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Story 07: Managing the Organization

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Sidebar: BCM In-house Glossary

Written by Elaine Heumann Gurian

Ah-hah! Experience: In museums, as in life, the light bulb goes on. Ah-hah, you've got it!

Ahmine, gomine: You have permission, now go and do it.

Aw shucks: The disarming modesty and informal feel that helped us fly under the radar; also refers to cluster of in-house behaviors and strategies of the same flavor (see below).

Baltic birch: The plywood sheets often used to build exhibit furniture, giving rise to the "Scandinavian Hippie" look of the place.

Beginning learners: Learning isn't just for kids; we can all start on something new.

Beige/orange/blue aprons: colored aprons denoting jobs of floor staff.

Black hats, white hats: Trouble in paradise—hard times at the museum; time for Phoenix (see below).

Blue books: blue binders for each exhibit area compiled by the developer and containing useful background information for changing floor staff.

Bottle of wine maneuver: Let's get together outside the team meeting and make a deal.

Bring back goofy: Let's not be so earnest; let's do something fun.

Broker: Person responsible for moving the project along: facilitator, dealmaker, timekeeper, arbiter on fairness and bad behavior.

Brown paper bag economics: An aw-shucks-strategy of printing good design on humble paper at great expense.

Bunnies and Duckies: Cloying, cute ideas or styles.

Camping out: Roughing it in offices in unfinished Bay 5 after the museum's move to the Wharf.

Cardboard carpentry: Triwall at work in the hands of staff, teachers, kids, and parents (see Triwall below).

Carpet Diem: Renovation project begun with new rugs.

Chair game: The exhibit's about chairs; the game's about the exhibit team process.

Children's Museum Mafia: Staff who were highly active in national museum activities.

Client: Team member who sets parameters, sends team off to work, and has the last say in decisions.

Client-centered: Completely different than "Client" (above), this term referred to museum activities that were primarily focused on the needs and wants of audiences rather than on subject matter and objects, as in traditional museums.

Depth on the bench (developers): In-house staff expertise in content and audience learning styles; staff who are also able to work in multiple formats.

Desert boots: Formal aw-shucks Spock footwear.

Designer: A team member who is delighted to have a say from the beginning, not just get marching orders at the end.

Developer: A person responsible for content of an exhibit, program, kit, book, etc.

Developer's Revelation (DevRev): The formal moment in the exhibit development team process where the developer lays out her vision of what it's all about for the rest of the team. (The rumor that developers have direct access to a higher power is usually untrue.)

Everybody into the pool: We're all in this together.

Experts are flying in from the coast: We're going to get a renowned authority to validate what we said in the first place.

Feels like us: Staff "evaluation tool" based on shared values and institutional memory.

Fertutzed: Messed up.

Flappers and crankers: Mechanical, hands-on exhibit techniques that hold a visitor long enough to (perhaps) engage with the content, not just the device.

Going to Miami: A Visitor Center team meeting.

Green and leafy: Boring! As in nutrition exhibits.

Guerilla graphics/gorilla graphics: See "pioneer graphics."

Guinea pig days: Visitors served as guinea pigs to help us with exhibit tryouts.

Hang up the banner and the turtle dies: A sad fable about unforeseen consequences.

Haunted House: Popular fund-raising strategy allowing staff to indulge fantasies and don gorilla suits for a week.

Home base: The department in which an individual staff member was based with in a matrix system.

Hung white: A withering comment from an advisor about a vivid community art exhibit that was installed in perfectly straight lines in identical black metal gallery frames.

Kafuckta: A word denoting what happens when people kucklefuck around; language not used in public spaces.

Layered learning: Stacking easily accessed exhibit content in depth so an intrigued visitor can continue to explore ideas at will on the site.

Lifelong learning: It's never too early or too late for learning about something that really catches your interest.

Kids at Risk: Special program for high-risk adolescents who became a junior staff group doing valuable work in the museum.

Management by wandering about: In complex times senior staff get out of their offices and hang around the water cooler more.

MATCh Kits: Early experimental multimedia curriculum kit boxes for use in schools.

Matrix management: A borrowed organizational system in which people with similar skills are pooled and work for different managers on different projects.

Messing about: An aw-shucks term meaning open-ended playing with stuff.

The Milk Bottle: Museum icon at Wharf, a giant antique wooden milk bottle that was a food-selling concession.

Neutral turf: A location free of limiting or problematic characteristics; the Wharf was located in a "neutral" industrial neighborhood.

Noodling around: Same as messing about.

Original object: If you can't let visitors handle precious objects, try one of these options:

  • expendable original;
  • reproduction;
  • duplicate;
  • model;
  • functional analog (something similar to but not exactly the same as the original);
  • contemporary example; or
  • computer simulation.

OW69: Stock white in paint color vocabulary; also blah.

Pencils in the air!: Write down what I'm saying and then do it!

Phoenix: We got outside help to help us begin the reinvention of the ways we worked together.

Pioneer graphics: A series of inexpensive and flexible blank graphic formats for tryouts.

Plaid: Visually complex exhibits which can be read in many ways.

Plum pudding: A program area containing all resources in close proximity for easy learning (e.g. Japanese House, collections, workshop room, resource center, reading room, staff offices).

Quick and dirty: Produce something but don't invest too much time in it until you know more.

Red boots: Small Superman action figure boots from Recycle—thousands of them—"installed" everywhere by staff.

Red-yellow-green: Study storage signs: Don't touch (red); touch gently (yellow); you may handle this (green).

Risk-taking: An accepted strategy for learning.

Risk-taking and failing: It's okay. What did you learn? Don't do it again.

Shoestring work: Cheap but smart.

Shut up and eat your lunch: Okay, enough now.

Signed exhibits: Exhibits that reflected a developer's personal statement. This material did not come down from on high; visitors see that real folks made personal choices here.

Sit-Around: A horseshoe-shaped meeting room with risers for floor sitters.

So What?: The exhibit is about this particular thing. So please explain to us why this is important to your audiences.

Spocked: Staff hit by a Directorial after-thought, as in "You got Spocked."

Spockarama World of Mirth: Ironic reaction of staff to a wide variety of stimuli.

Study storage: Supervised collections storage in which visitors are given closer access to objects chosen and packaged to withstand different levels of use.

Stuff: An aw-shucks term referring to engaging objects and ideas.

Talkbacks: An exhibit technique of inviting the public to record and post their opinions within an exhibit.

TCM team process of exhibition development: An evolving system of formal road marks designed to plan and build exhibits. Team works together right from the get-go.

This is a toy job: As in, "I'm going out and get me a real job."

Tiny Town: Cute, scaled-down exhibit environments; see Bunnies and Duckies (above).

Too little is not enough, too much is just sufficient: General folk wisdom among museum people and other collectors.

The Cliff: The risky moment when a not-for-profit's capital campaign is over and it has to return to admissions revenue and the soft-money life.

Tryouts: Prototyping ideas and methods before committing to final exhibit versions.

Triwall: Divine and inexpensive corrugated cardboard sheet material used for exhibit tryouts.

Turn it over and paint it blue: Adaptive reuse of exhibit furniture.

Voice: Developers sign their exhibits in their own voice and sometimes include photos of themselves.

Wangs: Early computer/calculators from Wang Company used in our first computer exhibits.

Weak tea: When an exhibit isn't quite ready for the opening but the public won't know what it is missing.

We came to play!: Battle cry of the museum softball team.

Wednesday Mornings: The time set aside for groups of kids with disabilities to visit the museum.

We may be slow but our work is poor: See final entry below.

What's Inside?: A very early interactive exhibit; became a tryout for exhibits that followed.

Wizard of Oz Theory: If you name it, it's real. We got good at this. See entry below.

Working under the table / flying under the radar: You can take big risks when no one is looking.

You can have it fast, cheap or good; pick any two: The Design & Production team specialized in irony and a blue-collar outlook.

Next: Sidebar: Jeri & Babar