Wednesday 30 April 2014

Getting It Right

Following on from Hemingway, here's a handy wee site that will correct your capitalisation for essay titles on the fly, based on the rules of the Chicago Style Manual. (Advice that you are free to ignore.)

Monday 28 April 2014

The Museum of Emotion

Tomorrow night in New Plymouth I'm speaking at the Govett-Brewster's Monica Brewster Evening.

My talk is on ‘the caring museum’: the potential of museums to be places of emotion and organisations that care for the people around them. It builds off the talks I've given at the last two National Digital Forum conferences, and reflects on my first 18 months as director of The Dowse.

I'd like to note for the record that I don't think the 'caring museum' looks anything like this.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Monday 21 April 2014

Weighing your words

After a recommendation from Nina Simon, who's been using it to write interpretative material for the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, I've been giving the online writing app Hemingway a whirl.

Hemingway is designed to give you live feedback on your writing, aiming for clarity and comprehension. It calls out uses of the passive voice, adverbs, unnecessarily complicated words (I kept using 'accompanies' instead of 'goes with' and it didn't like that) and long or complex sentences.

Hemingway sits in judgement on the text of my talk on Ben Cauchi and social photography

You can type directly into the app in your browser window, or copy and paste text in. I found it occasionally had trouble dealing with larger chunks of text (more than a few hundred words) but overall, it made me more mindful than usual while writing.

I've been testing the app on funding applications and proposal documents - places where a forced regard for clarity and brevity are useful. I also found that the novelty of the app induced a level of focus that I'd been lacking. (That might well wear off.)

Of course, Hemingway won't work for everything. When I was working at the National Library as a web editor, I wrote an essay for Te Papa's Rita Angus publication. I was so fixated at the time on Plain English and all the conventions of writing online that I couldn't summon up the juiciness needed for good art writing. One person who I got to review my text described it as 'anorexic'. The thing I perhaps like most about Hemingway is that you can judiciously choose to ignore its advice, and embrace your darlings instead.

Friday 18 April 2014

High rotate

An Easter weekend round-up of recent hip hop and R&B tracks

Apparently Chance the Rapper is working on his first official album. Hooray! This is a recent release from his home studio,with the immortal line "Young tactician / Just got my tax finished"

Pusha T brings out one of the best opening riffs I've heard in a while, and the near-inevitable Kendrick verse

I have no idea who Sway Clarke II is, but I'm going back to this slow jam over and over

The same goes for Ang Low, for that matter. There's the icy tuned-up vocals of an Autre ne Veut, laid over an irresistible beat

Saturday 12 April 2014

On the radio

This week on the radio I talked about Robert Leonard's 'McLeavey Sat Here' exhibition at City Gallery Wellington, and the Art vs Bear video game. All the links are on the Radio NZ website (click the Show Notes tab).

Friday 11 April 2014

High rotate

So, novelty albums for kids by indies are hardly my bag. But I'm finding some small sentimental spot of me keeps replaying tracks from Walter Martin's forthcoming album: first this ditty with Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), and now this collaboration with Matt Berninger (The National).

I mean, it even has hand-drawn lyrics ...

Thursday 10 April 2014


Despite not being there, Museums and the Web this year gave me two things. One was some deeper thinking about the DMA Friends programme (already talked about that). The other was the announcement by Shelley Bernstein from Brooklyn Museum of changes to the Museum's social media focus.*

Now, that might not seem like a big deal in the scheme of things. But if you've been following Shelley and the Brooklyn Museum for as long as I have - and with the same level of admiration for her/their smarts, insight, bravery and sheer ambition - then it's a bit like being told ... oh, I dunno, that Bruce Willis has been dead all along or something.

Shelley explains the switches in this way:

As part of a social media strategic plan, we are changing gears a bit to deploy an engagement strategy which focuses on our in-building audience, closely examines which channels are working for us, and aligns our energies in places where we feel our voice is needed, but allows for us to pull away where things are happening on their own. 

In the rest of the post, she details what this really means right now - from leaving Flickr and the Commons to deleting their FourSquare page. As Shelley said at the time in a tweet: 'we owe it to the active when the community is. we owe it to them to leave when we can't be.'

Where this links inside my head to that DMA stuff is that phrase 'focuses on our in-building audience'. The amount of time we spend online having fun with people who might never (or only very irregularly) visit us is something I think about frequently these days. Those thinks are still cloudy, but they're coming together in something that I hope will make a rational appearance soon.

*The announcement wasn't made at the conference, but I daresay the timing is not coincidental.

Wednesday 9 April 2014


So, on Monday I pointed to (salivated over?) the Museopunk interview with Maxwell L. Anderson, director of the Dallas Museum of Art. Two things really struck me in his discussion about the DMA Friends programme.

First, his statement that he didn't care if they discovered that their 600,000 visitors per year were actually 280,000 people visiting multiple times. As he pointed out, it's only a tiny fraction of the museums in the States that are tourist destinations - those places you feel you ought to visit, even if you "don't care about art". Most are like the DMA; actually used heavily by the local population. In which case, repeat visitation isn't just good - it's to be encouraged.

The second was Anderson's observation that when he joined a little over two years ago, the DMA was running 8,000 programmes a year (exhibitions and events and education visits etc). Now it's running 5,000. Again, he sees this as a good thing. Everyone inside a museum has things they really, really want to do. Every museum has things they do because they feel they should, or out of habit. The DMA Friends programme is partly about finding out what visitors value. As Anderson says - he doubts anyone has noticed that 3,000-event drop.

The Museums and the Web conference was held last week, and Rob Stein and Bruce Wyman presented on the programme, with a special focus on repeat visitation. They don't reveal how to make it happen, but they do share a bunch of stuff, including slides on Slideshare and a bunch of graphs.

Sometimes I feel very far away from my museums-and-the-web days (apart from being heavy social media users at The Dowse, we're pretty much non-digital, and I'm more than okay with that). But this one-two combination of interview and overheard-on-the-internet presentation have given me the kick in the pants that I needed to get my A into G and get started on some lightweight visitor research. And that's what this community always does me for - so thanks, y'all, from a distance but with deep gratitude.

Monday 7 April 2014

Listen up

I have a dirty-great director crush on Maxwell Anderson of the Dallas Museum of Art. I strongly recommend you henceforth, nay, immediately, make thirty minutes in your day to hear him interviewed on the Museopunks podcast on making membership free at the DMA (and much, much else besides). Tune in from about minute 12 - it will make you feel good about working in the cultural sector (or at least, hopefully, feel good about the best of the people who do, if you don't).

You can find the back catalogue of Museopunks podcasts on their website, and subscribe on iTunes.

Wednesday 2 April 2014


It’s warm and sunny in the gallery, there’s a nice breeze, everything is OK, and there’s some beautiful works of human achievement to look at and listen too.

Max Cooper has put together a list of ten tracks to walk around art galleries to. It opens with Steep Hills of Vicodin Tears, a personal fav.