By Rachael Faust
After completing my first year at John F. Kennedy University, I spent the summer coping with the fact that I would soon be faced with the daunting task of undertaking a thesis project. Summer came and went, and at the end, I found myself without a revelation of what this dynamic topic would be.
As fall quarter quickly approached and as people began to inquire about my amazingly innovative thesis topic, I quickly devised plan B: crashing the 2009 Western Museums Association annual conference in San Diego where I hoped to find a veritable assortment of fresh ideas and topics just waiting for further exploration. Plan B turned out to be far more effective than plan A (waiting for a revelation). I encourage my fellow grads who are still on plan A to stop waiting and quickly sign up for a museum conference.
Of all the conferences I could attend, I chose WMA because of the interesting and diverse session topics and the manageable size and length of the conference (the student discount price was also rather alluring). A preconference workshop titled, “Navigating New Media In Collections without Going Adrift,” caught my attention because my current studies focus on collections management and I have become particularly interested in the care and preservation of time-based media works.
The presenters for this session included registrars from MOMA and LACMA as well as LA MOCA’s media exhibition technician and an LA based freelance media specialist. I hoped that the information they presented in this session as well as the questions raised by the museum professionals in attendance would point to areas that needed further investigation (read: my fingers were crossed in hopes that they had an extraordinary thesis topic for me).
The preconference workshop not only gave me a handful of possible areas to research that could lead to relevant thesis topics, but also gave me an opportunity to test out a few of my own ideas.
- Is it possible for museums to share or loan exhibition media equipment to one another?
- How are museum staff being trained to handle, install, preserve, and repair media works and their related equipment?
- What happens when artists don’t want to migrate their media-based artwork to newer formats? The work will eventually die. Should museums collect works with such short life spans? Do museums continue to store the remains of the dead artwork?
I was able to ask these questions and others to a captive, knowledgeable audience that I may not have had access to otherwise; the dialogue I enjoyed with museum professionals at WMA could not have been easily facilitated on my own.
In the proceeding days at the conference, I ran into several of the speakers, and they all went out of their way to stop me and say, “hey, I was thinking about your questions and….” Everyone I introduced myself to at the conference was excited that I was a student and was eager to learn about my potential thesis work.
The WMA conference exposed me to new ideas, expanded ideas I had already been tinkering with, and provided access to museum professionals from a diverse range of museums. I left the conference with a direction for my thesis work and at least a dozen business cards of museum people who said they would be more than happy for me to contact them in the future.