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Being There: A Plug for Virtual Participation

SonoGrazy - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

There's a lot about the last 20 months that's lamentable--lost jobs, the bandaid pulled off workplace racism, the daycare crisis--but we learned a few things as well, and some of them are keepers. Certainly one of those is that we can meet and learn--albeit not quite the way we do in person--via Zoom. It's fashionable to moan about Zooming and how exhausting it is, but in reality bad in-person meetings aren't much better are they? But, I digress. All I really wanted to say was I had hoped to be in Little Rock, AR this past week at AASLH's annual conference. Clearly, I'm here and not flying home today because in the end, for a host of personal reasons, and despite an amazing conference schedule, it just didn't seem like the moment to go to a national meeting.

So...I was feeling kind of whiney and sorry for myself, when AASLH announced its online conference. No, it's not the same. No, you don't get to combine listening to panels with sightseeing, meals out, and drinks with your old friends, but you get to hear and participate in a pretty awesome three-day event that touches on many of the themes of the Little Rock Conference--Doing History/Doing Justice.

This week I also participated in a zippy little online event presented by George Washington University Museum and the Textile Museum as part of their Museums Today series. It was titled "Why Monetizing University Museum Collections is A Bad Idea." In the last year, tracking who is deaccessioning and why has almost become a sport. The lesson presented is you're either for it or against it, with no middle ground, giving way to too many presentations and social media comments with an undercurrent of hysteria. This program, featuring GW Museum director John Wetenhall, along with Kristina Durocher, Director of the Museum of Art at the University of New Hampshire, provided a calm, measured explanation of why cashing in on collections shouldn't be a thing. Yes, we all think we know this, but for collections owned by schools, colleges and universities deaccessioning is a particularly tricky area because academic boards of trustees, unlike museum board members, have fiduciary responsibilities beyond the art their organization owns.

For me, this program showed up the same week our new auditors asked for a current appraisal of our collection. In my experience, that hasn't happened in 20 years, and it was like a door opening on a house of horror. spend an hour in my own kitchen listening to a couple of thoughtful folks talk about my concerns was affirming, and wouldn't have happened two years ago. COVID didn't bless us with much, but online learning and discussion certainly changed.

I want to close with an invitation to listen to this Brief But Spectacular Moment from PBS's News Hour where NYU professor Scott Galloway talks about going from crisis to opportunity in a post-Covid world. One of my favorite lines: "So the enduring feature of COVID-19, it will be seen as an accelerant more than a change agent." He closes with three questions: Number one is whether this is an opportunity to become a caretaker for someone else, meaning not so much looking after your aging relatives as pledging to care for and about another human in person, and face-to-face? Two is whether we've made the investments in friendships to carry us forward, and number three is whether we have the grace and the courage to allow forgiveness to work its magic. A great listen. As Anthony Hamilton says, "Love is the new black."

Leadership Matters will be on hiatus until the week of October 11.

Take care and be well.

Joan Baldwin


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