Advocacy Begins at Home: Why I Go to the MSA Conference & Expo

February 13, 2017

By Julie Steiner

Recently I’ve observed how many of the various fields represented within our museums, apart from museum stores, are represented by their own professional associations.

  • Our directors belong to various museum directors’ organizations, like the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and others.
  • Our HR staffs belong to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and share professional tools, participate in advocacy and attend an annual conference.
  • Our finance departments often are headed by professionals who belong to regional accrediting and accounting organizations for nonprofits.
  • Our development staffs, curators, educational staffs, marketing departments and even our libraries all have professional associations—Art Museum Development Association (AMDA), Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC), National Art Education Association (NAEA), Public Relations and Marketing Network (PRAM) and Art Libraries Society (ARLIS), respectively—for those professionals who fill various roles in our museums.

Why does this matter?

Because whenever I pull myself up to that proverbial “seat at the table” within my home institution, my membership and participation in MSA allow me to have a comparable background and level of professional respect as my peers.

Across my institution, we can share industry standards, and when issues arise that cross departments (like technology), we all are bringing equal data and industry-specific information to the conversation. As a result, our executive directors and board know that they can rely on each member of our internal team to keep abreast of new developments, and that all of the professionals working side by side are at the head of our respective classes.

Our publications department has access to their latest news, and so do I. Our IT department may be trying out a new program, and fortunately, I, too, have nationwide contacts that will be able to tell me how those choices will affect retail.

While I highly value the “Justification Toolkit” MSA provides on our website, I wonder if there’s another way to turn that tool—and our thinking about the Conference & Expo—around.

What if, rather than justifying the cost to our museums of attending the conference, we start to tally up the professional price to ourselves and to our museums if we miss the conference? What happens when changes happen within our home institutions—with exhibitions, events, publications, operational shifts, staffing processes—and we are left to sail that territory alone, without the latest conversations with peer institutions addressing those developing issues? What is the cumulative worth of that risk?

Sometimes information and connections gained and learned from attending the event are what ultimately push me to be considered a vital decision-maker in other components of my museum. In an industry rife with professional associations, not prioritizing mine risks allowing my museum to think that I don’t take my own competitive position seriously.

I encourage you to look around at the professionals in your institution. See how much leverage having access to “equal resources” in your field might position you as a thought leader in your institution or deal you a stronger hand in future budgets, resourcing and scheduling considerations.

julie-steinerConsistently attending the Conference & Expo over the past few years has made a significant cumulative difference in my professional career that might not be tabulated by a tally of merchandise bought at Expo or even in sessions attended.

To register for MSA Forward 2017, this year’s annual Conference & Expo in Pittsburgh, go here. I’ll see you there!

Julie Steiner is the Director of Retail Operations at The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, PA, and Museum Store Association’s First Vice President of the Board of Directors.

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