Arkansas Museums Association

The Arkansas Museums Association (AMA) is an organization of museums and museum personnel dedicated to the promotion of professional standards in Arkansas museums, the encouragement of interaction among members, and the development of public support for—and interest in—Arkansas museums. The AMA is governed by a board of directors, elected by its members. The board consists of a president, vice president (also the president-elect), immediate past president, secretary, treasurer, two representatives from each of the AMA’s four districts, a membership director, and a communications director.

The Arkansas Museums Association was founded in 1966. Arkansans working with historical, artistic, and cultural organizations realized the need for a state association to advance the goals of the museum community. Peg Newton Smith, wife of Arkansas Supreme Court justice George Rose Smith and chairperson of the Quapaw Quarter Association, initiated a workshop at the Museum of Science and Natural History in MacArthur Park, current site of the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History. Dr. John L. Ferguson, director of the Arkansas History Commission (now called the Arkansas State Archives), presented a paper to the twenty-six participants. A survey of the participants revealed a lack of regional and national involvement with professional organizations, so a temporary association was formed, with Dr. Eugene B. Wittlake of the Arkansas State College Museum (now the Arkansas State University Museum) as chairperson.

Wittlake conducted a survey of museum personnel, leading to the formation of the Arkansas Association of Museums, which was renamed the Arkansas Museums Association prior to ratification of the association’s constitution. Wittlake was the first president, while Bernard T. Campbell of Hot Springs National Park, Mary Tournage Youree of the Arkansas City Museum, and Albert Giles of the Arkansas Tech Museum held the remaining officer positions.

In 1967, the newly formed AMA hosted the annual Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC) meeting. While a success, it resulted in depleted funding. Meetings continued through the next few years, but without money to carry out objectives, the AMA began to falter.

By 1971, the AMA was virtually a skeleton organization. The 1976 Bicentennial is largely credited with reviving the struggling AMA, along with a group of conservators based in Cooperstown, New York, who were working at what was then the Arkansas Territorial Restoration (now the Historic Arkansas Museum) in Little Rock (Pulaski County). While the National Endowment for the Arts’ Museum Program funded the Arkansas Museum Services, the AMA was still trying to be an independent, local organization for all museums. The AMA followed the national trend of the late 1970s and 1980s, working toward the professionalization of the field, even in the smallest communities. It began to advocate for its members, proposing a bill to establish a state advisory board to assist museums. That bill failed, but a similar act in 1979 succeeded. Historical Resources and Museum Services became a part of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, advising museums throughout the state. Though the department was later discontinued, the AMA continued to grow, eventually taking on its modern role.

The AMA advocates for museums around the state, including promoting and assisting in passing the Museum Property Act in 2005. Developed in conjunction with the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, Division of State Parks, the act allows a museum to claim ownership of undocumented artifacts and abandoned loans, a major issue in the management of artifacts.

The AMA continues to provide educational opportunities for its members, including an annual meeting each March. In order to facilitate attendance and participation throughout the state, the meeting rotates between central Arkansas and areas outside the thirty-mile radius from Little Rock. The AMA also offers a mentor program at the time of the meeting, matching a more experienced mentor with a person in a similar area of museum work, preferably in his or her geographic area. Each annual conference includes an awards dinner. The Peg Newton Smith Award goes to a person in the Arkansas museum community who has given outstanding service and made significant contributions to the field.

One of the most meaningful contributions made by the AMA to the museum community is scholarships, both for its annual meeting and for other professional development opportunities. An AMA member may apply for funding to attend other meetings or trainings, even at the national level. The AMA also offers a dedicated scholarship to the Jekyll Island Management Institute, an intensive, multi-week, museum training program presented by the Southeastern Museums Conference.

For additional information:
Arkansas Museums Association. (accessed November 17, 2020).

Marci Bynum Robertson
Arkansas Arts Center


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