AAM Annual Meeting in Seattle


Last weekend I took the long 4+ hour flight from Chicago to Seattle to attend the American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting. The conference was about four days of non-stop action, from thought-provoking sessions, to special museum events, to networking receptions. Lots of coffee was involved, mostly to get through the long days, but also because Seattle is a coffee mecca and home to the first Starbucks!

Monorail Espresso on Pike St, right in the middle of downtown.

Better yet, check out the little coffee spot above, Monorail Espresso, which was recommended by my host. It has a tiny window and counter with picnic tables on the sidewalk for customers, and a yummy “black cherry and almond latte”, which I ordered more than once during my stay.

In order to save money on the conference, I managed to find another museum geek who lives within 20 minutes of the convention center and was willing to let me sleep on the futon for a few days. She manages the collection at a small museum outside Seattle, and I peppered her with questions on how she got where she did. The view below is from the neighborhood, looking out over the suburb of Bellevue.

Looking down from a high point in the comfortable Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Looking down from a high point in the comfortable Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Some of the worthwhile sessions I attended at the conference included Banishing Guided Tours; Confessions of an E-Volunteer; Fail Early, Often, and Off Broadway; and an entertaining keynote session with the bestselling author Erik Larson. He talked about his process in researching and writing his most recent book In the Garden of Beasts, and what he looks for when he first begins the search for a new book idea. And the relief he feels when he discovers the perfect story and can begin the writing!

The session that will cause the most talk back at the break room was the Banishing Guided Tours session, as I happen to be one of several paid Tour Guides in a historic house museum. According to the presenter, only a third of museum visitors claim they even like guided tours. I wonder, where did they get such information? They suggested that house museums create more immersive experiences like cooking in the kitchen, and using storytelling and narrative to help visitors connect personally with the past.

Live demonstration at the Tacoma Museum of Glass.

Live demonstration at the Tacoma Museum of Glass evening event.

Many of the highlights of the conference were also the evening events, like the Tacoma Museums Tour I attended on the Monday evening. We took a bus down to Tacoma, an hour south of Seattle, and were free to visit any of 6 museums within walking distance of the downtown. I only managed to visit three of these: the Tacoma Museum of Glass, the Tacoma Art Museum, and the Washington State History Museum. The fancy food, drink and souvenirs made it an unforgettable night, and the staff were out to impress!

Now the conference is over and I begin the process of reaching out to the museum professionals I met during the week, and making the most of my network in my continued search for another job!

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Saying goodbye to Seattle; the view out the plane over Mt Rainier.

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