TAM Scholarships Empower Tennessee Museums

Each March, the Tennessee Association of Museums (TAM) hosts a statewide conference where museum professionals can share ideas, network, and explore museums across the state. Humanities Tennessee has offered scholarships for staff and volunteers to attend since 2003. Over the two decades of this initiative, HT has awarded scholarships to 387 individuals from 123 organizations. This ongoing commitment to provide opportunities for professional and organizational development of Tennessee’s museums and their humanities programming has and continues to result in a statewide network that includes museums of all sizes. 

Original TAM Scholarship Recipient Keeps Coming Back

Charlie Rhodarmer, Director of the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee, received one of the inaugural HT scholarships and has only missed three conferences in the years since. He remembered, “through the early 2000s we barely had two nickels to rub together at the museum…even back then I wouldn’t turn in my mileage unless it was over 100 miles. [The scholarship] was one of the things that helped the museum grow, and we’re a couple of levels down the road now.”

That new level includes an over 100% growth in the museum’s annual operating budget over two decades. Rhodarmer credits his board in general and its former chairman in particular with the museum’s expansion. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have also been financially supportive in addition to helping with museum programming.

For Rhodarmer, the friends he’s made and the community he’s found are what keep him coming back to TAM. Outside of the presentations and panel talks, he’s found that the interactions over solving small problems have been some of his most memorable TAM moments. “It re-energizes you,” he said.

Charlie Rhodarmer, Director of the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee at work

2024 TAM Scholarship Recipients

This year, HT awarded 13 scholarships to individuals from nine organizations. Shannon Bryant from The Mid South Military Museum in Atoka, Tennessee, applied for the scholarship for the learning experience. He attended the pre-conference Be a Museum Advocate workshop and  TAM Museum Day on the Hill. For Bryant, one thing he is taking home from TAM is ideas for packets he and his board members can put together to present information to state representatives and senators. 

Mark Pfaffenroth from Crossville’s Military Memorial Museum of Upper Cumberland also found the opportunity to meet legislators informative. He said, “I will be attending next year and paying for it myself as I felt this was an invaluable experience and will encourage one of our other volunteers to apply…and attend along with me.”

Alexa Moscardelli with History Associates of Wilson County, the nonprofit that operates the Fite-Fessenden House Museum Lebanon, originally, “thought that since our house museum was so small and all volunteer, we might feel out of place. But all the trained professionals were so welcoming, helpful, and engaging that we felt confident to interact with them and learn from them.”

Looking to the Future

After the conference, scholarship recipient Jeff Swanson from The U.S.S. Tennessee (BB-43) World War II Remembrance Museum in Huntsville, Tennessee, observed that “small museums need help to preserve the stories that they are trying to tell…we need to assess the value of ultra-small institutions, not in terms of monetary value but rather in terms of the communities that they serve, the history they are trying to preserve, and the educational experience that they afford…and direct more assistance to them.”

Humanities Tennessee is committed to providing funding support for public humanities programming throughout the state. Potential applicants have until May 6, 2024, to request an application for this year’s grant cycle. We will also continue to provide professional development opportunities, such as our upcoming Strategic Foresight Workshops, to support humanities professionals. Both of these offerings allow us to fulfill our mission to foster community and civility in Tennessee through public programs that examine and reflect upon ideas, stories, history, arts, and culture.