This year King County’s 4Culture and the WaMA Scholarship Program teamed up to bring emerging museum professionals to the WaMA conference in Bellingham, WA.

My WaMA Reflections

by Grayson Dirk (he/his/him)

This June at the Washington Museum Association conference in Bellingham, I had the awesome opportunity to briefly present my research on taking risks in pursuit of diversity and inclusion. Being just recently out of the University of Washington’s Museology graduate program, it can be hard to gauge the response in the “real” museum world to the academic explorations of museum studies, but the reception at WaMA was warm and enthusiastic.

In large part, the motivation for my research has been the fear that I have often seen reflected in attempts to make our institutions more inclusive. I also attended AAM’s annual meeting this year, and the tone there around diversity and inclusion was urgent, but also tense – when it comes to confronting the less inspiring parts of the individual and communal histories and practices of our museums, there’s a lot of hand-wringing that occurs, many eyes cast nervously in the direction of the often-capricious funders whom we see as making our operations possible. In the face of this great existential chasm of an endangered political and financial future, it’s easy to be terrified into paralysis, into non-action.

And yet, the WaMA sessions I attended and the people I spoke to all seemed alive with action. The love these museums had for the communities that called them a second home was palpable and not taken lightly.

It served to remind me of the principles that made me fall in love with museum work when I was an undergraduate anthropology major at Washington State University. That a good museum is inseparable from the communities it serves, and that serving a community means being willing to take the most fearful by the hand and step confidently into the chasm of the future. In light of this, my experience at WaMA has made me excited to continue my career in museums right here in Washington State.

Reflections from a First-Time WaMA Conference Presenter

by Abby Rhinehart

I’m feeling very fortunate. A few weeks ago, I got to relax in Bellingham with a beer from Aslan Brewery, see art in the Make.Shift art space, and try new games at Rook and Rogue Board Game Pub.

Best of all, I had a chance to dig into questions I’m deeply passionate about, like: What do visitors to history museums learn about the past? How do museum visitors connect exhibits to their own lives? And how might museums be more relevant to the needs of diverse audiences?

I had these opportunities thanks to the WaMA Annual Conference in Bellingham, where I presented research I conducted as part of my master’s program in museology at the University of Washington.

As part of the UW’s program, I researched what families learn on visits to history museums. I’d analyzed data for hours while sitting at my laptop. But I hadn’t had the chance to dig in with a broad group of museum professionals about the questions that were coming up in my research, particularly around representation, relevance, and the role of history museums in communities.

Would working professionals care about my research? I was a bit nervous when I presented on Friday morning. I was excited about my work, and had saved plenty of time for dialogue, but still worried there would be crickets.

But instead, we had a fruitful discussion, with ideas from curators, exhibit developers, educators, board members and volunteers. At the WaMA conference this year, I saw the value of bringing together practitioners to tackle complex questions.

I am immensely grateful that this community-provided resources that made my conference attendance possible. Scholarship funding from 4Culture’s WaMA Conference Presenter stipend and the UW Museology program’s Conference Travel award show Washington’s commitment to helping emerging museum professionals.

In the museum field, we talk a lot about community; many WaMA sessions focused on community partnerships and relationship-building with local communities. But the conference as a whole also reminded me of the power of professional community. I was blown away by the generosity of WaMA members with their expertise and resources. Thank you again, and I’ll see you next year!