Mary Alexander of the Maryland Historical Trust leads a session on grant writing during the 2012 Small Museum Association Annual Conference.

Every February, representatives from small museums throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond attend the Small Museum Association Conference in Ocean City, Maryland.

This is the only conference dedicated exclusively to the small museum community. Every year, I look forward to attending this conference. It’s an opportunity to meet with close friends and colleagues, as well as first-time attendees and emerging professionals.

More importantly, SMA always motivates me to accomplish some new, great endeavor at my museum. Whether we work hard to stay afloat, struggle to keep up with ever-growing museum collections, or burn through a busy tour season, all of us occasionally need to slam on the brakes, interact with colleagues, and think about our profession. We’re always inspired by those who have developed a different tour angle, discovered a new social media tool, created an innovative curatorial volunteer program, or received a site preservation grant.

Most SMA presenters and speakers are directors, curators, and educators at town historical societies, local art museums, and historic houses. This year’s conference, Adapt & Reuse: Fresh Ideas and New Approaches, delivered a rich slate of ideas.

One workshop illustrated how Facebook and other new social media tools, such as HistoryPin, engage and build audiences. At another session, the director and an intern from the New Castle Historical Society discussed some of the free or inexpensive tools you can use to create audio tours. In another presentation, “Collections that Bite,” the Air Mobility Command Museum’s director showed how to identify and mitigate some common health and safety hazards in museum collections.

A roundtable discussion on experiences,  job searches, and early career expectations was particularly rewarding. Members included emerging professionals, trustees, mid-career professionals and experienced directors.

The most important lesson I learned was about changing a common misperception: that small museums should learn from larger museums. As plenary speaker, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, reminded us, small museums also offer many lessons.  By our nature, we are deeply embedded in our communities. We deliver programs, produce exhibits, and achieve high standards of collections stewardship with very limited resources.  By sharing our successes and failures, we help each other to succeed…and that is a worthy model to promote.

If you are interested in learning more about the Small Museum Association please visit or follow us on Facebook.

John Pentangelo
President, Small Museum Association
AASLH Small Museums Committee