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2018 OMA Annual Conference - Personal essays

“What is a legacy?” “What we tell ourselves about ourselves matters a great deal everyday.” “What story are you trying to tell, really?” “Plan for the plan.” “We are a space where the academic and the public worlds meet.” “Sometimes a picture isn’t worth a thousand words.” “How does your museum matter to your audience, right now, today?” These are just a few of the ideas that lingered in my mind after the conclusion of the 2018 Oregon Museums Association conference. This year’s theme, Resilience: Responding to Change, couldn’t have been more apt given the seemingly eternal changes and challenges we face on a daily basis in our profession. It was soon clear my colleagues came prepared with innovative solutions.

After a warm welcome and a few icebreakers, it was time to get started. The inspiring keynote address given by Colin Fogarty, Executive Director of the Confluence Project, left me thinking about the meaning of historical and ecological justice and the power of resilience in the face of adversity. As museum professionals, we have an opportunity to advocate and create space for previously marginalized multi-voice narratives inside the mechanisms by which we document, teach, and celebrate cultural heritage. I am excited for the opportunity to be a part of this sea change and am thankful for my colleagues and for projects like Confluence that have already paved the way forward.

After the keynote, it was hard to choose which of the concurrent sessions to attend as each topic was so interesting and timely. Over the next day and a half, I learned about the value of planning, both interpretive and emergency, including how to find the “big idea” in a web of smaller ones and “planning for the plan” by strategically training staff and avoiding assumptions. I learned about new ideas for providing access to the twinned resources of university collections and training opportunities for students. I learned about building relationships with new audiences, incorporating sustainability into growth, and working for the long-deserved recognition of traditionally underrepresented members of our communities. I learned that context is key, that a picture isn’t always worth a thousand words, and that many hands make light(er) work on complex projects.

I also learned what it means to be a member of the museum community here in Oregon, both inside and outside the gallery walls. From the impromptu one-on-one tour I received at The History Museum of Hood River County to the warm camaraderie at the Double Mountain dinner, I found myself surrounded by intelligent, dedicated, kind, and endlessly creative colleagues. I am so grateful to have experienced this year’s conference with the support of the OMA’s first-time-attendee stipend program. I left Hood River feeling inspired and more resilient to weather the storms — big or small — that may come our way.

Erin Doerner
Collections Assistant
Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon
Eugene, Oregon

I appreciated the opportunity to attend the Oregon Museums Association’s annual meeting in Hood River this year. It was great to be able to see what other museum professionals and volunteers are accomplishing throughout the state. My focus in attending was to see what challenges other museums of a similar size and budget to mine are facing, as well as to speak with them about how to address these challenges. While I did not necessarily find exactly what I was looking for, it was interesting to see how diverse the institutions in Oregon are. 

With the turbulent state of our current world, all museums are realizing that there is no such thing as a neutral space. Figuring out how to exist, improve, and to move forward is something all museums and museum professionals are constantly attempting to work through. Many of the sessions I attended were case studies on how to address this challenge, and none of them offered me the answers I was looking for, but it was an awesome opportunity for dialogue on the topic. As a Museum Director in a rural community, my community’s challenges are of a different flavor than those being faced by communities in the metro area, but there is still something to be learned from discussion of each area’s challenges. 

Thank you to Oregon Museums Association for the opportunity to attend this year’s annual meeting. It was a rewarding experience.

Carly Annable
Director, Baker Heritage & Adler House Museums
Baker City, Oregon

On a brisk Sunday in early September, with the sun gleaming on whitecaps in the Columbia River, I arrived in Hood River for the 2018 OMA Annual Conference.  While I have worked in museums for several years, I still consider myself new to the field and in need of new experiences.  I had received a travel stipend and free admission to the conference from OMA as a first-time attendee, and I was there not only to learn but to meet as many people as possible who shared my new profession.

My drive from Portland took me first to the Bonneville Dam, where several of the conference attendees took a historical tour of the Bradford Island Visitor Center.  I checked into my room at the Hood River Hotel, which originally opened in 1912 and still retains its Edwardian charm (albeit with more bathrooms than were included originally).  A friendly no-host dinner at the Sixth Street Bistro rounded out my day.

On Monday morning, the conference opened with a powerful keynote address by Colin Fogarty, the director of the Confluence Project, an organization founded to explore the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial from an Indigenous perspective.  It is our responsibility as museum professionals to communicate and collaborate with communities whose voices have historically been pushed to the margins of the narrative presented in museums.  The Confluence Project provides an excellent model for this type of engagement.

Every single session looked interesting, so I had to make some difficult choices.  The conference theme, Resilience: Responding to Change, made an appearance in each session I attended.  I learned the importance of interpretive planning to manage any change (intentional or otherwise) in an institution’s scope.  Museums must deconstruct the concept of “neutral” history in order to keep abreast of cultural changes and serve a diverse community.  Mission-driven events and programming can attract a younger and more diverse audience, building a stronger foundation of attendance that will enable museums to withstand future adversity.  Online programming can help museums reach a broader audience and tell stories that don’t necessarily fit in an exhibition.

Museum professionals make excellent dinner conversation.  Social and networking events filled the spaces between workshops and were just as important to me as a relative newcomer.  I hope to stay connected with my new acquaintances and to work with them on future projects.  I am beyond grateful to OMA for this opportunity and will certainly be back for next year’s conference in John Day.

Silvie Andrews
Museum Cataloger
Oregon Historical Society

I had the great honor of attending the 2018 Oregon Museums Association conference. I did not know what to expect when I first arrived, but I was very excited to learn as much as I could from the sessions and other attendees. Right away I felt welcomed by the people around my table. We got to know each other through some fun icebreakers. After the fun and games, keynote speaker Colin Fogarty, Executive Director of the Confluence Project, gave an inspiring talk about his work within the Confluence Project. His talk made me  think about how I can help bring marginalized people’s voices to the forefront. What am I doing in the here and now to make these narratives known to more people? These are important questions that we all need to be asking ourselves.

I also attended the Advocating for Equity–Stories and Resources from the Field session and was further inspired in this area. The question was asked, “What is our responsibility to our communities?”. That question really made me think about the community I live in and the specific issues that need to be addressed. There is already work being done in some areas but there is a lot more to be done! It was great to hear what other museums and organizations have been doing to be more inclusive to all people. The speakers gave out great resource material for further reading, which I found to be very informative. The question and answer portion of this session was great too. There was a lot of insightful commentary by other attendees and great questions asked.   

I was able to attend several other sessions that I got a lot out of as well. One of the best parts of the conference for me was the conversations with other attendees. I met so many people that allowed me to pick their brains about their career paths and degrees. As a student at Pacific University, I am still trying to decide the best path for me to take. I would love to work in a museum or an archive eventually. The people at the conference were very willing to share with me their stories and give me advice. I left the conference feeling like I had gained so much knowledge and direction. I want to thank everyone that put the conference together for providing such a great conference. I also want to thank the attendees that took time to talk with me and answer all my questions. I am truly grateful that I was given the opportunity to attend the OMA conference.

Emily Johns

Pacific University

Forest Grove, Oregon


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