AAM: What’s in a Name?

New AAM website

If you visited last week you may have been surprised by the unannounced soft launch of the new website design.

I received several texts and Facebook messages from colleagues regarding the silent update. My initial response was, “wow, the website looks much better” followed by, “what is that logo?” followed by, “is that a new name?”

Why yes, yes it is.

The American Association of Museums is now (officially) the American Alliance of Museums.

So what? Is there really that much of a difference between an association and an alliance?

Noun: A group of people organized for a joint purpose

Noun: A union or association formed for mutual benefit

Um, yes. An email from AAM President Ford Bell, sent to members this morning, states, “Our new middle name signals our resolve to unite the entire field and speak with a strong, clear voice in making the case that museums are essential to our communities.”

How can we get art museums, history institutions, children’s museums, science museums, zoo and aquariums to all play nice together? It hasn’t always been easy. As an Engaging Places blog post rightly pointed out, “Those of us in the history field often felt like outsiders at AAM, which seemed to be dominated by art museums, our classier and richer cousins.” That’s certainly not the first time I’ve heard this. Truth be told, AAM’s old membership structure was simply out of reach for many under-funded institutions, no matter their intellectual concentration. Art museums often get picked on for being so well funded at the expense of other institutions, but as we all know, this is not the case for all art museums. In truth, almost all museums, regardless of focus, are struggling and competing for ever decreasing funding. AAM has clearly recognized this and, by re-branding themselves as an alliance, may be able to bridge that gap between individual institutional focus and what’s really at stake for our communities.

Imagine a world without museums, where you could never see a Titian masterpiece, in person, in all of its glory; where Sue the T.Rex is only in picture books; where the battle flags of the Civil War are hidden away in closed storage; where ZooBooks are the only connection children will ever have with the living collections of zoos and aquariums. Each of these experiences are different, and may come from a unique institutional focus – but they are each educational and inspirational, and they are all part of the AAM family.

I couldn’t agree more with Ford Bell: Museums ARE essential.

So, what does this branding shift mean? What’s actually changing? How is AAM going to help museum professionals and their institutions be the best they can be?

Their answer: Accessibility of both AAM membership and the accreditation process.

Membership Changes at a Glance*

  • Tiered institutional membership so you can choose your level of engagement and benefits
  • Dues based on your museum’s staff size, or what you can pay, so all museums can belong
  • An all-staff package of individual memberships at one low price
  • An opportunity to pass on discounts (20-50% off) to staff to purchase individual memberships
  • A new, easy-to-navigate website with thousands of resources to help you and your museum succeed
  • Access to 22 professional networks at no additional cost for Individual Professional members

The Continuum of Excellence*

Multiple entry points and customized assistance to reach higher levels of recognition.

  • Two new programs to prepare for accreditation—Core Documents Verification and the Pledge of Excellence—encourage professionalism through standards of excellence and recognition of participating museums with different levels of achievement
  • A streamlined, online accreditation program taking about 50% less time to complete
  • Cooperative partnerships with other museum associations reducing the time and steps needed to become accredited

*All of this information is outlined on

So, there it is. What do you think? Are you currently a member of AAM? Do you plan to become one? What is your impression of the changes AAM is making? What are you most excited about? What are your biggest questions?

4 thoughts on “AAM: What’s in a Name?

  1. I had the chance to preview the changes before the launch and overall I think it’s a bold step in the right direction. It’s funny that history museums feel forgotten at AAM. When I attended the annual conference, I struggled to find other art museum professionals. 🙂

    I’m most excited about the adjustments in pricing for membership as I know this has been a major deterrent for individuals and museums with smaller staffs, and the fact that you don’t have to pay extra to join professional networks anymore. Anything that can be done to help museum professionals realize that we’re all in this together is fantastic in my book.

    • Thanks for your comment, Adrianne! I’m also excited about the adjustments in membership. More accessibility = A larger, more connected network. We’re all in this together.

  2. Love the membership changes and the accreditation changes, but I am still left with a bit of frustration about the way the changes went about. It seemed awfully fast and with no graduated “something’s coming!” at all.

  3. I agree with Adrianne on the issue of membership pricing and accessibility. If this is the biggest change that the shift from an Association to an Alliance offers, it is a great first step. As an advocacy organization, AAM is dependent as much on its members voices as it is on their money… Bringing as many engaged organizations and individuals to the table (and hopefully to the bullhorn, town square and/or congressional committee room) is essential to sustaining the very important work museums of all varieties do.

    Though I’m often skeptical of brand shifts as a primary influence maker, the underlying shifts in strategy are exciting and I can’t wait to see how they impact the effectiveness of AAM, both to its members and the broader community at large.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s