Recharging at 2017's Visitor Studies Association Conference
It may be Wednesday, but I'm slightly behind on emails, neck-deep in reports, and avoiding the mountain of laundry I've got sitting in my unpacked suitcase. Why's this? Not because I'm lazy or disorganized (quite the opposite, as my family likes to groan about), but because I'm settling back in after a week in Columbus, Ohio for the Visitor Studies Association (VSA) conference.
VSA is an organization I've been involved with for quite some time and hold close to my professional heart. I first became acquainted with it back when I was working in arts education. The institution I was working with received a major grant to understand it's audiences better and to start working towards enhancing early childhood learning opportunities. A close friend and colleague of mine was leading internal efforts, and went to the conference to learn more. Afterwards, they came back full of energy and ideas - there was palpable enthusiasm. Like me, they found their way into visitor studies a bit by happy accident. In fact, it was because of these projects and that colleague that I found my way there at all. Slowly I helped with administering interviews, building surveys, and just about anything else I could could make the spare time for. I'm sure my supervisor appreciated my shifting priorities. ;)
Fast forward a little and I'm in graduate school realizing this interest is actually an entire field - this could be my actual job! I was elated and actively sought out opportunities to pursue this study area via internships, jobs, and coursework. Again, VSA popped back up! In the course of my studies the association was constantly referenced as a place where emerging talent could get a better sense of the history and ethical considerations behind talking with visitors. It gave my newfound passion both grounding and relevancy. I was beginning to find my role, listen to the conversation, and start forming opinions on hot topics.
Like many soon-to-be or fresh graduates, I was obsessed with finding a job and becoming an active contributor to the field (pick your field, I identify with many). I was equally obsessed with networking like hell. Which led me to applying for a student scholarship to attend the VSA conference. I got the scholarship and felt like I crossed a professional milestone: I was in! Attending my first VSA was everything I'd hoped it would be and more. It broadened my naive post-grad mind to the realities of research and evaluation work. I got to engage in conversation with "big names," sometimes making a fool of myself, but always leaving enriched. I also had the opportunity to present a poster on work completed in grad school, which was it's own valuable lesson in learning what it means to disseminate findings to an audience of peers.
Not too long after that conference I landed my first in-house research and evaluation job with a museum (told ya I networked like hell). Because learning from and with peers is a core professional (and personal) value of mine, I actively sought ways to keep VSA in my back pocket as I took on my new role. This started by joining various committees within VSA, encouraging colleagues to read and discuss foundational literature with me, and actively finding ways to get myself back to next year's conference. I did that last bit on repeat for a few years.
Were you just at the conference?
I'm curious to hear your perspectives and experiences!
Leave a comment &
let's continue learning together.
As you can see, VSA has played a strong role in shaping me into the evaluator I am today: one who appreciates the history and rigor of working with visitors, while also encouraging me to be inquisitive and push boundaries (often my own). I'm writing all of this as I still catch my breath from a week full of leading workshops, welcoming new talent and student scholars to the association, and learning about all the work my peers are doing. While I slept 11 hours my first night back from the conference, I am energized by the advances in methodology (new census data looks promising) and the hard conversations museums are having about what it really means to work with your community (in good times and challenging ones).