Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Western Museum Association Conference 2010

Thoughts from a Conference-Goer . . .

The Western Museums Association put on a GREAT conference! I just spent a few days in Portland, reacquainting myself with some long-lost pals, making new connections, doing some professional development and basically spending my time really really well. I feel so fortunate to be working in the same profession as these amazing people!

None other than author and museum-thinker John Falk was the keynote speaker on the first day. He spoke about WHO and WHY people come to museums. He says it is often their 'little i' identity that brings them in the door, often as one (or a combo) of one of the five:
1. explorer - they are interested and want to know more
2. facilitator - they go for someone else, as a support
3. experience seeker - they want to go visit, and say they have been (ie Louvre in Paris)
4. professional or hobbyist - they go because it relates to work, and/or have a solid love of the topic
5. recharger - they go because it is a nice place to be.
Now his keynote really set the stage for me - it made me think, huh, so a visitor doesn't come to the museum for a special exhibition - not for content - a visitor comes they want to for a specific self-defined purpose. And I love thinking about museums like that, to move the viewpoint away from ourselves to more of how we are perceived.

I also attended a session on selling museum collections, and what that is about, and answered a survey on whether or not museum professional organizations to review this in a more broad manner. It was intriguing to note that accreditation is not really noted until it is removed... and yet it is a voluntary thing to get accredited. It was also apparent to me that some institutions have suffered greatly when they sold their collections and used these funds for operational purposes. I have not changed my mind - I do NOT think that collections should be thought of as assets that can be monetized in times of stress - but I do believe that deaccessioning is a good thing when applied ethically. I also am willing to open the conversation that allows for museums to put any monies received through deaccessioning to something other than just back into the collection. But we have some more work to do there . . . and it's important to have these sessions to get us thinking and talking about these important issues.

There were also some career/leadership strategy sessions I found very intriguing. Some basic advice like - know you belong to where you choose to be, be deliberate, pay attention and do your research if you are targeting somewhere you would like to work. Also, know that there are more ways than simply applying for a job to show interest - don't be afraid to volunteer and to get yourself out there. Although most of this information is not new to me, I really think it is good to be reminded of it AND to know that there are other people out there who are also looking to ensure they have a plan and a path that will lead them on a substantial museum career.

Other great discussions abounded in the sessions, plus opportunities to speak to people one-on-one. I got to chat with one of my heroes, Gail Anderson, who was the director of my JFKU museum studies program when I went there. I got to meet Elizabeth Merritt, the director of the Center for the Future of Museums, about futurism, what that means to museums. I also asked her if she knew if anyone (else!) in Canada is thinking along these lines, as this is a topic I would like to pursue from the Canadian perspective.

I also attended the Registrars Committee, Western Region luncheon as well as got invited to the officer's breakfast.... this group of registrars are amazing. They are so dedicated, eloquent and organized. They run workshops throughout the WMA region, and also make it a priority to give back. The RC-WR does this through generous stipends for its members, and also through work that is done in their communities in their "CSI" program. This year they went to the Pittock Mansion in Portland and worked on rehousing textiles - you can read more on the WMA blog. But, man, what regi-STARS they are. : )

The WMA did so much good work putting this conference together - and it was great to see them in a place where they could celebrate. They were almost ready to dissolve the whole association this time last year; instead they had a fun party where they celebrated their 75th anniversary. They have inspired me to do my very best for the BCMA Conference next week - they are a hard act to follow, but they have taught me that dedication and hard work pays off!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Blogs Galore!

Once in a while . . . . . . I find a blog post on museum issues that makes me say YES! That's IT! So from time to time I will be posting some very timely/pertinent/interesting-to-me blog posts. I do my best to keep up with what is out there, all tracked by my Google reader. : ) So - my favourite post for today is from The Museum of the Future, entitled "I like museums: Using Facebook's like button to connect with museums." Perhaps it seems like Facebook is taking over the world, but I rather like to think of it as it is adding something to it. Check it out!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I ❤ Conference Time!

I. am. jazzed!!

I've got a couple of weeks of conferences coming up. Next week I will be at the
Western Museums Association conference in Portland. I am so excited, because the WMA conference is the first one I attended, way back in 1995 when it was in Oakland. It was an event recommended by my professors when first beginning my program in Museum Studies at John F. Kennedy University, and I cautiously committed to making the time and funds available to attend. And you know what? The conference was a fabulous experience - and it was almost overwhelming to see so many people so interested in museums, in what I loved. (I do specifically remember mentioning in class, though, that there were a lot of ladies with scarves!) But I came away thinking - what a good idea - professional development, interesting trade show participants, opportunity to meet new people / network and events at that highlight local institutions. I felt a little like I had found my tribe, my home, and an annual way to reconnect on a personal and professional level. And next week will be a homecoming of sorts, seeing colleagues and former classmates, and putting names to faces to new online connections I have made recently.

That WMA conference experience way back inspired me to look into other professional organizations, and to see what their conferences had to offer. I joined the American Association of Museums and traveled to their conference in Atlanta in, I believe, 1997. I scraped together airline points so I didn't have to buy a ticket, stayed at a nearby but not the conference hotel, and carefully selected the events and sessions I would attend. This precise planning did nothing to prepare me for the number of people that would be there. Just being from the West made me different - there are SO MANY museums on the US East Coast, so many staff in attendance. There were seas of people. The keynote speakers were in giant rooms, and there were screens to watch the talking head, as if it was some sort of political event. But I had my name on the lanyard around my neck, and I set out to meet new people and talk about my master's program and project. And it was good. Overwhelming, but very good. I recognized some names from the museum-l network - when I took an elevator with Stephen Weil, I even said 'Hi! I know you from the listserv!!' - silly eager girl. But, again, this conference experience made me realize there is a lot of history to the work I want to do with museums, and that I had a responsibility for making sure I understand who and what that has come before me in this sector. I love museums, but (thankfully) I am not the only one.

This stuck. When I returned to Canada in 2003, I immediately joined the British Columbia Museums Association. I had a fabulous transition year where I attended a WMA/BCMA joint conference in Reno, Nevada. There I got to say good-bye to my US colleagues while making new connections from BC. I found out that there were definitely nuances that I was going to have to learn about working in BC museums. I also found out that the BC museum professionals have such a wry sense of humour... I was going to be okay. I had lots to learn about my new home, but I would be okay.

So in 2004, I attended BCMA's Nanaimo conference. Population-wise, it's much smaller in BC, and the conference reflected this. In fact, it felt like a little bit of a club that I had entered, and was actually a little more intimidating than the conferences with hundreds of attendees. The multiple sessions and events, though, made it so I was running into the same people and so I just got my gumption together and introduced myself, and started conversations at events, joined discussions at breaks and actively participated in the sessions. (We even had a midnight fire alarm and we all were evacuated to the street in our jammies - now THAT'S getting to know people!) And I didn't try so hard just get my way 'in'; I did so because I wanted to belong to my group of local fellow museum professionals. Attending conferences has allowed me to gain the confidence - and given me the opportunity - to network with other people. I was so rewarded when, in 2004, I struck up a conversation with a table-mate at the Awards Dinner and got a tip on a need at a local National Historic Site: I followed up and won a contract that lead to a 4-year job. Who could ask for anything more from a conference??

So I have been left with, really, why would I not attend conferences? I have build them into my yearly budget, it is such a priority for me to attend. Note I have only ever had an institution pay my whole way to a conference once and that's okay; this type of professional development and networking is actually a personal tax deduction. But even without this, it has always been worth it to attend a conference or two a year.

Yes, I go to conferences, and I love them. The
other one I am attending this month is BCMA's, back in Nanaimo, and, as I have mentioned, I am the Program Chair. This work - begun in January - has made me realize that there is A LOT of effort in putting these events together. From pulling together a committee (mine was amazing!!) to putting out the call for sessions to the facilitation of the development of said-sessions to how the theme and the keynote all fit together to scheduling and simply tracking all the details -- it's pretty intense. And we don't yet know if BCMA Conference 2010 will be successful, of course, but I feel good in that I have given back some of what I have loved so much about attending conferences, and hopefully I have organized intriguing keynote speakers, thoughtful sessions, interesting events. I wish for attendees to walk away with new things to think about in our museum world, fond memories of the conference, and knowing they have a lot of support and camaraderie in their professional community.

Monday, October 4, 2010

First Day Thoughts

. . .

(I don't know what to write as a subtitle to this post . . . )

Last week was a BIG week for organizing everything - I registered my name as a sole proprietor (Caroline J. Posynick, Museum & Heritage Consultant), got my insurance issue worked out, received a business and a tax number, and set up a business bank account. And know what else? I also SIGNED MY FIRST CONTRACT ON THURSDAY!! Woo hoo! We ARE on our way.

So today was the first day that I began work on the project. This morning I went to my home office, got everything lined up and got going. I reviewed emails that I had saved for when I was going to have focussed time, and printed off many things that were sent to me. All was really groove-making until the tree cutters arrived to do some work in my neighbours yard. No problem - I just went off and found my ear plugs cuz I am at home and everything is right at my fingertips.

But I cannot lie - I also imagined what this first day would have been like if I had an on-site position, not project-based consultant work. I wondered what it would have been like to get set up with my computer, an email address, learn a new telephone number. Would the discussions with those who work there be awkward, or would we click? Would I remember the names of people - so many new people - or would I be overwhelmed and kinda flakey? How would my security photo look, anyway?? My photos like this are only ever glamourous or frightening; how did we score this time?  I thought about coffee breaks (did they have any? would I be invited to join them?), and wondered if I would bring lunch or try to buy lunch, and what would have been the more 'social' choice. I wondered if the day would go quickly or if my brain would overload or if I would miss the bus home (or did I park? just HOW MUCH did that cost me??). But I did not have to work through these details; this is not my experience.

This morning I came and sat at my desk in my home office. I got right into the work, including figuring out how to deal with the outside noise. I was able to hone in, become familiar with things rather quickly, check out the institution's website. I even pulled out my own resource books that I knew would have some info that would be helpful to the project (they were). It is a little surreal . . . almost zen-like in the methodology of it all. I think working from home is akin to home schooling, where you are able to do such amazing work in a concentrated time, with no distractions. But I think I am going to set up ways to socialize in a work way, to not get lonely as I will miss people and interaction.  I admit that I do wonder if I will do this for a long time, and what the future holds. But then again I always think like that, whether it be the first or the middle or the last of any adventure I take.  So what's with these elipses - and dashes?  Maybe it is nothing more than I am still computing my first day . . .