Dang, It’s Cold Up Here: Connecting with OMA in Sandusky

Tweeting on Gibraltar Island

I attended the Ohio Museums Association’s (OMA) Annual Conference in Sandusky, Ohio last weekend. It. Was. COLD. Not chilly. COLD. If you get a chance to check out OMA’s Flickr page you’ll notice winter coats, mittens, and hats. April in Ohio, well, April on the great Lake Erie, proved to be cooler than usual. This year’s conference theme? “The Very Best Ideas Out There!” Exciting? You bet it was! From the awards dinner to the keynote luncheon, from the EMP mixer to the SHA roundtable (I had to throw it in there!) this year’s conference was one of OMA’s best.

So, what did we do?

Over the course of three days we attended/visited/toured:

Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial U.S. quarter launch/reveal
Historic Doller Estate & Put-In-Bay Winery
The Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory & Cooke Castle on Gibraltar Island
Cedar Point’s historic properties
The Maritime Museum of Sandusky
The Merry-Go-Round Museum
Sandusky Library’s Follett House Museum

OMA also awarded several stellar institutions & individuals! Awardees include:

2012 Visual Communication Winners

Budget Level 3
Cincinnati Arts Association: Weston Art Gallery Season Brochure – Gold Award
Dennison Railroad Depot Museum: Invitation, Save the Date, & Program for the 2012 Annual Spring Ball – Silver Award
Dennison Railroad Depot Museum: National Landmark Ceremony Invitation – Honorable Mention

Budget Level 4
Canton Museum of Art: Corporate Membership – Gold Award
Aullwood Audubon Center & Farm: Aullwood’s Autumn Affair – Silver Award

Budget Level 5
Taft Museum of Art: Star Power: Edward Steichen’s Glamour Photography – Gold Award – BEST IN SHOW
Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens: The Art of Living Beautifully – Silver Award
Taft Museum of Art: Impressions & Improvisations: The Prints of Romare Bearden – Honorable Mention
Butler Institute of American Art: Fred Staloff 65 Years: A Retrospective – Honorable Mention

Budget Level 6
Toledo Museum of Art: TMA Annual Report – Gold Award
Cleveland Museum of Art: Wari: Lords of the Andes – Silver Award
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo: Souvenir Book – Silver Award
Cleveland Museum of Art: Picasso and the Mysteries of Life: La Vie – Honorable Mention

2012 Award of Achievement Winners

Best Exhibition Catalog (Over $500,000)
Impressions of the Past: Exploring the Cultural Properties of Pottery – Dayton Society of Natural History

Best Exhibition (Under $500,000)
The Big Shake: How the 1811-1812 New Madrid Earthquakes Rocked the Ohio River Valley – The Betts House

Best Exhibition (Over $500,000)
Manet: Portraying Life – Toledo Museum of Art

Best Community Partnership (Over $500,000)
Girl Scouts’ Night at the Museum – Toledo Museum of Art

Best Education/Outreach (Over $500,000)
Art for All – Taft Museum of Art

Emerging Professional of the Year
Tammi Mackey – Fort Laurens

Betty Bryan Volunteer of the Year
John C. Sparks – Massillon Museum

Monday, at the breakfast membership meeting, OMA conference attendees elected a new slate of officers, discussed the upcoming Connecting to Collections workshop, promoted OMA’s new website and thanked outgoing president, Doug Buchanan, and past president, Christine Shearer, for their dedication and leadership on the OMA Board.

Now – let me break down a few general takeaways for you (with “The Very Best Ideas Out There!” as the theme there had to be some key takeaways, right? Check out Mix-It-Up! below):

OMA at Cooke's CastleConnecting with your peers on a local/state level is mucho important.

We love AAM, AASLH, ASTC, etc., but no one does local in the way your state’s museum/cultural heritage association does. OMA knows Ohio, understands Ohio’s economy (especially in the arts/culture sector), and can be a valuable resource in connecting you with potential partners or simply making you aware of professional development opportunities, workshops, etc., in your backyard. Additionally, local/statewide conferences are less expensive, making conferences like OMA a great (and affordable) resource for organizations of any size.

Say hello to the vendors.
The exhibitor hall may not be as diverse as they can be at a regional/national/international conference but the vendors that do participate are at OMA because they think the work you are doing is important – and they have the potential to help you. Also, they have swag (and candy).

This year’s keynote was different from any keynote I’ve ever heard and dare I say PARTICIPATED in. If you don’t know Joe Heimlich, you should. Not only is he an Extension Professor at The Ohio State University he is also a Senior Research Associate at the Lifelong Learning Group in the Center for Research and Evaluation at COSI. After receiving his lengthy introduction (he’s written dozens of articles, chapters, and books) Joe said he wouldn’t do much talking. What – this is a keynote, right? Instead, Joe made us do the work; and for good reason. Each table was assigned a topic: digital communications/social media, education/outreach, diversity, marketing/pr, fundraising, etc. I was sitting at the leadership table, next to my organization’s Director & CEO (Showtime, right!?). Each themed table was asked to write down new ideas/projects that have been executed well in the field vs. a list of challenging new ideas that have yet to be done (“think outside of the box and as if money were not object”). After seven minutes with your initial group you were asked to move to another table – but not as a group – the challenge was to separate yourself from your team at each rotation. At the end of the exercise each attendee should have participated in at least one conversation in each focus area (hopefully with a variety of individuals with different backgrounds if you played your cards right – it worked for me). Once this was completed Joe asked everyone to return to their original seat (back to ‘leadership’ I went) and he assigned each group to choose the top 3 best ideas that had been written down, to present to the membership. Yes, each group was asked to speak for the keynote. So, what started as a list of 5 ideas was now 20 (and in some cases much more!). Each group presented, each idea was judged by a round of applause and at the end of the keynote we had what OMA 2013 determined as “The Very Best Ideas Out There!” The full list of ideas will be posted on the OMA website early next week.

Joe’s keynote was a unique, slightly intimidating yet thoughtfully engaging experience.

Attend a session outside your “realm” of responsibility.
I’m lucky, I have yet to write a grant to fund a project. This is pretty much unheard of. Don’t get me wrong – I have assisted in grant writing, reviewing applications for projects, etc., but I have not had to be the person working feverishly until the submit button on an application is clicked. I want to know more about the process, opportunities and challenges. Again, lucky for me, IMLS was presenting at OMA – and I learned a lot. I find that if you only attend sessions that apply to you – sometimes they merely justify what you are already doing or you get a nugget here or there. Making the time for at least one session in a topic with which you are unfamiliar can open new doors (and reveal unseen connections).

Make time for FUN
Conferences can be exhausting ; running from one location to another, session to session, exchanging cards and making sure your blazer isn’t wrinkled for your presentation can be stressful. While networking/polished professionalism is the name of the game at any conference – remember,  you are representing not only yourself but your organization as well – be sure to make time for fun. You have your mini-network, your cohort, your beer circle of colleagues. I certainly have mine (shout-out to the SHAmazing #SHA2011!). Make time to reconnect, have a drink, and/or play a game – at OMA several of the EMPs participated in a rousing late-night game of Scattergories Junior following the sponsored conference mixer.

If you’re interested in learning more about OMA and “The Very Best Ideas Out There!”, click here. Blog posts, photos and more will be posted/shared in the coming days. If you want to start planning for next year – we’ll be in beautiful Athens, Ohio (dates and theme will be decided by the board in the coming months).

So, now that the travel season is upon us, what conferences will you be attending? What has attending conferences taught you about our field or the work that you do every day?

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