by Dulce Kersting-Lark
I enjoy attending conferences like WMA 2018 because they combine two things that I love the most: museums and networking. Museums, of course, institutions that anyone reading this blog post have an affinity for. I know I’m not alone in my adoration for the space that museums provide to contemplate one’s place in the world, or their ability to bring beauty into our lives, or their dedication to the truth. My love for museums goes back to my childhood and led me to pursue a career in the field. I did not discover my love for networking, however, until just a few years ago. When I found myself just six months out of graduate school becoming the Executive Director for a small but active historical society, it became clear that networking would make my job a whole lot easier.
I attended the WMA conference in Las Vegas during my first year as ED, and if I’m being honest, I felt a little lost. I lacked the confidence I needed to introduce myself to speakers in the panels I attended, and I lacked the understanding I needed to translate the examples provided by folks at museums much larger than mine. I had fun – it was Vegas after all – but I wasn’t confident that I had learned a great deal.
Cut to four years later, and I found myself with the incredible opportunity to attend WMA’s conference in Tacoma, thanks to a Wanda Chin Scholarship. As I reflect on my time in Tacoma, I can point to three key differences that made my experiences entirely rewarding.
First, I felt more comfortable in my own museum-professional skin. I’ve been working in the sector for more than five years now, and I have had enough experiences to know that I too can participate in conversations with colleagues from all sorts of institutions. Simply knowing people is also a wonderful perk of being around for a while. A crowd of 500 museum folks doesn’t feel so big if you see familiar faces mixed in.
Second, it seemed to me that the conference program included a lot more sessions specifically tailored to the needs of truly small museums, like mine with just 2.5 staff. Hearing from fellow professionals who are juggling multiple responsibilities is both informative and inspiring. It is also empowering to know that WMA takes seriously the role that small and rural museums play in their communities.
Finally, I went in more prepared to dream big and be inspired by the work of my peers. Now that I better understand how my organization works, and also what it could become, I eagerly attended sessions on topics as diverse as how children’s museums create donor recognition walls, the ways that museums integrate living history into their spaces, and even how to tackle constructing a new facility.
I’m so thankful for the opportunity to attend WMA 2018 and am excited to travel to Boise next October to take advantage of all that WMA 2019 has to offer.
Dulce Kersting-Lark is Executive Director of Latah County Historical Society and a 2018 Wanda Chin Scholarship recipient.