Daily Archives: May 23, 2011

Getting Happy at the House of Blues!

“Well, it’s certainly a different crowd than OTC!”

This was my husband’s opening comment when we strolled into the third floor performance hall at Houston’s House of Blues for the AAM opening night party. (For those of you who aren’t from around these parts, OTC is the annual offshore technology conference held each year here….**Quite** a different crowd.)

 Charles hangs out with engineers. I, for my part, was delighted at what I saw: My people, museum people, the people who submerge themselves in the deliciousness of life and celebrate it in all its expressions — the odd, the curious, the beautiful, the terrifying… You were finally here, in my hometown, “boogying” to classic 70’s disco belted out in near-perfection by Skyrocket, the amazing cover band from Austin. You were having fun. I was happy.

 I’m a member of the PR and Marketing Subcommittee and I can tell you a lot of work was done to make sure last night’s party was a proper launch for the conference. Skyrocket did not disappoint! I walked in during a Paul Simon tune and I had to look closely to see if it really were Mr. Simon on stage. Then there was “Shadow Dancing” by Andy Gibb… No, can’t be him, I know he’s no longer with us, but geez, I coulda sworn that was him… “Night Fever” sounded like all the BeeGees were on stage; I’d not heard a band cover so many hits and sound so much like the originals! They even channeled Michael Jackson beautifully, tho had to admittedly give the high notes to the female singer. Didn’t matter – they knew their business. And it was the fun stuff, the “get your groove on” sounds that wear well and it kept the feet tapping (and propelled me back into my teen-age years!)

Two desserts ruined the triathlon training diet I’ve been working on these past few weeks… In the main hall they served a scoop of New York cheesecake in a martini glass and we had our choice of luscious sauces and toppings and sprinkles to dress it with. I chose the dark chocolate and raspberry sauces, of course, for their antioxidant properties, as any newbie endurance athlete would.

I also couldn’t resist the bananas foster we discovered in the Foundation Room later in the evening. Bananas are rich in potassium, I reasoned… Can’t skimp on potassium, plus who can resist a dessert that comes with such drama, being set on fire before being served??

For those of you who didn’t make your way to the Foundation Room, I am so sorry… It’s wonderful. Fabric covered walls and ceilings, Hindu gods, carved stone trim, lush silk and velvet pillows… There are many wonderful, little-known nooks and crannies in Houston, but the Foundation Room is my favorite. It invites relaxation and loosening the limbs. Don’t miss it next time!

I hope you’re having a wonderful conference and are enjoying the wonderful sights and sounds Houston has to offer. We have more in store for you, so stay tuned!

— Cecelia Ottenweller, HexaGroup Creative,
member AAM 2011 PR & Marketing Subcommittee


Down on the Bayou: AAM Attendees Visit Center for Land Use Interpretation’s Houston Field Office

AAM conference attendees took a bus to the Center for Land Use Interpretation’s Houston Field Office, located on the banks of Buffalo Bayou on the site of a former junkyard, as part of a special onsite/insight tour Monday morning. AAMers were given a tour of the office by the Center’s founder/director Matthew Coolidge, who came to Houston in 2007 to establish a base from which to study the gulf coast region and the petrochemical industry as part of an ongoing residency with the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts. The field office is a gray, generic office trailer that features exhibitions based on the Center’s research. Currently, the office has a focused exhibition featuring photographs and a video that debuted as part of the Blaffer Art Museum exhibition Texas Oil: Landscape of an Industry.

Matthew discussed the Center’s research with AAMers from the organization’s projects across the country to the stories behind the works on view in the field office, which showcase the public face of the petrochemical industry in Houston through “portraits” of the most prominent companies’ Houston headquarters and an aerial “landscan” HD video of the Houston Ship Channel. The exhibition section of the field office is open to the public by appointment, but AAMers got a special behind-the-scenes view of the section of the office where members of the Center live and work while conducting their research, including some incredible maps of Houston and ship channel used by the Center.

After their tour of the field office, the group went to the banks of the bayou itself for a view of the scrap yard of the Proler Iron & Steel Company, an international operation of steel and metal recycling. Sparks were flying as giant cranes lifted heaps of metal into barges floating on the bayou accompanied by an unforgettable crashing sound. Further down the shore, AAMers saw the boat that the Buffalo Bayou Partnership (BBP) uses to clean debris from the surface of the water as well as a new boat commissioned by the Mitchell Center and BBP as an interpretive research platform to present programs on the waterway. The boat, called Tex Hex, was designed by the design-build group SIMPARCH to show films, record live video, and serve as a self-contained living area with a sustainable energy infrastructure. Matthew described the history and current significance of the confluence of the Buffalo Bayou with the ship channel, including how channel was dredged after the 1900 hurricane that destroyed Galveston and is now the center of the US energy industry.

As part of this onsite/insight, AAMers had a chance to see an aspect of Houston not often glimpsed by the public, but at the heart of the city and the nation’s supply of energy. They experienced a unique project that is a museum, residency, research project and off-the-grid outpost. Many of us from Blaffer, the Mitchell Center, and BBP  have been enriched by our association with the Center, and we were excited to welcome our colleagues from all over the nation as part of the conference and hope they will stay in touch and keep abreast of the Center’s projects in Houston via the UH Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center website and the Center’s newsletter Lay of the Land.

–Rachel Hooper, Associate Curator and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fellow,
Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston;
chair of AAM 2011 Community Service Project Task Force;
member, AAM 2011 Public Arts & Programming Subcommittee


Tour of Asia Society Texas Center Yoshio Taniguchi Building

Yesterday evening I toured the soon to be completed Asia Society Texas Center along with a group of Houstonians and American Association of Museum guests. I have been watching the construction of this magnificent building literally since the day they broke ground—my husband, dog, and I live across the street. This is a remarkable building, and as I walked along the limestone and glass corridors one thought continually entered my mind, What a gift to Houston.Yoshio Taniguchi designed the modern building that reflects classic modernism yet feels very current. The building was designed to create an experience, and in that ambition the human and intimate nature of the design triumphs over the grand scale.

Several members of the Asia society staff, the design and construction teams, and some very dedicated board members and funders were present to help our group of visitors further understand this architectural jewel. They pointed out details such as the fact that every single line where stone meets on the wall aligns with the point where stone meets on the floor, and that line continues on the ceiling. The Jura limestone was mined from the fourteenth and fifteenth levels of a quarry in the Black Forest in Germany and then polished in Italy to a silky smooth finish—Taniguchi himself decided the location of each piece of stone and served as quality control during the stone selection process. The building is heated and cooled by geothermal wells across the street, underneath the parking lot, so that visitors can enter and leave in silence without the sound of whirling air conditioning units. This is the only freestanding building that Taniguchi has designed in the United States, as his other project in the US was the expansion and renovation of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Taniguchi has very much taken advantage of the surrounding open space and made the landscape an integral part of the design. Gardens, treetops, downtown views, and water pools make the outside come in as the viewer peers through crystal clear glass.

The Asia Society Texas Center is located at 1370 Southmore in Houston’s Museum District and is scheduled to open in March 2012. It will feature a fine art gallery, 280-seat auditorium, meeting spaces, water garden, lounge, gift shop, and café. The purpose of the Asia Society is to strengthen relationships and promote understanding amongst the people, leaders, and institutions of the United States and Asia. What a gift.

–Bevin Bering Dubrowski, Houston Center for Photography,
member AAM 2011 Local Host Committee

The CEO and Director Reception

One of the time-honored traditions and privileges for AAM attendees who work on or for museum boards is the CEO and Director Reception. This year, the reception was held at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, in the expansive lobby of the Audrey Jones Beck building. MFAH is the home of Conference Chair Gwen Goffe, who is the Interim Executive Director of the Museum.

The large crowd present for the reception enjoyed passed platters of creations from City Kitchen Catering and a very busy open bar strategically placed in the middle of the lobby. It was reunion time for many of us, and it was good to see and catch up with other museum leaders who have been every bit as busy since the meeting last year in Los Angeles. Guests were offered stickers to ensure their access to every part of the large (even by Texas standards) museum and the collections on view (If you were unable to make the reception, be sure to make other plans to visit MFAH while you are here in Houston!).

Remarks made to a full house included a welcome from Gwen, congratulatory comments from Ford Bell, and remarks from the Institute of Museum and Library Services Director Susan Hildreth and the Director of the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, Fuad Al-Therman. Guests were excited to hear Susan’s enthusiasm for museums in her remarks, and more than a little impressed with Fuad’s vision for the Saudi Aramco-backed Center in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

Soon it was back to the process of catching up with old friends and making new ones, and comparing notes on plans for the conference. I vote we have this much fun every night of the conference. Oh wait, we will!

–Jon Iszard, President & CEO, The Health Museum; Co-Chair,
AAM 2011 Public Relations & Marketing Subcommittee;
member AAM 2011 Local Host Committee

Public Session on Museum Governance a hit!

If you missed the public session on Governance because you were still making your way back from the Art Car Parade you can be forgiven. If you missed it because you thought it would be dry and boring, THAT was a mistake. Attended in equal measure by board members of area museums and conference attendees, this session mixed serious commentary and humorous dialogue to produce an interesting exploration of the issues and challenges of governing museums.

Opened by session moderator Kenneth Mattox, MD, and joined by panelists Eddie Allen, Anthony Hall and Judy Nyquist, the remarks were led off by a presentation by Contemporary Arts Museum chair Eddie Allen, whose humorous and insightful presentation on the care and feeding of board members involved a whimsical comparison to his less-well-trained beagle, and brought the essential ideas in a great board/museum relationship into sharp focus. Anthony Hall, chair of Houston Endowment, Inc., spoke next on the critical role of the board in selecting the chief executive, and used as an example his previous involvement on the board of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and that board’s selection of Dr. Peter Marzio some 28 years ago. He described the tremendous impact of Dr. Marzio’s leadership not only on the MFAH, but on the entire community. Judy Nyquist, board member of the Houston Arts Alliance (among many such positions throughout the arts community), reflected on her extensive involvement in the arts and not-for-profit boards, and shared heart-felt remarks that demonstrated the power of a passionately committed board member.

Dr. Mattox (chair of The Health Museum), demonstrating moderating skills unknown to most surgeons, led the panel through a series of questions on the fundamental importance of a board, the issues that arise when mergers are contemplated, how to handle the ‘over-involved’ board member, the role of board committees, and more. Audience members added questions about selecting board members and the nature of the relationship between the chief executive and the chair of a board.

For my part, it was a privilege to bring together such a distinguished group of local leaders whose roles have a big impact upon our museum community, and to enjoy a great discussion on a topic very important to the future of all of our museums.

–Jon Iszard, President & CEO, The Health Museum; Co-Chair,
AAM 2011 Public Relations & Marketing Subcommittee;
member AAM 2011 Local Host Committee

Make Sure You Visit the Registration Desk!

We’re not saying this because we think you didn’t register. Rather, if you did, you definitely need to be visiting us. You might have noticed that your badge materials didn’t appear in the mail this year. That’s why you’ll want to head over to the Confirmed Attendee Badge/Tote Bag Pick-up on the first floor of the convention center in Hall D/E to get your conference materials (including the final program) as well as your tote bag.

If you haven’t registered yet, fear not, we also have a place just for you in the same area.

We look forward to seeing you.

Attendee/Exhibitor Registration Hours:
Sunday, May 22: until 6 pm
Monday, May 23: 7 a.m.– 6 p.m.
Tuesday, May 24: 8 a.m.–6 p.m.
Wednesday, May 25: 8 a.m.–3:30 p.m.

Meet the Authors

When you’re in a lull from sessions or need a break, stop by the AAM bookstore in Hall D/E of the convention center. We’ll have a number of titles for sale (including AAM’s four newest titles) and, perhaps most importantly, we’ll have authors around for signings.

Here’s a list of authors, times and locations (if they won’t be at the bookstore).

Monday, May 23, 12–1 p.m.
AAM Director of Government Relations Gail Ravnitzky Silberglied will sign copies of Speak Up For Museums: The AAM Guide to Advocacy.

Monday, May 23, 1–2 p.m.
Sharon Theobald will sign copies of To Give and to Receive: A Handbook on Gifts and Donations for Museums and Donors.

Monday, May 23, 4–5 p.m.
Nancy Proctor will launch the new AAM Press e-book, Mobile Apps for Museums: The AAM Guide to Planning and Strategy.

Tuesday, May 24, 11 a.m.–12 p.m.
Will B. Crow and Herminia Din will sign copies of All Together Now: Museums and Online Collaborative Learning

Tuesday, May 24, 1–1:30 p.m.
Thought Leader session speaker Lewis Hyde will sign copies of Trickster Makes This World and other works.

Tuesday, May 24, 3–4 p.m.
The Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art, Bonnie Pitman and Ellen Hirzy will sign copies of Ignite the Power of Art: Advancing Visitor Engagement in Museums.

Wednesday, May 25, 10:30 –11:00 a.m.
Thought Leader session speaker Rebecca Skloot will sign copies of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Wednesday, May 25, 12–1 p.m.
Keynote speaker Neil deGrasse Tyson will sign copies of The Pluto Files and other works.

–Dewey Blanton, American Association of Museums