Swarupa Anila and Jennifer Foley, former and current AAMI Presidents share their views and vision for art museum interpretation.

As we reflected on our experiences with AAMI for this letter, we thought immediately of the first gathering in 2013 on the day before the annual AAM conference (when it was the Association rather than the Alliance of museums). A small group of art museum interpretation practitioners connected in a conference room at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Representing a handful of institutions and named with a range of titles, these museum professionals just came together to exchange case studies and talk about work for visitors and within museum structures. Perhaps not knowing it, this would form the beginning of a habit—meetings of what would informally be called the Interpretive Planners Group.

Each year a few folks would organize the informal meetings, prompted by the experience of the previous year—equal parts inspiration, affirmation, and reflection –and each year, word of the gathering and requests for invitations spread. With more attendees seeking the learnings, exercises, and leadership models came a growing community of practitioners. As we became larger each year, sometimes bursting out of the seams of museum conference and meeting rooms at generous host museums, the question arose as to how the group could serve this practice and field more richly and consistently. A steering committee from among the group that met in Baltimore incorporated the Association for Art Museum Interpretation.

In the five years since becoming AAMI, we have worked to serve practitioners through in-person convenings and then throughout the pandemic, hosting virtual presentations, workshops and get-togethers—remember virtual cocktail hours? Last year, we launched a membership program that allowed us to hold our first-ever elections by AAMI members.

Today, we are thrilled to mark the 10-year anniversary of that meeting in Baltimore and celebrate five years as an organization with a newly elected board. We honor those who in decades earlier, championed and established interpretation in art museums rooted in visitor-centered values and commitments to accessibility, collaboration, experimentation, and reflection.

There are now new demands from audiences, funders, and within the museum field for community engagement, representation, and broadened ways of knowing and being. In recent years, decolonizing and anti-exclusionary work has been increasing. This can be daunting for many art museums. Yet for decades, interpretation professionals have been quietly and persistently engaging inclusive, co-creative interpretive planning models that can leverage pathways through the uncertainty. We are seeing new positions at art museums posted with increasing frequency and interpretation director positions designed with this foresight. AAMI looks to the next decade ready to serve this community of practitioners, art museums, and the broader field.

With new leadership and members—and old friends in outgoing board members—we are excited for a new website, new professional development opportunities, and continuing great offerings like the perennial favorite in-person convening.

This October, we’ll be in San Francisco for what promises to be a fantastic experience at the Asian Art Museum, the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, the Oakland Museum of California, and the Museum of the African Diaspora.

We can’t wait to see you there!

Swarupa Anila, outgoing Board President and

Jennifer Foley, President of the Board of AAMI

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