Category Archives: Arts Management

Emerging Arts Leader Q & A: Colleen Dilenschneider from “Know Your Own Bone”

Colleen 2 From the time I started MJ Writes, I wanted to feature interviews with individuals I admire, who are working as emerging leaders in the arts and museum field and/or are currently enrolled in a related graduate program. Today, this goal has become a reality! Introducing the “Emerging Arts Leader Q & A” series, a monthly feature on MJ Writes. I align my understanding of what it means to be an emerging leader in the arts with Americans for the Arts definition: those who encompass the next generation of arts leaders in America, and professionals who are either new to the field, with up to five years of experience, or are 35 years of age or younger. The men and women are individuals I feel are directly impacting the current status and the future of the arts and museum sector. They are the next generation of arts leaders in the United States, and will be the familiar faces and voices of change and innovation for years to come.

Without further ado, please welcome Colleen Dilenschneider, an emerging leader in the nonprofit sector with an interest in marketing, education, and creative community engagement. She has experience working at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Smart Museum of Art, After School Matters at Gallery 37, and Pacific Science Center in Seattle. She is currently pursuing a graduate degree in public administration with a concentration in nonprofit management. Colleen hosts the brilliant blog, Know Your Own Bone, which I follow religiously, and tweets about the nonprofit sector via @cdilly.

Q: What is your current job and how did you start working in the non-profit/museum field?
A: I am currently a graduate student at the University of Southern California pursuing a master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in nonprofit management. My museum and nonprofit experience began as a sophomore in college when I served as a weekly volunteer in the Department of Integrative Exhibitions and Family Programs at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Q: What are some of the struggles and successes you have or currently face working in the non-profit/museum world?
A: I left a fun and creative position as the Special Events Coordinator at Pacific Science Center to pursue my master’s degree and the biggest struggle that I am currently facing is adjusting to that status switch. I went from being a full-time nonprofit/museum professional to a full-time graduate student—and it’s a big change! In my past work experiences, I was directly involved in the industry, and now I am studying the industry. It requires a change in perspective, to be sure, but it also requires a conscious effort to stay actively involved in the always-evolving museum and nonprofit communities.

Q: Tell us a bit about your educational background—what have you studied to get to where you are today?
A: I graduated from The University of Chicago in 2007 with a double major in English and visual arts. I received professional certification in public relations from the University of Washington in 2008. I’m pleased to be currently enrolled in The University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning, and Development as an MPA candidate for 2011.

Q: What circumstance, opportunity, or experience has influenced and shaped your career choice?
A: I gravitated toward the nonprofit sector when I realized that it was the environment in which my unique talents could produce the most “good.”  To name an example, I get excited about social causes– specifically those involving education and community-building– and that enthusiasm serves as an incredible asset for me in marketing, fundraising, and creative community engagement efforts.

Q: Always a popular question—What books are you currently reading?

Uncharitable by Dan Pallotta
Art Objects
by Jeanette Winterson
Public Management: A Three Dimensional Approach
by Carolyn J. Hill and Laurence E. Lynn

Q: Career-wise, where do you see yourself in five years?
A: In five years, I’ll be utilizing my creative thinking abilities and passion for social change by serving as a leader in a nonprofit organization that engages, educates, and generally strengthens the greater community.

Q: What advice can you share with emerging leaders in the non-profit/museum field?
A: Think big and always be growing. There’s something new to learn in every experience!

Q: If you could experience your own “Night at the Museum” adventure, which museum would you choose?
A: The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, for sure! I’d love to see JFK and Teddy Roosevelt step out of their presidential limousines and I’d like to sit on the bus next to Rosa Parks. I’d hope that the ghost of Abraham Lincoln would appear in his rocking chair and that I could have long conversations with Alice Paul, who is one of my favorite figures in American history. I might even get to meet my great, great grandfather who invented the New Idea two row corn picker that is currently on display on the museum floor!


Pondering “7 Habits of Highly Effective People: The Art World Edition”

Window of OpportunityAn article from Fine Arts LA, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: The Art World Edition, grabbed my attention today as I was taking a break from writing a paper on cultural diplomacy. I should tack these to my wall, because habits one-to-seven speak to my experience thus far in the museum field, both in the academic realm and based on my professional experience. Before I stick this list on the ‘fridge, I’m adding my own “notes to self.”

Habit #1: Believe that art is the alpha and the omega.
But don’t hate on people that do not.

Habit #2: Network, network, network.
Don’t be a scaredy-cat. Leaders take on challenges, not walk away from them.

Habit #3: Carpe Diem.
See art. Do not get so caught up in working for an art organization that you never see what your persistence and passion revolve around.

Habit #4: Study, worship, and emulate John Baldessari (if you’re an artist) or Walter Hopps (if you’re anyone else).
According to Wikipedia, Walter Hopps’ obituary in the Washington Post described him as a “sort of a gonzo museum director — elusive, unpredictable, outlandish in his range, jagged in his vision, heedless of rules.” Sounds like a role model any Museopunk should aim to emulate. (Update: Approach with caution…see #6 and #7. Sometimes the time is not always right to be heedless to the rules or unpredictable.)

Habit # 5: Rise above the fear of not knowing “how.”
Fear is paralyzing and can flatline even the most fervent of ambitions. We should not pretend the fear is nonexistent, because it often gives us the drive we need to “do all those things that we are not easily moved to do…,” according to Rilke.

Habit #6: Don’t try to reinvent the wheel; find your own niche.
I have to admit that a particular annoyance of mine is when people, in a fit of trying to sound really smart I think, attempt to discredit current modes of doing things. It is as if they believe that by talking about it in a frenetic and faux-intellectual manner sans action will solve anything. Often you are presented with a pre-established framework of policies and practices at an arts organization, and it has been my experience that if you are willing to work within this framework while adding your own variations on a theme and taking a leadership role, you may just be a more effective administrator in the long run. At some point in my career, opportunity and experience will align to open up that unique experience of reinvention, but until then, being effective is often my best bet at effecting change.

Habit #7: There isn’t a formula; carve your own path to success.
While it is constructive to learn from others in the field, I understand that there is not “one” road to success or a 1+1=2 formula that can be applied to my life just because it worked for someone else. I learn from others in the field of museum management, but ultimately it is my unique background, knowledge, and experience that guides me, and not the need to fit within a generic mold of what some deem to be success.

I am working up a special, new series of interviews with emerging leaders in the arts and museum sector. Keep an eye out for the first post coming soon!!

Museums and controversial exhibitions – Add to the discussion!


I am loving the Museopunk forum! I just opened up the following question for discussion, and encourage you to add to the conversation and join Museopunk if you have not had the chance yet!

For those who have worked or currently work in the museum field, have you had any dealings with exhibitions that turned out to be controversial, or planned exhibitions that addressed contentious topics? What did the museum do to address concerns from the public and funders, and did they put extra measures in place to encourage constructive dialogue about the topic or the art?


Are You a Museopunk?

New Curator has launched a fantastic network, Museopunk, with a pretty active forum that needs more voices! What is a museopunk, you ask? From the New Curator blog, here is the scoop:


A DIY attitude is very Museopunk, and kind of makes sense for a start-up Metrocurator. But if MOMA released a bunch of Metrocurators into New York with a ton of cash behind them, they could probably get the job done. Same thing with bureaucracy; a Metrocurator wants to deal with as little as possible. A Museopunk wants to change bureaucracy to allow for greater freedom of innovation, especially in reaction to failing “cookie-cutter” models or corporate interests.

Museopunk borrows from, and probably partially overlaps, Edupunk. This word encompasses all museum parts with a punk notion. Prezpunk, a punk outlook on conservation. Who ws it it that said “Curatopunk”? Sorry to who said it but I’ve lost where that came from. I came up with Registrapunk to cover the punk approach to collections management.

Personally, I’m seeing the best of Museopunk innovative thinking coming from the wannabes, the bottom rungs or the outsider freelancers. I suppose these are the people who want it the most and want to succeed and see an entrepreneurial approach as the way to do it. That is to say that there isn’t a lot of things going on in museum institutions that could be considered Museopunk. Involvement in the Creative Commons for one. Putting CC licenses on photos or entire documentation records. Building your own software. Not getting overly involved in these ready made blockbuster exhibitions that are put together and sold as a packages (I want to call them “Microwave Exhibitions”).

In my opinion, Museopunk is a reaction and a desire for museums to regain some of that soul.

I just signed up and I am excited to swap ideas about innovating our organizations with people from both the U.S. and abroad. I encourage all museum leaders to join the conversation!

End of Week Links: SFMOMA, Professional Development & Brandeis Backtracks

It’s raining buckets here, but it’s giving me time to stay indoors, jump on MJ Writes, and share some links I have found to be especially interesting to me this week. If you have some news or links to share, drop me a line in the Comments section!

SFMOMA Rooftop Treasure Hunt Facebook App
As if we didn’t already know that SFMOMA is a pretty cool and dynamic institution , it is at it again with a  nifty treasure-hunt-esque app on its Facebook page.

DIY Professional Development
Rosetta Thurman shares 11 ways that leaders in the non-profit world can seek out professional development without waiting around for their organizations to pay for it. My favorite is #10: Ask a lot of questions, don’t be scared to approach people – take advantage of the people around you! Well said.

Be the Best You Can Be!
Hot tips on how to develop yourself as the best non-profit leader by volunteering, thinking big, and seeking professional development opportunities (see link above!).

Brandeis Backtracks
A follow up to the madness that was the deaccessioning debacle at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University. I believe it is an important case that will be used to develop the next wave of scholarship concerning museum ethics, collections care, and accessioning policies.

In other news: Cultural policy, cultural diplomacy, and contemporary art in the White House!

Stock-EarthI would have pinned the Obamas as more French Impressionist lovers, but alas, they have come out as Modern and Contemporary folk, which endear them even more to me. Tyler Green (he writes the blog, Modern Art Notes) is not completely satisfied with the art-loving gesture of  the President and his brood. After all the campaign talk about supporting the arts, all of us working in the arts certainly didn’t expect such blatant non-action from the White House after we elected Obama into office, a feeling Green echoes in his post. Green makes some terrific points about innovation and needing a new, progressive federal arts policy and initiatives. He writes, “Now we should demand substance.” And I say, “Yes!”

Karen Brooks Hopkins took to the Huffington Post today to criticize Michael Kaiser’s ideas about cultural diplomacy for the arts administration field, which she deems narrow-minded. You can read the post by clicking here and come to your own conclusions whether or not you are in favor of Hopkins or Kaiser, or a little of both, but I am more apt to side with the former. Kaiser’s ideas to stop sending dance troupes, orchestras, etc. overseas and instead send administrators to other countries to help them implement all the great ideas we have here seems to be just another form of American arrogance. It aligns with the thinking that as a so-called democratic society, those of us in the U.S. have the best ideas and should share them with the rest of the world, who will be eternally grateful for our knowledge. Now, I’m not bashing knowledge-sharing or Michael Kaiser; it is not about that but about the approach he recommends. In contrast, I side 100% with Hopkins, who in response to Kaiser, writes, “I believe that cultural diplomacy can encompass many things, including the export of both our artistic and managerial talents. The world’s problems often seem intractable, and sometimes we are simply too far apart for negotiation, mediation, even basic discussion. When talking just won’t do, art can be a way of opening doors, getting acquainted and learning more about the other side.”

As artists, arts administrators, performing arts managers, and museum leaders, what should our stance be on issues of cultural diplomacy and advocating for action from the White House in the development of a dynamic U.S. arts policy? What role should each and every one of us play as being cultural ambassadors to other countries and in other cultures, even those who live in our own back yard and who frequent our institutions?

Arts in Crisis Tour – Find a location near you today!

Arts in Crisis: A Kennedy Center Initiative is a program designed to provide planning assistance and consulting to struggling arts organizations throughout the United States. Open to non-profit 501(c)(3) presenting and producing performing arts organizations, the program will provide counsel from Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser, Kennedy Center executive staff, and approved mentors in the areas of fundraising, building more effective Boards of Trustees, budgeting, marketing, technology, and other areas pertinent to maintaining a vital performing arts organization during a troubled economy. (Source)

Tour dates:

NY Times Article: Kennedy Center to Spread the Knowledge