July 2019

4 x 4: Self-Care and Networking

Our “4 x 4” interview blog format aims to incorporate multiple perspectives on current topics in our field by inviting four thought leaders to answer four questions related to a chosen theme. This playful approach seeks to navigate pressing topics with the personal touch of a conversation. Our first theme features four approaches to “self-care.”

Previous posts in the 4 x 4 theme of self-care as it intersects with appreciating nature and parenthood. After reflecting on the annual American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Annual Meeting in May 2019, MER Board Member Mariruth Leftwich interviewed Kyle Parsons, Manager of Inclusion and Community Engagement at the Minnesota Historical Society. Both sit on the EdCom Leadership Team at AAM, with Leftwich serving as the MER liaison to EdCom and Parsons serving as the Chair of the Museum Education Trends Committee. However, the two only have the opportunity to meet in person twice a year for their AAM responsibilities, making the topic of social connections all the more pertinent even to their working relationship. The following conversation offers insight into the value of self-care through networking.

Mariruth Leftwich: What made you want to come to AAM this year? What was your favorite takeaway?

Kyle Parsons: I came to AAM because I think it is the single best opportunity to gather with other museum professionals and discuss issues that are vital to the health of our field. I took a tremendous amount away from the various conversations happening in the Race and Museums gathering space. They brought fire each and everyday. I was thankful for that space! An example was a session that was specifically centered on people of multicultural heritage. Trust me–it is a topic of conversation that is RARELY broached in museums, and almost never done thoughtfully. It made me feel “seen.”

16 people gather in a cluster for a selfie photo at a conference.
AAM EdCom Leadership team in 2019 gathered for a group selfie.

Mariruth: Why do you think it is important to spend time with other museum professionals?

Kyle: Challenge. Disruption. Insight. Connection. Care. Rejuvenation. Allyship. Accomplices. All of these things are vital if we are to grow in this work. Some of the best moments I have seen in my 3-4 years of association with AAM are the unplanned moments that occur. A lot of people see these gatherings as more than an excuse to socialize or travel to a new city–for some they are essential to the growth of the field. I certainly believe they are. 

Mariruth: Do you engage in any other types of networking or ways to connect socially with our field?

Kyle: A few. I am a proud member of the Association of African American Museums, and sit on their membership committee (check out the annual conference in August in Jackson, Mississippi!), a regular attendee of MASS Action over the past three years, and a member of the AAM EdCom Professional Network, chairing the Trends committee. Additionally, because of my role at the MN Historical Society, I am able to travel to D.C. and Chicago each year with the intent of connecting aspiring museum professionals with people currently working in the field. Those trips always expose me to a lot of great things that are happening around the country, especially serving the many traditionally underrepresented communities in our field.

Mariruth: How else do you think feeding your interpersonal life can bring balance to your professional life?

Kyle: I know for me, without feeling a personal connection to the people doing the work, this would feel hollow. My goal is to change the nature of museums and to create radical systemic change. I do not believe that would be possible without many people to help me lift the weight, check me when I’m contributing to the problems I seek to eradicate, and to provide me with nourishing feedback along the way. I think that only comes from true connection with others. In that way, shout out to my many museum professionals, artists, contributors, educators, and the like, who walk this walk with me. I see you.

Mariruth Leftwich is Director of Education for the Senator John Heinz History Center, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Museum Education Roundtable as well as its liaison to AAM.

Kyle Parsons is Manager of Inclusion and Community Engagement at the Minnesota Historical Society and serves as the Chair of the Museum Education Trends Committee at AAM.