Last year I wrote a review of my Tennessee Association of Museum conference experience and how much that meeting meant to me. This year it is coming a bit late, but I did still want to express how wonderful this annual conference is, and what it can mean for you as a museum professional or student. The event was held in Memphis, which has a dear place in my heart. Since I essentially started my academic career in museum studies at the University of Memphis, and I worked in several of the community museums, I was excited to get back to the city for a conference devoted to the Rock, Rhythm, and Soul of Museums.
First of all, the entire event I was surrounded by like-minded people who are all working towards similar goals. The bonding experiences that take place at conferences, especially at special events and in the hospitality suite, are invaluable. Sessions are obviously places where you can learn and share ideas.
Q&As during and after sessions and panels are also great experiences for meeting new people and learning about new opportunities.
One of the best things about TAM is the opportunity to visit area museums for social gatherings, dinners, the annual auction, and tours. This year we visited the Brooks Museum of Art, Fire Museum, Metal Museum, and the National Civil Rights Museum. These events provided places for professionals to see what museums in the mid-south are doing and talk about ideas and successes. They also had some fun interactive exhibits, such as the fire pole at the Fire Museum, which was a big hit with everyone.
Several of us also took advantage of the opportunity to go on a pre-conference tour of the music-related sites that Memphis is famous for. We went to the Rock’n’Soul Museum, Sun Studio, and the STAX Museum of American Soul Music. There is never enough time to see everything, but we got a good taste of the great opportunities these museums offer to the Memphis community. Even though I lived in Memphis for two years, I never had a chance to visit Rock ‘n’ Soul or STAX, so I was grateful for the opportunity to visit these places with other museum people. Sun Studio will always be one of my favorite sites in the city, so I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit again. And we got to see Issac Hayes’ car, AND have a dance party. Awesome.
One the most essential (and sometimes overlooked) part of the conference was the sessions. I didn’t go to as many sessions as I would have liked, since I was stressing over presenting my own session for the first time at TAM. They had many great sessions for small museums, and workshops to share ideas. A session I did get to go to was, “Help Is on the Way! What MAP Can Do for You” with the American Association of Museums: Museum Assessment Program coordinator, Laura Silberman. The main reason I wanted to attend this session is because Dr. Robert Connolly from Chucalissa shared the experiences he and the staff at Chucalissa experienced when going through this process. Since I was a part of the MAP assessment team as a graduate student but a graduate by the time the assessment took place, I was excited to hear the changes that came about because of the program.
The session, “Challenges and Benefits of Community Engagement: Lessons from Three Memphis Museums,” was one that I felt I had to attend. My former professor, Dr. Leslie Luebbers, and fellow University of Memphis alumni and Chucalissa co-worker Natalye Tate were among the presenters. The session explored the museums’ challenges, how they were negotiated. They also talked about how the programs benefited the community and the museum, which is an essential part of museums that many times is forgotten in the everyday operations of the museum. The Museum Studies program at Memphis has an entire class, taught by Dr. Luebbers, all about communities and museums.
As a student of Museum 2.0 and Nina Simon via Robert Connolly’s 2008 Museum Practices class, the session “The Participatory Museum: More Than Just a Hands-on Gig” was a must for me. The session looked at the different types of participatory visitor experiences. Presenters, all from the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa also talked about various case studies where visitors play an active role in determining exhibit content and move toward a stakeholder role in the institution. Samantha Gibbs, my coworker while I was a graduate assistant, did a great job explaining the programs she developed with the participatory museum in mind!
Finally, it was a great experience to have so many people who have supported me since I started this path of museum studies at my session encouraging me and my research, as well as so many fellow graduate students and friends from MTSU. It was a great mix of my “old” friends and coworkers in Memphis with my “new” public history and Murfreesboro friends, and I couldn’t do any of this without them.
Here’s to them!! Enjoy these photos from the conference and the special events (especially the auction).