2023 is off to a great start for the Michigan Museums Association, and for the first time in several years, I am back to having a more robust travel schedule. I had a trip to Grand Rapids, Flint, and Lansing at the end of January, and it is great to be back on the road again.
However, it is interesting how my travel has changed since the pandemic. In 2019, the last year I had a “typical” travel schedule, I felt a lot of pressure on my trips to initiate relationships and participate in meetings because I felt like I couldn’t do those things well from Northern Michigan. But, because we can do so much virtually, neither of those things felt that important this time around.
This has made me consider the opportunities travel provides:
Real-life Presence: The MMA staff spends several hours together each week via Zoom, but I got to spend time in-person with both Claire and Yitzack during my trip and it was wonderful to just BE with them more than two-dimensionally. I felt the same about having long dinners, and even walking down the sidewalk with others. It was wonderful to just be in the presence of members of the Michigan museum community in real life.
Deep engagement: The MMA Strategic Planning team has met for MANY hours working through the process, but we got more done in the three hours we met last month than we had in most of the hours on Zoom combined. It was easier to think, respond, and engage sitting around a table and looking at each other, rather than staring at our flat screens. We can engage on Zoom, but deep engagement, especially around discussion and decision making, seems better in person.
Perspective: I spend long hours at my desk each week, so getting away from that space, but still being in work mode was really helpful. I listened to work-related podcasts on the long car rides, and then was able to spend a whole morning processing some of the ideas I had as a result. I appreciated the chance to step away from the day-to-day and reflect in a way I couldn’t at my desk.
There are many more things I appreciate about my work travel, but those three have really given me something to think about. It makes me wonder how we can consider those elements in planning ALL in-person activities for MMA. Now, that we can get the basics done virtually, how can we be present, have deep engagement, and get perspective when we come together?
Lisa Craig Brisson
As you’ve now read, MMA is going to say goodbye to Claire Johnston in her current role. To say we are sad is an understatement. As you obviously know, she is very good at her job. She has brought thoughtfulness and class to everything she’s done.
I was an MMA Board member when Claire joined that group in 2010. One of my first memories of Claire on the board was her asking a question about how MMA was serving small museums. She has been an advocate for them, and all MMA members, every since. As Vice President for Programs, Claire did so much, but I especially remember her efforts on the 2014 conference, which was very frustrating at times.
I was thrilled to pieces when she applied to be the Membership Assistant in 2017. She has done much in that role including establishing a process for engaging lapsed members and implementing several membership level transitions. I don’t think the back-end management of the membership program was Claire’s favorite part of her job, but I know that engaging with members was, and she leaves that program in wonderful shape. We shifted Claire's role to also include communications in 2018, and that has been a game changer for MMA. She grew the communications program, which did not exist as an actual program when she took it on, to a robust set of communications tools and systems that not only “share the news”, but also connect the Michigan museum community with resources and expertise to help their museums thrive. She has set a high bar for whoever comes next.
I know I can speak for Yitzack and the MMA Board of Directors when I say that though we will miss all that Claire did in her “job” at MMA, we will miss all that she is as a colleague, co-worker, and friend even more. She has made our lives better and our work easier for having been part of MMA, and we wish only the best for her.
Lisa Craig Brisson
I always look forward to the end of the year. I appreciate the chance to look back on the successes of the year, and I’m glad to feel the relief that challenging projects are over! Once I’ve properly processed and found closure for the past twelve months, I reward myself by thinking about all the hopes and dreams I have for the coming year.
My 2023 wish list for MMA is for a wonderful awards celebration in May, a fabulous conference in October, many hours engaging with the Michigan museum community, sharing lots of great information and resources to help people in their museum work, and the chance to talk to people about the value of museums. I also wouldn’t mind solid revenue numbers, lots of staff and board bonding, and really good time management on my end, so I can enjoy all of the above.
This got me thinking about my wish list for the Michigan museums community. My wishes for you are a more stable and predictable year, being valued by the people you serve and sustained by your community, connections to the information you need and the people who can support you, and many moments when you feel a sense of success in your mission.
Congratulations on making it to the end of 2022! May the New Year bring you all of my wishes for you and time to spend with the Michigan Museums Association!
Lisa Craig Brisson
I know that it’s a cliché to talk about gratitude in November, but I’m doing it anyway. There is just so much to appreciate right now that I have to talk about it. Here is my short list:
The conference – it was wonderful to be together again. Thank you to everyone who made it possible, including all those who were able to attend! I can’t wait for next year in Flint.
The anniversary – We just spent a year learning about and sharing the history of the Michigan Museums Association. I thought I knew a lot already, but nope. I learned so much more. So many people have made it possible for MMA to have #50YearsTogether!
Museum people - I will never not love museum people. The work you are doing makes your community and people’s lives better. Museums are about connecting – people to stories, stories to artifacts, experiences to understanding. Museums make the kind of connections we need in the world today. Museum people are the ones that make that happen. You are superheroes!
The MMA community – The Michigan Museums Association board, members, partners, staff and supporters are amazing. They come together to help each other and the rest of the Michigan museum community. They are about the whole, not the individual. They are generous. They are smart. They are awesome.
Thank you for your work, your generosity, and for being part of the Michigan museum community. I am grateful for you!
Lisa Craig Brisson
This MMA Review marks the final activity in a yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Michigan Museums Association (MMA). By my count, we have shared parts of MMA history in 12 editions of the MMA Review and in 56 social media posts. We raised $13,500 for the endowment. We had two parties—including one that had a plaid parade(!)—and spent part of the conference reflecting on #50YearsTogether.
There were many people who participated in all of the above, but two in particular were instrumental. MMA Board Member Michelle McClellan served as the historian for the anniversary and explored and analyzed boxes and boxes of archival materials to extrapolate the timeline and narrative of MMA. The volume of her effort was only surpassed by the work of MMA Membership and Communications Coordinator Claire Johnston who crafted the MMA Review sections and dug deep for social media content. I have appreciated the chance to work with them on this project for a year, and I will miss our conversations about whatever nugget had been discovered since we last met. We didn’t end up doing everything we wanted for the anniversary, but it still feels like we had a worthy commemoration.
One of my favorite parts of this anniversary year was hearing from others about MMA. People have shared photos of colleagues, copies of newsletters, and stories of conferences all over the state. It has been fun to see how others have experienced what MMA offered over the years and the friendships that have been formed.
However, as part of MMA leadership, I have been especially inspired by the ebbs and flows of the work of the organization and in appreciating the sheer volume of hours and levels of commitment people have given to MMA. I feel strongly that what we do at MMA is important. It is important to support those of you working and volunteering in museums, and it’s important that the Michigan museum community has a place to come together. It’s important that museums have a collective voice to the rest of the state.
The work of MMA is important, but it can also sometimes be a tad overwhelming. We are a HUGE state, and MMA is tiny. There is SO MUCH to be done. But, after spending twelve months learning about all the people who gave so much of themselves to MMA over the years, I am recharged and motivated to keep my head down and continue the work. There will be more highs and low ahead, but it is the work we do together that will get us through the next 50 years!
Lisa Craig Brisson
I attended the American Association for State and Local History conference this month. In addition to making and renewing lots of connections and getting a good sense of what is happening in the history museum world, it gave me a chance to reflect upon the parts of a conference that are most meaningful to me.
I appreciated the “content” of the conference and all of the concrete information that I learned. It gave me things I can apply to my work to be more impactful (I hope). But, as I think back to all the moments of the conference, it is the conversations and discussions I had outside of the formal sessions that had the most impact. These ranged from talks with different people and groups about the status of museum “work”—including pay equity, training, mentoring, and leadership—to chuckles in the corridors or hallways as someone made a museum or history crack about what we were experiencing.
As I think back on all of those moments, I can see a common thread. I felt a sense of connection, belonging, and understanding with other people. It was a space where I could get into the weeds about something few people in my “real” life could relate to or share a laugh about something that again, is only funny to a small niche of people. We shared a point of reference, either in museums or history, and that jump started or renewed our relationship. I don’t mean that I felt completely at ease and never had a moment of loneliness or insecurity. There were plenty of those. But there were far more interactions that affirmed my passion and interest in the work of museums and in history. I felt validated about what I care about in a way that hardly ever happens in real life. I was with my people.
I hope that MMA is a place where the Michigan museum community can “find their people.” Yes, we want to help everyone find resources and learn skills to help you in your work, but just as important is that we help you find the others in Michigan who get your museum jokes. We want you to find your people too!
Lisa Craig Brisson
Two years ago, I wrote here about how experiencing the pandemic reminded me of driving through the fog. I knew I was moving, but I had no clue what anything looked like more than a few feet ahead of me. I talked about anticipating the part of driving through the fog when it would lift and I’d be able to see enough to start to figure out where I was. THAT is how I am feeling right now. I can see where I am going, but I’m not sure where I am yet.
In many ways, August of 2022 has looked much like August of 2019. The staff has been talking about the conference incessantly, members are checking in with us about their registrations and membership status, and we’ve started thinking about upcoming projects like the year-end appeal and Museums Advocacy Day. This is all pretty normal and consistent with other years.
But yet, almost nothing feels familiar. Conference planning feels like we are starting from scratch, we are encountering decreased capacity, and almost everything we are doing is costing more or taking longer, or both. Does this sound familiar? It certainly seems like many people are having a similar experience.
The good news is that the fog IS lifting and we CAN see where we are going more clearly. Sure, we might be driving more slowly and not know exactly where we are, but at least we can see the traffic around us and the road signs along the way. It’s frustrating to still be unsure of where we are, but we are still going, and that is the most important thing!
When my kids were growing up, we used to mark their height on the doorframe with a sharpie, usually on birthdays. It was always fun to see how they had grown. Sometimes there wasn't a huge change in height, and other times it was a big jump. I was really bad at guessing ahead of time and was usually way under. I was just too close to see the change over time.
Last week, I gave our annual "Services to the Field" presentation to the Michigan Arts and Culture Council. Because of COVID, it had been over four years since I'd last reported during a meeting. To prepare, I had Claire Johnston, MMA's Membership & Communications Coordinator, put together some statistics that showed change since then. Yowsa. We are MUCH taller than we were in 2018.
Since that time, our membership has grown 36% and so has our Facebook engagement. Our membership revenue has grown by 46%! In April of 2018, when I last did our report, Claire had only been part of the MMA staff for a year and was still just a Membership Assistant. She has now been on staff for over five years with increased responsibility, and that impact is obvious from the above statistics.
One of strategies for MMA over the years, except for during COVID of course, has been slow, incremental growth. We tweak things that are stable, lean in to things that are working, and set aside things that don't seem to have traction. I feel like I often say that we focus on the low hanging fruit. That can be frustrating because it often means it takes a very long time for a new idea to be implemented in a robust way. But, when we step back for a minute and take some measurements, it's easier to see the progress.
Lisa Craig Brisson
Check out the full set of slides from the MACC presentation.
One of my favorite things about the Michigan Museums Association is how generous everyone is. This week, we launched our campaign for scholarships to attend the fall conference. So, I’ve been looking at numbers and statistics and the names of past recipients. Did you know that MMA members have provided 71 scholarships over the past six years? That’s amazing to me!
I just looked back at the list of our first scholarship recipients in 2016. We created the program that year because we were worried that people would not be able to attend the more-expensive joint conference with the American Association for State and Local History. We were able to send 18 people to that conference and at least half would not have been able to attend at all without the scholarship.
Looking at the names made me smile. Quite a few recipients from that year are very engaged MMA members that I see regularly. One is now serving on the MMA Board of Directors, and another is currently helping plan this year’s conference. Clearly, that investment has paid off!
Another list that makes me smile, is the donor list. It is usually a wide range of people from all types and sizes of museums, and for many different amounts. One year a donor gave us $3.86. I have no idea what that was about, but I was thrilled to get it. Scholarship donations usually bring in more and different donors than what we typically see with the year-end appeal (the fundraiser that helps fund MMA operations), and I’m good with that. There is no better indication of the strength of the Michigan museum community than seeing the number of people who want to help a colleague or a total stranger!
Lisa Craig Brisson
We are a little more than halfway through our year of celebrating #50YearsTogether for MMA. After spending much of the first half focused on the 50 years part and then having our first gathering in 30 months a few weeks ago, I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be together.
Service to the Michigan museum community is the heart and soul of the Michigan Museums Association, but it is the coming together part that fuels our fire. We’ve seen that over the past several years with the move to online programs. We saw that earlier this month with the Anniversary and Awards Celebration event. And, we’ve seen it time and time again over the past 50 years, starting with that founding group who got together to form a new organization.
Amazing things happen when the Michigan museums community comes together. Sometimes, it is just an individual feeling of community and belonging that comes from being in the same room with dozens (or hundreds) of other people who are committed to the work of museums. Sometimes, it is a personal moment of insight or inspiration that projects a person forward in the way they can approach their job or career. Sometimes two people or a group of people make a connection that leads to collaboration. And, sometimes, there is a spark that leads to a movement.
I am so grateful to be getting back to the work of bringing the Michigan museum community together in real life(!), but also to take some time during the rest of our anniversary to reflect upon what that means.
Lisa Craig Brisson
The Michigan Museums Association is supported in part by an award from the Michigan Arts and Culture Council.
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