Written by 2022 Wanda Chin Scholarship Recipient Jessica Hougen
This was the first conference I’ve been to since before the pandemic. The last one I went to was the California Association of Museums (CAM) in March 2020. That one was great, but weird. We all knew something was happening but we didn’t yet know the severity of the situation. It was business as usual, with plenty of hand sanitizer to go around.
During the early days of the pandemic I worried a lot. I worried about my job, my museum, and my community. As the days wore on and the reality of the situation set in, I became too busy dealing with the situation to worry about the big picture. But I would read reports and headlines about the impacts on museums. I was afraid for museums, for this industry that I love, and for all of the fantastic museum professionals being affected in terribly negative ways by it.
Since then, I accepted a new job and moved to Oregon. This is my first museum job in Oregon, although it is my home state. I have followed my career across the country for the last 18 years, always hoping and trying to get back home. Finally, in the middle of the pandemic, this opportunity arose.
What does all this have to do with receiving the Wanda Chin Scholarship to attend the OMA/WMA conference?
For me, the conference felt like a celebration. On a personal level, celebrating finding a position that I love which allowed me to move home and be close to my family. On a professional level, celebrating the fact that we are here, our museums survived, and that we were finally gathering again to share ideas, excitement, and love of the work that we do. Receiving the Wanda Chin Scholarship allowed me to participate in this celebration of museums and all of the wonderful people doing the amazing, challenging work that we do in this industry.
The museum world is a challenging one to work in. But every time I attend a conference I am reminded of the good we do in the world, the impact that we have on our communities, and the value of the arts and humanities to the world.
At this conference I attended sessions on disaster planning, museums and climate change, land acknowledgements, and labelling historic figures with modern language and values. These were all so valuable. I learned a lot, and brought a lot of information and ideas back to my institution. But for me, the most valuable aspect of the conference was connecting with people. Meeting people face-to-face whom I had only met via email. Making new friends and new connections. Getting to visit museums with other people who enjoy them as much as I do.
I consider myself to be an extroverted introvert. I can extrovert all day, and often do for my job. I need a significant amount of recharge time periodically. This is, if I’m being honest, one of the most difficult parts of being an Executive Director. I didn’t realize in the early days of the pandemic how much I would miss connecting with people, visiting busy public spaces, just simply being around other people. Getting that back is what I celebrated at the conference with all of you.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to celebrate.
Jessica Hougen is the Executive Director of the Benton County Historical Society, which has museums in Philomath and Corvallis, Oregon. She has worked in museums in New York, Arkansas, Nevada, and California before returning to Oregon in 2021. When not at work she can be found working on her fixer-upper home with her boyfriend, 2 dogs and 3 cats. Yes, that’s a lot of fur.