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ABOUT THE AUTHOR NINA SIMON has been described as a “museum visionary” by Smithsonian Magazine for her audience-centered approach to design. She is the Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH), where she led an institutional turnaround based on grassroots community participation. She has consulted with hundreds of international museums,

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Thank you for joining me on this quest for relevance. This book was a pleasure to write, a learning journey that challenged and inspired me. I experienced a lot of positive cognitive effect as I wrote it (accompanied by plenty of effort). I am especially grateful to Elise Granata, who served as lead content

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“That’s irrelevant.” This sentence is sometimes used to imply that irrelevance is synonymous with triviality. If something is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter. It’s meaningless. Not true. Irrelevance is a distraction, and a dangerous one. Imagine walking up to two doors. One door is wood, locked, simple. It leads to the room you seek. The other

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People who do important work often delude ourselves about relevance in two ways: We believe what we do is relevant to everyone. We can connect it to everyday life, ergo, it is relevant. Everyone can see the door, everyone already has a key, and they can open the door anytime they like. We believe that

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It’s late at night, and you’re looking for something to watch on TV. Do you choose the movie you’ve seen before or a new one you know nothing about? For most people, each of these is appealing for different reasons. Novelty is exciting, but risky. Familiarity is comforting, but redundant. We all want some of

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RELEVANCE IS A MOVING TARGET FOR CONTENT Most of us aren’t steering whole institutions and mission statements. We’re working on a smaller scale, with specific content or programs. But the changing tides of relevance that affect institutions affect content too—sometimes even more acutely. While an institution can pivot, presenting different content for different times, the

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PREFACE BY JON MOSCONE Let’s face it: we have a problem. It’s not that we don’t see the numbers declining, or the funding priorities shifting, or the world passing us by. The problem is: what do we do? This problem is a question of relevance, and it is a question that drives me in every

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INTRODUCTION: UNLOCKING RELEVANCE When the Japanese-American family walked into the tiny museum at Camp Amache in 2010, graduate student Kellen Hinrichsen was there to greet them. Kellen welcomed the group: an older man, his daughter, and grandchildren. The grandfather was born at Camp Amache, one of many children born in captivity in the World War

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WHOSE ROOM IS THIS? I was a new parent, having lunch with a lesbian activist, when she told me the best-kept secret of hipster parenting in Santa Cruz: the Elks Lodge. I knew the Elks Lodge as the weird building on the hill with an overabundance of wood paneling. The Elks, or the Benevolent and