Posts by Alison Kennedy

Welcome to MuseumQueer! I'm Alison. I'm a genderqueer, early-career professional, looking to create radical change in the museum world by living authentically and inspiring others to do the same.

How to Be the Squeaky Wheel: Targeted Tips for Change

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a rabble rouser. I like to push for change because we can all be better, always. Every day, I learn and grow as a person and a professional.

But that doesn’t mean that pushing for change is easy. People can be resistant to change. They don’t like having their power challenged or admitting that they could be wrong. Of course there will always be struggles for those who push for the new and radical.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about targeted strategies that we, as changemakers, can use. Some of these came from my adventures at MuseumCamp. Others came from other conferences or my past jobs. So here are four tips I’ve tried that can make the fight for change a little easier: pick your battle, find your allies, make it personal, and stick to your guns.

Pick Your Battle

It’s easy to want to do everything at once. In general, my goal is to push for inclusion for trans and queer people everywhere. But I know my limits! There’s no way I can fight every battle for trans folks. So I prioritize. I want to make my place of employment as trans friendly as possible.

It’s important to recognize when to step up as a leader and when to support from the background. Not every person can be a leader for every cause. Be strategic about where you put your energy.

As I’ve been searching for jobs, I’ve been very open about being trans. I include my pronouns in my email signatures and on my cover letter. I’m privileged in my ability to do this. I want to use that privilege to make things better for other people.

Find Your Allies

Find those around you who share your priorities. I’m lucky to work with stellar coworkers. My supervisor recognizes the importance of inclusion. When I got hired, I made it clear that my pronouns weren’t negotiable and are part of my identity. From the get-go, my supervisor respected me.

While I was comfortable wearing a button with my pronouns, I wanted a more inclusive option. That’s when we landed on adding pronouns to our name badges. We have “Docent” on some badges and “Women’s Board” on others. Why not pronouns? The move to pronouns on name badges also meant that I wouldn’t be singled out for my transness. Instead, the museum took steps to normalize everyone sharing their pronouns.

My supervisors and coworkers advocating with me made change happen.

Make It Personal

Pronouns matter because this is my life. I’m not a theory or a vague concept.

It’s easier to convince people that change matters when you make it personal. Most cisgender means people whose gender has always aligned with the gender they were assigned at birth. Most cisgender people don’t even think about pronouns or gender outside of the “I’m a girl, you’re a boy” conversations in kindergarten. But for trans folks, this is a daily fact of our existence. Being misgendered over and over again is draining. Exhausting. But it’s how we live.

By sharing my personal experience, I’ve been able to help others understand how to respect trans people and why it matters to respect us. I always say that I stand up because I can and so that other people don’t have to argue later. I can make the museum a safe space for one trans kid who comes in the museum and sees my pronouns on my badge. That’s why what I do matters.

Stick To Your Guns

Don’t give up when the fight for change gets hard. Sometimes it would be easier to let people use “she” for me. It’s exhausting to correct people all the time. For me though, it’s worse to be misgendered.

People generally have good intentions and try to use my pronouns. I give people the benefit of the doubt and let them try and fail. I know that this kind of change takes time. I just have to see that people are trying, and I’ll continue to hold them accountable.

I deserve respect and to bring my whole self as a trans person to work. That’s what I always come back to and what inspires me to keep fighting.

What tips do you have for making space for change?

5 Reasons You Need to Get to MuseumCamp (Including a Group Floss!)

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been almost a month since my adventure to Santa Cruz for MuseumCamp! I can’t say enough good things about my experience, but I’ve come up with 5 reasons you’ve GOT to apply for MuseumCamp next year.

The Place

First of all, Santa Cruz is absolutely beautiful. The weather is perfect. The town is adorable. The Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History provides the perfect backdrop for an immersive unconference experience. The MAH’s spaces are comfortable and well-designed to support creative engagement and learning experiences. We always had somewhere to sit, to write, to think, to share. And having the delicious food and drink options from Abbott Square Market didn’t hurt either!

Getting to spend the night there? Even better. But bring your ear plugs and an eye mask.

The People

MuseumCamp wouldn’t be camp without the campers. And what a spectacular group of people I got to know this year. Over 100 changemakers from all over the world. Australia, New Zealand, England, I made new friends from places I can only dream of visiting right now. I know that I can reach out to any of the people I met at MuseumCamp with an idea, a question, even to ask a favor, and I know I’ll get their support. It’s an incredibly empowering experience to have such a supportive and powerful network of changemakers on my side.

The Bonding Experience

Nothing bonds like a group floss. Seriously. As part of Wednesday evening’s “Power Hour of Fun,” led by the kickass Elise Granata, campers broke down any awkwardness that might have been present, built new friendships, and raced through 60 one-minute-long activities. Activities including a minute of high fives, a minute of arm wrestling, a minute of marker tattoos on each other, a minute of selfies, and yes, even a minute of a group floss!


Arm wrestling with Nell Taylor from Read/Write Library Chicago during the Power Hour of Fun!

The Changemaking Challenge

The 30-Day Changemaking Challenge took most of our time on Thursday of camp. We broke into groups, each themed around a different aspect of the changemaking process. I was assigned to Team E: Reflect and Share. It’s so important to always keep reflecting on what we’re doing as we’re trying to make change. How else do we know that what we’re doing is working? Sharing and getting feedback gives us opportunities to keep doing even better work. We even got feedback from our fellow campers about our ideas – a structured part of the challenge was time to share our ideas and see what others thought before having time to edit and make additional changes.

We worked hard to create concrete activities that we could take home and share with others. Some were quick things to incorporate into our every day lives, others took more time and effort. Our group came up with the five following activities for “reflect and share:”

  1. Convene a “share back” group using transformative justice methods (toolkits online).
  2. Visit a stakeholder at their site and actively listen to their perspectives.
  3. Identify 3 accomplishments or learning moments from your change making experience. Share in 3 new places.
  4. Write a 10-second response to “how are you?” Share authentically about your project or life.
  5. Create a movie poster that encapsulates the plot of your changemaking experience.

Be on the lookout for a 30-Day Changemaking Challenge poster, coming soon!

The Leadership Opportunities

Leadership opportunities were -everywhere- at MuseumCamp. From opportunities to step up in our group project to giving lightning talks to offering up ideas during unconference sessions, if you wanted to be a leader at MuseumCamp, you totally could. And in a safe, brave environment that provided the chance to try and fail and try again with the support of colleagues.

MuseumCamp, like anything else in life, is all about what you make it. But if you’re able to throw yourself in fully, the experience is like nothing else.

Until next year, MuseumCamp!

You Look Digitally Familiar! VSA2017 Volunteer Adventures

When I found out that VSA would be bringing their 2017 conference to Columbus, I knew I had to find a way to get involved. Because I can’t afford to pay for my own fees and I already live in Columbus, volunteering was a no-brainer. Plus volunteers get to go to sessions when they aren’t volunteering!

If you don’t know the Visitor Studies Association, you can check out their website here. VSA is a membership organization dedicated to understanding and enhancing informal learning experiences through research, evaluation, and dialogue. My people!

This year’s conference theme: New Pathways in Visitor Studies! In the field of visitor studies, we must always be on our toes to keep a current understanding of visitors and their needs.

Attendees could expect to explore questions such as:

  • In what new ways can and should the field of visitor studies act as an advocate for those audiences who have traditionally been excluded from informal learning spaces?
  • How are changes in society, culture, and human interaction impacting the field of informal learning – and how can the field of visitor studies creatively adapt to these changes?
  • How can we think big and pivot our attention to use research and evaluation methodologies to address issues in our communities, nations, and world?

Big, juicy questions like this make for great conversation.

So what sessions did I get to go to? Read on for a recap!


Beyond Excellent: The Overall Experience Rating

Presenters Nick Visscher, Andrew Pekarik, Kerry DiGiacomo, and Hannah Ridenour spent the session sharing their experiences with the Overall Experience Rating & thoroughly convincing me of its benefits as a rating scale. From art museums to zoos, the OER gives institutions the opportunity to identify the most enthusiastic visitors with “superior,” to compare expectations with experience, and to track areas that need improvement.

Session Bonus: listening to Andrew Pekarik rage about Net Promoter Score.


Later that afternoon, I volunteered at the registration table, giving me the chance to say hi to lots of other participants and watch as staff attempted to free a poor hotel employee from a stuck elevator. Yikes. Working with the VSA leadership was a great experience. Expectations for volunteers were very clear, and I had a great time!

Examining Cultural Assumptions: Implications for Equity in Museums

Oh boy, this session is what I’m here for. Shedd Aquarium’s Lindsay Maldonado and North Central College’s Nicole Rivera, Ed.D. led a roundtable discussion on cultural assumptions inherent to museums. To be honest, I didn’t even take any notes in this session because we were having such good conversation. Discussion centered around the three questions in the image below.

Session bonus: Anna Lopez deciding that culturally responsive evaluation is like baklava, a little sticky and a little crunchy, but oh so worth it.


Thursday evening’s festivities included an “Evening of Creativity and Conversation at the Columbus Museum of Art,” which I sort of got to attend – I ended up in the same galleries as conference attendees while I was at work in as a gallery associate!


When I got to the hotel on Saturday morning, I connected with three of my colleagues from the Columbus Museum of Art. It ended up that they didn’t need us as volunteers for the sessions, so we got to attend them!

Investigating Pathways to STEM Identity in Free-Choice Learning Environments

Having just finished John Falk’s Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience, I knew I couldn’t miss this session. He, Smirla Ramos-Montañez, and Lynn Dierking shared their research on STEM identity in traditionally underserved communities. Absolutely fascinating to listen to these three talk about their varied techniques for doing this research and the implications of that research for future free-choice learning.

Session Bonus: Smirla’s transcripts of interactions the 9-14 year old girls in her studies.

Making Connections: Facilitating Learning Through Making

Lisa Brahms from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh brought a hands-on session to VSA. Coming from a summer camp background, I love anything and everything hands-on. And even better, we got to bring home the activity! Making Connections is an Apples to Apples-style game, giving facilitators a chance to practice matching facilitation strategies with learning objectives and learner styles. I had a blast playing, and I’m really glad I got to bring the game home!



I had a wonderful time at VSA2017. I’d encourage anyone interested in Visitor Studies to get involved with the organization, to take advantage of the many opportunities available as a volunteer, and to continue to connect with everyone on Twitter!

Special shout out to Elizabeth Bolander of the Cleveland Museum of Art for telling me that I looked “digitally familiar,” when we finally connected in person! A great phrase that made a perfect title for this blog post.

Welcome to MuseumQueer!

I’ve been meaning to start blogging for ages, but I’ve finally gotten my butt in gear!

Welcome to MuseumQueer! I’m going to be writing about whatever strikes my fancy, but mostly thoughts on navigating the museum world as an out nonbinary trans person, queer exhibitions, inclusion in museums in general, and conference adventures.

New stuff on the horizon:

  • a wrap up post about volunteering at VSA 2017 in Columbus
  • posts about my current job hunt & interview process
  • adventures in social media with my colleagues
  • MuseumCamp!