Speaking Up: Museums Advocacy Day 2013



From: Jason B. Jones, Executive Director, Western Museums Association

WMA was a proud supporting Partner of the Fifth Annual Museums Advocacy Day – a two-day event February 25-26, 2013, in Washington, DC. While many working in the museum field know that museums play a key role in education, job creation, tourism, economic development and more, many elected officials are not fully aware. In February, WMA helped support the field by advocating on Capitol Hill for museums and against potential budget cuts for next year.

I was lucky enough to represent WMA at Museum Advocacy Day 2013. It was my first time at Museum Advocacy Day, and my first trip to DC – both were great experiences. America’s democratic process is amazing, and participating in it made me all the more aware of the truth in Heather Ferrell’s blog from last year:

“The importance of having a voice in your government and the right and security to speak with elected representatives. For museum leaders we often spend more energy focused on the pressing priorities of raising money for our institutions’ budget, our capital campaign, or creating the next season of a stellar exhibitions and programs than spend the time to connect with our representatives. In the furor of our busy schedules, it’s easy to overlook an inherent right and its associated civil liberties that millions of other people fight for today.”

Here’s a brief update on Museum Advocacy Day 2013 from Ben Kershaw, Assistant Director of Congressional Relations, American Alliance of Museums:

MAD 13 Durbin

Illinois advocates meet with Senator (and 2013 honoree) Richard Durbin

Do you know what this year’s federal budget, next year’s federal budget, comprehensive tax reform, and a rewrite of our education laws all have in common?  They’re all being considered in Congress right now.  They’re also of critical significance to museums nationwide, which is why this is such an important moment for our field.

On February 25-26, 265 museum professionals and supporters from around the country met in Washington, D.C. for the fifth annual Museums Advocacy Day.  They spent their first day strategizing, receiving legislative briefings and picking up the insider knowledge they’d need to make the most of their time on Capitol Hill.  Then, armed for success, these brave advocates stormed the Hill, making the case for museums in over 300 Congressional offices representing 48 states.

They asked legislators to support funding for the IMLS Office of Museum Services and explained how museums create jobs in their state or district.  They emphasized that museums were a bipartisan cause when asking members of Congress to protect tax incentives for charitable giving.  Many also made their legislators mindful that museums aren’t just vital stakeholders in education policy; they are beloved community institutions.

This year was a huge success, but we’ve still got a long ways to go before all 535 members of Congress hear from their constituents on Museums Advocacy Day.  So if you joined us in Washington, D.C. this year, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.  If you couldn’t make it, we hope to see you next year.  While you’re getting an extra early start on your travel plans, here are three things you can do to advance the cause of museums everywhere:

  1. Set up a meeting in your legislator’s local office
  2. Get to know them and connect on social media
  3. Share an Economic Impact Statement with your member of Congress


Ben Kershaw is the Assistant Director of Congressional Relations at the American Alliance of Museums.  Before coming to the Alliance, he handled tax, budget, and workforce issues for Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).  He also previously served under Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), working on a wide range of issues including arts, historic preservation, taxes, and transportation. 

Reserve a Booth at WMA 2013 in Salt Lake City


Booth Registration Now Open for WMA 2013 in Salt Lake City!

Save with Super Early Bird Rates on a booth in the Exhibit Hall of WMA’s 2013 Annual Meeting. Early registration fees for exhibitors begins at $825 (early registration also entitles companies to select their booth location). See the WMA 2013 Corporate Partnership Brochure for detailed information on exhibiting, advertising, and sponsoring at WMA 2013!

This year’s Annual Meeting Drive On: Museums and the Future, October 9-12, will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah. The 2013 Annual Meeting agenda includes many opportunities for your company to network with professionals and connect your product to the people who need it most. For more information on booth rates and packages, advertising, and sponsorship please download the WMA 2013 Corporate Partnership Brochure.

Already know you want to Exhibit or Advertise at WMA 2013? Download, fill out, and return the Exhibit Hall Reservation Form or the Advertising Reservation Form.

Have questions? Want to explore your options? Please, contact Jason B. Jones:

Jason B. Jones
Executive Director
Western Museums Association


Developing Museum Professionals in the Intermountain West

By: Leslie Madsen-Brooks

IdahoSince my arrival in the History department at Boise State University, a steady stream of history majors has passed through my office expressing an interest in museum work. Some are graduate students who already have committed to our Master of Applied Historical Research program (our public history degree), but most are upper-division undergraduates surveying their career options.

Many of them tell me they love visiting museums and would like to create exhibits or “take care of” artifacts. Most haven’t yet undertaken sufficient research to understand how larger museums are structured into departments, each with its own functions that relate to others: registration, conservation, research and curation, education and public programs, administration, marketing and visitor communications, development, and more.

We discuss internship placements and the potential for local job openings in the near future. Almost all these students are shocked to learn local museums have so few people on staff. I’m always surprised by how unperturbed students are by the low salaries I quote them, but then again, Idaho’s median income per capita currently hovers under $23,000, so even entry-level museum salaries seem reasonable here.

The Challenge

There are not any museum studies or certificate programs in Idaho, and at this moment I don’t think Idaho could sustain such a program, even though such programs seem to be proliferating elsewhere.  Why not? Successful museum studies programs require:

Highly trained professionals who are aware of best practices in the field.  Idaho, and Boise in particular, has several of these, but such professionals are underrepresented in the Intermountain West relative to the West Coast, both because there aren’t many well-supported museums here and because there are few training opportunities for museum professionals. The professionals Idaho does manage to attract and retain tend to work at museums constrained by diminishing budgets.

Sufficient funding to apply best practices.  In itself, this lack of state funding and private support for collections management, changing exhibitions, and programming would be worrisome for the future of museums. The situation is made even more problematic when we consider there are few places in the state where students can get their hands on the materials and other resources necessary to learn some foundational museum skills.

Museums with the space and time to accommodate interns. As elsewhere, museum professionals here are not only underfunded; they’re overextended as well.  While taking on an intern can pay off in the long run—bright, motivated, well-trained interns can shoulder a good deal of some museum departments’ workloads—the initial training of interns is time-consuming and requires a good deal of oversight, particularly in museums where interns will be handling high-value artifacts or interacting with donors or the public.

A local, or at least regional, job market that can absorb most of the program’s graduates.  I have never seen an Idaho museum job advertised through AAM or WMA; I’m sure it has happened, but I assure you openings for professional positions (those that require, say, at least a B.A. and some museum training) are rare. I tell students who want to craft a career for themselves in museums that they likely will need to relocate to a more museum-rich region such as the Bay Area, Los Angeles, or San Diego—but then they’ll be competing with museum studies graduates from that region who already have been interning and networking in that museum community.

A large cohort of engaged students who serve as each other’s initial professional network and who maintain contact long after graduation. Without the criteria above, it’s difficult and, I argue, irresponsible to attract sufficiently large cohorts of students to sustain an academic program in museum studies.

Solutions and work-arounds

So. . . what do I advise local students to do?

Volunteer before committing to graduate work. I usually tell students who are set on a museum career that they need to volunteer for several months in at least two museums to get a sense of nonprofit culture and the various responsibilities of museum professionals.

Once they have decided this is the work they’d like to pursue and determined that graduate study is the best way for them to further explore it, I encourage them to seek out graduate programs in urban areas saturated with museums and cultural institutions.

Unfortunately, relocation isn’t an option for many of my students who aspire to museum work.  Boise State’s student demographics skew older than average; my students frequently have spouses, children, or aging parents to care for, so they’re tethered to southwestern Idaho for the present. Others have fewer obligations but no desire to leave Boise. Some of these students, if they acquired sufficient experience and professional skills, could be leaders of the next generation of museums in Idaho. In short, they’re mature, bright, imaginative, and motivated, but they’re geographically isolated from in-museum training.

If students cannot relocate, I try to place them into quality internships in local museums, but I have more than a dozen students seeking internships in museums annually and perhaps only five or six placements available in museums that have the resources and staffing levels to introduce interns to current best practices in the field.  (There are many museums willing to take students on as docents or receptionists or general laborers, but not necessarily to train them for the profession.)

I suggest students pursue alternative internships that might provide adjacent experience and transferable skills. I often divert students into archival work or into other public history internships, such as with the state historic preservation office, in municipal departments that promote local history, or a federal lands agency. (The National Park Service, for example, hires many historians, and many of its sites in the West have strong interpretive programs, and in Idaho some NPS sites maintain cultural and natural history collections and sites—albeit, it appears, in sometimes less-than-ideal conditions that might not lend themselves to representing to students best practices in cultural resource management.) While such placements offer skills that may be transferable to museums, they aren’t ideal for students trying to figure out if museums represent a reasonable career option or for students who are committed to museums but want more hands-on experience with, say, artifact collections or creating K-12 educational programming.

Go digital. I teach a course on digital history that introduces students to the theory and practice of the digital humanities, and I cover topics of use to museum professionals, including the use and misuse of metadata, databases, visualization, image permissions, website development, and more. I require undergraduates to build a small digital project, such as an augmented-reality tour of an historic district. I invite select students to collaborate with me on my own digital projects, and I encourage them to consider building a digital project of some sort for their Master’s project.

Fortunately, the Arts and Humanities Institute at Boise State recently received a National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant to support a new digital humanities initiative, so my students are increasingly able to take advantage of local knowledge, infrastructure, and opportunities to think critically about new technologies and learn key digital skills.  Advertisements for open positions in museums increasingly allude to digital fluency, and students with an advanced understanding of how to deploy digital technologies to organize and visualize collections, connect with audiences via social media, and create meaningful learning experiences for on-site and virtual visitors will be increasingly in demand.

Rethink a museum career altogether.  There are plenty of opportunities to use the kinds of historical knowledge and research and interpretive skills useful in a museum career outside the walls of museum buildings. Take a look, for example, at the work being done by the Colorado State University Public Lands History Center, at other universities, and at university presses and in the textbook publishing industry. One of my students who was initially interested in more conventional public history interpretation has decided to parlay her skills in research and writing into a well-paid career in grantwriting or donor cultivation.

The bigger context

Alexandra Lord recently lamented that too often history faculty create or reform graduate programs without a sense of what’s going on in the field. This is a pitfall I try to avoid by speaking regularly with, and whenever possible collaborating with, professionals in the field.  (I’m fortunate I can also draw on my own museum education, exhibition development, and program evaluation experience.)  For the most part, students emerge from our Master’s program with an intellectual toolkit that will serve them well in their chosen public history fields—we work intensively with individual students to be sure each gets the knowledge and professional development she needs—but the dearth of museum-specific, hands-on training, particularly in artifact conservation, program development, and top-notch exhibition design, makes me uneasy.

I know my students share this challenge with emerging museum professionals in the more geographically isolated cities and towns of the western U.S.  Last October, we discussed this very issue of student preparation and emerging professional development at a panel at the WMA’s annual conference in Palm Springs.  (We also considered the opposite problem—how urban-trained museum professionals might make the transition to leadership positions in more geographically remote areas, but that’s a topic for another post.) The panel came up with few satisfying answers.

I’m looking, therefore, for advice. How would you recommend my students get the experience they need to land a good entry-level job upon graduation?  If they can leave the area to pursue a summer internship in a more metropolitan museum, how do you recommend they approach the museum so that they are persuasive enough to secure a good placement?  If they need to stay here, what kind of pitch should they be making to potential mentors who might feel too overburdened or underresourced to take on an intern?

Leslie Madsen-Brooks is an assistant professor of history at Boise State University. She blogs occasionally at Museum Blogging.

Imagine A Truly Sustainable Museum…

By: Adrienne McGraw

Imagine a truly sustainable museum…

  • It will be for everyone, whether in person, online, or to simply benefit from by its existence in the community
  • It will be self-aware and systems-aware
  • It will embrace institutional-wide values
  • It will lead by example and be trusted
  • It will possess beauty
  • It will excel at problem solving and be nimble
  • It will anticipate outcomes and consequences
  • It will maintain closed loops for resource use through a cradle-to-cradle design philosophy
  • It will convey multiple perspectives
  • It will be part of an integrated community/region/globe
  • It will be supported by a diverse and thoughtful financial portfolio

This was the vision developed by the participants at the JFKU Museum Studies Sustainability Colloquium. A group of experts and students drew on their own knowledge and desires for a better future for the planet – and museums.

Sarah Brophy, co-author of The Green Museum (Alta Mira Press, 2008) rang a keynote with her presentation about where museums are now and where they are going in the future to be more sustainable. She reminded us that, “if we want to be part of something bigger, we have to change. We have to keep up.” She suggests that change happens at the intersection of domains, so we need to seek out those spaces. Being creative about solutions is necessary. Social media is going to make all of this work easier, faster, more meaningful, and with greater long-term benefits.

But she also talked about the barriers to change and adopting more sustainable practices. Most notably – museums are risk-adverse. We tend to think that green is risky because not every stakeholder believes in it and it can be perceived as off mission. And with so much new technology and information constantly coming out, whatever you choose, there will be something newer and potentially better very soon.

For each of us, Sarah suggests that we embrace our power as change agents, enjoy the work we do to be more sustainable, and just go with it! She encourages us with, “your best effort for the field will be greening your area of expertise, and sharing that new knowledge with the rest of us. When you get good at that, you will begin to see the space between domains where YOU become the innovators.” Sounds good!

So what were some of the specifics that we talked about to get us there?  Where can our sustainable practices thrive?

With Communities

  • Listen to your neighbors on their terms, form advisory groups
  • Offer free admission as a welcoming sign to everyone
  • Offer daycare during programs and evening hours
  • Strive for universal design in everything you do
  • Offer community services (legal, educational, etc.)
  • Model green citizenry
  • Work for policy solutions

In Programs

  • Take interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches
  • Reuse and recycle exhibit materials
  • Have multiple languages in exhibits, programs, and through staff & volunteers
  • Encourage people to see nature in their immediate surroundings – even in cities
  • Help people answer the question “how can I make a difference?”
  • Reach people’s different intelligences: emotional, social, ecological

In Operations

  • See nature as your guide – What Would Nature Do?
  • Not just have and utilize renewable energy sources, educate your audience about it
  • Share resources and expertise with other museums and institutions – collaborate!
  • Serve sustainable food in café and at events
  • Promote accessibility through transportation systems
  • Flatten the organizational chart, empower staff

In Finances

  • Work with local business
  • Invest in the community
  • Embrace diversity

In our Jobs

  • Start where you already are
  • Lead from behind and by example
  • Start small and at the personal level
  • Suggest alternatives
  • Show how money, time, resources can be saved
  • Backcast – where do we want to be in the future and how do we get there from here
  • Understand that not everything can be a “win/win” solution, sacrifice is necessary
  • Map your workspace like an ecosystem: who are the decision makers, your allies
  • Look for points of disturbance – change happens there
  • Have persistence, patience, and courage

The day was intense and hopeful. It was inspiring to be part of conversations that included the enthusiasm and energy of graduate students and the expertise and wisdom of experts who have been working on sustainability issues for years. Thanks to the experts who facilitated these conversations:

Sarah Brophy, Author & Thought Leader

Tracy Perkins, Environmental Justice Advocate

Carolie Sly, Center for Ecoliteracy

Geoff Willard, California Academy of Sciences

And JFKU faculty Lisa Eriksen, Lydia Johnson, Margaret Kadoyama, Adrienne McGraw, Elizabeth Peña, Susan Spero

Field-Wide Push for Standards

AAM LogoThe Western Museums Association, in coordination with the American Alliance of Museums, is kicking off a campaign to increase participation in the Pledge of Excellence. The Western Region, currently has 194 museums that have signed the Pledge.


The Pledge of Excellence, the first step in the Continuum of Excellence, is a  one-step, no-cost way to show that your museum is committed to standards and best practices. It also sends a clear message to elected and government officials that museums and their staff are dedicated to their educational mission, serving their communities and meeting the highest professional standards.

“Through the Pledge, museums state they will strive to operate according to standards and best practices to the best of their abilities and resources,” said American Alliance of Museums President Ford W. Bell. “It is a simple but critical step in field-wide advocacy efforts, vital to demonstrating the value of museums of all types and sizes.”

This is the museum field’s  Pledge of Excellence—we can all use it for advocacy purposes and show that for a field that is not regulated, we are highly effective at self-regulation.

The current campaign kicked off at Museums Advocacy Day (Feb. 25-26) and concludes at the AAM Annual Meeting (May 19-22), where Pledge participants will be announced at the general session.

Taking the Pledge is voluntary, free and available to all museums and operates on the honor system. Visit the AAM website to take the Pledge now. Contact Julie Hart at AAM with questions or for more information.


Secretary Salazar Announces New Asian American Pacific Islander Initiative

 Secretary Salazar Announces New Asian American
Pacific Islander Initiative
Statement by Asian Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation


(February 14, 2013) – Asian Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation (APIAHiP) applauds the recent announcement of a national Asian American Pacific Islander Theme Study to ensure that the rich and diverse histories of API Americans are more fully recognized. With less than three percent of places on the National Register associated with the histories of communities of color, and less than a handful of national parks reflecting APIA heritage, this effort is critical.


Secretary Salazar announced the Theme Study on February 10th at Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum, which was added as an affiliated unit of the National Park system that same day. Salazar described both actions are part of an effort under President Obama “to recognize and celebrate our diversity here in America.” The National Park Service has undertaken similar efforts to help portray the contributions of Latinos and African Americans.


As a grassroots network dedicated to historic and cultural preservation in Asian Pacific Islander American communities, APIAHiP stand ready to support the Department of the Interior and National Park Service in their work.  Three members of our Steering Committee — Donna Graves, Michelle Magalong and Bill Watanabe—have been invited to serve on the Theme Study’s National Advisory Panel. Founding APIAHiP Chair, Bill Watanabe, notes that “APIA ethnic communities are engaged in a broad scope of preservation efforts that seek to protect buildings, landscapes and places of historical significance as well as various cultural art forms, traditions, languages, associations, businesses, stories, food, festivals, and all the other activities that help to define these place-based communities.”


Asian & Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation (APIAHiP) is a national network of preservationists, historians, planners, and advocates focused on historic and cultural preservation in APIA communities. APIAHiP organized two national forums focused on APIA preservation efforts in San Francisco (2010) and Los Angeles (2012) supported by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and National Park Service.  In addition to organizing a 2014 forum in Washington DC, APIAHiP will launch an online, crowd-sourced national mapping project to identify cultural and historic places that matter to diverse APIA communities.


Learn more about APIAHiP:


WMA Supports Museum Advocacy Day

2013 MAD croppedThe WMA strives to strengthen museums in the Western region, and beyond, by offering museum professionals unique opportunities to connect and collaborate with each other. In that regard, WMA is a proud supporter of the Fifth Annual Museums Advocacy Day – a two-day event February 25-26, 2013, in Washington, DC. While many working in the museum field know that museums play a key role in education, job creation, tourism, economic development and more, many elected officials are not fully aware. Help WMA support the field in our efforts to advocate for museums and against potential budget cuts for next year. The registration deadline is Friday, Jan. 25.

Museums Advocacy Day is an opportunity to bring our message about the value of museums to Capitol Hill and to advocate for policy and funding issues that affect our field. If you can’t make it to Washington DC, there are many ways you and your museum can still participate. Visit E-Advocacy for Museums (AAM website)  for tools to maximize your impact, whether you are attending Museums Advocacy Day in person, or advocating from home.

Join WMA and AAM in Museum Advocacy Day 2013!