The rap on research for the arts, museums, and informal sciences
I’ve co-led Slover Linett for almost 15 years, and agreeing to merge our higher ed research practice into Huron Consulting was the hardest thing I’ve done in all that time. Sometimes what makes sense rationally — as this does, on every level — is still a question mark emotionally. I hadn’t fully considered the human dimension, including how it would feel to lose some wonderful colleagues.
But ‘colleagues’ doesn’t quite capture it. Bill, Rachelle, Aaron, Jennifer, Jenny, and Megan were part of what it meant to be at Slover Linett, and why it was great to be there. Their banter, their laughter around the table or muffled through a door, their ideas and values — as people and as researchers — were part of why I loved being in that office and why I felt so lucky in my professional life. And I know my colleagues on the culture-and-informal-learning side of our organization feel the same way.
Of course, you can still see your work-friends for dinner or on the weekends; I guess that’s how you know they were more than just work friends. But it’s not the same as having them around and creating something together. I learned on a personal level something that we tell museum and arts leaders all the time: an organization isn’t an idea or a building or a service, or even an experience; it’s people. That’s what we connect to, are inspired by, and care about (or don’t). At bottom, it’s always social.
So why did Cheryl and I do it — aside from the financial incentive? Because there had always been a thorny “and” at the heart of our firm, a duality of higher ed and arts & culture that I could never quite reconcile. As both practices grew and became more active on the national scene in their respective domains, that “and” became more obvious, and more challenging. A small enterprise like ours can’t really do more than one set of things well. I began to wonder if the two practices needed to break free of each other in order to fully flourish.
So when our friends at Huron — smart people with whom we’d been collaborating on a few university projects over the last year — broached the idea of bringing our higher ed practice in house, I was intrigued. Today, those colleagues of mine are able to work on a bigger scale, nationally and globally, and explore a wider range of research questions for all kinds of institutions.
And our culture practice? Well, there’s a big “and” there too, but I think it’s a healthy one. Our domain is museums and performing arts and science communication and community engagement and… I’m excited about the broader, more inclusive and contemporary definition of culture that’s emerging in our work. I’m having fun exploring the messy multiplicity and creative overlaps within that category with and for our clients. We’ve now become a firm that can devote itself entirely to that challenge. That’s fruition, or at least a new pathway to get there.
So, now you know what I’ve been doing instead of blogging these last few months. But I’m getting back into the conversation. This year, I’ll be experimenting with shorter posts and will be bringing other Slover Linett and outside voices into the blog. I’ll also be making Culture Kettle official, finally. And I’ve just gotten on Twitter, where I hope you’ll follow me @PLinett.
And of course we’ll continue collaborating, growing, and learning as we go. Please stay in touch — and update our email addresses and website when you get a chance: it’s all SLaudienceresearch.com now.
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