Interview with film historian and lecturer, David J. Skal

The person that I was privileged to interview was David J. Skal.  He is an esteemed lecturer, archivist, film historian and documentary maker.  He did commentaries/documentaries for the release of the Universal Monsters series, (i.e. Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.) on DVD and on the new series of Blue Ray disks that were released last year.  He is very active in writing about how the monster movies were made in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  He was very gracious to do this interview for the class.

• What path did you take to get to your current position?

I came to my present career after 20 years employment in the non-profit performing arts world (theatre, dance, and music) where I specialized in public relations, fund-raising and marketing. I began writing books and documentary scripts in the 1990s, when there was a major recession that made it impossible to work in the nonprofit sector any longer

• What kinds of projects do you work on?

I write books, essays and articles, occasionally produce, write and direct video documentaries, and guest-lecture at colleges, universities, and cultural organizations.

• With what kind of people (demographics, occupations, etc.) do you typically work?

Mr. Skal did not address this question.

• Do you have autonomy to pick your own projects, or are projects generally assigned to you by others in your organization or elsewhere?

I work by myself and choose/propose my own projects (which, of course, are approved and contracted by my publishers. Occasionally a publisher will approach me on a work-for-hire basis for a project it has developed in-house.

• What are the current issues in your field?

Current issues in my field are dominated by the massive consolidation of publishers and the proliferation of e-books, which has had a negative effect on the earnings of many freelancers like myself.

• What skills are expected of applicants for an entry-level position?

The only entry-level requirement for a freelance writer is to produce a manuscript a publisher deems publishable.

• What is the current starting salary for entry-level positions in your field?

I’m not a salaried employee, and there is no guaranteed minimum compensation outside the advance offered by each publishing contract. Lecture fees are also widely variable.

• How is your position funded? Is this typical for positions in your field or organization?

Publishers offer advances based on their own calculation of potential sales and this can vary widely from project to project. Lecture fees are usually paid from an educational institution’s special fund for this type of activity.

• What level of education is necessary for advancement to the different levels of this profession (e.g. entry-level, mid-level, and senior positions)? Are there specific degrees that are favored, and if so, what are they?

There are no educational requirements for my type of work, only the ability to produce work by which a publisher can make a profit. I have a bachelor’s degree with a split concentration in English, theatre, and journalism.

• What advice do you have for people interested in entering this field?

My advice to people seeking a similar career is to always have a back-up source of income. In other words: never quit your day job until you are very well-established professionally.

Again, I would like to thank Mr. Skal for taking the time to answer these questions.


Reinventing the Museum: Take Three

Creating a New Business Model seemed to lack depth.  In explaining how to create a new business model, John Falk and Beverly Sheppard write that “change has always been a part of our world” and that “museums will ultimately be forced to reject the approach” that museum success is derived from museum attendance.  The first statement is obvious, as are many of their seemingly grandiose statements about formulating a new business model.  The authors clearly explain how to create and maintain a successful business model; however, they fail to explain in greater detail how museums will be forced to reject their client based, ergo financial based, model that rewards the amount of visitors.  If museums drastically change their business model, yet fail to garner high levels of visitor attendance, what was the point of changing their business model in the first place?  I feel that the authors cut their argument short of the most influential part, a deeper understanding of their final claims.  This article would have benefited from further discussing how a business model entails so much more than financial motives.  Business models work towards a goal, and museums need to work towards a goal that is based in individualized value and more meaningful education for all.  Most importantly, museums need to create a business model that values the individual patron.  Museums will surely die if they fail to garner much needed funds from their patrons.  Seeing as patrons will only frequent museums that have business models ensuring beneficial, meaningful experiences for their patrons, it is clearly in the best interest of museums to create a better business model.

Museums and Libraries in the 21st Century has great potential as an article.  The Institute of Museum and Library Services clearly sets up their argument; they intend to explain how to cope with the significant shifts in our economy, our societal needs, and audience expectations.  The pages of bullet points, while some certainly hold valuable information, read as a “How To Handbook.”  Many of the points are rather ambiguous and would greatly benefit from being applied to an example, or at least being linked together in written format rather than standing alone as self-evident bullet points.  Rather than simply stating that museums and libraries should “articulate thoughts and ideas effectively…use communication for a range of purposes…[and]utilize multiple media and technologies…” the authors should have applied there ideas about the need to communicate effectively to specific examples.  Demonstrating how these ideas have been implemented in a specific institution and explaining how the communication transformation has directly benefited the specific institution will surely hold more gravity for readers.  This real-life application can be applied to all of the categories.  It is one thing to say that museums and libraries should “apply knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and skills across disciplines in appropriate and effective ways,” but it is a completely different (and more beneficial) thing to explain how to implement changes that will allow libraries and museums to incorporate techniques that will encourage learning across multiple disciplines.  Real substantive, applicative examples would greatly substantiate the many ideas advanced in this article.

John P. Kotter makes up for the lack of application and depth in Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail.  After explaining what he sees as the eight essential steps to transforming organizations, Kotter offers real-life examples of what happens if you fail to reach each step.  Kotter writes about what happens if an organization fails to create a powerful enough guiding coalition while trying to transform an organization.  By explaining what goes wrong when each step is not clearly met, not creating a useful vision for example, Kotter is able to reach organization members and organization leaders.  Organizations, not just museums, will benefit from implementing his eight step process because his process entails applicative examples of what not to do while explaining what organizations need to do.  This article serves as a great end to the text, offering valuable hope for those working in the field while serving as a harbinger of what is to come if organizations, museums included, fail to enact lasting, meaningful change.

Dan Spock makes a great argument for transforming museums to better cater to the public in order to survive in In Defense of Nostalgia.  He explains that history museums must create “highly personalized ways” for individuals to “experience nostalgia.”  He also illuminates the fact that people will be more apt to attend history museums if they see the museum and its artifacts as relevant.  He concludes that museums must accommodate the desires of the public by utilizing personal stories, allowing individuals to feel as if they are a part of the exhibit, and encouraging social interactions throughout the museum in order to survive.  Spock also offers great insights into the many roles museums are expected to fill.  Museums must protect, serve, educate…the list goes on and on.  Museums exist because of the many roles they fill.  Effectively run museums protect artifacts and successfully encapsulate history through lively exhibits.  Museums provide a valuable service to the community, most commonly practiced via furthering knowledge.  Museums are important because of the services they provide, this is the reason so many professionals are working to maintain, enliven, and transform museums.


Reinventing the Museum – Part III

This week’s articles examined the business aspects of the museum world.  While I understand the need to develop business models to adapt to changing times and interests, it seems too far to suggest that museums have to become more corporate in order to survive.  As others have mentioned in their replies, if business and profit become the only concerns, the heart of the museum disappears.  What then determines what is preserved for future generations?  History as it actually happened or a sensationalized, over the top version designed to draw more visitors/customers and money into the museum?  The move towards a more corporate model focusing on profits and losses presents a new set of problems that must be navigated.

The issue that must be first examined is how to better engage the visitor with the museum experience.  Once that has been accomplished, the museum can then move on to devise new ways of presenting information and artifacts.  The internet offers so many different ways to captivate an audience and draw them into the magic of museums.  Spock’s article offered an interesting approach towards embracing the nostalgia that many hope to find when they visit museums.  We live in such a disposable society that most people are searching for a connection to either their own personal history or our collective heritage.  That is a factor that cannot be easily quantified in a business model.

Thoughts on Readings for February 25

I think a lot of these articles say less about museums and more about the ways in which we feel about services and resources in our society. It is clear from most of the readings, that what is valued most in this society is a corporate and capitalistic mentality. We live not in a market economy, but a market society where almost anything can be bought and sold. The articles in the book make it perfectly evident that our history is no exception.

According to John Falk and Beverly Sheppard in “Creating a New Business Model”, it is evident that museums have shifted from an accessible, shared, public service (like a library) to a business for many people. The authors state: “Today museums must compete for audience, publicity, and resources.” Why do museums need to follow a business model? Why do they need to compete? Once museums become part of the market economy their focus is no longer on serving a public need, but on making money. However, article after article places museums in a corporate context, the editor’s decision to include the article by John P. Kotter, “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” in this book implies that museums and corporate businesses and their goals are interchangeable.

In the article written by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, “Museums and Libraries in the 21st Century: New Contexts and Skills Definitions” it is disheartening that this organization is also advocating that museums follow a corporate model, including the use of invasive marketing. Audiences expect connections from museums, why turn museums into for-profit white noise that exists in nearly every corner of our lives? Museums should not feel the pressure to compete in the market place, just like a library shouldn’t feel the need to compete with Barnes and Noble. The goals are different, so the methods of executing those goals should also be different. The article by the Institute was also filled with the most self-evident concepts, and this was the most disturbing aspect of the article. If statements such as, “ Evaluate information critically and competently”, need to be stated at all then the museum industry has much larger problems than trying to expand their audiences.

The Future of Museums

The readings this week talked about the need for museums to change.  While I agree that the internet and technology is a tool that should be used, I am a bit concerned with the idea of museums as businesses with customers.  When used as a tool to help define the role of the administrative and financial area of the museum, a business model can be highly effective.  However, should museum visitors truly be considered “customers”?  I have my doubts on that.  Museums need to be separate from the “profit at any cost” ideals that have taken over the corporate world.  While making a profit is not in itself a negative, I fear that by opening the door to a corporate identity, museums risk becoming soulless entities focused not on nostalgia but on profit.  Museums should be places where art and history combine to raise questions and create thoughtful conversation.  They should help us remember those things that bring shame and those things that bring us pride.  They should be a place where people come to look upon that which is beautiful and that which is profane.   This is what all museums should aspire to.  When profit becomes the very reason to exist I fear that those ideals will be left behind.  By using technology museums can give access collections that have not been available for years.  People living as far away as India could see the FieldMuseum in Chicago.  A student in Alabama could visit the Egyptian section at the BritishMuseum.  As technology advances, those connections will become more and more powerful.  I would hate to see those connections lost because they are not profitable.

Reinventing the Museum, the Third

I really appreciate the Kotter’s comments on what is really necessary for change in a museum. As Falk and Sheppard said, the changes we are experiencing today are revolutionary (385). Museums can no longer maintain the status quo without being left behind. That change, however, is in no way easy. Kotter points out that even when the will is there the odds are against you when wanting to change your museum. Instead of becoming discouraged by this perspective, I find myself encouraged. It will take people like us – fresh, motivated, and willing to work hard to make things happen – to move aid motivated museums into this revolutionary era.

The common theme I noticed in these pieces was a need for cooperation among a number of different people. I appreciate that Kotter especially pointed out that it takes more than a motivated curator or director to make change happen. It take the board, directors, curators, interns, and the community to really revolutionize a museum. I have been lucky enough to work with a museum that actually managed to bring everyone together and revitalize their museum. It was hard, there were a some patrons who were unhappy with the change (they were the type of people who were upset with *any* kind of change so I wasn’t too worried by their comments), and the work isn’t finished even 5 years into the movement. If we can adopt a simple majority of the skills laid out of us starting on pg 500, then I think each of these articles holds hope as much as realistic warnings for future museum workers and patrons.

Thoughts on Reinventing the Museum, Part III

The theme fit perfectly for this week, there needs to be change within the museum’s and how they conduct their business operations.  Like everything in life, things change, and museums need to change as we are in the twenty-first century. Falk and Sheppard’s section on “Creating a New Business Model” showed the importance of strategy within a business. If you do not have a strategy, the business is not likely to succeed. One of the things they brought up that seemed most relevant concerned the notion that museums, or non-profit organizations in general, need to follow the models of the for-profit organizations (383). I loved how they kept reminding us of the importance of change, nothing can stay static for very long in a society that is constantly evolving. They also stated museums once lived in a world free from the “tawdry demands of the marketplace.” (381). Well, that is not the case anymore and therefore changes must be made to cope with that changing market.

However, as Kotter noted in “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” change is not easy and it takes a certain individual to make it happen (521). Leadership is required for change to take place and it makes sense because not everyone thinks they need to change, so it takes a leader to make it occur. The eight steps Kotter addressed to transform an organization were insightful and seemed relevant and logical approaches to tackling such a task. Simply by looking at what he claimed an organization needed in order to transform, it did seem a daunting task, but a necessary one in many cases where organizations have fallen behind in the twenty-first century.

The chapter “Museums and Libraries in the 21st Century” discussed the three shifts having effects on museums and libraries in this era: the economy, societal needs and audience expectations (497). With the changing society, technology, economy, etc, new skills are needed. In a country and a century that many consider technologically advanced, more interactivity is expected by the audience. As our society changes, the expectations do as well, therefore our organizations must change. A very enlightening set of chapters that stressed the need for change which it seems many are either fearful of or not prepared for.

Interview with Public Historian, Keith Schrum, Curator of Archives at History Colorado

The field of public history offers professionals interested in historical study an opportunity to work with historic artifacts and collections, interact with researchers and academics, and present innovative and exciting historical interpretations aimed at a broad audience. While I find everything about this profession fascinating, many people are unaware that such a professional field exists. When friends and acquaintances learn that I am pursuing my Master degree in History, I usually get a response that sounds something like, “Oh, you want to be a history teacher.” I sigh, and reply, “no…” Based on this oh-too-familiar conversation, it seems as if the general public is unaware or unable to disassociate history from the profession of teaching. In an effort to shed light on the importance of the field of public history, I have conducted an interview with Keith Schrum, Curator of Archives for History Colorado. I hope to use the information gained through this interview to expand my own knowledge of public history while at the same time increasing the general awareness of public history as a professional field of study.

Although it was my childhood love of history that encouraged my decision to major in history in college, I understand that not everyone follows that trajectory. In fact, as a young child, Keith only had a “passing appreciation of the subject.” This was due to the fact that he grew up in Virginia surrounded by an abundance of Colonial Era and Civil War history. Although this early interest in history was not enough to sway his interests away from religious study, it eventually inspired his decision to add history as a second major.

After college, knowing that his passion was working with the ministry, Keith pursued a Master of Divinity with Religious Education. As part of his training for both pastoral and educational work, Keith had opportunities to study “organizational behavior, administration, as well as counseling and some psychology.” With these experiences under his belt, Keith, at the age of 38, decided to return to higher education to pursue a Master of History degree with a focus on Public History and a concentration in Archives and Records Management.” Keith’s previous experience with education spurred this “minor mid-life change” and he intended to use this history degree to get into teaching. After having an opportunity, however, to intern for History Colorado, Keith decided to “turn his attention to a more business-related approach to history.” His initial work as a graduate student eventually led to an opportunity for full-time employment. Keith is now celebrating twenty-one years of work within the Archives Department, the same department that hired him as an intern, more than two decades ago.

As the Curator of Archives, Keith relies heavily on his training and education; however, he also draws on experience from past professions. Over the years Keith worked in the ministry, retail, sales, and in managerial capacities. Through these experiences Keith developed and maintained “people skills, communication skills, and customer service skills.” He also learned the importance of having  an eye for detail and he understands the importance of maintaining product knowledge. In the museum world, Keith explains that these skills translate more directly into “knowing the collection, where it is, its condition and how to access it.” Keith explains that the Archive at History Colorado currently manages sixteen formats of material, including microfilm and sound recordings, and he estimates that their collection holds over “eleven million pieces of something.” This expansive collection is managed in a way that encourages a “collaborative approach to collection building.” Keith explains that this method in turn allows for “better and more efficient use of space and resources.”

In spite of the many success accomplished through this collaborative effort, Keith is also very aware of the challenges he, and his team, face on a daily basis. Many of these challenges stem from a lack of sufficient financial funding and a backlog of work. Keith also acknowledges the difficulty of staying on task with an assignment, especially in light of the fact that History Colorado places an “emphasis on providing service in a proactive, timely manner.” As Keith explains, “the biggest challenge is remaining focused on the long-view of things and not getting lost or too distracted by minutia.”

Although Keith recognizes that his training for and experiences in the archives usually revolve around material things, he urges young professionals to be aware of importance of relationships and people within the field of public history. Keith explains that history “will always be about relationships.” Keith appreciates that “working with objects, archives, or photos calls for a relationship with the material world.” But he also reiterates that “those things do not exist for themselves – they exist to serve people.” Keith explains that “people want to trust you with their “stuff”- the evidence of life, memory and heritage.”

Having had the opportunity to peer into the experiences of Keith Schrum, I can honestly say that I know I am pursuing a career in the right field for me. With this newly acquired knowledge I look forward to honing my skills and completing my training as a public historian. As Keith so poignantly states, “our work keeps human memory alive,” and that is definitely something that I am honored to be a part of.

Reinventing the Museum (III)

While I agree with many of the points made in the readings this week, I’m happy we are finishing Reinventing the Museum. The arguments against top down management in favor of cyclical (383-384), or creating a guiding coalition for implementing innovation (524) are great, however these authors need more concrete examples of success in the 21st century. I feel these authors are reacting to the economic slump we have found ourselves in and are trying to shape a future for museums without many examples of what success looks like.

For example the article by the Institute of Museum and Library Services gives plenty of examples of the way the job market is changing and what skills are needed for the future, but the list they provided has no weight behind it because there is no evidence accompanying it. I would much rather read about a specific institution that is succeeding in 2013. What are they doing? What skills are they looking for? As far as I saw, these articles did not give enough examples from the real world. Even though they give great advice, if I was a museum director I couldn’t use this book to guide me in decision making because none of the models on these pages give examples of success. The blog we explored does give examples of emerging trends, however it is a blog and lacks the rigors of publishing. Again, if I was a museum director putting together a proposal for a major directional change for my institution, could I cite Reinventing the Museum or the Future blog as evidence for my decision? Why should I trust these sources if they can’t show some examples of their model working?

The reading this week reminded me of an interview on the Colbert Report with the Lt. Governor of California, Gavin Newsom. In his new book Citizenville, Newsom argues for similar changes in local governments to the changes advocated in Reinventing the Museum – open access, individualized interactions, two-way conversations, etc. While Newsom’s ideas seem great and point to a better model for governing, he spoke to Stephen only using mantras and techspeak. Colbert continued to ask Newsom what he was getting at, but the Lt. Governor couldn’t explain himself without using the 21st century abstract sayings. Colbert said,  “What do you mean? Again, every single one of these things could be carved on a stone and put in someone’s garden as like, as like a mantra.” This may be just what happens when we try to describe the future without really knowing what to expect.

I think we have some good ideas here, with reinventing our institutions for the 21st century. I think we need some more writing on some good case studies or examples from places that are making a difference in their community. The Denver Public Library for example, has some innovative programs worth studying. I would like see some ideas put to action!

Reflections on Reinventing the Museum, Part 3

Looking at museums from a business perspective is crucial to understanding the role that museum and other historic entities will play in the twenty-first century. Not having a business background I really appreciated the way that the articles for this week presented business concepts and models in a way that was very straightforward and relatable. Since most museums are considered non-profit organizations, many people do not think of museums in business terms, but rather in terms of what a museum can bring to a community or in terms of the importance and relevance of the artifacts. While this might be an understandable perspective for the general public, I found it rather shocking that in some instances professionals working with museums have yet to understand the importance of looking at a museum as a business. In the article, “Creating a New Business Model,” authors John Flak and Beverly Sheppard attempt to define the term business model and explain the importance of business models for museums. Within this article, however, they also explain with urgency that museums need to shift their perspective to include a more business-minded understanding of their role in the larger business world. Flak and Sheppard explain that, “nonprofits, like museums, have business models just as certainly as do for-profits; it’s just that they are not always aware of it” (p. 380). This example works as proof that museums need to reexamine their position as a business in order to ensure the continued existence and presence of museums as a necessary piece of a thriving community.

            As I began to search the Center for the Future of Museums blog, I tried to keep the idea of business models in the back of my head. As I searched I came across a post from January 17, 2013, titled, “For Your Financial Radar: Social Impact Investing.” I found this post very interested and directly related to the readings for this week regarding good business practices. The blog post focused on a relatively new mode of investing that combines for-profit, nonprofit, and government entities. This type of social impact investing allows for different entities to enter into a project with different levels of risk and payoff options. Although some of the financial jargon was a little over my head, I did appreciate that this type of investing intentionally brings together groups and organizations from different sectors of the economy and any sort of collaborative effort will ultimately yield positive results.