Episode 45: Museum Maven Adam Smith

Heather Newman:  Hello everyone. Here we are again for another episode of the Mavens Do It Better podcast where we interview extraordinary experts who bring a light to our world. I could not be more excited to have a friend and colleague on today, Adam Smith who is the executive director of the Comic-Con Museum at Comic-Con International. And uh, if you know anything about the world right now, you know, there is a big gearing up because Comic-Con is coming up starting on July 17th, 18th 19th and 20th, that whole weekend. So there's a lot of excitement and I'm so excited to have you on. So Adam, say hello to our listeners. If you would please.

Adam Smith:  Hello Heather, hello listeners.

Heather Newman:  Hello. Adam and I got the chance to meet a couple of years ago. I got the privilege of uh, being a, a panelist, uh, a moderator for a panel on Comic-Con a couple of years ago and am again this year. And I've been working with the WonderCon team as well. So and I actually came down and saw the museum, um, with you, gosh, sometime last year when there was not a whole lot there. And, uh, will you tell everybody a little bit about the museum specifically and what's going on, um, with the building of that beautiful new place that would be awesome.

Adam Smith:  Sure. Um, I guess the story goes back two or three years. Um, Comic-Con were given the opportunity to take over the lease of a really nice building in Balboa Park, which is sort of the cultural heart of San Diego. There are already 17 museums there. And the city approached comic con and said, we know you sort of hypothetically been interested in having a permanent year round Comic-Con museum, but we have this awesome building and, and we can, we can let you have it basically free of charge if, if, if you're interested. So, um, that led to, um, me sitting here today, you know, sort of halfway through the, the journey of creating that museum. Um, I am a lifetime museum person. Um, comic-con recruited me, um, because I, I worked in museums and developed several museums from scratch previously. Um, so I've been working on the project for 18 months. There are 10 of us now on the museum staff and we're here to open the museum by May of 2021, so just under two years to go. Um, although we have the building, we do need to do a lot of remodel and repair and refurbishment to, uh, the building that was constructed in 1935. We've got 16, we got 16,000 square feet. And the, the, the ultimate goal is to sort of transform it into this pop culture wonderland that captures the magic of Comic-Con all year round. Um, and as we head into Comic-Con this year it's kind of exciting and kind of daunting for us because we decided a couple of months ago that we were going to essentially create a pop-up museum this year. So, um, for us, it's a really great opportunity to do a test of what it will be like to have the ultimate thing and test the location with, um, Comic-Con fans and things like that. So, um, yeah, so we're having, we're, we're talking basically, you know, right in the, roughly in the middle of what will ultimately be a three or four year journey to build this, this wonderful museum.

Heather Newman:  Right. Yeah. And you made that announcement today that the museum will be open, the pop-up, throughout Comic-Con and you don't have to have a Comic-Con ticket and it's free for anyone to come check it out. Correct?

Adam Smith:  I said to everyone, I have this podcast that I'm doing with Heather tonight, so we've got to get this announcement out so that we can talk about it.

Heather Newman:  Perfect. I know you sent it to me, and I immediately tweeted it. I was like, oh my goodness, this is so exciting. So, uh, that's so great. Yeah. And uh, I see you have a Paint Like Bob Ross. That's so cool. A make and take class.

Adam Smith:  Oh, interesting that that's caught your attention. I think we can probably talk about several of the features of this pop up museum. You've noticed that we're doing some Paint Like Bob Ross classes and um, there is a little bit of, you know, there is some thought behind that. Um, in the sense that we want the museum to be many things. We want it to be an awesome place to visit, you know, for young and old, and we want it to be a place that you can come and have a shared experience of watching a movie or trivia or see great exhibits and attend great panels and things like that. But we also want it to be an educational place and a place that people can come and be creative themselves and not just to consume the creative works of others, but to actually be inspired to create things.

Adam Smith:  So, as we were putting this popup museum together, I wanted to try and bring in different elements of what the museum will be. So we've got a beautiful art gallery show in the museum because we're going to be a place where people can see and appreciate the pure art of popular culture. But I also wanted to do something that was creative, where people could come and make art and, and uh, and then the Bob Ross, uh, folks walked in the door and said, hey, are you interested in doing something? And we thought, perfect! We'll all be making little happy trees.

Heather Newman:  Right. That's fantastic. Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, the art of Comic-Con 50 and it's the 50th anniversary of Comic-Con as well. So you get to, and that's part of that art exhibit as well, right?

Adam Smith:  It is. Actually, for the, for the ultra-precise people. It's the 50th Comic-Con. The 50th anniversary technically is next year. So, the first Comic-Con was 1970 and so, and this, if you count the years, this is the 50th, this is the 50th one. So maybe the best way to put it is that the 50th Comic-Con this year leads into the 50th anniversary of Comic-Con next year.

Heather Newman:  Perfect. Yeah. And we need to be clear about that because we know how Comic-Con folks are about the precision of the details, which I completely appreciate. Yes.

Adam Smith:  Either way. Um, we, we, we, we actually put it together and launched this in the museum in March. Um, we, we did the first opening of this art exhibit where over the years Comic-Con has created a, a program, event guide, um, or program book every year. And it has commissioned a piece of art to go on that cover. And it has created this wonderful collection of art works from, from many of the most famous comic art creators of the, the last couple of generations. So we, um, we staged that as a show early in the year. It's only been open occasionally at weekends. Um, but it's been very popular for the times that it has been open. Um, but we, we saw, you know, we saw the opportunity to, to throw the doors open to everyone that's coming to Comic-Con this year. And uh, one of the things we're adding to the show is, um, it's broken on social media over the last 10 days or so that Jim Lee, uh, created a really amazing program book cover for this year. As you're probably aware, it's highly unusual for characters from different, um, organizations to appear in the same piece of art. It's very rare that you would see, you know, Marvel and DC characters all, all commingling with um, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and et Cetera, et cetera. And Jim is not just a fantastic artist. He's a, you know, is fantastically well connected and was able to persuade everyone that for the 50th Comic-Con, it would be really cool if everybody, all the companies, all of the great characters in comics could be in the same picture. So, it's, it's been extremely well received by our fans. And we're going to show the original piece of, the original piece of Jim Lee art is being brought into the museum. Which I'm really excited to see.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, that's great. Well and when you and I met last year, um, and I came down, we were talking with and you know, it was super cool, thank you for inviting me cause that was really neat. Like looking and talking to folks about sort of all the, you know, experiential and interactive areas of the museum. And I know that's a big part of what you're thinking about of how, you know, how when somebody walks in, you know, what the experience is and, and um, you know, my theatrical brain, you know, was like going crazy and tech and, and have you made more decisions like I, the like I know there's, you've got the Batman Experience that's interactive and immersive and I take it you've made some decisions because you have that and you're going to show it off. Is that kind of a test run for some of those experiences that you were thinking about back then?

Adam Smith:  Yeah, it's, as we think about the museum, we've got a very large and diverse audience. And, um, what we're trying to do at Comic-Con this year is throw some things out that we think, you know will appeal to all the different parts of the audience. And one of the expectations that it's very clear people have about a Comic-Con museum, is if somehow, they, they feel that it needs to be technologically interesting, you know, somehow at the cutting edge. So, um, we've talked already about, you know, we want to have that creative piece and that the Bob Ross, we want to have that art piece which is the Cover Story gallery. Um, but we, we also want to have some experiential stuff in there and some, some technology, et cetera. Um, one of the really nice things that came together this year is that originally we were just planning to have a big event on the opening night of Comic-Con.

Adam Smith:  We are, we are raising money to build the museum. And I, I wanted to have a fundraising event where we could, you know, bring people in and have an auction and things like that. What came together there was that we, we were able to, um, find some, some great connections into Warner Brothers and DC and we, um, you know, we, we sort of got down this path of, of realizing that we could put a pretty awesome Batman display together, for the fundraising event. Um, and then what happened was the AT&T, which is the parent company of, of uh, Warner Brothers and DC, um, sort of independently was thinking about doing something relative to Batman because it's the 80th anniversary of Batman this year, was thinking about doing something that was sort of an activation and tech based and things like that somewhere in San Diego.

Adam Smith:  So, we realized there was an opportunity to bring that, bring AT&T together with DC and Warner Brothers and just do this sort of massive Batman thing. Um, though I do want to thank those organizations because they've been tremendous partners in the sense of, um, really bringing, bringing into our museum something we just couldn't possibly have done on our own. We're a tiny staff just trying to, you know, bring a, bring the museum to life. But, um, that this whole idea of a popup museum has come because the, the, the strength of the, you know, being able to go into the Warner Brothers archives literally and say, you know, they were basically saying, all right, choose what you want to bring to San Diego. A bunch of, uh, geeks and museum people liked to be able to look at every Batman costume ever. And we could choose, um, you know, however many we want. So it, it's all come together in a really kind of fun, really fun way. And, um, so the, this, this Batman Experience powered by AT&T, that's sort of, um, a big component of the museum, um, during Comic-Con is, um, really quite a significant collection of artifacts, but they've been able to bring some of these more experiential, um, elements into it that tech based. There's a video gaming component, where we're looking at, um, you know, how Batman has been covered in video games past, present and future and um, and things like that.

Heather Newman:  Wow, that's cool. So the, if folks are interested at a first look at exhibits, there's the Gathering, which is the inaugural fundraising event and that's the Wednesday, July 17th. And that's a ticketed event, special ceremony. And we'll put it in the show notes, the CCMgathering.org. So that's, that's one piece. And then obviously the open pop up for everybody else during Comic-Con, but there is a, if anybody is interested in the inaugural event and helping do some fundraising for the museum, that is available to everyone as well. So just to be clear, it's always good to be clear about that kind of stuff.

Adam Smith:  So, something I haven't, well we haven't talked about it that this pop-up museum that is running, um, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That is free of charge. And um, and also that you don't need a Comic-Con badge, um, to enter. If you have a Comic-Con badge, that's awesome, you're welcome too, but one of the things we wanted to do here was provide something for, you know, they're, they're often fans coming into San Diego that they might have a Thursday and a Saturday badge, but they don't have a Friday badge. You know, and they need something to do, but also we wanted to, to, um, to invite the community of San Diego into the museum as well. The, the community has been very supportive and welcoming of the effort to create a museum.

Adam Smith:  So, we just wanted this to be for everyone. Um, and it, it, it truly is a test. We don't know exactly how it's going to go. We're prepared for a lot of, if a lot of people come, we've got contingencies to, you know, to handle, you know, reasonably large crowds and get people through. yeah, it's, it's speaking to you sort of two weeks ahead of it actually happening, or two and a bit weeks. It's, it's slightly daunting, but you know, there's like an, there's an excitement for around that. I guess we are, we're asking people to, if, if it, if there are any issues, you know, remember that this is, this is not the finished museum, this is, this is us almost doing a Beta test to use one of your technology terms of what a Comic-Con museum could be. And um, it, for me, this is the, this is the third museum that I've developed from scratch but it's the first time I've had this sort of a sandbox, to play with, you know, and it's really valuable. I think it is going to help us make the museum even more awesome.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, for sure. I mean in technology, it's Beta testing. If it's in the theater, we're doing, you know, some previews, right. We're getting ready for our dress rehearsals and opening night coming in 2021 so yeah. And yeah, like why not pop it up and give, get some feedback and see what people like and yeah, I you don't often get that chance sometimes with things. So that's really exciting that, you know, you're getting to do that. Uh, Oh, you know, I wanted to ask you about something else, uh, related to the museum. So, uh, I'm a member of the Peterson Museum as well and oh my goodness, I haven't gotten there yet, but will you talk a little bit about the Hollywood Dreams Machines exhibit that's there, cause that totally connects to all of this as well.

Adam Smith:  Absolutely. And thanks for giving, giving me the opportunity to talk about that. Um, we were approached about a year ago by the Peterson Museum up there and in LA, which is a tremendous first class auto museum. You want, you want, you know, I'm a career museum guy and I've, I've been to a lot of different museums and the Peterson, you know, always is fantastic. And yeah, they came to us and asked if we would collaborate on an exhibit that featured, um, cars from science fiction and from Hollywood. So, um, Keegan, one of the museum's staff, really, really jumped on that opportunity. And, and for me it was great to give Keegan the opportunity to, to work on a major exhibit. Um, he learned a lot from the process and that we’ll be able to flow into Comic-Con museum, but, but also in the back of our minds, I think we have, we're feeling that this exhibit ultimately, or some, some version of it will appear down in San Diego.

Adam Smith:  Um, anyway, Keegan had been working on it. And I went up to the, uh, the exhibit opening, it was on May the 4th, which is a very memorable day for anyone who knows pop culture. Um, and I was absolutely blown away by the exhibit. I mean, I already had a high appreciation for, uh, um, the Peterson Museum but, you know, I've worked on a lot of museum exhibits in my life and you're always looking to have a few kind of hits, you know? Sometimes to fill out a really large exhibit space you've got to have some album filler, you know, but this exhibit at the Peterson is hit after hit after hit after hit, you know, you just kind of walk through and it's like, wow, there is the DeLorean from Back to the Future. Oh, and there is the Land Speeder that we used in the original Star Wars. And there is The Batmobile from 1989.

Adam Smith:  And you, you just literally go through a series of 50 or 60 vehicles going (astounded sound) you know? So I'm, I'm, I'm, I'm encouraging everyone to go there because it's, uh, it's, it, they, they did a really good job. And if you, if you, if you like cars and you like movies and science fiction, you know, this is one not to miss. I'll tell you who went to it, we, I follow the blog of, uh, George R. R. Martin, the author of Game of Thrones. And I was so tickled to read on his blog him writing this gushing positive review about the Peterson exhibit. It was like, wow, we did something that, you know, that was appreciated by this genius.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, yeah. How wonderful is that? Yeah, no, it's cool. It's so cool. And I love the fact that you've, you know, I mean, it's so great when other people are like, hey, we have this really cool space and why don't you put something in it. You know, the collaboration of artists and people who all have a shared passion and love. Like I just, it's so great. And LA seems to do that a lot. You know, like the Los Angeles, even California community is, you know, really coming together and saying, Hey, you know, let's, let's do some things where we celebrate all over the place, you know, which kudos around and so yeah, it's like 40 different vehicles across 50 or 20 different movies across decades. And I'm looking, I'm looking at the, and I think, does Bumblebee actually transform in it? That's nuts. If that actually, yes, I see this, I see the video.

Heather Newman:  Oh, my goodness. I, yeah, y'all, you need to get to the Petersen museum and check this out too. That's so exciting. Wow. You know, um, you know, you, we've been speaking about, um, being, you know, a lifetime museum fella. Um, I'm wondering, would you talk a little bit about where you got started doing that? Cause I know you've, you know, you have, I mean just looking at, you know, we've talked about it a bit and just, you know, you know, if you look you up on LinkedIn and all that, you can see that, you know, you gosh did so much, especially sort of in, you know, in flight, a lot of your background has been in flight. Will you talk about how you got started doing all of this? Like go, go way back a little bit if you wouldn't mind.

Adam Smith:  Oh, you want to go way back. For me it begins, it begins as a child and I just had a fascination with the past. My whole life. I was, my accent is English and I was born and raised in a country that is full of history and knowing the landscape and then the stories that you'll family tell about the wars, and you know, and all of these, all of these things, and I was just, even as a five year old child, I remember going in the garden digging for pieces of old pottery. And just being fascinated by the thought of who might have left it there and you know, things like that. So I think my connection to, to the past is strong and deep and wherever I've gone in life, you know, that that's the sort of central thing. And um, eventually there comes a point in life where you've got to decide what you're doing as a job.

Adam Smith:  And there was this clear, clear sort of choice for me. It was either work in museums or become an archaeologist. Um, and I was accepted into two really awesome universities. And, um, the thing that took me down the museum path was I, it, I was at, it was Saint Andrews in Scotland, which is this beautiful medieval city sitting right there, um, on the coast of the North Sea. And I fell in love with the place when I went there. And that was the, you know, that sometimes you look and there’s a fork in the road and it's like, well I'm doing museums cause I have to live here, um, if I got the chance. So I ended up basically, um, doing, uh, doing a museums, museum studies degree at Saint Andrews. And that then led me to, you know, working on all kinds of crazy places that I've done farming and, uh, coal mining.

Adam Smith:  And, and as you've said, I ended up doing a pretty significant diversion for 15 years into airplanes. Um, so I ran three aviation museums, um, first in Scotland, then in Wisconsin, and then, um, while I was developing one in Dallas, which is where I came to Comic-Con from. So, um, one of the things on my journey that I think caused the Comic-Con opportunity to, to really catch my interest was, well there were two big things when, when, when the phone rang and someone said, hey, this Comic-Con thing is available. Are you interested? There were two big things about it that appealed to me. One was that it was in Balboa Park, San Diego. Um, because I knew that that was this really fantastic cultural place. And if I've learned one thing from 30 years of working in museums is that location is absolutely fundamental.

Adam Smith:  You can pick, it will make you or break you. And I know for a fact that Balboa Park as a location is a great location and you know, we can be successful there. The other thing that appealed to me was, it's Comic-Con, you know, and great, a great energy and a great thing. But, specifically, 20 years ago I worked on an exhibit called Game On, which was the first major touring exhibit ever done on the history of video games. And I consider myself, you know, sort of a first generation video game kind of nutcase. And I really enjoyed that exhibit. I really enjoyed working with something that was actually, when we were doing that exhibit 20 years ago, people are like your nuts. Video games don't have a history and this is, this is not worth investing a lot of money in and things like that. But it was super successful cause we, we sort of, you know, you, you're tapping into sort of a nostalgia. And so for me, one of the great joys of working with Comic-Con is that I feel that I'm every day working in that kind of energy. Um, where, you know, I, I, it, I'm inspired by the passion of the people around me. If that makes sense.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, of course it does. Yeah. I mean, it's, it's interesting that that was then, and you know, now it's just such a, you know, Comic-Con and I'm sure the museum itself, right? Like Comic-Con has changed over the years from, you know, really being about comics and comic books. And I mean, now we have like giant, like Warner Brothers and other companies, you know, launching movies and launching series and there's so much that is a part of Comic-Con now that's of culture that, you know, gives a place to folks that, you know, like just walking through, you're like, oh, there's the people that make Dungeons & Dragons super cool tables that you can have in your house that you can like, you know, move and it's the, you know, the, the, the Dungeons & Dragon game underneath. And then you can have it be just a nice table or, you know, like there's so much. Right. That's a part of it now that maybe wasn't years ago. Right. And watching that change. Um, wow. So I guess for you being a museum person, are there, you know, you, you talked a little bit about, are there other places that you've been recently that have gotten you excited that you're like, oh, I love the way they curated that or something that happened that you've seen. I mean, you've been so busy, but um, but anything that comes to mind.

Adam Smith:  Heather, if you toss me a question like that, how long do you want this podcast to be? I am a museum junkie,

Heather Newman:  I am too so that's why I asked you. Cause I, yeah, go ahead. Give us something.

Adam Smith:  The first day at museum school, I distinctly remember this, that, that the professor said, when you go to museum school, you never really enjoy your visit in a museum again because every museum you visit you will go into analytical mode. And you, you will stop, you know, you analyze it professionally and by and large that's true. I visit a lot of museums and a lot of galleries and a lot of experiences and a lot of the time you're analyzing it. You know, , as a professional thing. However, every now and again I think my professor was wrong because every now and again I go somewhere and it's like, wow, that is awesome. That inspires me, you know, that is, um, that's just what a great, what a great time I just had. So, just in the last, in the last 12 months or so, I'll tell you one, I think the number one for me in the last twelve months was I got to the, um, the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo. Um, so for your listeners that are not familiar that the Studio Ghibli is, I don't know, it's kind of like Disney of Japan. Um, they, they create, you know, these wonderful anime films, um, over the last generation and about 10 years ago, they, they created a museum in a public park just outside of Tokyo. And it is definitely, you know, if you think about what Disney did, they create Disneyland and it's like, it is not Disneyland. It is, um, it's this really special place that if you've ever watched any of the Ghibli films, there's like this atmosphere, there's a depth about them that is almost, you know, you can't put your finger on it, but you know, it's there, and that feeling runs through the museum.

Adam Smith:  And so in terms of a place that was just utterly unique in the way it's laid out, the way it approaches its subject, the way it makes you feel something through architecture, light, sound, atmosphere, you know, that, that I'll never forget the time that I spent there. Another one I went to recently was a place called Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Um, that was really interesting. It's, I mean, they have hit the Jackpot. Actually, talking about George RR Martin, He lives in Santa Fe and was a big part of getting Meow Wolf started. He purchased the building. It was an old bowling alley that this sort of crazy interactive, immersive, art experience. Um, it's so hard to describe, but if you just, if any of you listeners are interested, Google Meow Wolf, uh, Meow like a cat, and Wolf like an animal one.

Adam Smith:  And it's, um, one of the inspirational things about that for me relative to Comic-Con museum was we've been conceptualizing the Comic-Con museum not just as a daytime museum, which most museums are, a place you can go and visit and do cool things during the day. But relatively early in our thought process about Comic-Con museum, we, we, we, we started to think that it was a really interesting opportunity to have a nighttime museum so you don't close. There are things you can do at night that you can't do during the day and there are audience you can reach that you can't reach during the day. And, um, when I went to Meow Wolf they have totally nailed that, that, that, that this whole nighttime museum concept. For me to be able to walk in this place and, and, and see it for real, you know, what we've been imagining.

Adam Smith:  It's, that's really, really great. So honestly, Heather I could talk all day about this. There's a few that, I mean just from the last twelve months I thought the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York was fantastic, really, really fantastic. Um, the Corning Museum of Glass in upstate New York, was fantastic. Really enjoyed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. There is a lot of parallels between rock and roll and the world of Comic-Con. The way you present that in a museum. I love National World War Two Museum in New Orleans. I think that's one of the greatest museums that's been developed in the last decade. Um, I could go on.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, yeah, no, totally. I know. I, I was at the EMP and went to see the Pearl Jam exhibit there and you know, and sometimes when you step into a museum and because I lived in Seattle and was going to college during that time, so I was in the middle of when grunge happened and that particular one just kind of knocked me, not because I just, I love Pearl Jam, but also because it was like that was the, the, you know, the sign, like that's the sign, the Rock Candy Center. The, you know, off ramp and stepping into that sometimes. You're just like, wow!

Adam Smith:  What you're talking about is, relates to the word nostalgia. And I, I think that nostalgia is one of the most powerful forces or the most powerful emotions that human beings have. And this is something I've studied and thought about a lot and is very pertinent to what you just said and Comic-Con museum, things like that. You know, the origin of the word nostalgia, um, it, it was, it was originally a disease. You could die, you could die of nostalgia. But like the last American citizen that had nostalgia listed as his cause of death was a, uh, an American soldier in World War One. Died of home sickness that, you know? Of yearning for his home. And, um, so it's a powerful thing. And I think the, what you just described about Pearl Jam, it was a cool exhibit for you, you know, because of that connection that it made to you and your personal story and your personal journey through life.

Adam Smith:  And I think that is so pertinent to the Comic-Con museum because everyone that walks through the door, their interaction with the content in the museum is related to what they like, what they have done, you know? So even now we've got people now that are becoming nostalgic about Harry Potter, you know? Sure, there are people nostalgic about Star Wars and about, um, you know, about Star Trek or whatever. People almost date themselves by where their nostalgic hits. In some ways the opportunity for me and the team working on  Comic-Con museum is to sort of grasp that and you know, give everyone, um, that personal nostalgia, and the shared nostalgia. But the challenge we've got is, um, there's so much variety, you know, and we've got 68,000 square feet, but I could happily take 10 times that. part of our answer to that is making the space extremely flexible. Um, so a lot of rotating exhibit space so that, um, we can, you know, we can go through different subjects and, you know, touch the maximum number of people.

Heather Newman:  Sure. Yeah, no, that makes sense. Yeah, no, I, I, I hadn't thought about it in that way. The word nostalgia in that, I mean, that absolutely makes sense. It's kind of like sense memory, right? You know, like you smell something, you hear something, you read something, you know, and it takes you back to a moment, you know, and has you experience it again? And that's, yeah, that's, that's super cool. Hey, I was wondering, um, I can't remember if we talked about this, but as far as the museum goes, are there plans to, um, hold events, like, so could people have an event in the Comic-Con museum coming up too, is that part of the whole thing as well?

Adam Smith:  Absolutely. Um, well for starters, we've already been made aware that there are a couple, um, are holding their wedding day when the museum opens so they can get married in Comic-Con Museum. Um, I'm not actually joking. So yeah, I think any, you know, any great museum, and we're really thinking hard about this as we're in a design phase right now with architects and thinking about food and drink service, not just as a museum cafe, but how do we, how do we cater for that. For the banquet wedding or whatever. Um, so, so, so actually I think maybe the difference with Comic-Con museum is that we are imagining it as almost like a community center. You know, we have that nighttime, we, we've, we've got, um, a couple of book clubs that are operating out of the museum right now.

Adam Smith:  You know, they meet every month. Just a great social experience. I think that's a little microcosm as you know, we imagine there's going to be people doing gaming, you know, people making costumes, people, you know, using the museum and the rooms inside it as a, um, as, as, as a place where events small and large. We'll Have small film festivals, we'll have small fan conventions, we'll have panels. You know, there will be a lot of things. What I, what I haven't got exactly right now is, you know, um, all of the building mapped out so that I could show someone and they could make a reservation. we won't be there for another 14, 15 months. We'll get there eventually.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. No, that's exciting. Yeah. So many museums have that great, you know, have, have either, you know, plans for event space and have so many, you know, so much programming and stuff. And I think, but you can, what is it? I think in the, is it the Rakes museum in the Netherlands, you can, you know, have a dinner, uh, next to the Night watch, you know, Rembrandt's big painting. Like I love that kind of stuff. Right. And you can have a meal that just like the meal in some of the movies and stuff or the different paintings and everything. That's so cool. So also, so you still, obviously you still have room, there's, um, people can be a charter member, right? And sign up for that as well to be a charter member of the museum. Yeah?

Adam Smith:  Oh yes. Any great museum usually has a membership program. Um, um, and we wanted to bring that to life as soon as possible because Comic-Con as an organization, you know, is of the fans for the fans. And we wanted to, um, we were, we really wanted to, to find a mechanism that fans could feel involved and feel a part of it from day one. So at Comic-Con last year we launched a charter membership program. Uh, we just, I think we just hit 12,000 charter members of a museum that doesn't exist yet, which is really awesome, you know. Um, and it's, it, it, it's a way, I feel like we're building this, this army of people that are, that are sort of massing in support of the Comic-Con Museum. And that definitely helps us in terms of fundraising, you know, from larger donors and foundations and things like that that when they can see this ground swell of people, um, coming is fantastic.

Adam Smith:  So, um, yeah, it, we want to make it affordable. So even for $10 we will consider you a charter member someone, this name will be immortalized as someone that, that, uh, you know, helped to create the museum, um, and the levels go up through for $50, then essentially what you're doing is pre purchasing a free year of admission for the first year of the Comic-Con Museum. so, um, and at $100 you get a t-shirt and some other goodies. And, uh, I joined myself at the $1,200 level cause I felt I have to buy the most expensive one. As it gets more expensive you get less but you feel like you're contributing more.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. No, I mean I think, you know, there's some, uh, I love that you've created so many ways to contribute and I remember that from last year and you know, I, I called it the EMP, it's now called the Mo-Pop cause they changed the name, but I was a charter member of the EMP when it started. And you know, you feel, you feel that connection and you feel that, you know, yeah. You know, you helped this thing become what it is. And you know, I have memberships too. Like, I spent a lot of time in New York, so like I'm a member of MoMA even though I don't live there, you know? And so I think that's really cool too, that this is, you know, Comic-Con obviously is a global experience and the Comic-Con Museum will be that as well. Right. So, you know, being able to contribute to something even from afar that you love.

Heather Newman:  I think I love it that you put that together. It's super cool. So thank you for doing that. Yay. That's exciting. Um, you know, I want to, um, I want to ask you one more, one more, couple of a couple more questions, but, um, so like, you know, with, uh, if you have advice for other people who are looking to, you know, who are, um, museum collectors like yourself, if you will. Um, you know, like you, you obviously went to St Andrew's and is, are there, you know, places and ways other people can get involved in sort of being a part of, you know, taking care of museums, curating museums and all of that, Other advice that you have for those coming up who might be hearing this and going, I want to do that too. I want to do what he did. That kind of thing.

Adam Smith:  Yeah, it's, um, it is, it is quite a competitive career. You know, there are, there are certain, there are certain, you know, if you want to be a famous comic book artist, you know there's a lot of people want to do that. And um, I'm not saying that, um, working in museums is quite, quite as important as that, but it, you know, that it, it is the kind of job that a lot of people feel attracted to. So, um, if you're halfhearted about it, then might not be for you because you, you are definitely going to be, um, sort of competing with people that are all in, if that makes sense. Um, but if it's something that you really feel drawn to do as obviously I did, um, then you know, they're there, there are different ways in, um, that probably the two easiest to describe, you know, you can do what I did, which is to do a do a degree in museum studies or, or a Grad, you know, so, um, postgraduate course, or, um, anyone can get involved by volunteering at a local museum.

Adam Smith:  Um, and you know, Keegan Chertwind who I work with, you know, he's, he's going to have a really successful career in museums because he's a really talented guy and he found his way in. He didn't do that university so you don't have to, um, you know that there, there are a lot of museums just would love, you know, some help, um, from a, from a talented person if they're able to get it.

Heather Newman:  Sure. Yeah. So, and sort of last question, um, you talked a little bit about the Game On experience and, um, I like to talk about and ask folks their spark or a moment and, and I think definitely that was one for you. Is there another person or place or thing or something, you know, you talked a little bit about your history, but was there another something that you, that happened to you or an experience where you were like, yes, you know, and that propelled you forward, that really sticks out in your mind that you would share with everybody?

Adam Smith:  Um, I, I think I got really lucky with my second job in the sense that I found myself aged 24 running really big airplane museum in Scotland. Um, and it was one of the national museums, but it was all a little bit sort of, it was a satellite museum of a huge organization with 3000 employees or something like that. And you know, it, it was, um, and I was, I was running the satellite and I had a lot of freedom to take this museum where I felt it needed to go and we had a tremendous amount of success. Um, the number of visitors to that museum in the five years I was there, went up five times. Uh, um, so there were lots of different times on that journey where I was just, you know, had that kind of wow moment.

Adam Smith:  But the one that stands out for me is we decided to do an air show and, and um, you know, as a, as a way of drawing attendance to the museum. And um, in America you have like the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels are your kind of big jet display teams. Well, for any British person it's the Red Arrows all the way. And the day that Red Arrows said they were going to come and fly at my air show, it was like that I will never forget that because I was that, you know, eight-year-old boy looking up into the sky and being just awed by these things. And so there, there are definitely things on, on the journey like that stand out at you.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, of course. That's awesome. And I, you know, I have one more question. So do you find, do you feel, I mean I just feel like museums, you know, if sometimes people about different art forms and you're like, you know, you'll get the critic or somebody that's like, oh, theater, live theater is dead and Dah Dah, Dah Dah, you know, or you know, museums. I feel like museums are just still so valid and, and people are going still in record numbers. Do you feel that and do you see that as well? I just, I feel like it's such like people are like, I love this. Maybe it goes back to the nostalgia thing, but I don’t know, what do you feel about this sort of the whole, I guess the industry of Museums, I guess?

Adam Smith:  Oh yeah. I mean, what do I feel about in the industry? It is, it is a strange industry. You know, there are more museums in America than McDonald's and Starbucks put together. There's a lot near there. And, um, I will say this, 90% of them at least are operating in some mode of business failure, you know. Museums are terrible economic models and, you know, one of the, one of the responsibilities I feel so deeply about the Comic-Con museum is to make sure that we're in the 10% that are sustainable from an economic point of view. Are museums here to stay? Of course, they are, um, there is, um, you know, for the human race, the things that museums preserved, I think only get cooler the older they get.

Adam Smith:  So, the, I, I don't think that any virtual reality display or internet or whatever can replace the experience of standing with your own eyes to look at an amazing artifact, whether it's arts or, you know, the, the Rosetta Stone or whatever it is. And so I think there is, there's an essential experience related to museums that will, um, you know, not go away. I think museums are in a state of change and flux though right now. There's definitely like a new generation of museum coming through that is um, heavily influenced by that word I just used the experience. like Meow Wolf that I was talking about in Santa Fe is a great example of that's a new generation of museum that is really caught the wave of what the millennial generation is looking for in a museum. Which is some of the, you know, the things that museums have done in the past, but that sort of idea of really focusing on the experience and giving them something that's memorable and shareable on Instagram or social media or whatever. That kind of thing is definitely influencing how we think about the Comic-Con Museum. We're certainly not going to be a boring museum full of dusty old things.

Heather Newman:  I don't think anything about the way you work in this world is dusty my friend. That's, yeah. That's awesome. So folks can find out and we'll put a bunch of this stuff in the show notes and some of the beautiful places that you mentioned, um, that, uh, folks who are looking to get on. It's a comic Dash Con museum.org and you can go and become a museum insider so you can sign up and get, you know, information that's coming, you know, direct from Adam and the team and you can become a charter member and learn about all the events. And uh, I'm so excited to come down and, and see your handiwork since I got to see sort of, you know, the, the open space, uh, not too long ago. It's so exciting. I'm so excited for you. Is there anything else you'd like to tell our listeners or, and if not, we'll get wrapped up here in a minute.

Adam Smith:  Um, there's maybe one feature of the museum that is happening during Comic-Con, we didn't talk about it. I would like to give, they've been really awesome to work with. We're doing a display of the fashion from, from the Her Universe fashion show. So for the past, for the past five or six years, Ashley Eckstein, um, has been creating this, this idea of Geek Couture, you know, that, that, um, we might be able to use pop culture references to have a really awesome runway type show and it's become extremely popular at Comic-Con. And there's is a lot of really talented designers now, you know, uh, uh, creating these awesome gowns every year. So, um, but they've never been displayed. So what we're going to do this year is display, five years of winners from that, uh, you know, from, from the passion show. Um, and, um, I'm really excited about that because I, one thing I learned is that fashion is a really great, um, display topic in a museum. So I think the, the, the gowns will look fantastic.

Heather Newman:  Oh yeah. Completely. Yeah. I, did you see the Frida Kahlo exhibit?

Adam Smith:  No, I didn't.

Heather Newman:  Oh, that was delicious. You couldn't take any pictures. It was like, I was like, Oh God. But that, yeah, that was amazing. And, and I think, you know, like thinking about sort of the, um, the Met Gala and Camp this year and that has become, you know, a much larger event on the world stage as well. Right. So that makes so much sense that, that you would have that, that's so cool. Yeah, you're right. And costumes, do you know, the Prince exhibit right where you get to see different things that Prince wears and all of that. And I mean, I could go on, maybe we'll have a chit chat off the podcast about some of the things we've seen because I can,

Adam Smith:  You just hit one of my heart buttons, by the way, when you talked about a museum where you're not allowed to take pictures. I personally, I think that is one of the most wrongheaded things imagined, you know? In the world we live in, um, I think to be able to share the experience is really, really important. Um, so definitely we're going to allow cameras at the Comic-Con Museum.

Heather Newman:  Cool. Yay. Let's do that. And let's see. I was just looking to see if there was, we looked at everything. Oh, in the Mondo Gallery, 80 years of Batman too. That was one of the other things we didn't cover. Will you talk about that a little bit too?

Adam Smith:  Yeah. Um, Mondo, I think your listeners will know as a, you know, fast growing, pop culture brand out of Austin, Texas that connected with the Alamo Drafthouse Movie Theater. And they, they do these really, well, they do a lot of awesome things, but one of things that they specialize in is sort of screen-printed movie poster kind of things that, that people really love to collect as art prints. And they did for the 80th anniversary of Batman. They did a show for their gallery in Austin, that was screen printed versions of some of the most famous Batman comic covers from, from history and that they very kindly sent that out to San Diego. They've never traveled the show before from their gallery in Austin. So, um, for me that's just a little, again, a foreshadowing of what we want Comic-Con Museum to be, I feel that when you create an exhibit it is a costly thing to do.

Adam Smith:  And if you, you can, you know, send that exhibit to two or three other places, then everyone benefits, you know, you're kind of spreading the cost a little bit. And I think, I think there's going to be a really interesting network that we can pull together. There are some good, um, you know, galleries and museums out there that I think we have some shared interests. So one of the things that I, that I'd like to do is to see exhibits created in San Diego, traveling to other, other parts of the country and even in the world and vice versa. Because I think, um, you know, that I was emailing this week with the Billy Island museum in Columbus, Ohio. And you know, there's no competition between San Diego, California, and Columbus, Ohio for a visitor. It makes total sense for us to collaborate on exhibits, you know?

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. And some people, you know, like a trip to New York or even San Diego, that's like maybe once a year, maybe even twice a year. Right. So the more we can share with each other, you know, by, you know, trading out, yeah, like building those partnerships. And you're so good at that. I mean that's, that's super exciting. Oh, and one more thing. And then I just, I can't stop talking to you. Um, you, so daily panels, so you're doing panels in the museum theater as well. And I know you haven't announced and revealed the programming yet, but will you talk a little bit about what's up with those as well?

Adam Smith:  Yeah. Um, they're going to be released in a couple of days, um, as part of the normal sort of release of programming information by Comic-Con. And um, we're going to, we've got a 141 seat theater already in the building, so it made sense to try and use it. Um, and I was so happy when the programming staff at Comic-Con that do 800 panels already raised their hand and said, we'd love to help you. And, you know, can we, can we program that space? And I said, you bet. Because they, they're great people. They do a great job and um, what they've done I think is to put together a really nice schedule of, I don't want to say greatest hits it, you know, what they wanted to do was to sort of just repeat some of the programming that takes place down in the convention center, present it to the community of San Diego as you know, here's community programming that gives you an idea of the kind of education and the kind of cool things that go on there in the convention center. And I think, I think we got some great speakers and it's going to be really popular.

Heather Newman:  That's awesome. That's great. And I'll make sure and put the link to the announcement that's got all the details of how to get there and parking. And you know what all the logistics are around that, since it's, you know, it's, it's the Comic-Con Museum, you know, and you don't need a pass to get in, but it's, you know, you're not shuttling people back and forth and all that, that sort of thing. It's um, you know, getting there yourself and going in, but it is free and there's all kinds of great things that are going to happen with the museum, so that's great. Um, are you going to get to, uh, take a breather after, after all the big Hoopla after, uh, the show goes down. You taking any time?

Adam Smith:  I will, I will need one. Um, I'll say this, um, last year was my first Comic-Con as a member of staff and I thought, I got this, you know, I've worked some pretty big air shows in my life. I used to work as part of the world's largest air show. You know, it's sort of like the Comic-Con of aviation in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I thought, I got this, you know, I'll, I'll need like one day off to recover and then I'll be back at work. Well, I was dead for a week. I'm not joking. I said to my mother, I did not leave my apartment for five days cause I just needed, Comic-Con is so intense, you know, so, um, I'm, I'm stealing myself. I plan to do nothing except, you know, play video games and, and get caught up on all of the amazing television that I'm currently missing.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, completely. Well, a more of a staycation then if you will. Right. Yeah. Yeah. Well, and I'll say it was so nice after Comic-Con last year cause it was my first time moderating a panel and, uh, ending Comic-Con with you, you know, to, to celebrate was so fun. So thank you for that again, that was really special. So I really, really enjoyed that, um, doing that with you. So, well here's to, um, another amazing Comic-Con, but also, uh, an amazing pop up and, uh, preview Beta test, all of that, of the new Comic-Con Museum coming to us in 2021. I really appreciate your time and I love talking to you. So thank you for being on the show today. Truly.

Adam Smith:  Thank you Heather. It's been my pleasure.

Heather Newman:  Absolutely. Folks. Well, we will have all the notes for lovely Adam, um, about the Comic-Con Museum and all the things going on there and all the great things that he told us about to go check out museums to see and all of that and how to follow him and the museum in the show notes. And so that has been another Mavens Do It Better podcast. And you can find us on all the usual places on iTunes, on Stitcher, on Spotify, on Google play, and on our website. So here is to another beautiful day on this big blue spinning sphere. Thanks a lot everyone.


Heather Newman

Heather Newman is an award-winning marketing maven, technology entrepreneur and an epic connector that brings many worlds together. She has extensive experience marketing products and services for Enterprise businesses, startups and emerging markets. Heather builds plans and processes that are nimble, human and different. She is an adept storyteller and is passionate about growth for both employees and the corporate bottom-line. Heather hails from the arts and the bulk of her career has been working with the largest technology companies in the world (Microsoft, Google, Amazon, NetApp, Hewlett Packard, and Dell). Her nineteen years of experience working at technology companies and building global high-tech marketing strategy has driven millions of dollars of revenue and multiple award-winning campaigns. She has led global marketing teams for many technology companies including AvePoint, IT Unity & KnowledgeLake. Heather was a part of the original Microsoft SharePoint Marketing team. During her tenure, she helped launch multiple versions of the product, build the SharePoint Partner Ecosystem and conceived of and produced the first three Microsoft SharePoint Conferences. Creative Maven has produced thousands of global marketing campaigns and events. Currently CM is focusing on go to market strategies for Microsoft and its partners as well as a new site sister site launching in 2015 called Marketingfixer.com. Heather also serves as Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Content Panda, an innovative technology startup looking to actively disrupt how content is delivered inside software.