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2019 Annual Conference - essays from scholarship recipients

Abbey Nickerson - student, OSU

Driving to John Day was long. It felt like whenever we passed a very small town that John Day had to be the next town, but lo and behold--a town even smaller than the last and its still not John Day. But I kept busy with the beautiful scenery that occupied the entire drive. The various different landscapes and terrain of each town I passed got me thinking about how these different landscapes are home to different heritages, shaped not only by the events that led to the land to be occupied and the towns to be founded but also by the beautiful countryside that the town resides in. Through this we can see quite literally the common ground that these towns share. They all reside in the northeast region of Oregon, and share some access to the John Day river that flows into the Columbia, and some of these towns were founded on native lands of the same tribes.

 Aside from the literal common ground that these towns share, I passed by the various museums and heritage sites and thought that these towns have places where they can find the commonalities they share not only with their peers in their town but also in the surrounding rural area. And after having met quite a few professionals from rural Oregon museums, it's nice to know that these towns are in good hands. They have very skilled people educating them about their town. It was a great privilege to have met all of these museum professionals.

Attending the OMA conference was a true honor and in all honesty I’m still reeling from how much I’ve learned. This conference gave me the opportunity to think more critically about the very diverse careers in the field of museum studies. I had known that there was a wide variety of skilled people putting in the work to develop the museum environment but I never really knew about the more specific positions in larger institutions. After having gone I am not more sure about what part I want to play in the museum atmosphere, but I am overwhelmingly certain that I want to become a museum professional.

Amelia Reising - Adventure! Children's Museum

We recommend that when museum runners attend the OMA conference, they attend as a group. Because two of my board members attended this year's conference with me, we were able to attend every concurrent session, which proved highly beneficial.

Individual attendees can't possibly have had the experience we did, as they are often forced to choose between sessions that both seem interesting or important. A related but seemingly opposite concern: often one session looks highly interesting or pertinent and another less so, and so important information that may have been gained goes unlearned. We often ended up in sessions we weren't sure applied to a children's museum like Adventure!, only to take home some highly useful action items to help improve our organization.

Because I attended with two board members, we also were able to compare notes, spread out and meet new people, and make amazing connections in our local and state community. 

Thank you to everyone who helped fund this scholarship program so that we were able to share expenses and have a highly beneficial conference experience!

Maggie Schirack - Baker Heritage Museum

First, the conference location in Canyon City was an outstanding selection. I appreciated the downtown historic tour, including the church and Grant County museum and the airport’s facility provided a very scenic landscape. For me, the conference keywords were equity and accessibility. I keep that in the foreground now, not as buzzwords, but valuable ways to examine plans and actions, including interpretation and our upcoming strategic planning process. I look forward to engaging more individuals in the museum through visitation or collaboration by opening up to the concepts addressed at the conference. Our museum is in the process of examining staffing and organizational needs. Information I gleaned at the conference gave me the confidence to approach these topics with an open-mind and creativity.

Evan Smiley - Student, PSU

This year, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Oregon Museum Association
conference in John Day, Oregon. As an undergraduate student and new, still-learning museum
professional, opportunities to meet with and learn from professionals and experts in the field are
imperative to my professional development and education. As a new-ish Oregonian, I was
thrilled to have an excuse to travel to a part of state to which I’ve never been!

The road to John Day itself was beautiful with a landscape that changed dramatically and
quickly every 30-minutes or so, and if it weren’t for my poor little car’s air conditioning quitting
just an hour outside of John Day (it was 86° that first day) or my scheduled tour of Kam Wah
Chung, I might have just kept driving to enjoy the scenery!

The hosted tour of the historic Kam Wah Chung building was incredibly special, and I
recommend the tour to anyone who can make the journey. Of course, with annually increasing
visitors, Kam Wah Chung Co. faces an interesting though common preservation challenge: too
much visitation, which sparked an insightful discussion following a keynote presentation by Dr.
Jennifer Fang and Don Merritt. The keynote presentation set the tone for a weekend of
thoughtful and engaging lecture and discussion from an array of kind and intelligent peers.

Coming from a small museum, I honed in on sessions like Meet the Funders, Internal Equity for
Small Museums, Advocacy 101, and Rural Museum and Social Action. This year’s conference
was jam-packed with presentations that were not only interesting but also gave the attendees
tangible take-away thoughts and practices to implement at their individual institutions.

On Monday night, conference attendees got to enjoy exclusive access to some of Grant
County’s historic sites, including an old tavern, where I got to play barkeep while I and a few
others volunteered serving wine. The Canyon City Walkabout was a casual and fun time to get
to reflect on the different sessions and catch up with friends. The Oregon Museum Association
conference committee really outdid themselves this year. From the sessions to the meet-ups,
this year’s conference was thoughtfully curated and thoroughly enjoyed.

Val Van Alstyne - Gordon House Conservancy Silverton, OR

As a newcomer to the state and my organization, the trip to John Day was my first conference
experience with the Oregon Museums Association and in Oregon. My original goals for attending the
convention were to build connections in the Oregon museum community and network with different
groups of museum representatives in their different capacities. I sought opportunities to apply learned
subjects to my own professional and personal growth and to equally benefit my organization.

In a composition book given to me with a tote bag full of goodies, I scribbled down notes during
moments of inspiration from each speaker and topic. The ability to choose which lessons to attend
helped guide my journey each day. I spent time with funding organizations who can assist my small
museum in more ways than I knew. There was a valuable lesson in “growth mindedness” and internal
equity as well as ideas on social action for change. I discovered new approaches to engaging visitors by
using empathy and shifts from within our systems. Connecting others by combining science and culture
was a fresh concept to me as it was delivered by collections personnel. The importance of serving older
adults in a museum that primarily serves their demographic was addressed in the final session of day 3. I
found all of the presenters to be knowledgeable and interesting.

One of the most important things I gained from the OMA conference was a sense of familiarity with
others in the field. Hearing that my colleagues observe similar obstacles and successes in their museums
gave me a sense of companionship and helped build those connections I was seeking. I will be able to
share what I learned with my Board of Directors and volunteers in our not-for-profit association. Even
though not all of the material applied to my current position, it was all still significant for my
professional goals. I appreciate the opportunity given to me and will definitely be in attendance at next
year’s OMA conference!

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 8604, Portland, OR 97207
Contact: connect@oregonmuseums.org 
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