By Cho Rao
This post was written by a recipient of a Wanda Chin Scholarship to attend the 2014 Annual Meeting
Attending the Western Museums Association’s 2014 Annual Meeting in October included many firsts. It was my first time at a regional museum conference, it was my first time in Nevada, let alone Las Vegas, it was also my first time hiking through the desert, looking for (earth) art!
I am very grateful to the Wanda Chin Scholarship Program for their generous support, which made it possible for me to attend the WMA 2014 Annual Meeting. As a soon-to-be graduate in Museum Studies from the University of San Francisco, attending this conference was essential to my professional development. It was a wonderful opportunity to hear and learn from experts and veterans in the field, as I embark upon what I hope to be a fruitful and fulfilling career in museums. I also very much enjoyed meeting and spending time with museum colleagues from a wide array of institutions.
The Annual Meeting sessions addressed many topics from big issues such as museum leadership to dealing with the minutia in writing exhibit labels. One session that I found very useful was on Strategies for Museum Writing. It took place at 8am in the morning, so admittedly bleary eyed, but with pen and paper pad (conveniently supplied by the WMA in each session room) in hand, I ventured in with the tools of the trade, so to speak. The panelists were extremely liberal with their advice and guidance; sharing from personal experiences, they provided valuable insights and tips on, the often tricky, writing process. I especially liked the interactive format of the session, which meant that we also connected with and learned from other attendees. Writing is an important tool in any field, but in museums communicating well is essential to providing our audiences with meaningful and lasting experiences in our institutions. As I am currently writing my master’s thesis, it was especially useful to be reminded that “writing is not a magical gift from god” but a skill that can be learned and mastered, with patience and practice.
Another session I found helpful was “Speaking for Others.” This is in a nutshell is my thesis topic, so I was very glad to see it included in the roster of sessions at the WMA 2014 Annual Meeting. Although the context here was more about culturally specific museums in the United States and my thesis has to do with museums built in the colonial era functioning in a postcolonial society, I presumed the common threads would still be considerable. During the presentation, my thoughts took me to a quote by Toni Morrison, “In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” As an immigrant from India who plans to become a US citizen, this missive resonates with me on a very personal level, however as an emerging museum professional committed to diversity and inclusion, this is something I hope to see altered in the future. I believe that museums can be and should be powerful agents for social change and I look forward to helping build the much-needed cultural bridges required for the success of museums moving forward into the 21st century.
Of all the evening programs I attended, once again thanks to being a Wanda Chin Scholarship recipient, our visit to the Neon Museum in downtown Las Vegas stands out as a favorite. Not only had the WMA put together a fun event at cool location, I was thoroughly impressed by the Neon Museum’s extensive collections, exhibited in a unique outdoor space termed the “boneyard.” The history of the city of Las Vegas really comes alive through the stories behind these vintage neon signs, reminding me of the many forms that museums and museum learning, can take.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the WMA board, staff and volunteers for their dedication and hard work. The 2014 Annual Meeting was an incredibly pleasurable and informative experience. My passion for museums and the work we do in them for the public was both validated and strengthened. I was delighted to meet and get to know fellow museum colleagues also committed to the field, with whom I hope to stay connected.
Cho Rao is a Master’s candidate in Museum Studies at the University of San Francisco. She worked closely with the Visual Arts team at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to develop and produce the exhibition, The Matter Within, showcasing contemporary art from India. She has also served on the special events committee of ArtSpan, a Bay Area non-profit organization supporting local artists and has worked extensively with the SFMOMA’s auxiliary group SECA (Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art). Her current projects include cataloging an important private collection, speaking engagements on contemporary Indian art and museums in India and contributing to a book on art and globalization in the 21st century.