A Significant Opportunity Lost


(These views represent the opinion of Alan L. Cameros, the Second President of the Museum Trustee Association)

Back in 1986, three representatives designated by the Executive Committee of the American Association of Museums and three representatives from the Museum Trustees met in Richmond, Virginia to discuss a continuing relationship going forward.   The Trustees had been serving as an AAM committee under the leadership of George C. Seybolt, former chairman of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  Mr. Seybolt had been instrumental in creating the legislation which established the governmental agency, IMLS (the Institute of Museum and Library Services).  He was one of the leading visionaries as to needs within the museum world going forward.

The key phrase that permeated discussions between representatives from the AAM and those who represented the organization that would later become the Museum Trustee Association was Shared Governance.  The six representatives  met together to attempt to determine the ongoing relationship between the world of museum administration and the trustees who served these museums.

Mr. Seybolt called upon Alan L. Cameros, a Trustee of the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York and a lawyer, to incorporate a new organization under the laws of the State of New York.  This new entity was named the Museum Trustee Committee for Research and Development.   Later, the name was changed to the Museum Trustee Association.

Many different activities were undertaken by the Museum Trustees in the years that subsequently ensued.  Templates were developed which spoke to relationships within this world – Building Museum Boards, the Leadership Partnership, Executive Transitions and Strategic Thinking and Planning.  Documents were developed discussing Museum Trusteeship.  Mary Baily Wieler, President of the Museum Trustee Association wrote a book entitled “Tips for Trustees”.  However, there was minimal contact between the Museum Trustee Association and the American Alliance of Museums (formerly known as the American Association of Museums).

It has been an uneasy relationship between the American Alliance of Museums and the Museum Trustee Association.  The AAM has invited the MTA and its members to participate in museum advocacy day each year.  The trustees using their own coin have been invited to coordinate through the AAM to travel to Washington to participate in meetings with congressman and advocate for services and funding that serve America’s museums.  This has been undertaken by  museum representatives representing communities throughout the United States.

Otherwise, there has been limited opportunity to involve museum trustee leadership in national museum affairs.  The AAM and MTA have not been able to formulate an understanding as to Shared Governance with representation of administrators and trustees inside the museum universe.  Until this time, there has been limited communication by the MTA as to their views concerning activities and questions that have brought forth issues of universal magnitude within the museum world.   Even though this past discussion arose 30 years back, this does not mean that it need remain in abeyance forever.  In order to better represent museums throughout the United States, there is a need to establish a formal affiliation that sets down the relationship of the two organizations and which allows museum trustees to participate in decision making both within their communities and on a national leadership level.

Set out below is an edited transcript of the Conference between Representatives of the AAM Executive Committee and AAM Trustees Committee that took place in Richmond, Virginia on October 9, 1986.