When I heard the AASLH Annual Meeting was going to be in Austin, Texas in September, I knew I had to figure out a way to get there. I work at a small history museum, which is a wonderful place to be, but unfortunately, I did not have any money in the budget to spare for professional development. While researching funding options, I came upon the Small Museums Scholarship and I immediately applied for it. I consider myself very lucky to have been chosen as a recipient of this scholarship.
I am the executive director and curator of Salado Museum and College Park in Salado, Texas (about an hour north of Austin). The museum recently merged with another local non-profit that was caring for the ruins of Salado College and we have been working on revitalizing the image of the museum. One of the ways that I wanted to do it was partner with other community organizations to host events and programs, or just offer them our rental space. However, I wasn’t always sure of the best way to reach out or the best resources to offer. During the “Engaging Programs = Engaging Communities?” session, I realized that all the museums represented (even though they are much larger than Salado Museum), reached out to community groups to see what their needs are and to see if the museum could help fill them. They worked to build relationships with community organizations and that is why their programs were successful.
It may seem like a small revelation, but I realized that community engagement, no matter how big or small the community, came down to putting in the time and building these relationships. I realized that I could do that in Salado and best of all, it would only cost time. Now, it is still a work in progress, but since the conference I have spent more time reaching out to the community and attending community events. I have already noticed a few changes. People now recognize me and know that I work for the museum. They ask what events, programs, etc., the museum is hosting. I truly learned something in each session I attended at the annual conference, but the thing that stuck with me the most and was the easiest to start working on, was the process of building relationships.