John Sapida is the Manager of Digital Initiatives at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the recipient of the BIPOC Museum Professional in Museum Administration scholarship to attend the 2023 conference "Finding Center: Access, Inclusion, Participation, and Engagement."
This scholarship is awarded to a Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color working in museum administration who has played a leadership role in advancing the capacity and sustainability of their museum. We asked John to share his conference experience.
Now entering my sixth year as a museum educator and professional, I’ve faced plenty of challenges and opportunities for growth and innovation. One challenge is, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. As an educator in a small team that manages the Museum’s learning management system as well as online learning, it felt as though multiple heads had turned to my direction when the shutdown happened. It was a lot of pressure, but it did give me an opportunity to lead. In my search for more opportunities to lead, I found the Museum Association of New York (MANY) Conference.
This year’s conference brought practical solutions and pedagogically sound innovations. MANY provided opportunities to network with other professionals to discuss important topics in our industry such as inclusion, accessibility, and belonging. At the same time, MANY highlighted its host city by providing access to many of the institutions nearby such as the Erie Canal Museum, Everson Museum of Art and the Museum of Science and Technology (MOST). Each session I attended welcomed an exchange of ideas between myself and my peers which made me feel like an expert in my practice while still allowing me to learn from others’ unique experiences. Reflecting on my overall experience, there were two strong threads that build access, engagement, and belonging in museums,
The first thread is partnership. I personally believe that the strongest programs out there involve partnership and collaboration. For example, in the session, Are you still lecturing? How to engage students with primary sources using Visual Thinking Strategies, I was able to learn from colleagues at the New York State Museum about their partnerships with the NYS Department of Education and also how they align the inquiry strategies we all know and love, their collections, and their educational programs to Science, Social Studies, and English Language Arts standards. In Relationship Building for Educating Our Community, we heard from the Vestal Museum’s key partnership with the Haudenosaunee community and how this collaboration provided opportunities for sharing, teaching, learning, and amplifying underrepresented voices. Such conversations are a testament to the power of storytelling and have great potential to provide guidance for the larger museum industry.
The second thread is consistency. Through these sessions, it became clear that the valuable work that comes from accessible digital and onsite projects should be approached proactively, not reactively. The session, Social Media Savvy: Thinking Big, Working Smart, brought together specialists that talk about the use of storytelling through social media and the importance of a consistent call to action and voice throughout the seeming endless of platforms museums may use to engage their audiences. Attending the session, Bringing Inclusive Digital Materials into the Classroom, introduced me to online expanded archives and repositories that provide primary and secondary resources that are ready to adapt for the classroom. This got me to start thinking about all of the science-rich digital resources that the American Museum of Natural History has on their website. Through this session, an idea for a professional development course came to fruition that I am now currently working on for the summer!
Looking through my notes from the weekend, I now feel a sense of urgency to put together the programming ideas inspired by the conference. The work continues!
–John Sapida, Manager of Digital Initiatives, AMNH