Reflections on the 2021 AAM Annual Meeting

Logo for the conference.
Logo for the conference, image courtesy of


This year, like last, I had the opportunity to attend the American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting. This conference, usually in person but now virtual due to COVID-19, brings together museum professionals and thought leaders from across the United States and the world to discuss critical issues affecting the field. It’s a great opportunity to learn from others about the work they are doing and get inspired by keynote speakers. I’d like to share some reflections on attending the conference and highlight a few takeaways from the sessions I attended.

Screenshot from Priya Parker presentation.
Screenshot from Priya Parker presentation.

Throughout the conference, there were several opportunities to hear from keynote speakers including facilitator and author Priya Parker, Bryan Stevenson, the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and Sandra Cisneros, a Chicana writer and artist. I really enjoyed hearing these speakers’ perspectives on museums as leaders outside the field.

I loved Priya Parker’s book The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, so I was looking forward to her presentation. Parker spoke about how the pandemic has presented an opportunity for us to reconsider how and why we gather. She noted examples in which people have developed more accessible and creative ways to gather during this time and urged listeners not to abandon these solutions as we move forward. As someone who helps plan programs for the Museum, her talk prompted me to consider how we can apply the lessons learned over the past year into our events in the future. 

I was also inspired by the other two keynotes I watched. In his powerful address to attendees, Bryan Stevenson spoke about the leading role museums must play in striving for justice. He argued that museums cannot be neutral; they will either be contributors to the fight for racial and social justice, or they will be part of the problem. In her keynote, Sandra Cisneros mused widely on her experiences with museums as both a child and adult. I loved the enthusiasm and energy she brought to her talk and the way she combined lighthearted anecdotes with critical insights on the future of museums.

Screenshot from Bryan Stevenson keynote.
Screenshot from Bryan Stevenson keynote.

Conference Sessions:

One of the first presentations I attended was “60 Ideas in 60 Minutes: Sizzling Ideas in Audience Engagement and Inclusion.” This was a rapid-fire session where speakers from various professional development networks shared examples of impactful experiences offered by museums across the globe that fell within the themes of service, reckoning, and engage. It was great to learn about the work of so many museums in such a short amount of time and see the variety of ways museums are serving and responding to their communities.

The following day, I attended the session, “Game On: Putting Play at the Center of Virtual Experiences.” I heard from three speakers about how they incorporated games into their virtual programs for adults and children. I appreciated that the programs mentioned ranged from simpler, low-cost options to more elaborate, highly produced experiences, and that the speakers stressed the benefit of incorporating games for all audience types. I came away from this session with new ideas about how to incorporate a bit of play into future virtual events.  

The final session I will highlight is “Cultural Museums: Stand Strong with their Communities.” Representatives from the Chicago Cultural Alliance shared the ways their museums have contributed to the neighborhoods in which they are situated. It was interesting to learn about how cultural museums can serve as anchors in their community through partnerships and by providing economic support and think about how the JMM can continue to work to serve the neighborhood in which it is located.

I enjoyed the opportunity to attend the conference and hear from diverse voices on the state of the museum field and the future. Thanks to technology, I was also able to tune in to recordings of the sessions I missed live. I look forward to reviewing my notes and figuring out how to apply what I heard at the conference to my work at the JMM.

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