Three Cheers for the American Association of Museums

By: Kathy Kelsey Foley, director on May 20th, 2009

At the end of April, Woodson curator of collections Jane Weinke and I traveled to Philadelphia to attend the annual meeting of the American Association of Museums. En route I wondered what this year’s meeting would be like . . . what would the “tone” be? In these uncertain times, I speculated whether colleagues would be brooding or perhaps – wishfully – optimistic that brighter days were on the horizon.

Somewhat to my surprise (although I am not generally a pessimist), the Philadelphia gathering of more than 5,000 museum professionals representing institutions of all types and sizes from A (art museums) to Z (zoos) was high-spirited as well as inspiring.

The American Association of Museums (AAM), our professional “umbrella” organization, is, in my opinion, enjoying a renaissance the likes of which no one could have anticipated a few years ago. I attribute this remarkable turnaround to the inspired and inspirational leadership of Ford W. Bell, AAM President since spring 2007. Case in point, Ford was ubiquitous in Philadelphia. It seemed as though everywhere you looked, he was there (and that’s a good thing!) . . . greeting colleagues, introducing himself, and participating.

The General Session began on a high note with the debut of “SPARK: Museums Matter,” an eclectic montage of faces, bodies, and voices celebrating the special qualities of Philadelphia’s museums. While specific to the meeting locale, the superb film is relevant everywhere there is a museum that has ever inspired a visitor. Watch it here.

Keynote speaker Walter Isaacson was a dazzler. Without notes and without a single “um,” he held the large audience in rapt attention as he spun a message of creativity around the singular genius of Albert Einstein. It was a remarkable romp through scientific, political, social, and cultural history that delivered maximum punch. And he even made Einstein’s “theory of relativity” understandable.

These positive experiences were just the beginning. I attended multiple excellent and instructive sessions – including three hands-on, computer-lab sessions on Google AdWords, Google Maps, and e-newsletters (how AAM’s annual meetings have changed!) – met many new colleagues, and returned home and to the Woodson Art Museum with renewed energy and enthusiasm for the good work of museums. There’s so much we can do and so many ways that we can serve the varied needs and interests of our audiences and our communities. And so we press on!

PS. The mood among colleagues in Philadelphia regarding the economic recovery and the impact on museums was guardedly optimistic. Let’s hope so.

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