for grants.  As it turns out, the kind of information that would actually be useful is information that I will be unable to provide in my (now) 6 weeks at the DIA.  Awesome.

While it was somewhat frustrating to learn that my project will be less than helpful in the grant application process, it was still a very interesting meeting with David.  He gave me a great outline of the kind of information needed when writing grants.  Even if I am unable to gather that information during my internship, I think it is still valuable to know about.

One of the biggest things we talked about was "impact".  David cited this as being the most important thing to potential funders.  It is also the most difficult thing for museums to measure.  The kind of impact he is referring to are the long-term results of the program.

David described three kinds of results: short term, mid term and long term. 

Short term results involve things like customer service, visitor experience, and meaningful interpretations and tours.  The short term result of those things is a positive museum experience, or the visitor just having a positive feeling about the museum.
(Measurable with visitor surveys, etc.)

Mid term results spawn from short term results and involve things like visitors buying museum membership packages or any change in the visitors actions as a result of their feelings about the museum.
(Measurable by counting the # of memberships sold, etc.)

Long term results involve a social, environmental, or economic change in the community.
(Measurable... not at all.)

Grant writers want to be able to tell funders that "This program has improved children's critical thinking skills" or "This program has made the community more environmentally conscious".  But it is still difficult for museums to measure those kinds of things.  It seems that kind of long-term evaluation has yet to be perfected and implemented.

Either way, I really enjoyed meeting with David, as he had a lot of excellent insights.  However, while I did win Dixie's grant-writing contest last fall, and I would love to walk around with $100,000 checks in my pocket... I don't think grant writing is for me.

The DIA is the Best Museum in the World. Here's Why:

I heard a quote today that supposedly comes from the director of the DIA.  It would never hold up in court, and would be classified as "hearsay" but I think it's an important quote-- regardless of who actually said it.

The DIA is the best museum in the world.  It is even better than the Louvre.  It's the best museum in the world because not only do we attract 500,000 visitors every year, but we do it in Detroit.  Getting 500,000 people to venture into downtown Detroit these days is no small feat.  It's easy to get 500,000 people to go to the Louve, The Smithsonian, or The Met-- people are already IN those thriving cities.  People stumble into The Met because they're already vacationing in New York, and need to kill an afternoon.  People come to the DIA because they have chosen to travel to the DIA based on its superior reputation in collections and programming.  And that's why the DIA is the greatest museum in the world.
I have to say... I don't disagree.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Everywhere, a Sign

One of the best things about working at the DIA is that during my lunch break, or heck, even on my way to the parking lot, I get to walk through the museum galleries and visit some of the most amazing art in the universe.  I've been making it a point to see a different gallery every day.  Today, after lunch, I took a little stroll through the Egyptian gallery-- a long time favorite of mine.

As I was gawking at mummies and canopic jars, I saw this sign next to one of the cases:

Yes!  What do BCE and CE mean??  I mean, I know what they mean, but I have an anthropology degree so I know all kinds of bizarre things.  I gloss over these terms without a thought, while much of the general public may get hung up on them, as they are not terribly common in our everyday language.  I think this is a great method-- explaining not only the art, but the terms used to interpret the art.  Brilliant.

Since its reinstallation, the DIA has made use of some awesome interpretive methods-- many of which seem brilliant in their simplicity and effortless in their execution. 

My favorite of these methods may be the DIA's use of text panels.  I know, text panels.  I personally, find text panels to be generally uninspired and downright dull.  I rarely read them.  That's why the DIA is brilliant in their creation of wall texts that you don't have to read!  It's true! 

There are one or more text panels mounted in every gallery, and they all look something like this one from the Egyptian gallery:

It's a little difficult to see because I wasn't using a flash on my camera.  To the right is your typical text, talking about what kinds of objects are typically found in Egyptian tombs.  But if you look to the left, you see an image with the word "EGYPTIAN" over it.  Every text panel throughout the Egyptian galleries looks exactly like this one.  They all have the same image on the left, and they all say "EGYPTIAN" down the side.

Here's why I think it's brilliant:

1.) It requires almost no reading.  I don't have to read all of that text to know where I am and what I'm looking at.

2.) It unifies the galleries.  As another part of the DIA's reinstallation, all of the gallery space was divided into smaller galleries because visitors reported being overwhelmed by the large, traditional halls.  Thus, the many smaller rooms make it difficult to keep track of what gallery you're in.  These panels, present in every gallery room, keep these smaller sections unified under one larger theme.

3.) I read a few, and they're actually very interesting and accessible.  I may need to state that I do not have an background in Art or Art History, thus I read these text panels like a visitor would, and I found them all to have genuinely interesting information that was easy to understand without seeming overly simplified. 

4.) They are sufficient.  There is little else on the walls, except art.  One of these panels in each gallery goes a long way.

Here are some other examples of the great text panels that are now in every DIA gallery:

Inspired by Italy                              Ancient Greek & Roman

Renaissance                                               Modern

American                                               African


Of course, there are others genres that I did not have a chance to capture this afternoon.  It must also be pointed out that all of the art falling under these headings is displayed together.  In other words, there is no heading for "American Painting" or "American Sculpture".  Everything that is American is in the same place.  American furniture, silverware, paintings, marble busts... all in the American gallery, identifiable by the text panel in every room.

What struck me the most was how simple this seems.  Why didn't they do this sooner?  Why isn't every museum in the world organized like this? 

It is deceptively simple.  It seems like all they did was put up new text panels and the collections were immediately more accessible to the visitor.  But the DIA was not always organized this way.  In fact, the museum was shut down for a number of years while everything was reorganized-- all of the European art needed to be grouped together, as did the other, less obvious categories like "Inspired by Italy", etc.

But I think this reorganization was well worth the trouble.  While I was meandering around the galleries this afternoon, I stopped to visit one of my favorite paintings in the entire museum.

I love this painting.  I love the bird, I love the baby, I love the laughing lady, I love the other lady's hat-- I love it all.  So I was pleased when I turned the corner and stumbled upon it.  Then I realized that I wasn't sure what gallery I was in.  I stopped, looked around and actually muttered to myself, "...are we still calling this 'modern'...?"  No sooner did I realize I was talking to myself in a public place, when I turned and saw this on the wall to my left:

I couldn't even read the text from where I was standing, but I had seen this panel in previous galleries.  I knew that Vincent represented modern art, and was thus instantly oriented to the type of art I was seeing.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I Can't Believe I'm Enjoying Data Entry

I've been doing a lot of data entry the past few days.  But let me say this: data entry is not as mind-numbing when you're actually interested in the data itself.  I've been entering all of the programs from the past two fiscal years into categories for the AAMD mapping project.  My categories are things like schools, colleges/universities, religious, cultural, senior citizens, human services, libraries, businesses, corporate events, etc.

For me, it's been interesting to see where the majority of the groups are coming from.  So far, it's been a lot of Royal Oak, Farmington Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Dearborn and Detroit.  I expected more Grosse Pointe, but am happy to see the number of Detroit Public Schools that have visited the museum over the past two years.

Yesterday, I sat in on a department meeting, which was very interesting.  Apparently, the evaluation department is lumped into the human resources department at the DIA, forming something called "Organization Development and Human Resources" or ODHR.  That's where I work.  Now, because of this, I learned a lot about evaluation during our department meeting-- which I did not expect.

At the end of the semester, I worked on an evaluation project for the Harn Museum and I really enjoyed it.  Also, being in other meetings and hearing about visitor surveys has really piqued my interest in museum evaluation.

Apparently, the DIA has not always made evaluation a top priority, but in recent years, it has really taken off.  These days, every school group that comes into the museum gets a yellow envelope (reminiscent of end-of-the-semester evaluations) full of evaluations that both teachers and students complete before leaving the museum.  I didn't ask about it, but the amount of information collected from these surveys must be enormous.

Next week, I will be assisting with another type of evaluation-- an "employee engagement survey".  I'll be monitoring a few laptop computers in the Kresge court, where employees can take a survey about working at the DIA.  For some reason, it never occurred to me that satisfaction surveys could be internal.

I also learned that much of what the evaluation department does is dictated by grants.  And on that note, I'm happy to report that I'll be meeting with the DIA's brand new grant writer later this week.  He's a really nice guy and I'm excited to talk to him about writing grants.  I think I could find a niche for myself in grant writing, but we are meeting to discuss another project I'm working on (the creation of extended program summaries).  Sondra is concerned with making the program summaries into a resource that will be useful in grant applications and other campaigns.  Thus, I need to talk to the grant writer about what kind of program information would be useful in grants, etc.

On another note, I understand that the museum galleries and collections need to be kept and a stable temperature and RH, but is it really necessary for our office to be 40 degrees?  I am not a painting, and I don't enjoy sitting directly beneath an A/C vent.

But so far that is my only complaint about my internship at the DIA... so I guess things could be a lot worse.