By John Bello
Frequently in the field of museums, we operate without much acknowledgment of others. That is not to say that museums do not talk with one another. Museums operate in a singular vacuum of oneness. Yet, museums are all dealing with the same changes from outside forces. With new digital media, social media, programming, strained funding, and other challenges, museums are constantly dealing with change. In order to address these concerns, museum professionals need to have an open and honest discussion about finding solutions to these issues. The WMA 2016 conference on CHANGE provided such an environment to open the narrative on change.
As a Wanda Chin scholarship recipient, I was afforded the amazing opportunity to attend the conference, which would not have been possible otherwise. I was unsure of whether I would have any meaningful solutions to offer. I was surprised that not only were my experiences valuable to the discussions on change, but they provided important solutions to issues of access, community engagement, and evaluation at other institutions. Past projects I have worked on spanned opening access to the underserved in Tempe, engagement of new communities through a traveling exhibit, and program evaluations. The experiences I acquired through my career were able to offer solutions to concerns other museums were facing.
While I was able to provide solutions, I also acquired new information. As a grad student, most of my museum knowledge comes from classroom discussion. While we cover a plethora of museum topics, most of the discussions center on theory. Attending the conference provided a new experience to museum practice. I attended sessions dealing with funding, social media, and education. The practical knowledge ascertained provided depth to my understanding of their practice and implementation. I have changed as an emerging museum professional because of the WMA conference.
Professional development is a continuous process. Owed to the abundant amount of opportunities to grow as a museum professional, conferences are a premier avenue for networking, offering solutions, and acquiring new knowledge. The conference offered a plethora of opportunities to engage with other professionals and affect change across the discipline. Classroom education only goes so far in the professional world. By attending the conference, I connected with professionals from all across the region on issues of relevance, funding, and community engagement. The information swapped was beneficial to all. The WMA conference afforded me a new way to engage with the topics that come from my coursework.
There is a never-ending amount of learning that occurs over the course of graduate education. Nonetheless, it has to end sometime. The WMA conference provided valuable information on access, community engagement, evaluations, and social media. With these new ideas as part of my tool belt, I could engage in class discussions and research papers on a deeper level. At Arizona State University, part of our education is to complete several research papers. I am completing an evaluation with a local museum, the i.d.e.a Museum. With the support of the information ascertained from the conference I could develop a more robust evaluation. Another paper I am completing pertains to the issues surrounding access and community engagement. With the knowledge acquired from the conference, I can engage the content with more practical information. The major takeaways from the WMA conference assisted my research and will bring notoriety to Arizona State University Museum Studies Program.
The 2016 WMA conference on change provided a multitude of opportunities for myself to grow and develop as an emerging museum professional. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to have participated in the experience. My perspective and understanding of change in museums have shifted. Museum change is more than local but a consortium of like-minded individuals and institutions that are working together to affect policy and ideas surrounding museums. When museums come together and share ideas, change is positive and progressive.
Museums across the west are dealing with a plethora of issues, funding, programming, social media, and others. The issues are not new. Nonetheless, new technology and ideas are available to address the concerns. The conference offered a chance to discuss solutions to these trepidations. Coming together as a consortium of museums we have a greater impact on the world around us. The community of western museums is further promoting social inclusion through open and honest evaluation of museum practice. Museums as social agents are in a unique place to engage social issues like race, gender, identity, and public policy. Together the WMA can generate real change in the field to promote sustainable and innovative solutions to these subjects. Change is all around us and it is up to museums as social agents to construct a meaningful dialogue with the public to develop a brighter future. When museums create change, society can change too. The future of museums is now. We must be a cohesive group to effect social change in our communities
John Bello is completing his M.A. in Museum Studies from Arizona State University. He is completing his M.A. research on learning behaviors in museum summer camp programs and evaluating digital collections and virtual museums. He has worked with numerous museums throughout the Phoenix area. He hopes to address issues around community engagement and access to digital collections.