Farewell BMA, Hello GWU!

Today marks 808 days since I moved to the USA to join the staff at The Baltimore Museum of Art. It was by far one of the best things I’ve ever done. Living in Baltimore and working at the BMA has expanded my perspectives–personal and professional–and highlighted the limitations of my prior experiences, which were ultimately pretty narrow. While a lot of what I understood about museums and their social role was on the right track, I now have a more nuanced understanding about the complexities and financial and structural constraints of these institutions. But I also have a lot of questions, and have not carved out nearly enough time to address them.

With that in mind, I’m pleased to announce that from next week, I will be an Assistant Professor in the Museum Studies Program at The George Washington University. In my new role, I will teach graduate-level classes focused on museums and technology. I am super excited about the opportunity to return to research and teaching, and to again participate in the discourse about contemporary museums.

Of course, this new role means that I am no longer at the BMA. I’ll miss it. The staff there are smart and dedicated, and I learned so much from collaborating with colleagues across the institution. One of my greatest joys was working closely with Visitor Services–an enthusiastic team of emerging professionals, whom have shown consistent initiative and intelligence in helping create better experiences for our visitors. Additionally, the BMA is entering an exciting time, with a new director coming on board next week. During the brief interactions I’ve had with him, I’ve become confident that under his direction this is a museum to watch, and I cannot wait to see how the institution continues to develop.

For now, however, my focus will turn towards educating our sector’s emerging and future professionals. Which prompts a question: what do you most want emerging professionals to understand about technology, and its impact on museums?

I can’t wait to hear from you.

PS: To mark my speedy trip through Australia, I’m having an impromptu Sydney-based #drinkingaboutmuseums tomorrow night, 6pm August 10, at Rabbit Hole. We’re also hosting a #drinkingaboutmuseums in Baltimore on August 23 at Brew House No. 16. If you’re in either city, drop by! It would be great to meet up to talk museums and more.

10 thoughts on “Farewell BMA, Hello GWU!

  1. Good luck in your new job Suse!

    To answer your question, at least partly: The one thing I hope my students take away when I teach them about the role between digital media, technology and cultural heritage, is that they understand technology is not neutral, and that they use it consciously to have a positive impact on the organisations they’re working in, the communities they’re working with and their own personal development.

    Curious to hear what others think.

    1. That’s really useful feedback, Jasper. Do you address the values of the people working with technology, and how they might sometimes be at odds with other aspects of museum practice? I’m thinking in particular of Courtney Johnston’s 2015 post, which proposes that “those of us who have come of age as museum tech professionals have a unique set of values and approaches to our work that can form the bedrock of the modern museum.”

      Do you find your students generally accepting of the idea that technology is not neutral?

      1. Good luck in your new adventure Suse! (not that you’ll need it)

        I think “technology” as a concept is neutral, but the actual technology we use in our day-to-day lives is very much not. It was designed by someone with their own values and ideas about how the world does and should work. In my experience, people have a difficult time separating the overarching concept of technology from the reality of their iPhone. They do not think about how their tech is designed to drive them toward specific behaviors that may or may not actually be in their own best interest. I would require that students read criticisms of tech at least as much as they learn how to use it practically.

        Some suggestions:

        – Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or Be Programmed (bad title, good book) or Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus.
        – Whatever essays from Evgeny Morozov you can stomach (he’s very polemic in style, but often insightful).
        – This transcript of Maciej Cegłowski about The Moral Economy of Tech from the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics conference a couple months ago http://idlewords.com/talks/sase_panel.htm

        My own suggestion (not reacting to Jasper’s) is to get above the practical level of technology a little and more into the cultural and cognitive theories, so that students understand that technology isn’t just a magic wand that we wave over problems. Right now the best suggestion I can come up with is work by Ian Bogost: Alien Phenomenology or Persuasive Games. Computer scientist and former Apple designer, Brett Victor, is also worth paying attention to only because he has such deep insights into how computing technology can and does impact human cognitive patterns, and he’s so optimistic about it’s potential but very realistic about what we have at our disposal now and how it came to be so limited. He pushes out an essay or a video of a presentation once in a while that is always worth your time (https://twitter.com/worrydream).

      2. @matt, thank you! Really good comment. I’m still trying to get the balance right between talking about technology generally, and its relationship to the museum specifically, but I agree that tech criticism is important. One of my main aims is to get people thinking critically both about the museum, and about technology. I haven’t come across a few of the readings/thinkers you’ve noted, so I’ll go and explore them now. I feel like I’ve got a good couple of years of thinking to catch up on now that I’m back in a university…

    1. Cheers Nik! Fortunately we have a whole subject addressing museums and social media, so hopefully we can explore that topic in depth. Of course, I still need to get the balance right between theory and practice, but that’s something I can work to correct over time if I don’t get it right first go. Is there anything you’d emphasize within that topic area in particular?

  2. Hi Suse,

    Congratulations and good luck!

    Re technology, I’d say that it’s a medium just like anything else, and like any other medium, it won’t replace creativity or fix poorly thought through ideas. You still need to work out what you’re trying to say, and who you’re trying to say it to, before you get too far down the “how” route.

  3. All the best in your new job! Exciting. Love reading your blog, long time reader first time commenter. I used to work in NGV multimedia department, and found your posts very informative and inspiring. I now work on my art practice and create digital promos for artists. All your insights informing the work I create for others. I look forward to your future posts Thanks again Best Vanessa

  4. Enjoy ya next gig and I look forward to reading about it.

    If I could make two suggestions about tech it is to simply DO stuff with technology – observe others, try new things and try not to dismiss something just because you currently have an alternative.

    Second, yes the tech world seems to move quickly BUT there are long term directions that are actually gradual so don’t fret that you can’t keep up. It took 20 yrs for tablets to finally break into the mainstream. VR has been around since the 80s and is still super niche but eventually it or tech like it will be adopted so keep an eye out.

    I try to think “what tech/impact on culture will be around in 30yrs that we can start to prepare for now – ia, voice recognition, huge digtal use etc. Find me online if you want to ask more anytime folks

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