#wma2011 Feeds the Soul: We Are Meaning

By James G. Leventhal WMA2011: KeynoteThis year's Western Museum's Association annual meeting was a visceral reminder of the importance of our work as museum professionals. The WMA meeting was singularly inspiring, nourishing even. It was soul food fueling the good work we deliver to the audiences we serve and the missions we uphold. WMA Hawaii 2011 was a celebration of a widespread, international cohort of networked individuals whose gathering together was a stupendous act of signifying and reifying. Really?! What can I tell you? You had to be there. WMA2011We all have a responsibility to carry the work forward and to strive to share the energy felt in Honolulu with as many colleagues as we can. Further, I think this meeting set a standard against which other conferences should measure themselves. And WMA needs to listen to itself. With no regard for boundaries - geographic or departmental - this meeting sought out a transcendent meaning, focused on asserting identity, rather than just trying to assess it. And the meeting and sessions did not shy away from the spiritual, but instead brought audience members to joyous tears in the keynote, and explored honestly the themes of forgiveness and anti-development movements in island cultures. WMA2011Together we activated present day ritual and asserted each others' roles in the tribes we populate or identify with - from native technologists to born educators; from anthropology-trained administrators to museum-studies graduates; from Pawnee to Vanuatuan. Really?! What can I tell you? You had to be there. During the opening, there was a traditional Hawai'ian 'awa ceremony arranged by the Hawai'ian Museums Association and the 'Iolani Palace.  (Thank you, Kippen!)  And, so, their leaders sat and welcomed the tribal leaders from ATALM, WMA, PIMA and AAM.  Nik Honeysett, Head of Administration at the J. Paul Getty Museum sat cross-legged on stage across from his other tribal representative from the AAM Eileen Goldspiel, Director, External Relations. Together they tasted the ritual waters. WMA2011: Getting Ready for KeynoteThe way we create and explore ritual in our museums is timeless and necessary.  I must say, at times, I am guilty of taking my work for granted.  The meeting in Hawaii reminded me of the need to find oneself, and the integral role museums can play to help others  - whether guarding and conveying cultural meaning across the Pacific islands to historical societies along the Oregon coast.  The oh so human drama. I could go on, but then I might turn this from a blog post to an essay... which I might in time.  But for now what I'd much rather do is elicit the endorsements, hallelujahs...or dissenting voices, if that's possible. Am I wrong?  How was it for you?



Thank you to all those who worked so hard in putting together a thought provoking program and mind opening experience. It was an honor to represent AAM in the welcoming ceremony. Meeting attendees were clearly a dedicated bunch based on the crowded session rooms I saw. Finding oneself clearly was an exercise that included learning from the wisdom of peers.

I agree James! The session on forgiveness was one I will never forget. It brought soul back into the museum discussion for me.

Kudos to everyone who helped put on the conference. It was a privilege to be there. From the loss of blood I experienced from sitting cross-legged for too long, to the mildly narcotic elixir I drank from a shell handed to me by a barely naked man. An experience I will not forget.

In all seriousness, you demonstrated how a conference should be done. The opening ceremony and the plenary were both humbling and inspiring, I learned something and I felt something. The sessions I saw too, stories told by storytellers. See you in Palm Springs.

What I particularly appreciate about the WMA conference is the scale of it. I can have more than just one conversation with any particular colleague throughout which means I can build relationships that I can follow-up on after the conference. Hawaii is such place of sweet smells for me, so I now have this note to self—wear flowers to work when ever possible in an attempt to bring Hawaii home.

It was the best meeting I have attended in nearly 40 years of museum conferencing! All aspects were well-planned, inclusive, and rewarding in either the technical or spiritual (not religious) sense. From the opening keynote, I do believe that we all tried to "describe the higher" state of being and becoming that we desire for our museums. Congrats to all involved in the planning, presentation, and participation!

Thanks all for your comments here! Eileen, thanks for reppin' for AAM. Nik, thanks for your plug for Palm Springs. It would be wonderful if you could, in fact, join us again. Merrit and Jacqui do SO much from the Getty team to make WMA what it is. We are so grateful to the Getty for what it gives the field. Stephanie, since you've amped up your involvement, you've really carried the social media torch -- thank you! Susan, you've brought a whole coterie of young and future leaders. Art, you are a standard bearer for so many of us, and you know how proud I am that we have taken WMA back to a place of pride and involvement for you! #gratitude #gratitude #gratitude

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