Western Museum Association 2013 Annual Meeting – Salt Lake City

By Jonathan Bucci

This post was written by a recipient of a Wanda Chin Scholarship to attended the 2013 Annual Meeting

With generous support from the Western Museum Association (WMA) Wanda Chin Scholarship fund, I was able to attend the 2013 Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City from October 9–12, 2013. The theme of the 2013 conference was Drive On: Museums and the Future. Over the past several years, I have found that the WMA conferences are an excellent way for me to stay current with contemporary issues in the museum field and to network with other museum professionals from the West Coast.

For me, and many others in our field, day-to-day schedules at work seldom leave time to contemplate the larger questions about what we all do. I find I am often focused on the task at hand or the fire to put out. The WMA Annual Meetings that I have attended have always been a great way to hear about what others are doing and how new ideas are being incorporated into our field.

This year, I attended a number of conference sessions that addressed issues of strategic planning, community engagement, contemporary curatorial practice, and collections management. I work as collection curator at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art (HFMA) at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. We are a small university art museum connected to a liberal arts college, and work with a number of faculty curators on both permanent collection projects and special exhibitions.

Our museum is preparing to develop a new strategic plan in the next year, and I had a chance at the conference to attend a session presented by the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) leadership team on their recent strategic planning effort. UMFA serves a dual function as a university art museum on the campus of the University of Utah and as the state’s art museum. While they are a considerably larger institution than the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, there were some significant similarities regarding a mission that serves both academic and general audiences. As HFMA is beginning to prepare for a new strategic plan, it was very helpful to hear from UMFA about their recent effort.

I also attended a session that addressed the issue of curating exhibitions that include controversial subject matter. The panelists for this session included curators from Tacoma Art Museum, Oakland Museum of California, and the Sun Valley Center for the Arts. It was a good cross section of institutions and looked at a variety of case studies. Community engagement was clearly an important component to the success of the exhibitions that include controversial subjects. All of these institutions talked to their communities about the exhibitions prior to the actual opening. They met with leaders from different segments of the community who may have questions or concerns about the subject matter in the exhibition. In those meetings, they talked about the artworks in the exhibition and also spent a lot of time listening to people. The panelists emphasized that listening was the most important part of the process. It appeared that in the cases discussed, simply the act of listening to those with differing views on a subject was extremely helpful in easing any tensions that the exhibition might have generated.

I also attended collections management sessions about storage concerns for photographic materials and current issues regarding NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act). The storage session was an excellent overview of the specific concerns that surround the storage of photographic materials. While HFMA has a relatively small photography collection, I was interested in ways that I could better handle that collection and learn about those issues that are specific to photographs. In the NAGPRA session, I heard from a superb panel of experts including James Pepper Henry, Director of the Heard Museum in Phoenix and Melvin Wright, Jr., a committee member from the National NAGPRA Review Committee and Pyramid Lake Paiute tribal member. While most of HFMA’s NAGPRA issues have been resolved, there are still some that Professor Rebecca Dobkins is working on, and I was glad to get an excellent overview of the issue from some of the foremost experts in the country.

In addition to the conference sessions, I attended an informal get together with members of the Association of Academic Museum and Galleries (AAMG). I met Jill Hartz, president of AAMG and director of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, and also had a chance to catch up with Kris Andersen, Administrative Director for AAMG, among others. I also attended a wonderful evening event hosted at the UMFA. It was a chance to meet and talk with others in the field, including a recent Willamette University graduate and former intern of mine, who is currently enrolled in the museology graduate program at University of Washington. It was really great to see a former intern at the 2013 Annual Meeting and know that the experience she had here at HFMA provided her with a solid base for her graduate study and what will most definitely be a successful career in the museum field.

Many thanks to WMA for providing funding that helped me to able to attend this year’s conference.

Jonathan Bucci is the Collection Curator at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. He moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2006 after spending ten years in Washington, DC where he earned an MFA in painting from American University. He has exhibited his work throughout the mid-Atlantic and the Pacific Northwest.  While living in DC, he served as curator for the Watkins Collection and Gallery at American University (1999-2005) and as Assistant Director and Curator of Collections at the American University Museum (2005-2006).


The Wanda Chin Professional Development Support Fund helps support travel and registration for Western Museums Association members and students. The Fund is underwritten bya Silent Auction in the Exhibit Hall of each Annual Meeting. Thank you to all donors and purchasers who have supported both the Fund and professional development it makes possible. For more information, please click here.



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