My first conference

Reporter in Residence
Monroe Mouse

While mice (and many other rodents) do not migrate to warmer climates in the winter, I am proud to report that due to my cunning mind and small size, I was able to “go south” for a short but wonderful adventure at the end of February. I accompanied our director Amy (i.e. I snuck into) the 37th Annual Small Museum Conference in Hyattsville, Md.!

I had been eavesdropping in the MCHA office for the last few months and heard talk of the conference that sounded very interesting. Checking it out on the computer after everyone had gone home, I found out that the Small Museum Association “. . . is an all-volunteer organization serving small museums in the mid-Atlantic region and beyond. Its mission is to develop and maintain a peer network among people who work for small museums, giving them opportunities to learn, share knowledge and support one another, so that they, in turn, can better serve their institutions, communities, and profession.”

All it took was a jump into Amy’s big tote bag, and I was on my way! For three days and two nights, my daytime and nocturnal scampers were down the hallways of the Marriott Hotel where the conference was held, where I listened to the presentations and conversation of more than 300 diverse members of the group.

(I was thankful that the big space under hotel room doors so that the bill can be shoved under them provided me entrance to the rooms).
The conference theme, “All Hands on Deck,” set the stage for lots of sharing of big ideas, including: the strengths of small museums; new and exciting ways to connect museums to their communities; practical skills in various areas of technology, databases, human resource issues; reports showcasing creative, participatory programs and exhibitions; and stories of unforeseen museum events that necessitated quick, creative solutions.

I’m proud to say that Amy and Brianne, our previous administrative assistant, put on a very successful presentation of the event of 2014: problems and solutions related to the flooding caused by ice dams on the Stroud Mansion roof. Audience members were very interested in the critical information and tips for all small museums that Amy and Brianne shared.

In another session, I pricked up my small ears upon hearing the term “Institutional empathy,” which was explained as “an authentic alignment of an organization with the experiences, values, and needs of the communities it serves.” I then took time to answer the questions the presenter prompted the audience to consider:

Who am I? A small, smart gray mouse, descended from the first mice to live in the Stroud Mansion when it was built in 1795.

Who are my people? All the mice that now live in and nearby the mansion.

How did they get here? Some of them are directly related to me — many are from close by (other buildings) or from far away . Some who may have gotten here accidentally, being transported in the trunk of a car or back of a truck, or came here purposefully in a person’s bag or the luggage compartment of a Martz or Greyhound bus.

How are we connected to other groups? There are lots of answers to that question. I’m still thinking about them.

When it was time to sneak back into the tote bag to go home, my little legs were very tired, but I had learned a lot, I was proud of the Stroud Mansion and the historical association. Small museums are now considered “major models for communities.” A small staff makes for high efficiency, more collaboration, and more personal, and comfortable public accessibility. The specificity of collections, exhibits, and programs tend to be a direct result of close proximity to the surrounding community, “lifting the narrative of those whom they serve.” That makes me think of MCHA’s newly revised mission statement: “The Monroe County Historical Association is a cultural and learning center that assists our diverse community of residents and visitors in connecting the county’s past with the present.”

My trip to the conference got me thinking and taught me a lot. Talking about small museums as community space, one speaker asked: “What conversations do you want to have? What is your community interested in? Speak to them!” I’ll be hearing those conversations in the mansion, so I know that there are exciting things ahead for the MCHA!