The majesty and wonder of Drinking About Museums

July 5, 2013

Old-ish Content Warning!

You are viewing a post that’s more than three years old. There’s a good chance that a lot of the following is seriously out-of-date (or at least not reflective of my current thinking on this topic). Proceed with caution.

It’s sorta hard to believe that I’ve somehow never posted about #drinkingaboutmuseums here. I chalk that up to me forgetting that I have a blog for months at a time. At any rate, I was inspired by Ed Rodley’s now-not-so-recent post On Drinking About Museums , and thought that it would be a good time to lay out my thinking about the events generally, and the mechanics of our Denver event specifically.


What is it?

At its basest level, #drinkingaboutmuseums is an opportunity for museum people to get together and talk about their profession, over some sort of beverage. That’s pretty much it. Different cities have done it differently; the Denver group, for example, is always extremely loosely structured, while the Boston group often has formal presentations and agendas before the beering happens.

Kate Tinworth and I started the group in Denver because we were meeting regularly over lunch to talk about museum strategy, and realized that the community would benefit from including more voices in that conversation. And now here we are.

How does it work?

It’s not hard; find a good place to meet, a time, and then announce the meeting over twitter or wherever. Then post your meetup to the Drinking About Museum Community  page, so that others will know about it. We’re trying to aggregate activities from all the groups together there, just because. Ed Rodley, in the post referenced above, has some good guidelines on how to manage the group once you’ve gotten started, though every city does it a little differently. Some cities use LinkedIn pages, some use , some use Facebook , and some just use the Community page. One day soon I might set up a common page where we can manage all this activity in one place, but for the moment the distributed model seems to be working.

But what’s so great about it?

It’s non-denominational.

Although several of the local groups have their origins in the museum tech/social media sector, I love that, for the most part, all voices are welcomed and encouraged in these meetups. The thing is, conversations around our work tend to be limited by the context in which they’re occurring. At our jobs, we’re usually talking about museums generally, or our museum specifically, within the context of a given initiative or project. At conferences, we’re often constrained by the larger context of the conference itself (at AIC we’re talking about museums in the context of conservation, at MCN we’re talking about museums in the context of technology). #drinkingaboutmuseums gave us (in Denver, at least) the opportunity to talk about museums in no real context at all (or perhaps, the context of no context?), which has opened up the discussion in rather interesting ways.

The meetup also shuffles the personnel deck; in the Denver group, at least, formal institutional heirarchies aren’t really recognized. Museum studies students interact directly with museum directors, curators talk with social media people, technologists talk with evaluators. All of this makes for some really interesting cross-pollination.

It’s local.

As Ed mentions in his post, these kinds of conversations are becoming increasingly commonplace at a general level at conferences like MCN, MW, MuseumNext, etc., but those conversations are by nature abstracted so that you can discuss issues generally. #drinkingaboutmuseums embraces locality, and encourages, by its very nature, conversations about specific issues that specific museums are facing.

I have built-in friends wherever I go.

I love that now I have an excuse to meet interesting people every time I visit a new city. I just take to the twitters or to Google+, and say “hey, Imma be in your town! Let’s meet and talk about museums!” Boom. Done. And the reverse is true, too; when a Peter Samis, or a Sharna Jackson, or a Dale Konkright is going to be in Denver, we always try to organize a #drinkingaboutmuseums to hang out with them. It means that knowledge is being shared, and that a community is able to take advantage of visiting guest stars.

It’s everywhere, and it’s easy to start.

It has made my heart sing to see these things popping up all over the world. I guess we were all ready to talk; we just needed a flimsy excuse to do so, and a catchy name. Anyone can start one of these groups up; all you need is a place with beer and at least two people who are interested in talking about museums. I’ve been trying to keep up with all the local “chapters” popping up everywhere; here’s a partial list. If you’re aware of another meetup that’s not here, let me know (or better yet, post an upcoming meetup on the Google+ Communities page).

List of current meetups (as of July 2013)

Fully organized groups (groups that have some sort of ongoing presence and have had several meetups):

And there have been sightings of #drinkingaboutmuseums events in these cities, though in many cases these may not be ongoing things:

  • Drinking About Museums ; Rio de Janeiro : Whaaaaaaaat! This happened. Here’s an intriguing comment from the event’s organizer, Luis Marcelo Mendes: “Meeting and drinking and talking about revolution @ 1st DAM in Rio de Janeiro. Can/should museums worldwide hear the voice from the streets and play an active role in the discussions? What’s your say about this?” This group is effing serious. I hope that they keep this up.
  • Doha, Qatar : Happened once while I was visiting in January, 2013. Really interesting group of people. If you find yourself in Doha, try to get these folks together again. You won’t be sorry.
  • San Francisco
  • New York
  • Melbourne, Australia
  • Edinburgh
  • Portland
  • Drinking About Culture ; Indianapolis : Originally run by Emily Lyle-Painter, who is now no longer in Indy, so I’m not sure if this group still meets.
  • Manchester
  • Barcelona
  • Moscow : Again, whaaaat! Apparently, there was also an event in St. Petersburg. If you were the organizer of this event (or events), let me know, and/or post your next event to the Google+ Community page.
  • Belfast
  • Museums n’at ; Pittsburgh
  • I’ve heard that there’s been at least one event in Toronto, associated with ROM, but I can’t seem to find anything about it now.