Written by 2022 Wanda Chin Scholarship recipient Keala Rusher
The opportunity to attend the Western Museums Association Annual Meeting as an emerging museum professional was incredibly valuable for all the ways the weekend reaffirmed that building strong and authentic relationships with community must be at the forefront of museum work. While building relationships with community is already central to our work at the Museum of Us, with other guiding principles included in more detail here, the impacts of the pandemic have necessitated rethinking and even more intentionally caring for our connection with others.
So many of the sessions throughout the Annual Meeting provided actionable examples of how to support and connect with the communities we serve, through both educational and public programs. I learned several strategies from experienced museum educators that will support student engagement and the facilitation of important conversations about race and colonization at the Museum of Us. Equally important were the sessions that shared opportunities to incorporate joy and self-expression into programming.
These programming and educational experiences can look many different ways in museums. Learners benefit immensely from making connections between content and their own lived experiences, engaging with new perspectives, and reflecting on their learning experience.
It was powerful to observe the way that several Portland institutions are cultivating opportunities and spaces for reflection. A notable space of collective reflection was the Perspectives exhibition at the Portland Art Museum, focusing on Portland’s Black Lives Matter protests during the summer of 2020. The space documents this human rights movement through the lens of local Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) photographers and by featuring signs from the protests.
This exhibition is accompanied by a reflection guide that includes thoughtful prompts to ground visitors and guide them through the exhibit.
I noticed other spaces for reflection at the Oregon Historical Society, where visitors can engage with learning and reflection as they see fit. This engagement might look a few different ways in the space below; perhaps talking with anyone they are moving through the space with, or picking out a book and getting comfortable.
It was an enjoyable experience to participate in sessions during the day and have the opportunity to engage with multiple museums within walking distance in the evening. In such a short time, I was able to visit so many spaces, and learn from so many knowledgeable museum people, which would not have been possible without the Wanda Chin Scholarship. I am deeply grateful to have received this scholarship because it allowed me to participate in the WMA Annual Meeting this year.
My first museum conference was a weekend filled to the brim with time to learn and connect with others who share a vision of what museums can be if they are welcoming, accountable, sustainable, and reflective of the diverse communities we serve.
I am left considering many questions that I will certainly work to answer in the coming year. If I arrive at any conclusions, I hope to be able to share them with all the wonderful people I met in Portland wherever the next Western Museums Association Annual Meeting will take place.
Biography: Keala is an educator and emerging museum professional living on unceded ancestral Kumeyaay homeland, also known as San Diego, California. She is passionate about many things, including anti-racist and decolonial education, racial and social justice, climate justice, tea, and riding bikes.
Keala Rusher @kealafornia
Museum of Us @museumofallofus