Historic home in Little Rock’s Quapaw Quarter. (LRCVB)

By Elizabeth Stewart, Renton History Museum & AASLH Small Museums Committee

One of the unexpected benefits of eighteen months of global pandemic is that we have had to throw out all our old assumptions—what better place for small museums to start to rebuild than the 2021 AASLH conference? This year AASLH is offering both an in-person conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, Sept. 22–25 and an online conference at your desk, Oct. 12–15. Both offer sessions that will expand your mind, improve your operations, and refresh your passion for what we do.

If you are headed to Little Rock, what should you look for? AASLH is taking every precaution to make it the safest and most enjoyable conference it can be, and there are plenty of sessions for small museum staff and volunteers. New to the AASLH Annual Meeting? Sign up ahead of time for the “First Time Reception” that will offer you tips for getting the most out of the conference.

Small museum folks will find many concurrent sessions helpful to them. Capacity-building sessions like “Building a Better Board” and “Managing Volunteers Post-COVID” will help you plan for a brighter future. Sessions on “Deaccessioning… The Quest” and “Mr. Clean at the Museum” are aimed at sharpening your skill set around common museum challenges. “Museums, Historic Sites, and Tourism” and “On the Frontline of History: Museums and Schools Together” explore partnerships that can strengthen your small museum while contributing to a stronger community.

A centerpiece of the in-person conference will be “Making History at 250: Small Museums Roundtable.” The nation’s 250th anniversary is coming up in 2026, so it is not too early to take a look at the AASLH Field Guide for the Semiquincentennial and start thinking about how to commemorate 250 years of striving toward—and sometimes falling short of—the ideals expressed during the Revolution. AASLH has given special consideration to how small museums can best interpret the semiquincentennial in ways that will resonate with local audiences, and this will be a great time to hear what others are thinking and planning.

Looking forward to the online conference? With a little discipline—let the phone go to voicemail and emails stay unanswered for a while—the online conference can be as much of a renewal as the in-person. Ready for some self-examination? Try “Institutional Genealogy: The Role of Knowing Our Past in the Pursuit of Equity” or “Now or Never: Equitable Workplaces Post-Pandemic.” If you’re interested in a focus on diversity and inclusion, explore “Engage Diverse Audiences with Inclusive Content” and “Answering the Call: Steps Toward Decolonizing Your History Organization/Museum.”

The deadline to apply for a Small Museums online conference scholarship has been extended to Sept. 1, so get your application in. Whether you attend one of the conferences or both, AASLH and your peers at small museums have put together plenty of learning and networking opportunities to make yours a better museum.

Learn more about the AASLH Small Museums Affinity Community here.