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Congratulations to VAM's 2021 Award Winners

Comments from the Nominators & VAM Annual Meeting held March 17, 2021

Virginia Museum Innovation Award - Gunston Hall

The Innovation Award was created to recognize museums that demonstrate a commitment to use their platform as a trusted source of information to build relationships with and create meaningful impact within their community, and begin conversations around important topics affecting the museum field and the world at large. The award can be given in one of three categories: Diversity and Inclusion, Expanding Audience, and Community Engagement.

The winning museum entered in the Expanding Audience category.

Thriving during covid has prompted us to innovate in all ways. Our success has come through partnerships; increased programming, all digital; expanded web content; and an enhanced outdoor experience. Presenting programs digitally opens doors. Now able to co-present with others in far-flung areas, Gunston Hall embraced working with colleagues at other institutions. With the Hermitage in Tennessee and Marble House in Rhode Island, they presented a program on political ideas residents of each house discussed over drinks—just to name a couple of examples.

Embarking on a large-scale effort to expand an audience is difficult in the best of times. That Gunston Hall has done so when money is stretched so tightly is a demonstration that budgets do not need to curtail ambition. Gunston Hall’s work in 2020 proves that a small-to-midsize museum does not need to think small or have massive resources. The value of Gunston Hall’s work to the field is clear. By seeking partnerships, Gunston Hall expands not only its own audience, but also that of the collaborator. Both museums are able to share the costs of the program while increasing their own name recognition. Better yet, is the deeper community that is created. These partnerships offer ways to share ideas and see an institution’s mission in a new light, an important consideration when many of the traditional ways that this dialogue occurs--conferences, professional visitation, and the like--have been changed or halted entirely. Pulling off an audience expansion on a small budget is no small feat. It is considerably easier to reach new people when an institution can spend lots of money on the problem. However, large advertising budgets and marketing teams are not available for many museums. Faced with this issue, Gunston Hall staff have creatively innovated to expand the audience. One tactic has been getting the entire organization involved. Everyone, from the horticulturist to guest services to curatorial staff, has come together to reimagine programing or develop online content. Each team member brings a unique perspective that fuels creativity and further collaboration. These factors have made this year one of Gunston Hall’s most innovative and successful, despite--or perhaps because of--the challenges. The organization that emerges from this time will be different, speaking to a larger audience about the museum’s core mission. They will continue the practices that have helped us grow and improve. Gunston Hall will also be better situated to help guide the field as a whole to meet whatever challenges lie ahead.


Virginia Museum Educator Award 2021 - Sarah Rasich

We are proud to present this award, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Education, to a museum educator in Virginia who best demonstrates a long- term commitment to high quality k-12 educational experiences in their organization.

Sarah Rasich is currently the Distance Learning Content Specialist at VMFA. Over the last 4 years at the museum, Sarah has developed a robust distance learning program. The program is innovative, student-centered, and has elevated VMFA as a leader in the field of virtual learning, with museums in Virginia and across the country frequently seeking advice and guidance. The program live streams sessions for grades 3-12 and the collegiate level from the galleries, where audiences can get an idea of individual works of art as we

ll as the gallery space. An instructor presents the sessions, while Sarah usually operates a mobile cart with computer and camera. Sarah and the Distance Learning Educator work together to ensure that the program is iterative, involving consistent reflection on practice and ensuring the goals of each session meet the needs of students. Great care is given to exploring and understanding what type of learning occurs in sessions, gleaning impressions from teacher, student, and staff perspectives. This three-pronged approach to evaluation allows the program to continually develop and improve, ensuring the experience provides opportunities for skill building in creative and critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.

When COVID hit and live gallery sessions were no longer possible due to museum closure, mask requirements and social distancing, Sarah seamlessly pivoted and developed ways to continue the program with a gallery component. This involves utilizing remote control access so that the instructor does not need to be onsite, making it safer for themselves, gallery associates, and visitors. Sarah has also worked hard to develop many asynchronous online resources that support the distance learning program as well as VMFA’s collection in general. She has introduced many applications to the online resource site Learn, that have made VMFA's resources more interactive, student centered, and engaging. Seeing additional opportunities for the program, she has begun developing a learning management system for VMFA, that will allow for an increase in future online classes and creation of modules for students and teachers. Sarah has also made contacts across the state and created courses with Virtual Virginia and put VMFA resources on GoOpen Va. She is greatly helping promote VMFA’s resources, collection, and programming across the state while also identifying areas for program growth including age group, geographic reach, and subject area.


Ann Brownson Award for Outstanding Service to the Virginia Museum Field - Richard Josey

The Ann Brownson Award is given annually to an individual who has given outstanding service to the Virginia museum community. It was established in 1999 to honor the service and accomplishments of Ann Brownson, who provided spirted leadership as a member of VAM’s Board from 1991 to 1999.

It is truly an honor to announce that this year’s recipient is, Richard Josey.

I hope you had a chance to participate in his sessions on Monday, but if not please watch them online. A little bit about Richard. He began his career building inclusive narratives at Colonial Williamsburg as a history interpreter of African American experiences in the  17th and 18th centuries, including slavery. In 2001 he became manager of interpretation programs, and soon after supervised staff programs that crossed class race and gender boundaries. In 2012, he moved to the Minnesota Historical Society where he directed the development of interpretive programs and provided administrative supervision for the society’s network of 26 historic sites and museums.

Today, he is back in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and for the last year Richard has generously shared his time, his talents, and his commitment to the Virginia museum community to create inclusive narratives and sustainable community relationships. From workshops on inclusive behaviors of an organization to our weekly DEAI Tuesday Talks, Richard has helped us navigate the pandemic and our own personal DEAI journeys.

Thank you Richard, and thank you for being a mentor to our VAM members on their collective journeys.