Last week I was at the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries 2018 Annual Meeting in Miami, Florida, at the Lowe Art Museum of University of Miami. It was a professional conference but because of the nature of the organization, themes and ideas circulated at the conference were very much closely related to higher education. Almost all the universities/colleges with an on-campus museum/gallery in the United States participated in the conference, and there were many international participants as well. The theme of the year is “Audacious Ideas: University Museums and Collections as Change-Agents for a Better World”.
Through the support of departmental travel fund and a Kress Foundation conference travel grant, I was able to fly into Miami and gave a Throwdown presentation on my previous university museum experience during the year 2015/16. My topic was “Introducing Art to STEM Students: Exhibitions and Education Programs at Tsinghua University Art Museum”. I talked about my work being a Public Education Fellow at this university museum in Beijing, China, and especially about how university museum can be a change agent to transform STEM education, cultivate art awareness, appreciation and understanding, and most importantly, better prepare our STEM students for future career development.
It was not my first time participating in a professional conference, but the scale of the session and the entire conference did make me a little bit nervous. I was face-to-face to many mid- and late-career professionals, who had been working in this particular field for many decades and saw many changes in practices, and I was constantly reminding myself that I had so much to explore and learn from others, and a lot of information and opinions to process after the conference. The good thing was that I had other Aggies there to support me, and I was personally very interested in many of the social issues and current affairs that were discussed during the four-day conference, especially on new challenges and change of perspectives that we encountered in our university museum operation and education.
Another thing I felt so excited about, was the involvement of many Chinese university museum professionals at the conference. Out of the seven Throwdown presentations, three of them were on new practices and lessons from Chinese university museums. Besides Tsinghua University in Beijing, we also heard from Shanghai Jiaotong University in Shanghai, and University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Chengdu. The three presentations started from completely different perspectives, but still came to the similar conclusion that an increasingly internationalized museum and higher education environment called for more cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary communication and collaboration.
By the end of the conference, I also got the chance to visit many museums and historic sites in and around Miami. This was my first time to Florida and I was honestly amazed by how much history and cultural resource this Southern Florida city could offer. The beach and sunshine was definitely a highlight of my trip, but Miami was a great place for history buff as well. Among many sites I went to, I would recommend the Vizcaya Museum and Garden, the Barnacle State Historic Site, the Wolfsonian Museum of Florida International University, the Truman Little White House, and the Ernst Hemingway House.
Mingqian is a fourth-year doctoral student in the Department of Architecture