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News & Press: Professional Development

Thoughts from “The Emerald City:” AAM in Seattle (sadly not Oz)

Friday, May 30, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jenette Purdy
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I was fortunate enough to attend the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) conference in Seattle, Washington from May 18-21. They have aptly nicknamed Seattle “The Emerald City!” The rich green surroundings in all directions reminded me that yes, indeed, we here in Utah do live in a high desert. Making the trip to Seattle as northern Utah entered its greenest (though shortest) season unfortunately made our spring green pale in comparison. The problem with visiting a place I’ve never been is I wanted to ditch the conference and explore (and I did explore a bit!). But, I dutifully attended conference sessions and events.

What a great way to recharge the museum battery! I was inspired by so many projects from our museum colleagues around the country. I suspended my jealous emotions at those with giant museum budgets and staffs, and listened for those ideas that might spark a direction or a project in my own current museum education work. What I heard at the conference is that museums need to look outward, to our communities, to tell an inclusive story. Listen to our visitors! Do they really actually want that fancy mobile app? How do they want to engage? And for me as a museum educator, I came away ready to find out how the museum I work at can truly assist our local schools. There was a great session about the Common Core, engaging Latino communities, partnerships with K-12 teachers, and leadership structure and qualities. There were wonderful nuts and bolts ideas, along with some big ideas to mull over. Implementing ideas gathered will take conversations and relationships. But that is what we are building in our museums—relationships with visitors, tourists, students, and community.

The keynote speaker, author Erik Larson, talked about telling stories. And isn’t that the business we are in, too, when we think about it? Telling and engaging others in the stories of our communities. This made me excited for our own Utah Museum’s Association Conference this fall in Cedar City—Storytelling for the Future.

One of the great things about AAM (and perhaps even more at smaller conferences such as UMA) are the networking opportunities. I tend to get a bit overwhelmed at AAM, but I was able to attend some outstanding museums for evening events where I met wonderful people. Most memorable was when we were touring wooden boats, located by the Museum of History and Industry. The passion and dedication of the folks preserving these boats and their history—volunteers and staff alike—made me remember why I am in the history museum field.

And it was great to reconnect with friends from around the country! When I walked into my George Washington University alumni reception, I saw Paul Stavast from the BYU Museum of Peoples and Cultures. What a small world! I didn’t know he had attended the GW Museum Studies program, and it was great to talk to a fellow Utah museum professional about Utah museums in a different setting. Just as museums build relationships with their communities, relationships between museum professionals are vitally important as well.

I am back to reality, but hopefully armed with some great ideas. I am looking forward to the UMA Conference in Cedar City this fall for more professional development with Utah friends and colleagues!

Jenette Purdy is the Director of Education at the Park City Museum. She recently joined the Utah Museums Association Board of Directors.

Photos: Views from Seattle by Jenette (And a few of her classmates from GW Museum Studies graduation class 2010 at the reception.)


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