The American Alliance of Museums held its 2016 meeting in Washington, DC last week, which was incredibly convenient for me because I could easily take Metro from my home in Maryland and incredibly inconvenient because it was far too easy for me to stay in my office and say, “I’ll go later” and skip sessions. I managed to attend two days along with 6000 other people and came back with an assortment of observations:
- AAM allowed a track of sessions that were focused on one museum or site, which can vary from an indepth examination of a single project to a general show-and-tell of everything they do. Both have benefits and disadvantages (I tend to find the show-and-tells incredibly dull) but it also reminds me how difficult it is to learn what’s happening in the field, especially if you work at historic sites. Subscriptions, conferences, and travel to other sites have all been victims to tightening budgets, hence my ongoing commitment to a blog that shares a variety of news and information.
- The exhibit hall was packed, primarily with exhibit designers and exhibit lenders, and a couple booths introduced virtual reality. Lots to see from books to dinosaurs but most handy was the Museums Change Lives brochure from the Museums Association in Great Britain. It provides some useful language on the value of museums that can be easily adapted to public speeches, newsletters, fundraising, and membership renewal letters.
- Museums of all types are doing pretty cool programming using games or tranforming mundane topics like agriculture. And yet, very few provided any evidence that their activities were making any impact on visitors. Yes, attendance and revenue may have increased, but what did visitor learn? how did it change their attitudes? did they apply what they learned to their lives?
- Although there were sessions for historic sites and house museums, I regret to say that there aren’t enough to justify the expense. As a result, I only attend every 3-5 years to check up on things. Next year, the AAM annual meeting will be in St. Louis, Missouri.
If you attended AAM last week and found some particularly useful information or a new resource, please share them in the comments below.
Hmm . . . you echo my sentiments about attending the AAM meetings. I have only attended 3 in the past 10 years, for many of the reasons that you raise. Attending more regularly is difficult to justify economically. To the point, I think our staff would be better served by taking that money and doing a couple of road trips to different venues in our region to learn about what they have to offer.
Although nearly as expensive, I find the AASLH meetings more attuned to my interests and needs. I also tend to think that virtual communication opportunities have replaced many of the reasons for attending pricey professional meetings. Webinars routinely provide the same info as many sessions I might attend. Listservs, blogs, Twitter introduces me to many of the folks I might like to engage with who previously I might only run into at an annual meeting.
Interesting perspectives. Some very similar, some very different than my own.
As to the Exhibit Hall, it was dense with exhibit-related folks, but many of the other service providers including insurers, packers and shippers and even publishers were noticeably absent.
The Meeting has become increasingly complex over the last few years with many more stand-alone and many fewer integrated sessions. From my own experience this is a direct result of the change in the session proposal process which no longer has a place for revision or rethinking. Session ideas (and many of them are just ideas) are accepted or declined without discussion with the proposers, panelists or others who might have useful input.
(If you want to see a really great process take a look at how the Western Museum Association does their programming. It’s a lot of work, but the sessions are much more relevant.)
However, if you don’t see what you like on the program, fix it! Anyone can propose a session or comment, make suggestions, or volunteer to participate once a proposal is on the AAM website. It’s not the best system, but, like voting, if you don’t participate it won’t get better.
Thank you for your perspective on whether or not historic sites/house museums should attend AAM yet. I found it to be expensive and not worth while years ago and have not gone back. I think I’ll continue to use my budget pd $$ for AASLH! I always come away with more that I have time to implement!