2018 Conference Reflection: A New Role for Our Museum by Elizabeth Walsh

As the 2019 conference call for proposals deadline nears, take a moment to read the following article written by Elizabeth Walsh, recipient of a scholarship funded by the Donna Matthews Professional Development Fund to attend Museums Alaska’s annual conference, held in Nome in 2018. 

I was hired as the Director of the Clausen Memorial Museum in Petersburg, Alaska in June 2018. As a small non-profit, our Museum functions within an intricate network of relationships. Such as the relationships between my staff, our Board of Trustees, and myself, as well as relationships with our community and other local institutions and organizations. These bonds strengthen our Museum and enrich our community. That the Museums Alaska’s theme for the 2018 Conference was Relationships perfectly suited my ongoing musings on how to get our community to actively engage with our Museum. The preconference workshop I attended in Nome opened my eyes to new roles our Museum can play within our community that will develop and strengthen personal connections to our Museum and its collection.

I attended the half-day conference workshop hosted by Amanda Dale from the Alaska Humanities Forum. The workshop explored how to use our Museum’s collection as a springboard for conversation. By engaging in conversation we can foster stronger connections between individuals as well as between our community and our Museum’s collection. Using an item from a museum’s collection is an excellent tool for creating distance, which is sometimes necessary when discussing a contentious topic. Using a museum’s collection can also help equalize participants and create a shared experience that participants can then build on during the conversation.

Museums are not just repositories of historic and old things. Museums hold living stories that still speak to relevant issues that are impacting our community today. This conference workshop focused on how to use our Museum’s collection to emphasize this aspect of museums. An important question I often ask myself is what can I do to help our community fall in love with their Museum? This in turn leads me to the question, what role does our Museums play in our community, and more importantly what new roles can our Museum take on that it hasn’t in the past? By nurturing personal relationships with our Museum’s collection, through conversation, I believe that our Museum can become a valuable resource for strengthening our community and exploring new relationships. My experience at the Conference in Nome has been instrumental to my growth as a Director of a small museum. I see a bright future for our Museum, one alive with stories both past and present.