Monday, January 14, 2008

A Week in D.C.

I spent almost all of last week in Washington, D.C. on a fact finding museums mission. I arrived Monday morning (my flight left New Orleans at 6am ouch!) and met with some folks from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival a 2 week long celebration of culture held on the mall every summer. I told them about the museum and we explored ways we can partner in the future from creating shared online exhibits to using some of the oral and video documentation they collect every year in some of our future exhibits. They told me that one of the focuses for the 2010 festival is Alabama and plan to include the museum as they being to organize that portion of the festival. An interesting aside, one of the curators, Steve, and I had met previously, in October 2005 Atlanta, when I traveled there looking for assistance in creating a Katrina exhibit, back when we had no home, literally, and were all wondering what the future of the city, as well as the museum, would be. He seemed genuinely pleased that we had come through that time intact and would be opening soon. Nice surprise.

Tuesday, I met with Harold Closter, the Director of Affiliates about the possibility of the museum joining the Smithsonian as an affiliate museum. Though that won’t be possible in the next year, we did explore other ways we could collaborate with Smithsonian staff though partnering on programming. He was also enthusiastic about our project and seemed impressed with how far we have some in a relatively short time. He gave me some great suggestions on some reading matter in museum organization and theory, since I have been telling everyone that in creating this museum, I feel like I am back in graduate school, except without the loans…He also set up a meeting for me and my design team with Rosemary Fetter, the Director of the National Dentistry Museum in Baltimore. Yes, dentistry.

That afternoon I met with Lynn Breaux and Linda Busche from the Washington D.C. Restaurant Association and the National Restaurant Association respectively. We talked about SoFAB and how these organizations can benefit from our menu collection. Later, Linda interviewed me for an article in the NRA’s newsletter. A link will be posted on our website when the article comes out. We had a great meal at Nage where I had a delicious sunchoke cream soup.

Wednesday morning the rest of Team SoFAB arrived (as bleary-eyed as I had) and we headed to the Museum of the American Indian for a 4 hour behind the scenes tour led by Kerry Boyd, Director of Exhibit Design. Wow! It was daunting to see how much there was to do and how expensive things can be and how nice it would be to have a staff of 200….sigh. But he was so generous with his time and knowledge and I consoled myself that one day we will have all those resources but hopefully hang on to our ability to be scrappy and resourceful with what we have….

Thursday we began our day at the International Spy Museum and after walking through the exhibits, met with several folks from their staff who were full of ideas about marketing, ticketing, and design. Once again we were confronted with the realities of our budget and space, but once again took away many ideas of how to apply large scale choices to our model. We decided we needed a treat and walked around the corner to the recommended Zaytina, which serves small plates influenced by Greece, Turkey and Lebanon. What an amazing meal! And the staff was all so gracious and the chef, super friendly. They were all really excited about the museum opening, especially Megan who hails from Houston and promised to stop by the next time she headed home. So nice to get all that affirmation. After a great meal, we headed to the Postal Museum. I had been there alone on Monday and wanted the gang to see their exhibits which I thought were applicable to what our design would be. We got a nice tour by their education programmer who gave suggestions about kids programming for us.

Friday was an early day, heading to Baltimore. The National Museum of Dentistry was the first museum we visited that is on scale with SOFAB and it was reassuring to see exhibits we could draw from both in scale and scope. Rosemary was particularly helpful in giving direction about how to be a regional museum when you are located in one place and how to make connections around the country. Finally we walked down to the Inner Harbor and visited the American Visionary Arts Museum. We did not go to learn. We had no meetings. All we did was look and buy stuff at the gift shop. Then we all got a beer.

It was a very full week. We were all exhausted. We learned a ton. We learned what all we don’t know and what we do. And we are all very, very ready to begin.