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2024 Conference Experiences

Twenty two museum professionals from across New York State were awarded scholarships to attend the 2024 annual conference "Giving Voice to Value" in Albany this past April. We asked them to reflect and write about their conference experience. 

Please note that some of these conference summaries have been edited for clarity and/or length.

Stefan Dreisbach-Williams, The Waterfront Museum

I attended the 2024 Museum Association of New York annual conference as a representative of the Waterfront Museum but my experience was complicated by other interests in my life, including other jobs, my housing situation, and my ongoing education. These interests contributed to an overall appreciation for the strengths that diversity and accessibility bring to museums and this conference.

My primary employment is as an archivist for the Seamen’s Church Institute, which is not a museum but a social work, education, and advocacy nonprofit with a collection of artifacts and archival materials spanning nearly two centuries. The organization is of a similar size to many of the museums at the conference, and its work shares concerns about strategy, management, storytelling, and conservation but it has fewer concerns about visitors. I’m also the resident caretaker for the 1661 Bowne House, home to the Bowne House Historical Society (BHHS). Much of what I learned at the conference would be extremely useful to that museum. So I took many photos of presentation slides for the BHHS staff. I also attended this conference during my most challenging term yet in grad school. While part of my brain was distracted with assignments, experiencing the conference through the filters of my history and library science classes revealed insights into valuable cognates between those classes and the concerns of museums.

Both MANY events I’ve attended (each with the help of scholarships from the Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation) have impressed me with the diversity of museums in this state. Despite the various museums and people leading them, the museum I work for and my role there seemed like outliers. The Waterfront Museum is so small that I often feel distant from presentations about management and strategy. Nonetheless, the Waterfront Museum fit on the spectrum of museums represented at the conference. I found myself translating the conference conversation into something usable now or potentially in the future or just as a way of understanding a type of organization I might not ever work for but could want to partner with someday. Of course, one of the most appealing aspects of the conference is the opportunity to network, meet potential future partners, and reconnect with old acquaintances. 

Though I’ve been a fan of the Hudson River Maritime Museum, the presentation by Wayne Ford, their boat builder, helped me appreciate their commitment to a broad range of programs and exhibits. I was fascinated to learn of Nomi Dayan’s work at The Whaling Museum & Education Center in Cold Spring Harbor, which seems to have a central artifact surrounded by programs that focus on connecting with the community. In contrast, the artifact serves as a touchstone for that engagement. I connected with a couple of groups interested in the Erie Canal bicentennial, which has included the Waterfront Museum in its events–the first in a coming decade of canal bicentennials in the New York Harbor Estuary, including the Delaware & Hudson, the Morris, and the Delaware & Raritan Canals. I also connected with fellow alumni of MANY’s Museum Institute at Great Camp Sagamore, which I attended in the fall. The intensity of that week left us ready to pick up conversations at the conference that started in the Adirondacks, which I feel confident will continue for years to come. 

Though the conference’s theme was Giving Voice to Value, the sessions I attended were more united by diversity, inclusion, and access issues. Here in Flushing, Queens, I had not appreciated how difficult things were outside NYC with the recent backlash against LGBTQ+ communities and programs. It seems like museums (like the libraries I study at school) put some concerted energy into dealing with a few people whose anger focused on those programs. However, implicit in all this is that drag-queen story time and events that engage with queer communities and issues have been powerful tools for attracting new audiences and reinvigorating engagement with old ones, even if it displaces old friends and even the occasional board member. On balance, the conclusion is that it’s worth it.

I also attended sessions on accessibility for people with physical disabilities and neuro-diverse audiences. This was difficult to apply to the 30’x90’ historic barge that houses the Waterfront Museum, but I thought the Bowne House Historical Society would appreciate the insights and perspective. I also thought they would benefit enormously from the NY State History Trail I learned about during the breakfast talk from I LOVE New York Empire State Development’s executive director, Ross D. Levi.

Overall, I was struck by the overlap between issues of access and diversity. The adage about accessible design benefiting everyone seems to apply not only to disability-oriented accessibility but also to cultural and identity accessibility. Everyone benefits when we structure our systems to ensure equitable access to those who experience structural and systemic barriers. This is as true in exhibit design as it is in hiring processes.

Toward the end of the conference, I began to wonder whether the sessions were tilted more heavily toward diversity in the sense of LGBTQ+ and disability than racial diversity, but my final session, Diversifying the Museum Space, left me thinking it wasn’t the offerings but my selection of sessions that created this impression. I value what I learned at this conference and look forward to choosing more of the offerings about racial diversity and cultural access in future MANY events. I anticipate these events becoming increasingly important as I complete my latest academic degrees. My lasting impression from this conference is that, at their best, professional conferences can be little doses of grad school, offering restoration and recentering with professional education, comradery, and a healthful career perspective. 

Amy Vacchio, Rock Hall Museum

The 2024 MANY Conference, Giving Voice to Value, held April 6-9 in Albany, NY was arewarding, educational and engaging experience. It was an honor to receive the Robert D. L. Gardiner Foundation Scholarship to attend.

Not only was the time spent with colleagues in the field important for networking and the exchange of ideas, but each session was informative, allowing to stimulate new ideas and plans for each of our institutions. Knowing that other institutions, big or small, with large budgets or small, and with staff of two versus one hundred, experience similar problems, conflicts, and frustrations is somehow comforting. Everyone is genuinely willing to help, offer ideas and most importantly continue conversations.

The conference sessions, organized experiences, dinners, and Night at the Museums were all well thought out, equally fun, engaging, and informative. The Eclipse viewing at the Empire Plaza and riding a carousel were a bonus! The vendors offered an array of services that most of our institutions need or are in the process of seeking funds to institute. I genuinely learned a great deal discussing my institution’s current needs and wish lists.

It was hard to choose from the many diverse session options. I chose Confronting a Problematic Legacy, What is Valued at Your Museum/Historic Site, Cultural Competency Redux, and Diversifying the Museum Space. Each was more interesting and informative than the next.

Many of the sessions I attended dealt with reaching out and including marginalized communities. Like many institutions, I work for an institution with a complicated history, and we have now shifted our focus to include the stories of everyone who lived and worked on the property. It is important to decide whose narratives are central, ancillary, or have been historically excluded. Mission statements should be reevaluated so that we collectively interpret, educate, explore, and research to engage the community, all communities. As historians, we are storytellers, and as storytellers, no voices should be excluded. One poignant message was that our stories are not done. Adding to previous narratives will not diminish but richen the story. Thanks to collaboration, digitization, and research, our stories and in turn our institutions can grow, evolve, and engage our communities that too are constantly changing. How will I tell the story, engage my community, and institute change during my leadership? What still needs to be done and how can I create exhibits, and programs to achieve these goals? Leaving Albany, I felt energized and determined to implement new ideas, and begin making necessary changes, and encourage my board, volunteers, and staff to want to do the same. I look forward to attending the 2025 MANY conference!

Ariana Garcia-Cassani, Montauk Historical Society

We, the members of MANY, know that great museum work hosts a wealth of perspectives and often includes the stories people avoid speaking about: the painful parts, the shameful parts, and the traumatic parts of life. Creating museums and exhibitions that share these histories while avoiding re-traumatizing visitors requires that museum professionals continue to learn, question themselves, and rededicate themselves to honoring the people of the past threatened with obscurity. The MANY Conference was an excellent opportunity to learn from inspiring museum professionals who are doing this work and I am so grateful to the Gardiner Foundation for funding my experience.

Nicole Hamilton and Amy Hufnagel from the Sing Sing Prison Museum gave an inspiring and informative presentation (The Sing Sing Prison Museum: Unlocking Conscience) that shared their methods of promoting empathy and raising consciousness about injustice and justice within their museum. One of the ways they did this was by encouraging formerly incarcerated people to contribute to the museum’s collection. Hamilton recounted an interaction that she had with a formerly incarcerated woman who was considering donating an object to the museum. Upon her release, this object was a hamper bag that she had left Sing Sing with. She, like many others released from Sing Sing, was only allowed to take three objects with her outside of the prison. Unsurprisingly, the objects people take with them when they leave Sing Sing are significant to them. Though meaningful, this bag represented a time in her life when she was ready to move on. She wanted to let the bag go but couldn’t abide throwing it out. Hamilton answered her dilemma: "We can hold this memory for you.” They hold this object with so much emotional value that this woman doesn’t have to. These seven words of Hamilton’s have stayed with me since I heard them because they cut so easily to the heart of a museum’s purpose. Museums have the unique power of holding painful, meaningful objects because they can act as a community center where people can share grief.

With exhibitions that commemorate tragedies, inform the public about the lives of enslaved people, acknowledge the displacement of Indigenous people, report on xenophobia, and so much more, museums try to share a meaningful public history. At MHS, we have been working to commemorate a boat capsizing that killed 45 people in 1951, right near one of our historical sites. We are building a memorial to honor those lost and creating a documentary that will share the stories of those who survived the disaster and the stories of the families and friends who lost loved ones. This week, we spoke to a woman whose father died when this boat capsized where she explained how grateful she was for this work because it was preventing one of her biggest fears from coming true: that her father would be forgotten. Holding memories like those of her father when we are asked to, is one of the most important parts of this job. 

I am so grateful to the Gardiner Foundation for enabling me to attend the MANY Conference in Albany. There were other wonderful moments where I felt my perspective broaden and my motivation reignite. I left feeling inspired to do more of the work that we have been moving towards in the past few years at the direction of the Montauk Historical Society’s Executive Director.

Claire Hunter, Montauk Historical Society

Attending the "Giving Voice to Value" conference, organized by the Museum Association of New York, was an enriching journey that transcended the confines of my historical society. Interacting with a diverse array of individuals from non-profit organizations across New York State, I delved into an expansive tapestry of stories and perspectives.

Connecting with peers from similar roles at other historical societies, museums, and cultural infatuations was a conference highlight. From exchanging insights on archival preservation to brainstorming innovative programming ideas, these interactions underscored the power of community within the museum field. The conversations sparked collaborative potential and a shared commitment to advancing our collective missions.

Beyond my sector, engaging with individuals from various non-profit organizations offered a glimpse into the diverse landscape of missions and initiatives across the state. Conversations ranged from environmental conservation to social justice advocacy, each revealing the passion and dedication driving positive change in our communities.

One particularly impactful encounter was with an upstate historical preservation society representative. Their organization's dedication to restoring and revitalizing historic landmarks showcased a deep commitment to preserving cultural heritage. This sparked discussions on potential collaborations, leveraging our mutual passion for history and community engagement to effect meaningful change.

An important session that I attended at the conference was titled "Understanding Place: Relationship Building with Indigenous Communities." Led by representatives from the Island Children’s Museum, Denise Silva-Dennis of the Shinnecock Nation, and Allison McGovern, an Anthropological Archaeologist, delved into the importance of building and strengthening relationships with local Indigenous communities.

Throughout the session, speakers shared insights and experiences from collaborative efforts, highlighting the significance of authentic relationship-building, active listening, and collaboration in fostering mutual understanding and respect. Emphasizing the value of centering Indigenous voices and perspectives in cultural programming and museum initiatives, they underscored the importance of co-creating spaces reflecting Indigenous heritage and traditions.

A key takeaway was approaching relationship building with humility and a willingness to learn. Actively listening to the needs and priorities of Indigenous communities allows museums and cultural organizations to cultivate meaningful partnerships rooted in mutual trust and respect. This entails addressing historical injustices and systemic barriers that have marginalized Indigenous voices and perspectives.

Courtney Chambers, Sea Cliff Village Museum

Now in my fifth year as (part-time) director of my Long Island village’s small museum, I am surprised to find that I still feel like a newcomer in the museum world. A large part of these feelings, I believe, are because I am the only employee in my museum, which is its village department. My colleagues consist of village employees who do not work at the museum and whose day-to-day tasks are wholly separate and different from my own, and the museum’s volunteers, who tend to be older and more conservative, have been at the museum for longer than I have, and are resistant to change. Therefore, attending the MANY conference is a little like being thrust into a world I’ve always longed to join, a community of like-minded, progressive individuals who work to elevate and expand their institutions.

This was my second MANY conference, and like my previous conference last year in Syracuse, I was surprised to find myself gravitating towards Long Islanders. Unlike last year, this year’s Long Island attendees were professionals I had not met before, and it was wonderful to make their acquaintance. I left the conference determined to attend more Long Island Museum Association meet-ups, workshops, and events to strengthen my ties to my local community. Unsurprisingly, Long Island’s museums are as diverse and numerous as its population, and lunches with my newfound Island friends were interesting and informative. Selfishly, I was relieved to find that even an employee in Nassau County’s museums department reported that the county’s museums had a lot of work to do to work towards making their museums more inclusive of non-white voices and experiences. 

The Village of Sea Cliff was founded by white, upper-middle-class Methodists in the late nineteenth century. Their story has always been at the forefront of village history, and because their descendants founded the museum, telling the stories of non-white and non-Methodist village residents has always been challenging.  Because embracing inclusivity is one of my goals as director, I greatly appreciated the “Strategies to Create Inclusivity in Established or New Experiences” conference session led by Sarah Smith, Peter Hyde, and Corrine Doron. As I’ve mentioned, since I am somewhat starved for professional companionship in my solitary job, I greatly appreciated the session’s breakout groups, where we discussed our challenges in including diverse stories in our museums. It is always reassuring to hear that so many museums, even those with bigger staffs and budgets and more visitors, have the same challenges that I do.

And, of course, no 2024 conference summary can be complete without a mention of the eclipse. Spending an hour on Albany’s Empire State Plaza, enjoying the sunshine, and waiting for the year’s most anticipated celestial event was a memorable way to spend an afternoon at the conference.  The camaraderie of so many strangers clapping and cheering beside me was joyous. Joy returned a few hours later when I joined many others at the State History Museum, where a highlight included a ride on the carousel.

I am grateful for the opportunity afforded me by this scholarship to attend the MANY conference. As I did last year, I left the conference energized and eager to continue working at the Sea Cliff Village Museum to incorporate the many ideas from the conference. Thank you, MANY, and the many, many New York State professionals who I was able to meet and learn from in Albany.

Dr. Denice Evans-Sheppard, Oyster Bay Historical Society

I would like to express my sincere appreciation for providing me with a scholarship to attend this year’s wonderful conference. I was able to reconnect with professionals in the museum and historical society industry and establish new relationships and connections with colleagues throughout New York State. I immensely enjoyed the sessions, restaurants, and positive atmosphere of the MANY Conference. Sarah presented me with my credentials and a swag bag upon my arrival. She had further directed me to talk to the various vendors in the hotel's basement. These vendors were receptive and wanted to engage further by issuing their business cards for further collaborations. New York State Parks and Recreation, Gaylord, I Love NY, WIX, and STQRY, shared a mutual interest that could create future collaborations. I attended several sessions on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, which provided much information that could be useful for my organization. 

I attended a session relating to museum professionals creating inclusion accessibility in historic houses or museums that might not be able to accommodate disabled or physically challenged visitors. The recommendations offered were wonderful, especially since The Oyster Bay Historical Society has a second floor in our historic home, which cannot accommodate physically challenged guests. The panel offered various suggestions, including the use of a tablet device that can provide historical tours throughout your organization, which people might not be able to access. The goal is to make everyone feel inclusive and welcome to your organization. This tablet application could be offered through a grant from the Robert Lionel Gardiner Foundation, as seen in the Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay or the Southampton African American Museum.

Another session I attended was with Nomi from Cold Spring Harbor, who discussed the challenges she had faced from her board interpreting new programming and workshops at the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum. She discussed the challenges and difficulties from her board she had faced presenting various African American whaling exhibitions and other projects relating to men dressed as mermaids, displaying men in women's clothing, and queer, LGBTQ. She spoke of how she had to restructure her displays to ensure that children patronizing her organization were not offended by her exhibit. Her PowerPoint slides were highly informative; however, she mentioned that because of the men sailors dressed in women's clothing and other queer content at her museum, her board slowly became uninterested and less supportive of her efforts. As the executive director of her museum, she had to make very quick decisions as to how to not only address her board but also make the children feel comfortable and understand various images that would be part of her exhibit or display. She spoke of how she had started with a storytelling hour with a drag queen known on Long Island. She had everyone dressed in costumes they had made at the museum to be part of the King Neptune Costume Party, which included other unique sea creatures. Her goal was to ensure that children understand authenticity and embrace differences, whether a fish, whale, shark, sea horse or mermaid. Nona did an exceptionally respectable job highlighting diversity and how to embrace it within our organization. 

Dr. Allison McGovern and Denise Dennis provided a great presentation that incorporated land acknowledgment in various programs and workshops that insist that inclusivity is necessary to conduct the message. They discussed how communities and organizations can work together to recognize and access Native Americans locally to address an inquiry. Denise’s son Jeremy Dennis, a renowned Native American Artist, has created Ma’s House, a 501 C3 Not for Profit that serves as an artist residency, museum, and bee farm. He, Denise, and other Native Americans from the Shinnecock Reservation Community can serve mainstream communities and schools with their advanced knowledge to address historical and cultural concerns that reflect their history, people, and culture. An inquiry that I had raised “Have the Shinnecock Tribal Nation created a water acknowledgment document as coastal people that had access to the various waterways throughout the State of New York?” The answer was no; however, being of Native American descent, I can create a water acknowledgment document that can be provided for harbor tours on the North Shore of Long Island. 

This was one of the best conferences I have attended in a while. I am incredibly grateful to be the recipient of this scholarship and look forward to the MANY Conference next year. 

Elliott Gnirrep, Hart Cluett Museum

I was quite nervous before my first MANY Conference. As a graduate during Covid times, I found many networking and career development opportunities were absent or conducted over Zoom. Although ignorant of this then, I was missing the energy and passion that drives the museum field. It is only truly tangible within a congregation of like-minded people ecstatic to connect, share, and learn from their peers. Giving Voice to Value highlighted the power our institutions hold when we value and amplify those voices historically excluded from or misrepresented by these spaces.

Signing up for sessions, I deliberated on my choices that would develop my awareness of the underrepresented communities in the museum world.  At the time, I was unaware how much value those voices would give me in my journey through this career path. A few weeks after the conference, I accepted the Waterford Historical Museum and Cultural Center director position. Through this position, I am putting the knowledge I gained from sessions such as Understanding Place: Relationship Building with Indigenous Communities and Old Collection New Pride: Fresh Takes to Diversify Programmingto bring these underrepresented voices to the forefront of the conversation. We are currently working on a long overdue land acknowledgment, and I am using the sources and advice gained from my peers who have implemented their land acknowledgments. Additionally, I am navigating a board and community that have hesitated to highlight their diversity. Listening to Nomi’s experience with the community she serves at the Whaling Museum was inspiring and shows that holding to what is right will benefit the communities we serve in the long run. 

Several of my colleagues from the Hart Cluett Museum also attended the conference. While we have bonded at work, getting out of the office to share this experience invigorated us and brought us closer to each other. We were able to have post-session breakdowns and pull out the essential concepts that most benefit our institutions. This conference was unique in that it shared the seminal eclipse. It is the small moments between the sessions that truly made this conference a memorable one. 

The closing keynote speaker, Margaret Middleton, reminded our community that museums are not neutral. She inspired us to challenge the dusty policies and practices ingrained in our institutions despite their precedence because we are building a better future. This was a beautiful ending to an eye-opening and connective experience.

Giving Voice to Value allowed me to connect with the community I needed to secure my footing as a museum professional. I am thankful to the Pomeroy Foundation for honoring me with a scholarship to participate in this awesome event. I can't wait for next year!

George Fleckenstein, Pan Am Museum

Thirteen months ago, my involvement with museums was the many that I visited for enjoyment and education. Any trip, for whatever reason, always included a stop at a museum, historic landmark, or cultural site. I was now embarking upon my third career, meshing my love of history with many years of management, and hoping I had found a dream job at the Pan Am Museum Foundation.

Originally hired as a consultant in April 2023, after nine months, the Pan Am Museum Foundation board of directors invited me to become the first foundation staff employee and appointed me Director of the Pan Am Museum.

My tenure with the eight-year-old nonprofit has me involved with all aspects of a young and growing museum – membership, fundraising, curating, marketing, social media, cataloging, and giving tours – as I learn the storied history of Pan American World Airways. I had high hopes and expectations, and one year later, I’m still very happy with my choice.

So, I looked forward to the 2024 MANY conference as my first general museum professional training. And it provided me with more than I had hoped.  

At first, the conference seemed a bit overwhelming—there were so many new faces and so much to do. But, of course, I was made to feel right at home. The sessions were very detailed and professional, and the Q&A with the presenters added even more insight. The speeches were exceptionally informative and inspirational.

The Building Digital Collection session was very useful as we are a relatively new museum, and the presentation provided two hours on content, digital and media management, equipment needed, storage, standards, and cataloging.

Using Arts to Interpret Humanities was particularly helpful as we also attempted to collect oral histories. The presentation provided a very detailed process and unique avenues for collection (pop-up exhibits, Flower Power Cruise).

The Ignite Presentations featured four very well-organized, specific museum plans for collaboration, awareness, linguistic diversity, and oral history collection.

The Virtual Field Trip was packed with detailed information on the process, planning, and presentation of live virtual classroom presentations using the current USA Education Learning Standards. 

I am a prolific note-taker, so for each of the sessions I attended, I sometimes accumulated pages of notes, trying to retain as much of the useful information as possible. I realized that after time, I would continue to forget more and more. I also applied that to the people that I met and learned from.

Each evening before bedtime, I reviewed my notes from that day and the business cards that I received. I created a “To Do” list of the ideas I felt we should implement in my museum foundation – short-term and long-term.  And I began a list of my contacts with a short description.  Every night, I did my homework and updated my valuable lists. My Board Chair is now very pleased as I have already begun implementing some of the ideas I brought back from my conference “to-do” list.

I believe everyone has a fascinating story.  How did they get to their current place? Where did they come from? What was their journey? All are unique and different – and, to me, fascinating.  And that’s probably why I am so interested in history and why there are so many museums and landmarks.  Not everyone is famous, but no two people have an identical story. 

So, I found the receptions and informal gatherings a prime time to get to know new people…and learn their stories. My fellow museum professionals I talked to, spent time with, and got to know were kind, caring, and helpful. I now have a network of peers across New York State with whom I can contact and confer. This included many knowledgeable exhibitors, who, like everyone else, were fascinating and happy to help me resolve a need.  I guess I did not envision that I would be having a drink or sitting at a meal or on the grass at the State Capital to watch the eclipse - with MANY leadership, vendors, funders, and other museum professionals – learning all about this remarkable career.

 I’m deeply grateful to the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation for the opportunity to attend the 2024 MANY annual conference, “Giving Voice to Value”! This impactful conference gave me a very useful perspective on my new role, showed me the breadth of the museum industry in New York State, and led me to access many helpful resources while showcasing the best in the state. Thank you for funding professional development opportunities for Long Island Museum professionals. Because of this grant, I learned from professionals from across the country who shared their experiences and case studies of program experiences, which will help me as a new museum professional on Long Island.    

I am very much looking forward to the 2025 MANY conference!

Jamie Robinson, Museum Village of Old Smith's Clove

The 2024 MANY Conference, "Giving Voice to Value," was my first opportunity to engage in the wider museum community in the state. The conference gave me many insights, new connections that I value, and a sense of connection to a community experiencing the same challenges, obstacles, and stresses. The conference was truly a value-added experience for me, and I plan to continue to attend for as long as I am in the state.

While I found several of the panels interesting and engaging, often directly or indirectly leading me to new opportunities or ideas for our organization, the opportunity to network with and seek advice from my peer group was of the greatest value. The networking meet-ups on Sunday set a relaxed and open atmosphere with a “what is talked about at the conference stays at the conference” vibe. Hearing from the group similar or identical issues and challenges and the myriad ideas to counter them was of great relief in some ways and concern in others. What I found most surprising was a general feeling I had had for quite sometime but not clearly articulated as a perspective. The only new museums should be directly responsive to the needs of the community and the effects of COVID, and the post-COVID world has still not finished culling the field. The presentations and conversations about museums cohabiting were also of deep interest to me.

It is consistently brought home in conversations, presentations, and personal experience that there is a wide range of cultural heritage organizations vying for a limited and often shrinking pool of support, a system of donating/fundraising that is in the midst of seismic change, and a diversifying group of challenges due to accelerated audience shift. I find myself constantly thinking in compartmentalization, where, on the one hand, I am aware that my organization could close in less than six months while also presenting and working towards a rather audacious but needed strategic plan to secure its second 75 years of service. . . (takes a drink of something strong) This is compounded by the feeling of split reality as I argue to one side the necessity of supporting the museum to allow us to continue to serve, and on the other side, the necessity of change to be of service to the current moment. A constant scrambler ride of money, nostalgia, apathy, and change. The recent piece in the New York Times arguing that Museums should be funded like infrastructure resonates, no matter how improbable.

Coming back to the museum after the conference, I find myself reaching out more to peers than I did, strategizing the next few steps in the process from a slightly different perspective, and utilizing much of what I gathered to inform, cajole, persuade, and entice anyone who will listen for the sake of this organization that I passionately am working to revitalize. If you are ever in Orange County, stop by and see me, and let me show you why Museum Village of Old Smiths Clove is important.

Jeremy Dennis, Ma's House & BIPOC Art Studio, Inc.

Participating in the "Giving Voice to Value" 2024 annual conference hosted by the Museum Association of New York (MANY) in Albany, NY, was an enlightening experience that I cherished deeply. This was my second time attending the MANY conference, both times as the Lead Artist and President of Ma's House & BIPOC Art Studio, Inc., situated on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation.

The conference was made accessible to me through the generous travel support from the Robert Gardiner Foundation, an act of kindness for which I am eternally grateful. This conference served as a beacon for museum professionals, guiding us toward innovative, inclusive, and impactful museum practices.

The "Drawing the Line (Then Crossing It): Using the Arts to Interpret the Humanities" session stood out as a vibrant discussion on the intersection of art and the humanities. It emphasized art's unique ability to transcend traditional boundaries, fostering a deeper, more engaging dialogue with museum audiences. This session resonated with me profoundly, echoing the mission of Ma's House & BIPOC Art Studio, Inc., where art is not just a form of expression but a bridge to understanding complex narratives and histories.

Another impactful session was "Understanding Place: Relationship Building with Indigenous Communities." It underscored the critical importance of museums in fostering genuine relationships with Indigenous communities. This session highlighted how museums could serve as platforms for Indigenous voices, ensuring their stories and cultures are represented authentically and respectfully. This aligns closely with our efforts at Ma's House & BIPOC Art Studio, Inc., where we are committed to celebrating and preserving the rich cultural heritage of the Shinnecock Nation and other Indigenous communities. The presentation focused largely on land acknowledgments, how institutions can include local community voices in shaping and understanding what they are, and how they can be valuable in improving relationships with local Indigenous communities.

The conference also delved into the evolving landscape of museum visitor experiences through the "Reimagining a Century of Visitor Experience Graphics with Today's Inclusive Outreach Programs." This session offered a fresh perspective on how museums can adapt their outreach and engagement strategies to be more inclusive and accessible to diverse audiences. It served as a reminder of the importance of continually innovating our approaches to ensure that museums remain relevant and welcoming spaces for all.

The networking opportunities provided by the conference, including the eclipse witnessing event, the communal dinners, and various social gatherings, were invaluable. These moments of connection allowed for exchanging ideas and experiences among museum professionals, fostering a sense of community and shared purpose. The camaraderie experienced during these events underscored the collaborative spirit of the museum field and the collective aspiration to make museums more inclusive, engaging, and reflective of the communities they serve.

The "Giving Voice to Value" conference was a profound source of inspiration and learning. The sessions attended, and the connections made have profoundly impacted my perspective and approach to museum and arts leadership. The support from the Robert Gardiner Foundation was instrumental in enabling this transformative experience, for which I am deeply appreciative. The insights and lessons garnered from the conference will undoubtedly influence the direction and initiatives of Ma's House & BIPOC Art Studio, Inc., as we continue to champion inclusivity, community engagement, and innovation in our endeavors. We hope to have another team member attend in the future and especially hope the conference will one day take place on Long Island so we can share our local museums with the rest of NYS!

Josh Engel, Long Island Children's Museum

I was honored to be the recipient of this year's “Museum Professional in a Facilities Position” scholarship. My journey in the museum field began in 2015 when I joined our education team as a summer intern in our Together to Kindergarten program. Throughout my college career, I continued to work at the museum in many capacities, including educator, lead teacher, and birthday party host. In 2018, upon graduating from college, I became the museum’s Together to Kindergarten Program Coordinator and Visitor Experience Coordinator. Then, in April 2022, I became Associate Director of Support Services- taking on the challenge of becoming an Associate Director for the department and integrating facilities into an already full department.

When I received the scholarship, I was excited as this was my first conference I would be attending in the museum field. I was looking forward to connecting with other individuals and learning more about operations at other institutions. That is what I love about the museum field - we are all similar, yet each of us has something that makes us unique. This uniqueness allows us to solve problems differently, and having the platform to share these solutions across institutions is invaluable. This would also be the first year that I would focus on strategically planning our facilities and budget, an area I was really looking forward to conversing with my colleagues about.

The list of workshops was extensive, but immediately, I knew I wanted to know about financial sustainability. I worked hard to understand every aspect of the facility, but now my challenge was to budget and plan for all the maintenance required of a 20-year-old, open 7 days a week building. While I knew going in that it would not be focused just on facilities, financial sustainability is cross-departmental and should always be a lens through which we operate. I wanted to hear how others approached budgeting, strategic planning, and balancing various areas of their museum. It was a great session where I had the opportunity to listen to the speakers and engage in meaningful conversations. These conversations gave me valuable insight into how other museums approach this process and engage their staff in budgeting. I took a lot of notes and came back energized- ready to implement some of them. Some of my colleagues' suggestions helped our department create a realistic budget and empowered a deeper understanding of how we can be budget-conscious.

I also attended one of the “Ignite” sessions, which energized me and provided insights into new growth areas in the field. These mini-sessions were full of great projects and ideas that inspired me to start my own projects! I am the managing director of Nunley’s Carousel- a 112-year-old historic carousel that is a landmark on Long Island. Listening to how The Museum at Bethel Woods has been collecting stories from the event helped me think about how I could capture the stories about growing up on Long Island that I always hear at the Carousel. Another one of the sessions was about language access, which is not only an area that I am passionate about but is the interest that got me involved in the museum field all those years ago. I was excited to see how much progress has been made in prioritizing these initiatives across the museum and how integrative technology has broken traditional language barriers.

Attending the MANY 2024 annual conference on the Museum Professional in a Facilities position scholarship has been one of my professional highlights in the first part of this year. Expanding my professional network and connecting with those in similar roles across various institutions was a great experience. It allowed me to grow my bond with my colleagues and make some new friends along the way! I left feeling energized about my work, passionate about museums as a whole, and proud to be a member of a group that truly contributes every day to our broader community here in New York.

Kayla Whitehouse, National Bottle Museum

I was fortunate to be awarded the William G. Pomeroy Foundation Scholarship to attend the 2024 annual MANY conference. Please see below my conference summary.

I had never attended any of the previous MANY conferences. I first heard about the theme of this year’s conference from a mailer we received at our museum, and it interested me. The question of what is valued at the museum and how to represent that in what we do had come up recently at our museum, so the theme “Giving Voice to Value” was immediately of interest. Luckily, I received a scholarship from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, which enabled me to attend the conference.

I am very glad that I took the opportunity to attend the conference. I made some great connections with other museum professionals locally and all across the state and made plans to collaborate and work with them again in the future. So many of our museums face the same challenges, and our discussions provided us all with new ideas and approaches to consider.

I also greatly enjoyed the sessions that I attended. I attended one of the pre-conference workshops on Preservation Planning, which was extremely helpful. It provided a template for a preservation plan and led us through how to determine our goals and strategies to preserve our museum collections properly. The program was so informative and well run – going in, the thought of writing up a preservation plan seemed daunting, but by the end of the workshop, I felt like I had all the tools I needed to create one for our museum.

The sessions during the main conference were also very helpful. The panels and speakers were all extremely knowledgeable, and the sessions covered a wide variety of topics, so there was something of interest that I could attend for each of the session times. A lot of the sessions also opened up the discussion to everyone in the room, which was helpful as well because it allowed us to hear multiple perspectives on each topic.

While the solar eclipse was one of the highlights of the conference days, of course, it was made more enjoyable by being with new friends that I had developed during my time at the conference. We attended the after-party together and explored other local museums during the Night at the Museums event.

Overall, attending the MANY 2024 Conference was an extremely rewarding experience. I created many great connections with other museum professionals across the state and had the opportunity to discuss and brainstorm strategies to improve our programs and offerings. The workshop and the conference sessions were enlightening. They provided me with tools that I will be able to use to improve my museum’s educational programs, collections, displays and signage, and general policies that we use day-to-day. I am so grateful to the William G. Pomeroy Foundation for the scholarship that they offered me, which enabled me to attend the conference and take these new tools with me.

Kristin White, Dunkirk Historical Society

I was fortunate to receive a scholarship from the Pomeroy Foundation to attend the 2024 MANY conference in Albany, New York. I am fairly new to my museum career and found the experience energizing and empowering. I took copious notes during each session I attended- and I even began strategic planning and research when time allowed.

The Keynote presentation, “Slow Cooking: Recipes for Centering Value in Museums,” offered several insights that I carried with me throughout the conference. The idea that my organization should be a value-centered museum resonated with me. We need to meet people where they are and bring them along to where we want to be. The same idea applies to my current board of trustees. I need to meet them where they are and move them towards the future.

The last two ideas I took away from the keynote go together. The 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence is approaching. If museums and educators are not involved, corporations and the media will drive the narrative of this event. It seems like a daunting task to undertake, but the idea that no one has to be or work alone makes it seem more manageable. Knowing there is a network of like-minded individuals working towards a common goal or cause makes the impossible seem possible.

“Understanding Place: Relationship Building with Indigenous Communities”

I learned that a land acknowledgment is a good start in recognizing how the land we live and work on was acquired, but it MUST be paired with action, or it means nothing. This land was never ceded, it was taken. Indigenous people should not be spoken of in the past tense. They may have been removed from their ancestral lands but are still here. Everyone should be a steward of the land- we all live here.

One of the attendees asked how to build relationships with Indigenous communities near us. We were told that a cold call to local organizations was okay. Any partnership and research should be compensated. My local tribes, according to the map source provided, are the Seneca (Onondowa’ga’) and Erie (Haudenosaunee). I plan on reaching out to them and establishing a relationship. I will add a line budget to compensate and exhibit funding for this future endeavor.

“Removing Barriers and Opening Doors: Finding Ways to Improve Accessibility and Inclusion”

“Removing Barriers and Opening Doors: Finding Ways to Improve Accessibility and Inclusion” was extremely valuable to me. My museum is housed in a former church that opened in 1930. It is not at all physically accessible to anyone with a disability. This includes mobility, vision, and hearing impairment. Some great questions were asked of the audience and were very thought-provoking for me. Who are we serving? Are we getting the audience we want? Are we getting locals only or tourists? How do we know what people who aren’t coming want? Some of these answers seem simple but require much thought, research, and groundwork.

The workshop shared that a site accessibility survey is a good start, giving an overview of what needs to be addressed and the largest priority. Discrete projects toward accessibility can be done regularly and lead to a greater sense of inclusion and belonging for museum guests. These projects may include braille or 3D-printed materials, a list of trusted vendors to do improvement projects, voice actors to record audio materials, etc.

Accessibility is both brick-and-mortar and brain matter—intellectual access is just as important as physical access. The city of Dunkirk has a very high Hispanic population, yet only one exhibit has Spanish-language translations. I will work on having a translation available for more (and eventually all) exhibits.

“Bringing Voice to Value”

The session “Bringing Voice to Value" was one of the most meaningful and self-reflective for me. It asked the question, “What voices within my museum have privilege?” I was not surprised to find that there are many missing voices. My museum's voice is currently a white, Christian, upper-middle-class, Patriarchal one.

When asked to identify what voices are central, ancillary, and excluded, I came up with the following analysis:

Central voices:

  • Horatio Brooks (Brooks Railroad Works, Erie Railroad.) Our entire basement is a railroad exhibit, emphasizing Mr. Brooks and his company.
  • Ancillary voices:
  • Businesses that made their homes in Dunkirk
  • Dunkirk High School and the former Catholic high school, Cardinal Mindszenty School

Excluded voices:

  • Immigrant

The findings of this simple case study tell me that if someone came to my museum who had no idea what the city of Dunkirk was about, they would learn that Horatio Brooks was “the guy.” According to our story, all roads lead through him. He and the railroad brought everything. There has always been an “outsider” element, and it has cycled through different groups and nationalities but remains today. These outsider stories are missing.

Owning up to this exclusion must be part of the storytelling. They definitely need to be added, but we also need to talk about why they were excluded—even though the conversation will not be comfortable. The narrative must be driven by the people the story is about—not a re-telling of their experience through our current lens. We must also be mindful of the language we use in this storytelling.

The last question asked during this session was, “How does the building (and museum collections) reflect the museum’s values?” Sadly, I have to say it does currently represent what is seen—it is not welcoming, it is not physically accessible, and the stories inside only represent a fraction of the people of our city. This is NOT the message we want going forward.

I could connect with many peers and was comforted that all museums, regardless of size, budget, and audience, have similar problems and challenges. I had several great conversations with those new to the field, like me, and those with 20+ years of service under their belts. Knowing that my peers and the MANY organization are there as a support system makes me feel supported and proud to be part of such an organization. I look forward to sharing all of the ideas, projects, and partnerships I have made the next time I see everyone in 2025. I am indebted to the Pomeroy Foundation for the opportunity to attend and learn.

Lauren Nechamkin, Museum of Chinese in America

Giving Voice to Value was my first MANY conference experience. While unsure what to expect, I was immediately drawn to this year’s theme. As the Director of Education at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA), I am responsible for leading our team through the critical task of assessing our educational offerings and asking the big questions— Whose voices do our programs amplify? Whose voices are we marginalizing or even unintentionally silencing? Who are we inviting into the fold? Who might we be excluding? This year’s conference felt like a great time to take stock and consider new frameworks. The notion of putting into words the practices, understandings, and assumptions that guide our work (yet are sometimes obscured by the rhythms of day-to-day programming) is a powerful one, which I wanted to contemplate more deeply…so on I went!

As I attended keynotes, panels, and historic house tours, I was consistently struck by how much each one returned to this central theme of coalition building. It came up repeatedly, sometimes explicitly, and other times indirectly. At a session about the West Side Community Network (WSCN), panelists talked about coalition building as a means of collectively uplifting their museum missions in ways that amounted to more than the sum of their parts. I was particularly inspired by how WSCN formed out of a mutual need to commune with colleagues and then organically started taking on other forms. It went beyond transactional partnership and co-promotional marketing, stemming from a shared desire to take an active role in guiding the transformation of their geographic community without simply being reactive. By not putting pressure on the network to produce a specific outcome, WSCN members intentionally carved out time to have conversations about how they show up in their community, to discover alignments, act as sounding boards for one another, and simply to let ideas marinate. (This idea was reaffirmed in the slow-cooking opening keynote.) Small museums worked alongside big museums with equal say and an equal voice. One of the many fruits of the network was a collectively planned community day, unlike any the organizations could have hosted on their own. Learning about the inner workings of WSCN expanded my understanding of how museums can and do work with one another and within the community. It pushed me to reconsider how my institution showed up in our community and provided a different potential path forward. More than anything, it proved something I already knew to be true but needed to be reminded of: there is so much to be gained from pooling our resources.

Amongst the sessions that left me with the greatest food for thought was one on museums as civic actors, which profiled the experiences of several museums, from smaller historical societies serving rural communities to larger urban institutions, in their quest to create a community of practice designed to foster civic engagement. Before the session, I hadn’t understood the true depth of civic competency, which encompasses not only civic knowledge and skills, but also civic action and mindset. This idea of a civic mindset broadened my understanding of what I traditionally considered civics education. It revealed the potential of working with early learners to build a civic mindset by cultivating collaboration, empathy, and critical thinking—all values that necessarily underpin civic engagement but aren’t necessarily part of conversations around civics. I left the session armed with so many tangible resources, articles to read, funding opportunities to consider, and ideas I wanted to apply to my museum setting, such as implementing a civic learning audit to articulate how we currently teach civics (even if we don’t use the word civics) and how we can better integrate related concepts into our programming.

As we round out an incredibly busy school year of museum education programs, I am grateful to have a dialogue with many peers in the field over just two and a half days. On a personal level, the conference reminded me of the need for a mental reset (and the occasional joyous carousel ride). On a professional level, it reminded me of the need to take time to question content, processes, and program structures that can sometimes seem fixed. l look forward to a summer of doing just that alongside our small but mighty education team!

Mari Irizarry, Three Village Historical Society

As a queer, LatinX, female director of a small museum, attending the "Giving Voice to Value" conference in Albany this April was a profound experience. The event's title resonated deeply with me, encapsulating my journey as a museum professional over the past eight years. Each day, I confront challenges that test my resolve, yet I find solace and strength in my identity and leadership role within my community.

The conference provided a platform for hundreds of museum professionals from across the state to converge and engage in meaningful dialogue. For me, it was not just an opportunity to learn but a reaffirmation of the values guiding my work and my museum's spirit. At our institution, we (the staff) believe in "checking our ego" at the door, allowing each other's strengths to shine through. We embody the principles of giving voice to value daily, striving to challenge the status quo and affect positive change in our community.

One of the central themes of the conference was the role of historical societies and museums play in addressing racism, bias, and other injustices in American history and contemporary society. As a cultural organization dedicated to archiving and preserving our local history, we recognize our responsibility to amplify marginalized voices and educate the public about the injustices they have faced.

Throughout the conference, I was inspired by the stories and experiences my fellow museum professionals shared. We discussed strategies for fostering inclusivity, confronting bias, and centering marginalized narratives in our institutions. There was a sense of solidarity and determination in those rooms as we collectively recognized the urgency of our mission.

The conference isn't just about exchanging ideas and insights; it celebrates collaboration and togetherness. I eagerly anticipate reconnecting with our counterparts from across the state, knowing that moments of pure enjoyment await us amidst the hustle and bustle of our professional duties. Picture this: colleagues and friends from different corners of the state gathering together to ride a historical carousel, laughter echoing against the walls of our state museum in earshot of the capitol. It's a scene that encapsulates the spirit of the conference – a perfect blend of work and play. In these moments, connections deepen, ideas flourish, and memories are made.

But perhaps the highlight of it all is the after-hours adventures – exploring majestic historic mansions and gardens, and wandering through the corridors of museums, each step a journey through time. It's these experiences that remind me why I love my job – not just for the work we do, but for the moments of joy and discovery we share with colleagues who feel like long lost friends. As a leader, I left the conference with a renewed sense of purpose and resolve. I am committed to doing more, listening more, and educating more to combat injustice and support marginalized and underserved communities. This means not only diversifying our collections and programming, but also creating a workplace culture that values and celebrates diversity in all its forms.

The Museum Association of NY – Giving Voice to Value conference was not just a professional development opportunity; it was a reaffirmation of my identity and values as a BIPOC museum professional. It reminded me that every day, we have the power to make a difference and give voice to the values that define us.

Michael Bennett, The Lincoln Depot Museum

I write to extend my sincere appreciation for the scholarship I was awarded to assist with my attending the recent Museum Association of New York’s Annual Conference: Giving Voice to Value – held in Albany, April 6-9, 2024.

While I have had a lifelong passion for history and have worked with a number of history museums and historical societies, this is the first occasion that I have had to attend such a conference focusing on the museum field. And with my somewhat recent appointment to the Board of Directors of The Lincoln Depot Museum in Peekskill, NY, the conference was quite enlightening and hopefully most helpful.

Along with the other valuable projects the William G. Pomeroy Foundation supports and helps to fund, with these scholarships you present wonderful opportunities for museum professionals, particularly newcomers to the field, to learn the latest methods and ideologies from those already practicing them in the field, along with unparalleled opportunities for brainstorming and networking.

Thank you for allowing/enabling me to be a part of it!

Phyllis Chan Carr, Sagtikos Manor

I attended the MANY Annual Conference, “ Giving Voice to Value” in Albany, NY.

My understanding of this concept was to listen to the voices of the people in different communities to evaluate what, if anything, their needs were met and how equitable the institutions were to include them. The concentration centered around several factors: generational, sexual/- gender inclusion, minority/Civil Rights/immigrant, and those with a physical disability.

The opening keynote speakers, Ben Garcia and Jennifer Scott, addressed the gender inclusion and minority issue by opening organizations/museums that include this population. They discussed how they listened to the community's voices in achieving this goal.

The “Drawing the Line (The Crossing It” session looked at the generational outlook. How can we inform/educate those who are younger and have not experienced an event that occurred before they were born? The Museum at Bethel Woods took several innovative approaches to attract this audience by creating a festival that included live music, pop-ups, interactive activities, and even food tasting.

Re-imaging a Century of Visitor /Experience Graphics with Today’s Inclusive Outreach explored how the significance of signage/maps and even website innovations that can help to those with a physical disability navigate and experience the Brooklyn /Botanical Gardens.

I attended “What is Valued at Your Museum/Historic Site Part One.” This session spent the whole time with us introducing ourselves, so I thought it best not to continue with Part Two, although this is a workshop that I thought would most value my organization.

The “Diversifying the Museum Space” session concentrated on including the black/Latinx communities in their museums and the inclusion of the same in staffing. Sometimes, this is not often effective in an area where there is not a wide range of a diverse minority population. I am the only minority staff member in an area where I probably make up 1% of that minority population. This session was more appropriate and applicable to larger cities.

The Solar Eclipse held in the Empire Plaza was a major event nation wide. It was an interesting the event, but time-wise could have been better spent with the addition of another session or more time for touring other venues.

As for the tours, I only had time for the Albany Capital Tour, which was wonderful. Our guide was great and I learned so many interesting historical facts about the building and our government.

The closing keynote speaker, Margaret Middleton, spoke on the storytelling of museum works of art. I recall her speech on addressing the labeling of museum pieces and the underlying story it perhaps told. I found that both opening and closing speakers were not quite as dynamic in their approach as in past conferences.

The capstone experience I attended was “Landscape & Community: Creative Community-Centered Approaches to Interpreting a Museum Site” at the Ten Broeck Mansion. I enjoyed touring this historic mansion and their after session on their approach to including the history of the surrounding diverse community, the research they have done on the landscape and gardens, and the plans for future projects for reconstructing the greenhouse on the property.

At each conference I attend, I have the chance to meet old and new colleagues from different museums. The exchange of ideas benefits the health of each of our institutions.

Rebekah Clark, Memorial Day Museum

The 2024 Annual MANY Conference: Giving Voice to Value was my time attending a museum Conference. I work at the Memorial Day Museum in Waterloo, New York, which is a small museum in the Finger Lakes area.

Of the panels I attended, the two that had the most impact were “Removing Barriers and Opening Doors: Finding Ways to Improve Accessibility and Inclusion” and “Expanding the Museum’s Reach—Folk Culture’s Role in Presenting a Community’s Story.”

The panel on accessibility, while broad in scope, had many suggestions of importance for those seeking to expand their audience. Two historic buildings where I work or have worked, Rose Hill Mansion in Geneva, NY, and the Three Bears in Ovid, NY, have issues regarding access to second floors. Several possible ways to handle the second-floor access were of great interest: refurbishing old elevators, building new elevators, or using Bluetooth technology with TV monitors and cameras to display to those on the first floor who could not physically access the second floor.

Another panel focusing on the Reher Bakery (Center for Immigrant Culture and History) moved away from the physical building and more toward the message. One panelist stated, “ There is brick and mortar, and then there is brain matter,” meaning fixing the building and displaying the message.

Another panelist from The Removing Barriers panel focused on the findings that paper catalogs were preferred over digital formats such as iPads within the exhibit areas.

Another panelist discussed how using 3d prints of museum objects was helpful for those who were visually impaired and that using social narrative was especially important to neurodivergent visitors.

The next panel I learned greatly from was “Expanding the Museum’s Reach – Folk Culture’s Role in Presenting a Community’s Story.” This panel felt closer to home (literally) in that the presenters were from Corning, NY and through educational connections, worked with a local American Indian artist named Hayden Haynes from the Seneca Deer Clan. Their interactional relationship between students and artifacts over time was impressive and something that many communities could easily accomplish with their folk artists in residence.

The MANY dinner at the New York State Museum: I enjoyed this event because it allowed me to meet more informally with others from my region of New York State. One of the things I noticed throughout the conference was the lack of representation from the more rural communities, especially the Finger Lakes region. Within 30 miles from the Memorial Day Museum in Waterloo, where I work, there are over 30 museums, if not more so, the lack of representation from this geographic area was surprising.

Regarding the Exhibitors located in the hall outside the presentation rooms, I had an enjoyable interaction with the Westlake Art Conservation Center. I was familiar with them from their previous restoration of paintings for Geneva Historic. Presently, Westlake has become a not-for-profit organization with some interesting new directions and a continued focus on restorations.

Overall, my first experience with the MANY Conference was fruitful. I learned about ways to help increase accessibility for several groups. Another panel reminded me that there are different folk cultures with which the museum could interact.

Scott Ferrara, Three Village Historical Society

Museum work, like heritage, is an actively adaptive practice that requires a community of people who care. In fact, museums are most at risk when they are resistant to adaptation. Our institutions and organizations may educate the public about the past, but this doesn’t mean we need to live in the past. My experiences at this year’s MANY Annual Conference taught me that there is an engaged and brilliant community of like-minded museum professionals who want to learn how to better their organizations and are eager to help other museums succeed. As a first-timer to the MANY Annual Conference, my biggest takeaway was that the issues I face at my job have not only been addressed at other organizations but that an entire community is willing to help me.

I work part-time as the collections and exhibition coordinator at the Three Village Historical Society on Long Island. Understandably, my position requires sensitive approaches to maintaining my organization’s archives and collections and ensuring exhibits are ethically constructed with the appropriate collaborators and voices. The numerous vendors and exhibitors at the conference were incredibly helpful in showcasing all the new technology and resources that can help me do my job more effectively. I learned new things about technology and services at almost every booth there. Further, I was able to dream up practical applications of these technologies and services while attending the sessions and thinking about how the presentations related to the projects my organization can do.

Two sessions were of particular interest to me during the conference. The first was the Monday session titled “Understanding Place: Relationship Building with Indigenous Communities.” I appreciated how each of the three presenters who contributed to this presentation (Denise Weetahmoe Silva-Dennis, Jeanmarie Walsh Mansfield, and Allison McGovern, PhD) were a crucial reflection of what a collaborative partnership can and should be. Indigenous collaboration in museum environments is crucial as these narratives have been traditionally silenced and reduced to mere backdrops of a colonial past. Thoughtful exhibits and educational programming that underscore Indigenous histories and perspectives are vital to an ethical and equitable public understanding of the past. However, Indigenous collaboration also risks being exploitative if not done carefully and ethically with honest discussions of what benefits or remittance each collaborative partner is expected to gain. Overall, the discussions between the presenters and the audience led to invaluable consideration for creatively adopting these lessons for my organization’s future projects.

The other session I was impressed by was “Expanding the Museum’s Reach – Folk Culture’s Role in Presenting a Community’s Story.” This session particularly interested me as my organization's local community has a rich history in maritime trade, shipbuilding, and folk art. The presenter’s discussions, particularly relating to experiences at the Hudson River Maritime Museum, were insightful and helped me think creatively about how my organization can address similar educational programming issues and ultimately help give “voice to underserved communities.”

Successful museums require communities. I am very thankful to the William G. Pomeroy Foundation for allowing me to attend this year. I am particularly thankful for all of the attendees I connected with. This gathering allowed me to speak with key individuals at other organizations I follow on social media that I respect and have always wanted to learn more about their specific programming and events. Through casual discussion, I was able to not only forge new professional relationships but also learn that the issues my organization faces can be addressed with the help of the New York State museum community.

Susan Colson, Percy Grainger Society

I am so grateful I was able to attend the MANY Conference in Albany, New York, themed "Giving Voice to Value." The conference, held on April 6-9, proved to be a transformative experience that broadened my perspective and inspired me in ways I had not anticipated.

Professionally, the conference proved to be quite a catalyst for growth and reflection. The insights gained from the conference sessions, keynote speakers, special events, and interactions with fellow attendees have equipped me with new perspectives and strategies to address the evolving needs of my home museum (the Percy Grainger Home & Studio, White Plains. The conference served as a learning, networking, and collaboration platform, paving the way for future endeavors and partnerships that will benefit my institution and the broader museum community.

It is hard to decide which of the conference sessions to highlight here, and each was unique and wonderful in its own way (so much preparation by the presenters!). One of my favorites for thinking out of the box was a workshop that resonated deeply with me: Six Things Three Americans Learned About Museum Capacity Building in Bulgaria. The three presenters shared their experiences from traveling to Bulgaria, where they had been exploring and imparting best practices for museums. They struggled at first to get their hosts even to begin to think in different ways. Then, in a breakthrough moment, their hosts understood the changes they suggested. The presenters' insights into global museum practices and innovative approaches left a lasting impression on me. It was fascinating to learn about how museums in different parts of the world are striving to enhance visitor experiences and preserve cultural heritage. Cudos to Paul Orselli to sheer presenter enthusiasm!

My favorite keynote was Ross Levi’s "I Love New York” tourism update. The speaker's profound knowledge about museums and their impact on the economy and quality of life in New York was truly impressive. The discussion shed light on the pivotal role museums play in shaping tourism and contributing to the overall cultural landscape of the state. It was a reminder of the power of museums to educate, inspire, and drive economic growth in their communities. While this is not something we think about every day, we should consider it regularly.

During the conference, I had the opportunity to participate in a unique special event– a shuttle bus tour to different museums on Monday night. The Schuyler Mansion and Historic Cherry Hill stood out as personal favorites among the museum tours I visited. Exploring these historical sites and gaining insights into their significance was educational and inspiring. The immersive museum tours provided a glimpse into the region's rich history and cultural heritage, adding a layer of depth to my overall conference experience.

Beyond the workshops and museum tours, what truly resonated with me was the sense of community and shared purpose that permeated the conference. Engaging with so many professionals from diverse backgrounds, engaging in casual conversation (the conference was structured so this could happen routinely), and exchanging ideas and experiences highlighted the common challenges and opportunities we faced in the museum world. The conversations sparked during the conference broadened my perspective and affirmed that I was not alone in navigating the complexities of museum management and preservation.

In retrospect, my time at the MANY conference was not just about attending sessions and workshops but about embracing a shared vision and amplifying the voices shaping the museum landscape. The conference served as a reminder of museums' profound impact on society, culture, and economy, reinforcing my commitment to preserving and promoting cultural heritage through innovative practices and collaborative efforts.

Overall, the conference was a transformative experience that left me inspired, informed, and eager to continue my journey in the dynamic world of museums. The connections made, the knowledge gained, and the insights shared have enriched my professional growth and reaffirmed my dedication to preserving and celebrating our collective heritage.

Susan Oullette, Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway, Burden Iron Works Museum

As a relatively new member of the New York State museum community, I profoundly appreciated the positive and nurturing environment of this my first MANY conference. The pre-conference workshop on Breaking Barriers: digitalization was exactly what I needed to begin exploring and developing a digitalization project for our collections. The various panels and post-panel discussions opened a window to the innovative and thoughtful approaches that make our museums such wonderful institutions. For instance, understanding the influence and inviting the contributions of marginalized and “invisible” members of our communities is important but often difficult to incorporate into our museum spaces. Discussion of those difficulties and strategies for successful inclusion were valuable learning opportunities. Although my institution, the Burden Iron Works Museum, is relatively small, I found inspiration and encouragement in the public and personal expressions of support offered by nearly everyone I encountered during the conference. Finally, I was especially grateful for the infectious enthusiasm that pervaded the atmosphere; I brought that feeling of energized mindfulness home. I’m looking forward to opportunities over the next year and the 2025 conference in Ithaca!

Terry Britton, Woodstock Museum

Nathan Koenig, President of Woodstock Museum®, is a long-time friend of 35 years whom I had worked with in the eighties, the two of us running a video studio together. Now he runs Woodstock Museum® along with Shelli Lipton, CEO and founder. The museum is housed in the expanded location of our former video studio. They have run Woodstock Museum®, which has served the local area and international tourists for almost four decades. I proposed that they scale the museum to a much larger stature, a prospect which excited them both. I was grateful to receive the Pomeroy Foundation Scholarship to join MANY and attend their annual conference this year. In attending, I had three goals: 1) to learn as much as possible from the workshops I attended, 2) to “litmus-test” my grandiose vision of the Woodstock Museum® to as many museum professionals as I could, and 3) to make some solid connections hopefully. All three goals were realized well beyond my wildest expectations! I will address these three goals below.

1) Learning: We paid for an additional night’s stay at the Albany Hilton so I could attend the Saturday workshop by Documentary Heritage and Preservation Services for New York (DHPSNY) on “Collections Preservation Planning.” This was chosen because the media collections at Woodstock Museum® are quite vast, and most of the collection is on media that needs to be digitized. A proper management plan is required to outline our needs before we seek grants to pay for all this. Not only did the workshop fully acquaint us with a comprehensive plan of action and guidance for approaching such problems, but I also learned that they would provide a free State-agency assessment of our collections! Such an assessment will bolster the impact and substance of our grant applications, so this was truly an auspicious happening!

The people who organized the West Side Cultural Network presented the first regular workshop presentation. In the eighties, the artist Suzen and I ran “Art for the People” which did similar large-scale events in Manhattan. WSCN’s project was Art for the People’s approach “on steroids,” I was inspired by their pulling together many community cultural agencies and non-profits to organize a wonderful event. I hope to involve the three panelists in my Woodstock Museum® project, which I told them about, and they responded very positively to the idea. That was a very exciting moment!

I also attended several workshops mostly focused on taking the museum’s materials into the school systems and other learning avenues, supporting teachers and other educators – including bloggers and documentarians – with the museum’s materials and with suggestions for lesson plans covering several different approaches to learning. We have a very strong interest in this kind of partnering, and all these workshops presented different angles and insights.

On the technological front, my final workshop was by folks from miSci and Nowigence on how they incorporated AI interfaces into a museum display and an online resource about food. This approach uses “extractive” AI – similar to the online “Answer Machine” at, in that it uses programmed data that provides the connections and ultimately the answers, which eliminates the non-factual or just plain wrong kinds of responses that “generative” AI like ChatGPT and others sometimes produce. This was a very exciting session to end my learning journey, as I am an Artificial Intelligence geek.

2) The Huge Woodstock Museum® Vision litmus test: Every person I met heard the outline of my plan for building a truly humungous, large-scale museum attraction out of the Woodstock Museum® brand. I arrived fully anticipating quite a few raised eyebrows, a lot of skepticism, and hems and haws from this vast sea of museum professionals I would be encountering at the MANY Conference.

INSTEAD, I received wall-to-wall enthusiasm and excitement, with several attendees offering to help and be involved in the project. People overhearing me talking about it to others approached me and pressed their business cards into my hands. Every vendor I spoke to at the conference called it a “dream project.” I heard from museum folks of all ages – including the young interns and college students – that we “need” a Woodstock Museum®. That this came from directors, presidents, CEO’s and other seasoned professionals was confirmation beyond my most hopeful expectations. So, now to sell the idea to a city that will host it!

3) Connections/Networking: The morning networking event for “newbies” such as myself, proctored by Syracuse University professor Andrew J. Saluti (shown at left) was beyond cordial, and everyone shared their projects and listened to each other’s ideas and advice. That session was too short! In each subsequent workshop and during the breakfast, lunch and dinner events, I made many new friends, and I arrived home with a deep pile of business cards and handwritten contact information from those without cards. Several of these folks I hope to be able to help with my skills in marketing, teaching and artificial intelligence down the road, as I found their museum concepts to be inspirational and exciting. Some of those business cards came from influential folks who had expressed great interest in the Woodstock Museum® project. I hope to work with Professor Saluti in the future as we hope to bring in several young Museum Studies interns in the future.

Summary: Attending the MANY Conference was a pivotal moment for me. I felt entirely at home surrounded by such dedicated and professional museum folks. I am extremely proud to be a part of the growth of museums in New York State and look forward to partnering with others here.

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