by Brooke Mundy
In May I attended the American Alliance of Museums’ annual conference in Baltimore, Maryland. Before attending the conference I expected I would network, attend sessions, and bring back some tips for the Museum. What I did not expect was to feel part of something important and big, as well as gain a real understanding of what we as museum students and professionals are really doing in our work. The keynote speaker for the conference was University of Maryland president Dr. Freeman Hrabowski. In his speech, he told the story of a mother who asked her son after school not, “what did you learn today”, but “Did you ask a good question today”? Dr. Hrabowski points out the power of questioning and constantly learning and evolving, which I came to conclude at the end of my trip as the root of a museum’s existence. The formation of museums comes from an interest in the value of history and the art and artifacts produced through such, in an effort to learn more about the world we live in. As museums we are constantly questioning our efforts in the hope that we are becoming better interpreters and collections managers, always evolving. The take away is that museums are valuable to evolving culture, educating, and inspiring new ideas.
As a student and emerging museum professional, it is helpful to understand the big picture of the field you are entering. I have always felt that museums are a valuable resource to their surrounding communities, but after sitting in some sessions I began to better understand how strong that link actually is. There were sessions on social media, legal and legislative issues, collections and facility care, advocacy, education and programming, and community engagement in a local sphere as well as global partnerships. I mostly attended sessions involving aspects of collections, but even those sessions discussed community and visitor engagement. In one particular session, the collections manager for the Metropolitan Museum of Art emphasized promoting visibility of collections care to staff and visitors. Collections management is typically behind the scenes; however, she discussed making collections care a prioritized point of public interest, similar to education and visitor services. As a small museum, we often use outside help in the work we do with our collections. I attended a session on utilizing volunteers in collections management projects, which discussed how to best include volunteers within collection management tasks. We have always utilized volunteers with collections management tasks, which always seemed unique to me since collections management can be sensitive. However, after seeing the number of museums utilizing volunteers for similar tasks I was able to learn ways we can improve our methods. I found the sessions very helpful for the work I am doing at the C.H. Nash Museum, and in my personal career goals.
Getting started in the museum field is difficult, and the old saying, “it’s who you know” often applies. I wanted to take advantage of networking while I was attending the conference. At a conference of 5,000 people networking was not a problem! I met so many great contacts from a variety of institutions. I was even able to have a one on one review of my resume. The conference was able to balance accommodations for students and emerging professionals as well as professionals who have been in the field for years. The American Alliance of Museums is as much about the internal museum community as it is the general public that museums serve.
Conferences such as the one hosted by the American Alliance of Museums are wonderful for institutions, but they are also incredibly valuable for those of us still learning and trying to enter the field. I embraced the magnitude of the conference and came back with a revived sense of professional self, motivation to apply new found ideas here at the C.H. Nash Museum, the power of museums, and a stomach full of crab: I was in Baltimore after all!