Delusions of Grandeur : My Museum and Twitter

I was an early convert to Twitter, and I’ve been tweeting since before 90% of other users set up an account. I joined in 2009 after a year’s urging by a local madman interested in hyper local news, and I signed up just before the Balloon Boy incident, a news story involving a lost child, a soaring homemade balloon, and a pair of loathsome parents hungry for media attention. Balloon Boy sold me on Twitter when someone tweeted from the scene that the boy had been found hiding. Five minutes later, CNN told the world.

When I ran a small art museum almost a decade ago, there was no Twitter. There was no Facebook. There was only our website, press releases, and word on the street. To update our website involved emailing our webmistress a request to update the site, her getting around to it, and no one’s knowing quite what impact that would have. Press releases were another thing altogether. In spite of the demonstrated, consistent interest in arts and culture, no newspaper does a very good job with arts and culture, and we send our press releases to an industry that more than any other is confined to antiquated models of success and has suffered from an inability to change. Word on the street was even more sketchy than our website or press releases.  Sometimes in my more poetic moments, I imagine what I would have done with social media had it been at my fingertips in 2002.

On Saturday, January 4 I chimed in to a question from @ExtrovertedMuse about Twitter, museum retweets, and advocacy. My morning was mostly making breakfast for two children and keeping them from fighting, but there was enough meat on the bones of the conversation to keep me thinking about it all day.

These important points emerged:

1.    Tweeting or retweeting museum content is a kind of advocacy, simply a small part of it.

2.    Museums are resistant to tweeting content from other museums.

3.    Most museum planning processes fail to embrace and include social media or advocacy.

Tweeting is a kind of advocacy, and it is a small part of what advocacy is and a small part of what a museum should be doing in promoting its programs and its place in a community. Using Twitter can be a simple reminder to people that a museum is in their midst. Museums are incredibly diverse and complex, and the 140 character limit can break down museum jargon to something a normal person can read. Tweeting well is a skill; a good tweet requires an economical use of words that keeps it simple. Advocacy is simply telling people what you do. It is telling people what you do simply. Twitter will do that.

Advocacy is a difficult charge for museums. Advocacy is a movement from inside the museum field from activists worried about the future of museums. Advocacy is telling those outside of museums what is going on to boost support for museums across the board. Very few museums have advocacy as part of their mission or even as part of the job description for their director. When museum associations like mine urge members to participate in advocacy, we run into a slew of problems. Advocacy doesn’t seem to be mission related. It is not in the director’s job description. It is not as comfortable to do as the research, exhibit, or program that is consuming a particular person’s time. It could be a little too political (but I assure you it is not). It may even be assumed that statewide, regional, and national museum associations will, as membership in these associations suggest, automatically produce an advocacy effort. These obstacles and assumptions leave museums empty at the newsstand, in government budgets, and, quite literally, empty.

Museums’ resistance to use social media for advocacy or at all to its greatest influence is another daunting obstacle. Slow to change, some museums see social media as a free way to self promote, and they find out that it isn’t free. It takes thoughtful staff time to engage in social media, and in a time of shrinking budgets and belt-tightening, social media also remains outside the comfort zone of directors, board members, and typical corporate communications structures. A rather well-run museum may have trouble creating a quick, engaging strategy for these communications without the leadership to support it and alienate the converts in the ranks who see Twitter as one of the last raging, exciting, free places on the internet.

Museums tweet what they are doing but too seldom retweet what another museum is doing, even one on the other side of the country in no direct competition for visitors or attention. Museums seldom stretch to tweet about what is going on in the field of museums. Museums seldom retweet content from other museums’ accounts or pass along advocacy messages from associations or other advocates.

Sometimes museums will interact when an organized effort is at hand with a relevant hashtag like #askacurator on a special day, but we not see “Break a leg!” tweeted colleague to colleague about a new exhibition’s opening. Every museum has the potential to link to another. There are endless opportunities to showcase one museum’s collection that relates to a major opening at another. Museums on Twitter often seem to exist only for themselves in a desperate attempt to self promote, and the field suffers from its own failure to make connections, museum to museum, museum to field, and museum to visitor.

Most museums have not taken as much time to plan in any area as may be ideal. No one can spend all of their time planning. The last thing anyone worries about is advocacy; this shortcoming shows itself again and again in communications. Museum people, almost in spite of the great stories museum collections have the potential to tell, hesitate to share what they know with the people in the galleries or in positions to establish policies that could secure the stability of museums for future generations.

Planning takes the same kind of staff time away from operations that advocacy does, but museums do tend to engage in planning as a pre-requisite for funding or simply to give shape to their forward momentum.  The time is ripe for museum planners to examine how an institution will handle its communications, participate in advocacy, and do both exceedingly well with some simplicity. Twenty years ago it was mail. Ten years ago it was email. Yesterday it was Facebook. Today it is Twitter. There will be many people still paying attention to Facebook and Twitter tomorrow. The day after tomorrow it will be something else, and it is our delusion of grandeur to assume that important people are paying attention or that anyone is listening at all.

What Is A GenX Celebrity? What Becomes A Legend Most?

I wasn’t surprised to hear about Lou Reed’s death. It wasn’t terribly untimely; he didn’t die young and in his prime. He didn’t O.D. The way I found out (one of my imaginary friends on Facebook) wasn’t ideal. The first thought I had was that I had lost my musical true magnetic north. You may not know Lou Reed’s music or the fantastic Baby Boomer life he led hobnobbing with Andy Warhol and David Bowie, recording with guys who would later become total art dork rock loyalty (Yes).

Lou Reed’s voice probably first came to my ears on old rock and roll radio, and I like to think he would have liked that. It was probably not his best work. It was probably Walk On The Wild Side in all of its demented mellowness. I liked his voice. It was his alone like Bob Dylan’s or Woody Guthrie’s, and it was the flip sides of those folk coins. If you don’t exactly sing like butter, you can still take a song and sing it if you have the balls to do it. You just have to sing it your way, and it helps a lot if the words are good.

I bought my first Lou Reed album at the Goodwill in Lebanon, PA. Rock and Roll Animal. It didn’t come with a white sleeve for inside the cardboard sleeve. Far as I know, it might never have had one because it still doesn’t. I still play this record, and it got a lot of time yesterday on the turntable. I can remember jumping around and air guitar playing Sweet Jane in my college apartment, The Barn at Slippery Rock, and last night I grabbed up my daughter and played her like a guitar while we spun around in the dining room. She was hollering, “I’M NOT A GUITAR DADDY!” but I really didn’t give a damn. This passes as good parenting in my house, and our family is an independent standing unit free of the influence of grandparents and their churches and ideas about what work, love, and history were. We are on our own.

Lou was on his own something like that. He made his own way, and he made a lot of music in his life. He was out there, hard to put a label on, and for Gen X, I think he represented that you could do that. You didn’t have to be one thing. Lou Reed was a hippie, a punk, a jazz guy, a folk guy, an electronica guy, a noise guy, an indie guy, an alternative guy, and if you’ve heard the Velvet Underground demo tapes, he could also play it Country and Western too. This ability to change hue, be a Chameleon, resonated with our own situations and the false notion that we were isolated. We were anything but isolated from knowledge, and the isolation we clung to was feeling like we didn’t quite fit into the Boomer World Domination Plan. In that typical way, we took our cues about isolation from a Baby Boomer like Lou Reed until the Truth was told by others our own age. Lou Reed stayed on my turntable even after his influence on other bands I liked seemed like a distant memory. It’s like Lou Reed is an obvious influence on everything. Rock and roll? Of course Lou Reed is in that. You don’t need somebody to tell you that any more than you need someone to tell you there’s a lot of German in the English language.

Lou Reed was perfect. If you were sitting in your tiny bedroom in a tiny place six miles from the interstate that led to the nearest big city two hours away, Lou Reed would tell you on the FM station that you should flee your rural nowhere. You should get to the nearest city where there was something happening. That something was Rock and Roll. That something was art and people your own age who understood your deal. Your hometown sucked, and you knew it. The city wouldn’t be perfect. That much was clear. You might end up a junkie. You might end up living next to a family of city rednecks who beat their kids and yelled all the time. It wouldn’t be perfect.

He wore black; all the best ones do. He rode motorcycles, and he liked art. It’s said he liked to argue, and it’s said he was kind of quiet. I’m kind of relieved I never met him. I saw him play on the New York tour, Tower theater, Philly, but I never actually met him or met anybody who knew him. One of my biggest fears is that if we’d met, it wouldn’t have gone well. We’re both off the hook now.

Leaving Flowers For Andy

Earlier this week The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, one of the family of Carnegie Museums, announced a special happening for what would have been the artist’s 85th birthday. In cooperation with a church and a technology partner, the museum established a 24/7, night vision enabled live on the web camera feed at Andy Warhol’s grave to capture and perhaps protect the grave of one of America’s most well known and celebrated artists.

The news of this has traveled the world two or three times over by now, and you’d have to live under a goddamned rock not to have heard of it by now. What it all means? I know what one of my mentors Clyde would say. He would say, “It’s very interesting stuff. VERY interesting.” Sometimes we have conversations like this about the significance of things, and believe it or not, Clyde is nothing like Artie Feldman on Laugh In in a Nazi helmet and uniform holding a joint. It is interesting. When I shared it on social media channels, most people voted with the acid in their stomachs and said “Creepy!”

In the course of my service as an art, culture, and museum soldier, I probably have attained the rank of First Lieutenant. Maybe it’s a Brevet rank only, and I am really just a sergeant doing 1st Lt. things because all the 1st and 2nd Looies are dead. This has crossed my mind. Rank of any kind has its privileges, and one of those has been I have met some of the leading Andy Warhol scholars in Pennsylvania, the home state to an artist most often associated with New York City. How Pennsylvania clings to its sons and daughters is also interesting to me. New York could lay claim to Andy, but Pennsylvania, at least for now, has won the battle in the culture wars to keep Andy close to home. Scholarship about Andy is plentiful, and I have met more than a couple of people who met Andy somewhere along the line.

So here’s where I tell you I am some kind of expert on Andy Warhol or Pop Art, right? I don’t know if I’d go that far. I know more than the Average Bear about Andy Warhol, and I’ve given it a few days to have an opinion about the spectacle that is a live feed of a celebrity grave. It is a little creepy, but like one of the scholars I know might say, “That’s SO Andy!” She never met him. She doesn’t and didn’t approve of his approach to making art. She projects her own morality onto Andy’s. All of this seems like it would fall in the negative column, but for the most part, her scholarship is, taken with the pill that is knowing her, a very good start to understanding Andy Warhol, the last half of the 20th Century in America, and the looming threat of celebritization that is now our daily evening menu on television.

An author and curator I know well would fall into nearly the opposite camp, and she would say, “Andy would have been embarrassed to death by this.” She, too, brings her own gentle problems to the task of figuring out who Andy was. I think she would prefer to go back in time and hug him to writing about him. Yet she knows hugging him would have made him feel like a plank of wood on an alien planet with voluptuous probes wrapping around his bony parts. The damp warmth of a human embrace might have melted Andy on this planet.

One of the collectors I know who met Andy would probably say, “I don’t know what Andy would have said about this – unless it was his idea. Then he would just snow you about it anyway.” If you ever heard Andy being interviewed or talking about his art, this is probably the wisest piece of insight you’ll ever get about Andy Warhol. The former director of the Warhol museum, Tom Sokolowski, would probably come pretty close to the same conclusion although there’d be more swearing and a better delivery.

Andy was profoundly strange and creepy. He was incredibly self conscious, but he was also highly self aware. Andy was, in fact, spiritual and clingy about his strange-outside-of-Pennsylvania ethnic Catholicism. He loved his mother. He ate tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich every day for lunch. He liked getting one over on the art world, and mostly he wanted to be liked and was lonely. This sounds to me like he was just like the rest of us. I’m not sure even he bought completely into the idea that “In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.” Andy’s minutes are longer than mine.

The camera at his grave captures fame seekers, art mourners, weirdo worshipers, museum people on pilgrimages, and curious kids. Most cemeteries and graveyards are lonely places; families don’t hop in the station wagon and go see grampa’s grave on a Sunday afternoon after Mass and lunch these days. They used to. Those were different times.

Mistakes Were Made

There was a conference session in Baltimore called Mistakes Were Made, a repeat performance of a session at last year’s conference that I couldn’t attend. I did watch the conference on Twitter, and Mistakes Were Made was definitely memorable.

I loved how packed it was in the room. There were a few sessions that got so full they kept people out of them after a while, but they were just letting everybody into this one. That had to be good.

The idea was, we all make mistakes. Except in this session, there would be a thinning of the herd and an award given for the biggest professional mistake in a museum.  We’d break into groups and share stories and then the finalists from each group got to share up front, then everybody’d vote. Some lucky son of a bitch would have to carry around the Calder Cup sized trophy of a pig leaping through an atom or some such.

My group was all strangers. I was the only guy in the group, and I might have been the oldest. When my turn came, I found I was actually very shy about the mistakes I’d made in the field. I couldn’t decide what to tell. I tried to tell them all, but I tried to avoid the biggest one. Or that other one, maybe just as big but very different.

“I don’t know,” I struggled, “I’ve destroyed works of art. I’ve been asked to resign. I’ve pissed off donors. I can’t decide which one to tell anyone about.”

And there was sort of a silence floating out there. It was the kind of silence you get when you are in trouble. You’ve been asked to explain yourself, and you didn’t. So now there’s silence until you do. Come out with it, already! It will feel good to get it off your chest! How bad is it anyway?

“There was this time I rented out the museum for an AIDS Action Organization to have a dance party. It was out of control from the onset. Everybody got super drunk, and I’m sure there was some ecstasy going around. There was a guy in leather chaps, and it was like the Village People were all there. They did horrible things in the bathrooms. The things I had to clean up…ugh…”

I sort of drifted to the memory of my own shock and disgust at having to throw away used condoms that were on the floor. There were several. It was disgusting because it was disgusting. Like when my son or the gray old men lobbyists at work leave the seat up. Didn’t your mama teach you anything? That seat goes DOWN, dude. That’s where it lives. And by the way and way, you put your used condoms in the trash so I can’t identify them as condoms. That’s not too much to ask, right?

My group was looking really uncomfortable with what I’d just said. They were lost in their own thoughts about this, and I’m willing to bet half of them immediately thought it was the gayness that I was disgusted by. That was not the case, but I hadn’t really clarified that at all. I hadn’t explained in that brilliant Seinfeldian manner “not that there’s anything wrong with that.” I was fucked now. I wasn’t go to be our finalist, not like I’ve ever been big on trophies. You can win without winning. You can win in your own head, and everybody is so sensitive about gay rights these days, you dare not sound like you are some kind of bigoted homophobe. You are encouraged to post that you are a LGBT Ally on Facebook and share something by George Takei daily. I get that. It’s like a seat I left up.

Mistakes were made. I should have told them about when I was busted by the Director with a girl in my office or when I was busted by a board member setting up my band’s amplifiers and full rig in one of the galleries to practice there at night. I should have told them the story of blowing up a Jenny Holzer installation or destroying dimmer switches. I should have told them about the time I refused to return an art loan from a huge donor because I hadn’t been directed to do so that day. Mistakes were made. We make lots of them.

AAM in Baltimore

Is anybody heading to Baltimore for AAM?

Let’s try to get together and have drinks. I’m thinking Monday night, but Tuesday could work, too.

Leave a comment if you plan to attend, and we’ll try to coordinate a time and place convenient for the most participants. Don’t make me drink alone in a hotel bar again.


Make Your Own Rainbow, Puppy-Bunny. This One’s Mine.

I stopped myself dead in my tracks the other day when I suddenly realized what was happening.  That new Toyota commercial with the mountain biking Baby Boomers was what did it.  The Baby Boomers were off being typically irresponsible.  They continued to do what they’ve always done. Those crazy Baby Boomers were portraying themselves as young, in shape, and cool.  They were everything they are not.  Their Gen Y daughter was at home on the phone, and she was frustrated with them.  She seemed more grown up and much more miserable than her parents.

Skipped us again, did you?  Yes, that’s us.  Gen X.  Remember us?  We let a Baby Boomer write a book about what were supposedly like, and we let him give us a name like a new master.  Well, hear this, I am not Toby. I am 100% Kunta Kinte. I grudgingly accepted the label, and now I’m its poster boy.  We are a generation of strange people separated from each other by our own anxieties and hang ups, and now we have just about disappeared completely.

All that’s left for Gen X and for the Baby Boomers is sucking up to Gen Y.  That was what I realized.  And ZOMG, I’ve done it too! I’ve said they will be awesome bosses someday, and I’ll be glad to work for them.  I’ve said I’m proud of them, and I want them to take me with them since they are going places I cannot.  I am sucking up to Gen Y, and it doesn’t even feel like sucking up!  All the things we’ve said about them are true.  They are a good bunch. So cute.  Like puppies crossed with babies and covered in baby bunny fur. When we clean up after them outside we’ll be picking up chunks of rainbows.

I came across a Gen Y piece of writing not too long ago. The title caught my attention.  It was “Stop telling us we’re not special.” It was a little shorter than the things I like to read, and it was very on topic. I could relate to it on a certain level.  It was as if I liked playing tennis, but I was outside a posh tennis club looking over the wall at a pretty good match.  I was not in the game.  It wasn’t about my generation, and when I came to that conclusion, I got to thinking something typically optimistic like “Wow, it must suck to be Gen Y.”  That’s how they get you.  They suck you into pitying them and giving them food and shelter.

This morning I ran across a request on Twitter for advice to Gen Y folks coming up in the world of curating.  I walked out there on my angry ledge again, and I took a good look down having done some curating from time to time.  I didn’t write the first thing that popped into my head, which, by the way, was “Run away. Run away and never come back.” That’s just mean.  It’s so unfashionable to be mean to Gen Y.  It’s like kicking a dog for no damned reason at all.  You can’t do it.  The public will have your head.

My real advice is to not ask me for advice.  That’s my advice.  I’m planning to be nice to you, and I hope you are planning to be nice to me.  So far, so good.  You never thank guys like me who were the first in your entire county to get an earring or a tattoo.  Now you all walk around with metal through all your soft tissue and paintings of naked dragons on the small of your back. You never recognize how much heavy lifting we did that benefits no one but you.  I’m not really looking for a thank you.  That wasn’t why I did anything I ever did.  That was mostly just for me like most good things are.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like you. But I’m not going to fall into the trap of worshiping any generation. You have to find what’s special about you all by yourself.

I Call Bullshit

There were three of us Gen X’ers in the room. I picked us out of the crowd of thirty immediately.  We were all on the older side of Gen X.  I could tell by the wrinkles and the gray hair, but there was still something young about us – a slouch, a wicked smile, or the lack of a tie.  We were grayer than some of the Boomers who just can’t seem to not color their hair.

This was a typical meeting in this town.  Most of the people there were Baby Boomers, and there were just two people older than that.  There were three Gen Y/Millenial support staff in the room, silent and bright eyed.  I live in world in which I almost watch myself work from afar when I am bored.  I was thinking I might Tweet :  “The unbearable whiteness of meeting…”  I think that about summed it up.  There were going to be few divergent opinions in this meeting with its momentum barreling towards a certain conclusion.  Still, almost every meeting these days has me wrestling with an alter ego who is stumbling towards the Gong Show bell like a gooned up Chuck Barris to sound the internal alarm of Bullshit.  Bullshit.  Bullshit!  Paul Revere on a horse, “The Bullshit is coming!  The Bullshit is coming!”

The meeting facilitator asked by show of hands how many of us were from 501 c 3’s.  Most of us were.  He singled out a few folks to ask, “What are the main things you do if you had to just give me three words?”  Advocacy was the one that came up first in most cases.  A few mentioned networking.  One or two mentioned services.  Two mentioned education.  This didn’t surprise me since it was a meeting of associations, and if the room had been full of museums, I would likely have heard something like education, interpretation, exhibition, and preservation or something along these lines.  I am not sure I would have heard advocacy at all.

Mitch Swain from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council led a session I attended over the winter that got me stoked about the advocacy work that I do.  Most of the folks in Mitch’s session were from arts organizations or museums.  He said, “Is Advocacy in your Executive Director’s job description?  It should be.”  As it so happened, there was one arts organization director, and by all accounts a capable hard working guy, who said out loud, after raising his hand, that he could not participate in advocacy because his organization was a 501 c 3.  I wrestled free of my own self and called Bullshit on this.  The “NO” came out of me like an exploding hand grenade.  There were plenty of other people muttering, “No, you can advocate,” too.

This is killing us.  We need to be advocates, all of us, directors, trustees, professional staff, and everyone who works in whatever 501 c 3 is our passion.  This idea that we cannot advocate is bullshit.  It is a cop out so you can keep doing the more passionate, comfortable things on your to do list until the public and various levels of government decide you must not need anything since they haven’t heard from you.  This idea that you will have your 501 c 3 revoked for advocating is bullshit.  Do you know anyone that has ever had that happen to them?  I don’t.  Do you?  Name one.  It is bullshit.

Advocacy is educating the public and government entities about issues related to your industry including why you may need funding, where you intersect with other public institutions like schools, libraries, or tourism offices, and how many people your industry impacts as a quality of life concern or a job creation machine.  Museums have great stories to tell about this.  They say you can lose your 501 c 3 if you “influence specific legislation.”  I have worked my ass off in advocacy, and I never once, not a single damned time, influenced specific legislation.  If you think lawmakers or the public are going to immediately do something for you the minute you speak up, you are dreaming.  You have to keep at it year after year after year.  This is a complex world.  Your organization is great, but if you aren’t heard when it’s budget time, does anyone die?  Do you think you are that important?  Bullshit.

Can You Fit Me In Your Suitcase?

I have been in the art/culture/museum business since 1991 with a few years in there thrown away to teaching, and although I certainly have had a damn good time, not all of it has been wine and roses.  If not for a few good mentors along the way, I might have quit this shit a long time ago because I am not a half bad dry waller, house painter, and general handyman kind of dude.  They say I clean up nice, and that may be true.  There is always something proletarian about me I won’t quite give up, and I will never be a snitch.  My generation is one at odds with itself, calling out the posers, never quite united enough to be any kind of force in the world,  You pitch in with this or that, and that’s your right.  So many people my own age disgust me, disappoint me, or even inspire me without acknowledging my understanding of what they are getting at, and yet we are all so far from each other we will never sing down a war or wax poetic about Taps or Red Dawn together over wine in someone’s sprawling kitchen with the children conveniently silent and in bed like we are Jennifer Aniston on Friends.  We are not together in solidarity except maybe in threes and fives, someone in the middle of a divorce, with everyone’s mind on work, money, parenting, and the inevitable seriousness of our predicament.  We will work forever, even longer than the Boomers.  We will have no choice.

I am 46.  I have been out of work three days in the last fifteen years.  I have no healthcare..  I have a pathetic 401K.  My life insurance policy is worth almost enough to cremate me and hand me off to my kids in a 50 psi cardboard box.  I have no illusions about social security, and my parents, middle class people from what seems like a different world a million light years from here, are dead and gone.  I am an orphan, but that’s not just because my parents aren’t around.  I’m an orphan in just about every way a person can be.  I’m even an orphan to my siblings and my brothers and sisters of my generation.  I am an orphan in some ways to my mentors.

I had two truly great mentors, and both of them were a little too old to be Boomers.  They weren’t WWII guys, either.  They were born at the end of the 1930’s or early in the 1940’s, in the shadow of two great generations.  I have never asked them about this because they probably don’t think much one way or the other about it.  Both of these guys are far too humble, and the only part of me that is humble, you can thank them for that. 

Bill was a VP at a huge, international corporation.  He married an artist, a really good artist, and he managed a lot of people and huge budgets in a complex for profit industry.  He was a philanthropist, an art lover, and a business guy who brought that sensibility to a hundred boards as a Trustee.  He became President about the same time I became Acting Director, and this town is full of people just like me who served as Director while he was President of their board. 

Clyde headed up a state art education department.  He was a good artist himself, and I think he’s even better these days.  Clyde’s whole schtick these days is the vision thing, and his vision thing is so much better than George H. W. Bush’s it should make your head spin.  Clyde was a Trustee, too, and he and Bill are buddies.  Clyde’s probably more famous than Bill, and although Bill has given more time and money to managing and stabilizing organizations, it is Clyde’s dreaming that has made much of it even worth funding or managing. 

I’m not sure where I stand with these guys.  It seems impolite to ask. Clyde makes fun of my ponytail and my beard and my motorcycle and how many kids I’ve had.  He is good at the down home ribbing.  I never hear from Bill.  I wonder if he’s forgotten me, given up on me, or condemns me.  I don’t really care anymore.  I think he just got sick of me and sick of “it,” being this crazy business.  Maybe he stayed too long and could never make sense of it so he went back to the things that make sense to him.  He taught me how to mentally tick off budget stuff, estimate huge columns of multiple digit numbers.  That’s kind of an achievement.  I was an English major in college after all.  I haven’t forgotten either of them, and I am genuinely grateful for what they’ve passed to me.  It seems ever so sweeter that their generation was an afterthought.  They were overshadowed on either end of their lives by other generations, but they both managed to have a huge impact whether it’s recognized or not. 

I have taught a few people much of what I know, and I stay in touch with a few of them.  Some of them were former interns of mine.  I rejoice when they get a new job, a better job, or an even better job.  I rejoice when they go back to school.  I wish sometimes I were them because my life seems kind of boring sometimes.  I don’t get to travel to China for work.  I’m not sure I qualify yet as a mentor.  I hope I do.  They are doing good things, and humble as I wish I were, I still want some credit for what they’ve done.  I want to participate.  I want to share in it.  I want to profit from it.  Sometimes I have to stop myself from emailing them “Take me with you.”

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.

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.