Mar 3, 2016
Ryan Ballman

Cultural Sustainability Alum’s SMA Annual Conference Recap


Written by Shannon M. Smith

Museums Amore - SMA Conference

Photo courtesy of Small Museum Association

The best graduate program experience does not end upon graduation. The role of a good graduate program is to deepen your professional work and strengthen your professional networks. While other factors certainly have contributed, the growing relationships with faculty were a significant factor in my recent decision to permanently relocate to the Baltimore area from Nashville, TN–after graduation. Suddenly, it seemed the obvious next move as my most promising invitations to collaborate and move my existing work forward in tangible ways were coming out of my M.A. in Cultural Sustainability association.

Just as I was wondering exactly where I was going to redirect all the energy, thinking, and research resulting from my capstone work, one of my Graduate Committee faculty members, Robert Forloney, asked if I would like to present with him at the 2016 Small Museums Association Conference…

Once our proposal was accepted, I was a little discouraged that I might only be able to attend the conference the day of our presentation due to full registration and hotel costs being prohibitive but thanks to the the new M.A. in Cultural Sustainability Travel Award for students and alumni I was approved for financial support.

Amy Skillman, director of Goucher’s M.A. in Cultural Sustainability, was also in attendance as along with Kathea Smith, director of graduate admissions and recruitment, and college-wide support at Goucher’s exhibitor booth.. In addition, I was also able to make better connections with a multitude of museum professionals from all types of institutions and organizations from tiny volunteer sites to initiates of The Smithsonian Institute.

Rob and I had settled on the focus of folklife as means for museums to engage communities. This provided me the opportunity to discuss aspects of both folklife traditions I was intimately familiar with in my own upbringing in Southern Appalachia interpreted in the new Birthplace of Country Music Museum as well as my recent professional work with museum related programming within a public housing community in Nashville, which was a focal point of my capstone project. And while I inherently knew that Rob and I had similar professional approaches, which was the reason I asked him to sit on my committee, it was pretty spectacular as an emerging professional to see how nicely our work dovetailed and complimented each other. His more practiced hand and academic background roots my flagrant community development interests in an established canon of theory and best practices.

Even more enjoyable was the opportunity to step out of the role of student and into the role of partner and collaborate with a colleague’s work and presentation styles. I truly valued the opportunity to really work with Rob and not only learn his styles, but find out what I need in working with someone else. Overall, the experience was as fabulous as, our presentation entitled Innovating with Tradition: Engaging Communities Through Festivals, Exhibits, and Programs—in my opinion. We had a lot of great audience feedback and learned other speakers even referenced our session as an insightful approach to involving museums as active members of community.

I strongly suspect Rob and I will continue to collaborate in the future. But the benefit I received in being able to attend the conference in full is immeasurable in the connections, opportunities, and experiences it was able to provide. I returned to my new city of Baltimore and an active job search feeling renewed, upbeat, and supported by colleagues and friends. Without a doubt, this would not have been possible if I had not been granted this award.

About Shannon M. Smith

Cultural Sustainability alum Shannon Smith Shannon M. Smith is a recent graduate of the Master of Arts in Cultural Sustainability program at Goucher College and even more recent resident of the Baltimore area after many years in Nashville, TN. She has a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology and over 10 years of experience in nonprofit programs and administration, including several small museums and cultural arts initiatives. Her current focus is in the ways arts and interpretive tools, like community exhibits. incorporate aspects of active community development and foster good places to live.

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Goucher's MA in Cultural Sustainability provides students with the training to identify, protect, enhance and work effectively with communities around what makes them unique: their traditions, ways of life, cherished spaces, and vital relationships to each other and the world. Read More

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