The SPAM Museum Breaks Ground

April 23, 2015

SPAM Museum Ground Breaking - JRA Creative Director, Randy Vuksta, turns dirt far right. Image courtesy Hormel Foods.

SPAM Museum Ground Breaking - JRA Creative Director, Randy Vuksta, turns dirt far right. Image courtesy Hormel Foods.

From the Austin Daily Herald - Austin Minnesota

The Spam Museum is ready for construction.

Hormel Foods Corp. officials broke ground on the new Spam Museum Tuesday, which will go up between Second and Fourth Avenues on the east side of North Main Street.

“We’re really excited to be here today to break ground on our new Spam Museum,” Hormel CEO and President Jeff Ettinger said.

Hormel CEO Jeff Ettinger speaks about the Spam Museum’s move downtown during a groundbreaking Tuesday morning.
Hormel CEO Jeff Ettinger speaks about the Spam Museum’s move downtown during a groundbreaking Tuesday morning.

The city of Austin is set to reopen Third Avenue Northeast between Main Street and First Street Northeast as well.

Plans call for a 14,000-square-foot building spread out over one floor. In addition, the museum will have blue-accented walls on the outside of the building, which Hormel and city officials say will help bring a unique aspect to the downtown area.

“We really share the enthusiasm for enhancing downtown as a destination for both for our city residents and for our city visitors,” Ettinger said.

Architects and workers expect to finish the exterior this fall, and wrap up construction on the museum’s interior next spring. After a soft opening, the Spam Museum will hold a grand opening as part of Hormel’s 125th anniversary celebration in late July 2016.

The Spam Museum’s move to downtown is the result of several years of discussions. Community advocates and Vision 2020 volunteers had pushed for the Spam Museum to move into the Austin Utilities downtown power plant in 2012 as part of Vision 2020’s Utilities Building Committee plans.

Vision 2020’s Destination Downtown committee approached Hormel officials in fall 2013 about using the fire site formerly owned by the Austin Port Authority as a new location for the Spam Museum. Since then, Hormel has worked with several organizations including the city of Austin to move existing businesses out of the Ciola’s building and into other spaces.

Now the museum is going downtown, city officials hope the increased tourism, along with several other major projects through Vision 2020, will continue Austin’s current growth.

SPAM Museum Groundbreaking Exterior Rendering. -- Photo provided by RSP Architects
SPAM Museum Groundbreaking Exterior Rendering. — Photo provided by RSP Architects

“It seems like Austin is just really on the move right now,” Mayor Tom Stiehm said.

The original Spam Museum opened in 1991 inside the Oak Park Mall. Hormel officials created a new location for the Spam Museum in 2001 at 1101 N. Main St., connected to Hormel’s corporate office south building.

Construction schedule

•Contruction starts: Week of April 27

•Structural steel placement: July 2015

•Building enclosed: September 2015

•Soft opening: Spring 2016

•Grand opening: July 2016

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Trendswatch 2015: Walking the Ethical Tightrope

April 17, 2015

“United and empowered by the Internet and by social media, today’s consumers wield unprecedented power, and woe betides any company that crosses the invisible ethical line.” – Trendswatch 2015

Thirty years ago, very few people knew what “fair trade coffee” was or even considered a hybrid car as a possibility. In the “me decade” of the 1980s, known for its materialism and consumerism, people bought goods for status and flash, not because of the companies’ labor practices or environmental mantras.

But all of that is changing. Millennials are adopting a personal policy of “ethical consumerism”, becoming increasingly concerned with where their food comes from, how their clothing is made, and how their household goods will affect global warming. They’re concerned about the dichotomy of CEO salaries and entry-level compensation and the delicate balance between animal conservation and captivity. In a recent study, 32% of Millennials surveyed said they do not buy products from companies whose ethics they find questionable. In Part 2 of our series on the Center for the Future of Museums’ Trendswatch 2015 report, we’ll examine the phenomenon of “buying for good”, examples of companies on the right and wrong sides of what the “the invisible ethical line”, and what this trend means for museums, zoos, aquariums and other cultural institutions.

The Peaks and Valleys of Ethical Consumerism

Recently, coffee giant Keurig Green Mountain found itself in hot water (pun intended) from environmental activists. One in three households owns a pod-based coffee machine, which contributed to Keurig Green Mountain earning $4.7 billlion in revenue last year. In fact, as The Atlantic reported, if all of the K-cups sold in 2014 were laid end-to-end, it would be enough to circle the earth more than 10 times. The problem with this caffeine-infused boom is that K-cups, which consist of grounds, a plastic cup and a foil lid, are inherently difficult to recycle and have started clogging the world’s landfills. Once the magnitude of the problem reached the interwebs, Earth-minded Millennials unleashed a #KilltheKcup campaign on Twitter and created an apocalyptic, pod-destroying video on YouTube. Articles were written, websites were created, CBS News segments were produced, and negative vibes abounded. Consumers became “K-shamed” and started using re-fillable pods, and even Keurig’s founder, John Sylvan, admitted that he sometimes felt bad that he ever invented the K-cup. The company has pledged to make K-cups fully recyclable by 2020, but that’s not soon enough to please the masses, and the tweets of outrage continue.

On the flip side of the ethical consumerism coin is Gravity Payments. Founded in 2004 by then-19-year-old and current Entrepreneur of the Year, Dan Price, Gravity Payments helps independent business transact payments from clients. Price, who grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, often heard stories from his friends on the hardships of folks making even as much as $40,000 per year, much less living above the poverty line. He also read an article on happiness, which stressed that for people who earn less than $70,000, a little bit of extra cash makes a whole lot of difference to their wellbeing. So he came up with a radical idea. This past Monday, he walked into the office, gathered his team of 120 employees, and announced that, within the next three years, he would be raising the salary of every employee to $70,000 per year. He would achieve this feat by slashing his own salary from $1 million to $70,000 and applying 75 to 80 percent of the company’s profits (anticipated to be $2.2 million) to the raises. Seventy employees will see these pay spikes, and 30 employees will enjoy a 100% increase in pay. Price asserts, “as much as I am a capitalist, there is nothing in the market that is making me do it,” but it’s hard to believe that, with the publicity engendered by Price’s move, the only benefits to Gravity Payments will be karmic. In just five days, articles about the salary shift have been re-tweeted over a thousand times, and Price has already been featured on ABC News, “The Today Show”, and Fox News and in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Huffington Post (to name a few). Be it positive or negative, public perception can have a sizeable affect on a company’s credibility and may even shift its bottom line.

Dan Price. Image credit: New York Times

Navigating “Goodsumerism’s” Choppy Waters

Museums, zoos and aquariums need only look at SeaWorld’s Blackfish backlash to see what an ethical consumerism PR nightmare looks like. The CNN documentary, which focused on the captivity of killer whales and the deaths of three trainers, whipped the public into a social media frenzy. Singers from Willie Nelson to Pat Benatar canceled their concerts at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Tampa in 2014 as a result of the film, and last year Southwest ended its 26-year relationship with the company. The value of SeaWorld stock plummeted 33% in one day after the company announced a five percent decrease in attendance and an eight percent drop in revenue. As the Trendswatch report explained, the Blackfish flak provided a good lesson that “ethical concerns, that may have previously been confined to fringe grounds, can spread like wildfire via mainstream and social media either spontaneously or through orchestrated campaigns.”

Non-profit status does not equate to immunity from the ethical consumerism phenomenon. The distinction between non-profit aquariums and zoos and commercial animal parks like SeaWorld and Busch Gardens can get fuzzy, meaning that these cultural animal welfare institutions need to have solid position statements on animal conservation and captivity. Museums also need to have well-documented positions on other “hot-bed issues”, such as unpaid internships, board conflicts of interest, the right to privacy versus open data, and, as the Gravity Payments example shows, the disparities between Executive Director salaries and that of entry-level personnel.

No organization is perfect, so when the proverbial “mess” does hit the fan, cultural institutions need to have a crisis communication plan that clearly outlines the steps and tools for out to deal with bad publicity. In this moment, the institution’s social media specialist need to become “crisis ninjas”, deciding what comments to delete, which to address, or which to simply swallow along with the organization’s pride. In the digital age, decisions on whether to act or sit need to be made within minutes (or shorter) of any bad news hitting the web, and preferably, even before the news breaks. Conversely, good news also needs to be leveraged quickly before it becomes old news. The more transparent cultural institutions can be about their collections philosophies, data policies, and administrative practices, and the more they are willing to engage in (pro)active dialogue (either digital or in-person) with their audiences, the better chance they will have of managing their reputations, building credibility, and avoiding publicity repercussions.

For examples of some of the ethical conundrums facing museums, and how those institutions are dealing with them, check out this post on the Center for the Future of Museums blog. Next week, we’ll tackle trends 3 and 4 of the Trendswatch report – Personalization and Risk.

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Museum Month! Trends, Challenges, Risks and Opportunities for Cultural Institutions

April 14, 2015

Welcome to “Museum Month” at the JRA blog! Over the next several weeks, we’ll be profiling everything museums leading up to the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Annual Meeting and Museum Expo in Atlanta and the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) InterActivity Conference in Indianapolis. Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@JRAtweets) with the #MuseumMonth.

To kick off Museum Month, we’re breaking down the Center for the Future of Museum’s Trendswatch 2015 report.  The Center for the Future of Museums (CFM), a division of AAM founded and directed by former Cincinnati Museum Center staffer Elizabeth Merritt, monitors trends of importance to museums, provides museums with informational resources to address future challenges and opportunities, and bridges connections between museums and other sectors.  CFM compiles Trendswatch from the research done throughout the year to publish its weekly e-newsletter, “Dispatches from the Future of Museums”. The annual forecasting report identifies six trends that have permeated society, investigates what those trends mean for museums, offers examples of how museums are taking advantage of or addressing the trends, and offers suggestions on how museums may respond to these phenomena.

This year’s featured trends include:
    •    Open Data
    •    Ethical Consumerism
    •    Personalization
    •    Rising Sea Levels
    •    Wearable Technology
    •    Slow Culture

Each Tuesday and Thursday (roughly), the JRA blog will examine two of these trends, wrapping up just as the MuseumExpo is hitting its stride! We'll also be blogging from Atlanta, investigating how some of these trends have been put into practice.

Merritt cautions that these trends are not absolutes, and it is the museum’s duty to figure out how to use these societal patterns to their advantage or prepare for the challenges they may bring: “The trends and events you see shaping the world do not dictate what will happen in coming decades,” says Merritt. “They merely push us towards potential outcomes.” Merritt encourages readers to “envision the future as you want it to be.”

Trend #1 – The Open Economy

“Trade in ideas is possibly the only distinguishing variable
that separates humans from every other species.”

  - “The Virtues of Promiscuity”, by Ed Rodley

In an increasingly digital world, where millions of points of information are accessible at the touch of a button, greater and greater emphasis is being placed on opening data sets for public use.  Creative Commons licenses are becoming the norm, allowing business, individuals, foundations and governments the opportunity to gather, manipulate and disseminate data without fear of retribution. Ironically, governments have been somewhat of a pioneer in this area, as cities see both the political and economical benefits of sharing previously guarded information with their constituents. Agencies in more than 1/3rd of US states are investigating transparency by open data, and a law recently passed by New York City Council requires all city agencies to open their data by 2018.  But what kind of data is being used?  And how are communities using it? Some city councils are making the contents of their emails public.  Other communities are opening up their expenditure records so the public can see how their tax dollars are being used.  Data has been used to help treat community ills, like racial profiling in arrests, predict areas of possible gentrification, or improve minority voter participation. 

Risks, Costs and Benefits

Certainly, creating an open data infrastructure is not free and not without risks. The cost of cloud storage, digitizing paper records, crafting marketing campaigns to create awareness of the open data, maintenance of the system, governance to ensure proper use, and the labor costs associated with all of the above add up. Logistically, the ability to interpret data is only as good as the data sets themselves.  Incomprehensible open data sets are as useless as closed ones, which is why Code for America recommends formats and templates for data collection and sharing. Likewise, “gray area data sets,” ones that are not completely open, often only raise more questions and suspicions than answers.  As the Edward Snowden case brought to light, there is the ongoing debate between right to privacy versus right to know, and in the corporate case, a delicate balance between releasing data and maintaining trade secrets.

But some argue that the benefits, both financial and karmic, outweigh the barriers and costs. Open data saves money by eliminating “data silos” – streamlining information into a central database and making it easier for different departments or entities to understand each other’s data. Streamlining data also means lower overhead and reductions in paper usage and employee travel time. But perhaps most importantly, open data results in greater government transparency and an opportunity for the public to use resources like, which contains more than 400,000 data sets from 175 agencies, for the greater good.

In Pursuit of Open

Museums would be wise to take a cue not only from government and civic entities, but also the artists, entrepreneurs and fellow cultural institutions that are making openness the key to their business plan.  As Ed Rodley writes in “The Virtues of Promiscuity,” Dutch artist Theo Jansen has made it his M.O. to give away 3D printed models, build-it yourself kits and other hacking tools related to his kinetic “Strandbeest” sculptures.  He feels that ensuring the longevity of his work after he dies is more important than immediate and solitary ownership.  For museums, sharing data like collection information or the thumbnail image of a specimen or artifact does not equal relinquishing the artifact – it instead enables museumgoers to interpret the institution’s collection in whole new ways. The Tate Modern recently posted complete records of all artists and artworks in its collection on GitHub, an online data repository where members can access, manipulate and share thousands of data sets. Through working with the Tate’s GitHub data, one hacker actually identified errors in the museum’s collection statistics. The museum also hosted a “Hack the Space” event, where museumgoers were encouraged to “take any form of data and transform it into a creative digital artwork.” In this case, data enabled museumgoers to be creators for Tate Modern versus just passive art observers.

Even the Center for the Future of Museums is playing in the open data sandbox.  The Trendswatch report itself offers an important source of data gathering for the institution. In order to access the report for free, readers must agree to give their name, company and email address.  Otherwise, they can purchase a printed copy of Trendswatch for $9.95.  CFM then sends readers a survey asking how they used the data so they can determine the reports reach and impact. The report thus becomes a way for CFM to better understand and react to its audience and track the various trends as they are being employed.

How to Harness the Trend

Museums already hold their collections in trust for the public, both from an ethical and a legal perspective.  Should the same principles apply to associated data? In that case, building digital infrastructure to support data sharing is as fundamental as creating exhibit galleries and storage collection facilities.
    -  Trendswatch 2015

In order to take full advantage of the open economy trend and mitigate some of the challenges and risks, the report urges museums to put together a plan for what data they want to release, how they want to release it, and the budget and schedule for that data release.  Once data is released, museums need to celebrate their openness, publicizing that their collection information is now available and encouraging the public to explore it, hack it and share it, either via an online campaign or an on campus “hackathon”.  The Center for the Future of Museum's blog offers resources, examples, and suggested questions museums might want to consider as they develop an open data program. By setting these tools in motion, museums will learn more about how their audiences engage with their content and will be able to tailor their offerings accordingly.

Across cultural, commercial and government arenas, the public is demanding access to information.  They want answers, and they want them now. They also want to be creators versus spectators, players versus passive observers. Accessing museum metadata means audiences can curate their cultural experience to their own tastes and needs, interacting with the museum how, when and to the degree they desire.  Offering museum metadata means museums can explore new avenues of engagement and identify new opportunities for sharing their collections and programming. As , by being “promiscuous” with their data, museums can fulfill their educational missions, eschew public perceptions of cultural elitism, enjoy a global digital reach regardless of institutional size, and have a visible online presence (which, in this day and age, is akin to existing at all).  In his view, museums continue to hoard their collections data at their own peril:

Insularity – the tendency to look inward, ignore the larger world and produce institutions that are increasingly self-referential, self-pleasing and obscure…is a recipe for extinction.


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