Before I say anything about the conference, I encourage anyone reading this who is not on Twitter to immediately open a new tab, go to Twitter and join. It is such a valuable tool in connecting museum professionals. It’s also a great place to see absolutely everything happening at the Museums Galleries 2018 Conference. Follow #MGAconf2018, sit back, pour a glass of wine (or whatever you like) and enjoy.
Today was probably one of the best days I have ever had a conference. It was informative, fun, and ended in me acquiring a gold dinosaur trophy. More on that last part later. I don’t quite know how to summarise the day. Every talk was like hitting the nail on the head in terms of being interesting and actually addressing the theme of the conference, ‘Agents of Change’.
I am going to focus my post on three talks. Mainly because without this kind of structure I might end up writing a 700 page article that even I wouldn’t want to read.
1. Kaywin Feldman – Feminisim: No Longer the “F” Word
Our second plenary speaker of the day was Kaywin Feldman from the Minneapolis Institute of Art. I will note that the first speaker, Karen Mundine from Reconciliation Australia, did an incredible job discussing the role of museum professionals as truth-tellers. We need to grasp this concept before becoming agents of change. After all, our institutions disseminate stories and can have great impact.
I was really excited to hear what Feldman had to say. She started by discussing the Guerilla Girls and how they are not really adapting to the modern world. Feminism is now everywhere and we shouldn’t have to wear masks while fighting for inclusion. I thought this was a particularly thought-provoking point.
After going through some statistics on how women are under-represented in leadership positions and how the industry is low-paying because it is majority female, we were hit with this quote:
The writing is very small so if you can’t read it please see below:
“When someone with the authority of a teacher describes the world and you’re not in it, there’s a moment of physic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing.” by Adrienne Rich.
Now there are some days when quotes just hit me particularly hard right in the feels. This was one of the days. It is such a powerful quote and I will forever refer to lack of representation as a physic disequilibrium. Having diverse role models and leaders celebrated is not something to ignore. Do you want your visitors, as the quote states, to feel as though they are looking at one giant mirror and not seeing themselves? Making those who were once invisible, visible, has an enormous impact. The role of museums in making this happen cannot be considered anything but necessary.
Feldman provided the example of an exhibition on leadership that only really displayed white men. Now if you’re not a white man viewing this exhibition, you are not going to leave feeling empowered that you can be a leader. It isn’t token if it’s done correctly, its inclusionary and vital.
2. Zoe Meagher and Rebecca Carland – Turning the Museum Inside Out
Last year I wrote a blog piece thanking Dr Kate Armstrong and Marni Pilgrim for talking about a program they had implemented that essentially failed. To quote a song, I was Wishin’ And Hopin’ for something similar at this conference. A huge thank you to Meagher and Carland for delivering!
They spoke on the exhibition unveiled at Melbourne Museum in 2017 called Inside Out. This exhibition was quoted as a ‘love song to Museum Victoria’s collection’ (source). I would like to build a time machine, go back to 2017 and see this exhibition for myself!
After introducing audiences to the exhibition, Meagher and Carland went through what worked and what didn’t. Or, in their words, ‘Oh God, never…’ Through sharing some humerous reviews and stories, the presenters were able to really drill down into the exhibition in a way that was both hilarious and insightful.
I enjoyed learning about how it’s ok to prioritise feeling over learning in an exhibition. In saying that, if you’re going to do something too different to what people expect, you need to ease them into it to avoid alienation. Other topics discussed included practicalities such as when to open this type of exhibition and ticketing. Basically, don’t charge for this kind of abstract exhibition when it’s on display over the Christmas holidays and is competing with other free attractions.
I cannot stress enough that you learn more from failures than from what is deemed a success. Hearing what they had learnt from this exhibition was just refreshing. More of this next year please!!
3. Michael O’Sullivan – Turning Fiction into Fact – Designing the Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe
It is no surpirse that I was going to talk about this presentation. I’ll say it again for the people at the back of the room – I am a huge Marvel fan. I travelled from Sydney twice to see this exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA). I was not disappointed. Hearing about the exhibition from a behind-the-scenes perspective made me a – insanely jealous and b – more aware of how blockbuster exhibitions are constructed.
To research this exhibition, staff watched all twelve Marvel films that existed at this time. I can tell you now that I would be overqualified for this research role. It was also interesting to hear why this exhibition came to QAGOMA. The catalyst for the exhibition was the filming of Thor Ragnarok taking place in Brisbane.
Select staff travelled to Marvel headquarters in Los Angeles and discussed what they would like to display and the stories they wanted to tell. I was legitimately cheering from the back when O’Sullivan made the point that just because these are blockbuster films it doesn’t mean the costuming and set designs aren’t works of art. The time and energy that goes into making these films is phenomenal.
We were then taken through the design of the exhibition, the display of costumes and objects, and the rationale behind the entire display. Basically, it wasn’t just a ‘hey look at this cool Marvel stuff’ display. It was actually an avenue to introduce people to animation, digital effects and what happens post-production.
It managed to attract over 270, 000 visitors which is massive. I would really like to know if any of these visitors have returned to the gallery since the exhibition. Blockbusters are great in attracting new audiences, but, do they produce repeat visitors who come back for more?
That was just a small taste of what was on offer today. Just quickly, I dropped into the session ‘Younger and Wiser’ and I just want to say that wow, yes, agree, agree, agree. Give younger workers a chance to prove that wisdom doesn’t just come with age. We have so many amazing skills to offer and the industry needs to grow and change so that we have a place. I could write an entire blog post on just how much I agree with the comments made in this session. Maybe something post-conference?
If you have stayed with me, I should explain the gold dinosaur. In the unofficial trivia night of Museums Galleries Australia, our team, Trivia Newton-John, came second. This beautiful gold trophy is going to travel from Melbourne to Gladstone and probably end up with its very own display case.
I have to thank everyone who contributed to making today a truly incredible day. Good luck to those presenting tomorrow! I will be glued to my phone live tweeting the conference.