Archive for the 'Professional Development' Category

Creative Teaching Techniques

A group of teachers sits clustered around a vibrant image of a little girl in a white dress standing in front of a wall covered by graffiti.

Artist

Artist, 2007, by Mary Whyte (American, b. 1953). Watercolor; 39 1/2 x 48 inches. Museum purchase with funds provided by Dr. and Mrs. (Caroline) Anton Vreede.

“What do you think this means?” asks the workshop leader.
“I think this represents innocence,” says one teacher.
“Hmm, I think it looks more like the loss of innocence,” says another.
“What do you see in the painting that makes you think so?” asks the leader.

A lively conversation ensues about visual messages, evidence, symbolism, meaning, and how artists use images to communicate ideas. This conversation is the kind of conversation being held among teachers in local schools as they learn creative teaching techniques that will engage their students in building understanding through visual art. Due to generous funding provided by Arts, etc., Engaging Creative Minds (ECM) has partnered with the Gibbes Museum of Art to provide professional development for teachers at schools on Johns Island, SC.

Teachers at Angel Oak Elementary

Gibbes Museum Educator Elise Detterbeck talks with teachers in a professional development workshop through ECM.

Engaging Creative Minds is a local non-profit that partners with the local arts community and school districts to bring creativity and innovation to the classroom. Arts, etc. is an organization of Kiawah and Cassique women committed to supporting the arts. The charitable organization has provided ECM with a grant to support local teachers and equip them with arts integrated teaching strategies.

Teaching children to “read” a piece of art mimics the process they use to read a piece of text. They have a chance to try out thinking skills such as identifying the main idea, noticing details, citing evidence, inferring, and many other skills we ask children to use with text. Even very young children can start practicing this kind of thinking with images before they have the reading skills to do it with text. It is very empowering for them.

Teachers at Angel Oak Elementary

Teachers at Angel Oak Elementary School participate in an exercise to “read” a work of art.

Faculties from Angel Oak Elementary School and Haut Gap Middle School have already received professional development as a result of the partnership between ECM and the Gibbes Museum of Art. The response has been very positive. Many of the teachers have requested support in locating artistic images that correspond to their curriculum so that they can utilize art-based teaching strategies with their students. Elise Detterbeck, Gibbes Museum Educator, and ECM staff are working together to resource teachers with appropriate images. “These strategies are so engaging,” said one local teacher, “I know my kids will really respond to these images.” The workshops help teachers learn strategies for “making meaning” from images so they can lead their students through similar experiences. They also learn strategies for integrating writing as a response to the art.

Susan Antonelli, Education Director for Engaging Creative Minds, and guest blogger

In addition to professional development workshops for teachers, Engaging Creative Minds provides in-school programs in 20 Charleston County Schools and hosts Summer STEAM Institutes at The Citadel and the College of Charleston.

Adventures in Tweeting

As an individual of a certain age, my relationship with social media has been tenuous at best. I am of the generation that did not have email until college, and even then, it was so new that no one really used it; I did not even access the Internet until I was in graduate school! I also grew up playing on metal playground equipment over concrete surfaces… perhaps you can guess my age.

I recall hearing about Facebook maybe ten years ago from some of the Gibbes college-age interns and thinking, “wow, Facebook sounds annoying,” and I avoided it completely for a few years. However, as a point of reference, I grew up in the Chicago area, which means that I have an entire lifetime of friends, relatives and experiences that are separate from my current life in South Carolina. At some point, the lightbulb went off that Facebook was an easy way to reconnect with people from my past; and it’s fun to see what people look like, who their husbands and wives are, what careers they chose, how many kids they have, etc. I joined Facebook in 2003 and will admit that it has become a daily part of my life; however, Facebook was as far as I wanted to go. I do have a Linked In account but it seemed necessary for professional connection and the truth is, I don’t use it much or utilize its networking components. Thank you to everyone who has “endorsed” me on Linked In. I don’t know what that means but I thank you.

social media platforms

Between Facebook and Linked In, I felt satisfied with my social media interactions. I recall hearing about Twitter about five years ago. With its 140 characters and hashtags I again thought, “why do I need to do this?” I am sure I am showing my age but the nuances, etiquette and immediacy of Twitter was just not something I wanted to dive into; I did not intend to ever tweet. For years I was able to say, “sorry, no Twitter account,” and I survived proving that it is possible to live a fulfilled, socially connected life without Twitter… really! Fast forward to September 2015 when the Gibbes suddenly found itself without a Communications Manager, a position that had recently handled the Museum’s social media accounts of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. While the Gibbes ultimately made the decision to contract out marketing needs to the fabulous Lou Hammond & Associates, keeping up with social media was not part of the contract. As a result, our staff did what we always do, stepped up to handle the situation. We discussed social media offerings at a meeting and several staff members expressed interest in taking on the extra responsibilities. Becca Hiester, our Curatorial Assistant, graciously agreed to handle the Gibbes Facebook page and Amanda Breen, Membership Coordinator, volunteered to do Instagram postings for the Museum. But what about Twitter? Director, Angela Mack, asked, “who wants to tweet for the Museum?” and the silence that ensued was deafening. I really thought our younger staff would jump all over this but the pressure to tweet and hashtag constantly and be clever in 140 characters and represent the Museum well and not sound silly or make typos that 4000+ people might see was a seemingly overwhelming responsibility. Also, the fact that our entire staff is already working on overdrive to get the Museum open by the end of May 2016 contributed to the fact that the Gibbes Twitter account was left without a champion. And then, as is often the case with me… my mouth opened and the following words came out “I’ll try Twitter.” WHAT JUST HAPPENED? I think I literally stunned myself, but before I had a chance to utter another word, the entire staff response was “Great! Thanks! Done.”

Ok, maybe it wasn’t a complete verbal anomaly that I volunteered for Twitter. I have, in recent months become intrigued by this medium as it is talked about at EVERY museum professional conference I have attended over the past few years. There are sessions about how to Tweet for your museum, how to hashtag, how to use Twitter to engage millennials, how to use it to promote exhibitions, how to connect, how to open doors. It is just everywhere and I have had a growing sense over the last year or so that this was something I should at least understand and learn about its value to the 21st-century museum. Twitter is not going anywhere and neither am I; we need to be friends.

Gibbes Twitter feed screenshot

So now I had the opportunity to learn about this type of social media on behalf of my institution without the pressure of having my own account. Fine, time to dive in and tweet! Lasley Steever, Director of Public Programs and Special events, who had some experience with Twitter, helped me get logged into the Gibbes account and gave me a brief tutorial on how it all worked. I will admit that the first time I looked at Twitter I experienced temporary paralysis and immediately thought, “WHY did I say I would do this?” Unlike Facebook which seems to move at much slower pace, Twitter updates come pouring in by the second. I recall sitting in front of my computer for an hour (good use of my time right?) watching tweets roll in from the 400+ entities that the Gibbes already follows and being mesmerized by the variety of posts and hashtags and retweets. After watching the feed for a while, I began to get extremely paranoid about what I would tweet, because whatever I wrote, there was the potential for literally thousands of people to see it! What should I tweet about? On any given day the Gibbes has multiple classes and programs going on. We have events coming up. Should I tweet about those and “tag” people involved? Should I make up hashtags? I didn’t even understand the whole hashtag thing. My questions and fear of tweeting something silly continued, so I closed Twitter and went on with my day. However, I could not ignore it for long. I had to get a tweet out as the Gibbes had been in a Twitter silence for weeks due to our change in staffing. I finally reopened the application and thought, “ok, I’ll tweet about something I know, something I am living with every day,” the Gibbes renovation. I posted a picture of the outside of the Museum with scaffolding still up and put some sort of hashtag on it and made a comment about renovation progress and hit “Tweet,” and then closed the application to move on with my day. Wouldn’t you know it, when I checked back later that tweet had been retweeted and “liked” and the Gibbes had gained a bunch of new followers. This initial success made me realize that tweeting really wasn’t as a big a deal as I was making it and there was no need to put pressure on myself to send out the perfect tweet! The more I began to tweet (about the art collection, about the renovation, about the new collection storage space, about our programs) the more I began to realize that the beauty of Twitter is the immediate engagement. Each bit of information pushed out there touches one of our followers in a different way. Some are interested in the building renovation and some are not. It does not matter, it is the fact that we are making the effort to communicate with everyone!

Gibbes Twitter feed screenshot

Back to present day. I am still handling the Gibbes Twitter account and those of us working on social media have received some training on how to use the various applications more effectively. I have been on the road overseeing the return of our art collection from off-site storage sites and have admittedly not done a lot of tweeting, but I will get back to it soon. I still get a thrill when someone retweets something I have posted, or if other entities tag the Gibbes account and engage with us to share their excitement about our renovation or new logo or great press we have been getting. Every now and then I decide to be more proactive with the tweets as well. One day I posted a lovely picture I had taken in the cypress swamp at Caw Caw Interpretive Center and tagged Charleston County Parks mentioning that is was easy to see where Charleston artists get their inspiration for many of the landscape paintings in our permanent collection. This tweet led to a retweet from Charleston County Parks and a direct engagement/conversation about possible collaborative programs. THIS is the power of Twitter! I get it! I am not intimidated by it anymore and feel empowered to tweet about all kinds of things on behalf of the Gibbes; someone out there will be interested!

I am still a Twitter novice at best and it is difficult at times to get regular posts in (as I have a few other projects to juggle now… ahem… the unpacking and reinstallation of our entire art collection) but I am doing my best. So if you are a Gibbes Twitter follower now you know who is behind the tweets. If you follow us, THANK YOU… and please know that every retweet and “like” on our posts gives me inspiration to tweet more! Actually, I need to go update Twitter now. Thanks of reading!

Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration and voice of the Gibbes on Twitter

Professional Development Opportunities: Southeastern Museums Conference 2015

Rebecca Sailor, Gibbes Curator of Education, and Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration at the Museum, attended the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC) in Jacksonville, Florida from October 12 – 14. SEMC is the major regional networking organization for museums and their staff in the southeastern states. Both Zinnia and Rebecca are active members of SEMC, and Zinnia currently serves as an appointed member of the Executive Council and the Annual Meeting Program Committee.

Rebecca Sailor and Zinnia Willits at SEMC 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.

Rebecca Sailor and Zinnia Willits at SEMC 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.

This year, Zinnia presented on four different panels at the Annual Meeting on topics including successful federal grant applications, museum insurance, and mid-career transitions. Her session entitled How We Did It: Tips and Strategies for Successful Federal Grant Applications was particularly well attended and allowed Zinnia an opportunity to share her story about the Gibbes recent grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. As a Council member, Zinnia also participated in a strategic planning workshop related to SEMC’s future growth.

Rebecca was joined by Zinnia, as well as staff from the Columbia Museum of Art and the Booth Western Art Museum for a session entitled Where Did All the Programs Go? The panel focused on the challenges of effective programming when space is limited or restricted, as in the case of a renovation. The Gibbes has made a special effort to keep programming available during our current renovation, while the Columbia Museum of Art is in the preparation stages of its own capital project. The Booth Museum staff shared the experience of providing programming around town in unique venues even before their building opened to the public.

Rebecca also presented with staff from the Cummer Museum of Art and the Reynolda House Museum of American Art on healthcare partnerships with museums. It was a great opportunity to inform participants about the Gibbes Art of Healing program with Roper St. Francis Healthcare, including our hospital lending collection and our public lectures and workshops on the subject. The Reynolda House offers continuing education workshops for healthcare and community service staff. Participants also learned about the partnership between the Cummer and the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, offering programs for dementia patients and physician training; the Art Beyond Sight organization; and other special needs programs.

In addition to their presentations, Rebecca and Zinnia attended many other sessions by their peers to learn what others are doing regarding innovation and engagement. A special highlight was the keynote speech by Nick Gray, founder of Museum Hack, which was a great reminder of why museums are awesome and why what we do matters so much (watch it here).

The White Gloves Gang with Zinnia Willits, part 1

How long have you been involved in SCFM?

Though originally from Chicago, Illinois, I have been part of the South Carolina Museum community since my grad school days in the Public History Program at the University of South Carolina almost 15 years ago! While life’s twists and turns took me out of South Carolina for a few years, I returned in 2001 and have been at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston since 2003 where I manage the art collection and oversee logistics for the museum’s active exhibition and loan programs.  At the request of my friend Jill Koverman, a true force in South Carolina museums who sadly passed away several years ago, I joined the South Carolina Federation of Museum’s (SCFM) Professional Development Committee (PDC) in 2010 and have been involved with the organization ever since.

Can you describe why it’s important as a museum professional to have an active role in organizations like SCFM?

Professional development opportunities and responsibilities have played a pivotal role in my personal career growth since my entrée into the museum field so many years ago. Our profession is constantly changing. New standards for collections care, exhibition design, curatorial research, digitization of information, use of social media, educational programming, membership tracking, and every other aspect of museum work are being discussed daily on list-servs, blogs, and at various gatherings of museum professionals. Museum staff need high levels of knowledge and expertise to continue to add value to the communities they serve. Playing an active role in professional organizations, and attending conferences and relevant workshops provides opportunities for peer engagement, expansion of one’s knowledge base, and information that can be put into practice immediately. I am constantly beating the professional development drum about the importance of making time and finding funds to attend professional training opportunities that are essential to career development and remind us that our individual work contributes to something larger including the preservation and promotion of the humanities! As I say often (to anyone who will listen,) nobody will ever care about your professional growth as much as you do!

The White Gloves Gang at the Marion County Museum

The White Gloves Gang at the Marion County Museum

Where did the idea for the White Gloves Gang originate?

The Registrars Committee (RC) of the American Alliance of Museums has been operating a similar program called the Reinforcement Crew since 2007.  This annual event offers expertise, people-power and support to museums and organizations that need assistance with collections-based projects, and coincides with the AAM Annual Meeting. I have friends who were instrumental in developing the Reinforcement Crew and have always been an advocate of seasoned museum professionals “giving back” to the field. I was intrigued with the concept and as I became more involved in the South Carolina museum community, it became clear that a volunteer program similar to the Reinforcement Crew could provide real benefit to the many small museums and cultural centers that dot our state. Once I was in a leadership position and had an opportunity to move the idea for a White Gloves Gang program forward, I went for it! SCFM’s leadership has a long history of embracing program ideas suggested by the membership…even my crazy ideas. That being said, one lesson you learn early on is that if you want your program to have legs, you, the idea person, have to put in the work to get it off the ground!

Stay tuned for next week’s part two of the White Gloves Gang….

The Art & Heart of Philanthropy

Why is giving back important to the community? This was the theme of a recent panel discussion hosted by the Gibbes Museum of Art and the Center for Women. The “Art & Heart of Philanthropy” panel discussion was held at The Sanctuary on Kiawah Island on Tuesday, January 14, and featured four prominent, local women who are passionate philanthropists. Panelists Laura Gates, Carolyn Hunter, Susan Romaine, and Anita Zucker spoke with moderator Jane Perdue about the art of giving back.

The Art & Heart of Philanthropy at the Sanctuary on Kiawah Island

Guests attending the Art & Heart of Philanthropy panel discussion at the Sanctuary on Kiawah Island.

As the marketing manager for the museum, I had been preparing for the event for some time, and was looking forward to it on a personal level because I was seeking inspiration. When I was young, my dad was very involved with our small town community in Vermont, and worked hard to model this behavior to my sister and me. However, instead of being inspired, I often dragged my heels and complained when he took us to a nursing home to sing carols on Christmas Eve, or pulled us out of the house to help build the town playground. Those memories are more than three decades old, and now it’s my turn to introduce the concept of giving back to my children. As the mother of three boys, I finally understand what dad was trying to do, but I don’t know how to do it. So, I was looking forward to hearing what these women would share about getting involved with the community.

I recorded several of the questions and answers I found most inspiring during the conversation to share with you below. Moderator Jane Perdue began with asking the women to explain why giving back was important to them.

A. Susan Romaine, a nationally recognized artist, said she starting giving out of a sense of gratitude. “I gave to Planned Parenthood because they offered me free health services and enabled me to be healthy when I was young and didn’t have any money.” As she grew older and earned more money, she began to widen her giving reach, and shared her time and money with other non-profits. Carolyn Hunter, President of C&A Unlimited, and owner of three local McDonald’s franchises, said giving back is important to her because “we need to share what we have with others.” Anita Zucker, Chairperson and CEO for the InterTech Group, said her parents were Holocaust survivors who taught her that if you don’t have the money, give your time. Laura Gates, Board President of the Carolina Art Association/Gibbes Museum of Art, said she is motivated to give back because she feels very fortunate. Laura began her philanthropy when she was young by giving $5 to her alma matter, Wellesley College, because she wanted to participate. “There is a thrill associated with giving,” Laura added. “Endorphins are released and there is a ‘giving high.’”

Q. In their book Reinventing Fundraising, the authors describe six reasons women are motivated to give:  create, change, connect, collaborate, commit and celebrate. Do any of these six resonate with you? And if so, why?

A. Carolyn Hunter said her reasons for giving were to Change and Celebrate. She said, “I want to know how I can get more African American women from the community involved.” Laura Gates said her reasons for giving were to Change and Create because “educated women will change the world.”

Q. What are your thoughts on how to get children participating in and learning about philanthropy?

A. Anita Zucker explained that when her children were young, she took them with her to volunteer at Crisis Ministries. “It’s important to show your children how other people live, then they understand that everything they do has an impact,” she explained. Susan Romaine agreed and said when her daughter was young that she tried to lead by example. “At the end of the day my daughter wanted me to stay home with her, but I explained to her that this was important work. Sometimes I would take her with me to volunteer or attend a meeting so she could see what it was all about.”

Q. The Women’s Philanthropy Institute writes, “Women have traditionally been heralded for their generations of life-changing service to society. But today, women are not limited to contributions of service as they are achieving full confidence in their capabilities as financial donors.” You all certainly embody this transformation! What advice do you offer to other women in gaining confidence relative to money and influence?

A. Susan Romaine said that nothing is too small. “Give $5, $10, or $1,000 and you will feel empowered!” Anita Zucker agreed and said that she began giving in increments of $18 and called it ‘bite-sized pieces.’ “Then you can inspire people through your giving,” she said. Laura Gates added that women need to understand their financial situation so they can give in their lifetime. “Enjoy giving now,” she encouraged the audience.

Carolyn Hunter summed up the discussion with the simple phrase: “The more I give, the more I get.”

I left the discussion feeling empowered, and realized that I didn’t have to follow in my father’s exact footsteps and make my boys sing carols at Christmas, but that I could create my own path of giving. I could follow the panelist’s advice and lead by example.

Amy Mercer, Marketing and Communications Manager, Gibbes Museum of Art

 

A Whirlwind Tour of AAM 2013 in Baltimore

“I will be at the American Alliance of Museums conference next week,” I announce to our staff. Everyone says “great, we can’t wait to hear all about it,” and we move on with the business of the day.

I am extremely fortunate to represent the Gibbes Museum of Art at professional museum conferences each year. Upon my return from a conference, I try to fill our staff in on what I learned as soon as possible, usually during the first hour of being back at work. After that small window of opportunity, the real world takes over; emails and phone messages must be returned, new projects must be faced and lengthy “to do” lists (which have grown longer during my absence) must be tackled. More often than not, I am able to provide a general synopsis of sessions I attended, but that’s about it. I never really get the chance to tell anyone what I actually did at the conference! So Gibbes staff, this post is for you too! It’s been over two months since I attended the AAM Annual Meeting but finally, you will learn what I did at the 2013 AAM Annual Meeting!

Sometimes getting there is the hardest part!
Sunday May 19

This year the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) held its annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland from May 19-22. Over 5000 people representing museums in 50 different countries attended this conference. More than 170 different sessions and workshops were offered and the conference theme, The Power of Story, was woven into all activities.

Greetings from Baltimore

The program usually comes out a few months before the meeting so one has time to peruse the offerings and determine if attending would be beneficial to both the individual and the institution. While it seems like the answer would always be “yes, of course it would be beneficial to attend,” there is a considerable amount of expense involved. Registration fees, airfare, meals, events, workshops; it all adds up and sadly, professional development funds are often the first to be cut from an institutional budget. Even though AAM does its best to keep the conference reasonably priced, I can usually only attend every couple of years. However, this year the meeting was in Baltimore, a quick and reasonably priced direct flight from Charleston. I added the expense to my travel budget, crossed my fingers during the budget process and thankfully was approved for take-off! Of course the AAM dates were not convenient to my work world (they never are, you just have go) and fell during an exhibition installation. However, a quick trip (Sunday-Tuesday) was feasible and I was determined to make the most of it!

Flying to Baltimore was the easy part. Extracting me from my regular life and its crazy schedules was more of a challenge. My six-year-old daughter was competing in a two-day horse show on the days leading up to my departure. To complicate matters, my son and husband were out of town during the same time so all the horse show prep and logistics were on me. I am providing this detail primarily so you will have an idea of my frame of mind as I tried frantically to get ready for a major conference in the midst of the horse stuff. On Sunday, my husband returned to relieve me so I could race to the airport for a 1:00pm flight. I was finally ready to switch gears, focus on museums and the conference, and plan which sessions I would attend and how I would maximize my time. Thankfully, this year AAM came out with a free, downloadable, Annual Meeting “app” that provided detailed lists and summaries of daily conference sessions and activities. This app was a tremendous help in plotting my time. While I am certain the creation of an annual meeting app was part of AAM’s larger technology plan, I would also like to think that someone realized how useful it would be to those of us who left for Baltimore stressed out and in various states of disorganization; using this app helped me calm down, get organized, and regain my equilibrium!

Party on a boat….I promise it was business!

By the time the plane touched down at Baltimore Washington National Airport (BWI), my early morning at the horse show was a fuzzy memory. My thoughts had switched from ponies, equitation, and ribbons to museums, museums, museums. I was finally able to relax and enjoy the fact that soon I would be among my peers from all over the country. AAM does a great job of welcoming its participants; huge banners greeted us at BWI alerting every traveler in the airport that this week, Baltimore was THE place to be for museum professionals.

The Baltimore Convention Center, the nucleus for all AAM activities, was just one block from my hotel so I ran over to pick up my conference registration packet. These packets provide participants with all the essentials including name badge, event tickets, maps, etc. AAM has become more “green” in recent years, and my bag contained much less paper than in the past. Attendees were encouraged to use the app for conference planning and all session information and handouts were online.

To be honest, even though I have been to several AAM conferences, I still find them slightly overwhelming, particularly at the beginning. The convention center is huge, there are literally hundreds of people milling about and you need to really study the maps to figure out where sessions and events are located. I decided to take care of all that later; I had people to meet and places to be!

Greeters_Baltimore_Convention_Center

Helpful greeters at the Baltimore Convention Center. Image courtesy of American Alliance of Museums.

I had one hour to unpack and get cleaned up for my big evening kick-off event, the famous Shippers Party! This greatly anticipated event is an annual party sponsored by a long list of domestic and international shipping companies for all Registrars and Collections Managers attending the AAM Annual Meeting. It is always held at a fabulous local venue and the organizers outdo themselves from year to year. It is a great opportunity to interact with our peers, network with shipping agents, make new contacts and enjoy a terrific evening. The 2013 Shippers Party was held on the Spirit of Baltimore, a two-deck sailing vessel, and included dinner, dancing, and a cruise around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. I connected with a few friends from graduate school who now work at the Mint Museum and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and we headed to the boat.

Spirit_of_Baltimore

The Spirit of Baltimore

Once on board, I was fully immersed in the business of museum conferences, talking, talking, and more talking about all kinds of museum topics. I searched out representatives from shipping companies I use to thank them for the party and for their assistance on my projects. I meandered around and introduced myself to registrars who I have worked with on loans and exhibitions but have only known through email. Finally putting faces with names is truly a fun experience. I found my colleagues from the Registrars Committee (RC) of AAM and discussed our upcoming RC business meeting. I reconnected with more friends from graduate school and previous museum jobs, catching up on everyone’s lives and careers.

Baltimore_Harbor

Evening view of the Inner Harbor from the boat.

As the night wore on and the boat sailed around the harbor, there was lots of laughter, genuine camaraderie and good fun among this group. There was dancing and there was singing; future projects and collaborations were planned; a good time was had by all. The boat docked at midnight. After being up for way too many hours, moving through all my various realities during the day, and talking non-stop at the party, I was done! Goodnight AAM.

Breakfasts, sessions, luncheons, receptions, dinners, oh MY!
Monday May 20

My alarm rang at 6am the next morning. I awoke in complete confusion wondering where I was and if my kids were late for school. Slowly, clarity set in and I realized, oh yes, I am at AAM in Baltimore and I need to be at the Fellowship Breakfast at 7:00AM! Buckle up folks… if you thought Sunday was a whirlwind, it had nothing on Monday and its many conference activities!

After my usual morning scramble and a short walk down the street, I arrived at the convention center in search of the AAM Fellowship Breakfast. This event was organized to honor the 2013 recipients of AAM Travel Fellowships which are awards that provide monetary stipends to attend the Annual Meeting. Recipients of these awards truly distinguish themselves as the application review process is rigorous and the competition is fierce! I currently serve at the Fellowship Chair for the Registrars Committee of the American Alliance of Museums. As such, I am also a member of the larger AAM Fellowship Task Force that reviews all applications across the Professional Networks (PN), and selects the recipients. I have been involved with the RC Fellowship Committee for ten years, but this was my first year working with the larger AAM Task Force. It was a lot of work but also enormously gratifying to be part of a process that provides well-qualified individuals the means to attend the conference. The Fellowship Breakfast was an opportunity for recipients to meet each other and make connections. This year, members of the Registrars Committee Executive Board were paired with each of the eight fellowship recipients representing the RC. The RC mentor-mentee pairing was a nice opportunity for us to get to know one another. The food was good, the coffee was strong and it was a great way to start the day.

After the early breakfast, the rest of the morning passed in an educational blur while I attended several different panel discussions. Sessions at AAM are huge and rooms are usually filled by 100 people or more. I have presented at AAM in the past. It is a wonderful, if somewhat nerve wracking experience. This year however, I was there to simply listen and learn which definitely took the pressure off. I tried to attend sessions that were relevant to my work at the Gibbes, particularly those that focused on museum renovation and movement and storage of collections. I learned a great deal at morning sessions about “green” practices for museums on limited budgets and how to remain a museum even when one’s doors are closed. I took many notes, poured over hand-outs, and introduced myself to presenters so I could follow up with questions at a future date. Sessions usually last about an hour and thirty minutes and time flies.

AAM_Conference_Session

A packed session! Image courtesy of American Alliance of Museums

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the morning was gone and it was time for my next scheduled event, a luncheon sponsored by Willis Fine Art, Jewelry & Specie, the Gibbes fine art insurance broker. Willis has a long tradition of holding this event at AAM as a way to show its appreciation for Registrars and all they do. This year, the lunch was held at the historic Pratt Street Ale House and was yet another opportunity to catch up with friends and chat with our insurance brokers, a team of individuals who I have known and worked with for many years and truly enjoy spending time with at conferences. I feel lucky to have such solid relationships with many of the vendors who provide services to the Gibbes and make my job easier.

After an animated lunch with the Willis folks, I headed back to the conference for sessions that taught me about grant opportunities with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the latest trends in sustainable preservation. By late afternoon I could have used a nap but I was on auto-pilot; the day was not over by any stretch of the imagination. After a few more sessions, I headed down to the MuseumExpo, a gigantic maze of an exhibit hall filled with vendors from over 250 companies that provide services to museums.

2013_AAM_Expo_Hall

The 2013 MuseumExpo Exhibit Hall. Image courtesy of American Alliance of Museums

Cruising the exhibit hall takes some getting used to and is another annual meeting activity that requires a plan. One must decide which type of service providers to make contact with; it’s ok to wander but it helps to have a strategy. I always visit vendors the Gibbes works with first; it helps me get oriented to the exhibit hall and is a good way to strengthen relationships. This year, I also visited booths of several companies that design exhibition furniture with an eye toward new and innovative ways to display our miniature portrait collection. I chatted with the sales people, asked lots of questions, took catalogs and contact information, and was on my way. At this point it was around 5pm so I sat down for a few minutes and gather my wits before heading to my NEXT event—a reception for Museum Assessment Program (MAP) Peer Reviewers, which began at 6pm. I have been a MAP peer reviewer for a little over a year and didn’t want to miss the opportunity to meet the MAP leadership and other peer reviewers from around the country. I walked in not knowing anyone and an hour later I had made a few new friends from the Mountain Plains Museums Association (MPMA), had good conversations about the ins and out of being a peer reviewer, and picked up some really great ideas for possible events for our state museum conference. For example, the MPMA folks do something called a “bar” session at conferences. It is held after hours and encourages free-form, spirited discussion on controversial (and possibly ludicrous) topics such as “is it really necessary for a museum to have a Registrar?” I would love to participate in that one!

It was now 7pm and I had to move on to the final event of my day, dinner with friends from Transport Consultants International (TCI). I have worked with the good people at TCI for many years on all our art packing and shipping needs. The TCI team has helped me with many complicated projects and I depend on their expertise and advice a great deal. This particular dinner included a group of us who work with TCI including colleagues from Chicago, Colorado, and Florida. We were an animated party from the get go and boy was it fun. We headed out to an amazing Baltimore restaurant, Kali’s Court, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner among friends full of museum tales and more laughter. Time passed quickly that evening and many hours later, after fabulous food, lively conversation, and an unexpected limo ride back to our hotels, I was finally back in my room, exhausted yet satisfied with my day. Good night, Monday.

Can it really be the last day already?
Tuesday May 21

Waking up Tuesday, it was hard to believe that this was my last day in Baltimore. What a whirlwind and strange to think that when I finished the day I would be home in Charleston! Thankfully I did not have any breakfast obligations but sessions did begin at 8:45AM; no rest for the weary. I had a few minutes before the morning sessions so I braved the very long line for a Starbucks coffee and made my way to my first session, “Balancing Preservation Needs of Collections with the Integrity of the Building.” This session was packed with curators, registrars, conservators and exhibition designers, all eager to hear the latest discussion regarding guidelines for temperature and relative humidity for the preservation of artwork. The session was led by both conservators and engineers who discussed ways in which museums can address the integrity of the environment and their obligation to preserve our cultural heritage in the context of new, much broader environmental guidelines. A very interesting session indeed and one that I may expand upon in future blog posts!

I finished out the morning in a session about utilizing off-site collection storage facilities, a situation the Gibbes will find itself in while the museum is under renovation. Next, I was off to the annual business luncheon for the Registrars Committee of AAM, a professional organization I have been involved with for many years. This gathering of the RC membership includes reports from the national officers and committee chairs. As Chair of the Fellowship Committee, it was my responsibility to report on the monetary travel stipends presented to RC members. This is a wonderful part of the luncheon and I am always thrilled to recognize the Fellowship recipients, many of whom are emerging professionals and first time attendees of AAM. Awards were given, pictures were taken, promises to see each other soon were made, and then it was back to the conference.

Zinnia_Willits_Melanie-_Neil

Zinnia Willits with RC Fellowship recipient, Melanie Neil, Assistant Registrar at the Chrysler Museum of Art.

Of course I stayed late at the lunch to chat with members of the RC Executive Committee and do some impromptu brainstorming about the coming year, and soon found myself rushing to the 1:45pm session. Simply titled, “Legal Issues in Museums,” this was a session I had been looking forward to! The room was filled beyond capacity with standing room only. I really wanted to attend this session so I sat down on the floor in the middle of the aisle. It was worth it. The session was led by a panel of lawyers and a curator who work with art law, intellectual property and other fields related to museums. The audience was encouraged to ask the panel general questions and the lawyers weighed in. There were definitely some crazy questions as well as interesting situations to ponder, including a great query about copyright related to a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes in a museum collection.

After sitting on the floor for an hour and a half, I was ready to move on to a comfortable chair… or any chair. My final session that afternoon was on facilities planning in the current economy and reviewed several recent case studies including the Art Institute of Chicago’s 2006 Gallery Re-Installation Master Plan, which aimed to create the most beneficial display of collections while addressing visitor circulation and existing building deficiencies. I picked up good information at this session but admittedly, was beginning to reach my saturation level with information retention. I took a final stroll through the exhibit hall to say goodbye to friends and caught a great hands-on demonstration about art shipping crates. One of the art packers actually retrofitted a crate before our eyes to fit a piece of delicate porcelain safely and securely into a custom cavity. It was really cool! Soon however, it was time to bid adieu to the Baltimore Convention Center and my museum friends, old and new.

I convinced myself that I had time to stop in at one last event before heading to the airport. This gathering was for those of us from southern states representing the Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC). After a few days of interacting on a national level it was wonderful to see all my southeastern colleagues gathered in one place. SEMC is comforting, familiar and supportive and I am so thankful I had time to drop in. As an added bonus, another reception for alumni of the University of South Carolina Public History Program (that’s me!) was happening at the same venue and I was able to see more friends from graduate school! However, all too soon, it was time for me to rush out again. Typical to my entire 2013 AAM experience, I left the reception late, literally ran to my hotel to retrieve my bag, and paid a cab driver an exorbitant amount of money to get me to the airport on time.

And so my story ends where it began, with my arrival back at work and the limited amount of information I was able to convey to staff. But now you finally have it all, my 2013 AAM experience in a (very big and wordy) nutshell. It was two and half days of non-stop talking, learning, networking, laughing, reminiscing and planning. It was thrilling and exhausting and I am ever thankful to have had the opportunity to represent the Gibbes!

Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration, Gibbes Museum of Art