October 2017

Update from the MER President

Whew! What a year!

I  know what you’re thinking. Rest assured, this post isn’t about politics.

Each August, the MER Board of Directors convenes for its annual retreat. Since many of our board members work in amazing museums, our retreat venues are guaranteed to be unique and inspiring. This year was no different. We were fortunate to be warmly hosted by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. I imagine you picture us lollygagging in the light-filled courtyard cafe, strolling through the American Wing, and getting our retail therapy fix in the shop. This couldn’t be farther from reality. We spent the bulk of two action-packed days reflecting on MER’s past year, welcoming new board members, and setting ambitious goals for the year ahead (MER’s fiscal year begins in October). We did manage to squeeze in some gallery activities and a tour of the MFA’s conservation labs, but most of the time was spent in a basement classroom getting the most out of our always too brief time together as a board.

For me, this year’s retreat marked the start of my second two-year term on the board. When I joined the board in 2015, it was hard to anticipate the impact of the experience. After 19 years of being active in the field, I thought I knew many (perhaps even most?) colleagues. Apparently not as many as I thought! My professional network has expanded exponentially through my work with MER. Plus, I have learned a ton about leadership, publication, and collaboration from my fellow board members.

While many superlatives come to mind when describing this accomplished and dedicated group of museum education professionals, if I had to choose just one word to describe the board’s work this past year it would have to be PRODUCTIVE. This all-volunteer group is spread across the country in a wide variety of museums, academic institutions, other museum-sector non-profits, and as independent museum professionals, and they all have full plates that include day jobs, families, and hobbies. The board’s productivity comes from the commitment, talent and energy individual board members bring to their work as well as from the clear focus offered by MER’s action-oriented 2016-2020 strategic plan, which is organized around three guiding principles: deepen, diversify, promote.

Almost anyone who has been involved in a strategic planning process knows that all too often, the plan goes on the shelf once it is complete. MER’s 2016-2020 plan is updated annually to reflect action steps that have been taken toward strategic objectives and goals for the year ahead. Here are just a few highlights from the many steps we’ve taken as a board to act upon these principles in the past year:

  • Now in its second year, our partnership with our publisher Taylor & Francis allowed us to expand from 3 issues of the Journal of Museum Education (JME) each year to 4, which means we can use the journal to engage more authors to explore more topics in greater depth and our readers get more content.
  • Our Editorial Team continues to develop a Reader Guide for one article in each issue to invite readers to engage more deeply with the ideas and opportunities presented.
  • We published a Virtual Special Issue (VSI) jam packed with past JME articles related to the 2017 AAM Annual Meeting theme of diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion in museums.
  • We make ongoing, intentional efforts to ensure diversity in the composition of our board, members, and authors.
  • We dedicated two issues in 2017 to topics of race, diversity and inclusion in museums. Issue 42.1, co-guest edited by Esther J. Washington and Anna F. Hindley, focused on race, dialogue and inclusion at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Issue 42.2, co-guest edited by Keonna Hendrick and Marit Dewhurst, focused on identifying and transforming racism in museum education.  In early August, Keonna and Marit also facilitated a related MER Forum to a room filled to capacity with museum educators at the MFA Boston. See highlights of this discussion on Twitter with #MERForum2017.
  • To engage new authors and invite a range of relevant practice-based topics, JME issue 42.4 (available December 2017) was developed through an open call for article proposals around the theme of challenges and solutions in the field of museum education. The response to the call was tremendous, resulting in many potential new authors to write for this and future issues. The Editorial Team plans to take this approach again in the future, so keep your eyes out for the next call for proposals.
  • In his role as one of last year’s board VPs, brand strategy champion Jon Carfagno spearheaded a major rebranding project with our partners at Hollis Creative, which resulted in a new brand identity including a logo, tagline, and visual identity and a completely redesigned website with enhanced content, updated appearance, and improved ease of use.
  • MER was represented by board members at Museum Advocacy Day in Washington DC, the American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting, and many other virtual and face-to-face gatherings of museum professionals.
  • The Communications Team leveraged JME content and our new brand identity to grow our reach and engagement on social media, on our blog and through the re-launch of our monthly e-newsletter.

Taking the time to reflect on these accomplishments from the past year during our retreat helps the Board see the impact of their collective efforts. In sharing them with you, I hope to provide a window into all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes and a sense of where MER is headed as an organization, propelled forward by a small but mighty team of museum educators committed to advancing our field of museum education.

Amanda Thompson Rundahl currently serves as the president for the Museum Education Roundtable. She joined the Saint Louis Art Museum as Director of Learning and Engagement in June 2014, where she provides leadership for Engagement & Interpretation, Multigenerational Learning and the Richardson Memorial Library.