First Impressions - Cory Strawhun

Written by Cory Strawhun, Interim Associate Director and Operations Manager at the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix, and WMA 2023 WC Scholarship Recipient

It’s straightforward enough to look at past WMA conferences and programming to think you know what you’ll be getting yourself into over the course of a few days. I also got the inside scoop from past attendees and their experiences. I was prepared for a conference, but not this conference. Jump to the return trip home and the talk was all WMA 2024 and how to make that possible for more staff. So, what happened and why did a fellow like me end up with a proud museum person T-shirt?

Strawhun 1.jpgIt could be because our Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix team showed up three strong to the event. Or possibly, I just needed a break from the routine of day-to-day at the office. Either way, I can tell you with confidence the bubble encompassing the event was welcoming beyond my imagination. It’s been a little over a month and that sense of being recharged after meeting with such a talented and passionate group has only begun to wear. The Western Museum Association (WMA) Pasadena 2023 Conference did something I didn’t expect at all. The conference was a living and breathing example of the mission, vision, and core values and I don’t know exactly who’s responsible, but somebody went and made it fun.

This was my first deep look into the professional museum world, and I fell in love with the community and the space WMA created. I got to meet some of the people who inspired me and identified with attendees about issues challenging the museum space. There was plenty of time to connect with individuals in workshops, happy hours, evening events, and more. Some of the more useful and interesting learning experiences came from unexpected places. It was side conversations before a workshop or strolling through a gallery at an evening event with someone you just met. There’s kindness in abundance and endless experience to draw upon.

Strawhun 2.jpgOne of the experiences to write home about was the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. I was able to connect with some of the staff that had worked with us in the past and it meant a great deal to see what they were working on in person. We’ve heard countless stories of their beautiful space and their Japanese Garden. There was literally so much to see (and it is so relevant to our nonprofit) that I actually went back to see it a few days after the tour.

I was especially appreciative to hear the unique voices, perspectives, and ideas of others. The topics we discussed were relevant to all institutions in some way and I loved finding out the way each person approached the content. One of the many takeaways is about where I have room to improve, and I couldn’t have picked a better place/space to start.

I’m left feeling incredibly grateful for the opportunity to listen, engage, and be heard. Receiving the Wanda Chin Scholarship made this trip possible and the attendees, speakers, board, and volunteers made it memorable.


Social Media Handles: @JFGPHX

Bio: My name is Corey Strawhun, and after receiving a bachelor's in international Sustainability at Arizona State University, I began work at a local non-profit in Mesa (Garden Pool) where I began my non-profit adventures. I went back to school to get an Executive Master of Sustainable Leadership with an emphasis on non-profits and graduated in 2019. Currently, I am the Interim Associate Director and Operations Manager at the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix where I have worked for the last two years.