By Claire Blaylock
From October 23-25th, the Oregon Museums Association hosted our annual meeting in the scenic college town of Eugene, Oregon. The conference theme, “Engage!” drew representatives from museums across the state. From small local institutions to large regional museums, volunteers and staff members discussed how museums can engage with their audiences in the 21st century.
OMA was pleased to welcome our keynote speaker, Vailey Oehlke, the Executive Director of the Multnomah County Libraries. The Multnomah County Library System is known nationally for its policies and programs aimed at engaging the community. As Vailey shared, the library system is currently undergoing a shift in their engagement principles: instead of designing programming and services to meet community needs such as a need for more story times and family programming, they are designing them to meet community goals such as seeing a decline in instances of homelessness. It may seem like a purely semantic shift, but in reality the library system is going out into the community and asking what role they can play in helping their neighborhoods grow and thrive. The Oregon Museums Association believes that museums can take a page from the library playbook and start asking how we, as organizations, can be more than just a one-time trip for community members and tourists.
Engagement doesn’t end with community outreach. Museums also have the unique challenge of engaging paid staff and volunteers. How do we keep our internal museum community engaged with changes? Staff members and volunteers from a variety of institutions shared their experiences with just this challenge.
Conferences are important for so many reasons, not the least of which is the chance to sit and connect with colleagues you may not see very often. Taking the time to engage as a community helps us build strength through shared ideas and remind us that we are important. Museums across the county, not just in Oregon, are wrestling with our place in changing communities. Questions of long-term funding, relevance, and organizational longevity are not easy to address on any level but the more we engage with our community of museum professionals and our state-wide community, the more likely we are to find new and exciting ways to succeed.