by Clara Rice (Jack Rouse Associates), special to InPark Magazine
May doesn’t just bring flowers and backyard barbecues, it also marks the annual American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Meeting and MuseumExpo. This year’s MuseumExpo took place at the Baltimore Convention Center and welcomed over 5,000 attendees and 300 exhibitors. Susan Breitkopf, AAM’s Director of Business Development and Marketing, said the attendance was one of the MuseumExpo’s strongest ever, a positive sign as the industry continues to recover from the Great Recession.
The theme of this year’s AAM Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo was “The Power of Story”, and it was woven into a variety of tracks, from using stories within the museum to facilitate guest interaction and cross-cultural communication, to how museums can better tell their story to their communities and beyond. One session in particular offered a compelling look at how museums helped Glasgow re-write its story, re-positioning the Scottish city from a post-industrial wasteland to a “European Capital of Culture”. Technology sessions were also a hot ticket, with discussions focusing on subjects from exhibit gamification to multi-user interfaces to the increasing power of social media as a tool both inside and outside a museum’s walls. The sessions were extremely well received – several reached capacity, with others moving to larger venues within the Convention Center to accommodate demand.
In addition to the sessions and the vendor exhibition hall, the MuseumExpo offered a variety of evening events, including the Alliance Opening Party at the American Visionary Art Museum, the Wonders of the Undersea World reception at the National Aquarium, a happy hour hosted by the Themed Entertainment Association at the B&O Brasserie (view pictures from the event) and a traditional Maryland bull roast (which also featured an Elvis impersonator and Beach Boys-themed jam band) at the Museum of Industry.
The Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo marked the debut of several new initiatives at AAM, as well as the organization’s new name and branding (AAM was the American Association of Museums until late last year). Breitkopf said that the overall reactions to the new moniker and logos have been enthusiastic and that seeing the new branding all over the city has been very exciting for the membership. When asked what was trending on the exhibition floor and in the sessions, she said that while traditional fabrication companies and design consultants are still the “bread and butter” of the MuseumExpo, AAM is definitely seeing growth in the number of technology companies participating. Breitkopf added that there was great excitement around 3D printing and its applications for museums and that “these companies are looking at museums as a new way to apply technology.” She expects this technology trend to continue for many MuseumExpos to come and is excited for what it may mean for AAM members: “all of these companies make the MuseumExpo a learning experience. The sessions and show work in tandem, so members can learn about these new technologies through dialogue and discussion and then see them in action on the show floor.”
Another MuseumExpo trend was increased globalization. Over 50 countries were represented among the attendees and exhibitors, and the 2013 MuseumExpo marked the debut of the Ibero-American Pavilion on the show floor. Sessions included best practices from Singapore, Kenya, China, Scotland, Austria and Germany, and many were simultaneously translated into several languages. The Ibero-American Pavilion connected US museums with those of Central and South American countries, and the Getty Foundation provided scholarships for many of these delegates to attend. According to Dean Phelus, Sr. Director of International Programs, these initiatives are only the tip of the iceberg for AAM, and both the organization and the Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo plan to expand their international offerings in future years.
[box] Read more about AAM’s global initiatives [/box]
Per AAM’s recent “Annual Condition of Museums and the Economy” report, the museum industry is slowly bouncing back after years of economic hardship. Dewey Blanton, AAM’s Director of Strategic Communications, called the mood at the MuseumExpo “cautiously upbeat” and said the best indication of the gradually improving vibe is the increased attendance from previous years. “They’re not popping champagne yet,” Blanton said, “but there is a touch of optimism in the air.”
Clara Rice is JRA’s (Jack Rouse Associates) Assistant Project Manager. She has contributed to InPark Magazine before.