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!