Mistakes Were Made: 2017 Edition

Mistakes, we all make them! The popular session at the American Alliance of Museum’s conference returned this year to give museum pros a chance to sit on the metaphorical therapist chair and admit their biggest career mistakes.

One of attendees’ favorite sessions at the annual AAM conference.

First let’s define a mistake in this context:

  • You had to apologize to your boss.
  • You wasted a lot of energy or money.
  • You lost credibility with your co-workers.
  • Your institution looked foolish or disorganized.

In fact, in an article promoting the session, there was a spelling mistake of the word “criticism” – so mistakes are everywhere.

The presenters told their own tales of accidents, misunderstandings, and faux pas. Jennifer Morgan, currently at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and the crowned winner last year sat on the panel for the session. She told a story of how she, as an intern at SFMOMA, was cleaning the conference room post-meeting and accidentally trashed a valuable sketch. After lying about its whereabouts, and then coming clean, the conservation department came to the rescue and repaired the damage.

Sean Kelley (moderator) from Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site receiving an award for a technically marketing campaign for a special exhibition.

The bulk of the session geared up to give away the official trophy for most epic mistake of AAM 2017. To determine the winner, attendees broke out into groups, told their mistakes in a round table format, and picked one semi-finalist to present to the entire session.  

From there, three finalists were chosen. This year’s top stories: 

  • Accidentally creating a 20 foot phallus on a roller coaster named the ‘InvadR’ (Winner!)
  • Printing the wrong number on advertising on the city trolley that was actually for a sex phone line.
  • Not securing a glass and accidentally severely cutting a co-worker, sending them to the emergency room.

Besides hearing hilarious epic failures, the session is an important staple at the conference each year. Why? Well, we need to get better about admitting our mistakes and practicing productive self-reflection. Creating and fostering a space that promotes open dialogue is a way to study the current professional landscape and move forward.

So if you’re hoping to attend next year – gather up your best and biggest blunders for the chance to take home the AAM Epic Failure Trophy!


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