The 2016 Southeastern Museums Conference (#SEMC2016) is in our rearview mirror, and it sure was a great one! The team and I had so much fun attending sessions, interacting with attendees and seeing the many great museums Charlotte has to offer. I’m recapping my experience in this post, but check back next week for our take on some of the conversations we participated in during the conference.

The theme for this year’s conference was “Where tradition and innovation meet.” While at the conference attendees discussed the responsibilities they had based on the “traditional” role of museums as keepers of history and legacy, as well as the ever-present need to allow space for innovations of all types, from technology and inclusion to visitor engagement and educational programs.

For the majority of the sessions I participated in, innovation seemed to be the center of conversation more often than tradition. And with innovation on the table, technology-centered sessions were not lacking. I sat in on several good talks with topics ranging from 3D-printing to digital engagement through social media. To top off the sessions, the conference ended with a great keynote, where we heard from Elizabeth Merritt, director of AAM’s Center for the Future of Museums, as she presented key trends from this year’s TrendsWatch report.

One of my favorite sessions of the conference was a presentation given by three graduate students from the University of Florida on 3D printing and the technology’s practical use for small- to medium-size museums. The presenters covered everything a museum just beginning to use 3D printing would need to know. Topics like the practical use of 3D printed replications of objects for visitors with visual impairments to touch, ways to capture and create the 3D file of an object before sending it to be printed (one app creates a digital 3D model from pictures you take on your phone), printers and the quality of their prints, as well as other lessons they learned from over a year of research with 3D printing.

Innovation was present in non-technology sessions from a range of topics on education, curation, and community engagement as well. One such session talked on using curation to engage with students at universities in educational programs across many varied fields of study. The speakers in that session were curators in academic museums with art collections or college professors who had partnered with an academic museum or written their own lesson plans for innovative lessons on art, even though not all students in the class had backgrounds in art history or studio art. The speakers emphasized a key focus point of the session; that curation and education can be combined in innovative ways to serve as a teaching tool for students across all disciplines, and that this approach shows students they don’t need a background in art history to find a connection with a work of art.

Several sessions throughout the conference (as well as the Keynote address on Wednesday) touched on the role museums have in facilitating conversations on the topics of inclusion and social change, to name a few. One talk, titled Museums Stand Up, was designed to engage attendees in conversation around the role museums have in telling diverse stories. Ultimately the speakers wanted attendees to consider this question: do museums have a responsibility to make room for conversation? The Museums Stand Up session was not the only place where questions like this one came up; Elizabeth Merritt in her keynote address also asked if the role of museums should be to serve as “cultural hazmat teams” for aspects of our country’s cultural and historical past that are not easy to talk about. Conversations around these topics show that innovation in museums isn’t only in technology or education initiatives, but in ideas of how we view the roles of museums as well.

The main takeaway I got from the conference is that museums have the opportunity to participate in new innovations that will lead to better engagement and new forms of interaction with visitors, members and communities. Conferences like SEMC serve as a great space to facilitate new ideas and conversations about understanding and respecting tradition while allowing museums to make room for new ideas that will enable them to grow in the future.

Want to see more conversation from sessions and evening events at the conference? We created a moment on Twitter, check it out below!