Attending your first museum conference as a young professional is an exciting thing. If I had to describe the 2013 American Alliance of Museums Annual Conference I’d describe it as the perfect blend of first date jitters/a huge bite of my favorite dessert/running your fastest marathon time kind of wonderful! My recent trip to Baltimore was all of those things wrapped up in five days.
My job from the time I got up in the morning until I went to sleep at night (in a pretty awesome Inner Harbor Hyatt I might add) was to think, talk, and brainstorm about museums. What struck me as the most positive experience from my travel was not the education and marketing sessions (although, with all I learned I could blog everyday for two weeks), or hearing triumphs and failures of museum professionals I know and admire; it simply was just being with museum professionals. Sure, I know what you’re thinking, “but you work for a museum!” But the thing about being so knee-deep in work and an institution 40 hours a week, is that sometimes you forget that it’s OK to talk about what you like. Why you became interested in museums.
I wore my name tag proudly around the convention center. People were not concerned with how many staff I work with, or what our attendance numbers read. People just wanted to share… and share positivity I might add. AAM fostered a real nurturing kind of dynamic. I felt included… I felt a part of, well, an alliance of professionals.
The conference was packed with things to choose from. My days often started at 7:30am with a one-on-one workshop, followed by panels and group discussions. Although I stuck to the Education and Marketing categories, I realized that other sub-lessons were popping up such as communication strategy, community engagement, evaluation, and adaptation. It really was an interdisciplinary approach to teaching even though AAM attempted to segment each topic by a “track”. I thought this was interesting given I work at a university that programs and prides itself on being interdisciplinary.
One of the program highlights for me, a young professional who has MANY mistakes left to make in my career, was a session called “Mistakes Were Made.” Unlike all of the other programs I attended, this one took the format of what I’m trying to do at the Bucknell Art Galleries- engaging the audience. After hearing three seasoned pros confess their top failures (getting canned, forgetting artifacts, etc.) they turned the tables and asked us to nominate one “best of the worst” stories to represent each row. The semifinalists shared their stories with the room and we voted on the 2013 Worst Mistake Award.
Yes this was silly, but the range of stories really taught me something. Would I rather take a small risk and not fall very far? Or swing from the high branch and chance the opportunity to really make a leap toward? Would I continue to dwell on my mistakes or second guess my program ideas because they might not be the right fit (so so I think)? Or, should I just knuckle down and try, try, try again? This session should have been called, “Progress Was Made” because that’s how I felt after stepping out of this session… mentally at least.
Thanks, Baltimore. You rocked!