Positively Powerful Partnerships

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Marsha Semmel is a powerhouse in the world of museums, libraries, national cultural policy and program development, philanthropy and the development and implementation of strategic public/private partnerships. Marsha is opening a door to a new way of thinking about museums and museum experiences. In doing so she’s signalling that the cultural changes we are seeing in the world are going to force us to change how we do a lot of things. Through effective partnerships to support, broaden, and evolve our approaches for how we learn, Marsha sees big opportunities for libraries and museums to play in the education space.

Marsha’s Book: Partnership Power: Essential Museum Strategies for Today’s Networked World



Positively Powerful Partnerships With Marsha Semmel


Rob Brodnick: Welcome to the positive turbulence podcast stories from the periphery here, we journey to the edge to talk to turbulators about their experiences creating positive change. Hi, I’m Rob Rodnick.

Karyn Zuidinga: And I’m Karen Zuidinga by sharing these stories, these perspectives on innovation, creativity, leadership, and change. We hope to generate some positive turbulence for you. Thank you for joining us.

Rob Brodnick: Marsha Semmel is a powerhouse in the world of museums, libraries, national cultural policy and program development, philanthropy, and the development and implementation of strategic public, private partnerships. It’s her work in developing effective partnerships that we want you to pay attention to

Karyn Zuidinga: Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about what goes on in museums. We may go to see exhibits. We hopefully learn something when we do, but that’s it. Marsha is opening a door to a new way of thinking about museums and museum experiences and doing so she’s signaling that the cultural changes we are seeing in the world are going to force us to change how we do a lot of things.

Rob Brodnick: Teaching and learning is at the top of that list for me through effective partnerships to support, broaden, and evolve our approaches for how we learn. Marsha sees big opportunities for libraries and museums to play in that education space. As a professional who considers adult learning a fundamental driver of change. I love the idea of the nonlinear approach to learning reflection and the power of partnerships.

Karyn Zuidinga: If you believe as I do that, we are shifting from a knowledge economy to a human economy. Then there are big signals here for how businesses and organizations might have to change instead of transactional exchanges for goods and services, what kind of opportunity might exist in a more partnership based model?

How does that change the business model instead of looking at museums as dusty collections of art and artifacts, maybe with Marsha’s help, they are showing us a whole new way of doing business. Yes. Talk about positive turbulence then.

Before we launch in, let’s take a moment to acknowledge our supporting organizations.

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Karyn Zuidinga: I’ve met you several times. Marsha we’ve had great conversations. I feel like there’s a connection. Until I read the review for your book, The Power of Partnerships, I had no idea what you did, and I’m a slightly embarrassed by this, but the deal with AMI is that people don’t ask me, and I don’t think they ask you either, “What do you do?” They ask you first, “What do you think?” So you get in these great conversations about what you think, and it doesn’t matter what you do. You’re all accepted as innovators, as creatives, as creators as bright sparks. So come on in Brightspark we’ll talk to you. We don’t really care that much what you do. we care, but we don’t care. You know what I mean?

Marsha Semmel: I know exactly what you mean.

Rob Brodnick: I love that. Yeah.

Karyn Zuidinga: And I was reading the review for your book. And I was like, “Wow, Marsha’s got some chops!”

Rob Brodnick: Oh, yeah.

Karyn Zuidinga: I’d love to ground us a little bit in what is it that you do? Now I’m asking the, what do you do question. Tell us more about this book and what the point of the book is.

Marsha Semmel: I’ve had a many decade career that began in an art museum in Cincinnati, the TAFT Museum, and, stints in museums in many different roles, including two stints, as a CEO of two , very different types of museums. Alternated between stints at the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. There are not too many people who’ve seesawed back and forth from being right in a community and trying to create programs of value and raise money at work with boards of trustees, to, working in  all three of the national cultural agencies on giving away money and operating grant programs, and then trying to be part of projects that would benefit the whole sector. As a museum director, I got into partnerships just because I always have believed deeply that, something that John Cotton Dana wrote in 1920, he was the first director of the Newark museum, he said, “A museum is only as good as it is of use.” And by that he meant as it is responsive to the needs, wishes of the community. So I did some partnerships, both when I was, at Connor Prairie, a living history museum, and at Women of the West museum, which was a startup virtual/community museum.

Partnerships were essential in both of those places. When I was hired at the Institute for Museum and Library Services, in those days was giving around a quarter of a billion dollars every year to libraries and museums, I was the first and it turns out only person to who have had the position Director for Strategic Partnerships.

And, the first one we did — it turns out nobody else on this in the agency staff believed I could do anything with this, but I’ve always been a cock-eyed optimist — the first project was with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting , working with public broadcasting stations and libraries and museums called a Partnership for a Nation of Learners. This was really very much around ecosystem issues. Each grant that was given, had to respond to a community need, whether it was about water shortages in Utah or asthma prevention in Boston. I was there for about 10 years and I was fortunate enough to work on a number of partnerships that I created. What I realized was there was no literature about museum partnerships. So when I left IMLS in 2013 to go to the Noyce foundation, I wrote up an outline for what could be a book about museum partnerships and then I didn’t do anything with it for a while. Who’s going to be interested in this? But, lo and behold, one of the museum publishers was interested I decided to write the book. I want to just say one more thing about the book though. This is a book of stories. It is a book of journeys. It is not a formula. It is not one size fits all. I think too often in our various environments, whether they’re in schools, in companies, in foundations, we devolve to this notion that there is some sort of formula. If there was a bumper sticker for this book, it would be it’s the relationship stupid.

Karyn Zuidinga:  It’s so true. In our busy states, in our anxious states, we look for simple answers. Give me a formula and I’ll just go plug and play and I won’t reflect or make meaning from that. I will just do what you tell me to do.

Rob Brodnick: I think there’s great evidence for that and if we think back over the course of our lives, to the things, those memories, those, either ways that we’ve changed or things that really, were different for us or impacted us. We don’t remember the content of those moments so much. We remember the interpersonal relationships or the deeper feelings or the senses that we had. The whole brain is working in one kind of sense, not just the data storage analytic part of the brain, but the holistic brain. The bumper sticker, I think there’s a lot of evidence for that. Print out a dozen of those and send one to me.

Marsha Semmel: That’s what I really tried to capture in the people I talked to. It was, tell me about the warts. In every single case, none of these successful and enduring relationships — I wasn’t interested in any one-offs — none of these successful and enduring relationships were easy. There was a lot of rejection by different members of communities who didn’t necessarily trust whoever that museum person was who said, “Hey, I’d like to partner with you.” There’s a lot of suspicion and cynicism. That authenticity is incredibly important. Of course listening before talking. Don’t come and say, “have I got a deal for you,” especially as we deal now in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and, Breonna Taylor’s murder and so many other murders. Too many museums have had a kind of we’ll do this, we’ll make this statement, approach to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. And they’re being called on it now. They’re being called not only by their communities, but by their staffs. They’re being called saying it’s not enough to just put up a picture by, Glenn Ligon, a wonderful African-American artists that may be in your collection. You got to go deeper. You got to do a helluva a lot more.

Rob Brodnick: Reflecting on the book and in retrospect, thinking about the stories, I’d like it to flip that around and project into the future. If we’re going to create wonderful stories over the next 10 or 15 years, based on your insights that you gained in writing the book and other things what are some of the ingredients?

Marsha Semmel: I don’t think we can go backwards, but I do think that there are many opportunities. And again, a lot of these opportunities that are happening right now is a real examination and reflection within the museum itself. Museums were created, many times, they were created by the rich, for the rich, even with very, beneficent, purposes.

There’s a huge movement in museums now toward what they’re calling decolonization. Where we get these collections who is not in our collections, why are we owning them anyway? And there are museum workers who are saying where is my path for advancement? How come I’m not getting paid anything.

So I think we’re in the middle of a huge churn. In fact, some of the partnerships, and some of the museums I worked with on this book, they’re continuing their work with their communities and asking their communities to come in and help the communities to reinvent them as a museum.

The other thing is that I think we are discovering in kinds of, experimental way, the more powerful and imaginative uses for digital technology and museums. When I started in museums a long time ago, people didn’t want to even have a website because nobody’s going to come to our museum if we put this online.

Karyn Zuidinga: I remember that.

Marsha Semmel:  I remember being at an art museum directors meeting in Seattle where Bill Gates was our speaker. He came and he showed us something quite small. He said there will be a time where you can get all your knowledge on this. And all these art museum directors, except for a couple, including J Carter Brown of the National Gallery of blessed memory, said, you’re crazy. But now I think what’s happening is first of all, a number of my case studies, they are reaching national and international audiences. A friend of mine who runs the Smithsonian Associates Program, they do studio art classes online. A mother could be in LA and the daughter can be in Bethesda, Maryland, and they’re taking the same watercolor class. We’re still getting to the point where we haven’t figured out the business model case because a lot of it, I think from what I hear is based on scale, but that’s never going to go back either.

Karyn Zuidinga: I think that’s changing too. I have been hearing bubblings of different subscription models and, different engagement models too. I feel like the model is starting to shift to a point where it is becoming sustainable.

Marsha Semmel: I don’t think it’s quite there, in the museum community. But I think that’s never going to change. So that means that museum will need to have as robust a digital infrastructure as a physical infrastructure.

Karyn Zuidinga: Yes. Yes.

Marsha Semmel: I worry a bit about our science and technology centers because they tend to depend more than most other museums on earned revenue, the gate. And they tend not to have the same sort of endowments as other museums.

Karyn Zuidinga: If you’re somebody out there with a bright idea. That might involve a museum and I’m not going to project what that idea might be because I know they’re all over the map and you think, wow, I’d really like to partner with, museum X or Art Institute Y to deliver this, this thing that I’ve got, where do you begin? How do you bridge that suspicion? How do you, start that conversation where you’re coming in, as an outsider. Because it’s its own world. It’s got its own hand signals and vocabulary. Just like my world does But how do you break in and form that partnership, or at least start to have a conversation towards forming that partnership.

Marsha Semmel: That’s a great question. It depends on the museum and it depends on what your idea is and how you demonstrate it or try the idea. It’s building a relationship and, not assuming that, your gizmo or your challenge is going to do the trick depending on where that museum is and how open that museum is to, what you have to offer.

For the museums that I respect the most. They are open to what is happening in their community and the aspirations and the hopes, and even the demographics of their community. So if you have a foot in another part of that community, whether it’s the autism society, the food bank, I think that there are ways in which you can create partnerships. In Arlington County, where I live we have a wonderful theater that is based on, genre of theater from Georgia as in Eastern Europe, Georgia. They have joined forces with the Arlington County Food Assistance Cooperative. They’ve done videos. They’ve done joint fundraising. They did a whole series on  Boccaccio’s Decameron with contemporary video.

The  FAC, the food people, are right there with them. They are raising money together. So I don’t know, that’s not exactly what you’re talking about Karyn, in terms of an idea. If it were up to me, it would have to be an idea, a constituency, a community sort of competencies that connect or could connect to my work.

Karyn Zuidinga: It sounds like it needs to be patient work too. You can’t just come in guns blazing. This is going to be a great thing.

Rob Brodnick: It’s the long game, right?

 Marsha Semmel: Even though I’ve been plunked down more in the museum library space, my career has really been about validating and highlighting and giving more attention to all of that learning that is occurring outside of that classroom.

Karyn Zuidinga: Yeah.

Marsha Semmel: And ways in which our different institutions, and this is where I’ve totally been impressed by  Rob in so many ways, where the college and universities fit into our learning ecosystem. Where they connect to K-12. Where libraries and museums connect early learning. I’ve been very much, proud supporter of a group called Generations United, which links early learners with AARP and people who are senior citizens.

I think we do a kind of lousy job, frankly, in this country of recognizing this learning continuum and feeding all of those resources and make them all respected as places where we are learning and growing, and that includes the workplace.

Rob Brodnick: Yeah, it’s all informal. In some other countries, they have more formal connections across the lifespan and learning. Unfortunately, in the U S it’s a little bit disconnected. Your work, Marsha it comes from these other non-structured places where these connections occur and I’d love to see a much more integrated, intentional, connected learning system. We can all dream.

Karyn Zuidinga: Just give me the dream. I am sitting here way outside of that field. That’s not my world at all. and I’m intrigued by it because, Inside. I feel it right. I feel what you’re talking about. Yeah. We are learning all the time. And I read a lot and I’m picking up bits and pieces here.

I learned from reading fiction, I learned from reading nonfiction. I learned by talking to people, I, I read the review for your book. And I was like, wow, that sounds like something really cool to read because I am going to learn something there about, partnerships beyond just, museum and other organizations.

I think that idea of collaboration writ large is getting bigger in the world. Give me a future forward. Look, what could learning look like if those connections were a little bit more formalized?

Marsha Semmel: I think they would be more intentional. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been very interested in the strategic foresight work of Knowledge Works or the, National Writing Program. It’s just more intentional. There’s respect for and links to the type of learning that’s most, appropriately, situated in different learning settings. There is a kind of learning that can and should be done in a classroom, but that’s where these 21st century skills become really important. If you’re a person in a museum, how do you recognize and respect how people learn and weave into your programs, your resources, your partnerships, a kind of response to complimenting what is happening in the classroom. We work very closely with the MacArthur Foundation when I was at the Institute for Museum and Library Services, which invested millions and millions into a digital media and learning slash connected learning idea, which was based on recognizing that we need these brokering organizations. We need to be trained not only to go deep, but we need to be trained in connecting. We need to recognize the interest driven, learning and passions of people at all ages. And those are not antithetical to the ideas and content that you need to know in a classroom.

Rob Brodnick: It seems that the reflective piece is often forgotten about learning, particularly adult learning. Take a wonderful museum experience for example where things are, developed, curated.  Behind the scenes. So much work goes into thoughtfulness and you have this experience and you’re learning. You may not even know it. And it’s sometimes, multimedia multi-dimensional and then you get through to the end of either your time or the space. And then the next thing happens. And it’s that piece of reflection that often, if you take a pause, become a little self-aware and try to understand the meaning that was just made the meaning for you and the meaning for others and share and talk about that.  That’s something that, intentionality around reflection and processing could be a great addition, to, North American higher education, k-12 and what happens in the workforce and after your formal learning structure. Marsha. What do you think about that?

Marsha Semmel: Oh, I think that it’s right on target. And I think that, when we worked with MacArthur, we funded 24. Learning Labs in libraries and museums that really based on this notion of being aware of how learning was happening and also providing our learners with a sense of agency. So we weren’t developing the program for them, but through maker spaces, through poetry slams, through a whole bunch of different, platforms and mechanisms. They were learning, they were connecting with each other, and then they were understanding that there was a ladder of deepening knowledge and mastery that they could climb. I saw it happening. It’s very important.

Karyn Zuidinga: I can imagine though, there’s some pushback around that. People who want a very structured system and standardized testing. And, a very this is what you do in 10th grade, and this is what you do in 11th grade. and that sort of sense of, don’t make it so messy because I can’t track that.

Marsha Semmel: Oh, you’re bad.   That’s where a lot of the superintendents of school systems when they were trying to introduce 21st century skills, like cross-cultural tolerance or media literacy, what is that stuff? We need to talk about reading, writing, and arithmetic, but, What the mantra of the 21st century skills people was, it was the three RS and the four CS were co communication and cultural competence and collaboration. You’re totally right, because so much of our evaluation system is still stuck in testing, it stuck in grades. And if you’re a parent who is really concerned about your child, you want that kid to succeed. And to the credentialing system, hasn’t caught up with learning sciences in my view.

Karyn Zuidinga: Where do we take it from here? So what is a, a better future? How do we take those broken concepts and move forward?

 Marsha Semmel:  I’ve contacted every single contributor to my book and asked, I haven’t asked the question maybe as articulately as you just did Karyn, but basically I’ve said, because I’ve been party to a lot of layoffs in museums, are collaborations dead? If have you just laid everybody off and are you just like really hunkering down or what are you doing? I can tell you that those museums that I wrote about who have these deep, authentic partnerships, they may have had to have some layoffs, but they are having amazing success, because of their commitment to public service in the community.

There’s a wonderful museum Explora and Albuquerque New Mexico that was working really closely with one of the area Indian tribes. They got money from a local provider, their internet access is not as universal as one would hope, so they literally printed out kits and have taken them to the reservation. I’ve got these testimonials that are coming in and even as we speak. They’re trying to work together and rethinking their role in the system.

The Minneapolis Institute of Art wrote about a specific community partnership with their neighborhood. Which is a neighborhood where there was tremendous, economic inequity. In the wake of COVID and George Floyd, they have been again, creating different kinds of kits. They’ve supported some of the activist artists who have been part of the uprising and have supported the uprising . A bunch of the museums in Minneapolis have put all their teacher’s resources in one common website, so that they are downloadable.

Rob Brodnick: I was just thinking about, the impact COVID on our understanding of learning and it, I think it really has shone a light on the fact that learning is holistic. And when you try to break it down into its parts, analytic reductionist thinking, you start to lose some things.

And now that we move so much online, content is easier to translate to access it’s faster. You can get to more quickly. But at the same time, the other parts of learning that are the more human side of things, where interaction shared understanding the collaboration, the four CS that you mentioned it’s been threatened.

And, even with a technology that we’re using for this podcast, recording like zoom, we can see each other. We can sense each other. There’s still a distance between us. we are really at three different parts of the North American continent right now, although we’re together, but we’re not together at the same time.

And so that’s revealed, I think things that, students and practitioners of deeper learning have known, but now systems are struggling with.

Marsha Semmel: Some of the people I’ve been talking to in the field have found their professional associations, a weekly meetings after the COVID shutdowns, that they’ve been really effective and they feel more connected to colleagues around the country or around the world. And yet at the same time, there’s, there is something to be said for high touch, and, and really being able to, I don’t think we’ve really reached the place yet where, we’re talented enough to really connect, in for everybody to really connect in memorable ways.

Sponsor Message: The positive turbulence podcast is brought to you by AMI a not-for-profit innovation learning community here’s member, Michael Robinson on the AMI fishbowl. It’s the final session of an AMI meeting, where the newcomers are invited together in the middle of the room and share their reflections on the meeting experience while the rest of the membership listens.

Michael Robinson: The fishbowl  is really cool ,  it’s unique.  I liked the idea of, centering, new voices and really giving folks space. Because oftentimes we’re, we’re looking to the, and I say elders, and what I mean by that is people who  the veterans, we’re looking for them for wisdom. Something that Stan says all the time that I really appreciate is that, the wisdoms here , it’s in all of us. Our root systems are connected.  Our strength is in here.  You don’t feel leaving like you were only supposed to gain, knowledge or understanding, but you had something to contribute. and the fact that you center voices of people who, are new shows, that is a necessary piece of that work.

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Rob Brodnick: We love to use the phrase turbulator as someone who understands the concept of positive turbulence and actually uses it intentionally to create change. And you never know when you’re in that mode exactly what’s going to happen, but the people who practice the art of the turbulator get good results. Marsha I think you’re a turbulator without a doubt. Can you think back to any times when either you’ve had intentional or unintentional impacts of turbulence that have really made some change in things.

Marsha Semmel: I’m getting a tremendous amount of satisfaction. sharing my experiences and I guess my  turbulation experiences with newcomers in the field. I find that, for a lot of the younger professionals in the field, they have a very narrow sense of their own agency. They’ve a very narrow sense of what they can accomplish within their organization.

I like to stir that up. I can use my own examples. I’ve had enough failures that I’m really good at being vulnerable. I don’t mind saying, you’re here, but guess what, that happened to me. I might’ve shed a few tears, but, I’m here. That person to person, mentorship teaching is really important to me at this point.

And I, I don’t know, I’ve been asked to write another book I’m thinking about it. which would, I, right now, the way I’m thinking about it is how do you link, what do we know now about these 21st century skills and how do you embed. What we knew in 2010 to what we’ve learned since. and how does that mesh with social justice issues?

It used to be said that museums are neutral, obviously they’re not neutral. I’m coming down much more on the activist side of things. And if there are ways in which I can show examples of why and how an activist social justice stance is appropriate for a museum, I’m going to keep doing that.

Karyn Zuidinga: Marsha, you feel so young to me. I mean in your attitude and your approach in your flexibility. I thought it was quite interesting when you called out, that, the young professionals you’re working with seem to not be aware of their sense of agency. I too have seen the same thing, with young designers,  feeling like they need to conform in some way to some expectation. When. I’m saying, no, please! I feel like there’s some sort of flipping that has taken place in society. I don’t know where this is going in terms of a question, but I do feel the need for that intergenerational conversation. If there’s one thing we can do, as people have had a little bit of experience in the world, is support that growing sense of agency in the people who are new into the career space.

Marsha Semmel: I couldn’t agree with you more. There’s a lot of frustration though. There’s a lot of frustration, not only in the museum sector about the lack of diversity, but I think that is changing in a lot of places, but about, the cost of living and student loans and all of this, baggage that, some of our young professionals have as well as the whole work-life balance. I think it’s very different, and I really want to respect, the pain and the anxiety that, a lot of  younger people have. And that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to get out of the way. There are a lot of baby boomers who are not getting out of the way. Even as wonderful and good as they are, who, need to be able to in my view, keep giving, but maybe in some slightly different roles.

Karyn Zuidinga: There’s that also that thing about not checking out. Making space for that new generation to come in and do what they’re going to do, but also stay involved in the conversation. Don’t go off and just play golf or whatever your thing is, but stay engaged with the conversation. Don’t let, don’t let the technology slide past you,

Marsha Semmel:  I grew up in this family, of retailers and my grandparents started a store in 1918 in Detroit. All of us, my father and my two brothers and I, we all worked in the store. The store finally closed its doors in Detroit, the last store, there were many different stores, but the last one closed its doors in 2004, when my father was 80.

And, He didn’t miss a beat. He noticed there was a new Best Buy opening, a couple a mile from their house. He walked up and, he was hired by Best Buy. And, they called him Big Ed and he sold appliances. He stepped down when they started to cut staff at the Best Buy. I balanced that with working for a food bank, until he was 91. He was a great example, both of my parents, but especially my dad was a great example for me of, I would call  righteousness and caring and curiosity.

Rob Brodnick:  Curiosity, there we go.

I’m curious about the, the concept of the periphery and whether in the context of  museum and libraries or learning or really anything and how, relative to the connectedness, because we tend to go through the world with blinders on, we see what we want to see. We filter out things that don’t fit with our history or context. And there’s tremendous danger in living life that way. And I know in my own experience, one of the things that, museums and particularly libraries have done for me is brought other worlds to me in ways that I. It had never had the opportunity or even knew these worlds existed. What do you see in the value of the periphery and how do you leverage that? How do you use that? How does it create turbulence that creates positive outcomes?

Marsha Semmel:  Oh, I love that question. In first half of my book are contributions from non-museum people for precisely that reason, because I felt that there’s just too much insularity and we need to dwell a hell of a lot more on the periphery.

I have this picture, I’m sitting at my desk. Okay, let’s see here. I don’t know if you know who this is. Do you know who this is?

Rob Brodnick:  I’m not sure I can

Marsha Semmel:  You’re both too young. This is Judy holiday in the film, and she was in the play called the Bells Are Ringing where she was telecom operator. And this story of the Bells Are Ringing is that she gets involved in the lives of her clients. One of whom is a dentist who writes songs. One of whom is an actor who’s out of work. And the other is a, a writer who has writer’s block and she messes in their lives and brings them together. She finds a way of bringing them together. I just feel like that is such essential work.

It’s about that role of broker in bringing together those peripheries, or those other organizations where at first glance, you don’t even see what brings them together. I see these connections. I love the idea of just playing with them. They may or may not amount to anything, but why not? And if there’s a big failure, I think, of me it’s that I just assume everybody else sees them. I’ve not always taken the time to sketch them out in a complete picture for people who’ve worked for me,

Karyn Zuidinga:  I can totally relate to that idea of both slowing it down just a little bit to help others understand the connection and the need for a great broker. And sometimes we play the role of the broker and sometimes we are the brokered. There’s a, a skill in that brokerage. That seeing the connection and helping others understand where their, where that connective tissue lives.

Marsha Semmel: Here’s where I started, but as I’m, mapping the problem and I’m mapping the situation, there’s some unexpected actors here who need to get engaged and they’re not necessarily the usual suspects.

Rob Brodnick: That’s, a potent mindset, to approach the world that way. And it just opens up possibility, endlessly.

Marsha Semmel: And there’s a very famous librarian whose name I’m going to forget now. It’s Ruth something she’s at. She was at the Seattle public library and she had, she was on the radio a lot on NPR. And she’s to talk about bridging the Dewey decimal divide.

Karyn Zuidinga: Oh,

Marsha Semmel: If you go into the library and you want to know about Afghanistan, you might end up, in the nonfiction, geography section of the library, but you’re not necessarily going to be immediately connected. Also. Now with. Social media, maybe you are immediately connected to Afghan cuisine or, all of those things that peel away the layers and give you a deeper understanding, but aren’t necessarily in that little cubby hole of the Dewey decimal system.

Rob Brodnick: Yeah, the power and the failures of taxonomies, That’s a good title for a book. If you need one in your future book. I’m sorry.

Marsha Semmel: It’s perfect. It’s perfect.

Karyn Zuidinga: Yeah. And fearless, yeah. Tough conversations. Just start talking and see where that goes.

Marsha Semmel: And really respect people. No matter what job you’re doing. I think that’s, I think that’s so essential.

Rob Brodnick: Everyone has a hidden gift that you have to discover over time. Yeah.

And many.

Marsha Semmel: and that’s in terms of, what I was talking about before in my  about not really understanding when people weren’t seeing things with the same two eyeballs that I have. I think, I really try to, what did Aaron Burr say to Alexander Hamilton? Talk less…

Karyn Zuidinga: …smile more.

Marsha Semmel: I think I’ve done a fair amount of work with the African-American museum here. And, you have to learn. To appreciate other people’s pain that may not have touched you in any way. You may be touched in an intellectual way, but, I’ve really tried to just stop and respect, people’s pain and people’s anger and, and those people who are turbulators in that space, You’ll have to tell me how to spell turbulator.

Rob Brodnick: We’ll put it or at the end. Yeah. it’s one of those, the challenges of the current times, I think, emotions are heightened, for a lot of people. you don’t know what’s happening from household to household neighborhood, to neighborhood, community, people that you’ve known for a long time.

All of a sudden, their lives are disrupted or not. And as we shift to this sort of more technology media mediated interaction, we don’t have access to some of the human ways of connecting. I’m trying to actually do more work around the concept of them empathy using technology.

That’s mediated. Now you don’t have. That sort of human interactive, the neurons that connect in ways we don’t understand when you’re in proximity with someone. I just wonder how it reaches out across the airwaves and the video waves and all the things and what’s being lost and how to recover some of that.

Again, I don’t have a question buried in any of that, but it’s just something that is a challenge. it’s a problem of the current day. I don’t know where it’s going to go, but it’s something that I’m a little frustrated with. not being able to have the connections as we have. And so how do we amplify something to make up for it a little bit?

I don’t know. it’s a challenge.

Karyn Zuidinga: And it’s, we’re almost at the end of time and I want to make sure I, we say our thank yous to you, Marsha, because it has been an amazing conversation. I have come to appreciate again. Partnership and the power of partnership and the idea that it’s the relationship stupid, is fresh with me again.

I’m like, yeah, it is the relationship. It is the connection, that, foster that and all else will follow.

Rob Brodnick: Yeah,

Karyn Zuidinga: And so thank you for reminding me of that because that’s a powerful lesson.

Marsha Semmel: And the other thing about this is that. People matter. So the person who has some power in an institution can really make a difference. And we’ve all seen when that person leaves, things can fall apart, but, they don’t need to necessarily, but.

Karyn Zuidinga: Yeah, and it for good and ill, right? So the person, if you’re closed, if you’re leading an organization you’re close, you’re not open to forming those partnerships. That organization can become quite isolated.

Marsha Semmel: And if you don’t know yourself, you know, you got to start by looking in the mirror and really doing some serious reflection about you and your purpose as well as the organization and its purpose. I think. No, thank you so much. This is like a thrill for me.

Rob Brodnick: So much fun. Yeah.

Marsha Semmel: I can’t thank you guys enough. And

Rob Brodnick: So much fun.

Marsha Semmel: it’s so much fun

Karyn Zuidinga: Take care. Bye bye.

Marsha Semmel: bye. Bye.

Karyn Zuidinga: Hey, lovely listeners stay tuned for this episode’s positive turbulence moment coming right up. But first a huge thank you to AMI of nurtured us and developing this podcast is the source of so many of our guests. And of course the founders, Stan Gryskiewicz is also the author of the original book. And dare I say…the James Smithsonian of positive turbulence.

Sponsor Message: AMI is a pioneering nonprofit organization comprised of committed individuals who foster and leverage creativity and innovation in organizations in society. AMI identifies leading edge innovation, shares experiences, sponsors, research, and recognizes innovation and creative processes. Find out more@aaminnovation.org.

And thank you to Mack Avenue music group, our contributing sponsor for providing our podcast soundtrack late night, sunrise.

Rob Brodnick: And here’s our positive turbulence moment.

Marsha Semmel: One of my case studies in the, Jewish museum of Maryland, they’re working in. They’re working with the Johns Hopkins business school, on, some community centered innovation and, the professor from Johns Hopkins, I interviewed her as well as, the people in the museum.

And she talked about this poem, Ithaka that was written in 1911, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard it. It’s very short.

Karyn Zuidinga: Go. I love it.

Marsha Semmel: The guy who wrote it Constantine Cavafy.  Keep Ithaca always in your mind. Arriving there is what you are destined for, but do not hurry the journey at all. Better if it lasts for years. So you are old by the time you reach the Island. Wealthy with all you have gained along the way. Not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Karyn Zuidinga: Yes.

Marsha Semmel: That captured. It’s a journey. It’s a journey with potholes. It’s a journey with setbacks and that’s where this vision thing is really important.

Rob Brodnick: I love that, but I think Ithaka was the ancient, home of, Odysseus and from there the genesis of the journey and the story, that’s wonderful. Thank you.

Karyn Zuidinga: All right. Keep

Rob Brodnick: See, that’s a little bit of positive turbulence right there. The unexpected, something that comes at you at a tangent, but yet changes the way you see the world without a doubt.

Thanks for that.

Karyn Zuidinga: If you want to share a positive turbulence moment or otherwise comment on what you’re hearing, please drop us a line@podcastatpositiveturbulence.com. We welcome your thoughts.

Be sure to tune in next episode for a special panel on solutions journalism. We’ve got David Beers of the Tyee.ca and sSummer’s McKay and Christie Jensen of the Optimist Daily to talk about a new approach to using the news, to drive positive change.

Karyn Zuidinga: You can head over to positive turbulence.com to find out more about us. Get a transcript of this episode, get links to find out more about our guests and learn about our wonderful sponsors until next time. Keep the turbulence positive.


Book Review Snippet

Read the seven pages that constitute the introduction. Because you will be changed by it. Seriously. . . And then jump to the first chapter and read another 12 pages, because it is as powerful a rationale for expanding and centering notions of partnerships in museums as you will ever read. . . . Reading from this book will allow you to add enormous value in your next exhibition development or strategy meeting. I will certainly be assigning parts of the book ahead of future strategic priority meetings at my own institution. For anyone who believes in greater representation and social betterment as outcomes for our work, this is essential reading. . . . Do not make the mistake of assuming that this book is just for your colleagues in programs, education, or visitor experience. It is for anyone who cares about equity, social cohesion, and generosity as values in exhibition development. . . . Partnership Power is an exercise in generosity. Semmel invites us into a community of practice. All the reader need do is open the book and join a group of committed pathbreakers working toward a vision of shared authority, flattened hierarchies, and strong ecosystems. Semmel is a consummate educator who weaves the threads of myriad ideas and thinkers into an accessible, compelling case for blowing past traditional notions of partnerships to work within a landscape of networked organizations. (Exhibition)