Melissa Kiewet was a William G. Pomeroy Foundation scholarship recipient to attend the 2023 annual conference "Finding Center: Access, Inclusion, Participation, and Engagement". Scholarship recipients were asked to share their conference experience.
The William G. Pomeroy Foundation sponsored ten museum professionals working in history-related fields with an annual operating budget of $250,000 or less and who had not attended a MANY conference in the past.
Since writing this reflection, Kiewet was named the new Executive Director of the Dyckman Farmhouse Alliance.
When I was notified in January of 2023 that I was awarded a scholarship for the annual Museum Association of New York conference, I did not yet know that my role at the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum would be changing. Shortly before the April conference, I was selected to be the museum’s Interim Director, and hopefully the permanent Director, as the former Director moved on to a new organization. The switch came as a surprise to me, but it was one that I felt I was ready to face. Coming to the conference now took on a new meaning. I went from expecting to learn from my peers about programs and development issues to networking and focusing on larger scope issues within museums. Attending a conference that focused on New York state allowed me to meet people who were potential partner organizations and whose service areas overlapped with my own. This differed from the larger regional and national conferences and it could not have been better timed.
Going into the conference with a new mindset, there were two sessions that really stuck out to me and made me think about how I could implement things in my home institution. The Panel “Tell Me What You Want (What You Really, Really Want): An Honest Conversation about Constituent Engagement,” was a case study about a funded grant project that did not go as expected. It was an open and vulnerable discussion about admitting failure and learning from it. I had never been to a session that examined failure, most tout their successes. The panel’s choice to focus on a project that did not go as expected brought down the guard of attendees and allowed the room to be vulnerable and talk about their own failed projects that resulted in big lessons. Obviously, we do not like to fail, but it is important to remember that failing often results in a better understanding of our projects. The other lesson that this session taught me was to ensure you have your constituents buy in before writing that grant. We cannot know what our constituents want without interacting with them and getting to know their needs. We can certainly guess, but then you risk creating an unsuccessful program.
The last session of the conference was particularly powerful. "Change is Still Required: What's Next?" was set up in a town hall style meeting, which I found uncommon for a museum conference. The panel consisted of five contributors to the book Change is Required: Preparing for the Post-Pandemic Museum. While multiple topics were covered, it was great to hear from a diverse group of museum professionals, from emerging to senior staff. It left me thinking about how, though I have worked for a change bringer for the last five years, I might be able to institute change during my own leadership. I am filling big shoes at Dyckman. Previous leadership created an institution that not only discussed Black history, but celebrates it year round, and engages closely with the community. I know I will continue these efforts, but what other contributions could I make? In listening to this session and speaking with colleagues, I found my professional mission. The museum industry is notoriously paying its workers at rates that make it nearly impossible to live. If I am to be the change I want to see in museums, I must pay my workers and pay them above what is average for museum workers. I received my first job in NYC six years ago for $38,000. That is not a living wage, but I did it for love of the industry and the promise on the horizon for advancement. I was privileged to be able to do so. If we want diversity in museum work, we have to pay, because divested communities cannot afford to take a job that pays so little just because they have a love for the field. They need to be compensated and, at least at my museum, I want to ensure that happens.
–Melissa Kiewet, Executive Director, Dyckman Farmhouse Museum Alliance