Racing Against Time: A Runner’s View of Nantucket

As some of you may know, I am a runner. I definitely don’t run as far as I used to or as often as I want to, but I still enjoy lacing up my shoes and strapping on my iPhone and hitting the pavement. Running, I’ve discovered over time, is my favorite way to explore places. My introduction to Lincoln Park’s former stint as the city of Chicago’s cemetery happened on one of my first city runs in 2010. The incredibly rich historic landscape of Chicago – from Indian Boundary Park in West Ridge to the neighborhood/suburb of Sauganash – provides the backdrop for many great runs (usually with pauses for reading historical markers or exploring architectural details on buildings).

Yet some of my best runs have been on vacation, although it is definitely hard to motivate myself to hit the road after a day of sightseeing and an evening of imbibing. But I always try to remind myself that it’s worth it. I distinctly remember my experience rushing through the empty streets of early-morning Alexandria during a trip to Washington DC. I also recall stumbling across a ghost-townish abandoned campground on a humid, sticky day in Northern Michigan. I’m not talking like a tent post and a fire ring. I’m talking huge stone structures with indoor/outdoor fireplaces. Very eerie. But very cool.

As such, I have also tried to get in some good runs here on Nantucket, though my work schedule and the humidity don’t always cooperate. But I’ve had a chance to explore Nantucket’s natural and historic landscape by foot often enough. Here are some highlights, so you can pretend you were there with me! Minus the sweat and the sore feet afterwards. Nobody wants that.

Our first jaunt takes us down the Madaket bike path from town towards the westernmost point of the island:

A lovely view down the Madaket Bike Path. With all the green on both sides, it's easy to believe that over 50% of the island is protected by conservation laws.

A lovely view down the Madaket Bike Path. With all the green on both sides, it’s easy to believe that over 50% of the island is protected by conservation laws.

The Quaker Graveyard, located at the intersection of Quaker Lane and Madaket Road.

The Quaker Graveyard, located at the intersection of Quaker Lane and Madaket Road.

REAL DUCK. And for all of you who know me, I love ducks. What a great start to the day!

WHOA. A DUCK. And for all of you who know me, I love ducks. What a great start to the day!

A monument at the rotary near the Hadwen House commemorates the 73 Nantucketers who lost their lives in the Civil War.

A monument at the rotary near the Hadwen House commemorates the 73 Nantucketers who lost their lives in the Civil War.

Detail of the base of the Civil War monument highlights the key role Nantucketers played in the US Navy.

Detail of the base of the Civil War monument highlights the key role Nantucketers and their repurposed whaling ships played in the US Navy.

Our next run takes us to the south shore of the island to Surfside Beach along the bike path. On the way, I encountered some very cool instances of historic preservation, as well as some problematic commemorations:

The stone in the background says "Miacomet Indian Burial Ground." Not a very prominent or respectful commemoration tossed next to a water fountain on the bike path.

The stone in the background says “Miacomet Indian Burial Ground.” Not a very prominent or respectful commemoration tossed next to a water fountain on the bike path.

Nantucket has over 50% of it's total land area protected by various conservation groups, like the Nantucket Land Bank!

Nantucket has over 50% of it’s total land area protected by various conservation groups, like the Nantucket Land Bank!

An awesome example of repurposing historic buildings - this Life Saving Station is now a hostel on Surfside Beach!

An awesome example of repurposing historic buildings – this Life Saving Station is now a hostel on Surfside Beach!

The path down to Surfside Beach and the crashing Atlantic waves!

The path down to Surfside Beach and the crashing Atlantic waves!

Surfside Beach on a foggy, Grey Lady-ish day

Surfside Beach on a foggy, Grey Lady-ish day

Finally a quick run through the outskirts of downtown offered another view of the Quaker Graveyard, some enormous whaling mansions, as well as some other sites:

The original Maria Mitchell observatory - still in operation for community stargazing!

The original Maria Mitchell observatory – still in operation for community stargazing!

Maria Mitchell's birthplace on Vestal Street. Later, the family moved to the Pacific Bank, from which Mitchell spied her famous comet!

Maria Mitchell’s birthplace on Vestal Street. Later, the family moved to the Pacific Bank, from which Mitchell spied her famous comet!

A nice view down quiet  Vestal Street towards Quaker Road

A nice view down quiet Vestal Street towards Quaker Road.

Thanks for touring the island with me! I love running with the thought that historic sites and stories can be found all around, as long as you keep your eyes open and stop looking at the road. Granted that is very dangerous on the Main Street cobblestones, but generally the terrain is not so treacherous on Nantucket!

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A Glimpse into the Future: Week 9 in Review

Hi All ACK Readers!

This will be a relatively short post as things here at the NHA are certainly busy busy busy! Next week will be my last week here, making this week a hard, blood-pumping uphill race to the finish line. Thus, most of last week was filled with meetings (both positive and negative), lots of research, some tears and inter-intern venting, and plenty of puppy time with Coda. I’d rather not debut what has become the final iteration of my project until it’s totally finished and handed over to the NHA. But stayed tuned for more about what I proposed and what I learned about programming (and about myself).

Right now, I want to talk about the future. My future. There are two lessons I feel are really beat into us by our professors: 1) Finding a job and making money as a public historian is hard; and 2) Many public historians are constantly struggling to balance the many and varied projects they take on. This is because, most public historians who come out of school and can’t find a full-time job and choose to take on various paid or unpaid projects that will build their resume and/or hopefully lead to future opportunities.

For example, let’s say your a lucky one and you found a paying part-time gig organizing archival records at…I don’t know…The Swedish American Museum in Chicago. It’s ok. It pays the bills (almost). So to help get a little extra cash in your pocket, you join your local historical association in Rogers Park/West Ridge to collect some oral histories from residents who remember what the neighborhood was like before Loyola came in, guns blazing, and started knocking down anything that was built before 1970 in the name of “urban revitalization.” Oops, did I say that out loud? Luckily, the historical association has a little grant money to help fund this project, so they give you a little stipend to go around chit-chatting with old folks. Win. Meanwhile, you discover a super awesome neighborhood in Chicago that clearly has historic value, but isn’t on the National Register of Historic Places. And you are just SO EXCITED about this place that you take it upon yourself to fill out the paperwork, write a historical narrative about the place, and photograph the entire neighborhood. Then, the alderman from West Ridge hears from your oral history project colleagues that you’re doing this National Register nomination and he asks you to write a nomination for a building he has always wanted on the Register. And he might have a very small bit of funding in his office budget for you to do it. Or he might not. He’ll get back to you.

This is the project management issue I’m talking about. And on top of it all, you might have a true passion, unrelated to all of your actual work that is always nagging you to make progress on it. You might think to yourself, “Chelsea! There are too many buildings in Detroit that are getting torn down or gutted and rehabbed without any thought as to what insight they could provide about Detroit’s history! TIME IS RUNNING OUT!” But, of course, this is a hypothetical situation, and you likely don’t really care about buildings in Detroit and are not named Chelsea. Nor do you spend hours on Curbed Detroit and DetroitUrbEx asking yourself why you are in Nantucket and not Detroit. All hypothetical.

Anyway, I had, for the first time, a small taste of what that future would feel like. In addition to intensively working on my NHA project and staffing NHA programs, I also have been wrapping up an oral history project from last semester and helping my group update a National Register nomination for Chrysler Village and keeping up this blog for my internship credit. So that by the time I collapsed on the floor (yes, the floor) of my bedroom Friday night, the only thing I could do – besides breathe and slip in and out of sleep on the surprisingly soft wool rug – was beat myself up about not finishing the Table of Contents for my oral history interview. “Way to go, Chelsea. You’re certainly a winner. Also, who knows what’s been on this historic house/intern housing mystery rug and now your face is on it. Keep on winning.”

But you might say, “Chelsea, haven’t you been forced to balance different projects while in graduate school for the past year? Don’t you get assigned different papers and readings and other…history-ish things for each class?” Why yes, I do. But the schedule is completely different. I’m only in class for about two hours each week. The rest of the time, I can devote to getting all of the work for my classes done. But here, I’m at my job for 40 hours a week and can only work on job-realted projects during that time. That leaves significantly less time to devote to the other projects I have on my plate. Welcome to real life.

As for my future, I better get good at managing all of my different projects and setting aside dedicated time for each of them, while still making time to drool over amazing Detroit architecture and browsing old photographs and layering them over Google Maps for whenever my amazing Historypin career blows up.

And invest in some comfortable wool rugs.

Let’s Talk About Art!: Week 8 in Review

Now that The Season is coming to a close and the Public Programs Department is feeling a little less overworked with special evening events and lectures, the time has come to really buckle down and get this individual project DONE.

Thanks TR.

In addition to getting some intense feedback on my project proposal (more on that later), this past week has seen a lot of talk about art. I love art. One of my favorite places to wander around in Chicago is the Art Institute (free as a Loyola student – SCORE!). They always have incredible rotating/visiting exhibitions (did you see that TASS Poster Exhibition they did two years ago? Incredible.), as well as solid permanent collections like the iconic Impressionist Wing, made forever famous by Ferris Bueller and his Red Wings jersey-wearing compadre.

I can't tell you the number of times I've tried to recreate this awesome moment. Usually with a lack of children though.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve tried to recreate this awesome moment. Usually with a lack of children though. Incredibly ineffective without the children.

Overall, I like looking at art. But ask me a question about art or style or technique and I start to get uncomfortable. Even questions about art history make me feel a little panicky. I just don’t know that much about art. More often than not, when I’m talking about what I’m doing in grad school, the term “museum studies” always comes up and people generally assume that I’m going to work in an art museum. “You must really like looking at paintings,” they say. Well, yeah. But I can’t tell you much about them.

Although it has no museum, the Terra Foundation still actively expands its collections through acquisitions, like Jacob Lawrence's Bar-b-que this past June. Photo Courtesy of Terra Foundation

Although it has no museum, the Terra Foundation still actively expands its collections through acquisitions, like Jacob Lawrence’s Bar-b-que this past June.
Photo Courtesy of Terra Foundation

I mention this, not because these worries wake me in the dead of night in a cold sweat, but because last week was very art heavy here at the NHA. Tuesday evening Katie and I worked the Friends of the NHA lecture with Terra Foundation director Elizabeth Glassman. The Terra Foundation managed a museum on Michigan Avenue until 2004 when they made the decision to close the museum and reallocate their funds and collections towards enriching exhibitions and programs around the world (from the Newberry Library to South Korea). According to Glassman’s lecture, this switch from brick-and-mortar to loaning institution better matched their mission, which focuses on fostering the exploration and enjoyment of American art in the United States and abroad. Their mission statement is pretty long, but I especially love the last two lines:

“To further cross-cultural dialogue on American art, the foundation supports and collaborates on innovative exhibitions, research, and educational programs. Implicit in such activities is the belief that art has the potential both to distinguish cultures and to unite them.”

This is a bold statement. Essentially the Terra Foundation asserts that art can reveal what makes a nation distinct and can spark meaningful dialogue across cultures. Ok, not super revolutionary. But they also believe that art can reveal avenues to unite people across cultural differences. This firm belief in the ability of art to be democratic and encourage openness was so inspiring to hear that I literally stood there with the VIP guest list nodding my head vigorously in agreement with what Ms. Glassman was saying. It was an ideal world for a moment and Ms. Glassman and I and the rest of the world were there looking at art and talking to each other. It was a modern Tower of Babel. Minus the whole trying to build a tower to the heavens thing. Unfortunately, when the applause marked the end of her lecture and I quickly had to transition from greeter into bartender mode, the ideal vision disappeared and I was left only wishing that people really would take the time to allow art to be a transformative force.

Visitors of all ages and backgrounds share their time and experiences during watercoloring.

Visitors of all ages and backgrounds share their time and experiences during Wednesday watercolor workshops.

As we do every week, Katie and I hosted watercolors at Greater Light again on Wednesday. But this was definitely a very special day out in the garden. This particular Wednesday we witnessed some serious social bridging going on. Usually, people who don’t know each other sit together at tables and talk to each other about Nantucket, about their vacation, about their paintings. But this week, that social interaction was on steroids. Like, call the commissioner levels. This was mostly due to the fact that four chatty, sassy women were not afraid to talk to people. All

Some lovely artwork drying on sunny stones in the garden.

Some lovely artwork drying on sunny stones in the garden.

people. The seven year old painting her hand we deemed “an angel” who had “mastered abstract art.” The college freshman who studied art was called upon to “teach some old ladies how to paint.” Unfortunately, it was revealed that he was actually a sculptor, but came to sit and paint some hydrangeas with the ladies. Pretty soon, our quiet watercolor workshop had the feeling of a family BBQ. I was seriously expecting the neighbors to roll up with some hot dogs and pasta salad. People were laughing and playing games and telling stories. And that’s when I realized, “THIS is the ideal. This is what a museum needs to feel like.” It was an incredible experience, one that I will not forget for a very long time. And it all started with a little bit of art.

The NHA's 1800 House hosts Nantucket-inspired arts and crafts classes year round.

The NHA’s 1800 House hosts Nantucket-inspired arts and crafts classes year round.

On Thursday, we hosted a community reception at the 1800 House, an NHA historic property that hosts arts and crafts classes inspired by traditional Nantucket and holdings in the NHA collections. Year-round and seasonal visitors make the trek to the 1800 House to make quarterboards, Quaker baskets, Sailor Valentines, and other incredible works of art with amazingly talented local artisans. These artists share with their students the same skills and techniques that have been passed through generations of their family. Yet they don’t simply make crafts at the 1800 House. There is always a deeper history and a purpose to the crafts that is explained by the instructor. Oftentimes, you can find the actual artifact that inspired the

Sailor's Valentines made with tiny sea shells are just one of the collection-inspired crafts offered at the 1800 House.

Sailor’s Valentines made with tiny sea shells are just one of the collection-inspired crafts offered at the 1800 House.

craft in an exhibition at the Whaling Museum. Inevitably, there are still issues with these classes, the biggest of which is the fact that most classes cost well over $300 and are, thus, not the most accessible way to interact with Nantucket history. This is something that Hannah, my roommate and 1800 House Intern and artist extraordinaire, and I have discussed many times. Most average people won’t ever take a class or even go inside the 1800 House. And that’s…kind of sad. In public history classes, we often talk about the democratic and open nature of museums. You’ve read about it a lot on this blog. So although it’s cool to be able to make historic crafts, very few people actually can have that experience.

So yes, there has certainly been a lot of art this week on Nantucket. I certainly haven’t gotten over my nervousness about explaining or presenting art, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t see its merit in a history museum setting. I guess I just wish I could speak intelligently about art in a museum setting. I mean, as public history we learn about oral history and archives and digital humanities and museum management because these are all things we need to know about as professionals. But we don’t really learn much about how to make fine art – usually seen by the public as passive and elitist – engaging and participatory. If art can truly do what Ms. Glassman believes it can, then why shouldn’t we public historians add it to our arsenal to deploy in support of better visitor experiences? Why should we be afraid of something that could help us make the museum a more open place?

I for one hope to get over my art anxiety to become more familiar and comfortable using and talking about art. If I can get to that “at-home” level with art, then maybe I can help other people to get there too.

Community & Social Bridging at Work in Museums: Week 7 in Review

John Shea as Captain Ahab climbs aboard our whale boat to chase after Moby Dick!

John Shea as Captain Ahab climbs aboard our whale boat to chase after Moby Dick!

Last week I was standing off to the side of the main gallery in the Whaling Museum watching people enjoy our collaboration with Theatre Workshop Nantucket (TWN) on our three-night performance of Orson Welles’ play-within-a-play “Moby-Dick Rehearsed.” Watching your visitors without them knowing is seriously a museum professionals DREAM. To be able to see visitors’ reactions, in the moment, is a priceless opportunity to gauge how well you are doing to provide them with the best experience possible. I know some exhibition designers who wish they could minimize themselves a-la that 90s classic “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” and stand behind the glass and watch their public. Yet here I was, standing just out of sight of everyone in this exhibition hall, watching people watching this play.

It was beautiful. And it was ugly.

The beautiful part was seeing the incredible way the drama and the humanness of the play brought people together across different generations. Grandparents sat with grandchildren next to them, watching Ahab promise a gold coin to whoever spots the White Whale first or listening intently to First Mate Starbuck soliloquy whether to disobey his God or his captain or gasp as Queequeg plunges a harpoon into the whale’s back. For one hour and twenty-five minutes those visitors were on the Pequod and were searching the horizon for the spout of the whale that stole Ahab’s leg, hoping they would be the one to have that gold coin in their hand. And the actors of TWN fed off of this energy like sharks, pulling their prey further and further down with them into the story. It was powerful stuff.

I mean, I certainly don’t live in la-la land detached from all reality. I haven’t been on Nantucket that long. There was certainly the ugly part of watching too: people looking at their watches, kids playing on their parents iPhones, parents playing on their iPhones. Lord help me.

But aside from the less-than-engaged crowd, my experience watching our visiors during all three nights of Moby-Dick were incredible. And I learned two things from them: 1) Community collaboration is key to a museum’s health and survival; and 2) Good programs encourage social bridging.

A friend recently asked me over dinner whether I thought the culture of individual museums was a reflection of culture across the country, based on the idea that in order to be effective each museum ought to reflect the culture of its community. She makes a good point. Museums ought to be places where people in the community they serve feel comfortable and welcome. They should provide for the needs and wants of their visitors by sharing stories they can relate to (as we discussed last week). But this role in the community should spread far beyond the walls of the museum. Museums have a responsibility to be good neighbors to all members of their communities, from individual visitors to businesses to artists. This is especially important on a small island like Nantucket and the NHA has cultivated some incredible relationships with many community organizations on the island. Besides TWN, the NHA partners with the Nantucket Community Music Center to present concerts at their historic properties. They also keep up sound relationships with local businesses so they have the privilege of hanging flyers for upcoming programs in prominent spots. The Nantucket Garden Club keeps up the gardens of some of the NHA’s historic properties (including my own home, Hadwen House) with the understanding that they can use the gardens for their own events during the summer season. Being a good community member involves a high level of collaboration, communication, and openness to create trust and loyalty.

Thinking more specifically about what happens inside the museum, effective programs will encourage social bridging, or building social capital by forging connections between diverse collaborators and audience members with the goal of bringing people together across their differences and to build a stronger community. Museum professional Nina Simon compares building such relationships to “safe, friendly collisions in a community-wide pinball machine.” Beyond teaching visitors about history or art, museums ought to inspire their visitors to meet new people and feel like a part of a community. But accomplishing this kind of social bridging is not as easy as getting a bunch of people in a  room and telling them to get along. It takes thoughtful planning by museum professionals to find opportunities for sharing between the different audiences they serve. But that doesn’t necessarily mean focusing one aspect of a program on each audience subgroup. In fact, 604062_10151213379302364_848746612_nfor many museums, it means de-targeting programs towards specific ages or backgrounds and instead thinking of how to unify or connect every subgroup. Social bridging is about finding the things that connect us and highlighting those things, whether its food or a place or a song or just doing something fun. It’s not necessarily our public’s fault if they think the museum is boring and they can’t forge a connection with it. It’s also ours. More often, we’re doing it wrong.

But this particular night that I was watching my public enjoying a wonderful play with fantastic actors, we were doing something right for most of them. The NHA can certainly still make some progress towards ensuring social bridging at more of its events (my individual project will hopefully help a bit in that direction), as can most museums. But in a society as stratified as that of Nantucket in the summer, there will always be targeted events that exclude some members of the community. Still, hopefully more museums start to realize the important role they play in their communities as fun, collaborative places where groups with different backgrounds can all learn and enjoy together. And when we do get the chance to see our public interact with our exhibition or program, we know that their effective because they come out with a huge smile on their face.

But not like that. That’s just creepy.

Programming-palooza or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Job: Week 6 in Review

WHEW.

I am having a heck of a time maintaining my deep breathing I learned from yoga class, but at least I’ve emerged from last week alive and with all of my limbs. No Captain Ahab here. Yet. Although sharks have been sighted on ‘Sconset Beach. Eek.

Anyway, the coming of July 4th officially started the “The Season” here on Nantucket and we here at the NHA are feeling it. 300 visitors before noon? No problem. Put a little rain out there on the boardwalk and we’ll make that 500. Easy.

Underwater photographer Tony Wu discusses why sperm whales' heads are just so darn big at Monday night's lecture.

Underwater photographer Tony Wu discusses why sperm whales’ heads are just so darn big at Monday night’s lecture.

Our Public Programs team has been keeping up with the pace as well, hosting two lectures and receptions for underwater photographer Tony Wu on Monday and Wednesday, continuing our Watercolor Drop-In Workshop at Greater Light, hosting the NHA’s Annual Meeting on Friday, staffing rehearsals for our 3rd annual performance of “Moby-Dick Rehearsed,” and finally presenting my Oldest House Sensory Garden Tour during Family Adventure Day on Sunday morning.

Yes, this is The Season. Keep up with me now.

Through all of this, I have leaned many things.

1) There are so many different kinds of visitors to a program.

2) All of these visitors want different experiences from you.

3) You must provide these experiences.

4) Children will always be afraid of bees, no matter how awesome you make them sound.

5) You can’t make everyone happy.

Letting kids taste dill out of our Oldest House garden on Sunday's Family Adventure Day.

Letting kids taste dill out of our Oldest House garden on Sunday’s Family Adventure Day.

Navigating these facts can make one’s head spin. But that’s exactly what they are. Facts. Audiences are always going to do things or ask things that you couldn’t plan for and you – the visitor experience expert – have to roll with the punches.

For example, at every evening event we host in the Whaling Museum, we have an open, first-come-first-served seating policy. EXCEPT for our prominent donors. We keep seats on reserve for them in the first two rows. Now I’m on the fence about this policy. I mean I go along with it and kindly escort our VIPs to their seats with a smile on my face and a friendly moment of conversation. And it is in line with our mission regarding effective management of the NHA’s “human and financial resources.” But in my heart of hearts, this is wrong. Every visitor who walks through the doors to the museum – any museum – ought to be treated with the same kindness and attention as every other visitor. To me, museums are inherently democratic institutions. They are places of open thought and open dialogue where people can share their thoughts and perspectives on the important issues of the past and the present. Not only are museums democratic, they’re also diverse. In a museum people of all different opinions and backgrounds can be together and interact together and learn together about this incredible world we live in. Isn’t it a beautiful thing?

Ok. Snap back to reality now. This is what museums are in an ideal world. And as we are all aware, our world never quite reaches “ideal.”

Take for example, the Whaling Museum. Nantucket is and always has been a culturally rich and diverse little spit of land 30 miles out to sea. As Nantucket whalers shipped out across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, they brought back with them stories, objects, and even people from far off places that no American had ever been before. This rich diversity is still present today on the island, with large and vibrant Jamaican and Portuguese populations. But the Museum lacks stories that could engage with these audiences and allow them to identify the version of Nantucket history told by the museum as their own. Luckily, the NHA understands that this is a shortcoming and has laid out a institution-wide plan to offer guided tours in various languages and to collect oral histories of recent immigrants to Nantucket for a community exhibition regarding immigration. These are only the first steps to making the Whaling Museum more open and approachable to the island’s broad population, but they are certainly good steps to begin the process of making the Whaling Museum more inclusive and more open.

Making a museum more approachable and interesting to various audiences is certainly not a Nantucket problem alone. In cities across America, museums are falling short of reaching out and connecting with broader, more diverse audiences. Maybe that is because they have nothing to draw them into the museum, no stories they can relate to. This goes back to the idea of shared authority in history – that historian and public both have something meaningful to contribute to the process of history-making. It’s not that the historian is sharing authority with the public, as if we were the sole keepers of all historical truth. Shared authority is an equal partnership. In this way, museums could work with the public to identify stories that are meaningful to them and work with them to turn those stories into exhibitions to share with the entire community. Ideally, every museum would approach their role in this way. Ideally.

But until this world is ideal and everyone feels welcome in museums and sees exhibits and hears stories they can relate to, the one thing you can do for everyone who visits is smile and make them feel welcome. Be kind. Be cheerful. Be a good human being. Be excited about the place you work and the job that you do and it will come out in your actions. As I was talking to some visitors after our second Tony Wu lecture, one of the women in the party looked at me suddenly and said, “You are just so happy to be here.”

“On Nantucket? Of course I am! It’s like an internship and a vacation!”

“No. You’re happy here. In this moment. Talking with us. That’s nice.”

Again, on Friday, an NHA member was about to leave our Annual Meeting and they said, “You really enjoy yourself here.” It’s small moments like this where the hassle of paper writing and endless pages of reading and hours of research and answering emails and grading students papers – all of these things that make grad school so tiresome – they seem to evaporate into the fog over this Little Grey Lady of an island and I know that I am on the right path for my future. I love history. And I love people. Who could ask for a better job than this?

That’s all from me here. Now I’m just looking at the four weeks left here, which are coming at me much faster than I realize. Whoa.

For another great perspective on museum inclusiveness, check out Nina Simons post  on her excellent blog, Museum 2.0.

The Calm Before the Storm: Week 5 in Review

Oh boy.

Tourist season will be the end of me. I am officially exhausted. Every rainy day at the museum now officially looks like…

LIONS WHO READ MORE THEORY THAN I DO

Ok. Maybe not quite. But pretty close.

But you might say to yourself, “Chelsea, you’re in Nantucket. It’s kind of like an internship and a vacation, right?”

Yes, this is true. But this past week there has been little time for sipping iced lattes and soaking up rays on the beach. This is officially GAME TIME. The buzzer will sound in approximately five weeks, but for now I am about to put all 110% of myself (no one ever said I was good at math) on the court.

Enough sport analogies. I can only keep them going for so long.  But it’s true. “The Season” is upon us here on the island. And the NHA Public Programs department is going full speed ahead post-4th of July. But more of that on Monday. We are here to talk about Week 5 in brief.

Totally ready for some watercolor excitement at Greater Light.

Totally ready for some watercolor excitement at Greater Light.

Essentially, life was as normal Monday and Tuesday. More project research. Another round on the ArtifACK Cart. The Wednesday before the 4th, however, was our first official program of the summer. Katie, the other public programs intern, and I kicked the season off in the Greater Light garden with a Family Watercolor Drop-In. These drop-ins will keep up every Wednesday morning through August, rain or shine. Now because you, dear reader, are keeping tabs on this whole museum thing, you might ask yourself, “How does a little watercoloring fit into the mission of the NHA? Everything has to be about the mission, right?” Yes, it is still all about the mission. Greater Light is an NHA property that is interpreted through Nantucket’s art colony days of the 1920s, and the sisters who owned it were artists

Lovely historic and natural inspiration for aspiring artists, ages 2 and up.

Lovely historic and natural inspiration for aspiring artists, ages 2 and up.

themselves. Encouraging families to share the experience of creating art and gaining inspiration from the historic garden fulfills the “fostering appreciation of Nantucket’s history” portion of the mission. Katie and I are also certainly prepared to pass off interested guests to the interpretive staff in the house, should anyone be interested in delving a little deeper into the history of Greater Light. Check, check, and check.

The Fisher Building (center) and the original GM Office (right) in Detroit's New Center neighborhood

The Fisher Building (center) and the original GM Office (right) in Detroit’s New Center neighborhood

Being “inspired” by a historical place in order to connect with that history isn’t all that far fetched of a notion though. Place is extremely important in developing very real and very tangible connections with the past. Speaking from experience, I grew up around Detroit, a city with history so thick and suffocating you have to wear a snorkel in some neighborhoods (I’m looking at you Corktown). As residents, you are so aware of every building and how it changes. It is serious news when the Michigan Central Depot gets five new windows. Serious. Really people, we get excited when window frames get new wood. Driving through Detroit you feel this overwhelming presence of history, not because the city government has erected convenient interpretive panels explaining when this was built and what this neighborhood was like 100 years ago and what kind of sandwich Henry Ford ate here. Heck, we can’t even keep our streetlights on.

The Michigan Central Depot, possibly Detroit's most iconic empty building.

The Michigan Central Depot, possibly Detroit’s most iconic empty building, located in the historic Corktown neighborhood.

The places and spaces of Detroit have to instead speak for themselves and ignite memories in the people who have lived with these places their entire lives. Yet even for visitors, these places certainly evoke feelings of better times, of perseverance, and of despair. But place alone doesn’t tell the whole story. Feelings are just that. They don’t offer historical context or answer the question “Why is this here?” Historian Kristen Delegard had the same realization about Minneapolis and the lack of a cohesive and approachable narrative about that city’s historic development. So, she did something about it. She engaged with the community and started The Historyapolis Project, which does a great job of brings residents of the city into the process of interpreting the many complex layers of Minneapolis’ past. There is enormous potential for a similar collaborative project in Detroit (if you know of one, send it my way!).

Paradise Valley (formerly Harmonie Park), a "rebranded" neighborhood once filled with Detroit's greatest jazz clubs. It was destroyed by highway expansion.

Paradise Valley (formerly Harmonie Park), a “rebranded” neighborhood once filled with Detroit’s greatest jazz clubs. It was destroyed by highway expansion.

Oftentimes, stories are erased as places are destroyed. Let’s think about Midtown. Now that Midtown is Detroit’s “hipster happening place to live,” we have a whole lot of bakeries and cafes and not a whole lot of…anything before those bakeries and cafes. The recent announcement of a new arena for the Red Wings means that the last remaining vestiges of Midtown’s industrial past, like the Salvation Army building, will be obliterated. The only remnant of Midtown’s industrial past is the Willy’s Overland factory, which has been converted into lofts. Now don’t get all in a huff – I’m not saying that such development is necessarily a bad thing. Listen, I love hockey. And I hate Joe Louis Arena. But this new development moves us one step further away from the past and only makes it harder to interpret that industrial history. Changing the place makes the history that less tangible. Luckily, in this day and age we have the benefit of

A beautiful interior view of Detroit hidden art deco gem, The Guardian Building.

A beautiful interior view of Detroit hidden art deco gem, The Guardian Building.

apps like Historypin, which let us visualize landscapes as they once were. But this is what I’m getting at: our past – in Detroit or here in Nantucket – becomes easier to understand, easier to see and feel and grasp when we have places to wrap our minds around. 

For more interesting Detroit history, visit The Night Train (now embarking on a city-wide cemetery exploration project!) or Preservation Detroit.

Project Projections: Week 4 in Review

Many apologies for the enormous delay in publishing a Week in Review for last week (June 24-28), but with my first program on Wednesday and the holiday on Thursday, this week has been speeding by!

Fact-o-Meter panel in the NHA Nantucket Myths exhibition is geared towards families to read and experience together

Fact-o-Meter panel in the NHA Nantucket Myths exhibition is geared towards families to read and experience together

Anyway, last week was a quiet week spent mostly in the office working on my individual project. After the initial brainstorm stage, or “brain dump” as Marjan calls it, I have moved to systematically collecting information about the public programs of other museums and cultural institutions around the country. First, I started by breaking down my research into three manageable sections: local, regional, and national. From there, I will collect all of the necessary data that sheds light on that program, such as day, time, cost, and location. This data allows me to then infer who the program is targeted towards. For example, a $70 hearth cooking program that runs from 5:30 to 8:30pm on a weekday is generally not going to be geared toward families. However, a Portuguese diversity celebration that takes place on a Saturday from 10am to 4pm could definitely be geared

Step 3 from "How to Scrimshaw" exhibition from the NHA Scrimshaw Gallery.

Step 3 from “How to Scrimshaw” exhibition from the NHA Scrimshaw Gallery is more complex and meant for adults.

towards families and adult visitors. Identifying your intended audience is one of the most important parts of museum work, whether its planning a program or an exhibition. Take, for example, the NHA’s new exhibition on Nantucket myths. The language and activities are completely family-friendly: they use simple language that is within the grasp of younger kids and the activity is simple to explain and involves moving around the gallery. On the other hand, the scrimshaw gallery is geared primarily towards adults. The language is more complex, the Melville quotations are out of context, and there is no way to directly interact with the exhibition. These are two different spaces for two totally different audiences.

As far as local institutions go, my primary goal is to look into the future to see what kind of programs they will be running from Fall 2013 to Fall 2014. This is important in a small community like Nantucket because it prevents overlap in programming between institutions. Yet it also allows us to tap into an author or filmmaker if they will already be on the island for another event. Say The Atheneum wants Author X to talk generally about their new book on Nantucket history, we might book them for a specialized lecture about whaling or Nantucket’s Art Colony days of yore.

My survey of regional museums has a somewhat different purpose. My goal is to review their programs for 2013 to again find opportunities to tap into visiting scholars or authors at other nearby museums. But it’s also a way to find other successful programs that have already been done at other institutions. So far, this survey has been the most interesting to me, mostly because so many of the regional maritime museums do such incredible and diverse programs that appeal to a wide sweep of audiences! I thought it would be fun to highlight some of these great programs, both as a shout-out to those institutions, but also to demonstrate to you, my wonderful readers, the amazing potential that museums have to be social centers and leaning centers. So, let’s go on a trip.

First up is the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. This is a regional art

Artopia Night at PEM/PM introduced visitors to new electronic music from local bands.
Artopia Night at PEM/PM introduced visitors to new electronic music from local bands.

museum that recently embarked on a $650 million fundraising campaign and is now positioning itself to become nationally known for its collections and avant-garde programs. Some of these new programs include PEM/PM, a monthly “Evening Party” with a theme taken from new exhibitions (“PEM/PM: Explosive Global India” happened along with the opening of “Indian Painting After Independence”). These parties integrate music, art, food, and drinks in order to attract a new, younger crowd to the art museum. All for $10.

And if you say to yourself “Well, that’s just a party at a museum,” PEM says, “Oh no, no, it’s mission-related.” See the part in their mission that states PEM “strives to create experiences that transform people’s lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes, and knowledge of themselves and the wider world.” PEM makes an amazing effort to bring obscure bands and artists to their parties and host diverse food tasting with treats from around the globe. Definitely “broadening perspectives” and “knowledge of the wider world,” right? And this is what is tricky about working in a museum. Everything MUST be mission related. Your mission statement is your oath to your public. It’s your promise. And for the sake of your public (and your Board of Directors), you must be able to defend your expenditures with your mission in mind.

Landscape as Photomontage exhibition at the Isabella Gardner Museum

Landscape as Photomontage exhibition at the Isabella Gardner Museum

But enough technical talk. Let’s continue our travels by heading south to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The Gardner Museum offers a ton a great programs, including a PEM/PM style evening program of their own called Third Thursdays as well as an extensive music program, including Avant Gardner, a series highlighting young contemporary musicians and their distinctive musical styles. As if that wasn’t enough to be getting on with, the Gardner Museum also is a pioneer in programming related to landscapes both on the museum grounds and around the world. And most of you understand my love for changing landscapes and unhealthy obsession with Historypin, so you can imagine my excitement to find a museum that interprets landscapes as well as paintings. True love.

Colonial hearth cooking at Plimoth Plantation. Bonnet not included in admission.

Colonial hearth cooking at Plimoth Plantation. Bonnet not included in admission.

Continuing our virtual trip, we travel south to Plimoth Planation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, one of the premier living history museums in the country. Here you’ll find a completely recreated 17th-century English Village, complete with in-character Pilgrims who will answer any questions you, “the strange visitor,” might have. Nearby is a recreation of a Wampanoag Native American village staffed by modern, not in-character Native Americans who demonstrate many traditional Wampanoag practices. Demonstrations of traditional cooking and craft abound at the English Village as well, including many cooking workshops highlighting local, in-season produce and the use of colonial hearth ovens. Visitors often leave with hot

Outstanding in the Field supper in the Massachusetts Berkshires.  Photo from Outstanding in the Field.

Outstanding in the Field supper in the Massachusetts Berkshires.
Photo from Outstanding in the Field.

baked bread or fresh produce to take back home. Keeping along the lines of food, the 18th-century Hancock Shaker Village far out west in Pittsfield, Massachusetts hosts two traditional Shaker suppers every year and a special farm dinner in collaboration with Outstanding in the Field, an organization that celebrates local and sustainable produce and the farmers that work the land. These Shaker suppers are not only a great opportunity for visitors to understand how the Shaker community lived through food, but also an opportunity to socialize either during the pre-dinner cider and cheese reception or during the complementary guided tour of the village. Again, here we are thinking back to that social role of the museum that we talked about back in Week 2. Everything has come full circle. How beautiful.

From this point, I’ll continue to gather information about more national museums and think about ways to adjust their programs to be relevant here in Nantucket. Is there a program YOU’D like to see at a museum? Have you ever gone to a memorable museum program that you’d like to share? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment! And check bACK soon!

Striking a Balance: Sustainability & Historic Preservation

Let me tell you something about Nantucket. It looks fake.

Ok. Back that up. Not fake in a Disneyworld way. More like a “This is real life?” way.

Nantucket's cobblestone Main Street

Nantucket’s cobblestone Main Street

When you walk off the ferry from the mainland (or “America” as many year-rounders call it), you are suddenly confronted with an idyllic picture of a quaint 19th-century maritime town. Tons of grey shingle Quaker-style buildings. The occasional federal-style brick building. And cobblestone roads. That’s right. Cobblestones. From 1821. Their presence has made the all-terrain Jeep Wrangler the Nantucket car-of-choice, because rather than adapt to the demands of the future, Nantucketers have instead opted to accommodate the past. The entire island of Nantucket is a historic district, both on the national and the local level. This means that every inch of this sunburned spit of land 30 miles out to sea, is strictly regulated in order to maintain its historic appearance.

A National Historic Site map from the National Park Service

A National Historic Register site map from the National Park Service

A quick side note to all my non-historic preservation savvy readers: there are multiple levels of historic district laws, including federal, state, and local. Federal historic districts were created under the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act (thanks Mr. Nixon!), which allows buildings and groups of related buildings to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The law further states that listings on the National Register must be “taken into account” for all projects that use federal dollars, like a new interstate highway. This doesn’t necessarily protect historic sites from being destroyed if they stand in the way of a federal project. It simply means that the federal government must go through a process of determining the cultural value of a site before continuing ahead with a project. Thus, “taken into account.”

A row of typical Quaker-style shingle houses on a cobblestone street.

A row of typical Quaker-style shingle houses on a cobblestone street.

But, there are also local-level historic districts. And these have teeth. This is because most land-use decisions in a community are made at the local level of government. It’s also because most local-level historic districts are accompanied by extremely detailed guidelines for maintaining the historic integrity of the district. “Integrity” includes several aspects, such as setting and materials, through it simply means that there is little that disrupts the overall authentic feel of the historic district. Local districts are often overseen by local Historic District Commissions (HDCs) that have the authority to approve or disapprove any alteration to structures in the district in order to maintain integrity, from building additions to paint color and everything in between.

Nantucketers realized early on that their island was unique. During the “Big Sleep” – the time between when the whaling industry collapsed and the tourism industry began – Nantucket sat essentially unaltered, resulting in one of the greatest assemblages of original 17th, 18th and 19th century buildings in the entire United States. In 1955 (over 10 years before the 1966 federal Historic Preservation Act!), the island selectmen voted to create a local historic district encompassing the towns of Nantucket and Siasconset. This district was the expanded in 1972 to include the entire island of Nantucket and the nearby island of Tuckernuck. As a result, the exteriors of all buildings on the island are strictly regulated by the HDC. Interiors can still be altered, but that’s a whole other issue.

Nantucket's largest cell phone tower is hidden within this church's fiberglass belfry.

Nantucket’s largest cell phone tower is hidden within this church’s fiberglass belfry.

Yet there is a constant struggle today between the desire to maintain the unique historic integrity of Nantucket and to change the town for the sake of convenience. Take the cobblestone streets downtown: they are horribly uneven and bumpy and you can only drive about 5 mph over them, which leads to terrible traffic jams especially if the car ferry has just started to unload which has a whole new set of problems associated with it besides traffic jams so let’s just not think about that at all. Madness. It is just pure madness. And it makes some tourists unapologetically angry. Yet it’s not simply the roads. Residents of Nantucket have also had to wrangle over the introduction of

A New York Times map illustrating the location of the proposed wind farm

A New York Times map illustrating the location of the proposed wind farm

cell phone towers (easily hidden inside a church belfry) and the proposed 130-turbine wind farm between Nantucket Island and Cape Cod (not so easily hidden). These modern amenities that you or I take for granted in our daily landscape are considered by the HDC to be detrimental to maintaining the historic integrity and the authentic feeling of the island.

And so Nantucketers are often forced to ask, “Is this worth it? Is it sustainable to favor historic integrity over our money-making powerhouse tourism industry?” Luckily, for now, the answer is yes. But as Nantucket accommodates more tourists with increasing technological needs in the future, the island will be forced to confront new issues (like the debate raging over electric car charging stations) and will have to reevaluate their commitment to the past.

Making History Hands-On: Week 3 in Review

Hello from the ACK blog readers! Last week was quite busy and fun-filled, from training at work to Nantucket Book Festival to a couple of beach trips and bike rides! Clearly, my busy is not the same as “real life” busy.

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Scrimshaw/Marker-shaw, Whale Log Books, Lighthouses, and Signal Flag Signs are some of our Hands on History crafts at the NHA.

Last week was filled with more training, this time in two of our programs for children. The first is Hands on History, a daily craft program that allows children to learn about the history of Nantucket while being creative and having fun. We make everything from scrimshaw (or “marker-shaw” for our 6 and under crowd) to whale log stamps to New Ireland dancing masks from the South Pacific. During our training sessions, we learned that emphasizing the historic significance of the crafts was just as important as explaining how to make the crafts and making sure little Tommy doesn’t eat glue as he makes his historic whale boat. The kids get to go home with a cool craft that they made, but they also go home with a new sense of what people did or made or saw in the past.

The ArtifACK Cart contents, including our "Mobie Dick" diagram, spermaceti oil, and a piece of baleen!

The ArtifACK Cart contents, including our “Mobie Dick” diagram, spermaceti oil, and a piece of baleen!

We also enjoyed training on the NHA’s ArtifACK Cart (see, again with the ACK!), a mobile cart that travels through the Whaling Museum to teach children about whale biology. In the cart we have a whale tooth, a piece of baleen, photos and a “scent tray” of ambergris, spermaceti oil, and a diagram of the inside of a sperm whale (maybe appearing soon – real historic scrimshaw!). Visitors are allowed to hold and touch all of these objects (once they have white gloves on to protect the artifacts from oils, dirt, and leftover ice cream) and ask any questions they might have about whales – whale behavior, biology, characteristics. The purpose of the cart is essentially to provide a foil to the generally brutal image of whaling in the museum. Not that whalers didn’t have respect for the creatures they hunted – most of them did. Some of them were in complete awe of these enormous and intelligent creatures. Yet most of them also saw whales as dollar signs back home in Nantucket. The cart serves to create an appreciation for the unique biology of whales and to highlight the importance of whale conservation in the 21st century.

Wormwood plants in full bloom. Wormwood was thought to kill any worms living in your stomach!

Wormwood plants in full bloom. Wormwood was thought to kill any worms living in your stomach!

This week, I also started working on updating a Sensory Garden Tour for Children at the NHA’s Oldest House, to be used at this summer’s Family Adventure Day. We’ll get to see colorful flowers, smell delicious herbs, taste edible plants, and listen for bees buzzing through the garden. This tour is fantastic – not only does it engage children with history by presenting the historic uses of familiar herbs and flowers, but it engages them with growing of plants and food. And anyone who knows me, knows that I feel very strongly about developing a sense of where food comes from at an early age. Hopefully after the tour, children will emerge with a new sense of wonder and a better understanding of the natural world and how our relationship with it has changed over time.

This notion that children visitors should interact in some way with history is not a new one. Just think about the proliferation of children’s museums across the country, like The Exploratorium, the Please Touch Museum, or (my local shout-out) the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. But what about adults? Why shouldn’t we offer them the same opportunity to encourage curiosity and interact with history as children? Shouldn’t we get to look at a whale tooth and or throw a pitch in a historic baseball game? Engaging adults directly with artifacts in a museums is just as important, though sometimes not as easy. The Penn Museum offers visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the complicated and detailed work of preserving or restoring artifacts. Monticello hosts an archeology workshop for adults, allowing them to work with archeologists to examine and interpret recently discovered artifacts on the grounds (and to finally have that Indiana Jones moment).

There is just something to be said for holding and feeling an artifact, an intangible something that’s sparked when history is made tactile. Last summer, I went to Washington DC and walked into the Library of Congress, where they had their Thomas Jefferson’s Library exhibition up and running. This is an incredible exhibition that allows visitors to browse Jefferson’s books and even look inside and read a couple interesting titles through various media interactives. But, being a book person and not an e-reader, there was still something missing – that musty smell when you open an old book and the dust that flies in your face, the feel of the pages and the sound they make when you turn them, carefully, one at a time. Like my garden tour, history can engage all of the senses. But it is usually hard and logistically difficult to accomplish. Hopefully, we young public historians will continue to work on this and many more issues that allow visitors to fully experience hands-on history as much as possible.

SnACKs Around the Island

Time for a not-so-public-history post (although food can be important to public history- read more here)! Many of you know me as a foodie (or as many in my cohort say, “food snob,” but I make them enchiladas and quiches when we do group projects. So they can get over it). Either way, I won’t deny it. I like food. Especially unique local foods. So, in addition to all of the very hard work I’ve been doing here on Nantucket, I’ve been playing hard too. This means enjoying a few Nantucket’s many wonderful restaurants. Below are some of the highlights of my food adventures (so far) here on the ACK! Advance apology: sorry for the darkness/all around poor quality of some of the photos! Some restaurants are dark and I’m definitely no professional.

IMG_4114First up is The Brotherhood of Thieves, An 1840s Whaling Bar. It’s in the downstairs room on Broad Street between the Whaling Museum and my favorite bookstore (i.e. in a dangerous location for my pocketbook). I ate here with my Dad the weekend before work started. I had the Lobster Bisque with a HUGE puff pastry baked on top and very large luscious pieces of lobster inside.

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The next day for lunch, we ate at The Club Car, a restaurant/bar located in the last remaining car from the 19th-century Nantucket Railroad. The  bartender was a super nice year-rounder who chatted up the Lobster Roll and Clam Chowder. Definitely two good choices. The Lobster Roll was certainly enough for two (or one very hungry NHA intern).

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Lunch the next day was a HUGE treat: While spending the afternoon at Cisco Brewers (side note, they allow dogs to hang out off-leash on the huge outdoor patio. This is my dream world.) my wonderful and magnanimous father bought me a raw platter from the oystermen posted up outside the distillery. The bounty of the sea, straight from the source!98fe8b9462133aa146ee3d3243d5a61d

After being on a seafood bonanza for a couple days, my Dad and I enjoyed red wine-braised short ribs and mashed potatoes with roasted asparagus at the tiny, tucked-away Queequeg’s in the heart of downtown. Very flavorful, very tender. Good call.

My last meal with my dad was at Corozon del Mar, a little two-story Mexican spot downtown. We got the chicken nachos, lobster tostada, black beans & rice, and street corn. A perfect way to end the weekend with Pop!

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After a long week of orientation at the NHA, my fellow interns and I took advantage of Nantucket Restaurant Week and went to a Friday night prix fixe at Company of the Cauldron, one of the best restaurants on the island. We had seafood chowder, duck breast with grilled heart of romaine, and a blueberry cheesecake. It was a wonderful way to end the week: good food, good wine, and good conversation with good friends.

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IMG_4284The Downyflake is the Nantucket breakfast spot. They have been churning out their island-famous donuts and bottom-less coffee for over 60 years! I opted for the plain (so cake-like, IMG_4285yet so light) and a ‘Sconset omelette on a lovely Saturday out with my fellow interns.

Also, this Saturday is the Nantucket Book Festival! So exciting! Keep up with me at NBF on Twitter and stay tuned for more from the ACK!