By Brianna Cencak
“Take a Risk. It’s The Most Edmonton Thing You Can Do.” These were the big, bold words that were painted across a tall building that caught my eye on my walk back from a pre-conference workshop. Risk-taking can be perceived in so many different ways. Some people thrive off taking risks, whether in their personal or professional lives, or perhaps even both. Others, like myself, find risks to be uncomfortable. The mere thought of not knowing the exact outcome of a situation instantly raises my heartrate and puts me in a slight panic. However, after three years in the museum world, I’ve come to learn that risks are a necessity.
During the 2017 WMA/AMA Joint International Museum Conference, I believe “taking risks” was behind each and every session, workshop, and networking opportunity I attended.
Let’s start out with networking. As an emerging museum professional, networking should be a piece of cake, right? Not so much. This was my first year attending a conference such as this, and I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. Sure, I’ve gone to other conferences that align more with my line of work (STEM, environmental education, school programs, etc.), but never have I attended a “museums” conference. After the speed-networking event the first night, I realized my organization (a museum complex with soon to be 5 venues) was not the norm. The majority of people I had talked to were part of small arts or cultural institutions in which they assumed the roles of director, curator, programs coordinator, and more! Instead of sticking with my first initial thought of not having anything in common with these people, I decided to take this opportunity to learn of the challenges other museums face, what role they see themselves as in their communities, and how they are adjusting to change. Luckily the conference provided many networking opportunities, including breaks between sessions, lunches, and evening events (liquid courage is a real thing!) I highly recommend any new emerging professional to take advantage of these opportunities. Even if it seems uncomfortable at first, you will not regret the connections and friendships you develop over the course of the conference!
Now to the best part of the conference: the sessions. A lot of times, we want to attend sessions that fit our role in our organization or what aligns best with our interests. I agree that it’s always good to expand our knowledge in one particular area, but why not take a risk by branching out? The hot topics for this conference, including “unity,” “inclusion,” and “diversity”, are often subjects that are uncomfortable and easily avoided. I admire each and every presenter that took the risk of speaking out about issues like institutional racism, climate justice, and colonialism. Each session I attended was honest, unfiltered, and thought-provoking. Regardless of the issue presented, I realized how important it is that we as museums serve as inclusive places in our community where ideas can be exchanged, built upon, and even challenged. Just as the mural painted on a downtown building was designed to get citizens of Edmonton to take risks and rethink what their role is in their city, I challenge you to do the same in your museum. Face those challenging topics. Get out of your comfort zone. Take a risk.
Brianna Cencak was a recipient of WMA's 2017 Wanda Chin Scholarship. She is a School Programs Coordinator at Thanksgiving Point Institute in Lehi, Utah. She completed her B.S. in Environmental Science at Westminster College. As an emerging museum professional, she is eager to continue to share her passion for science and environmental sustainability in the museum field.