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"Conference Experiences and Reflections" –Mari Irizarry

June 04, 2024 5:02 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

Mari Irizarry is the Director of the Three Village Historical Society, a small museum in Setaukey on Long Island. We asked Mari and the other twenty-one museum professionals from across New York State who received a scholarship to attend the 2024 annual conference "Giving Voice to Value" in Albany this past April to reflect on and write about their conference experience.

Please note that this conference essay have been edited for clarity and/or length.

As a queer, LatinX, female director of a small museum, attending the "Giving Voice to Value" conference in Albany this April was a profound experience. The event's title resonated deeply with me, encapsulating my journey as a museum professional over the past eight years. Each day, I confront challenges that test my resolve, yet I find solace and strength in my identity and leadership role within my community.

The conference provided a platform for hundreds of museum professionals from across the state to converge and engage in meaningful dialogue. For me, it was not just an opportunity to learn but a reaffirmation of the values guiding my work and my museum's spirit. At our institution, we (the staff) believe in "checking our ego" at the door, allowing each other's strengths to shine through. We embody the principles of giving voice to value daily, striving to challenge the status quo and affect positive change in our community.

Conference capstone experience at Ten Broeck Mansion

One of the central themes of the conference was the role of historical societies and museums play in addressing racism, bias, and other injustices in American history and contemporary society. As a cultural organization dedicated to archiving and preserving our local history, we recognize our responsibility to amplify marginalized voices and educate the public about the injustices they have faced.

Throughout the conference, I was inspired by the stories and experiences my fellow museum professionals shared. We discussed strategies for fostering inclusivity, confronting bias, and centering marginalized narratives in our institutions. There was a sense of solidarity and determination in those rooms as we collectively recognized the urgency of our mission.

The conference isn't just about exchanging ideas and insights; it celebrates collaboration and togetherness. I eagerly anticipate reconnecting with our counterparts from across the state, knowing that moments of pure enjoyment await us amidst the hustle and bustle of our professional duties. Picture this: colleagues and friends from different corners of the state gathering together to ride a historical carousel, laughter echoing against the walls of our state museum in earshot of the capitol. It's a scene that encapsulates the spirit of the conference – a perfect blend of work and play. In these moments, connections deepen, ideas flourish, and memories are made.

Meeting up with old friends at the conference. From L to R: Mari Irizarry, Three Village Historical Society, Anna Conlan, The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art

But perhaps the highlight of it all is the after-hours adventures – exploring majestic historic mansions and gardens, and wandering through the corridors of museums, each step a journey through time. It's these experiences that remind me why I love my job – not just for the work we do, but for the moments of joy and discovery we share with colleagues who feel like long lost friends. As a leader, I left the conference with a renewed sense of purpose and resolve. I am committed to doing more, listening more, and educating more to combat injustice and support marginalized and underserved communities. This means not only diversifying our collections and programming, but also creating a workplace culture that values and celebrates diversity in all its forms.

The Museum Association of NY – Giving Voice to Value conference was not just a professional development opportunity; it was a reaffirmation of my identity and values as a BIPOC museum professional. It reminded me that every day, we have the power to make a difference and give voice to the values that define us.

Experiencing the partial eclipse with friends at Empire State Plaza. Front to back: Kimberly Phyfe, Three Village Historical Society, Janna Rudler, Preservation League of NYS, and Peter Hyde of Peter Hyde Design.

Mari thoroughly enjoying the carousel ride at the New York State Museum

Click here to read other Conference Experiences and Reflections

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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