MMA celebrated 50 years together with a conference at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. The "together" was especially resonant since this was the MMA's first in-person conference since 2019 (photo right from Museum Café). The "50 years" was also marked in many ways as MMA reflected on the past half century and looked ahead to the next. Fashions have changed (although plaid will always be a classic), technology has changed (imagine what 1972 conference attendees would have thought of the conference app!). But the important things have not changed—the commitment of MMA to supporting museums across Michigan, the role that museums play in enhancing the quality of life for Michiganders, and the fact that Michigan museum people love to get together. It is fitting that MMA's new value statement includes joy—it was a joyous conference in many ways.
In an incredibly thoughtful and moving keynote address, Sandra Clark, Director of the Michigan History Center (photo left by THOR*tography), reflected on memory and history. She noted that the written record does not tell the whole story—and in fact, her memories and insights rounded out the narrative we have tried to tell here about the history of MMA. Clark also showed that part of being a mature organization is taking a hard look at one's own history. She began her comments with a land acknowledgment—something that would not have happened at the conference 50 years ago. She also reflected on the first logo of MMA, which was culturally appropriated. The bulk of her talk focused on ownership of expertise and the evolution of the field towards collaborative interpretation. Clark reminded us to listen to the stories people are telling: "The question should not be 'Who are you doing this for?' but 'Who are you doing this with?'"
The story of MMA's founding came full circle with Larry Wagenaar's toast at the Anniversary Reception. Wagenaar (photo right by THOR*tography) is the Executive Director and CEO of the Historical Society of Michigan. Devoted students of MMA history know that MMA emerged from the Historical Society of Michigan, so it was especially meaningful to have Wagenaar there to help MMA mark the occasion. It was an opportunity to reflect on the many contributions both organizations have made in Michigan and a chance to celebrate today's spirit of collaboration among Michigan's cultural and arts institutions, as exemplified by the Cultural Advocacy Network of Michigan.
We've spent the last 12 months on a journey through MMA's history. We've learned about notable successes, struggles, and the fluctuations of a long-standing organization. But through it all, museum people in Michigan have been coming together to learn from, inspire, and support each other, and that is the most important thing to remember. We hope you have enjoyed the stories and are as excited for the future as we are. Here's to the next 50 years together!
Over the fifty-year history of MMA, the Board of Directors has played a key role. Almost two hundred individuals have served on the MMA Board over the years! Some of the details of the board's function and activities have changed over time as MMA matured and adapted to various challenges. One thing has stayed the same: the board has always been comprised of committed volunteers from across the state.
In the beginning, the Board *was* MMA. The founding of MMA can be traced back to the decision by a group of dedicated volunteers to establish an organization in 1971 (photo right). While their immediate goal was to ensure an annual conference opportunity for Michigan museum people, these founders decided that a formal organization—with a constitution, by-laws, and a Board of Directors—was the way to achieve that goal and more. The Board included representatives from different museum types across Michigan's geography. Initially, with no paid staff, the Board filled all organizational roles—finances, programming, conference planning, and advocacy.
The Board's commitment to MMA was impressive, but sustaining that level of activity by volunteers who had full-time roles elsewhere was difficult. The Board looked for ways to build capacity, including the ability to hire paid staff members and maintain a dedicated office space. Over time, MMA used a variety of strategies to support paid staff, including grant funding, financial and in-kind support from Michigan museums, donations from the Board, and membership. MMA hired its first executive director in 1979, but challenging economic conditions during much of the 1980s and 1990s meant that MMA could no longer support paid staff, and the Board again resumed full responsibility for MMA operations. The structure of the Board reflected this reality, with numerous committees and officer positions devoted to specific functions.
Even as Board members handled operational responsibilities, they remained committed to building organizational capacity. By the late 1990s, MMA was again able to hire paid staff and has done so almost continuously ever since (although the staffing structure has changed over time). Today, MMA employs three staff members.
With the day-to-day operations in good hands, the Board has been able to turn its focus to big-picture functions such as strategic planning. The Board still seeks to represent various constituencies across the state but no longer allocates seats to specific museum types. Nor are there as many officer positions and standing committees devoted to particular aspects of operations as previously. Instead, the board is able to be more flexible in its approach, using the expertise of the Executive Director in project management to guide its work through visioning and goal setting, execution of projects, and evaluation and reflection. This nimbleness served MMA well during the pandemic. Today too, the Board seeks to incorporate a range of perspectives by having members from a variety of personal backgrounds and career stages, as well as museum discipline and geography.
Most recently, the Board has revised MMA's by-laws, updated many procedures, engaged in more robust evaluation and goal-setting, and participated in DEAI training (Diversity, Equity, Access, Inclusion). The Board is currently embarked on strategic planning, articulating priorities and goals that will shape MMA's activities through 2025. To ensure the sustainability of MMA (measured in part by the continued ability to support professional staff), the Board launched an endowment campaign. These are all indications of the maturity of MMA as an organization which we hope would please those who first served on the Board fifty years ago.
MMA would not be where it is today without the devotion of the many people who served on the Board over the years. The current Board and staff would like to thank each and every MMA board member for the gift of your time and talents. We would especially like to express our gratitude to those who took a leadership role, bringing vision, creativity, determination, and relentless hard work in establishing MMA and guiding it through many transitions. We are not naming specific individuals here because like an Academy Award speech, we don’t want to leave anyone out by mistake!
As we have compiled MMA history to mark the 50th anniversary, we have found that we have a lot of information for some periods but less for others. That is especially true for photos. So if you are a past MMA board member and you have photos and stories to share, please get in touch!
Over the course of its fifty-year history, MMA has fostered conversations and initiatives toward advancing what we now call DEAI—diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion. One of the very first actions MMA took was the creation of an ad hoc Ethnic Committee in 1971. This committee was established due to concerns that museum exhibits, historic markers, and educational programs in Michigan were too often "ethnocentric" or "biased," MMA explained at the time. Then, MMA President Robert N. Bowen asked Josephine H. Love to chair the committee. Love was a highly accomplished musician and award-winning educator who established Your Heritage House in Detroit as an arts center with a focus on youth. One of the projects of the Ethnic Committee was a survey to gain a better understanding of what it called "museum ethnic resources" in Michigan, defining "ethnic resource" as "any man-made materials created within the framework of a specific cultural tradition or documenting that tradition." MMA produced a preliminary draft of this document in June 1976, listing responses from the 32 museums who replied to the survey. Although some of the language from that time may sound dated to us now, the Committee and its work represented an important step. Today, the survey is an important artifact in itself, a snapshot in time of museum collections in Michigan, as well as a window into how diversity and representation were conceptualized in the 1970s.
MMA activities regarding DEAI have varied over time, depending on organizational capacity, member interest, and the wider political and cultural context. MMA responded to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 by providing a facilitated space for MMA members to talk, listen, and learn about social justice issues. MMA staff and board members felt a renewed commitment to infuse DEAI into MMA programming and took advantage of remote technology to promote connection among members. The staff organized monthly Colleague Chats through the summer of 2020 focused on Racial Equity in Museums. Those conversations led to other areas of interest including Colleague Chats on Using Inclusive Language and Decolonizing Museums as well as a DEAI Member Community. Dozens of attendees have participated in these events.
MMA has also been particularly active in promoting transparency in the job search process for Michigan's museum professionals, an important issue in building a more diverse field. A job board has been available on the MMA website for at least 20 years, and Michigan’s museums use it frequently to post available jobs. Conversations had begun amongst MMA members, board and staff about the posting of salary/hourly pay on job postings by 2016 and a related topic was a Conversation Station at the 2017 annual conference. That same year, the National Emerging Museum Professionals Network started a letter writing campaign to state and national museum associations requesting that salary information be included in all job postings.
MMA had a draft requiring all job postings to include compensation information already in the works at that time, and the policy went into effect on February 1, 2019 (photo right). MMA’s executive director Lisa Craig Brisson said this about the policy in her monthly blog post, “I think the least an organization can do is share a salary range. I understand that compensation is a major point of negotiation, but I highly doubt that any museum doesn’t already have at least an idea of the general funding available. Being transparent about it helps applicants weed out jobs that are not viable.” MMA now posts hundreds of jobs on an annual basis that include the salary/hourly range.
In addition to these efforts in transparency, MMA is taking steps to make sure it is serving ALL museum professionals across the state. In addition to basic information about who you are and where you work, you now have the opportunity to fill out professional experience and demographic information in your membership profile. This information is used as MMA looks for new board members, to see if our program attendance is reflective of the community served, and if our broader membership reflects the Michigan museums community. If you haven’t logged into the MMA website in a while, take a moment to update your information and help MMA be the best it can be for you.
Annual Conferences have always been a staple offering of MMA, even prior to the organization’s formal inception. It’s no coincidence that the predecessor to MMA was the Michigan Museums Conference, an annual gathering of museum people under the auspices of the Historical Society of Michigan.
The keynotes (photo: Dr. Tonya Matthews, 2015 MMA Annual Conference), sessions, and structured learning opportunities of the conferences draw professionals to locations around the state on an annual basis. MMA’s role has always been to provide a platform for Michigan's museum professionals to learn from one another and make connections that last a lifetime.
On occasion, MMA collaborates with national and regional organizations to host a conference at a central location in Michigan. In 2016, the American Association of State and Local History and MMA hosted a conference in Detroit. MMA has regularly joined the Association of Midwest Museums (AMM) in 1996, 2004, 2007, and 2019 (image below), to host conferences and bring the region together. In 2004, for example, the MMA/AMM joint conference in Grand Rapids welcomed Liz Sevcenko of Sites of Conscience as the keynote speaker. Sessions topics focused on themes of technology, collaboration, new audiences such as teenagers, and archaeological site management.
Workshops are also key to MMA's efforts to highlight best practice for professionals in Michigan. These educational opportunities often focus on the core functions of museums, such as the care and management of collections and exhibit planning. Other topics have included visitor experience, branding, cultural tourism, and the particular needs of small museums. MMA has tried to meet the needs of new professionals by offering introductory workshops, while also providing more advanced content for those with more experience. MMA also used new technologies to share expertise which is especially important for a statewide organization with members spread geographically. From the establishment of a video lending library to workshops on using computers and the internet to advance the work of museums, MMA has consistently encouraged members to embrace new tools.
With the onset of the COVID pandemic in early 2020, MMA adapted to provide information to members needed in an online format. Beyond the expertise needed to navigate the daily changes in the early days of the pandemic, museum professionals were suddenly at home with limited opportunities for social engagement. MMA filled that role with a weekly Zoom programs and social events on a monthly basis. In the first year of the pandemic (2020), MMA's virtual programs reached 1,087 individuals which is the combined attendance at the MMA Annual Conference from 2013-2021!* Due to this popularity and ease of access, online programming has become the backbone of MMA's professional development offerings and will continue into the future.
*Excludes the 2016 AASLH and 2019 AMM Joint Conferences
We Like to Get Together
At MMA, we like to get together! Our logo has conversation bubbles and the tagline, “Join the conversation,” to drive home MMA’s role as a convener and catalyst for ideas. Some of the best ideas emerge from the annual conference. The initial MMA Annual Conference was held on Mackinac Island in 1972, and we are thrilled to be headed back there this fall to celebrate 50 years together. Perhaps we can take a group photo similar to this one on the front steps of the Grand Hotel?
The formal learning opportunities offered during the Annual Conference are critically important, of course, and we'll talk more about them next time. But, what about informal opportunities? The tours, the dinners, the downtime gatherings of longtime friends and new acquaintances? If you have been to an Annual Conference, you know that you make some of your best connections when you are not sitting in a session. The local hosts for each conference pull out all the stops to show off their facilities and create a welcoming environment for conference attendees. Since we are still finalizing the informal conference activities for 2022, we thought it would be fun to explore previous tours and dinner offerings.
Photos Above: 1) Keeney Swearer and Kelsey Schnell at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, 2015 MMA Annual Conference; 2) Swimming at the hotel pool in Muskegon during the 1987 MMA Annual Conference; 3) Icebreaking activity, keeping balloons in the air, at the 2001 MMA Annual Conference in Dearborn; 4) Baseball game during the 2002 MMA Annual Conference in Saginaw/Midland/Bay City.
Reflecting on the early days of MMA, we’ve been struck by how much and how little has changed. This organization, like many others, has been through high and low points during its many years in existence. MMA has endured during all of these ups and downs and over the coming months we will be sharing information on the foundations of MMA to help you, our members and colleagues, paint a picture of what MMA was, what it has become, and what it can be.
Founded in 1828, the Historical Society of Michigan (HSM) is the state's oldest cultural organization. For many years, HSM provided a place for history minded individuals and organizations to come together to learn. In the mid-twentieth century, HSM museum folks wanted to get together and talk specifically about how to run museums, since professional practice was front and center across the country. They create the Michigan Museums Conference as part of HSM and the first official conference was held in Kalamazoo in 1952.
Registration fees to attend the first Michigan Museums Conference were $1/person, and 40 people attended. Seven sessions (click image to enlarge) were presented during the afternoon and evening of July 11. Topics included:
After this initial meeting, the Michigan Museums Conference continued uninterrupted until 1969, when the conference was cancelled due to a variety of circumstances. This cancellation and subsequent conversations, would lead to the formation of the Michigan Museums Association.
After meeting annually since 1952, the cancellation of the 1969 Michigan Museums Conference in Alpena set in motion the formation of the Michigan Museums Association. The deep disappointment felt by members of the museum community due to this cancellation also led to worries of future conference cancellations. To that end, motivated individuals met at the Canopy Restaurant in Brighton in 1969 and decided to begin the process to establish a new state association that would hold an annual conference.
Over a series of meetings, a constitution and by-laws were drafted and a proposal created to become a separate organization, the Michigan Museums Association. The plan was approved by the membership at the 18th Annual Michigan Museums Conference (the last) in 1971 held at the Ella Sharp Museum. A board was selected (photo), officers appointed, and the Michigan Museums Association was born. The first official Michigan Museums Association Conference was held at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in 1972. There were 14 different sessions; among them were four about funding, two related to education, one about collections and one for administrators. Registration was still $1/person and you could get a lake front room at the Island House for $4.50.
“Few professional associations can boast a 20-year record of achievement prior to their founding. What an incredible foundation we had to build upon. And build we did. The new association moved forward boldly,
and so it has done ever since.” - Robert N. Bowen, First MMA President
This is MMA's first official logo from 1972 (image right). It depicts Ebmodaakowet (The Archer), one of the Sanilac Petroglyphs, and was selected at the time because it was seen then as reflecting the various types of museums comprising MMA: science, history, art, general museums, children's museums, zoos, aquariums, planetariums and nature centers.
Moving forward boldly, MMA started a quarterly newsletter - the Michigan Museums Review - in 1972, a monthly newsletter in 1974, all while continuing the annual conference around the state of Michigan.
Once MMA was established, the real work began to make this new organization run effectively. The board of directors focused on professionalism and best practice for museum personnel around the state. They shared knowledge through a variety of publications and expanded professional development programming.
MMA typically offered six annual workshops around the state on a variety of topics led by board members and other professionals. In 1980, workshops focused on coordinating special events, exhibit and case design, education and outreach, care and conservation of metals, help for small museums and label writing. Topics discussed (photo) in late 1981 included, insurance, archives, computers and registration techniques. Although these workshops were well-attended, MMA board members realized that there was a chance to do more to support Michigan museums.
In order to support this growth, MMA secured grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Michigan Council for the Arts (MCA, now Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA)), and Dolores Slowinski started as MMA’s first executive director in 1979. Based out of her office at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Slowinski travelled around the state to consult with museums, started a conference scholarship program, and increased the number of workshops offered. She also implemented regional P.A.R.T.Ys — Proliferation of Answers, Resources, Techniques, and Yarns — that continued into the 1980s.
Changes in grant funding in 1981 forced the board of directors to look elsewhere for funding. Individual membership had been raised from $5 to $20/25, with increases for institutions as well. Without grant funding, MMA was not able to support an executive director, and Slowinski submitted her resignation. The board of directors then divvied up responsibilities to effectively manage the organization. They were able to fund existing programming, including the annual conference, change the logo, dip their toes into advocacy work, and update the Michigan museums locator guide.
During this era the publications were robust. The Michigan Museums Review (1972-1977) was a quarterly journal that contained news items and scholarly articles on all museum disciplines, with a Cumulative Index sent to the members in 1977. The Monthly Alert (1974-1977) was a simpler one page information sheet published 10 times a year that was eventually combined with the Michigan Museums Association Newsletter (photo above) that was started in 1977. Outside of in-house publications, the board created a booklet listing museum resources for ethnic and minority history around the state circa 1972. Finally, a Guide to Michigan Museums (1977) was jointly published by MCA, funded by Michigan AAA and prepared by MMA. The 1982-83 revision resulted in a glossy poster with a map on one side and list of museums on the other.
Sharing expertise and best practice to help Michigan museums thrive is still at the core of MMA’s mission today.
In the early 1980's, the Michigan Museums Association (MMA) found itself at a crossroads. After a decade as an independent organization, MMA boasted a lively annual conference, a suite of publications, and a variety of workshops along with other educational and networking opportunities. Yet, the financial climate meant that MMA could no longer support paid staff, and the Executive Director Dolores Slowinski resigned, as described in the last installment. In the aftermath, MMA President Michael J. Smith explained in his “Message to the Membership” in 1982, “we struggled and argued, but in the end we joined together to preserve and continue this fine association.” Smith further declared that MMA had “matured” and was even more important in such a difficult economic climate. 
Then and now, MMA sought to represent and serve museums of all disciplines across the state, comprising a considerable range in content and geography. Unlike today, the Board in the 1980's allocated specific seats to particular museum types, such as art, history, science, and nature centers. The Board also updated the bylaws during that decade and engaged in strategic planning. Goals and objectives articulated during the 1980's resonate with MMA’s purpose today: fostering communication among museums and with the general public; sharing expertise; collaborating with other organizations and agencies in the cultural sector; and advocating for the importance of museums.
During the 1980's, MMA was able to offer a variety of programs and services, technical leaflets on a range of topics, and a lending library of VHS tapes covering issues like museum security and disaster planning. MMA leaders and members experimented with different workshop formats and regional gatherings, always striving to serve museum people across the state of Michigan.
The annual conference was always a highlight. Session topics included perennial favorites such as exhibits, caring for collections, and managing volunteers, as well as growing attention to advocacy, the economic impact of museums, technology, and more. For example, the 1984 conference featured a session on how computers can aid in museum work and an invitation to imagine museums in the future by looking ahead to … 2020! (We doubt they could accurately predict what we would face in that eventful year!) Awards recognized those who had made important contributions to the field.
MMA also adopted a new mascot, a monkey, to replace the rubber chicken that had previously served that function. The “Monkey Off Your Back” award (photo right: presented by Nheena Ittner (L) to Mel Drumm (R), 2001) was presented annually “to the MMA member who has most successfully given a problem (preferably a major one) to a fellow member.” The announcement continued: “Unlike the ill-fated chicken, the monkey comes with curatorial papers—a loan agreement and condition report.” The monkey was even accessioned, “an act which assures him (or her?) a long and happy life with the MMA.” 
1. MMA Newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 8 (June 1982), p. 2
2. “MMA’s New Mascot,” MMA Newsletter, Vol. 5, No. 9 (August 1985), n.p.
During the mid-1990's to early 2000's, the Michigan Museums Association (MMA) underwent significant changes in organization and staffing from 1993 to 2002. For most of the 1980s and well into the 1990s, MMA had no paid staff. Instead, volunteers managed the core functions of the organization, including membership, conference planning, and the newsletter. The success of MMA during this time reflects the incredible commitment of many people. But, it was not an ideal system to ensure the success of the organization. By the mid-1990s, the board recognized the need for a central office and paid staff. A new part-time administrative position was created, funded partially by a special assessment on board members. After two years, the budgetary model changed to an annual fund drive. Office space was provided at the Michigan Historical Center in Lansing. Ann Ashby (photo right, enlarge for full story) was hired and worked to consolidate MMA functions in one office. With this stability and efficiency of operations, MMA was positioned to grow even more. Ashby declared in 1998 that MMA was “no longer an infant” and in 1999, Vice President for Membership Nheena Ittner wondered how MMA had ever lived without the central office and dedicated staff.
After several years at the helm, Ashby departed in 2000. In early 2001, LuAnn Kern (photo left, enlarge for full story) was hired as a full-time director. Kern was familiar to many in Michigan’s museum community since she had previously served as Director of Grants and Education Programs for the Michigan Humanities Council. In announcing Kern’s appointment, MMA President Steve Hamp noted, “LuAnn coming on board as full-time MMA director expands our capacity immensely—and will allow us to provide outstanding member services, dynamic programs, and strengthened cultural tourism and education initiatives. With her help, we will continue to position Michigan as a national leader among museums and in cultural affairs.”
A major focus during the 1990s was cultural tourism. MMA received a substantial grant from the Institute for Museum Services in 1997 to help promote tourism in Michigan. MMA saw a need to articulate the particular value of museums as attractions to tourism professionals and to remind museums of the importance of visibility. In April 1998, MMA hosted a conference in Flint called “Culture and Tourism: A Template for Action.” More than 120 people attended. Additional programs, publications, and partnerships (including with Travel Michigan) advanced this initiative in subsequent years.
MMA also facilitated collaboration among Michigan museums, including regional meetings, an exhibit exchange program, and even synchronized exhibit planning across institutions (seven different museums scheduled exhibits on sports at the same time to create a special destination for visitors). All of this activity was on top of perpetual favorites like the annual conference and a variety of workshops on topics like collections care, photograph and document care, exhibits, museum accessibility, and more.
MMA members were excited to attend the 2001 conference, slated for Detroit on September 12–14. That conference was canceled in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11. MMA re-adjusted quickly (just like it would almost 20 years later, facing the COVID-19 pandemic), and 120 members came together at the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village at the end of November 2001 (photo right, click to enlarge). In addition to a business meeting and awards ceremony, this “Gathering of the Michigan Museum Community” provided an important opportunity to face challenging times together.
The Michigan Museums Association (MMA), like many other non-profit organizations, faced a challenging decade after 9/11. Even before the Great Recession, MMA confronted economic pressures in Michigan and those only intensified, including the end of critical grant support and a decline in memberships and donations. There were several staff changes and even the office moved to different locations in Lansing. The board and staff remained committed to serving museums and promoting their value to Michigan communities, but it was not always clear exactly how to best achieve those goals in the midst of such transitions and dire economic circumstances.
In the spring of 2003, LuAnn Kern resigned her position, and MMA then hired Teresa Goforth. With experience in museums and historic preservation in the Lansing area, Goforth continued MMA’s focus on cultural tourism and collaboration. She helped develop a number of partnerships for MMA, including a cooperative venture with Cooley Law School that resulted in the Art and Museum Law Journal (photo right). While MMA continued its major programs such as the annual conference and workshops, finances were a perpetual source of concern as the economic climate worsened and government support for the cultural sector declined precipitously.
One significant initiative during this period was the Connecting to Collections project (image left), for which MMA received a $40,000 grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Additional support was provided by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (Michigan Arts and Culture Council today) and the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University. In this ambitious project, MMA surveyed more than 1,500 collecting institutions in the state of Michigan to gain a better understanding of holdings, needs, and challenges, and to support the development and use of best practices in collections management. The resulting report provided a wealth of information about the amazing range of resources being stewarded by Michigan’s collecting institutions, including libraries and archives; art, history, and science museums; aquaria, zoos, and botanical gardens; and historical and genealogical societies. The report highlighted challenges around collection management, such as a need for clear collections policies and disaster planning, and access, with an obvious need for assistance in digitization planning and implementation.
At the end of 2008, Goforth announced plans to resign, and Susan Steele (photo right) was hired as MMA’s new executive director in the spring of 2009. Steele adopted new tools to manage MMA membership and event information and to communicate with members, streamlining these processes and making it easier to see trends over time. MMA continued to offer a mix of workshops and member events throughout the state, facing a perpetual challenge of serving a large geographical area with diverse museums. In 2010, board president Nancy Bryk hosted a “President’s Lunch” in Alpena. This event, like the PARTYs earlier (Proliferation of Answers, Resources, Techniques, and Yarns), showed the important role that MMA continued to play in facilitating connections among Michigan museums in a variety of ways. Today, MMA continues to foster and amplify potential opportunities and resources in museums through virtual programming, in-person workshops, and the Annual Conference.
In the early 2010s, MMA and the entire cultural sector were still feeling the effects of the Great Recession. With new staff — Lisa Craig Brisson (photo L-R: Sarah Waters, Lisa Craig Brisson, Emily Fijol), came in as Executive Director in 2012 — MMA took the opportunity to reassess and rebuild. The board was restructured, and roles clarified toward the goal of streamlining operations. Brisson gained project management expertise which improved efficiency and communication. The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (Michigan Arts and Culture Council today) invited MMA to apply for a "Services to the Field" grant. The success of that application marked a new era for MMA — the award doubled MMA's budget in the first year.
With that infusion of financial resources, MMA was able to continue and expand its most important functions — facilitating connections in the Michigan museums community and amplifying the expertise and commitment of MMA members. The annual conference grew in attendance and energy. In 2016, MMA hosted a joint conference with the American Association for State and Local History in Detroit. Three years later, MMA members met in Grand Rapids with the Association of Midwest Museums. There, attendees were inspired by Nina Simon's keynote (photo) address and enjoyed many other informative and thought-provoking sessions.
MMA also took a leadership role in advocating for museums, participating in Museums Advocacy Day at the federal level and in Lansing to convey the importance of museums to elected officials at all levels. MMA also conducted a thorough census of museums across the state yielding important data about the breadth and variety of Michigan museums and their contributions to Michigan's cultural, social, and economic life.
In the last few years, the MMA has taken steps to expand capacity and plan for a sustainable future. The organization added a second staff person in 2017 when Claire Johnston joined as Membership Assistant, which grew into the Membership and Communications Coordinator position in 2019. The board conducted strategic planning, developed a systematic fundraising strategy, and continued to refine programming and operations.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began MMA, like the rest of us, had to adapt to a radically different world. With a nimble staff that was used to working remotely, MMA responded quickly and efficiently, providing virtual programming and opportunities for engagement that served as critical forms of professional support and camaraderie for Michigan's museum community.
As we are — we hope — emerging from the worst of the pandemic, MMA looks optimistically toward the future. The organization has survived tough times before and emerged stronger than ever, and we can do it again. One sign of this steady, determined growth is the addition of a third staff position: Yitzack Balmaceda has joined MMA as Programs Assistant (see below). And, just this month, MMA staff, board, and members were thrilled to celebrate our first in-person gathering in more than two years. There, MMA launched an endowment campaign that will ensure the organization's success for at least the next 50 years.