I’ve been thinking a lot about the word catalyst lately. The term was added to the MMA mission when it was revised as part of our most recent strategic plan, but I didn’t really give it much thought until this year. According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of catalyst is “a substance that enables a chemical reaction to proceed at a usually faster rate or under different conditions (as at a lower temperature) than otherwise possible” or “an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action.”
When the MMA board selected the term catalyst, they were looking for something to explain the role of the organization in making something happen for the Michigan museum community. The use of the word catalyst was a way to say that we are an agent of change, but not the change itself. It puts the role of the organization as one that supports movement, but is not the movement. The change or movement we seek is for museums to thrive. We can discuss what that means at another time, and especially what that means during a global pandemic, but it is the change we seek to support or bring about faster. And being a catalyst for that inspires us all.
What I have really come to appreciate this year is that a catalyst can only exist if there is something to catalyze. It has no meaning without the elements that do the actual changing. In a literal chemical reaction, I am not sure the elements involved have any choice in the matter. But, for an organization that seeks to be a catalyst, the elements have to choose to be part of the formula.
By all accounts, MMA has had a good year. Not to say it hasn't been a horrible year, which it definitely has been. But we have never had such a high level of contact with such a broad spectrum of the Michigan museum community. Honestly, we didn’t do anything radically different this year. We still focused on expertise, engagement and advocacy, just in a different format. Sure, that format was super accessible, but we have had other formats that were also free or local, and we have never had such a strong response proportionally. We are in the middle of a crisis, so many more people are seeking resources and connections, but the museum community has been in crisis before. Museums are in crisis on a regular basis, but people have not looked to MMA for help on the scale that happened this year.
So thank you, elements, for letting MMA be a catalyst in the Michigan museum community. Thank you for participating in Colleague Chats and attending other online programs. Thank you for calling or emailing with questions. Thank you for visiting the website for jobs or information. Thank you for joining member communities, and serving on volunteer teams. Without you, we wouldn’t be a catalyst.
Lisa Craig Brisson