Oregon Heritage Conference Recap

Last week I attended the Oregon Heritage Conference in Salem, Oregon. Not only did it give me the opportunity to spend a week in the State Capitol, but I also had the pleasure of sharing ideas and quandaries with my peers. (I filled a legal pad with notes)

This year's theme was "16 Going on 20, 50, 100: Reflecting on the Past, Capitolizing on the Present and Building the Future" and the conference is designed to be interdisciplinary. Archives, museums, libraries, historical societies, genealogical groups; all aspects of the heritage industry was represented.

The sessions I chose were based primarily around preservation, diversity, and the role that heritage organizations play in their communities. "Reflections: The impact of Museums on Communities" was especially interesting for me. There was a wide range of perspectives represented on the panel. Established, mature museums and newer organizations; history museums, science museums, and cultural organizations. Each speaker was able to bring different challenges and solutions to the questions at hand. 

Use information to reduce stigma
— Kathryn Dysart, Museum of Mental Illness

For most of the speakers, serving their communities means inclusion and giving a wider lens to their interpretation. Aurolyn Stwyer of the Museum at Warm Springs, spoke at length about the community events her institution partners with to reach the youth in her area. Kylie Pine, Willamette Cultural Center, discussed the role of her organization in discussing the role of missionaries in the early days of Salem and how that impacted the lives of the inhabitants. Kathryn Dysart of the Museum of Mental Illness pointed to their mission to use information to reduce stigma when it comes to the complicated history of treating mental illness. Hearing their responses emphasized the need for building long term relationships with all members of the community and striving to tell the stories they find relevant. 

Another great session I attended was "How to Dig for Information" and it dealt with the often challenging aspects of researching. The history of minority groups, the poor, and the excluded can be difficult to explore through the traditional, mainstream sources. The speakers in this session gave concrete ideas for discovering the truth behind the propaganda and lending voices to the silenced. Suggestions included using GLO maps to identify culturally modified landscapes, visiting cemeteries to identify cultural groups, and reaching out to the communities in question to get insight. 

Overall, I was impressed with the variety of perspectives and the depth of discussion regarding the various sessions. I met some great people and was able to commiserate with them on shared woes. (There is nothing like connecting with others over abysmal storage conditions or archaic numbering systems) Here are a few lingering topics I'll be considering in the coming weeks:

  • There is a severe lack of racial diversity in our industry. It is an important issue being tackled by organizations across the country, but it was highlighted for me this week. Nearly everyone there looked like me (white and female). What can we do to ensure that we're being inclusive and intersectional in the heritage sector? How do we reduce barriers to entry?
  • A lot of our discussion of preservation focused on physical spaces and buildings in particular. Klamath Falls lost an important historical building while I was away at the conference. What can we do to engage our communities with preservation? How do we make people care about these spaces?
  • Funding is a huge concern for everyone in heritage. It restricts our ability to hire capable professionals, limits the projects we can tackle, and forces us to make compromises when it comes to preservation. What can we do about it? What funding opportunities are we not utilizing? How can creating community partnerships help with funding?

To Listen/Watch the panels and discussions from this conference, you can check them out online here.

Information regarding the conference can be found here