Modern Museums: Relevant & Resilient --The 2018 CAM Conference

By: Jennifer Caballero, CAM Program Co-Chair 2018

Museums in the Golden State are facing challenges that are not unique to California – they are tackling uncomfortable topics, communicating about current events, and finding new ways to use rapidly-changing technology to achieve goals.

From February 5-7, more than 400 museum professionals from across California spent time thinking about all of these challenging issues and more in the dry, desert paradise that is Palm Springs. It was the ideal setting to explore the 2018 CAM conference theme of Relevant & Resilient.  


In those three short days, attendees enjoyed a rich selection of opportunities to share ideas with colleagues, gain helpful insights about innovations happening at the forefront of the museum field, and get inspired about new ways to fulfill institutional mission.   


The Palm Springs host committee devised great pre-conference experiences, including customized tours of iconic Midcentury Modern architecture, and a wide-ranging choice of lenses through which to experience the region, including the sustainable materials approach used to create Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, and the wildlife and botanical collections at The Living Desert.  Those attending workshops found options to build new skills in the areas of donor communications, strategic planning for tiny museums, and tips for EMPs on interviewing and writing an effective resume cover letter.

The opening reception took place at the conference hotel, the Renaissance Palm Springs, where the group was welcomed to the greater Coachella region with a performance by the Pai nik tem Bird Singers, who performed using the same type of handmade gourd rattles that have been use by Native Americans for 25,000 years according to oral tradition.

Highlighting the Director’s Dinner at the Palm Springs Art Museum was the presentation of the CAMMY Award to the California Preservation Program. Dinner guests then heard stories shared by museum directors in Santa Rosa and Sonoma who experienced the most destructive series of wildfires in California’s history, and how those museums are helping their communities heal and rebuild.  Dialogue Dinners that same night addressed topics such as influencer marketing campaigns, volunteer engagement, and solving collections conundrums.

The Opening Town Hall featured Bob Beatty of The Lyndhurst Group.  Beatty’s talk focused on how museums and historic sites across the country are working to present state and local history in ways that are relevant to modern tastes and values. Thinking about meaning in monuments was a topic that launched deeper conversation throughout the subsequent sessions, particularly those addressing collections, museum operations, public programs, and external affairs.

Inspired by the opening events and activities, CAM 2018 attendees began a two-day immersion into sessions tackling wide-ranging topics, many that transcended specific practice areas.  One example was Our Responsibility: Supporting and Sustaining Passionate Staff, which championed the strategies and tools to improve the equity and quality of life for museum staff.

The maker stations provided CAM 2018 attendees with fun and creative break activities between sessions.  Round reed basketry, watercolor painting, and a “Lifecasting with Veterans” demonstration offered a chance to learn and explore while also taking a breather from the full lineup of panels, case studies, and networking.

The hallways buzzed with energy and follow-up discussions.  Throughout CAM 2018, roundtable conversations addressed topics such as building a culture of philanthropy, perspectives on partnerships with public schools and libraries, and strategies for museum professionals to succeed in the gig economy.  The conference theme of finding relevance and staying resilient when faced with change came up many times during roundtable sharing!

Sunnylands Center & Gardens hosted an off-site gathering for conference participants and offered the rare opportunity for a docent-led mini-tour at the historic estate during evening hours. Also on view was the new archive building, and museum professionals delighted in the chance to peek behind the curtain of the expansive Annenberg family collection.  

Access to Midcentury architectural gems and immersion in the spectacular Coachella Valley landscape made a strong impression on those who took part in CAM 2018.  Utilizing the opportunity for constituent dialogue, CAM’s board of directors staffed a table where conference goers could learn more about advocacy issues important to the museum field across the state, or get motivated to order a Snoopy license plate. And while chatting about these important initiatives, CAM board representatives also used an interactive tabletop activity to help the CAM Program Committee stay mindful about what conference attendees would find relevant at future conferences:











The next annual CAM Conference will take place February 7-9, 2019, and plans are underway for yet another inspiring conference experience. The conference takes place at the Parc 55 in the heart of San Francisco, with 11 museums within walking distance from the hotel. The call for proposals is now open and closes May 11, 2018.  See you in San Francisco!








Jennifer Caballero has been part of the Program Committee for CAM since 2012 and served as Co-Chair of the 2016-2018 CAM Conferences. She is the Marketing Director at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.




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