Trish Oxford

Technologist, Writer, & Artist

Trish Oxford is a consultant, writer and artist specializing in digital communications to market and promote cultural initiatives driven by results. I am interested in inclusion and diversity rooted in accessibility. I am currently an idea factory and am absorbed in learning, listening and thinking about solutions.

Most recently I served as the Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications at Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, NC. My professional experience is anchored in technology, sales, and project management having worked for Yahoo! Inc., Cisco Systems, and my own online furniture company.

My academic experience is entrenched in the creative arts. I earned my MFA in Media Arts at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, CA and my BA in English Literature & Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The Power of Vulnerability in Museums: Initial Follow-Up

Complete list of questions can be found here

The Question Game during The Power of Vulnerability in Museums panel at #MCN2016: The Human-Centered Museum in New Orleans left much of the direction of the conversation to chance.

IMAGE DESCRIPTION: MCN powerpoint template slide reading "The Human-Centered Museum"  and "The Power of Vulnerability in Museums." Background has a trolly car on a New Orleans street. 

IMAGE DESCRIPTION: MCN powerpoint template slide reading "The Human-Centered Museum"  and "The Power of Vulnerability in Museums." Background has a trolly car on a New Orleans street. 

After introductions to panelists, basic guidelines to the game, and key points to frame the discussion, the session launched into questions. The conversation began with every panelist answering:

What change does your work bring to the field?
What did you observe in the field that you wanted to change or challenge?

From there, questions were drawn from a hat. Other questions discussed included:

  • Where do you think empathy is missing in museum work?

  • What has been your career low point?

  • Where are people actually spending their time and resources?

  • What is the collective tolerance for discomfort at your workplace?

  • Is the discomfort of learning, trying new things, and giving feedback normalized, or is there a high premium on comfort?

  • Using all the senses in a museum experience, how does this disruptively engage people in the museum setting?

IMAGE DESCRIPTION: MCN template PowerPoint slide that reads: "Question Types: 10 minutes: Panel Discussion; 5 minutes: 2 panelists answer, 90 second: Individual answer"

IMAGE DESCRIPTION: MCN template PowerPoint slide that reads: "Question Types: 10 minutes: Panel Discussion; 5 minutes: 2 panelists answer, 90 second: Individual answer"

These questions opened up a discussion that surprised me where it went. I look forward to sharing and discussing our observations. However, we didn’t get to answer almost 75% of the questions that prodded at subjects like shame, trust, and change-management in the museum field.

I wanted to share the complete list of questions online to hear how you might implement The Question Game with your team, department, and institution. I would love to hear your experiences and feedback.

Here are some ideas how you might share these questions:

  • Post a question a week in a common area at work and have an anonymous box for written answers to be submitted

  • Use a question as a writing prompt to start meetings and have participants write anonymous responses that could be read at random or compiled for later discussion

  • Post the complete list of questions in a digital or in-person forum for open response

  • Post printed questions in bathroom stalls with a location for written responses to be collected

 

These questions opened up a discussion that surprised me where it went.

 

Here is the complete list of questions:

  1. What change does your work bring to the field?

  2. What did you observe in the field that you wanted to change or challenge?

  3. Is it important who is making change? (Gender, Race, Seniority, etc)

  4. What have you observed to be the most significant barrier to creativity and innovation?

  5. What are institutions afraid to risk?

  6. What does success look like in your work?

  7. What are institutions risking when they try to engage with different types of visitors in different ways?

  8. In your opinion - in general or specifically speaking - what is a museum’s biggest fear?

  9. What is a real professional fear in your work?

  10. As a museum visitor, what is a common fear?

  11. How is vulnerability (uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure) perceived in your work and with the institutions that you have worked with?

  12. Describe vulnerability in your work?

  13. What might vulnerability look like for a museum visitor?

  14. What does empathy look like for a museum visitor?

  15. Where do you think empathy is missing in museum work?

  16. What does failure big or small look like in your work?

  17. What has been your career low point?

  18. What has failure looked like in your work? At it’s best? At it’s worst?

  19. What happens when someone makes a mistake at work?

  20. How has silence been used as a solution to a problem in your experience?

  21. How has shame gotten in the way of change?

  22. What does shame look like in museum work?

  23. As contractors or museum workers, what have you been told not to mention or not to talk about?

  24. At what frequency in your work do necessary but uncomfortable conversations occur?

  25. How have you leaned into the “discomfort” of vulnerability in your work?

  26. How do you work through discomfort or vulnerability with your clients, coworkers, students, et al?

  27. How do you personally/physically experience shame? What are your coping tricks?

  28. What behaviors are rewarded or punished?

  29. Where are people actually spending their time and resources?

  30. What happens when someone fails, disappoints, or makes mistakes in your workplace?

  31. How prevalent are shame and blame and how are they showing up?

  32. What is the collective tolerance for discomfort in your workplace? Is the discomfort of learning, trying new things, and giving feedback normalized, or is there a high premium on comfort?

  33. What do institutions try to make certain that is uncertain?

  34. In what ways do museums “pretend”?

  35. When have you been asked to do more with less and it’s not possible?

  36. What is something (your) institution(s) has/have been silent about that you wish they would take a stand on or be loud about?

  37. What are the ideas, customs, or habits do you find that are held, especially unreasonably, to be above criticism?  Who is most likely to challenge these? Who continues to resist change and stand by these institutional habits?

  38. Is exhaustion a status symbol and productivity a measure of self-worth? How is this problematic?

  39. How do museum workers numb their vulnerability?

  40. What are signs of disengagement?

  41. Is your establishment connected to its visitors?

  42. Have you worked with courageous leaders and coworkers? What makes them courageous?

  43. What is the relationship between trust and vulnerability?

  44. Do you fear or trust your institutional leadership?

  45. Using all the senses in a museum experience, how does this disruptively engage people in the museum setting?

  46. How does your organization receive, reflect, and incorporate feedback?

  47. What are common excuses for not being good listeners?

  48. When has something at your museum/institution/career brought you to tears? (Or, when have you seen a visitor do something that brought you to tears?)

  49. What is one quality that you love about your boss/workplace? What is one quality you wish was present in your boss/workplace that is lacking?

  50. What story do you tell about your museum/workplace when you want to help people understand how it changes peoples' lives for the better?

  51. Who are museums worried about alienating or offending?"

  52. What would you do differently in your work if you weren't afraid to fail or didn't have to worry about any negative ramifications?

 

This list is also available here.

I look forward to collaborating with you. 


Please share your thoughts, experiences, and feedback to trish@trishoxford.com or tweet @trishoxford

 

 

The Power of Vulnerability in Museums: The Origin of the #MCN2016 Session

The Power of Vulnerability in Museums session will take place at MCN: The Human-Centered Museum conference in New Orleans on Thursday 11/3 at 4 p.m.

My first email to panelists began: I want to talk about change-work in the museum field and what is getting in the way.

In July 2016 in preparation for our MCN session, I began an exploratory conversation about The Power of Vulnerability in museums and the work of Dr. Brene Brown with seven individuals that transformed my understanding of what a museum could and should be.

Sina Bahram, Jen Oleniczak Brown, Shayla Herndon-Edmunds, Lesley Kadish, Elissa Frankle, Paige Danziger, and Nikhil Trivedi are change agents. Through unapologetic creativity and diligence, these wonderful people work to make institutions more inclusive, creative, and accessible. I quickly learned that any successful innovator is equally acquainted with the vulnerable terrain of risk, fear, uncertainty, and at times, failure. To my delight, each person was open to participating in this unusual session.  

As MCN program co-chair, I was privileged to participate in the creation of this year’s conference theme, the human-centered museum. Through this theme, ideas emerged that focused on the people behind the pixels of museum digital work. However, I found one notion continue to be discussed but never quite materialize: where does emotion fit in the human-centered museum?

Our curated-discussion in New Orleans will attempt to wrap words around this slippery question. Built on the theories and writings of Dr. Brené Brown, a vulnerability researcher and storyteller, we will mind the gap between who we are as institutions and who we want to be. We will confront the obstacles that emerge in the pursuit of challenging the status quo. By sharing what behaviors are rewarded and punished at our institutions, we hope to shed light on the common fears that halt substantive progress.

The format of this session is designed simultaneously to address vulnerability in museum work and to exercise vulnerability in real time. Participants will receive questions one of two ways: (1) from the moderator and (2) at random from a basket, which will contain written questions from the audience. My goal is for the session to not resemble any conference session that you have ever attended.

Attendees will walk away with a collection of stories and insights of courageous leaders and how they normalize the discomfort of their failures, as well as the missteps of their coworkers, and always appeal to humanity behind the project.

 

NOTES ON THE WORK OF DR. BRENE BROWN AND RESEARCH:

I was introduced to Dr. Brené Brown through her popular TED talks,  The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame. I immediately connected Dr. Brown’s concepts to my experience working in museums. The fear of uncertainty, avoidance of uncomfortable conversations, and shame as management tool often halted necessary change.

I proposed this session from a place of intense vulnerability. Due to the sudden change in jobs of my spouse, I found myself leaving the exciting work of digital adaptation in museums to that of freelancer and full-time mommy of two, living in rural North Carolina. Although I was suddenly isolated on two-hundred acres, my mind was abuzz with reflections, ideas, and projects.

Freshly independent of a funding institution but impassioned by accessibility and inclusion work in the museum context, I didn't know where to begin or even how to start. I sent out emails to whomever wanted to talk to me about my ideas. I fell FLAT ON MY FACE many times. Lots of times, I was brushed off. I was embarrassed. I felt not worthy to talk about my ideas. (Not all the time, I had some great conversations and a lot of encouragement from the MCN community).

I began to explore vulnerability through audio books on my daily hours-long journeys in my minivan hauling my little ones through the country. At stoplights, I would scribble in tiny composition books or try to capture thoughts in my phone. I began discussions with my panelists midsummer to learn more about other people’s experiences. And it wasn’t until early October that the ideas really started to crystallize.  

 

Reading List:

Dr. Brene’s Brown books & audio course:

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Daring Greatly,: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.

The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage

Other books that informed this session:

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Lynn Twist’s The Soul of Money: Reclaiming the Wealth of Our Inner Resources