Museum Boards, Part 2
Welcome to the Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter from Northern States Conservation Center. The newsletter is designed to bring you timely and helpful content that is pertinent to situations we all encounter in our museum and archives work. Feel free to let us know what topics you would like to see featured in Collections Caretaker or even contribute an article.
In This Issue

It's the board, stupid.
Leadership is a Perennial Challenge   
Featured Course
January 2018 Online Courses
February 2018 Online Courses
Conferences and Meetings
Errata: The October 2017 had an incorrect title.  The title of the October 2017 eNewsletter should have been Museum Boards. Our apologies for any confusion this error may have caused.
It's the board, stupid.
By Joan Baldwin
As the Berkshire Museum 's (Pittsfield, MA) drama roils on, the museum world is thinking a lot about deaccessioning. And it should. The New England Museum Association even added a last-minute session to its annual meeting roster to talk about it. But here at Leadership Matters, the Berkshire Museum's problems have made us think a lot about boards, board behavior, and organizational culture.
Remember Bill Clinton's famous tag line, "It's the economy, stupid"? How about a variation on that for the museum world: "It's the board, stupid."? How many of a museum or heritage organization's problems, both financial and cultural, trace back to the board? Yes, yes, mission and vision are really important, but assuming they're beautifully crafted in the beginning, they don't have power on their own. They're just words. The folks empowered to carry them forward into the world, to interpret them, to make the magic happen, are first and foremost, board members, and in a recent Stanford survey of non-profit boards 27-percent of board members lack the depth of knowledge, and the engagement required to help their organizations succeed . Pretty shocking.
At larger museums, boards are often referred to with the pronoun "they," as in "I wonder if they will give us a raise this year?" They are rarely seen except when they meet on site several times a year. Then, the most jaded staff make jokes about which board members will be able to find the meeting room. They have all the cookies, and yet it's so easy for them to lose their way, literally and figuratively.
And who can tell them anything? They are the board. They hire the museum leadership that we write about each week on these very pages. This is not to say all museum and heritage organization board members are jerks. They are not. Many are exemplary human beings, but just as being promoted from assistant director to director doesn't make you any smarter, neither does board membership. And yet so much depends on board members' good work. So if you're a board member, if you work with museum boards or if you're a museum director who wields some influence, here are some things we hope you've tackled:
  • Does your board understand its legal responsibilities? Is that information available in their board handbook? Does your organization have regular check-ins about those responsibilities vis a vis the organization?
  • What kind of orientation does your board offer new members? If information is passed orally from member to member, you may want to re-think that. There is plenty of support for how to design a board orientation plan. We are particular fans of Joan Garry because of her clear, simple approach. You could do way worse than to take her advice.
  • Does your board have a strong nominating or governance committee? Do they understand your organization deeply and completely enough to know that being wealthy and well-connected might not be all your organization needs?
  • Is your board among the 52-percent of non-profit boards nationally whose work is done by a board within a board? If the answer is yes, do you understand when and how that happened, and whether it is still working?
  • Does your board have a respectful, collegial relationship with your executive director? Does it have succession plans for board and staff leadership?
  • Does your board understand that its primary responsibility is fiduciary? According to the Stanford survey only 42-percent of all non-profits have a "give or get" policy where members are required to donate or raise a particular amount each year. That might not work for your board, but even a modest required donation levels the playing field, and reminds all board members why they are there.
There is no nirvana of boards where everyone internalizes the museum's mission, gets along with the executive director, contributes time and money and gets others to do the same, but if board members universally understood their trusteeship as work, based in a museum's mission, perhaps there would be less disruption, less mediocrity, and more organizational success, and raising operations endowments by selling the collection would never ever be considered.
Reprinted with permission from Leadership Matters Thoughts on 21st Century museum leadership by Anne Ackerson and Joan Baldwin. Posted: October 30, 2017
For more information on Leadership please check out other articles from this Blog.
Leadership is a Perennial Challenge
By Sherene Suchy, PhD
The October 15, 2017 Collections Caretaker Newsletter had an item titled Museum Boards -- Leadership Wish List. It echoed many of the issues explored in my PhD research on museum leadership (1994-98) published as Leading With Passion: Change Management in the 21st Century Museum(2004 - Alta Mira Press).
Chapter 5 in Leading With Passion focuses specifically on trust and the director-trustee leadership interface. It's a fraught interface. Two levels cooperating, colliding, and colluding. It's important to nurture relationships of trust. Accept there will always be conflict, especially during periods of change. There will also be predictable role confusion - who does what, when, and where. Effective conflict resolution skills and practicing principles of restorative justice can help repair damaged relationships. Clarify governance. What does this actually mean? What does it look like when it is working well? Sort out who does what re: policy development, financial planning, and legal responsibility so there are no surprises described in the press.
Finally, get a handle on succession planning for both levels of leadership-- museum directors and trustees. I had a meeting in September 2017 with a mentor from the Emerging Leaders Program funded by the Australia Council for the Arts. The mentor shared issues from the 2017 program compared to issues identified in my research for Leading with Passion (1998 - 2002). There is still a shallow pool of potential leaders for both museum director and trustee roles. Twenty years ago, I offered advice that every director and trustee needs to mentor at least six (6) people to 'take their place' over the next ten years. Whether these people applied for and landed the jobs was not the point. This is what the Australia Council for the Arts has to say about their program: [1]
Over the years Australia Council programs such as the Emerging Leaders Development Program (ELDP) have made a positive impact on the sector and individual careers. As with many capacity building investments, the full extent of the impact of these programs will be realized over the long term. The Australia Council is now working in a different funding environment and has reinforced commitment to supporting the sustainability and capacity of the sector. To ensure our investment is focused, a new strategic approach has been adopted to deliver leadership development. In 2015, the Australia Council completed detailed needs analysis by consulting with various arts leaders including alumni from existing programs. These arts leaders identified the need for a bespoke program to develop their leadership capabilities. We are continuing from an existing base of capacity building programs and will draw on the expertise as well as address the needs of past alumni in future program developments. Participants of the program will have access to a wide variety of internal subject experts with deep sector knowledge and expertise.
Twenty years ago, we needed to create a pool of potential leaders for director and trustee roles. It is a perennial challenge!
Born in the USA and resident in Australia, Dr. Sherene Suchy is a member of the Australian Association of Social Work and the International Council of Museums. She completed her PhD on the museum director's leadership role and change management. Publications include books such as Leading With Passion (2004) and Keepsake: Memoir on the Museum of You & Estate Planning (2016) as contributions to museum management.

Early Bird Discounts Available for Full Length Courses
An Early Bird Discount is available for anyone who signs up for a full length course from 30 days prior to the start of that course.  
Sign up for a full length course up to 30 days prior to its start and save $100.00!
For our course list or to sign up:  
To take advantage of this discount, you must enter coupon code EARLYBIRD at checkout at

The Early Bird Discount deadline for January courses is December 9, 2017  
The Early Bird Discount deadline for February courses is January 6, 2018 
Featured Course: Exhibit Fundamentals: Ideas to Installation

Nearly every museum develops exhibits, but how can we improve
National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo
communication with visitors while taking care of our objects? Exhibit Fundamentals explores exhibits from idea to final installation in a variety of settings. Topics include exhibit theory, the role of the museum's mission, creating a timeline, accessibility and script writing. Also covered are design elements, installation techniques, object safety and security, visitor safety and evaluations. Each student develops an exhibit plan for his or her museum. 
If you want help with your exhibitions or want just want to pick up some tips to make existing exhibits better, join Karin Hostetter
for MS106 Exhibit Fundamentals: Ideas to Installation beginning January 8, 2018.
January 2018 Courses
January 8 to February 2, 2018
Instructor:  Peggy Schaller
Collections management is a critical component of running a museum. Most museums have collections and these collections drive the public functions and activities of the institution. Collections management is the physical and intellectual management of these items. In this course we will examine how information is collected and recorded for each object brought into the collection - a process called registration. We will also examine the policies that govern what is brought into the collection, including the most important piece of institutional policy--the museum mission statement. These policies are assembled into the collections management 'bible'--the registration manual. At the end of this course you should have a clear understanding of how and why collections are documented in museums and the governing principles that drive daily museum activities.
January 8 to February 16, 2018
Instructor: Karin Hostetter
Nearly every museum develops exhibits, but how can we improve communication with visitors while taking care of our objects? Exhibit Fundamentals explores exhibits from idea to final installation in a variety of settings. Topics include exhibit theory, the role of the museum's mission, creating a timeline, accessibility and script writing. Also covered are design elements, installation techniques, object safety and security, visitor safety and evaluations. Each student develops an exhibit plan for his or her museum.
February 2018 Courses
February 5 to March 2, 2018
Instructor: Kimberly Kenney
The United States has more than 17,000 museums, we can only guess at the world's total. While most people think of a museum as a well-staffed, professionally run institution, the vast majority of museums are started and run by people with little or no basic training in museum studies or preservation. Introduction to Museums is designed to change that. The course introduces basic concepts, terminology and the role of various staff members, including curators, registrars and directors. Introduction to Museums is aimed at staff members, board members, interns, volunteers, as well as anyone interested in becoming a museum professional or learning more about the profession.
February 5 to March 2, 2018
Instructor: Karin Hostetter
So much to say and so little space in which to say it. That is the dilemma when scripting an exhibition. How do you say what needs to be said in the space available? How do you even figure out how to limit the information in the first place? Discover the value of themes, tangibles, intangibles, and universals in writing exhibit text that visitors really want to read -- and remember. Additional resources provided on font size and colors as well as label layout.
February 5 to March 16, 2018
Instructor: Tom Bennett
Sprucing up your exhibits with safe, effective, inexpensive mounts can be easier and more fun than you thought. With a few tools, good technique and a bit of practice, you will be well on the way to presenting your objects in their most interesting light, with an eye on long-term safety and security. Design and Construction of Exhibit Mounts presents the basics of mountmaking for the small to medium-sized museum including tools, techniques and materials. Be prepared to construct mounts during the course. Students will be sent a list of materials and tools to acquire before the course commences. Come along and exercise your creative side while doing the collection a world of good.
Conferences and Meetings
National Association for Interpretation, Spokane, Washington
November 14-18, 2017
California Association of Museums, Palm Springs, CA
February 5-7, 2018
Museums Association New York, Rochester, NY
April 8-10, 2018
Colorado-Wyoming Association of Museums, Cheyenne, WY
April 12-15, 2018
Texas Association of Museums, Houston, TX
April 18-21, 2018
Museum Store Association, Washington, DC
April 27 to 30, 2018
American Alliance of Museums, Phoenix, AZ
May 6-9, 2018
AAMG & UMAC Conference 2018, Miami, FL
June 21-24, 2018
Association of Midwest Museums, Chicago, IL
July 18-21, 2018
Society of American Archivists, Washington, DC
August 12-18, 2018
Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, Dunedin, New Zealand
August 25-September 2, 2018  

Mountain-Plains Museums Association, Billings, MT
September 11-September 15, 2018
Oklahoma Museums Association, Edmond, OK
September 19-21, 2018
American Association of State and Local History, Kansas City, MO
September 26-29, 2018
Southeastern Museums Conference, 2018 Annual Meeting, Jackson, MS
October 8-10, 2018
International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection, Hearst Castle in San Simeon, CA
October 13-17, 2018 
Western Museums Association, Tacoma, WA
October 21-24, 2018 
New England Museum Association, Stamford, CT
November 7-9, 2018
National Association for Interpretation,  
New Orleans, LA
November 27-December 1, 2018
National Association for Interpretation, Denver, Colorado
November 12-16, 2019

National Association for Interpretation,
Saint Augustine, FL
November 10-14, 2020

Submissions and Comments
How to submit an article or upcoming workshops for inclusion in the Newsletter:  
If you would like to submit an article, notice of an organizational meeting or upcoming workshop for an upcoming Collections Caretaker Newsletter, send your submission to .  
We are always looking for contributions to this newsletter. Submission deadline is the 10th of each month. 
Have a comment or suggestion?   
Northern States Conservation Center (NSCC) provides training, collection care, preservation and conservation treatment services. NSCC offers online museum studies classes at in Collections Management & Care, Museum Administration & Management, Exhibit Practices and Museum Facilities Management.
Helen Alten, Director
Peggy Schaller, Publications Manager