The City of San Jose, California sits at the southern edge of Silicon Valley — one of the most vital regions in the world. As a hub for the Bay Area’s technology sector, San Jose is a natural host to museums like the Tech Museum of Innovation and the Computer History Museum. But as the home to over 700,000 residents, it also boasts cultural institutions that work hard to nurture the values of life long learning and creativity in the community.
This fall, University of San Francisco museum studies faculty, staff, students and alumni headed about an hour down Highways 280 and 880 to San Jose to join with 450+ delegates attending the 2015 Western Museums Association conference. Together, they discussed, discovered and dissected the chosen theme of the conference: Listen, Learn, Lead.
USF was a proud sponsor of this annual gathering of museum professionals from throughout the western United States. Fittingly for a conference set in the open-ended culture of Silicon Valley, one can’t capture the spirit of what we experienced in a single snapshot or voice.
Below are some reflections on the conference from our community:
Elinoar Almagor, MA in Museum Studies 2014 alumna and currently a museum educator at Contemporary Jewish Museum: WMA provided four days in the company of people who care about art culture and education: my favorite crowd! Dana Mitroff Silvers and Liz McDermott’s workshop, Using Design Thinking to Develop Visitor Centered Experiences, was truly insightful. The design exercise emphasized the importance of empathy for your audience. We interviewed a partner to learn her needs and interests, and designing a unique museum experience accordingly. I designed an outdoor museum tower in the woods with a bird observatory, and various nature-related interactive media areas for my partner, and she designed for me a Chicago museum experience, based on my various interests. Rather than looking at the visitors and their needs from the outside, it was an opportunity to understand and care from within.
Stephanie Brown, Faculty: CJM educator and USF alumna Elinoar Almagor and I attended the General Session and Keynote Address on Sunday morning: a worthy introduction to the conference’s rich, complex fabric. From Mission San Dolores’ Andrew Galvin’s Ohlone welcome to the Bay Area, to the Hawaiian welcome from WMA president Kippen de Alba Chu, to the Silicon-valley inspired lessons on leadership that John Hollar, President and CEO of the Computer History Museum, offered, the session forecast a conference that focused on listening to each other and our communities, learning from our colleagues, visitors, collections, and heritage, and leading the field forward.
Alexa Beaman, MA in Museum Studies 2014 alumna and currently content developer at GuideKick, an app startup that produces mobile apps for museums around the nation: It was an honor to be a presenter in “Defining Leadership Across Generational Divides” with fellow leaders in the field. We discussed how older and younger generations can work together to create stronger and more effective institutions by building on the skills each age group offers in a sort of “cross-generational collaboration” so to speak. Here’s a link to a blogpost with more information about our session: http://www.westmuse.org/articles/program-perspective-crossing-generational-divides
Paula Birnbaum, Academic Director: I felt inspired and proud while listening to USF Museum Studies alumna Alexa Beaman’s (Class of 2015) comments as a panelist in a session entitled “Defining Leadership Across Generational Divides,” moderated by James Burns. Alexa was one of two millennials on this multi-generational panel (that included WMA President Kippen de Alba Chu) charged with reflecting on how established and emerging leaders can collaborate to strengthen the museum field and our institutions. In the context of what it means to “manage-up,” I thought Alexa’s advice to other young people was right on target: ‘Have confidence in what you bring to the table, along with a willingness to address what you don’t know and want to learn.” In short, generational differences in the museum workplace are real and come with a variety of challenges, and it was exciting to see Alexa as a member of our inaugural class taking a leadership role in this discussion.
Miriam Blumenfeld, MA in Museum Studies 2015 alumna: Coffee breaks were a great time to refuel and engage with different people. I think this was the best time to connect with people outside of your direct interest. I learned a lot by talking to a random conference stranger, this initial meeting with a stranger usually blossomed into a engaging conversation.
Lauren Garnese, Class of 2016: I attended the conference as an intern, so I got a behind the scenes look at what goes on to planning a conference (it’s a lot!). A highlight was meeting not only the WMA staff, but other emerging museum professionals. The session “Achieving Access with High Tech and High Touch”, was an inspiring panel about developing access programs on a low budget, and some high-tech options that the de Young is piloting. I look forward to attending more conferences in the future, and encourage my fellow classmates to do the same!
USF Museum Studies is proud to be a sponsor for the upcoming September 2016 Western Museums Association conference which will take place in Phoenix, Arizona. Featured will be a session highlighting the accomplishments of alumnus Ray Bussolari and the Foster Youth Museum, moderated by faculty member Marjorie Schwarzer. USF will also sponsor the closing panel led by Gregory Hinton, the creator and producer of Out West™, a historic national program series dedicated to illuminating the history and culture of the Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) communities in the American West.
For more information on USF’s Museum Studies program, click here.