Tag Archives: Administration

Disillusioned Museum Admissions Employee Doesn’t Even Believe Own Annual Membership Pitch Anymore

Actually By The Onion


MILWAUKEE—After more than nine months of enumerating for visitors the various member-only benefits and explaining how dues help support the museum’s mission to educate and inspire, disillusioned Milwaukee Art Museum employee Ashley Mizote told reporters Friday she no longer believes her own annual membership pitch. “I used to think that membership was an unbeatable value, but now I can barely get through my opening line about how an annual pass will connect visitors to the vibrant arts community without questioning the truth of it all,” said Mizote, who admitted that her voice often trails off during the part of her pitch about how members automatically receive important updates and offers via the museum’s e-newsletter. “I know the words, but I don’t feel them…

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Colonial Williamsburg, Where the Past is Prey

A museum actually had a Superbowl commercial! That’s right, Colonial Williamsburg aired an ad in three major markets hoping to reach their most fertile hunting grounds. While the Game Day spot was 30 seconds long they release this one minute extended-cut version online:

With this commercial Colonial Williamsburg’s attempts at getting attention yet again got attention. Mayhaps not the kind the they were aiming at. And we don’t just mean our past views (here and here) of their advertising campaigns or their new, but questionable public programs. It seems not everyone was happy with how they seemed to undo American history or that they showed the Towers collapsing on 9/11. But those comments miss the mark.

Williamsburg wanted to be provocative. Clearly they were successful, because their three-city ad has become national news. That is not outrageous, that’s marketing. Besides this commercial is far better than some of their earlier attempts. This one is at least grounded in history. Perhaps Mitchell Reiss, President & CEO, described the commercial best when he said, “These ads take you backwards…” And they do, they take you all the way back to 2012 and this

You could call it a reenactment. Everything from the “We the People” intros to the historical footage was similar. In fact the only noticeable differences are the direction the film rolls in and that it’s Tom Brokaw narrating, not a blue-eyed, blonde girl.* Maybe Williamsburg used the premise because the Constitution Center’s ad worked so well. Or perhaps CW is simply uncreative and lazy and hoped no one would notice.

In all honesty let Williamsburg continue to take from others, lest they inflict their old work on us, like the “It stays with you” campaigns of recent memory:

Yep, still creepy.


* There is a third difference: the Constitution Center called it’s own ad “exciting” despite itself.

Bringing History and Visitors Back to Colonial Williamsburg

Curator’s Comment: In the past the American Hysterical Society has been openly critical of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s 2013 and 2014 advertising campaigns (it seems they have deleted the most egregious; we hope it’s because of something we said). The following is our attempt to make amends and offer some helpful suggestions.

As we have noted before, history doesn’t sell. Just ask any site who offers a well-researched horse engine day or tea party, or if that tight stitch count has got ‘em flocking in. If history did sell then our work would be well funded, we would all be rockstars, and Colonial Williamsburg would still be a historic site.

In case you haven’t noticed, Williamsburg has spent the better part of the last year transforming into a low-rent Busch Gardens. Or to quote President & CEO Mitchell Reiss, trying “to do some things we’ve never done before to make this special place even better.”[1] So with tenuous historical connections and what their marketing folks think has mass appeal, the Foundation has added a shooting range, a petting zoo, a doggy mascot, pirates, and an ice skating rink to their “historic” experience.

As Reiss said, “You’ll notice us paying more attention to first-time visitors and families who have chosen to invest their hard earned vacation dollars for a trip to Colonial Williamsburg instead of [Disney’s] Magic Kingdom.” They’re targeting families because they think that’s where the money is. However, most families are too budget conscious to feed Williamsburg’s voracious coffers.

No, the real revenue is in providing extreme lifestyle experiences for underserved audiences looking for the unique, the challenging, and the thrilling.[2] This audience includes masochists, sadists, body modifiers, and mixed martial artists. There’s a lot of money in pain and blood. And Williamsburg is perfectly suited to simultaneously profit from this growing demand while creating historically-grounded interpretation.

This soon-to-be wildly-popular and award-winning program includes: [3]

  • Public Shaming: Did you ever want to let that loved one know you knew about their lies/theft/infidelity/stupidity? Well now you can all while allowing the whole world to share in your pain and righteousness. It’s the eighteenth-century version of Facebook.
  • Standing the Pillory: The stocks are already a popular stop, this would just add the missing ingredient, human drama. Once a prisoner is locked in, his or her ears are nailed to the stock and they are left standing there. Later, just before their allotted time is up, their ears are first sliced off and then they are released. Siblings of all ages, with their mischievous rivalries, will love this one.
  • Flogging: Depending on your tastes, you or a person of your choice can be publicly flogged. It can be for almost any infraction, real or imagined, or just because the experience is so delicious.
  • Branding: You may or may not have committed a felony, but now you can look like you have. Scarification by branding makes tattoos seem as dangerous as body paint.
  • Dueling: You and an opponent of your choice could rent weapons (swords or the more expensive pistols) and, after a five-minute orientation, take your positions on the palace lawn and have at each other. First blood or death, it’s your choice.
  • Public Execution: We’re already heading toward this in modern America, so why not be on the cutting edge? Executions were popular mass entertainment back in the day, and they would draw even larger crowds (and oodles of publicity) today. The best thing about a historically-accurate hanging is that, unlike later nineteenth-century hanging practices where the neck was broken almost immediately, the show could last for several minutes thanks to the short drop drop and slow strangulation. Popular as this will be with spectators, we suggest brushing up your “not it” skills.

Along with being immersive experiences, they are also a fully interactive ones. And boy will they draw a crowd! This has every potential to be the first truly exciting museum program ever.

Each of these ideas brings to bear all of CW’s resources, historic trades to make the nails, weapons, gallows, and rope, educators to help explain the background of each option to participants and guests alike, living history skills to ensure authenticity, and food service to help keep tummies full and wallets empty.

horse tred - Copy

The choice is simple: Does Williamsburg want public programs that look like this…

William_Hogarth_-_Industry_and_Idleness,_Plate_11;_The_Idle_'Prentice_Executed_at_Tyburn - Copy

…or like this?

We know what you’re thinking: that doing any, much less all, of this would take real audacity. We say it’s less audacious than opening a skating rink on Duke of Gloucester Street and, with a straight face, calling it a “magical experience.”[4]


1. We truly thought he was going to say “specialer.”

2. And need we mention they are likely first-time visitors?

3. All  medical or coroner’s bills are included in your fees!

4. The Disneyfication isn’t even subtle.


Committee, n. A group of men who individually can do nothing but as a group decide that nothing can be done.

Original quote attributed to Fred Allen


See also Board of Trustees


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Shell-Sponsored Museum Exhibit Claims Oil is Birds’ Version of Wine

Actually From The Daily Mash


BIRDS love to drink crude oil with their supper, according to a Science Museum display sponsored by Shell.

The oil company denies the display entitled Oil: Useful and Delicious manipulates scientific fact to further its corporate agenda. The exhibit shows stuffed cormorants sipping oil from fluted glasses while using a coastal oil slick as a kind of hot tub.

A Shell spokesman said: “Birds and fish love drinking oil, it makes them feel pleasantly intoxicated and more sociable. Nature loves nothing more than an ‘oil party’.

“So spilling it is an act of generosity.”

The corporation has announced its next Science Museum exhibition will be Fairies, Werewolves and Climate Change, an examination of how the gullible can be manipulated into believing in far-fetched things.

A Realistic Deaccession Discussion

Broadly speaking, most deaccession controversies (the ones where a museum announces it’s selling collections to pay for non-collections things) go like this:

1. The museum realizes it is going or is broke. In lieu of finding new revenues it decides to sell collections.

2. The museum publicly announces it’s deaccession plans, shocking and angering the rest of the field (but usually no one else).

3. The field demands that those responsible for the financial failures and/or the deaccession proposal be brought forth and punished.

4. The American Association of Museums, the Association of Art Museum Directors, or the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries write strongly-worded letters or speeches admonishing the offending museum not to do it. They write the same thing each time, just changing the proper nouns.

There is no set #5, as the outcome can vary – the museum might halt the deaccession altogether, a donor might generously meet the shortfall (for this year anyway), or they might go ahead and sell, the field be damned. Except in rare instances mentioned below, in no way is the outcome based on anything other than what is financially beneficial for the museum. As we’ve said before, hope and strongly-worded letters are really all the museum field has in these situations.

But lately there has been a call for what amounts to a new #4 on our list. Some museum professionals are clamoring for the AAM, et al, to push and the Federal government to pass national laws protecting collections and punishing offending museums. This sounds like a fine idea.

The problem is it’s a dumb idea.

There are already laws in place to protect collections. They are created and governed by each state because museum collections are held in public trust for the residents of whichever state the museum is registered in. Idealistically we like to say we hold these collections for all of humanity, but legally we’re only beholden to our home state. While the strength and effectiveness of each state’s law is debatable, they are all overseen by each state’s attorney general, who is vested with the legal power to stop deaccessions if warranted. So there is a process already ready.

With that in mind, we here at the American Hysterical Society would like to offer a new, more utilitarian approach to deaccession governance. One that would give the AAM, and their like, real teeth.

As opposed to what they have now.

As opposed to what they have now.

Since the AAM (or the AAMD or the AAMG or whoever) have members in every state of the union, when a deaccession proposal is made which the field disagrees with they should direct (cajole, really) their in-state members to file a class action lawsuit against the offending museum with that state’s attorney general. In doing so they would bring existing laws to bear, put real pressure on the offending museum, and bring the field a little closer together by shunning one of their own, all without the fun of enacting new legislation or recreating the AAM, yet again.

It’s either this or we finally accept that the field’s “ethics” are in reality unenforceable best practices and that our national museum leadership consists of hall monitors, not field generals.

If you like this suggestion, you might like our proposal to more effectively fund museums.


book12Stakeholder, n. A single-issue voter who contributes his or her agenda, but not money, to a museum project.

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Political Garanimals or It’s Party Time

Museum folks don’t spend a lot of time discussing politics while at work. We want our museums to be neutral ground, welcome to all walks of life and political persuasions. Although internally we’re hazily aware that politically the museum staff is generally center/left, while board members tend to be center/right. While we don’t want to be viewed as taking a political side, now, thanks to some collateral fallout from the government shutdown, perhaps it’s time we took a stand.

By collateral fallout we mean, for example, this:

“The worst thing that happens is some museums close and someone can’t go to the Statue of Liberty.” Jonah Goldberg

According to Goldberg, the shutdown doesn’t really matter because it only means some people aren’t able to visit museums. Which, by extension, also means that museums don’t matter because they aren’t essential.

Also there’s this:

Government-sponsored museum closures are merely an “inconvenience.” Tactful though they’re trying to be, it stills feels as though even the Smithsonian is saying, “hey, we’re not essential.”

And, of course, there is this very strange exchange between conservative Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) and a park ranger, where Neugebauer tries to shame the ranger for preventing veterans access to the WWII monument, because all of a sudden NPS sites are essential?

Museums are even used as part of a political joke (which at this time is as easy as using the words Obama and Muslim in the same story) from the National Report, a satirical news site.

These are troubling, troubling developments, revealing how far museums are from being considered essential components of American life (beyond being used as political footballs and jokes, that is).

At times of crisis, such as this, you would think the American Alliance of Museums would step in and guide us through it, arguing to lawmakers that we are essential. Unfortunately for museums, the AAM is simply a lobbying organization who hopes to appear non-partisan. However, if the the AAM were to do something useful to help secure the political future of museums, we think the first order of business should be to figure out which political party is best for museums.

Who will fight harder for our money?

By “best” we mean which party will always fund the Institute of Museum & Library Services, the NEA, and the NEH (all of which support museums), keep all Federally-sponsored museums and historic sites open, and stop using them all as political cannon fodder.

Once the AAM determines the winner, then we, as a field, should throw aside our long-held neutrality and follow our for-profit colleagues by pushing as much financial support to that party as we can. Maybe then politicians will take museums seriously. Because the truth is, we’re only going to be seen as essential if we make money (and can pay the right people off).

Museum Management Mad Lib

Hey museum executive directors, CEOs, and department heads: Have you ever wondered what your staff is really thinking about their jobs, your leadership, and the institution overall? Well, we here at the American Hysterical Society have developed an advanced psychological assessment tool that quickly and accurately determines the staff’s state of mind regarding just about every aspect of their work. We are now pleased to share with the field our (patent pending) museum management mad lib mood measure (you can tell this is designed specifically for museums because it’s alliterative).

While a mad lib might seem like a game, it’s serious surveying. Simply have your staff fill out the mad lib below using the first word that comes to mind for each blank space and collect them before they have time to rethink their answers. When reviewing their surveys stay alert for ambiguous words like “committed” and “interesting” which seem pleasant, but generally indicate that the staff is either unfocused or uncooperative. Remember, you will have to read between the lines. In fact, your staff will appreciate it more if you do.

And now, without further ado, we are pleased to present…

The Museum Management Mad Lib Mood Measure, or What a ________ Idea!

I could have chosen to be a(n) ________(occupation), but instead I decided to work at a museum, which was a(n) ________(adjective) decision. Currently, I work at a(n)________(adjective) museum. My job is very _________(adjective) to the museum because I spend my time doing ________(adjective) things. My supervisor is a(n) ________(adjective) ________(noun). His/Her approach is ________(adverb) ________(noun) by the board. Despite/Because of that (circle one), I believe visitors are our _________(superlative adjective) ________(adjective) __________(noun). Everyday my coworkers make me want to ________(verb) with ________(noun). I am so ________(adjective) that I work here!

What Do You Get When You Mix History and Odd Behavior?

Colonial Williamsburg’s recent television ad campaign!

We here at the American Hysterical Society firmly believe that history doesn’t sell. The History Channel is all the proof you’ll ever need of that. Most Americans are not interested in pure history, research, interpretation, or historiography (we’d bet most of you were turned off just reading that sentence). This puts museums in an increasingly difficult position. We’re trained to do that boring stuff, but boring stuff does not resonate with our potential visitors. So we turn to ad agencies, people experienced in spinning and selling, for help.

When these two worlds meet it can make for some awkward moments, as you can watch below.

This one is aimed at couples. We’re not sure what kind of couples. The word boogie suggests it’s geared for those in their 50s or 60s who fondly remember their courtship during the Bicentennial.

Then there’s this one where a folk art “couple” discuss their possible vacation plans, which is exactly as exciting as it sounds (oh, and we hate to break it them, but folk art doesn’t exist).

These next three are different cuts of the same commercial wherein your visit to CW will cause some stranger to invade your home, join you in the shower, spend time in the bathroom with your tweenage daughter, give your son the gift of sadism, and seduce your wife (by the way, we think they should have replaced the alarm clock buzzer with a crowing cock).

So why did Colonial Williamsburg commission these new ads? Sally McConnell, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s director of strategic communications, said they went in this new direction because, “It’s time for us to break through the perception that this is just a fourth-grade field trip.” It worked. It’s clearly a fifth grade field trip now. And a disturbing one at that.

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