The Secret Lives Of Museum Tour Guides

Long times readers know that when I was living in Ohio I had a close relationship with a local group called the Creative Cult. We did a number of projects together and I participated in the events they sponsored. The local art museum wisely decided to bring one of the cult’s inner circle, Nick, on staff and he has been making some great contributions to the organization.

This week the museum has made a series of Facebook posts under the title “Things Written At The Front Desk,” with some pictures from Nick’s journal/sketchbook and other projects he has worked on while at the desk. Today was the second post in the series and really caught my attention because it featured Nick’s illustrations of a guide to a gallery exhibit.   At first I was excited because I thought perhaps the museum had reopened for socially distanced exhibitions, but the guide was made for a pre-Covid exhibit.

Regardless of when it was made, the concept of walking into a museum and picking up a guide to an exhibition which was hand illustrated by one of the people greeting you struck me as something that would make the whole experience feel more welcoming and accessible.  The pamphlet Nick illustrated reflects his quirky aesthetic, presenting the visitor with Marty, a cartoon figure who will accompany on your journey complete with a map of Marty’s suggested route through the exhibition.

Then things take a strange turn and some of the illustrations reference to Marty’s diary and a beast being hunted down by a classic mob armed with pitchforks and torches. Clearly the whole guide isn’t depicted so we are missing parts of the story, but that makes you want to learn more, right?

Not only that, wouldn’t you be interested in seeing a museum exhibition framed by an information pamphlet that implied your tour guide may have a monstrous alter-ego….or perhaps it was all just a strange dream?


Creative Expression As The Basis For Inclusive Democracy

I came across a TED talk video on the importance of creative industries to national governments not five minutes after I had a conversation with staff on that very topic.

Mehret Mandefro talks about how she contributed to making creative industries a central part of Ethiopia’s plans to provide employment opportunities for the segment of its population experiencing the greatest growth, 15 to 29 year olds.

She notes that typically arts and creativity are seen as nice things to have, but not essential.  She disagrees and feels it is not only important for economic development, but also social identity and political stability. While she hadn’t intended to do so when she moved back to Ethiopia, Mandefro found herself essentially building a training program for creative workers from the ground up. (Demonstrated by the video of this talk.) That lead to her eventually participating in the generation of policy recommendations for creative industries for inclusion in the National Jobs Action Plan.

Now, putting culture on the economic agenda is an incredibly important milestone. But the truth of the matter is, there’s far more at stake than just jobs. Ethiopia is at a critical juncture, not just economically but democratically. It seems like the rest of the world is at a similar make-or-break moment. From my perspective on the ground in Ethiopia, the country can go one of two ways: either down a path of inclusive, democratic participation, or down a more divisive path of ethnic divisions. If we all agree that the good way to go is down the inclusive path, the question becomes: How do we get there?


…Artists have long found ways to inspire inclusion, tell stories and make music for lasting political impact. The late, great American hero, Congressman John Lewis, understood this when he said, “Without dance, without drama, without photography, the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings.”

…I think any government that views arts as a nice thing to have as opposed to a must-have is kidding itself. Arts and culture in all of their forms are indispensable for a country’s economic and democratic growth. It’s precisely countries like Ethiopia that can’t afford to ignore the very sector that has the potential to make the greatest civic impact. So just as John Lewis understood that the civil rights movement could not take flight without the arts, without a thriving creative sector that is organized like an industry, Ethiopia’s future, or any other country at its moment of reckoning, cannot take flight. The economic and democratic gains these industries afford make the creative economy essential to development and progress.

You Say Capt. Kirk Was Unqualified? That’s What Made Him A Leader.

In December Seth Godin made two posts titled Creativity Is An Act of Leadership. The second of the two added (Redux).

I am a little leery of the trend in articles which label leaders as doing constructive things and managers being dedicated to the status quo. It smacks of the No True Scotsman fallacy.

Not to mention, there are so many articles with these lists, you would be hard pressed to keep track of what you are supposed to be doing lest to backslide into managerial morass. I prefer to think of the qualities attributed to leaders as things one should aspire to so you don’t get caught in a destructive cycle of self-recrimination if you occasionally want to spend time not reinventing the wheel.

That said, these are some of the things in Godin’s posts I liked. It resonates with work environments at artist organizations, especially as many move toward a more shared governance dynamic. Though there are still plenty of places with structured tiers of authority.

Leadership is voluntary. It’s voluntary to lead and it’s voluntary to follow.

When you have power and authority, it’s tempting to manage instead. Managers get what they got yesterday, but faster and cheaper. Managers use authority to enforce behavior.

But leadership involves acting as if. Leaders paint a picture of the future and encourage us to go there with them.

Which is what anyone who makes change through creative work is doing.


For too long, we’ve been confused about the true nature of leadership. It’s not about authority at all. It’s the brave work of inventing the future.

The second post is similar, but it focuses more on the theme of how leadership is like creativity in that you are constantly pushing into uncharted territory. The idea of leaders being those who stretch beyond their qualifications is intriguing. At the same time, the sentiment has long been enshrined in the opening narration of Star Trek episodes about going where no one has gone before.

If you feel like an impostor, it might be because you’re comparing yourself to a manager. We want managers and craftspeople to know precisely the steps that are involved in their work, and we want them to do it flawlessly.

Leaders, on the other hand, can never be qualified, because they’ve never done this before.

And creators — creators that don’t have a fancy job or aren’t given the label of “leader” — the same thing is true for them.

You don’t need a permit or a badge or a title to be a creative. You simply need to care enough to do creative work.


The next time you’re stuck being creative, perhaps it pays to substitute the word ‘leader’. And yes, the next time you’re stuck being a leader, perhaps it makes sense to use the word ‘creator’ instead.

Maybe They Could Increase Residency By Offering A Pastry Of The Month Subscripton?

A little bit of amplification of my local community today. Next City ran an article on the Mill Hill artist village that is developing in one of Macon’s original neighborhoods, Ft. Hawkins. The project is a partnership between Macon-Bibb Urban Development Authority, Macon Arts Alliance and the Historic Macon Foundation which has developed renovated houses once used by mill workers into artist housing.

They also turned the auditorium building that once served the mill community into an activity space which includes a large industrial kitchen which is being used by a baking collective, but is also available for hourly rental on a more casual basis.

The industrial kitchen was installed as a result of interviews done with the local community when the project had barely been conceived. People had mentioned their mode of creative expression was related to food and that they were running businesses out of their home kitchens.

When the project first began, the people behind what would become Mill Hill worked with the local Roving Listeners group. They went door to door in 2015 for six months, getting stories from people. This included talking with people at Davis Homes, a 184-unit public housing development down the street from Mill Hill.

“We weren’t even talking about a forthcoming project,” Olive says. “It’s pretty common for development projects to go in and say, ‘We’re going to do this planning effort. We’re going to have community meetings. We’re going to do this.’ And it’s all sort of framed around ‘because we’re going to do this project in the future.’ And really, with the Roving Listeners phase, it wasn’t through any lens. It was just knocking on people’s doors.”

They recorded people’s stories and compiled some of them along with photos in a book called “Heard on the East Side,” distributing it to residents. They also referred back to those conversations when creating the Mill Hill master plan, which was completed in 2018.

Currently, there isn’t a lot of occupancy in the artist village. Of the seven houses that have been restored, only one has been purchased by a private individual. One the Arts Alliance owns for use by its artist-in-residence. As those interviewed for the article indicated, there hasn’t been a lot of marketing done to make people aware of the spaces. As a result, they haven’t reached a critical mass of interest.

I will confess to possibly contributing to that. When I was looking to buy a house around this time last year, I was seriously considering some of those houses but the fact listings indicated they had been on the market for over a year raised concerns about how easy it would be to resell a house if I decided to move.

However, one of the great benefits those houses have is that they are located right next to a pedestrian and maintenance gate into the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park. It is basically a private entrance into an historic site with miles of walking & biking trails which also hooks up to an expanding community trail.  I used that entrance a number of times when I was living in Macon’s downtown. Even when the historical park is closed, you can pick up the community trail about 1/4 mile away.

I should also mention that the houses are pretty nice with a lot of open space making them well suited for studio use.

While the houses might not be occupied, the former auditorium space gets used a lot for events, classes and meetings of all sorts. The kitchen the bakers used is HUGE and well-equipped. The best events are those which show off the talents of those bakers.

So overall the project definitely has potential for great growth and is something worth watching.

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