Thursday, December 1, 2016

Painting in Blue

I became interested in Amy Herman’s work for several reasons. She harnesses the power of art to teach empathy, helping people in positions of power—be it medicine or law enforcement—relate more compassionately to the people they serve. Her programs also demonstrate yet another way museums can create financially sustainable services that advance the mission and improve society. The US spends about $15B each year to train doctors, and over $100B per year to train and maintain police forces. Shouldn’t museums, drawing a direct line from their resources to improved outcomes for these and other critical social needs, be included in that support? Today on the Blog, Amy tells us about the origins of the “Art of Perception.” 

From across the room crowded with cubicles, monitors, and more armed individuals than I had ever seen in one place, a tall, intimidating FBI agent yelled, “Hey, there’s Amy Herman. She showed me my first Vermeer and I’ll never forget it. That light. I’ll just never forget it.” It’s working, I thought. It’s really working.

That was 12 years ago, long before I understood the powerful alchemy between art and law enforcement. Since then, the thin blue line—the institutional emblem of police forces worldwide—has appeared in museums everywhere.

Often, I must repeat what I do for a living. You teach police about art? Not exactly. I teach them to improve their observation and communication skills by learning to analyze works of art. Paintings, sculptures, and photographs have proven to be transformative tools in professional training programs for authorities in law enforcement, intelligence, and counterterrorism. Agencies from around the country and around the world are turning to museum collections to bolster their efforts to combat crime, terrorism, and unrest in our increasingly threatened and complex world.

In our country’s fractured cultural and political landscape, police officers’ roles have never been under greater scrutiny – and never have I had more respect for the men and women who keep our country, towns, homes, and schools safe. I wholeheartedly commit to use my own training as an art historian to help them make the excruciatingly difficult judgment calls and decisions that so often define their public service.

 In 2001, as Head of Education at The Frick Collection, I instituted a program for medical students, The Art of Perception. Based on a model program at the Yale Center for British Art, the course took medical students from the clinical setting into an art museum to teach them to analyze works of art—big picture and small details—and articulate their observations. When they returned to the hospital, they would, we reasoned, be better observers of their patients. (You can find an assessment of the program in Bardes, Gillers, and Herman, “Learning to Look: Developing Clinical Observational Skills in an Art Museum, Medical Education, vol 35,no.12, pp.1157-1161.) Humanities in medical training has a strong historical precedent and this program underscored the value of critical thinking and visual analysis in the disciplines of both medicine and art history.

As we discussed the program over dinner a few years later, a friend suggested that I expand the application of this approach to other professionals for whom astute observation and perception skills were paramount.

Such as, I inquired?

Cops, he replied. They need great skills of observation and inference, don’t they?
That conversation led me to call the New York City Police Department the following morning. Transferred seven times, I finally reached a deputy commissioner who understood immediately the connection I articulated, and he agreed to come to the Frick to see what it was I was describing. Six months later, every newly promoted captain in the NYPD visited The Frick Collection to take The Art of Perception. I was elated with the new audiences, new insights, and a highly tailored program that was resonating with law enforcement professionals, many of whom had never set foot in a museum.

Although the Frick Collection might seem intimidating to first-time visitors, the police officers were engaged and eager learners. They embraced the works of Titian, Vermeer, and Bellini as their own, and saw the connections between examining works of art and improving their own observation and communication skills in a litany of professional scenarios—investigating crime scenes, questioning witnesses, writing reports, and testifying under oath, among others. While a group of officers viewed El Greco’s Purification of the Temple, I asked: If you could question any individual in the painting to get the backstory about what had just occurred, who would it be?” One officer responded, “I would collar the guy in the pink robe. He seems to be causing all the trouble.” The guy in the pink robe is Jesus Christ.

NYC police officers with Amy Herman at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
from an article in Smithsonian Magazine, October 2009 (Amy Toensing)

Not one to underestimate the power of art, I knew the program could expand to include additional concepts and broader audiences. By word of mouth, news of this training spread across the country, and increasingly I was asked to tailor the program for different agencies, focusing on such topics as surveillance, human trafficking, prosecution, the judiciary, and intelligence gathering. Over time, participants included the FBI, the Defense Department, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security. I have led The Art of Perception in over 20 different museums and the number of participating institutions and law enforcement agencies continues to grow.

I also use these programs to address the critical need to cultivate empathy in law enforcement personnel and the communities they serve, in order to help improve the quality of interactions between them. To this end, I began to use more provocative works of art—photographs by Diane Arbus, paintings by Lucian Freud, and a selection of works by contemporary artists—to address issues of bias, prejudice, relationships, and race. Analysis of selected works of art became the entrĂ©e to substantive – and sometimes difficult – conversations about perceived threats and cultural distinctions, with an emphasis on behaviors grounded in assumptions, biases, and inferences. Proof that the technique works was evident in a comment from a surveillance agent, who told me at the end of a recent session: “You really opened my eyes. The problem is, I didn’t know they were closed.”

Museums can use their collections to improve the skills of police and intelligence community professionals and also to address longstanding cultural barriers. One police department at a time, those barriers are being dismantled via audience engagement that is helping to heal our fractured communities.

You can read more about the Art of Perception and Amy's work "Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life," published this past spring.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Building the Future of Museum Labor Requires Sound Data

This is an unabashed plea for you to make sure your museum answers the National Comparative Museum Salary Survey that’s now in the field.

Here are just a few of the significant labor policy issues facing museums:
  • Gender equity in pay
  • Living wages
  • CEO pay ratio
  • Building a diverse workforce

Baseline data on museum salaries is a crucial component of the information we need to inform our discussion of these issues.

To meet this need, the Alliance is partnering with all the US regional museum associations and several state associations to conduct the third national survey of how museums compensate their employees. The survey results are used by:
  • the field to understand regional similarities and differences, how the various disciplines handle compensation, and trends in employee benefits;
  • museums to help determine appropriate compensation;
  • museum workers to assess job offers and negotiate pay.

The survey launched on November 14 via email to directors and human resource staff of museums in the partner associations’ databases. This is an institutional survey: each museum should only respond once, providing data for the whole organization. Ask your director or HR staff whether your museum is in the process of responding—If not, your museum can access instructions and a link to the online survey here.

Data collection closes on December 19th—please ensure your museum is represented!

If you have questions about the survey, or need assistance, contact ebaker (at)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Give Me Shelter

@DesignMuseum #refugees @Better_Shelter @Ikea
Follow the link in the photo caption to the associated story. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links) on CFM's Pinterest Boards.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The CFM Future of Education Tour starts in 2017 in the Southeast!

This week we are pleased to share our own bit of good news: CFM Fellows Sage Morgan-Hubbard and Nicole Ivy announce they are taking their work on the road with The Future of Education Tour. In January 2017, they will set out on the first of a series of expeditions to explore the good work museums are doing in the fields of education and labor. Their first route takes them through the Southeast—if you are interested in hosting Nicole and Sage at your museum, read the post below and send them an invitation. 

These are so many questions floating around in our heads lately: How do we reconnect face to face in these divided times? How do we highlight museums across the country that are seldom heard from? Can we offer up museums as potential sites of reconciliation? We begin by honoring the strengths of museums, building upon their unique ability to gather and guide very diverse groups of people to share our collective treasures. And we actively incorporate new media modalities into our work, experimenting with a multiplicity of voices, meditating varying concepts of the future of education, as our country rapidly shapeshifts before our very eyes (ears, noses, and other senses). In order to sustain the victories of the Civil Rights Movement over the past 50 years, and to search for new identities, what could be more “American” than a road trip? Perhaps the South can teach us at this present moment in particular how to ameliorate the many economic and social inequalities of the past so that past discord does not spillover our future.

With all these questions in mind and more, The Center for the Future of Museums (CFM) has started a project to visit museums across the United States and bring together museums, educators, and community members to record and share their most promising practices for P–12 education. CFM Fellows Sage Morgan-Hubbard and Nicole Ivy will begin their journey through the Southeast United States— from DC to New Orleans—on January 9 through January 20, 2017, making a special note of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., whose holiday that falls during this time. We plan on stopping in eight cities: Richmond, Virginia, Charlotte, North Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia, Birmingham, Alabama, Memphis, Tennessee, Jackson, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana.

During the course of her fellowship, Sage Morgan-Hubbard eventually will travel to all six US regions in a series of 10-day road trips. This laboratory-on-wheels also will be shared at an interactive panel and showcased in the exhibit hall at AAM’s 2017 Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo in St. Louis. We are excited that our Center for the Future of Museums has an active following online and at the same time we hope to establish more points of engagement to stimulate in-person dialogue and critical discussions with member museums, visionary educators, engaged parents, concerned youth and thought leaders through interventions that challenge and disrupt failing systems of education through dynamic, healthy, vibrant and participatory learning. An objective of this trip is to more deeply connect with museum educators, activists and innovators to highlight oft neglected, disengaged and underrepresented community voices. We want to uncover and expose overlooked disruptive and stimulating new practices and ideas lurking within P-12 education in museums, schools, unschooling communities and community based organizations. The Future of Education tour will bring us intimately and personally and perhaps even uncomfortably face to face with members to learn what we can and to demonstrate AAM’s strategic goals.  They include: increasing our engagement with P-12 education everywhere, and 2) highlighting radical approaches to diversity, accessibility, equity, and inclusion by sharing case studies and stories from inside and outside of the museum field. In this exploration of how each region of the United States, we will specifically feature the similarities and divergent ways the nation thinks about and practices education on the ground today, and to find what the field can learn from each of these important regional interactions and discoveries.

Through the Future of Education Tour, Sage and Nicole will explicitly invite individuals from partner museums, educational sites, and local communities to engage them through public lectures and interactive conversations designed to incite dialogue, foster empathy, and share innovative tactics across disciplines. Since Sage and Nicole are both poets, some of these interactions might entail spoken word and poetic creations. The project also will feature:

• a series of porch-side chats with museum professionals
• a “Faces from the Field” video series
• Instagram feeds of photographs from the trek
• multimedia maps and a recording booth
• live video and “poetry cam” from the road to show the project and poetry in process

Promising practices and educational resources will be shared on AAM’s Future of Education website via blog posts, videos, photographs, online discussions, live-streamed events, and more.

Secretary of Education John King (center) on his recent Department of Education #OpportunityTour
The concept of this tour emerges from important antecedents, including the success and popularity of mobile museums, the Department of Education’s recent bus #OpportunityTour from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans in the fall of 2016, MTV’s Road Rules series, the legacy of the 1961 Freedom rides, and the cannon of iconic American road trips literature and curricula.

Please note that we are still planning our itinerary and are very open to your suggestions and requests. To determine which museums we will visit and which routes to follow, the team will closely collaborate with AAM’s Education Committee and crowdsource recommendations from you, our constituents. To invite Nicole Ivy and Sage Morgan-Hubbard to visit, please contact or, on Twitter, @MuseumsP12.

We look forward to hearing from you and visiting you soon!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Mapping the Results

#Election2016 #analysis #demographics @BBC 
Follow the link in the photo caption to the associated story. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links) on CFM's Pinterest Boards.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Crafting courageous truths: The creation and philosophy of MASS Action: Museum As Site for Social Action

Today, Porchia Moore, Aletheia Wittman, Elisabeth Callihan, nikhil trivedi, Janeen Bryant, and Sage Morgan-Hubbard share thoughts on the recent MASS Action convening. Here they outline the vision for the three-year project and describe the need for museums to work toward equity and social justice.

MASS Action Attendees

People are hesitant to engage in difficult conversations and that is what cultural institutions exist to offer in an array of forms... From the Smithsonian Institution to the public library in Ferguson, Missouri, libraries and museums share an idea to address: the need to stimulate the capacity of public thought. If each of us is required to craft truths for ourselves, it is the fearless mind that moves with greatest success. That kind of courage is part of the democratic motive as well. There is an unspoken link between curiosity and courage, as many lives of discovery can demonstrate.   We need to speak about this link. ----David Carr (Smithsonian Libraries Unbound)

Now more than ever, we need to be talking about and working towards social justice and equity within our museums. In the spirit of fearlessness and courage, the Minneapolis Institute of Art provided the space for museum professionals across the country to craft a vision for 21st century museums, their workers, and their visitors. The vision is encapsulated by a project called Museum As Site for Social Action, or MASS Action. The goal of this three year project is to create an immersive, action-oriented, living toolkit for radical museum praxis. We aim to promote new ways of framing museum work with decolonization, anti-oppression, community-building, social justice, and shared authority as our guiding principles..

MASS Action is dedicated to eradicating the fallacy that museums are or have ever been neutral spaces. We believe museums can either choose to engage the social, political and economic realities that impact every aspect of life for the communities they serve, or let their silence implicate them in their complacency. If museums choose to engage, there may be work to be done to enter into the conversation authentically:

  • Reconciling with communities for past injustices
  • Creating pathways for communities to lead museum acts of engagement at every level
  • Instituting fair labor/wage standards for communities and individuals that support museums in this work
  • Understanding coded words and concepts that hinder change and reinscribe inequities to the benefit of museums
  • Training for staff and board that leads to awareness raising for the ways oppressions operate at an institutional level


The project is designed as follows:

YEAR 1: 52 museum professionals from across the country gathered in Fall 2016 to dreamscape and envision museum work centered on social justice and decolonization. The team laid the framework and organization for the living toolkit. A Beta version of the toolkit will be made available to the museum field in summer 2017.

YEAR 2: A call for applications will open to attend a 2017 summit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Museums invested in becoming a site for social action should apply. Each participating museum will be asked to send one senior level museum professional and one emerging or mid-career professional to attend the summit. The summit will provide toolkit training, community and network building opportunities, and the chance to model leadership in the field.

YEAR 3: Participating museums and professionals will gather together, either virtually or in-person, to share lessons learned, present case studies, and strengthen the vision for a future where museums are sites of social action.
Scenes from the convening
We recognize that we need to work together to catalyze the scale of change we envision for the future of museums. MASS Action is dedicated to supporting museums that want to build their capacity for authentic, sincere social action. To learn more about the Minneapolis Institute of Art and MASS Action, please visit:

Porchia Moore is a PhD Candidate at the University of South Carolina and the McKissick Museum Management Program. She is a curator and museum inclusion consultant. She co-founded the Visitors of Color Project with nikhil trivedi and is a regular contributing writer for the Incluseum.

Sage Morgan-Hubbard is the Ford W. Bell Fellow in P-12 Education at the American Alliance of Museums.

Aletheia Wittman co-founded The Incluseum, currently teaches with the University of Washington Museology Program and is a freelance museum consultant.

Elisabeth Callihan is the Head of Multi-Generational Learning at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Janeen Bryant is an is an inter-sectional educator, facilitator and community engagement consultant. She has been an advocate and catalyst for building community capacity since 2000.

nikhil trivedi is a web developer at a museum in Chicago developing web-based software in Java, PHP and Drupal. He co-founded the Visitors of Color Project with Porchia Moore, is a regular contributor at The Incluseum, and his writing has been featured in Model View Culture and Fwd: Museums.