Why I Am Grateful I Could Attend the 2012 Developing History Leaders @SHA
October 2012 proved to be a very transitional time period for me. I left my job as Executive Director of the Queens Historical Society, a position I had held for over five years, and took a new and very different position. As the Assistant Director of the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives on the campus of the Queensborough Community College, CUNY, my day is much different than before. My workload is similar, the hours are pretty much the same, the quest for funding sources and new program ideas still plays an important role, but the biggest difference is: I am happy.
When I arrived in Indianapolis on October 27, 2012, however, I was completely lost. Although I was excited that I was about to begin a new job when I got home – I no longer had a sense of identity. How was I to introduce myself? “Hi – I was the Executive Director of the Queens Historical Society yesterday, but today I am now the Assistant Director of the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center”…it’s kind’ve a mouthful. But I went with it, and my peers seemed to understand and were sympathetic to my unique situation.
I tried to use my experiences to contribute to the conversation and I think (I hope) that my comments and ideas helped move the dialogue. All twenty of us in the Class of 2012 brought a unique perspective and a wide range of types of sites and locations. This was probably the best aspect of the program for me as I was the only participant from New York – (hard to believe as there are over 80 museums in New York City alone!) and I got the opportunity to learn in detail about all of these amazing institutions.
Why you should apply to the program
I didn’t realize how badly I needed to take a few steps back in order to move forward with my career goals. Professional development is VITAL to your success. You can’t do it alone, and you shouldn’t have to. By putting yourself in a contemplative environment with others in your field can give your creativity and inspiration the boost you need. This program is unique in its focus on history. It connects participants with leaders in the museum field from diverse backgrounds that bring helpful case studies and life lessons.
Sometimes you need to say it out loud before you can really understand what you are thinking.
Communication is so important, and I don’t think that we have enough of it at many of our institutions. There needs to be more dialogue between staff members, between the board/management and staff, and especially directly with the audience you are trying to serve. Through three weeks of being in a classroom environment with your peers, you get a reminder that not everyone is always on the same page – and that’s okay! You need the opportunity to explain your opinion, and sometimes through the ensuing conversation you might end up changing that opinion.
We have all struggled, be willing to give something back.
Pretty much all cultural/historical organizations are tight on money these days, but many institutions still make funds available to their staff for professional development. For those who can’t, like my previous site, their staff should be given the opportunity to prove why they should be a part of the conversation. I am honored that I was the recipient of a Denny O’Toole Scholarship and I hope that this program will continue in the future so that others like myself get the opportunity to participate in this outstanding program.
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When I returned to New York after completing SHA, I was full of energy and ready to start my new position. It turns out that SHA came at just the right time in my life. My new institution is a place that encourages professional development, is open to communication, strives to educate on the past in a way that is relevant to the present, and has good health insurance. But even if it didn’t have all those things, and even if I was still at my old job, I know that SHA would have still made me better at what I do.
Thank you so much to everyone at the American Association for State and Local History for organizing the program; the Indiana Historical Society for hosting; and the SHA partners – including the American Alliance of Museums, Colonial Williamsburg, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Thank you to the amazing John Durel – the SHA Coordinator for all of his wisdom and insight, and to all of the presenters – an amazing group of history leaders. And of course, thank you so much to all of my peers in the Class of 2012 – I left this program with 19 new friends (and 19 couches to crash on when I visit their museums).
In closing, I will admit that it was not easy to set aside three weeks away from work and family, and this program is by no means a vacation. But I can’t begin to express how glad I am that I was able to attend this powerful workshop. I filled almost two notebooks with nuggets of wisdom I gathered.
Here are some of my favorites:
- “We need people to love what we are doing.”
- “We should not just be dispensing history, but rather, engaging in conversations that prompt questions.”
- “Tell a story!”
- “Attendance figures are not the most valid measure of the positive value and impact of the historic site experience.”
- “Academic history is not associated with place as much as public history.”
- “Move from programs being about someone to being for someone.”
- “The best museum experiences provoke questions that don’t get answered in the museum.”
Marisa L. Berman (SHA ’12) is the Assistant Director of the Harriet & Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives. She holds an M.A. in Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, and Museum Practices from the Fashion Institute of Technology, as well as a B.A. in English Literature, and a B.P.S. in Fashion Design – both from Marist College. She was a participant in the 2012 Institute for Cultural Entrepreneurship for Museum Leaders at the Cooperstown Graduate School. A museum professional and historian specializing in Costume and Textile History, Museology, Cultural Studies, and Historic Preservation, she is always seeking new and innovative ways to get people interested in their local history. Her first book, Images Of America: Nunley’s Amusement Park, will be released later this year by Arcadia Publishing.