Ask an Expert LIVE! with Sarah Connors from The International Preservation Studies Center

Join NEMPN for our first ever “Ask an Expert LIVE!”

We will be speaking with Sarah Connors Assistant Director at the International Preservation Studies Center in Mount Carroll, Illinois. She holds an MA in Museum Studies from Western Illinois University and a BA in History from Wartburg College. Her career has provided her with experience in nearly every area in the museum field including, curatorial, exhibition, collections management, visitor services, marketing, and administration.

The International Preservation Studies Center has provided hands-on preservation training workshops to museum and library professionals, conservators, and historic preservationists since 1980. IPSC offers over 75 short courses taught by world-class instructors from around the world.

Special note: IPSC is dedicated to preparing the next generation of museum professionals which is why we offer 50% off all courses to undergraduate and graduate students!

Watch on our National EMP Network YouTube channel and send in your questions to

Ask An Expert: Experienced Notes from the Museum Field – Professional Organizations

This month’s question from Erin Murphy asks,”It would be helpful for people to know other professional organizations (aside from NEMPN) for various kinds of staff in museums as well as regional associations.”

Suzanne Hale has over 15 years of experience as Registrar/Collections Manager at two university art museums, Colorado State University and Kansas State University. She has been an active member of the American Alliance of Museum (AAM) since 1999 and is the current Chair of the Registrars Committee of AAM.

Response from Suzanne:

The professional organization that has helped me the most with my career has been the American Alliance of Museum (AAM).  Many NEMPN members may already be familiar with AAM given NEMPN’s origins and past affiliation.  Regardless, I want to mention one of AAM’s major benefits:  serving all museum professionals. AAM provides educational programs and networking opportunities for curators, educators, exhibit designers, website designers, volunteers, preparators, directors, store managers, trustees, and more.  Its encompassing quality proves especially useful for smaller museums where staff members often have multiple job roles.  Staff members working within larger museum institutions where job roles may be more specialized can also benefit from participating in AAM, which encourages career advancement and provides members with an opportunity to investigate new and different roles in the museum field.  In short, AAM fosters professional growth to everyone connected to the museum community, wherever they are in their careers—emerging, mid-career, or senior level.

AAM has a membership of 35,000. Nearly 6,000 people attend the Annual Meeting each year.  But some people find the organization and its annual meeting too large to navigate; others find the cost of conference participation to be a barrier.  For those, I would recommend getting involved with one of AAM’s twenty-two Professional Networks (PN), which are volunteer-run affinity groups organized around job responsibilities and areas of common interest.  Within these groups, museum professionals can build relationships with other professionals with similar needs and concerns, while they grow their expertise, and give back to the field.

Particularly important for NEMPN members is that AAM partners with its Professional Networks to mentor new and emerging leaders and create an inclusive atmosphere that welcomes diversity in all areas of the museum profession.  At the AAM annual meeting, there are networking opportunities targeting EMPs, such as the First-Time Attendee Welcome and Networking Event where AAM staff help direct and guide new attendees through the conference.  Added in 2016, the Getting Started Series presents introductory information to help EMPs get a basic and practical understanding of selected topics. Another opportunity for EMPs at the annual meeting is the Emerging Innovators Forum. This program provides a venue for current graduate students or emerging professionals with less than five years working in the field to present topics related to an area of museum practice.  Another new program is the revamped Peer Mentoring Roundtables for colleagues to discuss career-related issues, a great place for EMPs to learn with and from each other.

For those who do not have the budget to attend the AAM annual meeting, I recommend getting involved in some of AAM’s local programming, or online professional development programs, many of which are offered in collaboration with one or more of the PNs.  And, you certainly do not need to attend the annual meeting to use the many resources found on AAM’s extensive website.  Sample documents are helpful in developing policy and understanding best-practices.  In addition, the website includes links to other sites about various museum related organizations and museum funding agencies.

I also encourage EMPs to get involved with one of the six regional museum groups: Association of Midwest Museums (AMM), Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums (MAAM), Mountain-Plains Museums Association (MPMA), New England Museum Association (NEMA), Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC) and Western Museums Association (WMA).  The six regional groups were started by AAM for the purpose of holding regional conferences. They became independent non-profits in the 1970s.  In addition to the regional groups, many states have state museum associations that serve the needs of the museums and museum professionals in their area, especially those who work in very small institutions.  The six regional organizations and the state associations provide networking and conference attendance opportunities closer to home, which can reduce travel costs and time away from work.  Some museum professionals prefer working within these organizations because they want to build a local network of support.  It is nice to know resourceful museum professionals down the road to collaborate with on projects.  Building connections nearby can assist with various activities, such as coordinating themed community programs, lending and borrowing collection objects, recruiting expert consultants for multi-staff training sessions, and joining together for political advocacy and emergency planning.

In summary, I have found AAM, with its twenty-two Professional Networks, relationships with the regional and state associations, and a wide spectrum of museum colleagues, to be a great place to learn and grow as a museum professional.  AAM strives “to champion museums and nurture excellence in partnership with our members and allies” and I have enjoyed being a part of this mission.

Ask An Expert: Experienced Notes from the Museum Field – Contract Work in Museums

Charles Zange is an Independent Contractor working in Washington, DC

Charles Zange is an Independent Contractor working in Washington, DC

This month’s question asks, “In DC especially, there are a large number of contractors working within the museum system. What is it like working as a contractor? What are the advantages/disadvantages of contracting, and how do you find out about opportunities?”  
Response from Charles: Contracting is common in DC for many reasons, one of which is hiring efficiency. Contracting with an outside entity can help a federal organization pick up labor quickly without going through the entire HR hiring process. It also gives the flexibility of cutting back the labor force without having to reduce federal positions, as contracts are usually easier to terminate or to let expire than federal positions. A federal organization is also not required to cover things like health insurance for contracted employees, as the contractual relationship is entity-to-entity (company to company) and not organization-to-individual like with traditional hiring.

The complexity of contracting increases sharply when individuals contract independently. Individuals establish their own single entities as sole-proprietor companies using the service, and then take on entity-to-entity contracts with a federal organization. This type of contracting is particularly common in DC. In this way, the individual is a company of one staff member contracting with a larger federal organization. The individual is therefore responsible for paying quarterly taxes on their company’s revenue (their income), allocating funds for health insurance, etc.

The advantage of contracting, in my opinion, is really the speed at which a contract can be acquired. It is generally, but not always, easier to bid on a contract than it is to apply for a traditional federal position.This helps outsiders break into a field, exposing them to critical work without forcing them through the steep uphill climb of the federal hiring process.

Contract work can be very interesting and highly technical too, building considerable professional skill. The disadvantages, however, are very challenging: contractors do not have benefits and do not receive staff credentials. Contracting also tends to be feast or famine, where contracted hours bring in considerable revenue but dry periods without new contracts reduce income to zero. The instability is especially difficult for new entities.

As for finding contracts, this tends to be more art+network than science+Google. Many contracts tend to find their way to listservs through local universities or related interest groups, or even word-of-mouth. Organizations can either open contracts publicly for a bidding period (where entities submit competitive bids to budget a project) or they can go to a single entity and offer a direct contract without bidding. Long story short, some contracts will be widely disseminated, while others may only be discussed with a single entity. Bids are more common, especially for larger projects, as the competition encourages entities to shoot for lower prices in the hopes of winning the bid.

Meet our New Treasurer and Committee Members

closecrop_headshotName: Milan Jordan
Committee: Governance
Position: Treasurer
Milan has a background in architecture and American Studies, with a passion for museums and non-profits. She currently works at an architecture organization developing resources, engaging artists and industry partners, as well as managing new program development. Her career is the intersection of mission-driven work for the built and cultural environments.

Name: Stephanie Keating
Committee: Conference
Position: Committee Member
Stephanie works as the Adult Programs Coordinator at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. In her role as a museum educator, she seeks to facilitate opportunities for the public to access and understand contemporary art. She has a MA in Art History from Boston University with a specialization in mid-century Latin American and European art.

Name: Matt Wagner
Committee: Conference
Position: Committee Member
Matt is an emerging access professional, dedicated to decreasing barriers in cultural institutions. He is a 2016 graduate of the Cooperstown Graduate Program. During his free time, he spends time nerding out to video games, astronomy, and nature.

kimpton_headshot_2017Name: Rachel Kimpton
Committee: Website
Position: Committee Member
Rachel is an educator currently living and practicing in Chicago. During the day, she convinces people that vegetables are amazing and that all things creepy and/or crawly are really cool; she moonlights as a “rogue” public program developer with her cohort at Museum Game Night, encouraging people to be playful at museums around town. She believes in the healing powers of breakfast tacos, loves escaping the city to commune with wilderness, and enjoys playing boardgames with her life partner.

Name: Sena Dawes
Committee: Survey
Position: Chair
Sena is a recent graduate of the UW Museology (Seattle) master’s program and currently works as an evaluator at the Missouri History Museum. She spends her free time binge watching Netflix, playing the bass in various community orchestra, and volunteering at her local dog shelter. And always looking for interactive data visualizations to fill in the gaps in between.

Ask An Expert: Experienced Notes from the Museum Field – Engaging Youth

This month’s question, asked by Jessamyn Yenni , asks “How can museums incentivize volunteers in younger demographics (who are generally more guarded of their limited spare time) if that cannot afford to pay?”

Wendy says “engage youth while they are young, while there is still time to capture their attention”

This month's questions is being answered by Wendy R. Zucal, the Executive Director of the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum.

This month’s questions is being answered by Wendy R. Zucal, the Executive Director of the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum.

 We are blessed to have volunteers of all ages at our three museums: The Dennison Railroad Depot Museum, Historic Schoenbrunn Village and the Uhrichsville Museum of Clay Industry and Folk Art. Young volunteers are of particular interest to us as we know they are the next generation of caretakers of our historic sites.  We, in turn, can benefit greatly from their ideas and input as we strive to make our museums more relevant to today’s audiences.  We have three levels that we focus upon to attract younger engagement.


Level One:   Fourth Grade through High School

Top priority for us is to engage youth while they are young, while there is still time to capture their attention and then we actively work to keep them engaged as they grow older.  If you wait to engage kids in high school or college – it is too late.  We start at fourth grade.
We are very lucky that we have an event kids flock to: Polar Express.  Polar Express Train Rides present such a great opportunity to connect to youth because they bring approximately 300 kids to our museum doors every year.   We never have to seek them – they come to us from school districts all over our county.  These kids have to go through railroad safety training, create their own costumes and work a minimum of 5 hour shifts.  From day one, we put a great deal of responsibility on their role and share how important they are to the museum’s success.  They start in fourth grade with many continuing through college, and even after college as we invite them back. We focus on encouraging them to up their game at the museums by increasing their responsibility, and therefore, their own personal return on investment. For example, we encourage elves to climb up the Polar Ladder to become Storytellers or other leadership roles on the train rides.  In return for their volunteer service, we write many, many college and scholarship support letters. and provide numerous job recommendations which they greatly value.  We also present a Jr. Volunteer of the Year Award for each museum at our Volunteer Banquet each year.
That is our hook.  I think it is important for every historical site to consider what their “hook” is to attract youth, and then work this hook as hard as you can. Polar Express enables us to create a wonderful database of kids which we then cultivate in many ways.  We encourage youth to grow in their roles and responsibilities as Museum  Hoppers, providing awareness of multiple opportunities to volunteer and engage at our other sites and events.  Our T-County Patriot Rally is an event we have created specifically to bring this message home by creating awareness and enthusiasm in history in our area youth.  The Rally is like a Home and Garden Show at our Mall, but instead of filling the mall with gardens we fill it with museum tables and a a wide variety of historical activities with GOOD prizes (Kindles, Ipad, Ipods, etc.)   We thought it was important to take our history and message out to where the kids hang out.


Level Two: High School through College 

If we have not captured the attention of a student at a young age, our next plan is to engage young people at the next level, which is internships.  We have a very active internship program for high school and college kids.  We welcome all interests – not just history, but marketing, technology, business, graphic design and more. We have a very active ten week internship program that rewards interns with a small stipend – and the same letters mentioned above. We are also happy to share that we regularly hire our interns at our museums.


Level Three:  Young Adults

Many of our young volunteers have made it through all three stages and continue to stay with us.  For those we have not been able to attract in Level One or Two, we focus on our Third Level for engaging young demographics which involves inviting them to participate in fun, social event committees.  For example, our Museum’s Emerging Professionals Committee oversees our annual museum Gala each year.  This year’s theme is Bourbon and Bling!  Anyone interested in theater can join our Sleepy Hollow Cast and crew.  We have a large number of young folks involved in the planning of our Food Truck Fest. These three events are the type of programming that young people like to attend, and therefore, and being put in charge is even better!
In addition to the Letters of Recommendation, Job Referrals, the opportunity to build their resume or even be hired, these young folks are having fun, making new friends, networking, learning new skills and are excited about giving back to their communities.  The relationship is a Win-Win as our museums are not only getting great volunteers, these young folks are buying lifetime memberships at a younger age, contributing more sponsorship and donations than we have seen in the past, and bringing their families to our events.  They have become great Ambassadors for our museum, and in fact – are showing great signs of fulfilling our goal of becoming the next generations of stakeholders.

Ask An Expert: Experienced Notes from the Museum Field – Museum Unions

Jaclyn J. Kelly is the Educator at the Milwaukee Public Museum and President of her labor union, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 526.

Jaclyn J. Kelly is the Educator at the Milwaukee Public Museum and President of her labor union, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 526.

This month’s questions, asked by Jessamyn Yenni, asks “What are the benefits to workers of being unionized?  Why might the workers choose to have one or go without?” 

Response from Jaclyn:
Unions matter because as workers, we can leverage our power towards improving our working conditions. I’m a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and an activist with the UIC Graduate Employees Organization (GEO). We as UIC GEO negotiate a contract with the University that guarantees a minimum wage, benefits including affordable health care and paid personal time, protections against overwork, discrimination, sexual harassment, and more. Though most of our members are Teaching Assistants, every year several of our members work at theJane Addams Hull-House Museum and Gallery 400, making them part of a rare group of workers in our country — unionized museum workers.

As a unionized museum worker, I earned higher wages than my non-union counterparts (museum staff members who were undergraduates or not graduate workers at UIC) and had access to the above benefits and protections that they did not. And I had access to a formal grievance procedure for when the benefits and protections in my contract needed to be enforced. Union activities were a source of tension and fear for the museum’s administration. But I would always prefer to be part of a union. First, for the benefits, protections, and camaraderie. Additionally, for our part in strengthening working conditions across campus, and the workers’ movement writ large. And big picture: the higher wages and stability that union membership offers have the potential to make the field more accessible and sustainable for workers across lines of privilege.

This conversation was facilitated by Alyssa Greenberg from Museum Workers Speak 

Become a NEMPN Leader!

The National Emerging Museum Professional Network is looking for a few good members to join our leadership team! 

You’ve seen our Annual Report and know we are ready to make big things happen in 2017. Because of this we have a LOT of work ahead of us and are looking to our members to help lead our efforts. We have several committees in need of people just like you! We are also recruiting for the position of Treasurer who will sit on our Governance and Executive Committees. If you are interested in joining our leadership team please click on the below links to find the right position for you!

NEMPN Treasurer
Annual Appeal Committee
Website Committee
Conference Committee

Deadline for applications are December 2nd, 2016!

Ask An Expert: Experienced Notes from the Museum Field – Relocating for your Career

Sarah Mathews is the Manager of Interpretation and Evaluation at the New England Aquarium. She recently moved to Boston after completing her Masters in Museum Studies from the George Washington University in Washington, DC.

This month’s question, asked by Adrienne Turnbull-Reilly , asks What is your experience trying to move not only jobs, but locations? Is it feasible or wise to take a temporary position in a new location in the hopes that a more permanent position opens up? Or is it better to remain in a stable job, while looking for a new gig elsewhere?” Sarah Mathews provides some insight into the challenges in moving for your career. 

Passion for your work is important but so is being able to pay the bills! Moving is expensive, and you want a change like this to be worthwhile. It comes down to your priorities and what you’re willing to compromise.

Is the cost of living is cheaper in the new location? Do you have friends or family you could stay with rent-free? Are you miserable in your current job? Are you diligent about applying? Would you consider non-museum jobs to get to your desired location?

My search parameters were a full time museum position in New England. After a decade in the District, I wanted to move back north. While I was willing to compromise on time and content area, I was not willing to give up a full time salary and benefits without having a museum job lined up first. It certainly took a lot of time, but now I wake up every morning in a city that I love excited to go to work. It wasn’t easy to get to this point, but it was well worth it because I made informed decisions about what was best for my career as well as my emotional and financial wellbeing.

If you have a question or dilemma that’s been troubling you, click on this link to be redirected to a short submission form to pose your question to the Communications Committee. Your question may be featured in the next e-newsletter and the National EMP Network Blog!

Ask An Expert: Experienced Notes from the Museum Field – Why Get a Ph.D.?

Andrew Westover is currently transitioning from his role as Associate Education Specialist at the J. Paul Getty Museum to a Ph.D. in Education at Harvard, focusing on ethics. He has held positions at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, the Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, and the Phoenix Art Museum. Prior to working in cultural institutions, Andrew taught as a Fulbright lecturer at the University of the Free State in South Africa and as a middle school teacher with Teach For America. He holds a B.A. in History, M.Ed., and M.A. in Religion.

Andrew Westover is currently transitioning from his role as Associate Education Specialist at the J. Paul Getty Museum to a Ph.D. in Education at Harvard, focusing on ethics. He has held positions at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, the Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, and the Phoenix Art Museum. Prior to working in cultural institutions, Andrew taught as a Fulbright lecturer at the University of the Free State in South Africa and as a middle school teacher with Teach For America. He holds a B.A. in History, M.Ed., and M.A. in Religion.

This month’s question, asked by Kelsey Picken, asks “Why, after working in museum education for the past several years, have you chosen to return to graduate school?” Andrew Westover, a Ph.D. student in Education at Harvard, tackles this question and offers some insight as to why he decided to go back to graduate school.

Recently, as groups like #MuseumWorkersSpeak have highlighted concerns across our profession, I’ve begun to wonder: What can museum educators do to ensure their work is not merely for tax breaks? How can museums be both “relevant” and “responsive” to our immediate realities (e.g.#MuseumsRespondToFerguson)?  I decided to return to graduate school to ask these questions and spend substantive time considering them.

Talia Gibas notes that museum educators need to address the inherent challenges of respecting teachers’ pedagogies while also seeking to change how they teach. As a teacher programs specialist, I worry that teacher-training programs neglect critical discourse and qualitative metrics, instead relying on participation as a primary signifier of success. What can museums do to ensure that our work with teachers is effective, facilitating both educator development and student success?

While museum educators have long articulated goals of excellence and equity, a lack of foundational understanding (as Elliot Kai-Kee describes) explains why many of the difficulties identified decades ago remain widely present. Ultimately, it’s the promise of museums that keeps me invested in this work: the possibility that cultural institutions can serve as a catalyst for critical discourse, inquiry, empathy, and meaning making.

If you have a question or dilemma that’s been troubling you, click on this link to be redirected to a short submission form to pose your question to the Communications Committee. Your question may be featured in the next e-newsletter and the National EMP Network Blog!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: NEMPN Elects New Governance Committee and Launches Go Fund Me Campaign

The National Emerging Museum Professional Network is an independent coalition of Emerging Museum Professional Chapters from all over the United States and two international chapters. NEMPN is comprised of an all volunteer board of directors made up of chapter leaders and lead by a vibrant and active Executive Committee. The NEMPN Board is proud to introduce its new President Michelle Epps, Vice President Marcus Harshaw, and Secretary Sarah Groh. Currently the group is actively seeking a Treasurer to complete the organization’s newly formed Governance Committee.

Prior to becoming President, Michelle Epps co-created and co-chaired the Cleveland Emerging Museums Professionals group for 5 years. Under her former title of Executive Committee Chair, Michelle was instrumental in bringing together Emerging Museum Professional Chapters leaders from across the country to create the National EMP Network.

Marcus A. Harshaw is a dynamic, energetic, and innovative leader with experience in museum education, program, and evaluation roles. Marcus recently earned a Master of Arts in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University, and is the founding member of the Cincinnati Emerging Museum Professionals chapter.

Sarah Groh currently holds leadership positions in Guest Operations and Membership departments of San Francisco Bay Area Museums. Her prior roles have ranged from event management to public programs to exhibit design. Sarah is also the President of Bay Area Emerging Museum Professionals.

The National Emerging Museum Professionals Network is actively raising the necessary funds to take the group to the next level by incorporating and filing for 501(c)(3) status. Contributions will help NEMPN become the leading organization that engages museum professionals across all stages of their careers and building vibrant communities of networking, knowledge exchange, and resource sharing. Help make this goal a reality and donate today at

The Exective Committee members are Diane Strand, Keith Lohse, Erika Katayama, Jackie Peterson, Charles Zange, Katherine Mercier, Ellen Lynch, Carl Aldrich, Kassaundra Porres, Nancy Harmon, Brittany Snider, Alex Garcia, Grace Torres, Adrienne Turnbull-Reilly, Kelsey Picken, Rebecca Gomez, Garrett Barmore, Patrick Wittwer, and Erin Murphy. Follow the links for a complete list of General Board Members and Emerging Museum Professional Chapters.

To find out more please visit National Emerging Museum Professionals Network.

Any inquiries can be directed to Michelle Epps at