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Empowering Museums with Professional Development Opportunities

March 30, 2017

Paula Gangopadhyay
IMLS Deputy Director of Museum Services

Why do I feel excited about coming to work every day at IMLS? It's because of the distinct opportunity my colleagues and I have of witnessing some of the phenomenal work that's going on in museums across the nation. Our applicants, grantees, national medal nominees and panelists, year after year provide us with convincing evidence of work that is changing people's lives and helping communities thrive. This impactful work is made possible by hundreds and thousands of dedicated staff, volunteers and interns in our museums.

Just like any other sector, public or private, the museum field needs to invest in the continuing education of our workforce. With changing demographics, rapidly evolving technological and communication advances and the need to stay sustainable, it is critical for museums to continually recalibrate the skill set of their staff and optimize available resources to meet this goal. Yet, this most critical need often gets compromised due to strained resources leaving museums to carry on the work without being able to deploy their fullest potential.

The Office of Museum Services (OMS) at IMLS has made museum professional development a top priority. Our current vision is designed with a comprehensive and multi-pronged strategy across all our museum grant programs. This cross-cutting approach offers funding opportunities for capacity building to individual museums (through MFA, AAHC and NANH), as well as to museum-related organizations such as state, regional and national museum associations, other non-profit museum service providers as well as museum studies programs and universities (through NLG-M).

In addition to bringing an explicit focus on professional development within all our current grant programs, we are conducting an internal scan to analyze our past investments in this area. We want to learn from the models we have already funded and identify the gaps. We are also doing a landscape analysis to see who is already offering such services in the sector. This will help us avoid duplication of efforts and identify opportunities for increased collaboration.

We are launching this new vision for museum professional development with Museums Empowered, a special initiative for professional development and capacity building under our MFA grant program. We look forward to receiving a stellar pool of applications by the May 1 deadline, during the inaugural year of this special initiative. Museums Empowered is for all types of museums and museums of all sizes—small, medium and large—hence the options of applying for grants in the ranges of $5000-$25,000 or $25,001-$250,000. It's designed to empower individual museums to choose an area of need where they would like their staff to grow professionally.

We encourage applicants to closely look at the four focus areas within this funding opportunity which have been carved out to address the relevant needs of the day: Digital Technology, Diversity and Inclusion, Evaluation, and Organizational Management. Projects can range from developing multi-tiered training programs in technology adoption, learning from experts on how to better engage and serve diverse populations, embracing the power of data to show institutional and collective impact, to exploring ways to strengthen and sustain institutional organizational structure and culture. Applicants should review the sample project activities to better understand the type of projects that can make a strong proposal under this program.

For some, this may provide the much needed spark to jump start a pilot project, and for others it may be expanding or diversifying an already successful model. We believe these systemic strategies will empower museums in the short and long term to become dynamic and vibrant community anchors and catalysts.

Our program staff, Mark Isaksen,, and Jill Connors-Joyner, are here to help answer any questions, so please feel free to reach out to them. Applicants can learn more about applying by viewing our recorded webinar.

Let’s empower museum professionals to better serve our communities and make a difference!

Paula Gangopadhyay

Paula Gangopadhyay
Deputy Director of Museums

Museums for America