By Jenna Hebert
As my plane alighted into San Diego the afternoon of February 19, I gazed from the small oval window. I was excited to be back in a place so familiar to me and to see the beautiful architecture of the park I had come to love. The museums and cultural activities in San Diego and Balboa Park had become extensions of my classrooms during my time as an undergraduate at Point Loma Nazarene University, and I was eager to return as a University of San Francisco Museum Studies student to continue my education from my newly gained perspective.
I was returning to San Diego to attend the annual conference of the California Association of Museums (CAM). Balboa Park alone is home to 17 museums and multiple performing arts programs, gardens and attractions. And San Diego County is home to over 75 institutions. It’s no surprise that CAM chose San Diego as the site for its 2015 conference. (In 2016, CAM will meet in Riverside).
I was attending, along with my fellow classmate Victor Crosetti and recent USF Museum Studies Graduate, Kaitlin Buickel. I had signed up to volunteer. Victor and Kaitlin, in the meantime, were speaking on panels at the conference. Both confirmed they were more-or-less “terrified” before presenting on Friday morning — among the select few “emerging professionals” chosen to be presenters.
Kaitlin joined Katharine Baldwin-Corriveau (JFKU) and Anna Bunting (SFSU) on the panel “New Perspectives: Exploring the Latest in Collections Management Research with Emerging Museum Professionals,” moderated by Joy Tahan-Ruddell from the Oakland Museum of California. The topics presented ranged from Natural Sciences and Advocacy of History Collections to Managing Virtual and Conceptual Art Collections.
Kaitlin’s presentation focused on creating better visitor access to the California Academy of Science’s vast collection. The Academy has been making strides to get more objects out on the floor through docent trainings, temporary and pop-up exhibits, and tabling during Night Life.
Kaitlin told me that she felt honored to have been chosen to present her research and she was glad the audience at her panel was open to embracing new ideas from emerging professionals. Even though she was nervous, her research and work was validated during the panel. She felt her ideas were well received and sparked good questions from her audience. She enjoyed the Q and A session the most because she got to see the ideas inspire inquiry and debate. Even after the panel had ended, each of the recent graduates was receiving one-on-one questions and comments from the audience. Excitement was in the air.
Meanwhile, a couple of conference rooms away, Victor Crosetti was also presenting. Victor, who identifies himself as a Mexican American, kickstarted his museum career as a Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Intern in the Los Angeles area. The Getty Scholarship program supports underrepresented groups within our field by sponsoring museums to bring multicultural interns into the field. The panel topic “We Have a Dream: Building a Multicultural Workforce”, was directly related to his experience with the Getty program. Victor presented on his time in the program and his subsequent museum work, and how these experiences led to the continuation of his professional development as an M.A. candidate in the Museum Studies program here at University of San Francisco.
Victor’s time as a Getty Multicultural Intern was instrumental in encouraging and developing his museum career goals. His mentors gave him excellent opportunities and helped him grow as a museum professional. Without this program, and ones like it, opportunities for multicultural representation in museums may be lost. The panel highlighted not only the importance of diversity, but of shaping a culturally receptive staff in order to better serve museum communities. And what happens if a museum staff does not reflect or embrace the diverse culture they serve? Will their community ever receive meaningful and relevant programming from that institution? An opportunity to serve the widest audience possible is lost without multicultural representation within an institution.
Victor reinforced the benefits of building a multicultural workforce. Mentoring and engaging emerging multicultural professionals will lead to a more well-rounded, diverse and culturally receptive workforce for the future of the museums.
And as for me, after my volunteer shifts I met up with Victor to talk about his panel and enjoy a vegetarian lunch in the exhibit hall. I ended up talking with three other professionals and our casual conversation eventually turned into a discussion of generational dynamics. Each of us were at different points in our lives and careers, and we came from different backgrounds. One of the younger professionals, Monica, was trying to navigate a very large generation gap between the staff and the director at her museum. She felt her ideas and other staff members’ ideas were not being heard, or they were being pushed to the side because of age and inexperience. Ultimately their museum was suffering because of this gap. We each gave her our advice and worked together to find a good solution. And I thought to myself, if this kind of teamwork and cross-generational dialogue can happen here over lunch, maybe it’s not so difficult to incorporate into a museum setting.
Just as beautiful Balboa Park had served as my satellite campus so many years ago, The CAM conference had become another extension of my museum studies classroom. Victor, Kaitlin and I encountered mid-career and seasoned professionals discussing the same hot topics we cover in our lectures. We were prepared. We had something to say. And we felt confident contributing to the conversation.
I am happy I was able to support two of my peers as they shared their experiences. We are the emerging voices in the museum field. I’m grateful we are being given opportunities to speak and other professionals are taking the time to listen.
Editor’s note: We thank faculty member Stephanie Brown for the photos and her support of the students in San Diego.