People Get to Work in Museums?!: My Experiences at the WMA Annual Meeting

By Kristine McCarty

This post was written by a recipient of a Wanda Chin Scholarship to attended the 2013 Annual Meeting

 I never wanted to work in a museum.

Not that I was against it—the thought had just never occurred to me.

Almost two years ago, a position for an intern opened up at the Idaho Museum of Natural History (IMNH) on the campus of Idaho State University. The position was a paid internship as Assistant to the Registrar.

“People get to work in museums,” I thought to myself; it was both a question and a statement, really. Of course people work in museums…but why hadn’t I considered it as an employment option before?

“...and what does a registrar do?”

I was intrigued. I applied for the internship, and shortly after, I was hired for the position. I have learned so much in my time as an intern at the IMNH, and when an opportunity to learn more about the profession in a broader context (i.e. the Western Museums Association 2013 Annual Meeting) presented itself, I was quite eager to participate.

I was lucky enough to be awarded the Wanda Chin Professional Development Scholarship to help fund my attendance to the Western Museums Association (WMA) 2013 Annual Meeting. The conference, held in Salt Lake City, Utah, was the first I have attended, and it was fantastic. I am so grateful that the Wanda Chin Scholarship gave me this opportunity. The receptions, sessions, evening events, and exhibit hall events were all fun and informative. I learned a great deal and met many interesting museum professionals.

Of the sessions I attended, two in particular stand out. The first is “Reflections and Projections: Perspectives on the Museum Profession.” It was inspiring to hear the wisdom and insights offered by those with extensive careers in the field. Gail Anderson, Arthur Wolf, and Steven Olsen shared their personal triumphs and struggles over the course of their own careers, and discussed their perspectives on the past and future of the profession with the audience. Throughout the discussion, there was a focus on the importance of community involvement, understanding the true role of the museum, and embracing innovation.

Another great session was that on “Diverse Approaches to Collaborative Exhibitions.” All three presenters had great examples of their institutions partnering with the community in order to engage the community and create richer, more diverse exhibits. Keni Sturgeon, Curator and Director of the Willamette Heritage Center in Oregon, discussed their Hidden Gems exhibit in which they invited other museums to bring in a few of their most interesting or unique objects related to a specific topic. By working with other institutions in the area, the Willamette Heritage Center was able to provide other professionals with training and development opportunities, help raise awareness and visitation to neighboring museums, and build strong relationships with those institutions (and, of course, put together some very cool exhibits in the process).

I also had the opportunity, thanks to the Wanda Chin Scholarship, to attend the evening event at the Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU). Since my internship is at a natural history museum, I was quite excited to see the way the Natural History Museum of Utah presented similar topics. I was not disappointed! The new Rio Tinto Center is spectacular; 5-floors allow the NHMU to present a lot of information, and they definitely make good use of the space. Each exhibit was displayed in a way that was fun, informative, and aesthetically pleasing. The interactive elements were particularly fun, even for adults. (At one point, I found myself kneeling on the floor doodling a dinosaur with crayons. Time well spent, of course.) Particularly interesting was the open paleo-prep lab which allows visitors to watch scientists as they work.

The 2013 Annual Meeting was a great opportunity to meet other museum professionals and learn about the future of the profession. Conferences such as these are also a reminder that what we do at our own institutions can serve as a way to connect us with the broader museum community. For me, the greatest part was being able to hear the stories of how other museum professionals got started, the paths they took, and the obstacles they overcame. These stories, whether shared in a formal conference session or over drinks in a bar in downtown Salt Lake City, were the most valuable and the most inspiring. It would be tough to find a group of people more devoted to and more passionate about the work they do than museum professionals. I hope to one day count myself among those professionals.

Kristine McCarty holds an internship at the Idaho Museum of Natural History in Pocatello, Idaho, as the Assistant to the Registrar. She is currently completing her undergraduate degree in anthropology and marketing at Idaho State University and will pursue her master’s degree in the Fall.


The Wanda Chin Professional Development Support Fund helps support travel and registration for Western Museums Association members and students. The Fund is underwritten bya Silent Auction in the Exhibit Hall of each Annual Meeting. Thank you to all donors and purchasers who have supported both the Fund and professional development it makes possible. For more information, please click here.



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