Sunday, April 19, 2015

CMA Conference 2015 - Banff

This past week was the annual Canadian Museum Association conference. It usually teeters back and forth between eastern and western Canada, and as last year was here, this year they went west. To Banff. As you do. In Canada.

I haven't been out to Alberta in 21 years, so my memories are a little bit hazy. I remember mountains, which, really, is the important part.

I didn't go out with very high expectations, in all honesty. I know people who have been and, honestly, this particular conference has a bit of a reputation for being the ol' boys club. It sort of is, I don't dispute that, now having been. The big museums are much better represented than smaller ones, because the registration fee is so exorbitantly high. Yeah, it was a nice conference, but the panels and discussion are the important part and I feel that has sort of been lost in the drive to pick the Best Hotel Ever and throw money away on food. But maybe I'm just really old fashioned and think conferences should be about the conversations, not the scenery.

But Banff is beautiful. I'd forgotten how beautiful it is. And how friendly everyone is. I have never been somewhere (even PEI) where people smiled at you and said hello and were welcoming and helping all of the time. Genuinely. But then, they live in Banff, so how could they not be happy? I was certainly quite pleased the whole week, every time I looked outside. There are mountains, Gandalf! Mountains!

In terms of the conference itself, we started with a great workshop that really sort of evolved as it went along to suit that fact a lot of attendees were more behind than the organizers expected (or I hoped). But I think everyone got something useful out of it, and I know I was pleased with myself for actually opening my mouth and saying stuff (because it *was* on my topic). And the organizers were really welcoming of that, bless them. In fact, so welcoming we ended up having a bowling tournament that night (I lost).

Wednesday had some quite interesting talks, and some ones that gave me that gut wrenching feeling that Canada really doesn't understand the cultural industry at all. My understanding of my own country's industry developed over the week and in many cases I had eye opening experiences. Not all of which were pleasant. I was aware of several issues in the industry, but did not quite realize how ingrained they were. It doesn't make me particularly hopeful of change anytime soon, but we'll see. The point was that I met a lot of young people that felt the same way and want to make things different, but haven't figured out how to have an impact on a industry that won't even employ them (tell me about it).

But some positives came out of the event, not least Richard Sandell's talk (one of my favourites of his) that seemed to floor a lot of people in the audience, judging by the tweets. And a fantastic panel about diversity on the Thursday afternoon that just gave me warm fuzzy feelings that there are people in the industry trying to make it better and succeeding - on however small a scale. If they can do it, it can be done.

The food was great (mostly the food I ate outside the Fairmont - though the coffee breaks were good there), my hotel was lovely and the transportation network never let me down. The weather mostly cooperated too, which is always nice for April in the mountains (it snowed only the day I went to the springs, which is what I was hoping for). And the scenery was amazing. Truly spectacular. So much so, in fact, that on the way up to Banff from Calgary I cried. It might have had something to do with the epic music soundtrack I was listening to as well. But, for a week, I was really wonderfully happy. Until I returned to Ontario. Life hasn't been so great the last couple of days, but I've made a few decisions and things are going to change in the next couple of months. And hopefully, they will start to get better.

Because, if not, I'm moving to Alberta.