by Samantha Gibbs
This past week I attended the Tennessee Association of Museums (TAM) annual conference in Memphis. I did not know what to expect, having never attended a museum conference before. There were many interesting sessions that offered information and advice for different aspects of museum operations. For this blog post, I will discuss a couple of sessions I attended and one where I was a panelist.
Wednesday March 21st
The first day of the conference began with tours of selected Memphis museums followed by afternoon sessions. I attended a break out session entitled History Museums that provided an opportunity for museum professionals to meet one another and discuss a variety of topics. The session moderator had everyone break out into several groups and discuss different methods for collaboration. This activity was a lot of fun and gave me the opportunity to learn about museums from different locations in Tennessee.
The next session I attended was led by staff from the Tennessee State Museum and was entitled It Came from the Collection: Amazing Artifacts and Surprising Stories. They presented a PowerPoint that depicted a range of artifacts from the museum’s collections. The speakers recounted anecdotal stories about the artifacts. For example, one artifact was a hat that had been in the collection for a long period of time. One day a staff member was looking through several archived photographs and found one that contained an individual wearing the hat. Because of this connection, an exhibit of the hat’s owner was created. After this session, I thought about the personal connections of the many artifacts curated at Chucalissa!
Thursday March 22nd
The first session I attended was entitled Consciences in the Community: Museums Addressing Controversial Histories that featured panelists from the Tennessee State Museum and Fort Pillow State Park. The panelists discussed possible controversies behind exhibits and interpretations at their museums. This session hit home for several of us. The possibility of controversy in a new exhibit is not uncommon. For example, when creating the African American Cultural Heritage of Southwest Memphis Exhibit at the C.H. Nash Museum, we considered the potential controversy of installing a modern history exhibit in a predominantly Native American museum. However, the exhibit is fully in line with our mission statement that calls for us to also interpret traditional cultures of the surrounding area and has been well received by our visitors.
Friday, March 23rd
I was a speaker on a panel for the final session of the conference entitled The Participatory Museum: More Than Just a Hands-On Gig. Other speakers included Robert Connolly and Mallory Bader, both from the C.H. Nash Museum. Dr. Connolly discussed participatory museums and different types of associated projects. Mallory discussed her current survey work around a revitalization of our main exhibit hall. She discussed participatory methods that involve interviews, focus groups, and surveys with museum stakeholders such as area teachers, the Friends of Chucalissa, Native Americans, community groups, and others to help decide the direction for exhibit upgrades. I presented on the process of the African American Cultural Heritage in Southwest Memphis project as a case study for the participatory museum. This project involved hiring neighborhood youth to design, research, and install an exhibit on the history of Southwest Memphis.
I enjoyed attending the TAM conference. The conference not only gave the opportunity to network and meet other museum professionals, but it provided an outlet to learn about different techniques used by other museums. Sharing ideas and thoughts lead to stronger connections among museums throughout the state. I suggest this conference not only for museum professionals, but also for those who are interested in volunteering, finding employment, or just getting a behind the scenes look at what it takes to run a museum.
Samantha Gibbs is the Administrative Assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa