TAM 2020 in Reflection: Stephanie Allen-Givens
Texas Association of Museums 2020 Virtual Conference Reflection
Stephanie Allen-Givens, Scholarship Recipient
I was originally very excited about attending the in-person conference in Bryan-College Station. So, when the pandemic hit and derailed everyone's plans so close to when the conference was due to occur, it was a bit of a letdown, especially since I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship! However, I was immediately impressed by TAM's quick response to figure out a safe alternative. I must admit, I was a bit unsure about the concept of a virtual conference, but TAM did a fantastic job pivoting last-minute by essentially mirroring the in-person experience in a virtual space through Zoom. They made it very easy for attendees to switch over their registrations, and they were absolutely wonderful about addressing concerns and questions ahead of time. As far as the format went, I liked that there was the general ballroom meeting space that we could all go to not just for the main keynote speakers but also as a place to chat and network and trouble-shoot technical issues, much as we would in-person. Then, when it was time for the general sessions, the organizers sent everyone links to access whichever session they wished for that time slot. There were a few technical hiccups here and there, as is to be expected with a completely new format, but overall I think it went very smoothly! In fact, now I see virtual conferences all over the place in the museum field, and I really think TAM established a great model for other organizations to adopt in this time of social distancing.
As far as the content of the conference was concerned, I was extremely pleased by the variety of the topics and the really engaging nature of the conversations. There were a lot of really relevant conversations surrounding social justice issues, access and inclusion, and how to reopen institutions safely during a pandemic. I loved the keynote with Suse Anderson. I have been an avid follower of her MuseoPunks podcast for years, and having her tackle issues of equity and systemic racism in the museum field as well as how to foster a safe and supportive environment for staff and visitors was absolutely phenomenal! Additionally, some of my favorite general sessions were geared towards increasing access to museum resources and programming to the blind and low-vision communities (Through My Eyes: Access for the Blind) and deaf communities (Breaking Barriers to Language Access: Bridging the Deaf Community and Your Institution through Collaboration). I learned a ton and have a lot of great ideas to take back to my newly reopened museum. While I missed the social atmosphere of the in-person conference (something I think just can't be completely replicated virtually), the TAM 2020 virtual conference was a great way to bring the Texas museum community together during some very difficult times. I look forward to TAM 2021 in San Antonio, where hopefully we will all be able to see each other in-person once more!