CMA’s Technology in Museums Symposium, 2019. Photo — Alexei Quintero

Evolving our conferences to face the future

Vanda Vitali, Ph.D. — Executive Director, Canadian Museums Association

We are all aware of the fast-paced world we live in, where interconnectedness, skills development, program updating, the use of new technologies and partnerships all play an important role in the function and accomplishment of organizations.

I hope that, as readers of Muse, you have seen that we have been working to strengthen the museological content and that contributions from our provincial and territorial colleagues and our CMA Fellows are further enriching and refreshing the magazine.

Muse readers, along with our members, will also notice that our logo and visual identity have been invigorated, to be simpler and more contemporary. My thanks go to all who contributed to these changes.

I am now writing to let you know that we are also updating our approach to the conferences we deliver — one of the great ways we can support professional development, knowledge sharing and networking in the sector.

To all our members and beyond, and for all of us here at the CMA, conferences are an element of our work that is of great importance and consequence.

Conferences, like our flagship national conference taking place in Montreal this April, are where museum professionals get together, hear about important developments in the field, exchange ideas and create partnerships. They are important for professional development, in these times of financial constraints and multiple offerings.

Dr. Vitali taking part in an innovative “counselling session”
at the Reimagining the Museum Conference in Oaxaca, Mexico.

We have spent time listening to the membership and many others, analyzing previous conference attendance comments and reports, and exploring what other museum conferences — on the national and international stage — do in this area.

With this as our foundation and building upon our strong history of delivering conferences to the sector, we’ve decided it’s time to refresh our current model and approach, and I wanted to let you know what we have in store.

We plan to have two new-and-improved conference models, which will involve a more tailored approach to content, diversity and needs. The models will start coming into play starting in 2021.

Every other year, we will organize a Museum Summit, attracting museums and their professionals from Canada and abroad. The program will focus mainly on new developments and trends and will explore new approaches and advances in a variety of museological and related social fields. The goal of this conference will be primarily to focus on the most current and significant developments and to provide possibilities and direction for the future of the field, here in Canada and abroad. It will be an opportunity to broaden our audience and connections and reach even beyond our field for our collective enrichment.

This new format will be a maximum of two and a half days and held in a major city. It may be held in partnership with another major museological conference or that of another relevant field. Its program may also incorporate a Directors’ Symposium.

Photo — Alexei Quintero

As you can imagine, this new approach will take considerable planning. With our 75th anniversary on the horizon, we plan to inaugurate the Summit in 2022.

During alternate years, the CMA will organize a second type of national conference as well — one that focuses on the more practical aspects of the museum and its activities. All types of museums, of all sizes, would be invited to focus on the needs of some of our smaller or more mid-sized museums. These conferences will include innovative sessions, such as clinics for new professionals, partnering opportunities for small and mid-sized museums, and hands-on workshop sessions on a variety of topics of interest.

We expect to launch this type of event relatively soon, for our 2021 gathering in beautiful St. John’s, NL. and in the future, this one will be held across Canada bi-annually, and could involve collaboration with our provincial and territorial museum association colleagues.

As the feedback we have been receiving has suggested, we believe this two-part model for the CMA’s future national conferences would have several important advantages. It allows for a more focused and efficient approach to professional exchanges and development. It would respond to the different needs of museums and centres of different sizes. It would provide more time for the accumulation and creation of significant content. And it would reduce the ever-increasing conference costs — costs to budgets and costs to valuable time — for everyone.

The varied content and types of activities that will be arranged will also serve to energize the field and hopefully prevent the potential for the conference fatigue of the larger, all-encompassing meetings that had become standard.

To complement these two new types of national conferences, I am also delighted to report that we are also exploring the development of online courses, workshops and webinars, that can be experienced on-demand throughout the year and from coast to coast to coast. We plan to incorporate online streaming of the national conferences as well, for those in the community who cannot attend in person. And when it comes to the systems that support our conference management and delivery, we plan to further modernize them and make greater use of technology — for all the key steps in the process.

Our sister provincial and territorial institutions have expressed enthusiasm for this approach. We hope you share their — and our — enthusiasm for these innovations and others to come.

We invite you all to continue contributing your ideas and to join us in our ongoing evolution. Thank you and see you in Montreal!


Editor’s note: This article contains references to CMA 2020 National Conference, which has been postponed. For up to date information on the status of the conference, please visit the conference page.

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