Saturday, May 2, 2015

Rogue Sessions and Conversations: Thoughts on AAM 2015 in Atlanta

I always have conflicted feelings about attending the AAM (American Alliance of Museums) Conference.  In many ways, the event is too big and unwieldy, and filled with annoying logistical hassles. (This year was no exception!)  On the other hand, there are opportunities for meaty and interesting conversations with fellow museum professionals --- most of which happen outside the confines of formal conference sessions.

This year in Atlanta, the "outside the session" construct was taken to the extreme with a number of well-publicized "rogue" (not officially on the AAM program) sessions taking place at different venues during the conference.

As you might expect for someone like me, the rogue sessions and outside-the-session-box conversations form most of my impressions of this year's conference.

One rogue session I did not attend in person, but kept track of via the lively Twitter feed, was the one about "Museum Labor" put on by the Museum Workers Speak group.  Certainly the issues revolving around museum worker's pay and treatment are essential, if uncomfortable at times, conversations to have.  Hooray for MWS for holding this important rogue session!  You can check out a "Storify" recap of the topics and conversations by clicking here.

The Museum Group (TMG) has had a longer tradition of hosting off-site "conversations" during the AAM Conference.  This year TMG presented a full roster of conversations, and I was pleased to be part of one entitled, "Writing and Responding to RFPs: The Dance Everyone Can Do Better" hosted by Carol Bossert, with Barbara Punt as my conversational partner.

I'll be writing a more extensive blog post soon, in collaboration with several TMG members, on this conversation and the topic of changing the (horribly broken) RFP process, but for now I'll say that we would all be better off if we could strive for ways to make the RFP process both kinder AND smarter.

I also took part in an impromptu session sparked by Jamie Glavic of Museum Minute with museum bloggers and museum social media folks during the conference, and I came away feeling more than ever that blogs and other social media outlets are the connective tissue that supports important conversations outside conference time.

Paul Martin from the Science Museum of Minnesota and Polly McKenna-Cress from the University of the Arts co-hosted an "Exhibits Roundtable" session which proved to be both eclectic and spirited. I hope Paul and Polly will publish a re-cap of the conversations, but things I'll be thinking about more include: how to use (Big) Data to tell important stories and leverage emotions inside museum exhibitions, and why museums should piss people off more! (For example, many Science Museums have "No Guns Allowed" signs on their doors, so why not also have signs saying "For the safety of all our visitors, only those who have been vaccinated will be admitted.")

Lastly, all the "rogue" conversations during AAM helped me continue my thinking about shifting the standard conversation about museums and their institutional mindset away from "For Profit" vs. "Not For Profit" to "For Profit" vs. "For Purpose."  It might provide a way to move away from relying only on metrics like visitor attendance numbers as the primary way of measuring museum success.

Hmmm ... perhaps "For Profit" vs. "For Purpose" is a rogue conversation that we can kick off right now in the "Comments" section below!

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