Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

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How does the conference work: Everything else

Having previously reviewed the venue, staff, food and publications related efforts and costs, in this last blog posting about the conference I’ll discuss a number of miscellaneous issues including the pre-conference events and exhibits that are important components of the overall program. Finally, I'll pose a question we've been noodling, about whether it makes sense to have a "membership" in Museums and the Web.

Jennifer and I usually arrive at the hotel on the Monday of the conference. Our first task is to get thousands of pages of materials needed by delegates and instructors photocopied. Recently we’ve been trying to limit the number of trees we consume by reducing the size of the pre-registration list (printed this year with name, title, institution and country after Jennifer created a method to contact individuals through the online site), still we go through dozens of reams ($787).

Before the conference begins, volunteer students from universities throughout the world, spend the Tuesday afternoon assembling the attendees packets (in return for this and other help during the meeting, we provide about 15 students free registration to the conference). The conference program and pre-registration lists are collated with brochures provided by exhibitors, the local institutions, and tourist boards and inserted into the registration packet. This year, so many attendees ‘voted’ on their registration forms not to receive a registration packet in order to contribute to the greenness of the meeting, that we elected to obtain recycled shopping bags as the registration packets for everyone, rather than using more expensive packets for some and paper bags (as in Montreal) for those who declined ($750). The volunteers also assembled tickets to events and workshops and ribbons for attendees name badges and placed all these in the appropriate envelopes. By the end of the day Tuesday, all the packets and registration materials are ready for distribution.

Each year we ask local institutions if they are willing to host a briefing and tour of the new media activities by MW delegates on the Tuesday prior to the start of the conference. These tours have become a favorite component of the program for some regular attendees since they get a close up, behind the scenes, view of the workings of other museums. Foreign delegates, who must in any case often travel to the meeting early in order to overcome jet lag, especially appreciate the immersion in local practice. Unfortunately the space limitations in most of our host institutions means that each tour, to three different venues, is limited to 20 participants. Frequently they are sold out early. Organizing the pre-conference tours begins in the fall and involves arranging for transportation for 20 ($725 this year since one tour was on foot) and lunch ($457).

Pre-conference workshops are held on the Wednesday prior to each meeting. I contract with instructors to give half day and full day workshops on topics that we know are on the minds of those who will attend. Instructors are paid a modest $750 per half day for this work and setting up the av and networking for the conference rooms used for the workshops cost us an additional $980 per room including contract staff time. Coffee breaks and lunch are provided for workshop attendees ($8370), so the entire day becomes expensive enough that the registration fees of $175 per ½ day and $300 per full day cover the costs only when registration exceeds an average of 12 per session.

On Thursday morning, exhibitors begin to move in to the exhibit hall. Booths with electricity ($1200) and internet connections ($2000) provided under contract with the hotel and our computer/networking contractors, are ready for them and might be further equipped with monitors and computers rented from us so that all they need do is plug in their laptop or turn on a computer. The exhibitors pay for the booths being set up ($1540) and for equipment rental (6450), both of which are used later by the demos on Saturday, as well as for the exhibitors reception ($20,130 this year).

In the spirit of total disclosure, I should mention a variety of other expenses charged to the conference that are not linked to a specific program element. Our travel and shipping materials to the meeting ($2500), scholarships to third world attendees (usually $3-5,000), donations to carbon offsets (last year $2774), software development on the conference site (ave. of $2000 p.a. over past few years), advertising ($260) and miscellaneous hotel expenses (c.$2000).

Some conference run by professional associations have two rates – one for members and one for non-members. We have considered having a ‘membership; in Museums and the Web that would entitle members to receive a discount in years they could attend and a copy of the Proceedings in years that they were unable to come. We’d love feedback on this idea.