Community and Connection: WMA Through the Eyes of an Introvert - Katie Foggiano

Written by Katie Foggiano, Conservation Services Manager at Balboa Art Conservation Center and WMA 2023 Wanda Chin Scholarship Recipient

Receiving the scholarship to attend WMA was as exciting as it was terrifying for me. Full transparency: as an introvert, attending a conference where you have to be “on” for four days straight honestly sounds like a waking nightmare. Add to that the state of, well, *motions vaguely around at everything*, and the idea of attending this conference was becoming more daunting by the day. To quote the late Steve Harwell, “My world’s on fire, how ‘bout yours?” However, I knew that professionally, this was a huge step for me. I had never attended a museum conference before, and we all know that a huge part of career development is putting yourself out there. So, I packed my bags and off to Pasadena we went. 

The first night I attended the Speed Networking event and Opening Reception. A whirlwind of an event to throw oneself into as an introvert, but it set the theme of the conference- Connection- immediately in motion. Throughout the conference, I was greeted with warm smiles and kind hellos from the people I met on that first day. This experience corresponded with Sandra Jackson-Dumont’s Keynote, where she posed some key questions to us all: 

“Why are we so committed to being perfect?”

“What makes a life relevant?”

“How can we create a sense of home and belonging in our museums?” 

These questions set my mind spinning around this concept of connecting and community. The sessions that I attended only made my mind move faster. Specifically, I would like to call out how influential I found Reclaiming Land - In and Out of the Museum, Shifting Power Dynamics: Dismantling Colonial Practices, Re(centering) the Conversation: from Decolonization to Indigenization, Museums as Neighbors, and Living Cultures, Living Collections: Bishop Museum’s Pacific Pipeline. All of these centered around different aspects of shifting the field's priorities to focus on the needs of their community.


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(From left to right) Karen Kosas, Noelle Kahanu, Kamalu du Preez, Josh Tengan, and
Halena Kapuni-Reynolds at the Re(centering) the Conversation: from Decolonization to Indigenization session.


In the field we tend to overcomplicate and overthink things: “Why are we so committed to being perfect?”, especially when it comes to where to start when building community. Heck, I'm guilty of overthinking myself! I built up in my mind that this conference to be some scary, daunting thing, rather than the warm and fulfilling experience it turned out to be. Building community within our organizations is equivalent to maintaining relationships in all facets of our lives. It starts with showing up. Show up for your community like you do your friends and family. Go to community events. Support local businesses. Just walk around. Be present.

In real life, we make mistakes in our relationships. We say the wrong thing, we forget to call a family member back, or we miss a birthday. And when we do, we listen to our friends, partners, and family. We own our mistakes, we apologize, and we take action and add the dang birthday to our calendars so we don’t forget again! What makes a life relevant? Again, we are present. We listen. We relate. We grow. 

To me, all these thoughts culminated at the activity station for Kumeyaay Constellation Bookmarks and Community Murals. This was the time I felt the most connected at the conference. Friends I had met in the days prior, coupled with the knowledge I had gained throughout the conversations and sessions, made the feeling of community at the station blossom. “How can we create a sense of home and belonging in our museums?” I kept going back to the station! I kept asking people what constellation they were picking and why. I reconnected with people whom I had met earlier and got to ask how the rest of their conference had been. And yes: I also made my fair share of bookmarks! (Shout out to Zak and Kurosh for their extended patience in helping me when I kept doing the foam blocks in the wrong


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Kumeyaay Constellation Bookmarks and Community Murals activity station


While I was expecting to come away from this experience feeling exhausted and drained, WMA left me feeling hopeful about the future of our field. That at the base level, we are all just humans, who are all pushing ourselves and trying to be better: for ourselves, for our communities, and for future generations. There is always more to do, and always more progress to be made. But attending this conference, making those connections, and being surrounded by our own little committed community made me come away refreshed and ready to continue striving for better. 


Katie Foggiano (she/her/hers) is passionate about ensuring that organizations are accessible for all peoples- differently-abled, neurodivergent, and socioeconomic status; and best represent the communities that they are meant to serve. Katie is the Conservation Services Manager at Balboa Art Conservation Center in San Diego, California. Prior to BACC, Katie worked as the Development Coordinator at the Museum of Us. Katie holds an MA in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University.