WaMA Conference Review: Keeping it Real in Port Townsend

By Joseph Govednik

The Washington Museum Association’s (WaMA) 2014 Annual Conference was in beautiful Port Townsend, a waterfront town known for its Victorian architecture, artistic influences, and maritime heritage. The meeting was held at the Fort Worden State Park conference center. Fort Worden is a former U.S. artillery garrison with a commanding view of Puget Sound and surrounding majestic topography. Conference goers had several options for lodging including staying in the officer’s quarters, enlisted barracks, or opting for one of the fine historic hotels in town. Port Townsend proved an ideal setting for attendees to not only network, attend sessions, and reconnect with old colleagues, but also get away from the worries of their everyday lives.

Commanding Officers Quarters at Ft. Worden State Park.

This year’s conference, running from June 18-20, 2014, encompassed the theme “Real Things, Real Stories, Real Places.” Opening with pre-conference workshops, tours, and our annual “Registrars to the Rescue” program, participants had ample opportunities grow professionally, explore the geographic history of our host city, and give back to the museum community. Being trained in museums collections management, I had the opportunity to participate in Registrars to the Rescue (R2R), now in its third year. This program was created by Rebecca Engelhardt from the Museum of Glass in Tacoma. It’s an active hands-on task force where museum registrars and collections professionals gather at a local museum in need of curatorial collections assistance. This year’s recipient of the “R2R” task force was the Jefferson County Historical Society’s Historical Research Facility. Our task this year was repacking, photographing, cleaning, and condition reporting an entire collection of bird mounts dating from the 1890’s. It was a pleasure to work with colleagues from other institutions on a collaborative collections task and give back to our community!

The opening reception on the first night took place in an 1883-built Victorian mansion with a panoramic view of the waterfront, ferry terminals, and Mount Rainier. Owners Linda and Bob McGuire graciously opened their home to conference attendees with live music, generous hors d'oeuvres, and beverages. Several other historic homes were also available for visitors to tour during the reception.

Attendees at the WaMA 2014 Opening Reception at Victorian house from 1883.

The second day of the conference opened with a general meeting attended by David King, Mayor of Port Townsend, and Jefferson County Commissioner John Austin. Both gentlemen gave a warm welcome to the audience and stressed the importance of heritage and arts organizations in communities. Our annual awards program honored exceptional works in the areas of exhibits, programs, and projects to name a few. The keynote speaker, Knute Berger, an award-winning writer, historian, and preservationist presented an inspirational and personally touching address. Knute brought up personal experiences and connected them to the challenges of humanity, culture, and real experiences. It was inspirational and thought-provoking, leading to many discussions amongst our attendees after the address concluded. His keynote address can be seen here.

A special thanks goes to our program committee for selecting relevant and compelling sessions related to “Real Things, Real Stories, Real Places.” They included topics ranging from surviving AAM accreditation and digital photogrammetry to using fiction to delve into the world of “real” things. Concluding the day’s sessions, attendees proceeded to the annual banquet at the Northwest Maritime Center. This venue was a spectacular place for our banquet, welcoming visitors with to a spread of oysters, drinks, and a buffet that included seafood selections catered by Mystery Bay Seafood Company. If eating delicious seafood at a waterfront maritime center wasn’t enough to give a local and real Port Townsend experience, the addition of sea chanty singers took things to the next level. The singers performed lively tunes that encouraged audience participation, and as the sun got lower on horizon, we headed out for more chanties and stories around an open bonfire on the beach.

Beautiful Port Townsend at sunset.

The Washington Museum Association conference in Port Townsend was a huge success due to the hard work of an active board of directors, volunteers, and engaged members. Also contributing was the wonderful hospitality afforded us by the host location of Port Townsend, which welcomed us with open arms. Having municipal representation at our meeting from the host city demonstrates a commitment toward promoting the importance of heritage and arts organizations.

On a personal note I wish to express special thanks to outgoing WaMA Board members Brenda Abney (Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center) and Maya Farrar (University of Washington Museology Program) along with Past President Eric Taylor (4Culture) for striving for excellence in our association. They have contributed greatly to a legacy our membership can be proud of, and inspiration to our current Board.

This was my fourth WaMA conference since moving to Washington State over three years ago. I have always been impressed with the WaMA and consider it an honor to work with this state-wide museum organization. I look forward to building greater ties and partnerships with regional associations like the WMA. In our tradition of holding conferences on alternating sides of the “Cascade Divide,” we are looking forward to our June 2015 conference in Goldendale at the Maryhill Museum of Art along the Columbia River. We hope to see you there after the October WMA conference in Las Vegas!

Joseph Govednik is the Curator at the Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma and President of the Washington Museum Association Board. He is active with heritage organizations at regional, state, and local levels.



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