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.
Dr. Brene’s Brown books & audio course:
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