The Human Heart of a Technologist Conference

By Rachel Ropeik, Manager of Public Engagement, Guggenheim Museum

 

I’ve been wanting to attend an MCN conference for years now, and I was excited and grateful that the scholarship made it possible this year. I’m a museum educator who’s always been interested in how digital tools can impact visitors’ experiences in museums. I expected to come away from MCN with inspirational ideas about creative uses of technology that might eventually spark programming ideas and keep me up to date on what other museums are working on.

That happened, for sure, but even more than that, the conference turned out to be much more than my expectations. It turned out to be all about the people.

That was true in officially scheduled ways like the excellent workshop on design thinking led by Dana Mitroff Silvers and Susan Edwards in which we each had to interview a partner and prototype a plan to make our own museum a more comfortable place for that partner. There was Liz Ogbu’s inspiring keynote, reminding us all to pay attention to the people at the heart of any of our projects. There were Ignite talks and conference sessions about accessibility and cultural agency that called for all museum professionals to focus on how we can open our field and our institutions to new voices and new visitors.

There was a great session about mentoring in museums (collective notes photos by Jennifer Schmitt).

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But it wasn’t just the scheduled events that reinforced the human heart of MCN2015. In addition to the above official session about mentoring, there was the unofficial #musewomen mentoring pilot helping people connect (shout out to my clever and cool peer-to-peer mentor, Alie Cline!). There was a group field trip to the Mill City Museum organized through Slack and graciously hosted by Jesse Heinzen.

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There were dinners and bar conversations and fireside chats (literally, thanks to the hotel lobby) that dug deep into why we’re all in this field to begin with. There was even karaoke in a bar well outside the city that cemented some bonds between people who’d never met in person before this conference.

It was all this focus on people that got my brain and my heart revved up. That’s what sent me home with a list of new collaboration ideas and the people to collaborate with. That’s what made leaving feel like it was the end of summer camp (cheers to Ed Rodley for finding just the right metaphor for that one). That’s what made a conference that’s ostensibly for museum technologists feel like a welcoming space to this museum educator.

There are people out there (I’ve read the articles) who claim museums are misguidedly jumping on the digital bandwagon because they’re seduced by the lure of shiny, new tech. I dare those people to attend MCN and walk away still singing the same tune. Because I have never been to a professional museum conference anywhere that was as much about the human side of what we do.

 

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