What I'm Up To
With the advice of some of my most trusted friends and museum colleagues in mind, I decided to change the Greater Phoenix Emerging Museum Professionals facebook page to a facebook group, named Arizona Emerging Museum Professionals. I was hoping to achieve three things:
1. Less authority from the administrator and more input and discussion from group members (with a facebook page, only an administrator can post; everyone's suggested posts show up sort of to the side and not in the same 'stream of consciousness' as the administrator's posts)
2. More social opportunities for members to meet each other (there are so many amazing museum events, and the emerging professionals who work across a variety of institutions now have a place to post their events and learn about others' events)
3. Keep the conversation going, even when I'm not talking (more people regularly posting and zero wait-time to approve posts and comments means the conversation doesn't depend on me-or any administrator-to be actively participating)
Now, my next challenge is just to get all the (almost) 400 members of the original facebook page to migrate over to the group. . . and to think of my next great #museumsquad meme.
When I found out Western Museums Association was hosting their annual conference in Phoenix in 2016, I was excited to get involved. Their team of conference planners has an excellent reputation and the conference itself is a 'must' for museum professionals (who, as a reminder, struggle with limited budgets for professional development). I was honored to be involved in two ways: as a liaison for the Greater Phoenix Emerging Professionals chapter, and as a moderator for a session titled We Are The Change: Mentors and Peers.
The panelists and I all had some relationship to mentoring in museums - for my part, I run a peer-to-peer mentor program among volunteers at the Musical Instrument Museum. Learning from the panelists in the months leading up to the conference and our session was eye-opening and fun. Our session represented everything from formal mentorships, to the informal ones created out of happy hours and a common sense of struggle, to alumni networks that keep old classmates in touch as they take new jobs.
As a moderator, I was also responsible for pulling together the various presentation elements from my new museum friends and submitting it via the proper channels. It was an exercise in diplomatic 'managing of my peers.'
Check out what fun we had!
Since getting involved in the Greater Phoenix Emerging Museum Professionals (EMPs) group in 2014, I have learned so much. So. Much. Recently I was asked by the National Emerging Museum Professionals Network to contribute to their first-ever annual report, on behalf of the Phoenix group. It prompted me to reflect a little more closely on my own contributions to the Phoenix network. Check out these stats from 2015:
I was drawn to this opportunity, to lead the Greater Phoenix EMP group, for three main reasons:
There were also some elements to this new role that I wasn’t expecting:
I had so much fun with the STEM Pro Live! team from the Maricopa County Educational Services Agency (McESA), who approached my museum, the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), to shoot a webisode on-site featuring someone whose job involves science. My background is in science – Biological Sciences – and my previous jobs in informal education have been science-focused. When I took my current position at MIM, I was tasked with building on our existing “Science of Sound” materials. Fast forward a couple of years and I’ve since created, piloted, and implemented a comprehensive STEM + Music program that includes field trips for grades 3-8, online educator resources for grades 3-8 to complement the pre-existing MS/HS set, as well as professional development for teachers.
The webisode streamed live at the end of January to 60 or so preregistered classrooms and now lives on their website for teachers to access anytime. It was fun and slightly outside of my comfort zone – since it was prerecorded and (sort of) scripted. The live portion was also so early in the morning, I saw the sunrise for the first time since the 1990s.
Thoughts I had while working on my webisode of STEM Pro Live!:
And finally. . .
My fun, interactive approach to object-based learning for novices
“Object-based learning” is a phrase uttered time and time again in museums. What it basically means is to use the museum’s collections (i.e. what’s on display) to teach concepts. Teach from what you (and the guests) can see. Why is object-based learning useful? Here are three reasons:
Sounds simple enough. But, as a tenet of good museum education practices, it’s sometimes surprisingly hard to do. It can be especially challenging for new docents or tour guides, particularly if they’ve never worked or taught in museums before. I love a good challenge and, as such, I’ve gathered a series of links and discussion points to help new docents or tour guides get comfortable with object-based learning. I use these materials in a larger set of activities over a four-hour session for training new tour guides. Enjoy!
TOOLKIT | Warm-up materials to share beforehand:
TOOLKIT | Discussion prompts:
TOOLKIT | I always kick off the discussion with a personal example:
Close your eyes and picture a plate. Now, picture a decorated plate. Is it very detailed? Are the colors bright? How about those collectible plates depicting blockbuster movies or the holiday-themed ones? Reflect silently: What comes to your mind when you picture those plates? Now, open your eyes.
Whenever I see a decorated, antique, or collectible plate, I never think of food. Instead, I think of my grandmother. She collects plates and hangs them on every available wall space in her kitchen. As a child, I liked visiting her and seeing if I could pick out any of the new plates she’d added since my last visit. We hardly ever spoke about the plates, but they are indelibly etched in my mind simply as “what Grandma’s House looks like.” So, if I see a collectible plate for sale or turn one over in my hands at a thrift store, I am immediately transported back to her tiny, cozy kitchen and her dozens of wall-mounted plates.
How is my impression of a collectible plate different than yours?
I take time to discuss each of the examples (Historical Cooties, then the Pope's Fiat). I invite them to react to both items and then highlight how the group's reactions were different or similar for each. Then, I share my personal example. The resulting conversations are always entertaining and insightful. As a facilitator, I don't steer the conversation. I simply let it flow, reinforcing or repeating the responses I get in a slightly different way, to keep the discussion going. This discussion usually lasts about 15-20 minutes.
For the second year in a row, I was lucky enough to get to ring in the new year with some amazing new friends and emerging museum professionals. As the program coordinator for the Greater Phoenix Emerging Museum Professionals, it's up to me to plan events, meet-ups, and programs. Since I've taken over the Greater Phoenix EMP's, I've learned a lot and every time I plan an event, I am amazed and humbled all over again by the quality of those emerging professionals in my field.
This year's Happy New Year Happy Hour was at OHSO Brewery in Arcadia and there were some new faces and some old friends. The conversation was even better than the guac (which is really saying something, because that guac is incredible). Thanks for making working in AZ museums so much fun, you guys! Can't wait for more fun in 2016!
During summer 2015, I was selected to be a member of the second class of Manifesto Project-AZ apprentices. Manifesto Project-AZ has a mission to connect millennial professionals to partner organizations as non-voting board members.
From the Manifesto Project-AZ's facebook page
I was paired with the Booker T. Washington Child Development Center in Phoenix (in the East Lake Park neighborhood). It's a Head Start program in Arizona for preschool-age children and their families. What have my takeaways been so far?
So far, it's been an invaluable learning experience and I've learned that their mission, supporting families in the East Lake Park neighborhood, is one that I'm passionate about.
2015 was a year to remember. Professionally, I had a lot of firsts. I supervised an intern for the first time. I wrote my first resignation letter. I joined my first non-profit Board. I spoke to a college Museum Studies class. I took 6Sigma (process improvement) training. I coordinated and moderated a panel of speakers at a museum conference. I collaborated with educators from another museum to create a volunteer training session. I took CPR Training (my "practice dummy" lived, thanks to my fast-acting efforts to revive her!). Developed pre-Kindergarten programs for the first time.
I could not be more proud of "2015 Niki." She's a busy, driven person. But, I can't expect "2016 Niki" to out-do her by simply doing more. No. Instead, I hope to use the momentum from my first few years in the museum field as a springboard into 2016. This will be my fifth year working at the same institution and my eighth year in museums. It's no longer about checking things off my "firsts" list.
Actress Emma Stone said something along the lines of, "you get to this point in your career, where you don't feel like you just have to take every little thing that comes your way. You get to pick and choose and something amazing happens: you get to begin to do your own thing." Far from pick my own roles as an award-winning actress, I still relate to that idea, at its core.
When I first began working in museums, I was desperate to prove myself - I said "yes" to every project, joined every association, took on every extra-curricular activity I could because I knew I just needed to get myself out there. But somewhere along the way, I began to learn what I was good at, and what I was better at and, most importantly, what I really love and how I can really do the most good in my field.
In 2016, I hope to do what I really love - and to be as present and focused as possible while doing it.
Niki Cuccinotto is the Museum Guide & Curriculum Coordinator at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. She also volunteers at Liberty Wildlife Rehabilitation Foundation in Scottsdale, as well as the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center in Phoenix. She is active in the Greater Phoenix Emerging Museum Professionals as well as the Museum Association of Arizona. She is also a professional member of the American Alliance of Museums.