Washington, D.C. recently welcomed more than 6,000 attendees from around the country and the world to the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Annual Meeting and Museum Expo. The conference was the centerpiece of Museum Week in Washington, with dozens of world-class D.C.-area museums of all sizes participating in the meeting and hosting events.

The conference schedule was packed with sessions covering every facet of museum management, visitor experience, fundraising, communications, curation and collections management. Each of the sessions revolved around the conference theme, Power, Influence and Responsibility, and each underscored the critical need for museums to adapt and evolve in a world where change is a constant.

Here are a few of the conference highlights:

AAM unveiled its 2016-2020 strategic plan, in which the association commits to pursuing goals in access, thought leadership and global thinking. The plan articulates three focus areas that lie at the heart of the opportunities and challenges confronting museums nationwide:

  1. “Diversity, accessibility, equity, accessibility and inclusion in all facets of museum structure and programming
  2. Museums’ expanding role in an evolving ecosystem of P-12 education
  3. Changing business models for museums’ financial sustainability”

Although the museum field has been talking about diversity and inclusion for more than 30 years, museums continue to struggle with these issues, and museum professionals are eager to discuss them. One of the conference’s most popular events was an off-conference gathering called “Museums and Race.” This half-day session engaged more than 300 participants in difficult and personal conversations about race and identity. Museums perceive a pressing need for greater inclusivity.

If museums are to serve as effective educational organizations; if they are to inspire future artists, scientists and historians; if they are to build community through cultivating citizens and encouraging civic discourse, then they must embrace the rich diversity of the communities they serve.

The CEOs and Development Directors who attended the annual Development and Membership luncheon understand their responsibility for fostering financial sustainability by building cultures of philanthropy within and outside of their institutions. They articulated the need for museum executives to serve as thought leaders within the field and in their communities and to ensure that their museums are giving back through festivals and events that are accessible to everyone.

Elizabeth Merritt, Director of the Center for the Future of Museums, gave a lively re-cap of this year’s TrendsWatch, AAM’s annual report on some of the most important social and technological trends affecting museums:

  • The changing world of work
  • The need to alter perceptions around identity, ability and disability
  • The mind-bending possibilities offered by virtual and augmented reality technologies

The big conference takeaway is that museums must realign for relevancy and to ensure that they meet the needs of the communities they serve for generations to come.