Friday, July 8, 2016

A Place for All Types

It was in an undergraduate Roman history course that I developed a sense of where we are as human beings and gained some perspective of how far we have to go. That historical perspective has helped me cope, somewhat, when events around the world unfold because of ignorance, hatred, and violence. As a student of history, I know that even after 6,000 years of civilization, we still have a long way to go to being the peaceful, rational and kind human beings that many aspire to be. We have been though trials before - and will again. But I trust in our ability to let rational thought and an ounce of human kindness rule out in the end as it has, more often than not, in the past.

My perspective - my ability to remain analytical and to let reason prevail, however, has been sorely tested in recent weeks. This week's news of more senseless deaths has nearly crushed me.

But I still have hope.

And that hope comes from the work I do. For you see, at the museum, we celebrate the contributions that the printing press - and those who have used the press - have made to the advancement of civilization, literacy, and, most of all, freedom around the world. These words - "civilization," "literacy," "freedom," which are part of our mission statement, are big - or "lofty," as I've heard from some. I used to think so, too. I thought we needed a simpler, more grounded mission. But, perhaps, what we need right now are big, lofty words around which we can have honest and open conversations about their meaning for all people. And I mean ALL.

"A Place for All Types" is our advertising tagline. It is meant to catch people's attention and engage them in learning more about us. It is more than that, though. It truly captures what we aspire to be at The Printing Museum. For the past few years, we have been working to create a community for people who support our mission and believe in preserving and promoting the art and craft of printing. We want to be that place where people of all races, creeds, orientations, and beliefs can come together to learn about time-tested tools that have enabled - and can continue to enable - thousands to communicate powerful ideas and images. We also want to be that place, as our museum colleagues around the world are encouraging, where our community can safely exchange and debate ideas. Where analysis reigns over sound bites. Where peer review replaces deep-seated, narrow assumptions. Where disagreements can sit comfortably across the aisle with understanding.

At the moment, we're not able to welcome the community into our "place," but it is my guarantee  that once the presses are rolling again, more than ever, our doors will be open to everyone who wants to join us in continuing to expand our notions of civilization, literacy and freedom through the power of the printing press.

Please take care of yourselves and each other.

Until next time...

Friday, June 10, 2016

30 Days Later

Today marks one month since the event that every museum director fears most – a fire inside the museum. Even now, I’m thankful that no one was hurt, and that our building is 99% in tact. The collections, especially, an extensive collection of vintage printing manuals, leather-bound copies of Harper’s Weekly, and copies of American Printer dating back to the late 1800s, were damaged by smoke and water from the firefighting efforts. Those, along with all of the other items in our permanent collection, which received smoke damage, are safe in off-site storage awaiting assessment and restoration.

Over the past few weeks, I have had to call on reserves of mind, body and spirit that, quite frankly, I didn’t know I had. I come from pretty hearty stock, but this experience has tested me. What has made it easier, though, is having people around the museum, including some awesome staff members, who want nothing more than to see us come back better than ever. I’ll never be able to say thank you enough to the individuals, organizations and companies that have helped us in the last month. One small way that we’re trying show our appreciation is through the ‘Thank You’ page on our web site. I hope to “pay it forward” in whatever way I can sometime in the future.

And life goes on. Summer is our time to begin planning, in earnest, for the next year, including getting our program calendar, marketing plan, fundraising plan and budget worked out and approved by our Board of Directors. We have already been discussing plans for next year’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of our official opening in 1982. Stay tuned for that!

We do still have some immediate concerns. We should be finished soon with the arrangements to move our Summer Book Arts Studio, which begins on June 28, to the University of Houston. Our next TPM Listening Tour public meeting is July 9, at 10 a.m. We don’t have a location for the meeting, yet, but will soon. And, of course, planning for our annual fundraiser, The Gutenberg Dinner, on October 13, has really begun to ramp up.

In the next week, though, museum staff and members of our Board will have discussions about a strange and unexpected opportunity that presents itself after the fire. So, right now, everything is off the walls in the exhibits – all of the prints and newspapers and documents. Books and other paper items have, also, been removed from the display cases. This had to be done so that the collection could be assessed and cleaned properly, but, also, because the entire museum will need to be painted to finish getting the smoke smell out of the building.

With everything down off the walls, it presents an opportunity to ask ourselves if everything has to go back exactly as it was before the fire. It’s definitely not the way I would have wanted the conversation to get started, but we should, nonetheless, have the conversation. For instance, what could we add or remove from the exhibits? Can items on display be positioned in a better way to facilitate learning? Can we make use of the space we have in a better way to make the visitor experience even better?

So, we’ll be asking ourselves these questions and many others, but I would also like to ask our friends and supporters these same questions. What do you think? Is there something you would like to see us do differently as we bring the museum back on line? Leave a comment or email me at

If you would like to support our fire recovery efforts, please go to and click on the red banner at the top of the museum. Any gift is greatly appreciated.


Until next time…

Friday, May 20, 2016

The One Main Thing I Learned This Week

As the new executive director of the museum, I have been very focused on getting up the left side of the inevitable learning curve. With a great staff and engaged Board of Directors, we have addressed some very fundamental aspects of running a museum - improving policies and procedures, building a new fundraising program, better managing our collections, and discussing what the next 35 years holds for a museum dedicated to printing. I have met so many wonderful people who have both deep ties to the museum as well as new friends we have worked to bring into our community. With so much to do, it can sometimes feel like we're alone and, maybe, a little overlooked in our work. This past week has changed that notion for me.

In just a few days, I have learned that not only are we not alone, we have a wonderful community of people who are ready to help and want to see us succeed. So many people, organizations and companies have reached out to us as we recover from last week's fire. We have been offered remote workspaces, alternate venues for our events and workshops, and professional guidance as we deal with assessing damage to our collections. Right now, all I can do is say, "Thank you" from the bottom of my heart. I can only hope to repay the kindness and support we have received in kind sometime in the near future.

Please take a minute to visit the "Thank You!" page on our web site to see some of the folks who have made the stress of the past week just a little more bearable.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Down But Not Out!

What a week! I never would have guessed when I came to work on Tuesday that, by that evening, my entire world and focus would change. First, I heard the alarms and then, saw the smoke. A call to 911. A rush to find keys for firefighters. Making sure the only other person in the building with me was out. Then, the long wait as fire truck after fire truck arrived to put out the fire - a museum director's worst nightmare, especially the director of a museum with a collection of rare books, fine art prints and historic newspapers - a lot of paper, in other words.

In the end, everyone is safe and 99% of the collection is safe. It was simply a fluke; that rare case when a light fixture decides to go bad and spark a blaze. Luckily, we were here, waiting for the regular monthly meeting of the photo club. If it had happened any other evening, I'm not sure how lucky we would have been.

Clean up has begun. The wet books and papers are safely in cold storage. The rest of the permanent collection on display is packed and will undergo a conservation assessment in the coming weeks. Next up, two to three weeks of deep cleaning to get the smoke out of the ceiling (including the ceiling tiles), the walls and floors. The museum will be cleaner than it has been since at any other time in its history. Then, we paint and restore the museum to new. We might also have an opportunity to re-imagine a few exhibits before objects are reinstalled.

Yes, we're exhausted and some are stressed and overwhelmed more than others, but I have to say how much I appreciate the outpouring of support from our members and friends, and the dedication of staff in helping me think through mission-critical tasks.

We might be down for a few months, but when we come back, we'll be better than ever. The presses will run again!

Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.
Read more at:
Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today. Thich Nhat Hanh
Read more at:

Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today. Thich Nhat Hanh
Read more at:
Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today. Thich Nhat Hanh
Read more at:
Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today. Thich Nhat Hanh
Read more at:
Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today. Thich Nhat Hanh
Read more at:

Friday, January 8, 2016

Listen Up!

I arrived at The Printing Museum on August 18, 2014. In the past year and few months, I have learned much about the people and internal workings of the museum. I have met many wonderful people who have spent many years supporting the museum. With our staff and Board, we have tackled some big challenges and have had some good conversations about the museum - its past, present and future.

But, it's time to step outside the museum in a concerted effort to hear from those we serve...or should be serving better.

I am excited to announce the launch of The TPM Listening Tour. Beginning January 21, we will gather together groups of 8-10 people, each month, including Museum Board members, staff, volunteers, supporters, Museum Members, and the general public, for informal conversations with me. There will also be opportunities for larger groups to take part in town hall-style meetings.

The Listening Tour conversations will take place in different locations around Houston, including restaurants, libraries, community centers, etc. – as well as the Museum. The conversations will be led by me. I'll give some brief introductory remarks and then, act as moderator for the discussion. A list of questions will be developed to guide the conversation, but the overall course of the dialogue will be driven by the participants. And I will listen.

The goals of The TPM Listening Tour are a) to gain a better understanding of the needs of our community, b) to determine what role a museum dedicated to printing can play in our digital age, and c) to begin to chart a course toward becoming more accessible and relevant to those we serve.

The results of the Listening Tour will inform our planning in areas such as exhibitions, and special events, workshops.

I look forward to sharing with you the outcomes of our meetings and posing some of the questions, here, on Extension 202.

Please note that the Small Group Meetings are by invitation only. This is not exclude anyone. We just want to be able to have a good cross section of interested people in a setting that is conducive to good conversation. If you are interested in participating in one of the Small Group Meetings, please call 713-522-4652 or email

Click here to view the complete Listening Tour Calendar.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Go to the Book!

As a child, I would sometimes go to my mother asking about a word or a place or a thing, she wouldn’t just provide the answer. She would send me to get our dictionary or a volume of our set of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Each volume was huge (at least to small boy) and filled all kinds of interesting stuff. Of course, in school, books were everywhere. I can’t say that I always read every novel or every chapter of the textbooks that were assigned, but I gathered enough information to pass. As adult, I have continued to “go to the book” whenever I’m faced with a burning question, a new word, or just need help with a problem. That phrase – “go to the book” – was a favorite of a past boss. With a background in religious studies, he often meant the phrase to mean how humankind has consulted sacred texts over the millennia to sort out problems great and small. But it applies well to our need to consult the “experts” or at least someone who has spent more time and study on a subject than us.

Of course, today, I’m just as apt to “Google” a topic as I am to seek out a reference book. However, there are still many times that I need to go to the book for guidance, answers and a possible roadmap, if you will, toward solving a problem. (And by “problem” I don’t necessarily mean something that is negative. It’s more of a challenge, a quandary, a question.)

Just such a challenge, let’s say, arose after meeting with a member of my staff who, during a discussion about another topic, expressed some lack of enthusiasm for our staff meetings. The meetings are held weekly and, usually, consist of making sure everyone is up to speed on the events of the coming two weeks. There are sometimes reports from Board meetings, committee meetings and other projects staff are working on. But they’re not working. And deep down, I knew this.

So, this employee and I talked about what might make the meetings better and more productive. First, I have to reinforce that everyone has to be on time to the meetings. Perhaps, too, we need some kind of fun activity or team exercise to round out all of the day-to-day business talk. If anything, our conversation got me thinking. And once I’m thinking, it’s hard for me to let it go.

Back in my office, I began to think about a meeting model that was used at one of my past jobs. At the time, our staff had taken a day-long seminar at a local winery, discussing how to be a better team and gaining some tools that we could take place to the office to keep up the momentum. The real problem came when I couldn’t recall what the name of the program, or the book, was called. (It had been eight years since I took part in the seminar.) A quick text to my past boss got me the answer, and immediately, I was online – going to the book.

The book and seminar in which I took part was on The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Told via a narrative, the book takes its reader through five issues that teams need to address in order to be successful, including the absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. Since the book’s release in 2002, Mr. Lencioni has written several others in his straightforward and unique style. After a quick review of the “dysfunctions” online, most of what I had learned was coming back to me, and what I was truly looking for was Lencioni’s meetings framework that had proved so useful to our team eight years ago.

With the particular challenge of making our meetings better, my attention landed on another of Lencioni’s books, Death by Meetings, The Advantage, and Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide. I purchased, read and studied them all (with lots of marginalia). I won’t go into great detail about the books, but I would encourage you to give them a look. What I will say is that going to these books has given me the foundation and framework to begin building better meetings at the Museum with my staff. From quick daily check-ins to weekly, clearly focused tactical meetings to monthly strategy sessions to quarterly off-site reviews, I’m excited to work through the program, if you will, with my staff, who will be introduced to the idea this morning! I’m anticipating some questions and, maybe, some push back, so I’ll have to draw on everything I know about managing people through change. That reminds me, I might need to go to another book for a refresher – Who Moved My Cheese!

What are your thoughts on meetings in your organization? Do you look forward to them? Do you loathe them? What does your team do during meetings to keep them fresh, to secure commitment and to move your organization forward?

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Blank Page...uh, Screen

Photo by Davmi Pics, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.
The first blog post. It's never easy to sit down to a blank screen, a blank canvas or a blank piece of paper. So much stress and anxiety to write something profound, something pithy, something worthwhile. In some ways, it's like coming into a new position, especially a leadership position. Of course, an organization, like our museum, isn't a blank slate. There are possibilities and ideas of what the organization might or could be, but a new leader inherits much when he walks into his office for the first time.

So, welcome to my blog - Extension 202. I hope you will follow along with me this year as I ask important questions about The Printing Museum, and its place in the Houston area museum community. I will also share, from time to time, articles, blogs and other resources I find helpful to my thinking (and doing) both inside the museum profession and without. In the end, I hope to make this a forum for ideas, questions and dialogue. I hope you'll join me.

Please know that views and opinions expressed by me on this blog are mine, and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of The Printing Museum, its Board of Directors, staff or affiliates.