Highlights from Round 1 Applications to the Innovation Lab for Museums

Liz Dreyer is the Manager of National Programs at EmcArts and provides consultations to museums considering applying to the Innovation Lab. She will be doing in-person consultations at the American Association of Museums conference in Minneapolis on April 30, 2012 .

With today’s release of the Round Two Request for Proposals for the Innovation Lab for Museums, I thought it would be good to take a step back and share some observations Round One application process.

We were happy to hear more than once that people are ready and eager for this program.  One museum leader told me: “You guys must have been a fly on the wall in my last staff meeting.  We were saying we needed space and time to figure out how to proceed and then the RFP notice came.  This program is exactly what we need to make the changes necessary.”  We are very excited about creating a space for institutions to take this leap.

Applicant museums were from all disciplines – history, general, art, children’s and science – and spanned both the geography of the country as well as from smaller to larger operating budgets.  We’re very pleased that so many institutions took advantage of both the phone consulting and the feedback on the applications.  Both the quantity and quality of the inquiries/applications reflected a high level of thoughtfulness and enthusiasm.

There were also several trends that came up throughout the applications that we think are worth mentioning.  It’s interesting to note that they are not necessarily discipline-specific.  It seems that the field is ready to think about these changes as a whole:

  • The museum as change-agent and community representative.  Many of the applications dealt with the changing nature of their communities – whether in age or demography.  More than one institution feels the need to respond to the rising immigrant (or in one case, refugee) community.  How can museums be the voices of the community at large and not just a small section?
  • This also feeds right in to the looking at participatory experiences.  If the museum is representative of the community, how is that expressed in its programs and exhibits?  What is the role of the curator in that case?  What is the relationship between curation and education?  How is the role of the museum as expert and authority on the works changing?
  • Part of the thinking and questioning around participatory experiences is to consider the role of technologies in both exhibit and curation.  How can museum goers become more active in the experience?  Can they add their own comments and curation?  Is this one of the channels to engage a younger audience?  How can museums become better engaged with bringing in young people?

These are the three areas of focus that the RFP outlined and it was good to see the applicants respond to it so avidly.  It became clear that the three areas are intertwined.  More than one conversation in the pre-application consultants was about how to highlight that interconnection and make it work for the institution as a whole.

We also thought it would be of value to the field and prospective Round Two applicants to be able to read the project summaries from Round One applications.

Click to download summaries of the three selected projects, six finalists, and 11 other applicants.

As you’ll see, we couldn’t fund all of the worthy proposals we received, but definitely wanted to share the forward thinking and deep thought that went into submitting. It’s important to note that a project not being selected isn’t an indication that the project is not worthwhile, but rather, that it was not right for the Innovation Lab program at this time.  You’ll get a flavor of what was proposed, but keep in mind it’s one paragraph out of the eight-pages that were submitted.

Related posts: Now Accepting Proposals: Round 2 of the Innovation Lab for Museums

Liz Dreyer is the Senior Program Manager at EmcArts, managing the Community Innovation Labs as well as the Arts Leaders as Cultural Innovators (ALACI) program. She is also a Process Facilitator in the New Pathways programs.