1. Mary Trosin says:

    Great interview! It’s nice to hear about people who find their role after coming from a different background or figure things out without a plan, a bit reassuring. I love the emphasis on digital being a tool for your actual goal. Right now I am seeing a lot of digital burnout as people are getting bombarded with programs, a lot of them seemingly made just because it feels like the thing to do. It sounds like Monticello has a good handle on this and understands how to utilize their digital tools. I worry about other organizations leaving people with a bad taste in their mouth, shoving insignificant digital programs in their audience’s faces. I think this was something to be mindful of pre-covid, and now it is becoming a much bigger issue.

  2. Sarah Freda says:

    Great interview, Madison! I immediately connected with you and Melanie in regards to falling into museum. (I majored in biology and thought I would be an environmental scientist. After going out in the field during a prestigious internship, I hated it!)

    What stuck out to me from your conversation was how Melanie and her team was able to make the best out of what they have. “There are places with bigger budgets” to develop AR or VR. But even with an iPad and a harness, they were able to quickly start a successful virtual tour. (Round of applause to the tour guides for adapting so quickly!)

    I think this is a perfect example of how, as Melanie says, “Digitalization…is a means to an end.” It is the purpose that matters: our museum is closed, so how do we reach our audience with what we have? Although digital engagement may be here to stay, it’s important to not lose sight of the mission.

  3. Kenny Clink says:

    I enjoyed hearing this interview because a lot of it resonated with me. From having a background that has nothing to do with museums, or at least starting out that way, to Zoom lectures being a way overused and frankly terrible practice the way most are done. I think Melanie was absolutely right in her thinking that Zoom lectures are just as bad if not worse than in-person lectures. I liked the idea of Zoom lectures with activities or some other form of interaction between the viewers and the lecturer.

    I think museums are a forever adapting institution which Melanie alludes to as well. I think digital strategies have a place in most museums today, but will have a role in almost every museum in the future. The world is quickly moving past analog but that’s not to say to leave it behind, but to adapt to the new to help the old.

    I have never been to Monticello and would like to one day visit there. Having worked at a similar site in New Jersey, I think the comparisons would be interesting.

  4. Stephanie Ho says:

    Hi Maddi,
    This was a really interesting interview, thanks! I liked hearing the roundabout way she came to museums, and that she pretty much worked in many different departments at Monticello before ending up where she is now. I appreciated her focus on the importance of training for the interpreters — both in the content and in actually dealing with people! I appreciated her comment about basic digital considerations, like making sure Monticello’s wi-fi is strong enough. I also appreciated her comment about how even though Monticello tends to be a conservative place because the history — especially with slavery — is so heavy — there is possible room for humor, if it’s done appropriately and with sensitivity. That’s a really tricky line to walk, but I agree that humor, done well and appropriately, can be the best way to build trust. I also very much appreciated her main comment that, in the end, digital technology is just a tool — and that the main goal is using that tool to take their interpretation of Monticello to a wider audience, especially people who could never come to Monticello in person.

  5. Jenna says:

    Thank you Madison and Melanie, this was great. My mother is a volunteer at Monticello so I enjoyed hearing about what they do “behind the scenes.” It sounds like they were already very forward thinking about getting virtual field trips in place in 2017 and had a pilot project of virtual house tours ready for classrooms when Covid started. They are quite lucky to have the resources and talent to develop these programs! The use of props was clever and accepting questions for the guide via Zoom was nice to keep it feeling less like a lecture.
    Madison, I laughed when you said you planned on getting a PhD after your archaeology degree but hated the dig. I worked in Athens for a summer and nearly died every day from heat exhaustion. NOPE. I felt the same way and went into tech instead in a nice air conditioned office 🙂

  6. Deena Deutsch says:

    I was impressed with the ways Melanie fielded questions regarding sensitive issues surrounding Monticello’s historic status as a slave plantation. It is clear from her interview that they are adept at gearing their educational discussions to age-appropriate audiences, without avoiding difficult topics.

    Maddi was clearly comfortable conducting the interview, and asked some great questions surrounding sustainability of the digital platform in a post-pandemic world. I believe Melanie’s forcast that after an initial decline once people become more comfortable visiting museums in person, the industry should experience a rebound as people have become much more accustomed to the convience of the platform — and museums have in turn become much more adept at offering digital applications that hold their interest.

  7. Alycia Lampley says:

    This was a cool interview, Madison! Both you Melanie Bowyer had great energy and it felt really natural. I also found out that you and I had our interest in museums and education in an unexpected way! It was reassuring to hear you both, honestly. Oo! I also loved how Mealine spoke their first digital programming pilot, where they had to consider the very basics of their capabilities. She talked about having to train staff on presenting to digital audiences and I thought that was really neat also. We talk a lot about workflow but sometimes it can be with the understanding that we all have a basic level of digital experiences, whether that be through live streaming, social media, or now virtual meetings and conferences. And it was just cool that they were already on that train of implementation before COVID’s lockdowns hit and we were forced to switch gears. I also thought it was interesting, Madison, how you spoke about working to reinvigorate learning for virtual education, especially after the fatigue they might feel after doing about a year of it already.

  8. Hey Maddi,

    I am so glad that you had the opportunity to speak with Melanie! She was such a key player when creating the Live Virtual Tour at the beginning of the pandemic. Even though I work at the foundation, I still learned a lot from the interview! I really enjoyed her view on museums as a whole, they should be a place that brings the community together, even a museum that is not “fun” and touches on some serious subjects as Melanie points out.

  9. Carissa Johnson says:

    Two main points I wanted to comment about: I could probably get in fights (not physically of course, with people daily about how we are going about pivoting in this new political climate with regards to our past in this country. It was really nice to hear a calm collected head be able to answer questions for her organization about this topic. Also, I would be curious to know if (before the pandemic) school groups who traveled to the DC region, put in their itinerary to visit Monticello as well, even though it is quite a distance.

  10. Kristina Zapfe says:

    This was such an engaging interview and I liked that Melanie addressed how Monticello adapted to changes in viewership and online tour visitation during the pandemic. The virtual tour availability for students across the country is such a valuable educational tool to offer. I also appreciate that Melanie addressed historical realities about Monticello’s history since digital media teams are at the forefront of these difficult conversations.

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