WMA 2011: Hawaii's High Bar

By: Jason B. Jones

After a few weeks of reflecting on WMA 2011 in Hawai’i, I am still excited by what was an amazing Annual Meeting – and an international event!

Presented in collaboration with the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums, the 2011 WMA Annual Meeting was also co-hosted by the Hawai’i Museums Association and the Pacific Islands Museums Association. With four organizations working to make Hawaii happen, the diversity of people and ideas present set a high bar for future Annual Meetings, and created a (spiritual?) energy that permeated through out the keynotes, sessions, evening events. Really?! Yes, really. Read James Leventhal’s blog post, #wma2011 Feeds the Soul: We Are Meaning, for a taste of the transcendental atmosphere.

Like many of the other 600+ in attendance, I went to fabulous sessions, met great people, and saw stand out museums, but I also was a part of the preparatory meetings months in advance. Many talented people worked to make Hawai’i a success, and I think their dedication to providing a high quality experience for attendees was evident throughout the conference.

The collaborative approach to this year’s Annual Meeting exemplified our theme; Püpükahi i Holomua, or Working Together to Move Forward. In that spirit, everyone did their part to make the magic happen. The Program Committee worked hard to pull all the content and sessions together. Did you see the Opening Reception and Keynote? Have you every felt so welcomed and inspired? It was a fabulous introduction to Hawai’i, and set the tone for the conference. I was particularly struck by the cadence of the Opening Ceremony. At once, it was both soothing and empowering. I imagine drinking the ceremonial ‘awa had a similar effect.

The Host Committee did an awesome job of getting the local institutions involved. I have long wanted to visit the Bishop Museum, and the Hawaiian Hall didn’t disappoint. The storytelling and use of the objects give a palatable history of Hawaiian culture. I was lucky enough to attend Shangri La by Night on Saturday. To me, the space was inspirational, and I could almost hear incantations on the breeze. But the sunset! Well, the sunset was beyond my words. Could you image being there as an artist or scholar in residence?

As is always the case at conferences, I didn’t get to go to as many sessions or talk to as many people, as I would have liked. (I did, however, get to sing karaoke, and let me tell you there is some real vocal talent at WMA!) But from what I saw behind the registration desk, plenty of attendees went to powerful sessions, had meaningful conversations, and were inspired with a renewed passion for our field. And being a part of giving people that experience – and witnessing it happen – makes me look forward to Palm Springs 2012, and to figuring out how to live up to the high bar set in Hawaii.

Mahalo to all who attended, worked on, and enjoyed WMA 2011, and let’s hope it doesn’t take us 17 years to get back to Hawaii!

Jason B. Jones
Membership Manager
Western Museums Association

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