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Letter from Erika: My Kitchen Sink of Hope

January 03, 2023 1:10 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

Sunrise over the Chemung River in Corning, NY. December 2021

Dear Members, Friends, and Colleagues,

I want to wish everyone a healthy and happy new year and thank all who made a donation to the Museum Association of New York in 2022. Your generosity helped us close the year on a high note. I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at our annual conference and at gatherings around the state. I’m excited to learn about all of the great things you have planned for 2023.

Museum people are the most creative people I know. We are planners and achievers trained to make the best of limited resources under less-than ideal circumstances. We have all been tested by the events of the past three years, become catalysts for change, and from what I have gleaned from conversations with so many of you, we have hit walls and kept going to a place far past where our creativity can thrive. I believe it is time to reframe expectations of ourselves and our museums. My hope for 2023 is that you will take pride in your work, communicate your value authentically, and construct achievable timelines with realistic budgets. I hope you give yourself the space, time, and resources to experiment, to reach beyond your comfort zone, and to fail forward without thinking that you didn’t work hard enough. I hope you can find ways to restore and reclaim your creativity, whatever that means to you. 

A museum director recently wrote saying that they were looking forward to attending MANY’s conference because whenever they discuss challenges with colleagues, they leave with dozens of ideas that would have never occurred to them alone. I hope that we will all be able to spend more time together and that we will build time in our schedules to learn from each other. I hope that you will be able to grow your network and form supportive partnerships. 

At the last gathering of museum professionals I attended, a board member leading a merger of organizations asked me if it would be better to call themselves a museum or a historical society. I replied that as long as they crafted a mission statement that embraced history and art, and followed through with clear communications to share the new, combined mission, either proposed name would be greatI hope you will find ways to define your organizations outside of long-held biases and set new standards for how museums can create and execute business plans. I hope you will discover new ways to not only sustain your museum financially, but center it as an integral part of your community while fostering it as a destination. I hope you will invite someone on a tour of your museum who hasn’t visited before, listen to feedback courageously with an open heart, and design engagement strategies to broaden your audiences. The name of your museum is important, but your collection, your work, and how you tell stories may matter more. 

For the past two years, MANY has been helping 95 museums close the gap in their technological capacities by providing hardware, software, and training. We know the gap is very large for some, less so for others, and perhaps funding can only address part of the problem. What we have learned is that given tools and training, museum professionals can tell stories in ways unimaginable less than a decade ago. I hope that you can combine collections and research with digital technologies to share stories that accurately reflect New York’s peoples, our histories, and our cultures. I hope that by sharing those stories and partnering with like-minded organizations and colleagues we can advocate for our relevance, help support our democracy, and actively speak out against racism and anti-Semitism wherever and whenever they are found. 

I hope for all that I have written and so much more for New York’s museums in 2023. I hope we can repair endangered historic structures that house unique collections, I hope we can restore and exhibit works of art languishing in storage to enrich our visitors’ experiences, I hope we can take action to ameliorate our museums’ negative environmental impacts, and I hope that come next January, diversity, equity, inclusion, access, and justice grow to be even more significant for our field. I know you will help each other and your museums move creatively from hope to plan and from plan to action.

With sincerest thanks,

Erika Sanger, Executive Director

The Museum Association of New York helps shape a better future for museums and museum professionals by uplifting best practices and building organizational capacity through advocacy, training, and networking opportunities.

Museum Association of New York is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization. 

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