Inspiring through Collections and Community

by Alannah DeBusk, Registrar, Sharlot Hall Museum

Whenever I think about what personally inspires me, I always reflect back on the wonderful museums I have visited and the incredible museum professionals I have met and worked with. And where inspiration and museums always collide is at the Western Museums Association’s Annual Meeting. It’s no wonder why the theme for this year’s meeting was Inspire.

Throughout the sessions I started brainstorming about how I could bring the knowledge and experiences of others back to my institution. All of the sessions directly related to my current position whether they were about advocating for the collections, how to use the collections to the benefit of the visitor, or what it is like to work “in the middle”. Each day inspired another new idea in me but the sessions that stuck with me the most were: When Museums and Communities Connect, Turning Controversy into Learning Opportunities, and Using Collection Objects and Primary Sources to Engage Audiences.

When Museums and Communities Connect really drove home just how important our communities are to the success of our museums. My greatest take away from this session was museums should strive to be seen as a “neighbor” and not just an institution. This session inspired me to advocate for my museum to make more of an effort to connect with the multiple communities that surround us, and not solely focus on our members. Museums can be a great resource to their communities but it should not be forgotten how communities can also be an abundant resource to museums. 

While working on future exhibits I will always think of the lessons shared in the session Turning Controversy into Learning Opportunities. History has many ugly sides that should not be shied away from but how we present these topics is just as important.When interpreting events, such as war, we need to consider the range of emotions our visitors may have while viewing exhibits on such topics. Controversial objects should not be censored but museums need to present accurate information while giving meaning and context to the objects. Doing so will provide a space for visitor discussion and conversation while learning about heavier subjects.

Using Collections Objects and Primary Sources to Engage Audiences stressed the importance of visitor interaction with collections. The use of objects, historical artifacts, photographs, and more, can make for a memorable, inspiring, and fun experience for visitors. This session inspired me to advocate for displaying more of our museum collection for the public to enjoy as much as I do. I have always believed that learning through objects and primary sources to be one of the best and most memorable ways to learn and I hope I can help provide that for many museum visitors. 

While all the sessions I attended were inspiring and made me think about all the information and ideas I could bring back to my own institution, the most inspiring aspect of the conference was my visit to the Washington State History Museum. The way in which the stories and histories were told was the most impressive aspect of the museum to me. The Washington State History Museum wove these histories into numerous and varying interactives throughout the entirety of their exhibits. While artifacts on their own can tell stories that inspire, being able to deeply connect is what every museum should aspire to promote. The Washington State History Museum does this be immersing the visitor into history. One can walk into a coal mine or view the inside of a ship being built. While many years out, my institution is planning on a complete revamp of our exhibit spaces. My visit to the Washington State History Museum has helped inspire my view on the many possibilities new exhibits can bring and how exciting we can make history and learning for our visitors.

I was excited to attend another WMA meeting thanks to the Wanda Chin Scholarship. This scholarship allowed me to hear incredible stories from other institutions, meet professionals from around the region, and visit one of the most inspiring history exhibits I have seen recently. The whole experience of WMA helped me realize my role in creating inspiring museum experiences for the benefit of our communities.


Alannah is the Collections Registrar at the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott, Arizona. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Northern Arizona University and a master’s degree with an emphasis on collections management from John F. Kennedy University.  



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