Making Connections: Finding the Next Steps at WMA 2018

by Timothy Hecox

Attending the Western Museums Association (WMA) 2018 Annual Conference in Tacoma, Washington proved to be an inspiring experience. Receiving the Wanda Chin Scholarship provided me with opportunities that will advance my work as a Grants Coordinator at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) and as the Board President of the Oregon Museums Association (OMA) – as well as inform my next steps as a mid-career museum professional. Looking back on my time in Tacoma, I see three overlapping themes:   

Advancing Equity, Diversity, Accessibility, and Inclusion in Museums

I found a great deal of inspiration and appreciation in the wealth of panels and presenters sharing personal experiences, promising practices, tools, and resources in advocating for the advancement of equity, diversity, accessibility, and inclusion (EDAI) in museums. I believe the influx of support from museum affiliated organizations like WMA and the American Alliance of Museums has contributed to a greater movement amongst museum professionals in positioning our institutions to serve as sites for social action and better represent the communities we serve.

Kicking-off the conference with keynote Stephanie Johnson-Cunningham offered a personal testament and inspiration that echoed through the remainder of the meeting. Hearing about her leadership in the co-creation of Museum Hue and dedication to creating community and opportunities for creatives of color within museums gave me both inspiration and motivation in taking steps of my own in creating more welcoming spaces for people of all backgrounds and abilities. In support of their mission, both myself (as an ally member) and OMSI (as an institutional member) have joined Museum Hue. As a supporting member, I will have the opportunity to expand my network, meet like-minded allies, and support Huers seeking career advancement and leadership opportunities to even the playing field for people of color. As an institutional member, OMSI will have the opportunity to advertise job postings and exhibition openings to a broader audience and cast a wider net amongst people of color.

Networking with Colleagues  

As Board President of OMA, I was interested in attending this year’s WMA annual meeting as an opportunity to connect with OMA members and gain a better understanding of how other museum-affiliated associations support the needs and interests of member organizations through hosting an annual conference.

From what I experienced at WMA, I was particularly impressed with the quality and diversity of conference sessions and collaboration amongst host city museums such as the Museum of Glass, Washington State History Museum, Foss Waterway Seaport, and Tacoma Art Museum. I look forward to connecting with WMA staff and board members to learn more about their program committee planning process and approach to collaborating with local museum institutions specifically related to volunteer recruitment and hosting evening events.

Tools and Resources

Through networking with colleagues and attending conference sessions, poster presentations, and evening events, I gained access to a wealth of tools and resources to inform my work in museums. Session panelists in When Museums and Communities Connect shared personal experiences on how they have used their museum’s diversity and inclusion statements as a communication tool in navigating and taking a stance on race related events in their local communities. OMSI has recently developed an equity statement of our own and I am looking forward to sharing these stories in an effort to inform how my institution communicates with both staff and the public around times of race related and culturally sensitive events. Panelists in Undoing Institutional Racism: An Ongoing Project took attendees on a participatory journey of unpacking a real example of museum visitors experiencing institutional racism. Although many seemed challenged on navigating and contributing to the conversation, I felt the session presented a realistic experience of what it is like to address issues of institutional racism with colleagues and co-workers. Framed as An Ongoing Project, I look forward to hearing how the next iteration of this session unfolds at the 2019 WMA conference in Boise, ID.  Presenters in Advocating at the State and Local Levels shared a long list of strategies and on-line resources for empowering museum staff to make state and local elected officials aware of, and responsive to, the needs of their institutions. The Oregon Museums Association is currently in the process of redesigning our website to include a similar list of advocacy resources and I look forward to utilizing what I learned in this session to empower museums throughout Oregon.

Thank you to everyone at WMA and to the Wanda Chin Scholarship committee who made my attendance possible. I had a great time and very much look forward to reconnecting at future WMA conferences and events. 

Tim Hecox was 2018 Wanda Chin Scholarship recipient; he is the Grants Coordinator at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and Board President of the Oregon Museums Association.



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