Takeaways from AAM 2022.

06/22/2022

I attended the conference for the first time this year as it was in my hometown of Boston, and I was eager (desperate?) to gain contacts in the museum industry. At the time I was coming to the end of a temporary position at the Museum of Science, Boston as an Online Programs Tech Assistant. I enjoyed the job, as it incorporated my three passions of digital media, video production, and museum education into one, but only for a 6 month period. As openings for similar positions that were not exclusively in digital marketing were rare, I figured some networking at a professional conference couldn’t hurt.

I had to work on Thursday, but I joined a group from the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries for an art gallery walk at the SoWa Design District and dinner that evening. It was my first time at the District, and I enjoyed viewing the unique art and socializing over drinks with the group. Plus, I got to vent about annoying visitors at work with professionals who knew what I was going through, and were happy to share their own stories.

 

I arrived early to the BCEC on Friday for my first day of the conference, and after getting my badge, I went straight to the First Time Attendees Breakfast. We were served eggs, bacon, and coffee while a local organizer dressed as the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland gave advice on how to make the most out of our experiences. He also tried to connect attending the Annual Meeting to Alice falling into Wonderland in a strained metaphor, which did not seem to land well in the packed full conference room. For my first impression of the con, it came across as odd and didn’t inspire much confidence.

 

The rest of the day was taken up by workshops, keynotes, and exploring the well-stocked dealers hall. I got to meet a lot of staff from companies working with digital media, while practicing my elevator pitch and enjoying free coffee from the Electrosonic booth. I also ran out of business cards within two hours. (Mental Note: bring extra cards tomorrow.) After a brief dinner at the evening social hour (featuring large platters of comfort food) I left early to get enough sleep for the next day. 

Saturday started with me meeting Genevieve Cleary and her colleague from The Hum for coffee at the Omni Hotel. Ms. Cleary had sent me an email asking to meet and discuss her immersive sound exhibit that had just debuted at SXSW the previous week. Although I was initially skeptical, I was drawn in by her plans for the exhibit, and we discussed how it could be used in an exhibit about the science of sound in the future. I had to clarify that I was not in a position to make exhibition and programming decisions for the Museum of Science, and I was unsure if I was the right person to pass the information along. I had to repeat this point many times over the course of the conference, as most vendors would launch their sales spiel as soon as I approached their booths, when all I wanted was to express my interest in possibly working for their company. I still have emails in my inbox from company reps asking me to set up sales meetings for the Museum, which is flattering and embarrassing at the same time. That evening we were bussed to the Museum of Science for an evening party, featuring a DJ, drinks, and a limited selection of cafeteria food. After talking to some attendees, I found that the AAM Meeting parties used to be fancier, but the pandemic and related budget issues at the Museum had limited the offerings available. 

 

Sunday was the last day of the conference, and I attended an interesting presentation about promoting diversity and including the voices of POC in museums and cultural centers. However, a post on social media I saw after the conference informed me that almost all of the diversity focused panels were presented on the last day, with some directly conflicting with each other. While the conference was organized around the keynotes so that the same themes were presented in specific time blocks, it does not look good for AAM to save the inclusion and diversity slots for last. I believe that confronting racism and bigotry in museums while promoting inclusion is one of the biggest issues museums are confronting today, and so they should be front and center instead of an afterthought. The dealer’s hall closed earlier than I expected that day, and I had to rush back to buy a candle I wanted from 54 Degrees Celsius in the Museum Gift Store side of the hall. An organization of Museum Store Suppliers was holding their conference in the BCEC at the same time as the AAM Meeting, and I got to see a large variety of merchandise on display, from candy to decorative ponchos. By midday the conference was over, and I left with many flyers, business cards, and pieces of candy offered by the vendors. 

 

Overall, the 2022 AAM Annual Meeting was fun and informative, but did not offer all the opportunities I was looking for. There was little in the way of information on furthering my career in museum technology, and the busy schedule and large social events made it hard for me to talk to people one on one for more than a few minutes. On the plus side, I got to meet a lot of people in the field, and hopefully, one or more of those contacts will help me out in my future career.

 

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