Rites of Passage

By: Catie Anderson, curator of education on May 9th, 2012

There are a few unofficial “rites of passage” for a young museum professional. My unofficial list includes: 
·      A quirky white elephant gift exchange at a staff holiday party (check!)
·      Road trips with colleagues (check, check, and check!)
·      Smoothly distributing your business card at events and networking (I’m getting there)
·      Attending the American Association of Museums’ (AAM) annual conference (CHECK!)
This past week my most sacred rite of passage was completed when I traveled to the American Association of Museums’ Conference and MuseumExpo in Minneapolis. The theme of this year’s conference was “Creative Community.” I’ve looked forward to this event since I learned of its existence during my freshman year in college. What a thrill to hobnob with distinguished museum professionals and also spend time meeting up with old friends and advisors in a stimulating and engaging environment. 
College Catie was sure she would attend the meeting and – through the powers of intellectual osmosis – soak up all the wisdom, stories, and experience floating around in this atmosphere of museum brilliance, and then seamlessly integrate this new knowledge into my work at the Woodson Art Museum.
Nice try, Anderson.
Curator of Collections Jane Weinke warned me of the exhausting conference schedule before I left. I listened politely while thinking to myself, “Jane works so hard . . . . I wonder what I should wear to the opening event.” No surprise here; Jane was right. The conference certainly is stimulating and fun, but it is not a break. Oh, and my theories on intellectual osmosis went right out the window.
For those of you who enjoy this blog and are not working in the museum field or – like me – are pretty green about how large conferences work, here’s an AAM summary for you.
Upon registering at the cavernous convention center, you are handed a colorful and small, unintimidating tote bag filled with materials about your next few days. I had entered early-bird pre-registration months ago, so the contents of this bag truly were filled with surprises. Tickets to evening events at area institutions were among the goodies inside, along with conference swag from corporate sponsorship (thanks, Target!) and the catalogue of sessions, workshops, and events.
Each day (Sunday – Wednesday) museum professionals offered sessions on a wide range of subjects. I’m the type of person who can’t order off a restaurant menu with more than seven options, so the listing of sessions was overwhelming; they all sounded delicious.  AAM conference presenter and veteran Jayna Hintz was incredibly helpful in guiding me through the catalogue and assisted me in charting my daily navigation through the sessions and workshops. Each night in the hotel room we compared notes from the day’s sessions and our highlighted catalogue descriptions of what we would attend the next day. [Note to self: divide and conquer the interesting sessions with your fellow educator, make time for coffee runs and bathroom breaks, and remember there are always cookies in the exhibitors’ hall. I wonder if I can add “museum event drive-by snack-attack expert” under relevant skills on my linkedin profile?]
I attended sessions on a wide variety of educational topics: community partnerships, interpretive strategies, visitor engagement, collaboration with area educators, volunteer management, and chaperone involvement. 
The conference schedule was demanding, but the experience was reinvigorating for this still somewhat green, seven-month museum professional. I left the Twin Cities feeling excited and energized while simultaneously ready for a nap (good thing Jayna was driving us home). 
As I organize and type up my notes from the conference, I keep running into exclamations in the margins like “COOL!” or “How could I make this work at the Woodson?” Day-to-day work has a way of distracting us from our big dreams and innovative plans for our institutions. I like to think big and I’m new enough to think I can find a way to shake up museums . . . . someday. That will be a future rite of passage.

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