Post by Melanie Parker, Detroit Institute of Arts
When we began to shape this year’s conference program in late 2016, our first big decision was the conference theme. With our state’s capital as the conference destination, the theme was obvious: advocacy. As months passed and conversations about funding threats to IMLS, NEA, and NEH crept into our many planning meetings, this theme felt all the more urgent.
But advocacy needed something more. While the word might be easy to define, it is perhaps more difficult to articulate what museum advocacy actually looks like. In a changing and sometimes unpredictable world, how can museums be advocates for their communities? How can museums advocate for themselves?
As we considered the mechanisms of museum advocacy, we kept circling back to the idea of sharing stories. Connecting people with stories is a critical component of advocacy—it’s how you gain buy-in and support for your institution.
If you asked MMA members whether museums are important, you’d likely hear a resounding “yes,” followed by a long list of reasons why. But our value is not always as obvious to those outside the field on whom we rely for support: our governments, our funders, and even to our visitors and communities. To gain support, we need to talk about how we are serving and who we are serving.
But our advocacy responsibility cannot stop with ourselves. To ensure we are serving our public genuinely, we must share and advocate for the stories of our communities, our world, and of humanity, past and present—through the staff we hire, the objects we collect and preserve, and our exhibits and programs.
In Lansing, we’ll explore together all of the responsibilities, opportunities, and challenges that accompany our role as the sharers of stories. We’re honored to host two fantastic keynote speakers who will get these conversations started each day:
Wednesday, October 18
Voice of the Community: Our Opportunity, Our Obligation
Juanita Moore is the President and CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. In her keynote address, Ms. Moore will explore the long history of African American museums as community institutions—and how all museums can follow their lead to better represent the communities they serve. Attendees will get a close look at an example of one of The Wright’s recent projects—the year-long commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Detroit Rebellion.
Ms. Moore has nearly 40 years of museum experience. In 2014, the Association of African American Museums presented her with the Dr. John E. Fleming Award for lifetime achievement. Ms. Moore was last year’s recipient of the MMA President’s Award.
Thursday, October 19
Advocacy Stories Within Us
John Capecci, Ph.D., is a communication consultant and coach who helps nonprofits nationwide define their brands, develop their key messages and mobilize their advocates. Mr. Capecci will share how the power of lived experience can be harnessed to engage others in our advocacy messages and how we all can become advocates for the institutions, communities and causes we care about.
Mr. Capecci launched his company, Capecci Communications, more than twenty years ago and co-authored Living Proof: Telling Your Story to Make a Difference in 2012. A lifelong museum advocate and local history buff, John lives in Minneapolis where he volunteers as researcher at a local history museum and serves on boards of several cultural organizations.
The keynote speakers and sessions will undoubtedly spark rich conversations about the many components of museum advocacy. However, conference attendees will have the chance to do more than just talk; our planning team has been busy developing opportunities to actually participate in advocacy activities during the conference. Keep an eye on our blog to learn more!
See you in Lansing!
Detroit Institute of Arts