May 27, 2021
I decided to attend this year’s New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) virtual conference which took place on Monday, May 17th. This was their second conference on the virtual platform, and not only did I want to engage with colleagues in the field and learn from sessions on the museum education field, but I also wanted to see how the second virtual conference compares to the first virtual conference. The theme this year was Reflect, Reinterpret, Represent: What’s your Re__? and the sessions encouraged participants to reflect on the lessons we learned and reinterpret the fundamentals of both museum and informal education while we move forward towards a renewed and more representative museum field. Once again, the NYCMER conference was held on the Hopin app, and like I said in last year’s post: participants would be able to do what we usually did during the conference, including attending the keynote session, sessions, poster sessions, Peer Group meetings, and networking, but from home. Instead of releasing my thoughts last week, I wanted to focus on gathering them and my notes to give a concise account of my experiences during the conference.
As usual, I found it hard to decide which sessions to attend during the virtual conference, but I will be getting recordings and resources from the conference as a NYCMER member. Throughout the day, I tweeted my thoughts on Twitter while engaging in the sessions I attended. I gathered some of the tweets I wrote during the day and background information on the sessions to share with all of you. I collected the rest of my tweets and placed them in an Excel spreadsheet, and it is found within the resource section. In addition to tweeting my experience, I made note of the interactions I had with colleagues online in comparison to last year.
Networking with colleagues was a challenge last year since the time was short and it was hard to have conversations when they suddenly cut off; the networking feature was continuously updated throughout the conference so more time was added conversations. This year the networking feature has a maximum of five minutes to interact with one another, and we are able to extend the time spent in five-minute increments as long as both parties click on the extend button. I like what they did this year in the networking experience because I got to have longer conversations if time permitted; in one conversation I was able to help answer an emerging museum professional’s many great questions about the museum field.
While waiting for the keynote session to begin, participants were encouraged to visit the mentimeter site to answer the conference’s theme question: What’s your Re__? We were encouraged to add our words to the word cloud that will be shared at the end of the conference. My “Re__” words I added to the word cloud were: Refresh, Renew, Reflect, and Remember. I chose these words since they apply to both the museum field overall and my career in the field. It is good to refresh and renew our practices in the museum field, reflect on the progress we have made and what we still need to do, and remember the lessons we learned especially during the past year.
The keynote speaker this year was Dr. Porchia Moore, who is the Assistant Professor of Museum Studies at the University of Florida, champion of the Critical Race Theory, co-director of the Incluseum, and co-creator of the Visitors of Color project. Dr. Moore emphasized during the keynote that we need to use the time we are in now to create new educational practices. Within her presentation, Dr. Moore shared what her “Re__” words were in museum education. She chose recall, reimagine, and also remember then explained her reasons behind the words:
- Recall: Why am I doing this work?
- Reimagine: think critically about what the new space should look like
- Remember: inspired by the term Rememory and the book Beloved by Toni Morrison. Dr. Moore spoke about the collective memory and how even if something you remember does not physically exist it still exists within the mind. As a field, we need to re-write our values to form a collective body
I attended the session Redesigning in-person programs, and the speakers were Raymond Rogers, Ciara Scully, and Tiffany Yeung from the New York State Parks. Rogers, Scully, and Yeung shared information on what they needed to consider when redesigning in-person programs and what we should apply to our own programs. The following sections are what we need to consider in our program redesigns:
-know what your agency’s guidelines are
-know what to expect from participants beforehand
-what needs can we meet?
-language clear and descriptive?
-How is it advertised?
-who is it designed for?
-anyone excluded from program? Why?
-what language are we using? Gender neutral? Inclusive?
-does it include multiple perspectives?
-main goal of this program?
-how are we engaging people with the content?
They encouraged us to brainstorm things to keep in mind when we redesign our in-person programs.
The next session I attended was Reimagining Equity and Inclusion within Docent Programs, and the speakers were Christina Marinelli (Senior Museum Instructor/Adult Learning Coordinator at the Brooklyn Museum) and Maria C. Pio (Co-Director; Director of Education and Administration at the Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College, CUNY). In this session, all participants were encouraged to start discussions in separate sections to discuss policies, shared commitments, & values and training strategies. During the first section on policies, some points that were discussed included concerns on being too political and the need to make them feel safe, how to navigate DEAI (Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, Inclusion), and docents that are also donors. When we went back from our groups, we learned about what the second group discussed. In the second section, we brainstormed answers for types of trainings that were particularly helpful or problematic including setting clear roles and responsibilities.
For my third session, I decided to attend New York Responds: Creating a Crowd-Sourced Exhibition and Responsive Programming for a City in Crisis. The speakers were Maeve Montalvo (Director, Frederick A.O. Schwarz Education Center, Museum of the City of New York), Hannah Diamond (Education Manager for Professional Learning, Museum of the City of New York), Jelissa Caldwell (Museum Educator, Museum of the City of New York), Joanna Steinberg (Curator of Education Programs, Museum of the City of New York), and Amanda Johnson (Artist, Museum of the City of New York). All of the speakers discussed how this exhibit came to fruition, and a link to information about the exhibit New York Responds: The First Six Months is included in the list below. The exhibit is now available online.
Then there was the Expo in which there are shorter sessions that introduced various topics and speakers introduce the research or projects they were working on to conference attendees. For this year’s conference, NYCMER shared a YouTube playlist as an introduction to this year’s Expo (I included a link of the playlist in the list below). When I attended the Expo, I attended the one called Squash the Museum. Danaleah Schoenfuss and Sonya Ochshorn discussed the current workplace structure that are still in place in many museums, and presented a range of alternative structures such as flat management, worker co-ops, and delayering processes both as a thought experiment but also as steps for creating lasting change.
The fourth and final session I attended was called Making Institutional Change. Braden Paynter (Director, Methodology and Practice at the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience) and Tramia Jackson (Senior Coordinator, Science Research Mentoring Consortium at the American Museum of Natural History). This session shared two frameworks to help participants, the first to analyze challenges and the second to create strategic processes for change. Drawing on the experience of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience and the Science Research Mentoring Consortium participants won’t have all of the answers, but they will have better questions to begin revealing them. The goal of the session was to provide basic tools for our own institutional change. When working on making institutional change, it is important to remember to:
- Gather knowledge
-What is your why?
-Where are your concerns in your institution?
- Identify people
-find allies and build partnerships
- Grow collective and individual knowledge
-continue to build your knowledge about the issue
- Small acts of change
-within your purview and your allies, begin applying knowledge and making small changes
Paynter and Jackson also pointed out that it is important to take breaks and celebrate your accomplishments. I really enjoyed this year’s NYCMER virtual conference, and stay tuned for more resources as I continue to participate in NYCMER events.
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