The Arkansas Museums Association held their annual conference in Pine Bluff this year with informational seminars and activities scheduled from Tuesday through Thursday. Wednesday night, they honored members of the association during an awards banquet at the John Fallis Waterfront Facility in Regional Park.

The Arkansas Museums Association is an organization of museums and museum personnel that’s dedicated to the promotion of professional standards in Arkansas museums and the encouragement of interaction between members.

One of the ways they encourage interaction is by getting museum personnel together once a year for a conference held in different cities throughout the state. This year’s conference was held in Pine Bluff with the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas, Arkansas Railroad Museum and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Hathaway Fine Arts Building as hosts.

“It changes location in the state every year, and we do that so the museum professionals from across the state can go to different areas and experience those museums in those communities and really see and experience the communities around the museums,” Heather Marie Wells, president of the board, said.

Wells said this year their experience was centered on the musical history of Pine Bluff. Tuesday night, they were given a “rock me baby” tour through the city, where they learned about Pine Bluff’s history in blues music and movies.

“We learned the history of the city through its buildings and architecture and who all have come through Pine Bluff and how they influenced the culture as far as famous musicians,” Wells said. “It was really fun and very educational -- very eye-opening.”

In addition to learning about some of Pine Bluff’s history, Wells said they had professional development sessions that covered the use of technology in museums, project management and curating exhibitions.

Thursday night, Arkansas Museums Association members gathered in John Fallis Waterfront Facility for a grilled chicken dinner catered by Scott Ray Catering of White Hall and to find out the “who’s who” during their annual awards banquet.

Shane Lind, membership director from the Museum of Arkansas Military History, co-hosted the event with former board president Kathleen Pate

The following museums were honored: Old Independence Museum in Batesville for Outstanding Achievement in exhibitions for their “Taking it to the Sky” exhibition; Calico Rock Museum in Calico Rock for Outstanding Achievement in education for their “Adventures in Science” exhibition and Outstanding Achievement in Media; Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock for their “Don’t Touch My Crown” exhibition; and MacArthur Military History for Outstanding achievement in collections care and conservation.

Four volunteers were awarded for their service, and one walked away with the volunteer of the year award.

“It doesn’t matter how large your museum is or how small it is everyone knows the importance of volunteers, and we couldn’t a lot of things that we do without our volunteers,” Lind said. “I wanted to make sure everyone that was nominated for volunteer of the year was recognized because they are the heart and soul of our organizations”

The following volunteers were recognized: Tom Gray, Ron Winter, Darren Irby and Angela Ryland. Ann Kabanuck was awarded volunteer of the year.

Stephen McAteer from MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History received the distinguished museum professional of the year award, and Kyna Stys, a graduate student at University of Arkansas at Little Rock, received the graduate of the year award.

The most distinguished award of the night was the Peg Newton Smith Lifetime Achievement award, an award named after Peg Newton Smith, who was the founder of the Arkansas Museum Association as well as the Quapaw Quarter Association.

The award recognizes significant and ongoing contributions to the preservation of Arkansas Heritage through lifelong involvement in the museum community.

This year’s recipient was Elizabeth Gaines, who was unable to attend the banquet to her receive award. Pate spoke highly of Gaines and about how she was a volunteer at an event called “Frontier Fourth of July” that served watermelon and lemonade.

Pate said she didn’t have enough lemonade pitchers, and Gaines told her they would “figure it out.” The next year, she forgot the pitchers again, and Gaines saved her. Again.

“Elizabeth Gaines is a problem solver,” Pate said. “They said when life gives you lemons you make lemonade -- I just hope Elizabeth is there with the pitcher. Her commitment to professional growth and development is unmatched. She has helped me in more ways that I can’t begin to tell you. Ninety-five percent of the reason that we are having this year’s conference in Pine Bluff is because I have been waiting to give this award to Elizabeth.”

Pate, who has been on the Arkansas Museums Association board for 10 years, served her last year on the board in 2018 as board president. Wells presented her with a special gift and flowers to thank her for her service.