Small Museum Association

    Small Museums Working Together

40th Annual Conference

Conference Speakers

Storytime! Sharing our stories, building our success - Doria Hughes

Bring your small museum success stories to this interactive session, where we will showcase and discuss stories of successful small museum practices! Let’s get to know a new set of working standards for small museums called “COINS” - Community-Oriented, Innovative, Nimble, and Specialized - which can be used as a framework for small museum self-assessment. COINS centers four key attributes drawn from our inherent strengths, which will also serve as a set of relevant story themes, to help us analyze and evaluate how and why specific practices are effective in small museum contexts.

Billy Yank, not Johnny Reb: Focusing Civil War Exhibits on the Union in Virginia- Mark Benbow

Museums throughout Virginia have exhibits dealing with the American Civil War. Visitors to the Arlington Historical Museum are often surprised to find the exhibits focused on Union soldiers. The county, however, was a Union military stronghold and refuge for those feeling enslavement, and the museum exhibits must reflect this unique history.

Museum Engagement Tactics: Lessons Learned from Henry Ossawa Tanner House and the Climate Crisis Heritage Project - Aislinn Pentecost-Farren, Christopher Rogers and Daniel Tucker

This panel, moderated by Daniel Tucker, will introduce the audience to two case studies that illuminate new approaches to thinking about museum engagement. One will focus on Christopher Rogers’ work in the historic house museum sector, developing the capacity of historic house sites that need preservation designations and resources such as the Henry Ossawa Tanner House in Philadelphia. The second case study will include the work of Aislinn Pentecost Farren’s Climate Crisis Heritage Project which seeks to re-frame historic industrial sites like The Elms mansion in Rhode Island or Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts in relationship to the historic energy transitions that created wealth, transformed labor and society, and caused the climate crisis. 

The Reflective Practice Cycle: A Tool for Developing and Improving Programs - Rebecca Shulman

It’s one thing for a museum to say, “This program will tell this tough story;” it’s another thing to do it well. This interactive session will share a program development tool that supports strong program design and incorporates evaluation and ongoing program improvement, helping museums to be intentional about when and how they tell stories, dig into the impact of the stories they tell through programs, and develop experiments directed at improving their work and tell tough stories better. We will share examples from practice, and give participants a guide to using this approach back at their museums.  

Single, Taken, or It's Complicated: Museum Career Advice For All Stages - Ali Schell

Are you in a committed relationship with your museum career, thinking about breaking up or searching the “classified ads”? This workshop is for museum professionals at all stages of their career! I'll share top tips about making your resume stand out, planning ahead even if you're in a "committed relationship" and advice for when you're ready to move on. Session includes time for speed “date” networking and putting together your “dating profile” (resume review).

How to Keep the Ball in Your Court - Jennifer Gray

Telling tough stories can be daunting, but fielding the general public is sometimes an even more challenging endeavor. How can a museum ensure that their staff are not rude, inaccurate, or antagonistic when the public starts asking probing questions that put those same personnel in uncomfortable positions? .

Becoming Comfortable With the Uncomfortable - Debra Rantanen and Liz Brant

Learn about the challenges and successes our educators faced during the development and implementation of a new 8th grade fieldtrip which focused on the lives of Black sharecroppers in Southern Maryland. By focusing on the local history of oppression, economic disparity and racial segregation, our staff hoped to shed light on a history that many would rather leave forgotten.

"Voices Recovered" Conducting an Oral History with a Disappearing Community in Lewes DE - J Marcos Salaverria

In this session hear the step-by-step process of a three year long oral history project conducted in the coastal region of Southern Delaware. Research resulted in a completed full length documentary, a portion of which will be previewed, during this presentation. This session is ideal for those just starting out, looking to conduct an oral history at their own institution.

Unflinching and Unvarnished: Curating Hard History - Ayla Amon

Using anecdotal experience from creating exhibitions and building collections at national, state, and city museums as case studies, this presentation will examine and challenge the undergirding assumptions – by scholars, visitors, and governing structures – of what it means to present “fair” and “neutral” content in a museum – and what happens when we breach these beliefs.

Can We Use The Endowment For That? An Introduction to Managing Charitable Funds - Conrad W. Deitrick

An introductory crash course on the vocabulary and legal requirements related to funds held for charitable purposes. The session will cover restricted vs. unrestricted gifts, different kinds of funds held by nonprofit organizations for particular purposes, fiduciary roles that an organization might need to play, the standards for managing charitable funds, the ongoing relationship with the donor and the donor’s family, the role of the state attorney general in enforcement, and the different ways to change or eliminate restrictions on the use of funds that have become no longer practical or useful. The focus will be on the rights and responsibilities of small museum holding charitable funds, but with a practical eye on the donor’s perspective.

Talking and Walking Common Grounds - Nancy Easterling, Jan Briscoe, Gwen Bankins and Kelsey Bush

Over 300 Historic Sotterley Descendants whose ancestors were enslaved, owners of enslaved, post-emancipated and farm laborers are part of the organization’s Descendant Project. Their stories are all part of America’s complex history. Learn from their experience and how Descendant involvement can change and shape a museum.

Moving Forward: Cultural Stewardship Succession Planning - An Update - Michelle Eisenberg and Tom Clareson

Sometimes the tough stories museums tell are internal - staff transitions, whether unexpected or planned, can be stressful due to knowledge transfer demands and lack of time for thoughtful attention. In 2023, members of the Small Museum Association participated in a listening session supporting the Collections Stewardship Succession Planning Initiative, a joint effort by the Conservation Center and Lyrasis, funded by a Museum Leadership Grant from the Institute for Museum & Library Services. Join us again for an update on the project findings and a preview of forthcoming resources.

Institutional Allyship in Practice: Collaborative Tour Creation Across Milwaukee's Cultural Museums - Mia Phifer and Dan Haumschild

America's Black Holocaust Museum and the Jewish Museum Milwaukee have designed and piloted collaborative tours at both museums that provide a more nuanced opportunity to learn about racism and antisemitism. In turn, this educational engagement will help students understand the distinctions that are pertinent to combating intolerance, hatred, and systemic forms of oppression. In this presentation we will share our motivation for providing this experience to schools, highlight the way this appeals to both of our institutional missions, and then share elements of our strategy and approach to collaborative creation including both challenges and successes in launching this pilot program. We hope these insights will encourage other small museums to collaborate as they attempt to address "tough stories" and difficult histories. .

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