NEMA 2020 Virtual Conference: Part 1

November 19, 2020

This year I decided to attend the virtual New England Museum Association (NEMA) conference not only for professional development reasons but to also find out how they will execute a virtual conference. Like in previous conferences, I have also participated in the conversations and shared my thoughts on Twitter using the conference hashtag: #NEMA2020.  Also, I decided to split it into two parts since there is so much information I gathered, it would be too long to fit into one post. I will post the second part after Thanksgiving. I learned that the majority of the recordings from the conference will be available after the conference for three months.

In case you are not familiar with the NEMA conference, I have included a few previous blog posts I wrote about a couple of the conferences I attended in the past below. I found out as I signed up for this year’s conference that the whole conference would be held through the app Whova. The app, Whova, has been used in previous NEMA conferences and I have used it as a way to network and keep track of the conference schedule. Whova has provided a platform this year to participate in the conference virtually, and the app could be used not just on the phone but also on the laptop/computer.

Whova (Mobile)
Whova (Laptop)

The NEMA conference took place between Monday November 16th and Friday November 20th. It was originally going to be located in Newport, Rhode Island (the same place where I attended my first NEMA conference seven years ago) but due to the pandemic it was switched over to the virtual platform. Like the rest of the virtual conferences I attended this year, I missed interacting with people in person however I did find it convenient to attend online. It saved me some time commuting to the in-person location and I did not have to worry about finding a hotel to stay in during the week. This year’s theme is Who Do We Think We Are Now? There are over sixty sessions, multiple keynotes, networking lunches, and a virtual exhibit hall.

Day 1

Keynote Presentation: Colleen Dilenschneider

On the first day of the conference, I attended the first keynote, three sessions, and visited the virtual Exhibit Hall. The keynote speaker for the first day was Coleen Dilenschneider who is the Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS. Dilenschneider is also author of the popular website Know Your Own Bone, and during the keynote she shared contemporary research about potential museum visitors in New England. This presentation focused on shifting sentiments, the insights these shifts provide for the future, and why agile, strategic museums are especially well-positioned to engage and inspire their communities during this time of change and beyond.

One of the key takeaways from the data Dilenschneider shared was when participants answered the question (what would make you feel comfortable returning to cultural organizations?) the number one answer for participants in the United States and in the New England region was mandatory face mask coverings. She also pointed out that there are three trends that are indicating positive change: superconnection, elevated expertise, and activating new audiences. The following are from the notes I took during the session of the survey results Dilenschneider shared:

Superconnection:

  • to the web at home, work, and on mobile device
  • people prefer to stay home, the safest place to stay during the pandemic [according to survey]
  • more people spend time using digital sources for media consumption

Elevated Expertise:

  • highly credible source of information
  • visiting a(n) [organization type] is educational
    • opinion has increased during the pandemic
  • We are trusted experts.

Activating New Audiences:

  • Length of leisure visit preference in New England: preference to take day trips increased in 2020.
  • Leisure travel means: increase in personal vehicle preference
  • Newly activated visitation increased significantly in 2020
    • Newly activated visitation=new visitors, or those who have not visited in the last 3 years or so.

After the first keynote, I went to the virtual Exhibit Hall to see the exhibitors’ services and what giveaways they are offering for this year’s conference.

Exhibit Hall
Your Museum Career: Now What?

The first session I attended was called Your Museum Career: Now What? This session was aimed to help participants get ready to deal with the issues in the field that were amplified by this crisis. Each of the speakers talked about understanding museum salaries and doing your research before applying; the divide between “essential” and “non-essential” positions; coming out of the shutdown trauma and returning to work; taking control of the application process; how to get your digital and physical materials ready; and how to handle an all-virtual process. Some of the advice they shared for the job search post-COVID include:

  • pay close attention to the details of the job description, and while your resume may not be a 100 percent match to the job description it has to be enough to meet the qualifications
  • do not be afraid to apply to something you haven’t done in a while
  • look at the priority of listings in the job description; it will show what responsibilities are the most important for the role.

In the session, the speakers also shared their advice on how to understand museum salaries. A couple of the points they made on understanding museum salaries were:

  • look up the 990 forms of organizations but keep in mind that everything is different in 2020
  • do the research first then put down a reasonable number that is fair to you

Also, they provided advice on virtual interviews. According to the speakers, when you get a virtual interview it is important to run the technology beforehand. I believe that advice goes both ways because while it is important that the interviewees should make sure their internet connection, sound, et. cetera is working, it is also important for interviewers to make sure everything on their end is working for a successful interaction throughout the interview. For interviewers, speakers also recommended that the instructions and materials for the interview should be sent ahead of time to the interviewee in order to make sure they know what to expect for the interview process; also, if interviewers do not send log in information for the interview, the interviewee will not be able to get into the interview on time. A couple more advices they shared for interviewees are to dress the part (because it would also be a mood and confidence booster) and to have notes near you so that you would have visual reminders of what you want to say and ask in the interview.

The second session I attended was called What Now? Immersive Theater, Games, and Interactive Content Responds to Covid. Each speaker talked about how they were coming up with solutions like live radio, letterboxing, alternate reality games, unique Zoom interactions, and GoPro cameras to deliver engagement with an isolated audience using on-hand tools. There were five different presentations that addressed how they responded to and adapted programs because of Covid. Each speaker shared interesting programs, games, et. cetera that museum professionals could create their own versions. For instance, there are online puzzle hunts, radio broadcasts, mobile escape games, and phone- and letter-based immersive theater.

What Now? Immersive Theater, Games, and Interactive Content Responds to Covid
Resources to Create Virtual Games, What Now? Immersive Theater, Games, and Interactive Content Responds to Covid

The third session I attended was called History is Happening Now: Collecting the Covid Experience. Representatives from three organizations recounted their efforts to capture the impact of the pandemic on their communities by collecting time capsules, written reflections, artwork, signage, masks, and other objects. Strategies discussed will include fast-forwarding development of projects in a moment of crisis, collecting methods and logistics, reaching different constituent groups, web archiving on a shoestring, and legal considerations. The speakers from the Norwich Historical Society (Vermont), Champlain College Archives (Vermont), and the Vermont Historical Society have shared their projects on keeping track of how the pandemic has impacted their communities and what they have faced during the process. The Norwich Historical Society for instance had a blogger help document curbside pickup for collecting items for their collection, and they also created a space online for members of the community to upload paintings that depict emotions felt during this time; they also had encouraged members of the community to paint murals, called Community Circles, that depict their answers to the question: What brings you hope?

I have also included some highlights of the presentations I shared on Twitter through #NEMA2020

Norwich Historical Society:

Champlain College Archives:

Vermont Historical Society:

Concept of Programs from Vermont Historical Society, History is Happening Now: Collecting the Covid Experience

Day 2

On the second day of the NEMA conference, I started the day by attending the second keynote of the conference Museums, Race, and the Road to Inclusion. The keynote speaker was Jamal Jimerson who is the founder of Minority Inclusion Report and the Managing Partner at Thought Partner Solutions. Jimerson spoke about the issues of board and staff diversity, and the layers of systemic racism that is pervasive in society; he also spoke about how museums can stay effective and relevant in this changing world by aligning their values based on equity and inclusion with their practices. Here is a highlight of Twitter posts from this keynote presentation:

The first session I attended was called Leadership At All Levels – Exercising Influence When You Don’t Have Authority. Within this session, the speakers challenged the traditional idea of leadership in museums (leadership comes from the top-i.e. head of an institution or department in order to be a leader). They explored what it means to be an influential mid-level or emerging leader, and shared practical tools for leading without official authority, an understanding of what it means to step up and why it is essential for our success, and strategies for showing and developing our leadership skills no matter where we are in an organization. The following is a highlight from the session I shared on Twitter:

The third session I attended on the second day of the conference was Moving from “George Washington Slept Here” to “Who Cleaned this Chamber Pot?”: Redefining School Programs to Meet 21st Century Learning and Teaching. Within this session, the speaker provided tools, takeaways, and tips to help museum education professionals revamp school programs in order to be more intentional and utilize current strategies in education. The session covered how to make minor, no cost changes that have major impacts that include adaptations for specific grade ranges, sensory learning integration, and student-directed experiences. Each of the sections in the session presented tools and strategies that are applicable across the field and could enhance existing programs.

The session set up was interesting to me because it was a half hour pre-recorded session then the rest of the time was an open discussion; I liked that it was a somewhat different way of participating in a virtual conference session, and I could revisit it when I need to during and after the conference. I liked that there was also an opportunity for all participants to share their own experiences in revamping school programs and our own wants in adapting programs in an open discussion section. Here are a few tweets I posted to contribute to the discussion about the session:

The last session I attended on the second day was Stretching the STEAM/STEM Pipeline- Advancements Through Community Collaborations. It was an interesting session that pointed out museums should ask how they can help their community especially when it is facing social and economic challenges, and the academic achievement of area youth is tested. The speakers from the Children’s Museum in West Hartford, Connecticut shared their experience in answering the question: How can we step outside of our museum walls and unite with likeminded community stakeholders to make a lasting impact on STEAM/STEM achievement?

The presenters used their program “Bringing the Museum to the Neighborhoods” to highlight the steps necessary to successfully engage, coordinate, and manage a common agenda with collaborators and stakeholders who maintained varied missions and processes, and strive to advance a common agenda to support the community. For their program, the Children’s Museum collaborated with Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Hartford, the Hartford Public Library, and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center to provide a program that would encourage families within the Hartford community to engage in activities. Here are some highlights from that session:

The next three days of the conference will be covered in the second blog post covering this year’s NEMA conference. In the meantime, enjoy the blog posts I have previously written about past NEMA conferences I have attended since starting this blog.

To catch up on my live reactions to the virtual NEMA conference, follow me on Twitter at this username: @Steward2Lindsey and check out the hashtag #NEMA2020 for conversations among museum professionals, including myself, about the keynotes, sessions, and virtual meetups.

If you attended this year’s virtual NEMA conference, what do you think of the sessions and the virtual platform so far? Which one of the sessions I attended would you like to learn more about?

Past NEMA conference coverage:

Mini Blog Post: #NEMA2019

#NEMA2019 Recap

Recap: The 100th Annual New England Museum Association Conference

Information about Whova App

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