Supporting our network of Affiliate partners is a keystone of our work at Smithsonian Affiliations. As we continue to reflect on our past 25 years, it is the strength of the people we work with at Affiliate organizations that truly makes an impact on the work that we do. This month we are focusing on the professional development collaborations with Affiliate colleagues. Here we take you on a visual journey of the ways in which we have helped to make an impact furthering the professional growth of staff at our Affiliate partner organizations.

The Smithsonian Affiliations Visiting Professionals Program (VPP) has been helping Affiliate staff get the technical and intellectual training they need in one form or another since 2001. In the early days of the VPP, individual Affiliate professionals would come to the Smithsonian from two to six weeks to immerse themselves in a project alongside a Smithsonian expert. Their programs were tailored to each individual and they spent their entire time at one Smithsonian museum or unit. Upon returning to their Affiliate organization, the Visiting Professionals would apply their newfound knowledge on a project at their Affiliate organization.

  • Museum of Sonoma County

    At the National Museum of American History, this staff member from Museum of Sonoma County (Santa Rosa, CA) met with dozens of experts to gain experience planning and developing historical exhibitions. (Credit: Smithsonian Affiliations)

    Three men sit at a table with a poster on top of it
  • Senator John Heinz History Center

    In 2005, a staff member from the Senator John Heinz History Center (Pittsburgh, PA) worked at the Smithsonian’s Museum Support Center in Suitland, MD, in the National Museum of Natural History’s department of anthropology. Her research focused on learning from the Smithsonian’s collections registration policies and procedures to learn new ways to make the History Center’s collections more accessible to the public. (Credit: Smithsonian Affiliations)

    A woman in a green sweater crouches in front of a storage drawer with anthropology collections
  • Hagley Museum and Library

    This staff member from Hagley Museum and Library (Wilmington, DE) worked with conservators at the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives on a project related to archival collections. Her experience helped her create a plan for safe, economical, and efficient work areas for treating mold contaminated archival collections. (Credit: Smithsonian Affiliations)

    A woman in a red sweater and blue latex gloves touches a moldy document
  • Frost Museum of Science

    While working with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, this staff member from the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science (Miami, FL) assisted in the production of its Smithsonian Science How program in order to learn more about community engagement using digital programs. (Credit: Smithsonian Affiliations)

    Two women sit behind a table with natural science material on top
  • Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

    This visiting professional from Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (Birmingham, AL) spent an intense 2 weeks with Smithsonian Exhibits learning the intricacies of exhibition design for developing exhibitions for travel at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute as well as regular exhibitions in the museum. (Credit: Smithsonian Affiliations)

    Two people stand at a table.

As more and more Affiliate staff members applied for and participated in the VPP, the team at Smithsonian Affiliations knew there had to be an opportunity to reach more professionals—because of staff time we could only accept up to 5 per year if the program remained the same. A highlight of the VPP was when Affiliate participants overlapped and were at the Smithsonian at the same time. How could we replicate that for a shared in-person learning experience? In 2018, our question was answered and an updated VPP was born. With support from the Getty Foundation, Smithsonian Affiliations was able to offer professional development opportunities to even more Affiliate staff members. A total of 19 staff participated in the VPP in 2018 and 2019 in Washington, D.C. These cohorts focused on developing their knowledge of broadening access to collections using digital tools and technologies. In addition to the digital skills, participants were also exposed to leadership skill building thanks to the expertise of Marsha Semmel, of Marsha Semmel Consulting, one of the cohort’s expert instructors. At the conclusion of the program, participants noted growth in their confidence in both their digital and leadership skills as well as their ability to implement a new digital strategy upon their return home.

“I am so grateful for the Smithsonian Affiliations Visiting Professionals Program experience,” said Katie Staib, Director of Education at the Northwest Museum of Art and Culture in Spokane, WA. “Who could even imagine how pertinent the program would be to us! As we face Covid 19 challenges, I have been thinking of how timely the training provided through VPP [was]. Thanks to my experience with VPP, I feel prepared, as I help my staff shift from delivering in person museum experiences to focusing on digital engagement. I have been so impressed with how nimble my team has been as they embraced the challenge with creativity and enthusiasm. I am happy to share that the education, collections, and marketing departments here at the MAC are collaborating to remain relevant in our community through digital engagement. Promptly shifting to digital delivery of educational programs is impacting our ability to provide staff with meaningful work during this unique time.”

  • 2018 VPP at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Gallery

    Participants in the 2018 VPP learn about the Hirshhorn Eye as a digital means to interact with an art museum’s collection. Developers and educators of he mobile art guide met with the cohort and gave them a guided tour of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Gallery while testing the platform. (Credit: Smithsonian Affiliations)

    A group of people stand in a gallery at the Hirshhorn Museum.
  • 2018 Visiting Professionals

    the 2018 Visiting Professionals cohort packs in to a service elevator at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. (Credit: Smithsonian Affiliations)

    A group of people pose for a selfie in a large service elevator at a museum.
  • 2019 Invention Activity

    In 2019, the VPP curriculum used the Process of Invention developed by the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, as its foundation. Here, the cohort practices the process: ” Think It, Explore It, Sketch It, Create It, Try It, Tweak It, Sell It.” (Credit: Smithsonian Affiliations)

    Four people sit at a table. One holds an object and is presenting it to the group.
  • 2019 VPP Cohort

    During both VPP cohort years, participants met with Smithsonian staff to learn more about using digital to help people engage with collections. During each two-week program, participants met with nearly 30 Smithsonian experts during their program. (Credit: Smithsonian Affiliations)

    A group of people stand and sit around a conference table.
  • 2018 VPP Participants

    The 2018 Visiting Professionals Program participants with facilitator Marsha Semmel and Affiliations team members Tricia Edwards and Elizabeth Bugbee. (Credit: Smithsonian Affiliations)

    Thirteen people- one row seated, one standing- pose for a photograph.
  • 2019 VPP Participants

    The 2019 Visiting Professionals Program participants with facilitator Marsha Semmel, Affiliations team members Tricia Edwards and Elizabeth Bugbee, and instructional design coordinator Alison Leithner. (Credit: Smithsonian Affiliations)

    Thirteen adults stand in a row for a photograph.

In addition to our formal professional development program, Smithsonian Affiliations has supported the training needs of our Affiliate partners in numerous other ways. Affiliates have collaborated with the Smithsonian’s Center for Learning and Digital Access to provide training for local teachers on the Smithsonian Learning Lab to increase access to educational material.

And since 2002, Smithsonian Affiliations has collaborated with the Museo y Centro de Estudios Humamísticos to bring professional development to Puerto Rico to provide hands-on training to museum professionals to increase the representation of people of color in the museum field.

  • A group of people seated at two long tables in a library look at two monitors streaming a virtual lecture.
  • A group of people stand in an art gallery
  • A group of people stand around a table where an instructor points at a document.

Museology Workshops for Puerto Rican Professionals since 2002

Smithsonian Affiliations has collaborated with the Universidad del Turabo and other Affiliates and partners to offer a variety of regular workshops for Puerto Rican museum professionals, including collection conservation and care, exhibition design and education, development and museum governance.

While the global pandemic put a damper on our in-person professional development opportunities in 2020 and 2021, we are looking forward to picking thing up where we left off in 2019 and helping even more Affiliate staff reach their professional development goals in the future.

Previous posts from our 25th Anniversary series:

Chapter 1: The Ten Thousand Springs Pavilion Highlights the Best of Affiliate – Smithsonian collaboration

Chapter 2: National Youth Summits

Chapter 3: 10 Years of Reaching for the Stars Together

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