November 13, 2019
I have once again participated in the New England Museum Association conference. It was in Burlington, Vermont this year and it was the first time that I have been in the state. I was not only excited to be participating in this year’s NEMA conference, but I was also looking forward to exploring the area. With a friend, I took a road trip to travel to Vermont for the conference. This year I decided to not only focus on sessions focusing on education but also sessions that help me get a better understanding of how to improve my leadership skills and of fundraising. As always, I found these conferences both informative, engaging, and entertaining to be with New England and New York colleagues. Thanks to all who have been following my tweets on Twitter covering the conference, and I have included a highlight of my tweets, photographs, and the sessions I attended during the week.
There were many beautiful views I witnessed as my friend and I went up to Middlebury, Vermont as the first stop before going to the hotel.
Once we arrived, she went to a pre-conference event and I decided to explore the area. The first place I went to was the Henry Sheldon Museum. The Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History is the oldest community-based museum in the country opening their doors to visitors and researchers in 1884. Their mission is to serve the public by preserving the historic memory of the Addison County and surrounding communities, heightening the awareness and enjoyment of our rich cultural legacy, and stimulating the study of connections between Vermont’s past and broader historical themes. There are three main areas of the museum:
The Judd-Harris House, built in 1829, showcases a wealth of objects depicting small town life in nineteenth century Vermont
The Stewart-Swift Research Center houses one of the state’s premier archival collections, documenting the history of Middlebury, Addison County, and Vermont
The Walter Cerf Gallery hosts changing exhibits throughout the year.
After visiting the museum, I walked around Main Street and window shopped along the street. I did go into a few stores including Vermont’s Own, which the majority of the products they sell were maple syrup which I could not help but purchase a sample. I went through a country store and the Vermont Book Shop. Eventually I walked back to meet my friend and explore the Middlebury College Museum of Art’s exhibit on the Women’s Suffragette.
Once we checked into the hotel, we walked down Main Street to visit the Lake Champlain Chocolate Store. As a former employee of a chocolate store, I purchased a number of samples for comparison. When we were done with exploring, we were ready for the next few days of conference sessions and events.
My first day of the conference began with learning about analysis of the open-ended questions and audience data. The panelists pointed out that using more than one method to analyze the data and multiple people to review the questions will be helpful for getting the results needed for what the museum is looking for.
I also attended the keynote session that focused on social justice. Dr. Gretchen Sorin, who is committed to encouraging museums to be more active in civic responsibility and social justice, discussed the upcoming book Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights and the PBS documentary produced by Ric Burns and Steeplechase Films, to be released in 2020.
The next session I attended focused on how to foster deeper connections between local teachers and museums; they argued that focusing education programming on supporting educators can lead to more quality student-site interactions, a deeper valuing of our museums in the community, and an expansion of museum capacity. Other sessions I attended were about summer camps and how to use camps to draw in new audiences as well as strengthen ties to schools and community (and listened to the experiences of teenagers who participated in the camps), and museum volunteers and how to create an impact measure for their roles.
That night I attended the opening evening event at the Echo Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. Echo Leahy Center inspires and engages families in the joy of scientific discovery, wonder of nature, and care of Lake Champlain. While enjoying hors d’oeuvres, I interacted with various exhibits including but not limited to Thomas Edison’s Secret Lab (which invites visitors to join the fun through interactive explorations that promote science, technology, engineering and math learning) and Into the Lake (which allows visitors to be immersed in the shipwreck at the bottom of Lake Champlain and learn about a twenty-foot serpent that may have lived in the lake).
On the second day, I attended a number of sessions, an Educators professional affinity group (PAG) lunch, and another evening event at the Shelburne Museum. The first session I attended that morning was the importance of fundraising as a team effort (to learn effective ways to motivate staff and board members to be better fundraisers and hear strategies for attracting and retaining members). Also, the panelists led us in a half hour exercise around major gifts where we practiced “Making the Ask” or an elevator pitch to convince donors to help contribute to our museums’ upcoming major projects. One of the most important takeaways I learned from this session was:
Other sessions I attended were about emotionally intelligent leadership and how to incorporate evaluation practices into museum programming. In the session on emotionally intelligent leadership, we learned about assessing emotional skills, leveraging emotions and learning strategies to achieve results.
In the session on how to incorporate evaluation practices into museum programming, panelists shared practices and examples of incorporating evaluative thinking and reflective practice into the work as practitioners. It introduced practical, tested approaches for building evaluation capacity and using data to improve educational products and professional practices. At the Educators PAG lunch, we discussed the necessity of advocating for our needs as educators and had discussions among ourselves to ask questions, share ideas, offer each other advice, and connect with one another to provide inspiration, support, and resources after we leave the conference.
The second night I attended the evening event at Shelburne Museum. After eating hors d’oeuvres, I walked through an exhibit that was not yet open to the public and a current exhibit. Time Lapse: Contemporary Analog Photography, which opened on November 9th (a couple of days after the evening event), is an exhibit that celebrates the work of 13 international and national contemporary artists who use the darkroom as a laboratory and find inspiration in the vast range of 19th-century photographic processes, from daguerreotypes to photograms. In the second exhibit, which is called Joel Barber & the Modern Decoy, the curator of the exhibit led us through a tour to discuss the life and artwork of architect, author, illustrator, and pioneering decoy collector Joel D. Barber.
After returning to the hotel, there was a lot of cars covered in snow which made me excited since I grew up watching the film White Christmas (majority of the film taking place in Vermont) and I was looking forward to seeing snow in Vermont. I was excited to see more snow on the ground the next morning, and while I was a little disappointed that most of it melted by the end of the conference, I was relieved that we were able to travel without worrying too much about the road conditions.
On the last day of the conference, I attended sessions about the introduction to assessment programs for museums, intangible histories, and a session of its kind called Recharge and Reimagine: Creative Break before attending the closing luncheon and annual meeting. The assessment programs session was intended to introduce, clarify, and spark interest in museum assessment programs such as AASLH StEPS, AAM MAP and Accreditation programs. In the intangible histories session, which was standing room only, panelists shared case studies from the Monticello (an exhibit about Sally Hemings), the Rokeby Museum, and Florence Griswold Museum to share techniques they used to show intangible histories and create meaning out of the memories and stories of individuals. As a public historian, this session was interesting to me because of the challenge intangible histories present and the importance of addressing underrepresented history.
Another session I attended which was different than ones I have previously attended was Recharge and Reimagine: Creative Break. I enjoyed it because it not only helped us tap into our creativity to inspire our work, but it also helped us wind down from an overload of information and excitement from the past few days. We participated in hands-on exercises that helped us use examples of ekphrasis, or the creation of one kind of art inspired by another kind of art. For example, one of the pieces of art shown to us Henri Matisse’s Open Window (1905) and we were encouraged to write any type of poem inspired by this painting. This is my poem:
Today I will look out my window. The colors are so vibrant. The shades of green bring the yard to life. The reds are these in my flowers helping them stand out on this beautiful day. The blues bring out the boats and the body of water. The water filled with so many waves of pink that channels happiness on this beautiful day. I welcome these colors into my window, and I watch as they emerge inside. The pinks and greens occupy the walls of my home. The blues join the greens and even some of the pinks joined the greens. All of the colors also reflect in my windows. I hope to never close my windows to these colors. I implore all who see colors outside to let them in. The colors bring me joy each day. Colors, please keep coming to my window. Tomorrow will be another beautiful day with you.
The drive back was beautiful because there was still snow on the ground. Once again, I enjoyed my experiences at the NEMA conference and will make efforts to exercise what I learned in all of the sessions.
If you are interested in learning more specific information about what I learned and my thoughts, please contact me here. Stay tuned for a new blog post tomorrow!