Friday, April 15, 2011

Relevance is the word, and other highlights from "Generation M"

"Your challenge is to make me
relevant to Generation M"
Earlier this week I attended the Ohio Museums Association's annual conference, presenting a session with two of my former students, and serving once again as an officer on OMA's board. This year's theme, "Generation M: Museums and Millennials" perfectly complemented the venue, as OMA was hosted by the Museums Studies Program at Walsh University, in North Canton, Ohio. While I admit to a certain amount of bias, I believe that from the special track of sessions developed specifically for faculty and students in Museum Studies, to the thought-provoking keynote address and follow-up break out session given by Beverly Sheppard, OMA met its goal of providing timely and practical professional development for its members and constituents.  For those of you who were unable to join us Sunday and Monday, here are a few of the take-away messages I noted from the sessions and discussions in which I took part.

  1. Relevance is really starting to matter to museums.  To many of you being relevant may seem like an obvious notion and therefore a "duh" comment, but for a lot of museums, especially those in the small to medium sized categories, this has not always been the case. For much of their existence smaller museums have had a dedicated following of patrons and volunteers who made sure that the museum kept its doors open, even if no one else was coming through those doors. However, this week I heard rumblings from staunch members of the esoteric museum community, who usually profess not to care about people who aren't interested in... (insert narrow subject area here). Instead of curmudgeonly curses, I heard ideas about how they could relate to their communities and where they might find new partners. These conversations offer hope that relevance is finally becoming relevant to all museums.
  2. Young professionals coming out of museum studies programs are smart, savvy, prepared, and driven. Hire them! It is certainly true that work experience matters. However, these recent museum studies grads will inject a dose of well-informed creativity, objectivity, and enthusiasm into your organization without costing you the 4 to 6 month learning curve typical of those unfamiliar with museum organizations.
  3. Networking is still as important as ever. While social media has become an important link for sharing information between individuals and institutions, it has not yet usurped the lunch table as a forum for the face to face exchange of ideas, business cards, and calendar openings that leads to potential partnerships and expanded collaborations. I watched several budding partnerships grow over soup and sandwiches at lunch on Monday.
  4. Conferences do have value, if we plan them with today's professionals in mind. Last year, as OMA conference attendance waned for a second year in a row, and the economy doggedly refused to release its grip on museum budgets across the state, I had a conversation with several of my colleagues on the organization's board about whether it was still important to hold an annual conference. A year later, the economy has begun to turn around, conference registrations were up, and the slate of sessions and programs selected to resonate with museums in the digital age inspired lively debate, hopefully sowing the seeds of purposeful change among attending museums. This conference was shorter, narrower in focus, and lighter on bells and whistles than those meetings of 5 to 10 years ago. However, as OMA has sought to change the conference format to reflect the needs of our membership, the high quality programming has remained. Content was top-notch, and participants were dynamic.
  5. Change is inevitable, so make it happen. This was the take-away message of my session. Rather than rehashing all of it here in paragraph form, here are the slides. If you are interested in learning more about any of the concepts and ideas presented, please feel free to post a comment, drop me an email, or reach out to other the panelists via their email addresses listed on the final slide.

If you missed the conference this year, OMA's 2012 conference will be in Toledo next April, and of course we would love to have you join us. In the meantime, the Association of Indiana Museums is meeting in Richmond, Indiana this September and OMA members receive a discount when registering. OMA is a sponsor of this year's AIM conference and is encouraging its members to attend.

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