By: Brian Eyler
So dear registrar, where were you? Do you even remember where you were? The moment when you committed to present at WMA? Did an alluring colleague rope you in? Or were you caught up in a euphoric wave of registrarial giddiness at a workshop? Or, did you feel guilty, for allowing other registrars to do all the work? Did you feel like it was your turn, your time to do your duty? Or better yet, were you being courted over dinner and drinks by a fine arts shipper, and briefly misplaced your sense of judgment? It can happen in a number of subtle ways to a number of unsuspecting folks. But it happened, you committed to it. Now what? About two months ago, that’s where the lucky three members of our session panel stood. Sure there’s also a moderator, but do they really count?
Not surprisingly, a certain level of planning, preparation, and anxiety goes into each WMA session. Probably more than anything else, the most difficult aspect of being a part of a session panel is logistics. Typically the presenters reside in three or four different states, so coordinating their work schedules takes some resolve. Getting everybody on the same page, with the same ideas and purpose, is half the battle. To make matters more interesting, many panelists have never met each other “in real life”. When initially asked to participate, many presenters readily agree to be on a panel. The idea of speaking about a museum topic sounds so great. For some, it’s perceived as a duty of the profession. In either case, once they dive into the process of preparation, they soon realize just what’s involved.
My panel began it’s preparation a few weeks ago. Our first order of business was to get on the same page. We quickly recognized our first challenge. We were registrars from three separate states, with three separate exhibition and travel schedules, and with three different visions (if they existed at all) of what we were roughly wanted to do in Honolulu. When in the world were we going to find the time to talk? Surely we couldn’t wait until the last minute to get it together? Someone needed to take the lead. For purely planning purposes, a session leader needed to be anointed. Ideally, it’d be someone who had done it before (that’d be me). Even better if it’d be someone who had done it well before (the jury is most definitely out on that one).
With our first critical issue settled, and to alleviate an ever creeping, sleep disrupting sense of uncertainty, we scheduled an obligatory conference call to discuss our initial plans and thoughts for the session. Unfortunately, an untimely vet emergency instantly reduced our conference call participation by a third, leaving the other two with the task of coming up with a plan of attack. For seasoned registrars, this was a minor setback. More than any one else in the museum world, we are trained to deal with ever changing variables (living artists anyone?), and to adapt to the circumstances at hand.
We knew from day one that our biggest challenge was going to be how to make a mundane topic interesting. Our session topic is museum inventory. For art hipsters, this is akin to a session on tax accounting. Fortunately, for registrars, inventory has its own “special” meaning, so we would be presenting to about as rapt audience as we could find on an island floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Despite that, the topic remains challenging. Every presenter wants the same thing for their session, for it to be engaging, relevant, instructive, and FUN. For us the question became, how would we avoid the boring, clock dripping, powerpoint lecture that deadens the topic, and provides every member of the audience ample doodle practice?
Though very few sessions are memorable (off hand, I honestly can’t think of any that I can remember), a good session instructs and entertains. The best sessions have a lasting relevance, one where each member of the audience has one or two concrete things to take home and use for the remainder of their career. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just needs to be useful.
The best sessions also serve another purpose. They provide a glimpse of how things are done, for better or worse, at other museums, by other museum professionals. The sharing of these experiences can provide a road map and vision of where you want your museum to go, or, in worse case scenarios, where you want to avoid going. From this perspective alone, if done well, a session is often worth the wait. If, as an added bonus, a few members of the crowd thoughtfully chime in with unexpected, colorful and thought provoking stories of situations they have experienced, then all the better.
With Honolulu about a week away, our panel is busy gathering our information and props, rehearsing our session in our heads at night, and aiming to present something that matters to that one registrar out there in need of what we are about to share...
Join us for Glory, Glory Inventory on Monday, September 26 at 9:30am
Nevada Museum of Art