Last week’s journey to Cleveland for the Association of Midwest Museums annual meeting was inspiring, thought provoking, and exhausting.
The conference brought together museum professionals from eight Midwest states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Events included visits to local museums (my favorite: “Rock Hall”), sessions on current industry trends presented by colleagues, and the always-energizing keynote addresses.
My first activity was Wednesday morning. Fourteen colleagues – members of the Mighty Rescue Crew, a group of collections specialists – shared our professional talents at two local museums. The crew divided equally between the Western Reserve Historical Society and Dunham Tavern Museum. Both museums had long-term projects that needed a boost.
The Western Reserve Historical Society received a collection of objects ranging from silver flatware and eyeglasses, to glass bottles and dolls. Each needed an accession number applied. (Think social security number. Curators use accession numbers to record the order of acquisitions.) The first step is the application of a coat of clear lacquer in an inconspicuous area. When dry, the accession number is neatly printed using India ink. Once dried, the area is coated with another layer of clear lacquer. In ideal conditions, the drying takes an hour per application.
The Dunham Tavern Museum project was extensive. They needed a room-by-room inventory list of all the objects in the facility, including furniture, textiles, ceramics, glass, and toys. Even with all fourteen volunteers eventually coming together, we were only able to record the works on the main level. Once all objects are located and identified, information will be placed in a collections database for greater ease in finding each in the future.
Wednesday evening was the official opening of the conference – beginning at the Great Lakes Science Center and ending at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The food and drinks were plentiful and tasty and were enjoyed while interacting with the exhibits at the Great Lakes Science Center. The William G. Mather, a decommissioned Great Lakes freighter, was my favorite – all 618 feet! I never thought myself claustrophobic, but I suspect a day or so in those cramped quarters would have me swimming to shore! An added benefit was touring the ship with a friend whose father worked on a similar vessel.
Next stop – The Rock Hall. I love music – especially rock and roll. So being surrounded by images of singers, musical groups, concerts, and all associated objects of the era was awesome. I easily could have spent all the allotted time in the Bruce Springsteen special exhibition galleries. Coffee and a variety of desserts kept our energies high for the late night private concert by rocker Patti Smith, a 2007 inductee to the Hall of Fame. Her performance was flawless and nearly two hours long. I can’t remember the last time I stayed out so late – let alone attending a concert. It was a great way to end the evening and start the conference.
The next days were filled with small-group sessions on varied topics. I could go on in detail about each session, but suffice to say I came away with a clearer understanding of some subjects, and more confused about others. More helpful for me are myriad conversations with colleagues. The coming together of like professionals allows free-flowing discussions and not always consensual resolutions. However, face-to-face interaction is priceless.
The conference ended with a plenary luncheon presentation by futurist David Zach. His comments were humorous as well as thought-provoking. He looked to the past, pondered individual and institutional goals, and suggested current trends that museums and cultural organizations should consider to move forward.
Now, back in the office, I’m inspired to experiment with social media, even thinking about how to incorporate this new tool in future exhibitions as I consider ways to create even greater awareness of the Woodson Art Museum’s permanent collection.
And, lastly, I take a deep breath.