By Heather Diamond, PhD
On April 25, 2014, the Hawai`i Museums Association (HMA) held its annual meeting and conference at the Japanese Cultural Center Grand Ballroom in Honolulu, Hawai`i. The theme of this year’s conference was Museums 20/20: Vision and Visitors. Sixty people from Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island attended. The conference was preceded and followed by optional field trips to the Bishop Museum and the Honolulu Museum of Art.
Wendy Meluch, well-known museum experience specialist, gave a keynote address that connected to the theme of the conference: Understanding & Engaging Museum Visitors. She spoke eloquently about the importance of understanding how visitor motivations, expectations, and learning styles contribute to shaping visitor experience and the value of evaluation tools to better understand our visitors so we can maximize their museum experience. With that objective in mind, she outlined a number of ways in which museums can easily and inexpensively implement survey instruments for front and formative evaluations that will yield valuable demographic and visitor preference information. She stressed that investing in evaluation is cost effective. It can provide qualitative data for grant proposals as well as measuring the effectiveness of exhibits and the overall museum environment. Wendy was co-sponsored by the University of Hawaii Museum Studies Program.
HMA has a very productive partnership with the UH Museum Studies Program, as evidenced by the morning session. Moderated by program director Professor Karen Kosasa, three museum studies students presented What’s New & Changing: Digital Initiatives at Home & Abroad. The cutting edge technology examples presented on this panel ranged from digitizing scientific collection to gaming apps as an educational tool for museums.
Roundtable discussions on a range of topics took place over lunch. Topics included Education, Visitor Experience, Exhibits, Volunteers, Community Outreach & Public Programming, and Collections. Discussions were very lively as museum staff shared challenges, ideas, and solutions.
At the annual meeting, four new board members and a new president were elected. Outgoing president Jane Hoffman reported on her trip with the VP to “Museums United” state museums workshop at Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas earlier in the month. As a result of that workshop, we look forward to capitalizing on a wealth of shared knowledge and resources in the upcoming year.
Kiersten Faulkner, Executive Director of Historic Hawai‘i Foundation, presented an afternoon session called Cultural Heritage Tourism & the Visitor Industry. Kiersten explored the benefits, opportunities, challenges, and barriers related to cultural heritage tourism and the demographics of this type of visitor. She emphasized that cultural heritage tourists are looking for history and culture that has more depth and authenticity than what they might get with tourism industry packaging and that museums are in an excellent position to deliver what this kind of visitor is seeking.
Because Hawaii’s museum professionals are spread over several islands, networking at the roundtables and no-host bar was clearly a highlight for conference attendees. We left with renewed energy and requests to create more social occasions where we can commiserate, communicate, and share information and resources.
Heather Diamond is President of the Hawai`i Museums Association, curator at Iolani Palace, and teaches online courses in American Studies for the University of Hawaii. She has a PhD in American Studies and is the author of American Aloha: Cultural Tourism and the Negotiation of Tradition (U Hawaii Press, 2008).