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Museum Conference Offers Hands-on Learning Experiences for Museum and Cultural History Studies Students

Published January 14, 2024

In September 2023, five MCHS students accompanied visiting professor Susan Baldino on a trip to Tampa for the Florida Association of Museums annual conference. As student Francesca Kern said, “It was an amazing opportunity to network and learn more about the museum world.”

Hera Bogdanos, Olivia Hackney, Rachael Fulmer, Francesca Kern, and Brittney Pieper at ZooTampa with Erin Wolfea Bell (center), Director of Exhibitions and Special Programs at the Naples Botanical Gardens and FAM Foundation President, and alumna of FSU’s museum studies program.

Hera Bogdanos, Olivia Hackney, Rachael Fulmer, Francesca Kern, and Brittney Pieper at ZooTampa with Erin Wolfe Bell (center), Director of Exhibitions and Special Programs at the Naples Botanical Gardens and FAM Foundation President, and alumna of FSU’s museum studies program.

The conference theme was “Engaging and Empowering Communities” – a powerful charge to museums in this age of conflicting ideologies and tensions between traditions and innovations. With 25 sessions in nine subject tracks focusing on topical issues, there were opportunities for learning about every aspect of the field, including innovative exhibition design, collection and conservation techniques, new technologies, community engagement, management consulting, and fund raising. The three-day event also included themed forums, evening excursions to museums and ZooTampa, and a professional exhibitors’ exposition.

Brittney, Olivia, and Francesca at Tampa Bay History Center with Curator Fred Hearns.

For Brittney Pieper and Olivia Hackney, a visit to the Tampa Bay History Center for exhibition tours and a behind-the-scenes look at collections stood out as a highlight of the weekend. “I found the museum professionals there to be incredibly helpful and knowledgeable. Discussing oral history with the Curator of Black History, Fred Hearns, was a special opportunity,” writes Brittney. Olivia concurs: “I enjoyed meeting and talking with Fred Hearns about his journey as a curator. I learned that there is not one path to success in the museum field and to always have an open mind to change.”

The keynote luncheon introduced Colleen Dilenschneider, founder of IMPACTS Experience and Know Your Own Bone (KYOB+). Colleen presented “Trust, Engagement, and Community: The Hard Data on Why Florida Museums Matter So Much Right Now,” an exposé of reputational gains secured by Florida museums. All agreed that insights provided by Dilenschneider reinforced confidence in the positive effects of museums on their communities.

Individual learning sessions over the three days addressed such intriguing issues as neurodivergent programming, building exhibitions with skeptical stakeholders, succession planning, multi-modal museum learning, the use of augmented reality, and sustainability in museums.

For Olivia, the crisis management session stood out. She enjoyed hearing stories of day-to-day challenges and solutions from museum practitioners. Brittney found “Ask a Conservator” most insightful. She reports, “At my current internship, I am working on preservation efforts and there are pressing concerns on the stability of the items and a desire to change the locations in which they are currently displayed. Despite the independent research I have done, the opportunity to speak directly with a conservator and receive personalized advice was incredibly helpful. I connected with her afterwards, as well, and she provided information for how to best prioritize and stabilize the items in the collection.”

Hera Bogdanos with Robyn Bertram, Rollins Museum of Art Director of Development and 2014 FSU Museum Studies alumna, at University of Tampa’s Scarfone Harley Gallery of Art exhibition “Zooming Superheroes.”

Francesca writes that the conference helped her develop her professional goals. “I really enjoyed learning more about community engagement, archives, and DEAI work in all aspects involved with museum work. I also learned how to navigate the field as an emerging professional. I was able to cultivate new connections and feel more confident in my abilities.”

Olivia Hackney was co-presenter with Dr. Baldino in the session Empowering from Within: Resilient Foundations. The presentation and engaging discussion covered trends in museum leadership and management styles, effective governance, and shifting museum structures. “I had an amazing time presenting with Dr. Baldino and I hope the future MCHS students get the opportunity to attend this conference,” said Olivia, after receiving a rousing round of applause for her engaging contributions in the session.

The students returned to campus with new ideas, refreshed commitment to museum careers, and even a couple of job offers. Brittney writes, “This conference made me feel better about my future endeavors after I graduate. I learned a great deal and gained exposure to the realities of the museum space and its struggles. I also learned that community and lending a hand make us all better.”

Rachael Fulmer sums it up: “I am beyond grateful to everyone who made it possible for us to attend the FAM conference. It was deeply inspiring to hear from established museum professionals and make connections with people I otherwise would never have met. I now feel confident in my future in the field knowing that many opportunities and pathways await me and believe every student on the MCHS track should have the opportunity to attend.”

Discussing exhibition design with Mary Anna Murphy, President of MAM Exhibit Design and Board Chair for St. Petersburg Arts Alliance.