Museums Galleries Australia National Conference: Day 3

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You know it has been a good day at a conference when your phone battery is on 1% and you have Twitter fatigue. You also start to realise that a portable charger might be a sound investment and you will definitely be acquiring one before the next conference.

I’m trying to structure each blog post a little differently. Yesterday, I summarised a few of the talks, mainly going through what I liked about the day. Today, I’m going to provide a breakdown of what I did throughout the day. I am so grateful to have Twitter helping me out on this one.

9.00 am – 10.30 am

I arrived at the conference venue and eagerly awaited the presentation by Simon Chaplin (Director of the Wellcome Trust) and Brian Lobel (performer, teacher and curator). In summary, their presentation was incredible.

Chaplin spoke first on the role of the Wellcome Collection in challenging what is comfortable in a museum space. While he admitted there was still so much more to do, the Wellcome Collection must be applauded for the work they are already doing. Looking at health, rather than a history of medicine, has produced much more contemporary exhibitions and actually resulted in stronger connections with audiences.

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Following Chaplin was Lobel, speaking so powerfully about cancer, disabilities and who museums include/exclude whether intentional or not. He then asked Chaplin some hard-hitting questions on behalf of an anonymous individual. One question was, when do ‘curious’ audiences become gawking audiences? Chaplin answered that we are now moving away from ‘otherness’ being a curiosity. Rather, there are more efforts being made to understand the other and not present this as a curiosity.

Both Lobel and Chaplin then posed a question to the audience, who is absent from your museum or gallery, and why? After intense discussion, some of the groups shared their discoveries. Both are really imporant questions that we need to keep asking ourselves.

11.15 am – 12.30 pm

I was going to stay at the ‘you can’t ask that….’ session that posed questions, written by conference attendees, to some of the top Directors in Australia. The questions, however, weren’t juicy enough so I left and saw ‘being an agent of change’.

The only talk I managed to see in its entirety was ‘Queer/ing curatorial practice: ‘Good thinking 99!’, by Nikki Sullivan and Craig Middleton. The combination of performance and presentation was not only a lot of fun, but, communicated some very important issues. Sullivan and Middleton handed out their ‘The KINQ Manifesto’. KINQ stands for ‘Knowledge Industries Need Queering’. This involves understanding that all museums are sex museums, museums are complicit in heteronormative disciplining of sex, museums have consistently functioned as an institution that defines sexual perversity, the straight and narrow must be renounced and both the praises and limitations of queer curatorship need to be recognised.

According to Sullivan and Middleton, queer/ing curatorial practice is not about, for example, re-labelling objects, but, creating an environment where new meanings can be applied to what’s on display. A really interesting talk and I cannot wait to read their book when it’s published.

12.45 pm – 1.45 pm

During this hour we listened to two speakers, Nathan Sentance and Viviane Gosselin.

Sentance presented on his blog, Archival Decolonist. You can find a link to the blog here. During his presentation, Sentance revealed what he wants people to take away from his blog – see the list below. Sentance also presented on the importance of letting Indigenous communities decide on what should and should not be shared from their history and how Indigenous material should be treated.

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Next in the session was Viviane Gosselin who presented on the Museum of Vancouver and first nations engagement. One really good point to take away from this presentation is that museums need to pay their knowledge consultants! This term basically means anyone who is providing information about a community, culture, etc.

3.15 pm – 4.30 pm

This is when the Twitter fatigue really hit. For this session, I sat in on a series of lightning talks. There were some beautiful graphics shared by Will and Jessica Gouthro exploring how science and art should be combined.

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It was also great to hear from Em Blamey from the National Maritime Museum about their pull-up banner exhibitions. We have displayed two of these exhibitions and we cannot wait to display their new one, Submerged, next year!

5.00 pm – 6.00 pm

For the final presentation of the day, we had the Director’s cut. Lynley Marshall from Museums Victoria, Chris Saines from the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art and Mathew Trinca from the National Museum of Australia all spoke a bit about what they do and how their institutions operate.

6.30 pm

Last, but not least, was the conference dinner. It was a really lovely evening filled with Viking music from History Up Close and dare I say, some networking.

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I cannot believe that this was the second last day of the conference! Tune in tomorrow for my final recap.

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