Why Attend the Annual CWAM Conference?

Let one past attendee’s experience answer that question for you!

“Isn’t CWAM Just For Museum Professionals?”

As a volunteer in a small, Colorado community museum, I have often been asked this question by other volunteers when I mention my intent to attend the annual CWAM Conference. Yes, it is true that a majority of CWAM attendees appear to be museum professionals. However, now having attended three conferences, I can attest that I always felt welcome as a non-professional (volunteer) and certainly learned a lot from the various workshops, seminars and people I met.

The first conference I attended was at Estes Park, Colorado (2009). I did not attend any of the pre-conference workshops, but felt it would be worth the commitment for future conferences. The seminars and workshops were extremely educational for someone with limited museum experience. In particular, one seminar was presented by a graduate student who was drafting a complete set of museum policies as part of her program of study. This was exactly the sort of education I needed to help our small museum. From that speaker and other local museum curators and administrators, I was able to obtain many useful policies and forms that would be helpful to us.

On a social note, I met Bob Hartzell, Executive Director of the National Mining Museum in Leadville, Colorado. Both Bob and I have popup trailer campers, and we both were camping at the Estes Park KOA. We subsequently also camped together for the Laramie and Dubois, Wyoming conferences. At the end of each day we shared some wine and cheese in our campers and talked about museum operations and good places to camp and fish.

The second conference I attended was at Laramie, Wyoming (2010). For this conference I took copious notes to share with our museum Board of Directors and other volunteers. In particular, the keynote address by Beverly Sheppard, “Promise and Perils of Being Modern,” was very thought provoking, as it clearly highlighted the challenges faced by small museums. Other seminars which were of great interest to me addressed how to energize and manage an effective volunteer program, improving the performance of museum boards, and creating and effective an online museum management system. I also met one of the speakers who was able to arrange a collections preservation inspection of our small museum. Bob Hartzell and I met again at the local KOA campground. Fortunately, both our campers have propane heaters as it had snowed the day prior to our arrival.

The CY 2011 CWAM Conference held in Durango, Colorado I could not attend. However, I did not want to miss the CY 2012 Conference held in Dubois, Wyoming. This time I planned to come several days early, both to fly fish on the Wind River and to participate in one of the workshops. Again I met Bob Hartzell at the KOA campground and joined him for a cookout he had with the other CWAM officers. That was quite enjoyable and the fishing was great. Once again the keynote address seemed a perfect focus for our small museum, “Transforming Your Visitors’ Experience To Create Competitive Advantage,” by Joe Veneto. I took detailed notes to share with our museum board.  Other interesting and beneficial seminars included topics such as collections and exhibit loan insurance, using Facebook for interactive approaches, hazardous materials roundtable, and conducting a complete collections inventory to name a few. By now I started to know some of the other attendees and along with our Museum Administrator, Jacqui Ainlay-Conley, we presented at one of the seminars, “Using StEPS to Guide a Small History Museum.” As with past conferences, I also enjoyed making new contacts who all were willing to share their museum experiences, ideas and policies.

Needless to say, I am quite excited with the prospect of the 2013 CWAM Conference to be held in Golden, Colorado. I have already started talking up attendance to our Board of Directors and volunteers. In my mind, there is no question as why I will attend the annual CWAM conference!

Michael Fellows
Board Member
Broomfield Veterans Memorial Museum
12 Garden Center
Broomfield, Colorado 80020

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