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BlogBack: AAM&#146s President, Ford Bell, Defends the New “Alliance”

Ford Bell
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Ford Bell, president of the American Alliance (formerly “Association”) of Museums, responds to AAM’s New Name: Marketing Gambit Disguised as “Coming Together:

The questions posed in your post on the newly re-named American Alliance of Museums deserve a response.

The change in our name and the programmatic changes that we have announced represent the culmination of AAM’s evolution over the past five years—a process that was formalized with the adoption of our 2009 strategic plan, The Spark. Through that process, we came to believe that “association” did not represent what we wanted to be as an organization, nor did it represent what the museum field needed us to be—an inclusive, collaborative organization prepared to work with museum professionals and volunteers, with those who do business with museums, and with those who just love museums.

We wanted to be a good partner with other museum-related organizations and to help unify the field on behalf of the cause of museums. “Alliance” describes the ideal role for this organization to play.

Having 18,000 members makes it difficult to secure broad input. However, the changes we have announced have been informed from the beginning by the individual member survey we conducted in 2010 that allowed us to gather an enormous amount of input from members. In addition, we had two meetings of representatives from the field regarding changes to the accreditation program.

We also carried out an extensive institutional member survey in 2011, soliciting wide input regarding membership, benefits, accreditation and the role of AAM. Based on what we learned, we implemented plans for substantial changes to the accreditation program, as well as substantial changes to the institutional membership structure.

These are not cosmetic changes; these are radical changes: a 50% reduction in the time to accreditation; a unique collaboration with discipline-specific museum organizations on field-wide standards programs; a paperless accreditation process; a 300% reduction in the top dues level for institutional members; a new “pay-what-you-can” institutional membership category; and more.

In recent years, I think AAM had found it hard to keep up with rapid changes in our society, and with changing needs in the museum field. We have listened to what people wanted from us and listened, at length, to what they didn’t like about us. Over five years, I have visited 42 states and attended endless museum meetings of every type and discipline. These conversations have informed the changes we have made.

As for the cause of museums, we feel it is essential that we take the lead in making advocacy Job One for the entire museum field, to change the perception—widely held on Capitol Hill and elsewhere—that museums are mere amenities, not the essential community institutions we know them to be. We must change that perception, given not only the near-term political challenges but the long-term fiscal challenges confronting the country.

All of us must ensure that a clear, concise, compelling value message is conveyed in everything we do, and that all museums, regardless of type or size, communicate that value to their key constituencies, loudly and often. Having a more unified museum field will provide the critical mass we need to succeed in this urgent effort.

Bell has written more about this today on the blog of AAM’s Center for the Future of Museums, here.

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