I have been trying to pinpoint when it happened, but really, I blame the Pterodactyl.
It could have happened when I encased myself in a life-size bubble at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum as a child, or it could have been the first time (of many) that I became lost in the frescoes of Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts. It could have been literally any of the hundreds of moments I have been lucky enough to experience when something from inside a museum seemed to physically reach out and demand my attention, ensnare my interest, and kindle my imagination. However, when I really think back to the pivotal moment, it was the beak of the Pterodactyl literally reaching out from inside its exhibition space to poke me in the back while my terrified, seven-year-old self stood in front of it for a picture at the animatronic “Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs!” exhibit at Cranbrook in 1989 that really drove home for me what I had known since the first time I set foot in a museum: Museums are magic. They reach out and grab you.
In the act of creating and investing in museums, we preserve that magic. We construct spaces where we can hear the stories of our collected past, witness the dreams and innovation that have shaped our world, and be inspired by the creativity and intelligence behind great works of art. We connect to both people no longer with us, and our contemporaries by bearing witness to the stories of love, loss, and heroism that are the threads with which our historic tapestry is woven.
When I think ahead to this year’s #AASLHMMA2016 Conference, I have to admit, I am in full-on nerd mode. Yes, admittedly this has a lot to do with the fact that there are going to be incredible events like, Distinctly Detroit: A Night at the Detroit Historical Museum, and the Muse Cruise: Cruisin’ the Museums in the Motor City, where I can immerse myself in the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History, the Michigan Science Center (I mean, they are hosting an event called, “The Thinking Person’s Happy Hour,” come on!), and The Detroit Institute of Arts, but it also has to do with spending several days being inspired by colleagues and peers in the museum community.
There are going to be sessions and discussions directly involved with fundamental issues we all face in the museum realm; Funding, understanding and engaging ever-changing audiences, and the technical craftsmanship that goes in to making a memorable museum experiences. This will be a great time to talk shop with the best and to be invigorated by learning from each other.
Staff from the Arab American National Museum will be hosting the Educators and Interpreters Annual Meeting Kick-Off, focusing on cultural competency and the importance of understanding how to work with new and changing audiences, and the team from Michigan’s Thunder Bay National Maritime Sanctuary will host a session about raising awareness and creating sustainable audience engagement entitled, Connecting with Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Through Participation, Partnerships, and Publicity. Leslie Ann Pilling, the President of the Metro Museum of Design Detroit, will chair a session that focuses specifically on the use of sound as an essential tool to use when crafting your museum experience. This year’s conference also promises to focus on keeping the interpretation of history fresh and invigorating. I’m sure that we have all run to that perennial misconception: museums are quiet and static places. I’ve personally never understood it. History, art, and culture are such vital, living things, and the interpretation and presentation that we bring as museum professionals is so dynamic that the label of stagnancy just doesn’t apply. In Art|History: Crossing Disciplinary Borders to Make an Exhibition, we see the care to always challenge ourselves to think outside the box when planning our exhibits. Additionally, we all know there are many creative ways to generate funding for museums, but if you are looking for new avenues to explore, in the Friday session, Working with Foundations, Lisa Plank, Executive Director of the Lowell Area Historical Museum will be chairing a discussion that will cover the importance of partnering with foundations as a funding source for museums.
When I think about the tours that are organized for this year’s #AASLHMMA2016 Conference, it makes me want to click my ruby heels three times right now and transport myself two months in the future. From Vehicle City to Most Dangerous to Something New will take you to visit the Whaley House Museum, Durant-Dort Carriage Co., the Sloan Museum, and Applewood: The Charles Stewart Mott Estate in Flint. Detroit’s Island Jewel: A Tour of Belle Isle Park, will not only send you on a tour of this unique Detroit gem, but include a visit to the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. History is more than just the artifacts we leave behind, and More Than Just Friends? Trailblazing Women at Rochester Hills Museum and Farm, is a companion tour to a roundtable discussion focused on how to thoughtfully include interpretation of female relationships in historic tours. Dodge vs. Ford: The Way They Lived, is your chance to visit several museums in the Metro Detroit Area, including the Dodge home, Meadow Brook Hall, and Henry Ford’s estate, Fair Lane. There will also be a Religious History Affinity Group Breakfast hosted at the Historic First Congregational Church of Detroit, where you can explore the Underground Railroad Living Museum. I don’t know many people who doubt the relevancy of museums in today’s day and age, but should you ever find yourself in a discussion defending the relevancy of museums, attending Celebrating Detroit’s Arab Heritage, and sharing your experience will help you win that argument. Staff from the Arab American National Museum will talk about the current issues the Arab-American community faces, and how they are working to overcome stereotypes and discrimination through education and sharing the rich and vibrant culture of Arab Americans with everyone who visits the museum.
As the home of the Motor City and the birthplace of Henry Ford, Michigan is often primarily associated with the automotive industry, innovation, and labor history. Not only does The Henry Ford have an incredible collection of historic artifacts, (Thomas Edison’s last breath anyone?), but it also has Greenfield Village, which is really the only place of its kind. An actual outdoor village where Model-T’s are still driven, a carousel from 1913 still runs daily, and you can have an authentic culinary experience from 1850 are not something you find everywhere. Attending The Henry Ford Un-Conference, where you will get you experience all of this and more, promises to be the experience of a lifetime.
In Michigan, we are uncommonly fortunate in the breadth and quality of our museums and historical institutions. From the American Museum of Magic in Marshall to the Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame in Lansing, from the National Arab American Museum in Dearborn to the Iron Industry Museum in the U.P., from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids to the birthplace of Motown at the Hitsville, U.S.A. Museum in Detroit, Michigan museums have collected stories and artifacts from all points of our shared experience, and the range of subject matter catalogued within these institutions is as rich and diverse as the state itself. I hope you are as excited as I am to celebrate Michigan's magical museums at this year’s #AASLHMMA2016 Conference!
Elizabeth Palmer Jarvis
Selinsky-Green Farmhouse Museum
MMA Conference Communications Team