Tag Archives: Small Museums Association

Small Museums Association Conference Impressions

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Last week I was a plenary speaker at the Small Museums Association conference, where I talked about ways to rethink mission, vision, and strategy to have greater impact with the 200 people in attendance.  Although the conference has been held annually in Ocean City, Maryland for nearly 30 years, it was my first experience and I was incredibly impressed.

Created in 1984 by Lesley van der Lee, executive director of the Montgomery County Historical Society, the conference provides a series of workshops and educational sessions over three days all targeted towards small museums, so the content emphasizes practical approaches for organizations with limited resources.  Secondly, the conference is developed, organized, promoted, and managed entirely by volunteers.  SMA doesn’t have a staff and it doesn’t seem to have membership in the usual sense–it’s primarily the annual conference.  To serve on the board, you have to rise up through the ranks by first  working on one of the conference committees (try that with your board!).  Finally, meals and receptions are included in the registration fee and lodging is just $68 a night (February is the low season for hotels at the beach).

If you’re based in the Mid-Atlantic region, consider attending the conference next February.  Because of the nature of small museums today and the low costs, the conference attracts a wide range of ages and the program committee develops a nice mix of sessions, exhibitors, and speakers (Linda Norris was the other plenary speaker) so you receive good value.  For museum studies students, it’s a welcoming introduction to the issues, people, and organizations that represent the majority of museums in the United States.

On an aside, I heard from Heritage Preservation that Conservation Assessment Program grants won’t be announced until the federal budget is passed.

Rethinking the Mission Statement

Historic map and toolsThis week I’m attending the Small Museums Association‘s 29th annual conference in Ocean City, Maryland, where I’ll be giving a plenary address this morning on, “Mild-Mannered Superheroes Rarely Make a Difference.”  As you might have guessed, it’s a mash-up of a quotation by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and the conference theme on superheros.  I hope to encourage attendees to rethink their mission, vision, and strategy to become more relevant and engaging in their communities.  Unfortunately, most museum mission statements are mild-mannered, with the usual phrase of “collect, preserve, and interpret” stuck behind the name of the organization.

Funding agencies, museum accreditation, and strategic plans require a mission statement, so many organizations create a least offensive version that can be approved by the board.  The result is that mission statements are often so vague that they’re ignored, have little to no influence on day-to-day activities, and are viewed as empty public relations gestures that provokes cynicism.  No doubt they’ve found that having a mission statement doesn’t have much impact, but a recent study shows that the right kind of mission statement can significantly improve financial success and organizational performance.

In “Looking at the Value of Mission Statements: A Meta-Analysis of Continue reading