2018 Conference Reflections by Amanda Lancaster

As we begin planning for our 2019 conference in Kodiak, take a moment to read the following article written by Amanda Lancaster, a recipient of a scholarship funded by the Donna Matthews Professional Development Fund to attend Museums Alaska’s annual conference, held in Nome in 2018.

As not only a new Alaskan, but also a relatively new museum professional, I was most looking forward to the Museums Alaska conference as a way to finally put faces to names of people I had been speaking with for over a year. I was excited to meet people that loved working in museums, archives, and other cultural institutions as much as I love working in museums. It seemed fitting that the theme of the conference was Relationships. I was also eager to see Nome, a landscape so different from any I’d seen before.

Museums in Alaska face unique challenges from those in the Lower 48, and so meeting with, and discussing common problems, was indispensable for me. It was reassuring to meet others that share similar struggles—when museum supplies cost as much to ship to Alaska as purchase, when the HVAC contractor has to fly in for a service appointment!

The sessions, having the common theme of relationships, were very useful, as the Alutiiq Museum is purposefully trying to broaden its community support beyond our core circle of patrons. I strongly believe that in order for museums to survive in the future, they must engage more with the public and highlight history from below, an argument made by Dr. Lorraine McConaghy in her keynote address at the conference.

Community conversations were a prominent theme across the conference, most especially in the Pre-Conference workshop, “Collections as Springboards for Community Conversations.” This workshop illustrated how well-situated museums are for making space for dialogue in the community, and facilitating what can be difficult conversations about community-wide issues.

I have attended academic conference before, but this was my first professional museum conference, and it was immensely beneficial. The conference had a very open, friendly feel, and the town of Nome was a wonderful host. It gave me the chance to meet people that I might not have, and I was able to visit a part of the state which would usually be out of reach. The Donna Matthews Professional Development Fund is a resource to which new museum professionals in Alaska are lucky to have access. After having met so many colleagues from across the state, I feel much more comfortable reaching out for advice about any concerns I have, and I look forward to next year’s conference in Kodiak. I look forward to showing people around my museum and Alaskan town.