AAM2019 – American Alliance of Museums Conference – Recap of Day 2

This is a second in a series of posts covering the American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting in New Orleans (AAM2019). This year’s event is focused on how museums and cultural institutions can remain relevant, engaging, and inclusive in an era of rapid change.

A team from HAIs is on hand for the event. Here are some of our key learnings from the second day of the conference:

Museums seek to be more inclusive. Despite America’s cultural diversity, the museum field is still predominantly white. This leads to inherent bias. To address the issue, museums are making a conscious effort to diversify their staffing; make exhibit content more culturally inclusive; accept responsibility; and address mistakes.

Museums are thinking about the public as collaborators, rather than simply visitors. Ideas include creating visitor focus groups when developing new exhibits and incorporating the opinions and ideas of people whose culture is being portrayed. They are also looking to their staff and addressing issues like “representation burnout,” when there is only one person of color on a team. Examples include:

History Associates Team at the NWW2M for AAM2019

History Associates teammates Laura Starr, Carly Swaim, Phoebe McDougal and Halley Fehner at the AAM2019 Closing Party, held at the National World War II Museum — one of our longtime clients.

  • Detroit Institute of Art (DIA) – when planning an art exhibit on Shirin Neshat, a Muslim feminist artist, the DIA engaged the local Muslim community to get input on how they thought the art should be interpreted, as well as their fears for misinterpretation. DIA engaged the public in brainstorming before the exhibit was developed and then walkthroughs and tours of the exhibit as it was implemented.
  • San Diego Museum of Man – made improvements to their long-standing permanent exhibit which discusses native people and is in the process of rebuilding trust with the tribes affected.

Museum and exhibit development is getting agile.
Museums are looking beyond the traditional development approach to incorporate ideas from other industries, like using an agile project management methodology in instances where a more iterative, team-based approach would be beneficial.

The strategic planning process can also become more agile. One session compared the planning processes of two successful modern art museums. One museum deployed a 3-5 year strategic plan and the other used rapid-fire tactical planning to open a new museum building in a matter of months. The key is to gather input from many sources to make the most informed decisions. Quick tips include:

  • Listen to staff members, board members, and visitors.
  • Bring on a partner to help.
  • Have a traditional question box.
  • Hold town hall meetings and use a facilitator.
  • When you decide not to use feedback, be transparent about why. Often, you can use a kernel of the feedback.


More take-aways from the final day of AAM2019 to come!

Read our recap of AAM2019 Day 1 >>

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