Recap: The 100th Annual New England Museum Association Conference

It has been a long time since I talked about my experience and experienced the New England Museum Association (NEMA) conference. After a few years of not being able to attend the conference, I chose to attend the 100th annual NEMA conference. As always, I had a positive learning experience as well as reunited with a number of colleagues I have met at previous conferences and met with new conference participants. It was located at the Hilton Stamford Hotel & Executive Meeting Center in Stamford, Connecticut, and the theme of the conference was Museums on the Move which explored how museums have evolved since the very first NEMA conference and how they are positioning themselves for success in the century ahead.

A few days before the conference began, NEMAconference attendants were made aware of the labor situation at the HiltonStamford Hotel & Executive Meeting Center in which hotel workers wereprotesting unfair wages. While NEMA considered moving the conference to anotherlocation, NEMA decided that it was not practical considering the size of theNEMA conference and the relatively short time frame before the conference; thefull NEMA statement can be found here: https://nemanet.org/conference-events/conference/2018-nema-conference/hotel/. There have been some participants that decided to not attend the conferenceor decided to not hold sessions in the hotel as a result, and as a museumcommunity we supported their decisions. During the keynote session, NEMAExecutive Director Dan Yaeger dedicated time to talk about the labor situationat the hotel and a couple of staff members from the hotel spoke to us about whatthe work conditions were like at the hotel. Throughout our conferenceexperience, discussions about the labor situation emphasized the importance ofrecognizing one another as hard workers who should and deserve to do and see changesmade in our fields.

Also during the NEMA session, we heard more about the 100-yearhistory of NEMA and the NEMA conference. They introduced a pop-up exhibit which displayed a timeline of NEMA’s history and allowed conference participants to add their own museum’s history to the timeline using Post-Its, markers, and dry erase boards. What was also added to the exhibit was the wishes for NEMA and the museum field inside boxes that were lifted by the NEMA staff and keynote session presenters in front of the whole conference.

@Steward2Lindsey: Whoa! #nema2018 https://twitter.com/Steward2Lindsey/status/1060223671619514369

Each of the sessions I selected to attend during theweek were both for my personal interest and also to gather information for theLong Island Explorium and the Three Village Historical Society. On the firstday, I attended a session called TheSTEAM Dream Team in which I learned how collaboration between institutionscan create meaningful STEAM programming from educators at the WadsworthAtheneum Museum of Art and the Connecticut Science Center; they discussed how aninitial joint-school program evolved, and continues to evolve, into a multivalentpartnership that benefits both institutions. Also, the session included ahands-on STEAM activity using shadows, light and colors. and practical tips forstarting our own art/science collaboration. Then I attended a session called Continuing Education for Your Most Committed(and Creative) Life-Long Learners which considers experiences of long-servingvolunteer educators from the standpoint of their interest in and capacity fornew learning, in subject matter and pedagogical techniques; I learned aboutdifferent tailored programs that can refresh docents’ intellectual lives, keepingthem up to date and incorporate reflective, cyclical self-assessment and thesedevelopmental strategies can be applied to all subject areas. The last session Iattended for the day was Power Dynamicsand Workplace Culture: A Think Tank in which I participated in a discussionabout how to help colleagues examine power dynamics and workplace culture inmuseums by sharing solutions and ideas for moving the field towards a more equitableand transparent future.

In the evening I attended the Opening ceremony at the Bruce Museum of Art and Science in Greenwich which was originally built in 1853as a private home on a hill overlooking Greenwich Harbor, and the museum has emerged as one of the area’s premier institutions highlighting art, science, and natural history. I strolled through the permanent collection galleries featuring art from legendary Cos Cob Impressionists (including Childe Hassam, Emil Carlsen, Leonard and Mina Fonda Ochtman, and Elmer McRae among others), a spectacular mineral and natural history collection, and American material culture spanning the Colonial period to the present day. Also, I went into the giftshop to purchase a few items, enjoyed hors d’oeuvres, and since I attended the ceremony I received a free book about the Bruce Museum’s collections.

The next day, I attendedthe session Beyond the School Visit:Museum and District Collaboration in which representatives from The AldrichMuseum and the Ridgefield Public Schools discussed their collaboration and howthey evolved school visits into “deep dive” programming resulting in district-wide, cross-disciplinary curriculum, learning opportunities for educators, school memberships, and experiences for students that align with their respective missions. We listened to museum management, district administrators, and a parent on how the collaboration evolved and how it impacts their institutions; afterwards we were engaged in an activity that was designed to inspired partnerships rooted in reciprocity, shared values, and innovation. The next session I went to was a session called How Visitor-Centered Are We? which was a follow up to the last year’s seminar discussion about truth in museums, and the discussion continued with examining the continuing shift to create more visitor-centered environments and what this means in the context of today’s society. This session also came with selected pre-readings in which we used to examine and share ideas and examples of inclusion, diversity and access, both physical and cultural, to help us understand how they shape, or should shape, our work today. The last session of the day I attended was called Finding Your Voice on Social Media which provided an overview of how Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can become powerful tools for our organizations and connect with a greater audience.

Since this was the lastday of the conference, I attended two sessions before the conference luncheonand annual meeting. The first session was called Re-Imagining the Future! Museums for Tomorrow in which I learned howthree institutions of art, culture, and science are transforming their facilities and programming for the 21st century and beyond. This had a panel discussion that explored three significant capital projects at the Barnum Museum, Bruce Museum, and Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, and they addressed mater planning and design, construction and interpretive planning. The last session was called Integrating Skill Building into Museum Programs for Children and Caregivers which had hands-on science activities introduced by science center and children’s museum staff that can be facilitated in a variety of museum settings; these activities can be used to look beyond the product or content goals and think about how children can practice important developmental and science process skills as they participate, and the presenters shared strategies for engaging caregivers in the process of their children’s learning and helping them recognize the skill development that is taking place.

At the conferenceluncheon and annual meeting we continued the celebration of NEMA’s 100thanniversary by recognizing winners of the 2018 NEMA Excellence Awards and commemorate the career of Larry Yerdon, NEMA’s 2018 Lifetime Achievement Awardee. Yerdon, President & CEO of Strawberry Banke Museum in Portsmouth, NH, has had a distinguished career in museums, an active supporter of NEMA its President, and has mentored countless museum professionals as they built their own careers in the field. During the lunch, conference participants heard about NEMA’s latest initiatives, then we helped elect the next NEMA board and officers during a brief annual meeting before heading home from the conference.

The conference experience is just as I remembered in terms of socializingwith former colleagues and new acquaintances. It meant a lot to me to be ableto participate in the 100th conference, and the additional momentsthat highlighted its 100 year history stood out to me; reading the timeline made me realize how much I did not know about NEMA and I am happy to have learned about this rich history. Meanwhile, the sessions themselves have not only been informative but presented fascinating information that I am happy to share with colleagues in New York (including colleagues at the Long Island Explorium and the Three Village Historical Society) and everyone in the museum online community reading this blog post.

If you would like to learn more about each session Idescribed above or have any questions, please contact me on social media or here: https://wp.me/P8J8yQ-4

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