Best in the West (or why I love WMA so much)

Each year, we compare and contrast the various options for professional conferences to attend. Meager funding means it better be of use to both my home institution as well as my own personal growth. In 2015, I opted for two – Museums Alaska (as outgoing President it’s pretty much required) and Western Museums Association (WMA).


Our official #WMA2015 Facebook profile photo.

WMA 2015 took place in sunny San Jose, a community I visited for the first time in January of 2015. This is my first full year as a member of the Board of Directors of WMA and a January meeting at the conference hotel of the upcoming meeting is a tradition. With that two-day visit I was able to connect with members of the board and strike up some professional relationships that have already borne fruit. But what that visit really did was prepare me for the October conference by orienting me to the immediate area around the hotel and give me a taste of the community.


By the time October arrived, I was still reeling from a busy 4 days in Cordova for Museums Alaska, only three weeks prior. But my colleague, Della Hall, and I were ready to have a repeat performance as roomies and I was signed up to be her official conference mentor. Another UAMN colleague, Jonah Wright, was attending WMA for his first time and we were excited to absorb as much as possible over three days.


Della, Jonah, and I enjoying music in the lobby of the Fairview.

Over a period of three days, Jonah, Della, and I each experienced our own unique conference – Jonah attended exhibit-focused sessions, Della and I went to collections sessions [two really generated a ton of discussion and thought: Understanding Image Copyright (is it possible?) and Long-Term Thinking about Collections Stewardship]. This year I yearned for more of the leadership track, and so I absorbed what I could from some of those I look to in our region as the movers and shakers, in sessions like Leading from the Position You Are In, Defining Leadership Across Generational Divides, and The Challenges of Leadership: Working with Governing Bodies. Each session gave me food-for-thought about how I want my career to blossom, identifying my own weaknesses and how to turn them around, as well as giving me a chance to acknowledge my own experiences and expertise as valuable. Rather than presenting at WMA 2015, I took on a role of inquirer. This year, I felt I was able to ask the questions many might be thinking, to dig deeper and get at the big questions of “why” and “how.” I was rewarded with answers that got many of us thinking and talking after the sessions.

A conference theme of “Listen – Learn – Lead” can take you in many directions if you let it. I love WMA conferences for this – whatever your entry point and level, you are able to step into a topic and get something valuable, bring it home, and put it to use. I reconnected with people I hadn’t seen in many years, from my RC-WR officer days, and made new connections with emerging professionals and esteemed leaders alike.

I now feel energized to go into the 2016 conference in Phoenix, ready to take on the conference theme of “Change“. This is a hard thing for an industry steeped in tradition, “best practices,” and “professional standards.” How can we push ourselves to grow and get better, while keeping true to our past? This is something I’ll be thinking a lot about in the next year.

Thanks #WMA2015 – you were a blast!



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