Navigating the Unfamiliar Museum Landscape - Jessica Conn

Written by: Jessica Conn, Marketing & Outreach Coordinator, Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix & WMA 2023 Wanda Chin Scholarship Recipient

The courtyard at the Pacific Asian MuseumWhen the opportunity to attend the WMA conference presented itself at work, I jumped at the chance. Having spent less than a year in my marketing role at the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix, the transition from a non-museum background had been challenging. However, the unwavering support from my colleagues and the local Japanese community made the journey enriching.

Early in the role, I reached out to staff at similar organizations for advice, creating a network that offered valuable insights and guidance. Convinced that the WMA conference could amplify this experience on an even larger scale, I secured approval from our executive director and, alongside my coworker Corey, applied for the Wanda Chin scholarship. Our applications detailed our personal journeys at the Garden and our enthusiasm for delving deeper into the world of museums and its vibrant and passionate community.

Upon receiving my acceptance letter, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for WMA's support, recognizing the significance of such opportunities for smaller organizations like JFGPHX.

When I arrived at the conference, a mix of excitement and nervousness fueled my anticipation. Enrolling in numerous workshops, tours, and lectures, I was eager to get insights from my peers. Despite initial nervousness about connecting with professionals from traditional museums, my doubts were swiftly cast aside.

The Japanese Garden at the Huntington LibraryThe first workshop, held at the US Pacific Asian Museum and centered around storytelling, marked the beginning of meaningful connections. With passionate lecturers Paul Gabriel, Lisa Manter, and Katherine Whitney leading the class, all of the attendees became excited to connect and work through our presented classwork. During the hands-on session, I collaborated with peers from across the West Coast, each with expertise in architecture, lighting, and development. We worked together to solve problems, united by a shared passion for education and community engagement. Beyond the structured sessions, genuine interest in each other's work and museums fostered meaningful connections that extended through lectures, mixers, and the following tours.

The conference attendees, spanning from staff and board members to guest speakers like Sandra Jackson-Dumont, all shared a common vision for their organizations, emphasizing inclusion, education, and community engagement. WMA served as a catalyst, not only introducing me to newfound peers and friends who aligned with my values but also inspiring me to integrate their mission and goals into my work at the Garden. The conference fueled my return with fresh ideas, reinforcing the importance of collaboration and innovation.

In all, the WMA conference transcended the boundaries of professional backgrounds, proving that a garden like ours could seamlessly connect with traditional museums in a shared pursuit of common goals. The experience not only broadened my network but also reinvigorated my dedication to advancing the mission of our organization. As I reflect on the transformative impact of the conference, I am excited about the ripple effects it will have on the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix, as we continue to grow and evolve in the dynamic landscape of the museum world.

Next time you visit Arizona (maybe for the next conference), please be sure to stop by our beautiful Garden and say hello!

Or give us a follow @JFGPHX on all social media.

Jessica Conn


Bio: Jessica Conn serves as the Marketing & Outreach Coordinator for the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix. She received a BA in filmmaking and a BFA in Traditional Arts from Arizona State University in 2020, allowing her to bring a unique background to her work in marketing.