Only Idiots Listen to Bob Dylan

I was planning to write something over the weekend about my mentors, mentoring others, and the generational divide in the workplace.  Instead, there is this.  There will be something less ridiculous and less fake-angry some other time.

There is a big generation of people who ought to, by now, be leaving the workplace so people like myself have greater opportunities.  Somehow, though, they just won’t leave.  I need the money, they say.  I am still doing the job, they say.  I’m experienced, they say.  I am still cool, they say.  So I’m going to give you a couple of tips I’ve picked up along the way to help you help these people go away.

Tell everyone around you that Wings is much better than the Beatles.  Sing Wings songs loudly to support this notion.  The world needs more silly love songs.

Insinuate JFK, RFK, and MLK had it coming to them.  Insist the world would be exactly the same had they never existed.

Write a letter to your newspaper every summer when they do their usual, annual “we remember Woodstock” article, and clearly articulate how Woodstock was practically a genocidal disaster, nothing but mud and people who would later claim to have been on drugs.  Explain how it’s ridiculous how anyone could think singing loud anywhere would actually stop a war or secure the logistics to feed a large group of young people.  Expose the many liars who claim to have attended Woodstock, all seven million of them that you know personally.

Say “Bob Dylan was an idiot” as often as you can.  Say it on the phone over your lunch hour.  Say it on your break.  Get a T-shirt made that says this and wear it on “dress down” day.

NEW DATE: Meetup for Drinking About Museums: Friday June 8

Alight, so life as a multi-tasking, juggling GenXer gets a little complicated. I’m the teaching assistant for an MBA class at University of Berkeley Haas School of Business, and I have class on Thursday nights!

New date for #DrinkingAboutMuseums: Friday, June 8.

So, if you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, and you’d like to come hang out and talk social media or GenX or museums or anything like that, please join me on Friday, June 8 at 4 p.m. at the Bay Area Discovery Museum. We’ll take an after-hours tour, check out our new Patrick Dougherty willow sculpture, then head over to the Presidio Yacht Club for a tasty beverage or two with a view (don’t worry – it’s more dive bar than yacht club).

Let me know @ZeitgeistMama if you’re planning on coming so I can meet you – the Museum closes at 4pm so this is a private tour!

Gen X Loves Museums. Do Museums Love Us Back?

*Hat-tip to The Pinky Show for completing biting their title

I wrote a post for my blog, Cabinet of Curiosities, bemoaning the lack of racial diversity (for the lack of a better word) in museums, particularly in leadership positions. It’s not like I expected things to miraculously change in the two years since it was written, but I confess that in my heart of hearts burned the desire that the collective ship would have at least begun to recognize that it was hopelessly off-course and begun the process of righting itself.

But in keeping with my sailing theme, it seems that not only has the industry failed to find its way, it has been magnificently obstinate about remaining lost at sea. Expand diversity to include ethnic, gender and age differences, and it’s even worse.

Museums Need to Admit They Have Image Problems

My former museum gig involved (among way to many things to list here) sitting in a very public space and discussing educational programs, how they actually allow us to have art Kansas City (“Wow! I can’t believe this is the Midwest!”), and helping them find the bathroom (right next door). It was also a prime spot to observe visitors’ perceptions of that museum in particular and the industry in general.

I often heard variations of the following:

  • “I’m so glad to see you here.” This from black folks who appreciated the fact that I was in the building and operating in what seemed like a “professional” capacity (not food service, security, or maintenance.)
  • “Why is there nothing but old, white man art on the walls?”
  • “How come there’s no art by (insert ethnic/racial group here)?”
  • “I haven’t been here since the third grade. It just doesn’t feel like a place for me.”

The last bullet is particularly troubling. Why would someone feel this way? What vibe, overt or otherwise, is the museum projecting? Are museum leaders aware that people think this? Do they care?

Museums Need to Admit The World Has Changed

Much literal and virtual ink has been devoted to rapidly changing demographics, particularly in the United States.  It boils down to this: changes aren’t on the horizon, they are here. According to the U.S. Census Bureau:

  • U.S. population tripled during the last century, with the fastest growth among “minorities.”
  • In 2012, 50.4% of children in the U.S. under the age of 1 are of a “minority” group.
  • “Minorities” are expected to become the majority by 2042. Do the math, people. That’s 30 years.

Anyone who truly believes that the status quo can be sustained is misguided at best and delusional at worst. Your current and future visitors, students, and donors will expect to see themselves reflected in your trustees, staff, collections, and exhibitions. This may be a good time to revisit (or create) that diversity policy.

Museums Need to Admit They Give Gen X the Gas Face

The National Endowment for the Arts released a report called “Age and Arts Participation.” While it narrowed its focus on the Baby Boomers Cohort, their data showed that “Baby Busters” (defined as those born between 1966 – 1976) ranked second highest in art museum attendance. Obviously, you have fans in Gen X but as a whole you’re not checking for us, especially when it comes to hiring for leadership positions. If you want your museum to be truly progressive, consider the following:

  • Gen X is an untapped pool. We are highly educated, with 60% of us having some college education, yet we value experience as highly (if not more so) than formal education. We work more hours as a whole, love flexibility, and base our career choices on the potential for skill development and continuing education.
  • Gen X is your next board of trustees.  We are the most diverse generation alive, with less than two-thirds of its population reporting as White non-Hispanic. The U.S. Census reports that 29% of immigrants are aged 29 to 40.
  • Gen X is adaptable.  We are independent, adept at problem-solving and securing coalitions of the willing. While our foundation is in the early pre-information era, we came of age during the rise (and fall) of the dot-coms, and are well-versed in technological innovation. Connectivity is a key value, and given the proper due, we will become your biggest cheerleaders.

I  believe there’s more than enough room for Gen X at the table. Museums just have to offer us a seat.

A GenXSays Tribute to MCA / The Beastie Boys / Adam Yauch

Paige Dansinger says:

Let’s make a Beastie Boys tribute like you did the GenX “mixed-tape” .. Wonder if we are feeling collectively blue… Maybe each send in a favorite song Jen?

Netty’s Girl: Oh Georgie Girl you are the one… You really got your shit together o o o Georgie Girl you are so fine…
I named my best-ever dog Georgie Girl. She was a mastiff-lab and certainly saved my life a few times.. Georgie Girl was a real good dog. She was the one and her shit was together..

James Leventhal says:

I tried to think up a Beastie Boys song that means the most to me and what resonates is Brass Monkey.  Wait: Shake Your Rump…I mean, Sabotage.  And, y’know, so I took a moment to try and look up some lyrics to quote and a I realized a barely know a word.  Maybe like REM’s Murmur, it’s all about the feel.  The deep feeling.  It is all about creating a new sound for a now sound.  And where REM might have been a brilliant amalgam of several threads of mountain sounds of Appalachia, the Beastie Boys felt the concrete.  These are songs that make me feel greater than I am, transcendent.  Or, y’know what?  How about you just play all of Paul’s Boutique and let it roll…aw, man, take me back to 1989.  And this ain’t no joke.  This is about life and death, y’all. “If you can feel what I’m feeling then it’s a musical masterpiece. But if you can hear what I’m dealing with then that’s cool at least. What’s running through my mind comes through in my walk. True feelings are shown from the way that I talk. And this is me, y’all-I M.C., Y’all my name is M.C.A. and I still do what I please…”

Jennifer Caleshu says:

no sleep till brooklynI didn’t know I knew the Beasties so well until MCA died. Then I went back and realized I could quote verbatim all the lyrics on Licensed to Ill. And since I was 10 when it came out, it must have been through osmosis – I certainly didn’t buy the album when it was released (In 1987 I admit to Tiffany, Whitney Houston, Debbie Gibson and Belinda Carlisle!) But I went to an amazing summer camp (Four Winds Westward Ho) where the super-creative counselors came up with a skit called The Craftos singing “She’s Crafty“. And later I remember the senior boys singing “Candy! All I really want is candy! In the morning it’s candy! Cause in the evening it’s candy!” instead of “Girls!” And this kind of pop culture osmosis continued – of course through Sabotage (one of the best music videos ever) to inkjet printing a tshirt in 2005 for my newborn son that said “No Sleep Till Brooklyn!”

Jason B. Jones says:

The wackiness and creativity of the Beastie Boys always kept me enthralled. Especially the “incident” at 1994 MTV Video Music Awards – where Adam Yauch’s “uncle”, Nathaniel Hornblower, stormed onstage during the presentation of the Best Direction in a Video award (Sabotage had just lost):

Awesome. Afterward, Adam Yauch was apologetic . Stage storming rules, though – and it even happened in the GenX session at AAM. Wackiness and creativity abounded in their videos, too. Sabotage for one. Body Movin for another, and one of my faves. Enjoy!

Adrianne Russell says:

Three MC’s and One DJ:

An essential, no-frills, hip hop love letter.

Amparo Leyman says:

In my case the BB gave me, inherit the anthem:
you’ve got to fight for your right to party“, again the treasure to work to live…what a blessing…believe me, I fight a lot to got my right to party….
Sent from a club partying at the Bay Area

Where Have All The Rainbow Pooping Unicorns Gone?

 A recent post from the Future of Museums folks about The Future of History Museums made some suggestions about improving the field by cultivating certain audiences, and truth be told, it was mostly excellent.  Dan Spock’s suggestion that Baby Boomers needed to be cultivated as donors seemed like the “thing that didn’t belong.”
Right off the bat, I should warn you that my ears are up like an Irish Setter’s seeing a shotgun whenever anyone’s generation is mentioned.  I’m old on the scale of Gen X.  Being an older Gen X dude, I see some of my work in the field of museums as a bridge builder and while frustrated at times, I bear little in the way of real ill will against Baby Boomers.  Let’s get that out of the way, too.  One of the reasons I’ve been at all lucky enough to work in the magical kingdom of museums is that I have learned to speak the language of the Baby Boomers and understand what makes them tick.  Mostly they want to be forever young and be seen as cool.  They want to leave a legacy of visionary change.  Unfortunately, this love of youth they have has stunted my generation’s growth.  Here I am at a respectable age, once considered middle age, until a Baby Boomer decided 50-70 was middle age, leaving me…where?  When I was a kid, middle age was 35-55.  So what  happened?

Cultivating Baby Boomers or any other group as donors is more complex than you may think.  There are many facets to a robust development effort in any museum.  You want membership, high level donors, corporate support, foundation support, program support, bequests, angels, government support and admission dollars.  When you talk about cultivating any particular group, your challenge is identifying what it is they see as the benefit and making a connection with a real human relationship.  For many institutions cultivating Baby Boomers is a done deal.  Baby Boomers are the Trustees, the heads of the corporations, a great influence upon family foundations, high level donors of passion, and angels.  Baby Boomers are the people who are approaching these philanthropists, their generational peers. It’s already happening.  It’s not enough, and the appearance is that the long term prospect of successful development efforts depends mostly on something else.  So what is that?  Is it us?  I don’t think so.

Gen X folks are unlikely to be on a level playing field with Baby Boomers when they join boards or reach the Executive Director/CEO/President level of an organization.   We simply do not have the means to give at a level that commands respect.  In a culture of give, get, or get off, we aren’t holding our own.   If we gave according to our means, “until it hurts” like we ask people to do, our contributions wouldn’t make a dent in the widening fault line of an organizational budget.  Leadership, then, escapes us.  We think it’s us, and there’s something fucking wrong with us.  There’s something no one appreciates about Gen X, and it may be that so few of us have achieved a level of financial well-being befitting people of our awesomeness.

I have sat in a thousand development meetings, and nearly all of them have had the same familiar desperation.  One I was at fairly recently was an ungodly early meeting on a cold motorcycling morning with an uber smart Millenial in charge of the food.  As I sat there with no donuts, only some sort of things made out of sticks and twigs, I raged and raged inside.  I was hearing the same things, the exact same things,  now for ten years except now there weren’t even fucking donuts.  One of the Baby Boomers from the committee started in on the “we need to find a Champion” tune.  In Pennsylvania anyway this always leads to the name dropping of several famous people, Kevin Bacon, Gerry Lenfest, and Taylor Swift.  If I had a nickel for every time I heard the name Gerry Lenfest, I’d be a one man development MACHINE.  There were still no donuts here.  Not a one.  Kevin Bacon and Gerry Lenfest are obviously decent, generous fellows who contribute time and money to culture in Pennsylvania, but does anyone here know them?  No.  It’s like wanting a donut.  I had this thought, “What about me?  I’m a champion, goddammit.”

I am a champion.  It’s simply not enough because I am nobody.  I don’t think I’m nobody, but I know a lot of people do.  What proof do they have that I am someone?  None.  Have I given enough to any cause to have a brick or a placard with my name on it?  Is there a hospital wing with my name on the outside of it?  All the other pieces are there.  My head is full of the music we all must sing advocating for culture, museums, heritage, and the arts.  My numbers are good numbers.  You want data, I have data.  Yet data is not enough.  There’s an entire movement that seems to believe data is the last thing you want.  You have to have passion and some kind of superpower it seems.  Passion is easy when you’ve been in the field a while. We get to do things nobody much gets to do.  I’ve seen enchanted things in my career, and it is one of the things you swap for affluence when you sign on with non profit museum work.   I am passionate, but none of us are getting rich here.  That’s what makes the power work like fuel with the spark of passion and the oxygen of passion.  And that’s part of the problem.  That’s what makes me nobody.

As part of my work day, I look at museum job openings across the U.S. on a weekly basis.  It seems that leadership and development positions have just plain gone weird on Gen X.  There was a job search going on a while ago at the Smithsonian Museum of American History after Brent Glass’ departure.  There was a simultaneous search for a head of the museum studies program over at American University.  I took both the job postings and looked at them side by side just out of curiosity.  Here were two high profile gigs in the same town.  Both job adverts demanded a high level of education, something I’ve been too busy working and raising kids over the years to achieve.  Both job adverts were for big jobs, management, fundraising, and all the other bells and whistles.  The short sighted nugget was that the American job was only a year’s worth of non tenure track job, yet both of these positions demanded experience, proven abilities, and a subtext that Gen X need not apply.  There was something about the number of years in the field that just edged us out of both.  And who wants these jobs?  They need people who slightly resemble the last person who held the office. They need someone who can poop rainbows.  A unicorn that poops rainbows would be ideal.

Cultivating Baby Boomers is the status quo.  Far too much of it is being done, if  you ask me.  Baby Boomers won’t be here forever.  Gen Y is going to be where it’s at in fundraising by the time I get my pink slip or resign.  What are they going to want?  How much are they going to be willing to give?  You’d best get started.

Games for Greater Social Consciousness

I just have a quick minute to write. I have to quick get ready for my 12 year old’s graduation from Hebrew School. I drove him twice a week for the last many years and not sure he really got anything out of it to be honest… Obviously I don’t need to tell you how uninspiring Hebrew School is..

However, if his classes were taught on iPads with games full of incentives to learn to make better choices, not repeat history, give back and think more selflessly then perhaps Jewish art history may be a perfect agent for teaching with social consciousness.

Imagine Games Like: Recover the 14thC Treasure Trove from the Plague Riots, Uncover the Roman Mosaic, Find the Nazi Looted Art, Protect the Cultural Property, Holocaust Memory Game, Shine the Holiday Silver.. its endless how many ways to engage people through games.

I know that tonight every kid graduating Hebrew School would have a deeper sense of identity and commitment to their cultural community if they all had iPads with Jewish art history games on them..But even greater then the kids liking Hebrew School, perhaps Jewish art history games could contribute to preventing a future genocide.



What age is it anyway?

Do you read Penelope Trunk’s blog? I do. I don’t always agree with everything she says, but I love her brutal honesty with respect to both her professional and personal life. Her latest post talks about movements through history – the industrial age, the space age, etc., and how the current generation often doesn’t acknowledge the prevailing age of the time. She argues that we aren’t in the information age right now as is often discussed, but rather we are in an age of personal responsibility, since we find ourselves taking charge of our own health, retirement, career, and the education of our children. Taking charge is something Gen Xers excel at. I don’t know about you, but I am often frustrated when I have to leave something in the hands of others… It’s not that I think I’m going to do it better than them (well, in the spirit of brutal honestly, it often IS that), but it just feels good to be in control. I think this is why we find ourselves wearing lots of hats in the workplace (as discussed at length in the AAM session). We spot the areas at work that are crying out for someone to take charge, and we immediately leap in.

How do you think we will describe this era in years to come? Game developer Ed Fries argues that we are living in the game age, which I can definitely see, too. Any other thoughts?

Where are all the plumbers?

A high school teacher told my husband that if he didn’t try harder, he would wind up as nothing more than a construction worker. This was and is considered a punishment for “lazy” kids. Well guess what? He does work in construction and he’s doing fine. More than fine, actually, he’s doing better than most people I know with graduate degrees. He’s also pretty useful to have around. When a 100-yr-old sewer pipe broke in our yard, we fixed it (now there’s a true test of a marriage – spending 2 days up to our ankles in sewage with no running water in the house). When we needed new gutters, we installed them. Our TV stand? He made that. When the pipes froze, cracked, and leaked, we ripped out half the kitchen, installed a new pipe, then patched and finished the wall.

Photo of me at work

We rebuilt a supporting wall in our basement (which included pouring a new foundation -that’s me in the photo vibrating concrete) and we’re in the process of digging a French drain under our porch. It’s taking us a long time to fix up our house because we both have full-time jobs, but we haven’t spent a penny on labor. His mom still wishes he would go to college, but she calls him every time something needs to be fixed, installed, or built.

Gen X is going to see a dramatic decline in skilled craftsmen as we get older, because this kind of work was actively discouraged when we were in school. In 2009, the average age of a licensed plumber or electrician was 55. Soon, these people will be retiring, and there are very few people ready to take their place. We’ve somehow created a society full of academics. College is considered so vital to future wealth and happiness that now you can be looked down upon for only having a bachelors degree (trust me, I know). How ever far we might have advanced as a society, we still need people to build and fix things, and I don’t see this changing any time soon. Lack of skilled labor has an impact on global economic growth, too, by impeding national infrastructure projects such as transportation and power. Despite the struggling economy, employers desperately need but cannot find skilled welders, electrical linesmen, geotechnical engineers, civil engineers, and more.

Gen Xers have a responsibility to break down the negative stereotypes that surround blue-collar work. Encourage your kids to make, build, and repair. Don’t force them into college because it’s what you did, and/or it’s what you think they should do. Be proud of their talents, even if they are non-academic, and help bring the honor back to skilled labor. If we don’t, we’re going to be in trouble in 15-20 years when our kids hit the workforce and there’s no one left to call when something breaks.