by Azha Simmons
Since my time as a graduate student I’ve enjoyed attending museum conferences and the Western Museums Association Annual Meeting is one of my favorites. My attendance at this conference was very special, because I recently graduated from my Museum Studies program from John F. Kennedy University. I was no longer attending the conference as a student, but as a new emerging museum professional. As an emerging professional I furthered my participation in this year’s conference by co-hosting the EMP Happy Hour. I was very excited to start this new chapter of my professional career.
I am fairly new to my position as Development Associate and Stewardship Coordinator at Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, California. Needless to say, I arrived at the conference inspired, excited, and eager to learn. I attended sessions that were of interest to me, and sessions that would provide me with various tools and knowledge I could apply to my position.
Sticking to the theme of INSPIRE for this year’s annual meeting, I walked away feeling just that…INSPIRED. Listening to Keynote Speaker Stephanie Johnson-Cunningham was very inspiring and motivational. Stephanie’s journey of becoming a “museum infiltrator” and her work with Museum Hue was very heartfelt and motivational. The work that Museum Hue does is very essential to the museum field and for people of color. Stephanie embodies what an agent of change is and should do. I believe the museum field needs more people like Stephanie, who hold museums to their responsibility as trusted public institutions and advocates for underrepresented and marginalized communities.
I am very passionate about diversity, inclusion, and social justice within the museum field. Museums and cultural institutions are becoming sites for advocacy and social justice. However, there is still much work that needs to be done. I believe part of doing the work is by attending conferences such as WMA where museum professionals are able to engage in dialogue and have these kinds of conversations. These conversations provide insight from colleagues within the field and contribute to professional development. I hope to make an impact in the field, my institution and community.
The EMP Happy Hour was hosted by Diane Strand and Stephanie Mohr of Puget Sound, Kristen Mihalko, Austen Wianecki-Wang, and me. The Mixer was held at The Camp Bar near the conference, and we provided EMP buttons and conference ribbons, a sheet of tips and tricks from senior level professionals. The EMP Happy Hour was such a success and so much fun. More than 20 emerging professionals attended the mixer. I was able to network with colleagues and other emerging professionals in the field.
Attending the WMA annual conference through the Wanda Chin Scholarship is such an honor. I highly recommend students and emerging professionals to apply for the Wanda Chin Scholarship. Thank you, WMA and Jason B. Jones, for the wonderful opportunity.
Azha Simmons was a 2018 recipient of WMA's Wanda Chin Scholarship. She graduated from John F. Kennedy University's Museum Studies program and is currently the Development Associate and Stewardship Coordinator at Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, California.