Hollis Mickey is the current Chief Learning and Access Officer at the Anchorage Museum, Art Professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and editor of Edible Magazine. The term “powerhouse” does not scratch the surface when it comes to Hollis Mickey’s endeavors. As a museum professional, Hollis is an advocate and equality-focused. Since the pandemic, the education department has started shipping “learning boxes” which include at-home activities focused on the museum’s curriculum. Additionally, the department has created virtual field trips which have been a huge success.
During the interview, Hollis noted there were a large amount of benefits in the museum’s switch to digital engagement. She stated that their network has expanded and they’ve accomplished the fine line between digital and analog engagement. When asked about the negative circumstances, Hollis stated the biggest challenge has been managing digitally. She proceeded by stating, it is difficult to create a supportive environment and keep professional boundaries via email, text, and video calls. Hollis proceeded to say current events have left people feeling exposed and emotional. She continued that it is crucial for the working environment to feel supportive while productive.
Through the interview, Hollis focused on the opportunities and fulfillment the museum has found in partnerships. She noted that although they faced a $4MIL budget cut, this has provided the chance to write grants. Many colleagues in the education department have expanded their role and learned important tasks such as grant writing. Additionally, the department has invited culture bearers to teach, and begun partnership with immigration services. Hollis provides a positive spin on the ever-changing events, acknowledging that every hardship has come with a new opportunity for the museum to grow.
When asked a piece of advice for an upcoming museum professional, given current events and changing digital technologies. Hollis immediately answered with – be aware of the systemic foundation museums were built on. They are predominantly white institutions of exclusion, and it is time for museum professionals to approach the organization ready to restructure it from the ground up. This piece of advice demonstrated the last two years, and the call-to-action many professionals are feeling.
Wow, what a motivating speech at the end there! As I approach my graduation date, I’ve been nervous venturing off into the field. I had started museum job hunting a year ago with no luck, and there was a time where I had doubts whether museums would take a chance on an emerging, young professional. I think her advice to “tear the walls down” and fight for our values re-lit that spark, so thank you!
In regards to digital, I found the education boxes and virtual summer camps intriguing, specifically encouraging screen-less play and learning. I applaud my mom for making her own lesson plans and crafts to keep me busy during summer break as a kid. This was before iPads and smartphones, so now when I see my newest family members already hooked on these devices, I wonder how their attitudes toward technology and learning differ from when I was their age. By introducing kids to the program through a familiar medium (i.e. Zoom, computers) then transitioning to screen-less activities, I think that’s a great way to interrupt their new normal.
Hollis Mickey had some really thought-provoking ideas.
First, I just wanted to point to one thought that was reflected in two of her comments: “how will we determine what sustainability looks like (in terms of museum programming?” and “we are at a cusp point (I think that’s what she said) for learning where there is an opportunity to reinvent our system.” There were several points here:
1) summer camp kits that were shipped all over the state and even outside of Alaska
2) community supported education kits that are modeled after CSA (community supported agriculture) boxes of fresh produce
3) virtual field trips to Anchorage Museum have proven to be more successful than expected
4) balance to continue some of the digital work even after the museum returns to in-person programming
On another topic, she challenged young museum professionals to understand that museums traditionally have been part of maintaining the dominant system of white patriarchy, and that instead, the focus should be on “pleasure and rest.” By this, she stressed that the goal should be “how to create a museum where that is the value, where the museum becomes a place for rest and pleasure, and NOT a perpetuator of exclusion.”
Another point she raised that I loved was the idea of doing “deep, good work” rather than “broad” work. In others words, “meaning” rather than “object.” Her question of “what can you do that’s really specific that can be really meaningful?” really resonated with me because I strongly believe that quality is always more important than quantity.
Finally, I just wanted to give a shout out to the Listen Up: Northern Soundscapes exhibit. I appreciate the Anchorage Museum’s Soundscape Ecology Research Project, and I really appreciate its efforts to establish a digital library to catalog all the sound material it has. Audio recordings can work effectively to help create, for lack of a better description, an intangible mood. And, with digital technology as a delivery mechanism, anyone, anywhere in the world, can experience the audio as long as she has access to an Internet connection.
To start, how cool is the title Chief Learning and Access Officer?! You began the article describing Mickey as a powerhouse, and you were not kidding. Her efforts creating the “learning boxes” amidst a global pandemic were nothing short of incredible. Being able to help children who found themselves at home while also promoting her museum was genius. I appreciated her finding a balance between digital and analog aspects because this is very important. This is something that we have discussed throughout the semester so it was interesting to see a museum professional who takes it seriously.
Although I think Mickey had a really positive outlook, she has faced some major challenges in her career. For example, as you noted, the 4 million dollar budget cut allowed her the opportunity to write grants. She also provided sage advice stating, “be aware of the systemic foundation museums were built on.” I feel like this could be the next major challenge facing digital professionals. Fantastic interview, I enjoyed it!
This was a great listen. It’s nice to hear about people’s silver linings during the pandemic and Hollis talking about expanded reach reminded me of something from my discussion with my interviewee, Jane Alexander, from the Cleveland Museum of Art. She talked about location not mattering anymore and museums in more remote locations can reach more people with quality of the content being what matters. I can also really relate to the fact that work boundaries and support can feel vastly different with technology keeping us so disconnected while being far apart, it can be a blessing and a curse. Hollis’ attitude of seeing everything as an opportunity is so great too, she even framed their budget cuts as an opportunity to write grants and this type of thinking I’m sure is really helpful.
Another museum leader that I had interviewed last semester had similar things to say in regards to the switch to digital. He wanted to be able to support his staff in every way possible and the pandemic certainly hindered that. Hollis also brings up how it was beneficial to move to digital because it gave them a chance to expand their audience as a museum. I like the idea of the “museum to-go” boxes and providing a museum learning environment wherever the material is. My main concern for that would be costs and if the expense justifies the continuation of the program through the long-term, for the short-term it seems like it is quite beneficial and serves the needs of the community without risks of COVID.
Great interview. I found it interesting that during the pandemic, their digital efforts expanded the ‘reach’ of their network, but not the number of users. I wish she had elaborated about why that might be– perhaps its an accessibility/connectivity issue? I hope thier digital efforts are sustained once the museum safely reopens, and that they realize an increase in new audiences as result.
Her reference to the emotional stressors (on management as well as staff) resulting from a sudden and exclusive shift to a digital platfrom were compelling. This is an aspect not many are so willing to admit or discuss, and she showed great courage in addressing it. I suspect her sentiments are widely shared amongst museum professionals, and addressing the topic has a healing effect of its own.
Hi Becka, I feel Hollis and everyone transitioning to digital engagement strategies and platforms on how stressful it can be. My museum, Hershey History, has only just begun their transition to digital, and it’s been, well, interesting. There’s so many options and ideas that people want to put online, but keeping up with it after it’s completed is hard when you’re having to manage it in-person as well.
The museum-to-go boxes was a really cool idea! A local museum around me did something of the sort, and you could pick whichever topic you desired to do at home. Cool interview!
Miss Mickey. WOW! If you were feeling really beat down before you listened to this interview, you probably should feel a lot better now. A beautiful way with words and genuinely a gem of an interview.
Just a few things I found so very interesting is her ability to look at the silver lining throughout the pandemic. The things that we have learned just in the adapting and overcoming phase of our lives have really catapulted some really great conversations and ideas in the museum field.
I am happy to hear that her staff is supportive and trustworthy so that she can focus on very important things like, grant writing, and new education ideas for the City of Anchorage and surrounding rural communities. It brings a smile to my face that they were all “forced” to learn Adobe Creative Suite, and (if you are reading this now, staff of the Anchorage Museum) I promise you, if you can do inDesign and Photoshop, you can do Adobe Premiere Pro and start making professional quality video content for your museum! Go SET SOME FIRES!!!
Hollis has a energetic perspective on museum growth and opportunities for contemporary audiences. I like that many museum professionals are so forward-looking and adaptable with ideas outside of the box to engage visitors and incorporate new knowledge.
There are many parallels between what Hollis is doing and what the director of the Washington State Historical Society (who I interviewed for my Business class) is doing. And definitely more museums around the country, but it was fun to hear her explain the same things that I just heard last week. One example is how they switched to virtual field trips and distance learning with great success and now post-Covid are realizing that they need to continue a hybrid program of online and in person education. It is more accessible to kids that are far away or also don’t have the economic privilege to travel on a traditional field trip. Glad to hear its working for The Anchorage Museum too!
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