Submitted by Holly M. Crawford, Manager of Education

As education professionals, ESMoA Educators go to conferences from time to time to share what we have been working on in the art lab and to learn about what our colleagues are doing at museums and cultural organizations around the world.

In March, I attended the California Association of Museums (CAM) Conference as a presenter and it was inspiring, informative, and fun! The theme for this year’s conference was Influence & Action, and the conference began with a discussion about “soft power” within museums. Museum planners Gail Dexter Lord and Ngaire Blankenberg discussed how museums use their soft power to address a range of important topics such as immigration, human rights, and gentrification. Their recent book, “Cities, Museums and Soft Power”, will be an excellent addition in ESMoA’s office library.

The first session I went to, Museums as Catalysts for Social Change, explored how museums used their soft power to help cultivate powerful and positive changes within their communities.

Here are some highlights:
● Betty Avila, Associate Director of Self-Help Graphics in Boyle Heights, discussed how recent community protests of their space (due to issues around gentrification) has opened a dialogue between Self-Help and residents.
● Clint Curle, Researcher, Canadian Museum for Human Rights, spoke about how the Museum created space for grass-root activists and for challenging conversations about race when Winnipeg was branded “as the most racist city in Canada.”
● Marianna Pegno, Associate Curator of Education, Tucson Museum of Art, talked about how the Tucson Museum provides programming and support for refugee communities in one of the most conservative states.

My panel’s session, The work inside: case studies in developing conversations about race, equity, and inclusion, included speakers from the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, San Diego Museum of Man, and the Oakland Museum of California. We created the hashtag, #camworkinside, for session attendees who wished to live tweet or continue the conversation after the session ended.

I was honored to present on behalf of the Mychal’s/ESMoA Internship program, an educational internship experience for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities, to colleagues from institutions who also value process, inclusion, and access. Attendees had powerful takeaways from the session. A great question that came up from our audience was, “Who is already doing this work and who can we collaborate with? Are we ready as a staff to do this?” Another attendee shared that they wanted to closely examine the work they were doing at their institution and the mission of the institution to make sure they were in fact aligned. Our panel moderator would like to present as a panel again and is looking into a publishing our case studies through a university publication.

Conferences are a lot of brain work! We took time to give our brains a break and make DIY felt succulents at a maker station presented by Museum of Craft and Design:

Anna Garalde’s (from ESMoA Partner Mychal’s Learning Place) completed felt succulent.

I’m still unpacking the ideas generated by the conference but here are some take aways:

● Trust is key when working with a community or partner.
● Museums have soft power that gives them an ability to convene and hold difficult conversations about race, access, and inclusion.
● The long view: museums are resources for the common good.

Next up: St. Louis! My next conference is the American Alliance of Musuems’ conference in May, where I’ll be presenting with Anna Garalde, Administrative Director Path to Independence Adult Day Program, Mychal’s Learning Place, about the Mychal’s/ESMoA Internship program.

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