genx says, aam reflections

I’m very pleased to announce that I’m a contributing author at GenX Says. This collaborative effort came from the American Association of Museums Annual Meeting workshop Generation X Transforming: New Paths, New Perspectives. My first post is here. Check it out, no matter your age, rank or serial number. Let’s learn from each other!

speaking of aam…

This was my second year attending and while the overwhelming feeling of sheer panic wasn’t nearly as bad this time around, navigating through the massive selection of workshops, tours, and special events was still daunting.

my handy-dandy conferencing tips:

  • Select workshops that appeal to your career plans. If you aspire to lead a museum, you need to be in sessions that deal with such. Don’t feel trapped into a workshop track based on your current status.
  • If it’s not what you expected, leave. One of the most valuable things at these meetings is time. There’s no shame in quietly ducking out if the workshop isn’t giving you what you need.
  • Bring snacks. These meetings are all-day affairs and your blood sugar will get low. I had granola bars, a water bottle, chocolate and fruit stashed away in my Target-sponsored tote bag.
  • Make time to see the city. I’ve visited Minneapolis before and each time, I find more to admire. I envy their parks and lakes,mass transit, and robust museum association. I made sure to dine locally and visit as many sights as possible.


  • Socialize. I attended my first AAM meeting on fellowship, so I was determined to prove that I got as much out of the experience as possible. Unfortunately, I neglected the importance of simply chatting with other museum professionals in an informal (i.e.non-museum) setting. This time around I made a point to just hang out, engage with new people and stalk meet my Twitter crushes. If you don’t know where to begin, haunt the caffeine source.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. One of the presenters with The Moth (the Peabody Award-winning storytelling collective that blew my mind at the general session) mentioned that he didn’t realize museum people partied so hard. Yes, we are human and yes, we like to have fun! Everybody knows you’re at the conference on business, but don’t that doesn’t mean your personality goes on lockdown. Just try to stay upright, and you’ll be fine.

stuff that excited me:



  • Thanks, Social Media! The most useful tool by far was my phone. Via Twitter, I quickly connected with other attendees, scheduled meetups, read highlights from various workshops, and used Instagram to share pictures with my museum friends who couldn’t attend.
  • World Wide Wikipedia. From hosting in-person and online workshops to being name-checked in other sessions, Wikipedians were openly represented. It was encouraging to see that more museum professionals are becoming aware of and open to the valuable resources available via the GLAM-wiki partnership.

some things i would like to see:

  • Price breaks for students/emerging museum professionals. The cost of the annual meeting is not discounted for students or those with fewer years in the field. Fellowships are offered, but they are extremely competitive and limited (I applied for three years before receiving one.) Many organizations do not offer professional development funding or if they do, it is restricted to managerial-level employees. The gathering collectively suffers when the viewpoints of those new to museum work are excluded. If AAM membership can be reduced for these groups (students, anyway), why not fees for the Annual Meeting?
  • Make the opening party free. Once you get past the fees for the conference proper, you quickly realize that your budget also needs to accommodate the costs of attending organized tours and social functions. If there’s one thing that should be free, it’s the opening party. Nothing dulls the shine of the Welcome to our Meeting! message than having to pony up money for the kick-off gathering. For the event hosts, it’s a nice way of saying, “We appreciate your support” and allows everyone at least one cost-effective chance to interact with fellow attendees in an informal and fun setting.
  • Creative meeting spaces. I felt really bad for the presenters who had really engaging and interactive content yet were restricted by the constraints of a  lecture-style meeting space. Can the meeting be held in the lobby on comfy sofas? Outside in the park? On the floor in a drum circle? Anything to break up the traditional environment would be appreciated.

Here’s a quick round-up of other attendees’ impressions:

Please share takeaways you have from the Annual Meeting. If you didn’t attend, why not?

9 thoughts on “genx says, aam reflections

  1. AAM does have volunteer opportunities for the annual meeting and I know AASLH did for students. You have to volunteer so many hours and then you get a day free. (No evening events and such) but it is a great way to meet other people and a great intro into AAM for less money. You can learn a lot just from the volunteering part too. I volunteered for AAM in 2005 in Indianapolis and it was a great experience.


  2. Pingback: AAM Conference Impressions – A Round Up | Studio Tectonic - Exhibition & Interpretive Design / Planning - Boulder Colorado

  3. I think the prices really make things difficult for most EMPs. I was lucky, because it was in my city and my organization was a big contributor. It would be nice to have a single luncheon that wasn’t $40, or have more informal activities for younger, broker, museum folk to get to know one another.


  4. I’m sorry we never got to connect in person (I tweet @ClevelandEMP) but maybe next year? Or let me know if you visit Cleveland!

    I agree with a lot of your conclusions, particularly the cost. I was lucky enough to get funding through my workplace at the last minute for a single day registration, but I’ve never attended before due to the cost. I was actually surprised to meet as many students as I did, although I didn’t ask how they managed to pay for it. In my student days I would have had to go into debt for the conference. In a field that’s not all that lucrative to begin with, it’s hard to justify the cost when you have rent and loans and food and gas to pay for. Having a price break would help to foster a more inclusive spectrum of emerging museum professionals — particularly since we’re expected to work for free to break into the field. Who has money when you’re working for none?


    • I’m planning on AAM next year but the Cleveland Art Museum is on my list of must-sees. I’d love to visit the Monet’s Water Lilies exhibit when it makes its last stop there.

      That was really lucky you found last-minute funding for AAM. I’m not sure how the students are doing it either. I need generous sponsors like that! When I got my fellowship last year, it took a couple of conversations to get my employer to pay me during the time I would be gone. If they had not agreed to that, I would’ve had to turn down the fellowship because my budget couldn’t sustain losing a week’s worth of pay.


  5. “If you didn’t attend, why not?” I can’t afford it, and I also probably would not have had enough leave accrued or be granted permission to use leave at that time. I am working in visitor services right now, and these sorts of intellectually stimulating professional development opportunities are simply not encouraged. Also, my job situation has been in flux since finishing grad school, and I never know what I’m doing more than a few months in advance, so planning a trip in advance is difficult.

    Next year the conference will be, oh, an hour from where I live, so I will make every effort to be there!


    • Cost is definitely one of the main deterrents. And it’s a shame that you would have to give up vacation time to attend a conference that will ultimately benefit you and the other museum employees you work with. Unfortunately that is pretty common in the field, as is not allowing entry-level employees to participate in professional development opportunities (either by funding them or paying employees while they are out of the office). I hope that you will be able to make the conference! Keep an eye out for local organizations that may partner with AAM to provide funding for residents, like the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums or a local cultural arts agency.


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