Written by: Elayne Hinsch, 2023 Wanda Chin Scholarship Recipient
The excitement of attending the WMA (Western Museums Association) for the first time grew as I arrived in Pasadena, California. As a recipient of the Wanda Chin Scholarship, I was grateful for this opportunity. The scholarship allowed me the privilege to attend the conference by offsetting the cost. I pondered how WMA differed from the previous museum conferences I have attended previously, UMA (Utah Museums Associated) and AAM (American Alliance of Museums). I was pleasantly surprised that WMA feels more intimate which I associate with state conferences.
I began the conference by attending a field trip to the Huntington Library, Botanical Gardens, and Museum. It was enlightening. My background in the field revolved around archaeological and historical collections. The behind-the-scenes look at the conservation lab, the herbarium, and a quick peak in the gardens and art museum was wonderful. It was incredible to see the conservators at work on books, paper, and even paintings in the conservation lab. The herbarium’s purpose was interesting, as I have never thought about how botanists strive to conserve and document plant species. The entire experience allowed me a unique insight into the conservation efforts made at a large institution. Another advantage of attending the field trip was it allowed a more natural setting to meet fellow colleagues. Throughout the conference, I found myself seeking out and checking in with a few individuals that I met during the field trip.
As the sessions kicked off, I got inspired by the opening ceremony and keynote speaker. I felt a renewed sense of purpose as the ceremony finished. It was the perfect feeling to begin the breakout sessions. There were many fantastic sessions. One of the most impactful elements that was echoed throughout the sessions, actions speak louder than words.
This sentiment goes into so many aspects of the museum and as a professional. Museums are considered safe spaces. We must make commitments to better our institutions, but we must always follow through and keep those promises. When we fail to fulfill our commitments, we fail everyone including ourselves. But that goes into other factors, we must always consider what we are able to accomplish. Too many times we say “yes” to keep the institution growing, but oftentimes saying "yes" places strain on the staff and us as individuals because there is a lack of time and resources needed to fulfill the promise. It is no secret that museum professionals are facing severe burnout. We feel the implications of being a “safe space” and want to give everyone what they want but we fail to take care of ourselves. It is okay to say “no” or “not right now” when we know we cannot fulfill the promise completely. This sentiment was best described as passion exploitation. We are a part of museums because we have a passion for bettering our fields and communities, but we have to take care of ourselves.
As the conference came to an end, I attended the evening event hosted at the USC Pacific Asia Museum. It was a great time to catch up and say final good-byes to the attendees. The koi pond was really relaxing and it was nice to walk through the exhibits. It was a nice way to finish the last night in Pasadena.
Overall, this was an amazing conference. WMA did an amazing job of leading tough discussions. Throughout the I was able to connect with museum professionals, inspired by many presenters, and most importantly I was reminded that I am not alone in my struggles. I find myself thinking back on the different discussions, and the whole experience was amazing. I look forward to future WMA conferences.
Elayne Hinsch is the curator and collections manager at the John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Green River, Utah. The JWP River History Museum focuses on river history throughout the Colorado Plateau. She is a member of the Utah Collections Preservation Team, and has a passion for collections care. She has a M.A. in Public History from the University of West Florida.