JMM & AAM: Virtual Learning and Connection

The best part of the virtual AAM conference was that so many members of the JMM team were able to benefit from this professional development experience. 

When the conference was scheduled for San Francisco, we thought that at most one person might attend, but when COVID 19 caused AAM to switch to a digital conference, without the expense of hotels or air travel, we were able to allow at least six team members to participate. Below you’ll find short reactions from our team who were able to participate in the conference! – Marvin

For me, the real highlights were two market studies on the impact of COVID 19 on current and future visitor attitudes and behavior. The first was a qualitative study commissioned by AAM using visitor panels.  Because the interview panels began pre-COVID and then continued into the period when most museums were closed, the study offers a remarkably clear picture of just how much the current health crisis is reshaping visitor expectations. The second was a massive quantitative study looking at the entire cultural sector and asking questions like: when are you likely to return to a zoo, museum or theater?  what factors would influence your decision?  Researchers in this study of more than 130,000 participants found small groups at both ends of the spectrum – people responding that they are ready to go back right now as well as people who say they won’t be returning to public spaces until there is a vaccine – but the vast majority of those surveyed said their decision to visit would be predicated on evidence that a museum had taken steps to ensure the safety of visitors and staff.  These studies are important starting points for better understanding the road ahead.

~Marvin Pinkert, Executive Director

Attending the virtual conference for the American Alliance of Museums was an interesting experience. Because I attended sessions from the same chair that carries me to Museum meetings (and synagogue services, and happy hours with neighbors), I found it harder than usual to stay focused on the conference content. My distracted attention was not a testament to the quality of the sessions, however. In general I was deeply impressed not only with the depth of thought and research exhibited (that’s always the case), but with the agility and nuance with which conference organizers chose to pivot—not only in format (from in-person to digital) but in content (a new focus on race and racism).

As I expected I’d be, I was energized and inspired by Lonnie Bunch and Johnetta Cole’s panel responding to this moment of heightened awareness of race and racism following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. The two elder statespeople of the field sketched out an optimistic and deeply meaningful role for museums and cultural institutions to play in the effort to dismantle white supremacy and systemic racism. I was left with a clearer sense of how my personal passions for antiracism align with my professional endeavors at JMM.

As you might expect, the big ideas were not the only takeaways from the conference. When we finally do reopen the physical museum, you can expect to receive a free stylus from our front desk personnel. This little gizmo will allow you to interact with our touchscreens without touching them. A small investment on our part ensures we may still provide the interactive experience while keeping everyone safe—thanks for the idea, AAM! Additionally, if you are a member of the JMM, you may be receiving a check in call from one of our “redeployed” staff. We’re calling simply to see if you’re okay and to let you know how much we appreciate you and your membership. Another idea that, when expressed in an AAM session, I knew immediately was something we need to do for our community.

Since I was a bit distracted during the conference dates (May 18 and June 1 – 4) I am particularly grateful that everything was recorded. Though it’s true I’m still sitting in that same chair, I’m hopeful the ability to rewind will help me to take even more away from the AAM sessions than I already have.

~Tracie Guy-Decker, Deputy Director

I was impressed by the way AAM was able both to pivot to a virtual platform, and to quickly add new content specific not only to the pandemic, but also to the protests that began after the conference started on May 18.

In addition to the information that would “normally” be helpful – like details on the updated General Facility Report (aka nerdy registrar stuff) – the session list was filled with helpful and thought-provoking insights from staff, consultants, and leaders of museums, big and small.  I wrote down a lot of ideas that may help us navigate our unexpected year. Even when the questions and potential solutions presented were ones that we’d already encountered here at the JMM, it’s good to know that we’re not alone in our concerns, and that so many museums are working toward a more hopeful, and equitable, future.

~Joanna Church, Director of Collections and Exhibits

Attending AAM is always a treat, I come away with so many program ideas I hope to develop.

The opportunity to hear about the ways in which other museums are adapting their offerings due to covid, and the data behind those decisions, was especially helpful. This year however I was also really interested to see, and learn from, the way in which AAM was able to adapt to an online conference format. We are currently grappling with some of the same challenges as we shift to online programs, such as how to create a great audience experience, which presentation platforms best meet our needs and how to utilize the new technology most effectively. We have already been able to build some of the lessons learned into our upcoming programs, for example we will soon be making the shift to Zoom webinar. We are also working on increasing the number of programs that are more conversational rather than traditional PowerPoint presentations, look out for more panel discussions and interviews in the coming months.

~Trillion Attwood, Director of Programs and Visitor Services

AAM’s conference theme was Radical Reimagining. I attended sessions that encouraged me to think creatively and innovatively about re-inspiring, rebuilding, reengaging, and reconnecting as a part of the museum field. The conference connected me to the inspiring work of museums across the country. Christy Coleman, Executive Director of Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation presented a general session lecture that resonated throughout the week as I attended various sessions. She encouraged us to “boldly move forward to a future where our work continues to reflect the diversity and inclusiveness” of our communities. To take a moment to breathe. To rejuvenate. To reimagine the possibilities, reconnect with our mission, listen to our community, and remember the “why” in why we are here.

~Paige Woodhouse, Project Manager

I don’t know if it was the quick change to digital or just good timing, but I was so impressed with the offerings during the conference for my two fields of focus in the Museum: marketing and development. Often, I find that Museum conferences have a deep field of sessions related to collections, exhibits, and education. All important, valuable, and interesting, yes, but also a little less directly related to my day-to-day responsibilities. So it was a breath of fresh air to find at least one, and sometimes even three, relevant sessions during each block.

I particularly enjoyed a session on re-imagining membership, presented by Daniller + Co and the Barnes Foundation. They had some really great suggestions and ideas for strengthening our relationship with our biggest supporters. I’m looking forward to implementing some of their strategies in the days ahead. I’m also thrilled that AAM has made the conference recordings available to all participants, as well as making the opening session recordings available to everyone on their youtube channel!

~Rachel Kassman, Development and Marketing Manager


World of Museums

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