Written by Aaron Eagles, Store Curator/Manager, S'edav Va'aki Museum, & WMA 2023 Wanda Chin Scholarship Recipient
I am fortunate to have been to some amazing conferences all over the world, and lucky to have been chosen to attend because of a few different professional positions that I’ve had. A few favorites were: the SMART Cities Conference in Mumbai and Beijing and ASU’s SMART Region Conference at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. All 3 of these conferences were made possible because of some amazing people I work with or know, who invested in me financially and made attending these conferences a reality. I would have never had the means to make it to these conferences on my own. Still, as I get closer to where I hope to be in my career, the reality of one day making it possible for others to have these opportunities feels closer and closer; and the longing to give back has been fueled by those who have invested in me and made the impossible possible in my life. My most recent conference visit was another little miracle and boosted my morale after missing out on some other opportunities. This is something that often people forget, that there might be dozens of no’s before you finally get your yes; and being awarded the Wanda Chin Scholarship was another answered prayer, and pivoted forward in my professional career.
The theme this year at the Western Museums Association (WMA) 2023 Annual Meeting/Conference was “Connect” and the theme was felt all throughout the event. In everything from my first pre-conference event, the Speed Networking hour, sponsored by Lord Cultural Resources; to the very last moment of saying goodbye to Lorie Millard, the last person I saw on my way out and someone who has already had a significant mark on my life and conference experience. Though this was not my first conference, this was my first museum conference and was very different than some of the others that I have been to, and in such a positive way. This first museum conference aligned perfectly with my first official museum position, working at the S’edav Va’aki Museum (formerly the Pueblo Grande Museum) in Phoenix, AZ, as the Store Curator/Manager. This position has been a long time in the making and connects different parts of my experiences and education.
I feel like I could go on forever about the different factors that made this conference so special, and the many amazing people who were so encouraging, uplifting, and motivating. I was thrilled to meet the keynote speaker, Sandra Jackson-Dumont, after she gave her incredible opening speech, and I was so uplifted by her words. One of the most impactful things she said was, “Museums matter more when people are put at the center. All People.” I was also welcomed by Eileen G. Goldspiel from the American Alliance of Museums, who warmly welcomed me and invited me to sit with her.
Even though I was awarded the scholarship, my plan was still to be as frugal as possible and I did not plan on going to any of the extra events that had an additional charge; but was once again surprised by the kindness of fellow conference attendees Monica Maldonado, with Hollinger Metal Edge, who gifted me her ticket to the Evening Event. It was an amazing event and I felt so grateful for this gift of kindness that I would have otherwise missed out on.
While here at this conference I tried to meet as many people as possible, attend as many sessions as I could, try to see some of the surrounding areas while visiting from Arizona, and get as much out of this experience as I possibly could. I wish I could have sat in on more of the breakout sessions or figured out a way to be in two places at once, and even though I could only get in one at a time I thoroughly enjoyed each and every one that I was able to attend. Working at a Native American Museum, it was really refreshing to see multiple talks that focused on indigenous communities.
I also feel like it is fate, that next year’s WMA Conference is going to be in Tucson, AZ, which will make it even easier for me to attend and hopefully to even get more involved. I would love to share some of my thoughts, ideas, and experiences with others; especially as it pertains to being a black man in the art and culture world. As Ken Robinson said, “The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it's to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they're valued.”
Aaron Eagles is a writer, curator, and art enthusiast who is fairly new to the museum world; and really excited to get more involved in this global community. Coming back to the States after being overseas Aaron turned to museums as a way to reeducate himself in the Western art culture and learn from experts in the field. Aaron shares more in this article in Java Magazine: How I Became the First Black Docent at Phoenix Art Museum