December 10, 2020
This is the second part of my experience at this year’s virtual NEMA conference. If you have not read the first part, check out the link here: NEMA 2020 Virtual Conference: Part 1: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-1bD . Then come back here to see the rest of this post.
On the third day of the NEMA conference, the first session I attended was the keynote with Sarah Sutton, the Principal of Sustainable Museums, and Cultural Sector Lead at We Are Still In. The presentation was pre-recorded, and once we finished watching the presentation Sutton was available to answer our questions. In the keynote Climate Change. Covid-19. Racial Inequality: What Each Crisis Can Teach Us for Tackling the Others, Sutton’s presentation addressed that the lessons from decades of climate advocacy have noticeable parallels with the experience of fighting Covid-19, the efforts to manage an economic recovery, and the work to address racial inequality. Also, the argument made was museums are perfectly suited to help communities because science, data, language, politics, history, and human nature are all mixed up in the problems and the solutions cope with and overcome these crises.
The first session I attended was called We Are Allies: How to Listen, Learn, and Become Anti-Racist Museums with Kristin Gallas (Principal, Interpreting Slavery) as facilitator and the speaker was Katherine Kane (the former Executive Director at Harriet Beecher Stowe Center). Gallas and Kane pointed out that museums must step up and commit to making their work and public spaces welcoming and equitable.
After the session, I had lunch with the Education Professional Affinity Group/Gathering (PAG). At the in person NEMA conference, there were PAG Lunches that encourage conference participants to engage with one another while taking lunch breaks between sessions; I wrote about previous PAG Lunches in past posts about the NEMA conference. Each PAG lunch also had themes for each one, and this year’s Education PAG Lunch theme was Grief and Recovery.
The next session I attended was Let’s Take This Outside with Brindha Muniappan (Senior Director of the Museum Experience at the Discovery Museum) as facilitator, and the speakers were Kate Leavitt (Director of Mission at the Seacoast Science Center) and Lorén Spears (Executive Director at the Tomaquag Museum). Within the session, each of them discussed how their four different organizations (children’s museum, science center, historic house/garden, and Indigenous museum) encourage visitors to spend time outside and think about their physical place in the world as a way to build life-long connections with nature and conserve it for future generations.
I attended the Fostering Community Within Frontline Staff with Helen Brechlin and Tom Maio, who are both from the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Massachusetts, for the last session of the third day. Brechlin and Maio shared how their frontline staff program not only supports their frontline staff but support the visitors during this pandemic. Their discussion focused on how to build and foster a positive working relationship with and among frontline staff.
The panel session for the fourth day of the NEMA conference was Celebrating Museums with Rebekah Beaulieu (Executive Director at the Florence Griswold Museum) as moderator, and the following individuals were the panelists: Catherine Allgor (President at the Massachusetts Historical Society), Chris Newell (Passamaquoddy) the Executive Director and Sr. Partner to Wabanaki Nations at the Abbe Museum, and Hallie Selinger (Visitor Experience Manager at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, MA). In the panel discussion, they talked about the question: Why do you love museums?
For my first session of the fourth day, I attended the Beyond Hands-On: Tapping the Non-Touch Senses in Exhibitions session. Betsy Loring (Principal, exploring exhibits & engagement, LLC, MA) and Laurie Pasteryak (Director of Interpretation at Fairfield Museum & History Center) spent some time reminding us of the many other senses that exhibitions can invoke instead of – or in addition to – touch. They shared examples of non-touch interactivity through sound, smell, and proprioception; and participants broke out into smaller groups brainstorm ways to inexpensively increase the sensory dimensions of exhibits.
The next session I attended was Planning for Interpretive Planning with Julie Arrison-Bishop (Community Engagement Director at The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association) as facilitator, and the speakers were Matt Kirchman (President and Creative Director at ObjectIDEA in Massachusetts) and Brooke Steinhauser (Program Director at the Emily Dickinson Museum). All of them discussed tackling the interpretive planning process and shared their tips and tricks for successful project planning.
The last session I attended on the fourth day was Happy House Tours: Working with Homeowners and Volunteers for a Great Event with Sue Goganian (Director at Historic Beverly in Massachusetts) as facilitator, and the speakers were Fay Salt (a Trustee at Historic Beverly) and Beverly Homeowners John and Jaye Cuffe. Goganian, Salt, and Cuffe shared their perspectives on how much work and cooperation it takes to run a house tour event. They discussed how they require many volunteers and lots of coordination, and a great partnership makes it possible even with limited staff and a small budget. Staff members share the financial, organizational, and community benefits, and how it is done before the pandemic and beyond.
Before I attended the sessions for the last day of the conference, I revisited the Exhibit Hall to participate in a live demonstration from Panospin 360. Located in Lowell, Massachusetts, it offers virtual tour services for hospitality venues, universities, conference centers, medical facilities, corporations, retail stores, historical sites, and national parks across the United States. I will go into more detail in a future services examination blog post.
The first session I attended on the last day of the conference was Resource Roundup: A Roundtable for Sharing (and Discussing) Sources Relevant to Contemporary Issues in the Museum Field with many museum professionals participating as facilitators and speakers. It was a session where participants could get a bibliography of sources and engage with colleagues via active discussion to explore resources, ideas, share information, and network. All participants were broken into a number of different groups on various topics, and were encouraged to attend more than one: Museum Compensation/Salary Transparency; Issues of Access; Evaluation; Decolonization; Museum Activism & Social Justice; Gender Equity & Leadership; and Museum Careers & Professional Development. The purpose of the roundtable was to:
highlight the key books, articles, and resources useful for understanding and navigating contemporary museum issues while encouraging participants to seek out and engage with literature in the field, and consider how it influences, inspires, and/ or applies to their professional practice.
While this year’s conference had a different format than usual, the Annual Meeting and Awards still celebrated museum colleagues, associations, and museums. The highlights of the Annual Meeting and Awards luncheon were presenting the annual NEMA Excellence Awards, presented to colleagues who have gone “above and beyond;” presenting the NEMA Lifetime Achievement Award honoring Susan Robertson, executive director of Gore Place; and a brief “state of the association” presentation from NEMA Executive Director Dan Yaeger. Also, NEMA members voted on this year’s slate of NEMA officers and new members, plus bylaw updates.
The last session I attended for the last day of the conference was Accessibility for Online Programs and Communication Channels with Susan Robertson (Executive Director at Gore Place) as facilitator, and the speakers were Charles Baldwin (Program Officer, UP Designation, Innovation and Learning Network at Mass Cultural Council), Emily Carpenter (Web Designer and Digital Marketer, WA), and Aaron Rawley (Volunteer Coordinator at Gore Place). Within the session, the speakers spoke about how participants of all levels of technical knowledge could improve access to their digital offerings for visitors with disabilities. Participants learned from each presenter on how Gore Place, for instance, makes digital programs and communication channels more accessible through universal design. The discussion included but not limited to accessibility for social media, webinars, and websites.
Thank you all for your patience as I complete this second part of the conference coverage! If you have any questions about the sessions I attended above and in the previous NEMA virtual conference post, you can find my contact information on the Contacts page. Stay tuned for next week’s blog post about the holidays this year, and be sure to check out my campaign I have started on the Buy Me A Coffee site: