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Thoughts on the 2013 AAMC Annual Conference

Posted By Barbara L. Jones, Chief Curator, Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, PA, Monday, July 22, 2013

First I want to thank the conference committee for putting together a conference that, over the course of the two days, related thematically. I know that this was not popular with some, but I appreciated the cohesiveness of the topics. With Museums and Civic Responsibility on Monday and Participation, Engagement and the Curator on Tuesday, curators were presented with a timely topic to digest, and one that generated much discussion afterward. It seems inevitable that this is the direction museums will be moving as it becomes more and more competitive to attract and get visitors in the door. Engagement is key to making collections relevant to visitors. It’s not to say that we as museums can compete with sports or other forms of entertainment, nor do we want to, but by creating ways for visitors to feel less intimidated by art and experience or re-experience it in a way that is meaningful to them, we can ensure our future. The panelists in both sessions presented very different approaches to the topic and provided some interesting ways to engage in new ‘conversations’ with the public.

My favorite session was the Pecha Kucha (and I’m glad to finally know how to pronounce it). I love the fast-paced format that gave six curators the opportunity to present on a broad range of topics. This is a great way to share ideas and generate feedback for critical discussion. It is also a fabulous exercise on how to distill a topic to its most essential ideas, something that is good practice for curators who make regular presentations to funders, donors, board members, committees, among others.

I enjoyed Workshop One, Public Speaking with Barbara Tannenbaum. She was very entertaining while presenting the steps to becoming an effective and engaging communicator. I really like these types of hands-on workshops.

One of the main reasons I want to attend the AAMC conference each year is to gather with colleagues from around the U.S. and beyond. It is energizing to me (and sometimes intimidating) to be in the same room with so many who share similar issues, concerns, and challenges, whether from small, medium, or large institutions. This is a common thread that connects us as curators and provides a means for conversation. I enjoy these conversations the most. It is important to have the opportunity to step away from my day to day responsibilities for this much needed camaraderie. I must say though, that each year I return to my museum even more appreciative of the strong relationship I have with my director and staff. I realize does not happen everywhere.

As a travel grant recipient, I am grateful for the financial assistance that allows this professional development to happen. Travel funds are generally the first to be cut in tight budget years, so I appreciate the continued generosity of both the Henry Luce Foundation and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation for ensuring that so many of us can participate in this conference each year.

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