This article originally appeared in the May/June 2022 issue of Museum magazine, a benefit of AAM membership.
I recently boarded a plane to Seattle to do something I hadn’t done for almost two years: attend an in-person museum conference.
Before the pandemic, I was on the road regularly visiting members and attending conferences every few weeks. For this one, though, I was as nervous as if it were my first. After such a long time of hunkering down, staying close to home, and (usually) enjoying the extra time with family, it felt like a huge step to be going across the country for a large gathering.
How would I handle the already nerve-inducing parts of conferences, which come less naturally to the introverted among us, on top of staying safe in the pandemic?
Once I made it to the meeting and started talking with people, I was more than glad I made the trip. For one thing, I realized I was far from alone in my anxiety. We had all been in our pandemic bubbles, enduring the pain and isolation of our historic times, not realizing how desperate we were to reconnect. Now that we could be together again, we could see just how shared this experience was and begin to talk optimistically about the future and what we had learned and hoped to gain from our challenges. We also got to rediscover the thrill of visiting a museum with other museum people, taking in all kinds of new sights, from a tour of the new Burke Museum and its inspiring decolonization efforts to dinner under the M-21 Blackbird in the Museum of Flight (a particular delight for a pilot like myself).
All in all, it turned out to be a rejuvenating experience, one that reminded me of how nice—and necessary—it can be to immerse yourself in in-person experiences and dialogues. It left me incredibly excited about AAM’s own Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo in Boston on May 19-22. The AAM Annual Meeting will be a big Alliance reunion. For most of the thousands of people who will make the trip to Boston, the conference will be their first in-person industry event in two years. I hope you will leave feeling as I did after Seattle: resilient, hopeful, and reenergized after a long period of isolation.
The AAM team has been working hard to design a thoughtfully planned meeting that takes full advantage of this pivotal moment. Museums are at a turning point where we must make foundational decisions for the next era of our field, both to navigate ongoing challenges with our operations and to seize on opportunities for reinvention to build a better future.
In that light, we’ve restructured this year’s meeting into four thematic tracks representing the greatest priorities of the field in this moment: Museums in Society, Financial Wellness, Organizational Culture, and Innovation. To help the insights stick, we’re emphasizing opportunities for interactive, collaborative experiences that will allow you to engage more deeply and reconnect with your peers. Also, recognizing that many people may be a little shaky in returning to an event, like I was, we’re building a gentle on-ramp, with touches like longer breaks between sessions for processing and connecting.
One of the best parts of attending a conference, and one many of us have been sorely missing, is getting out of our everyday surroundings and seeing new and inspiring places. We’re in Boston this year, a city with outstanding museums and vibrant and diverse neighborhoods. The Alliance members in Boston are generously opening their doors to host the field this year, as we rejoice in finally being able to come together again. I hope to see you there!