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Small Museum Friendly Sessions - 2016 Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo

Janice Klein has compiled a list of small museum friendly sessions for the upcoming 2016 Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo in Washington, DC.  Check out the list below; arranged by day. 

Be sure to visit the Marketplace of Ideas on Friday from 3 - 5 p.m. SMAC-AAM is partnering with the American Association of Museum Volunteers (AAMV) to discuss Recruitment, Retention and Training; 'Help! I'm New to Volunteer Management', Handling 'Problem' Volunteers and Technology for Volunteer Management.

Want to add a session to the list? Let us know!

Thursday, May 26

8:45 - 10 a.m.
  • Using Selfie Culture to Engage Audiences
  • 75 Ideas in 75 Minutes: Boosting Engagement at Small Museums
1 - 2:15 p.m.
  • Social Responsibility and Accessibility at Fallingwater

1:45 - 2:15 p.m.
  • Starting an Accessibility Initiative in a Small Museum

Friday, May 27

8:45 - 10 a.m.
  • 60 Great Ideas for Historic Sites and Historic Houses
  • Construction 2.0: Lessons Learned in Large and Small Museums
  • Stepping Up: The Challenges of Becoming a Museum Director
  • Public Participation in Scotland: Museums Are Part of It!
  • Skwishing Your Museum: A Guide To Sustainability
  • Getting Real About Museum CEO Leadership

 2 - 3:15 p.m.
  • Another Way: Embracing Diverse Expertise in Curation

 3 - 5 p.m.
  • Marketplace of Ideas: Small Museums Talk Volunteers and Sustainability

Saturday, May 28

8:45 - 10:00 a.m.
  • A Capital Idea: Alternative Unique Funding Sources
  • 11 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.
  • Grant Writing Basics for Small Museums
  • Making Small Museum Collections Accessible

2 - 3:15 p.m.
  • Engaging Latino Audiences: Lessons from the Museum Community
  • Where's the Power: Considering Our Place
  • Public Access: Challenges Surrounding Works in Public Places
  • Repatriating the Maori Head: The Power of a Small Museum to Effect Change

3:45 - 5 p.m.
  • Making a Good End: How to Close a Museum
  • Power to the People: Washington Gives Back
  • 75 Ideas in 75 Minutes: Fresh Ideas for Audience Engagement

2016 Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo
Thursday, May 26 – Sunday, May 29
Washington, DC

Advance registration ends soon – Friday, April 29th. Be sure to add your ticket for for the SMAC Luncheon scheduled for Saturday 12:30-1:45 p.m. 

Nik Honeysett, CEO of the Balboa Park Online Collaborative (BPOC), will discuss the mechanisms, opportunities and downfalls of their collaborative technology initiative and how it might be replicated in your community. The BPOC serves Balboa Park cultural organizations in making cost-effective, sustainable technology decisions. Through resource sharing, the BPOC model helps small organizations gain access to the same kinds of technology resources as larger institutions.

A small museum friendly list of sessions is coming soon!

Creating Conference Session Proposals

contributed by Janice Klein
Small Museum Administrators Board member
& Executive Director, Museum Association of Arizona

Over the last 30 years I’ve organized, chaired and participated in more conference sessions than I can remember. Here are some of the things I’ve learned. These suggestions primarily apply to the American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo, but can be used for any conference.


Where do you get session topics?
As they say, “talk about what you know”. One of the best places to start is with your own accomplishments, challenges and on-going projects. Alternatively, organizing a session about topics you want to learn more about is a great way of hearing from your very own panel of experts. Your colleagues’ work is also a good source for session topics. Giving your friends a chance to shine makes you look good, too.

One of my main sources for session topics are conversations on museum listservs. If there are more than three responses in a thread, it’s likely that plenty of people are interested. I keep folder on my Desktop for “Future Session Ideas” made up of these e-mails and contact the authors when it’s time to start proposing sessions.

Presentations at other conferences or workshops can be re-purposed for a larger or smaller audience or even adapted for a different type of museum. A session I organized at one AAM Meeting on how small museums can be green was adapted from a previous conference discussion for much larger (and richer) museums.

The Conference theme and AAM’s various publications about current trends are also good sources for topics, e.g., Dispatches from the Center for the Future of Museums or TrendsWatch.

Note: Although AAM ‘s list of formats includes a short (30 minute) Case Study, in general, a single project/case study does not make as good a session as one that includes several projects/case studies around the same topic with a moderator to draw it all together. Alternatively you can pair a theoretical presentation with an illustrative project/case study.

Where do you find speakers?
While people may not volunteer, they are surprisingly willing to say “yes” when asked directly. Don’t be afraid to ask good speakers you have heard at other conferences or people whose work you have read. This is another reason to meet speakers after sessions and get their cards and connect through social media. Again, contributors to museum listservs are one of my primary sources. You can post your session idea on one (or more) of those and ask for feedback and speakers. And, of course, when using your colleagues’ work as the basis for a session topic, they will probably make the best speakers.

What makes a “good” or “balanced” panel?
Geographic diversity. It is perhaps unfortunate, but anyone NOT from the East Coast, Upper Midwest or California is perceived as coming from an “exotic locale".  If your panel all comes from the same area (or same museum), it will help your proposal if you explain why you have chosen to do this, perhaps referring to one of the criteria below.

Kind of museum. Even if your focus is on "smaller" or "mid-sized" institutions, you can still include different subject matter or governance types.

Museums in the conference city or area. Your colleagues in the host city may have great things to say, but they may not have travel funds. This gives them an opportunity to present without leaving home.

Speakers from different museum professions. You may find it useful to include a collections or security professional in a session about educational programs in the galleries. Conservators, archivists and subject matter curators don’t regularly attend AAM, but can add valuable perspectives.  Having a volunteer on a panel is particularly important when focusing on small museums, to show the importance/ability/value of unpaid staff.

Representatives of all of the stakeholders. For example, if a session is about community involvement in a project, make sure that a community member is on the panel.  Similarly, if you are talking about a students or interns project, ask one of them to speak.  Note: The different stakeholders can come from different projects.

Filling out the form           
Title.  If the conference theme doesn't fit, don't try to make it. Colons in the tile are old-fashioned, but we still use them a lot because....the title should clearly identify the content. Humor is good to a limited degree, but negative titles can be a hard sell -- despite the fact that we are encouraged to discuss failures as well as successes.

Description. Be as specific as possible – identify who will talk about what. Because there are strict limitations on the number of characters in each field, this information can be included in the presenters’ bios. Include a short discussion of why this topic is important and, if applicable, how it relates to the conference theme, current trends, a previously well-received session, or publication.

Learning Goals. Again, be as specific as possible and don't be afraid of simple language.  

Session format. Over the last five years, the trend has been towards fewer “talking heads” and more audience interaction. Besides the Case Study format, the other options are Storytelling, Talk Show and Classroom. In general, the first is for those who want to use audio-visual, including PowerPoint presentations, the second is more purely conversational (with no audio-visual) and the last is for hands-on, interactive presentations.


Commenting on Sessions (and Checking Your Comments)
Even if you are not submitting a session proposal you can be an important part of the process. Anyone can go to the  AAM Session Proposal site and comment.

You will need to Log-in to start. If you are an AAM member, your Username will be your AAM membership number. If you are not an AAM member you can still comment (and propose sessions) by creating a free User Profile.

Then, click on View Proposals and Comment to see a list of session proposals, listed alphabetically by title. (Every new proposal is added in alphabetical order, not by date, so each time you log on you will need to look through the whole list to find new proposals). Click on the session to read what the organizer has written so far. 

Most of the proposals will still be works in progress, but you can usually get a good idea of what the organizer is thinking. At the bottom is a box for Comments. This is the place to make suggestions for speakers, ideas for expanding or modifying the topic, or just saying how useful you think the session would be. If you have a strong concern about a proposal you can contact the organizer directly – their name and e-mail are in the first section on the form.

Note: If you have a proposal In-Progress on the AAM site, you may want to check back regularly to see what Comments may have been made, even if you don’t get a direct notification from AAM.

Questions or Comments? Let us hear from you. If you have questions for Janice, contact her by

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Why is Your Museum Small?

(psst…. don’t say lack of time or money)

by Carolyn Spears

Absolutely, without question, the Stone Fort Museum in Nacogdoches, Texas, is a small museum. Museum professionals (especially those of us working in small museums) spend a fair amount of time asking what makes a museum small.  What’s your budget? What’s your staff size? It’s not always easy to draw a line.  If we’ve learned anything about the definition of a small museum, it is that it’s relative.  Recently, I’ve become more interested in thinking about why.

Is the Stone Fort Museum a small museum because it is a reconstruction of a small historic house?  Yes, it is a small building, and yes, the structure has meaning for the town and region, but it is not, and never has, operated as a historic house museum. As a university-associated organization, it’s physically possible to relocate the museum’s teaching and collecting functions to a larger building, and thus abandon this small stone building.  As I said, the museum is a reconstruction – albeit an old one – so we could call the building quits and call it a campus folly. Why hasn’t that happened? It has never been proposed to my knowledge, and I have no interest in making that proposal.  Why?

I’m not trying to ask the obvious, even if I am. By asking why we’re a small museum, I’m focusing on strategic planning.  I don’t assume that because we are small that getting bigger is best direction. The question of size is neither an end in itself, nor a conviction of guilt.  But it may be a question that will help us build a future in which we grow even if we stay the same size.

Let us hear from you:

Why is your museum small? Are you a small museum that wants to be bigger? If so, how?

Will 'getting bigger' further the mission of your museum?  How?

If your museum grows in physical or fiscal size, what will you gain and what will you lose?

Nina Simon to speak at the SMAC-AAM Annual Luncheon

Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History @ McPherson Center, Nina Simon will present, “The Rise of the (Small) Community Museum” at the Small Museum Administrators Committee annual luncheon.  Author of, The Participatory Museum, and the blog, Museum 2.0, Nina has a history of visionary thinking about museums. Join us for a discussion of how small museums are positioned to lead powerful community engagement efforts.

Today is the Early Bird Registration deadline for the AAM Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo, May 18-21, in Seattle, WA.  If you haven’t registered yet, today is the day.  Once done, direct your mouse to the purchase tickets link at Purchase Tickets and get your tickets for the SMAC Evening Reception on Sunday, May 18th, 6:30–8:30p.m. at the Pacific Science Center, and the SMAC Business Meeting Luncheon on Monday, May 19th, 12:15-1:30p.m.

What does small really mean?

by Jason Illari

In 2004, I was fortunate to find a job working as curator and site manager at a historic house on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I was the only employee- curator, site manager, tour guide, fundraiser- we all know what this is like. Lately though, I’ve been asking myself, “What does small really mean?” Within the context of museums, how do we use or define the word small- as a noun, verb or adjective? I looked up small as an adjective and, quite frankly, did not get warm and fuzzy feelings.  “Limited in importance, lacking influence, narrow in outlook.” Small as a noun you ask? - “a part that is smaller than the rest.”-not so bad...I guess.

Why discuss this topic? Perhaps it will help administrators of smaller institutions explore ways to celebrate the greatness and uniqueness of their own museum without insistently comparing their institutions with larger organizations. I call it “bigger museum syndrome”, a terrible affliction which is marked by such phrases as “oh we can’t do that because we are not so and so” or “if only we had so and so’s budget we would be able to do that.”  This kind of reasoning thwarts creativity and stymies planning.  Perhaps another reason to discuss what small really means is to help expose the disconnect which often exists between smaller institutions and the general public when we try to define what museums actually do and what role they play in our communities. Below, a quick story to help flesh out this point.

One day, while working at the house mentioned above, a very nice lady came to visit to drop off some items she wished to donate. I offered to carry the items from her van and quickly realized our collections committee was going to have their hands full determining whether or not to keep or return the objects being donated, as many were in terrible condition, broken, and not at all related to our mission. During my last trip to her van, I noticed a small original 18th century Windsor chair in perfect condition-beautifully carved and constructed- the real McCoy! As she approached the van I naively remarked, “well I’ll just grab the Windsor chair and we should be all done.” She looked at me quite bewildered and said “oh my word no...that chair belongs in a museum…”

The experience was a real eye-opener for me to say the least. So we may also ask, how do our visitors define or classify museums and what part can we play to help level the playing field? I think one way is to have confidence in our ability to provide excellent programming and exhibits no matter what our budget or staff size.

“Local”, “sustainable”, and “community-based” are some of the buzz words we hear today. Everywhere we turn we read about Main Street communities, local farmers markets, sustainable living and community supported agriculture, home-schooling and autonomous learning, co-ops, alternative public education models, and eco-tourism. Smaller museums are sitting pretty in the midst of all of these trends and activities. I think it’s time we “think big” and contemplate what small really means for our museums and also the museum field in general. 

SMAC wants to hear from you! How do you define small? What is your institution doing to take advantage of being smaller? Any other “big ideas” to share about this topic?

If you’d like to join in the discussion in a big way by posting an article here, contact blog moderator, Carolyn Spears, at