Australian Museums and Galleries Association Conference Day 2

Day 2 of the conference can be divided in half. In the morning we had the final regional, remote & community day(s) sessions. In the afternoon, the start of the official conference. Similar to the post from yesterday, I’m going to basically outline my day and share any highlights and insights. I do want to make it clear that this post will serve as a summary. For those who can’t make the conference, or for those who joined other concurrent sessions, I hope there is something in it for you. This also extends to all other conference posts.

9.00 am

This morning was the final plenary talk for the regional, remote and community day(s). Although technically one day, because it was spread over the afternoon of Monday and morning of Tuesday, I’ve used the (s). To start, we had a panel talk featuring Veronica Perrurle Dobson AM, Fiona Walsh, Daniel Featherstone, Clare Fisher and Kelly Lee Hickey. Each offered some incredible insights into what it means to be at the conference telling their stories about Mparntwe – Alice Springs.

There were a couple of highlight moments. The first was courtesy of Veronica Perrurle Dobson AM who used technology to overlay Indigenous cultural stories on today’s physical landscape. The yeperenye caterpillar were digitally placed on the map to help visualise their story and show the sacred sites. Dobson spoke about the significance of passing these stories on to the younger generation and keeping them safe in cultural institutions.

Another highlight, for me, was the talk presented by Clare Fisher, Manager of Library Services at the Alice Springs Public Library. To put things in perspective, this library welcomes over 500 visitors a day, that’s 15 000 a month. Around 42% of all Alice Springs residents are members. This is absolutely incredible. The range of programs and events on offer prove that this library is doing exactly what Fisher said, adapting and evolving. This includes, among many other things, offering family and youth programs and digital spaces. As Fisher said, you have to listen to your community, see what they want and reflect it back.

10.00 am

After the panel we heard from Mandy Paul who is the Director of the Migration Museum. With my historian cap on, I found this to be a very interesting talk that looked at how museums must engage with the complexity of the past and not simplify issues. We must acknowledge that museums are part of the colonial archive and work against this context to become more inclusive and reflexive. This means, for example, realising that source material you may need for an exhibition that covers an aspect of Australia might not be in English.

11.00 am

It is always difficult to choose between concurrent sessions. I decided to go with Session 3A because not only did it sound like a great group of talks, but, I also wanted to support a previous boss of mine, Bethany MacRae (shout out!).

There were three talks and I really just want to focus on one common theme that ran between the first two – that of challenges and learning from what doesn’t work. It is really refreshing at a conference like this to hear about what goes wrong.

The first speaker to address this theme was Fiona McFadyen from the Shoalhaven Regional Gallery who spoke about an artist-in-residence program that was a little testing. Support from the community was lacking as they were unsure of who the artist was and why they should offer support. In the end, the exhibition turned out great but it wasn’t without a lot of speed bumps along the way. For example, public programs weren’t well received and the traditional advertising routes that often work for the Gallery, all of a sudden weren’t attracting responses.

I really want to focus on the talk by Bethany MacRae who really spoke to this theme well. MacRae achieved this by comparing and contrasting two exhibitions – Living Hurstville and St George on a Sunday. In the former, the Hurstville Museum & Gallery staff tried to remain in control of the project from start to finish. Just briefly, the project was to interview and photograph residents who live in the Georges River Council. Museum & Gallery staff controlled the schedule for photography, who was the photographer and all the administration and paperwork associated. Although this did mean they knew exactly what stage the project was up to, it was a lot of time and energy.

In the latter project, the Museum & Gallery teamed up with TAFE, allowing students to take some of that control and, for example, photograph participants and work out a suitable schedule. Unlike the former, the focus of this exhibition was more on the leisure activities of those living in the Georges River Council. While both posed their own challenges, such as the photographer from council not always being available and TAFE restructures and re-scheduling, there were some pretty important overall lessons learnt. My favourite was that administration is inevitable and that you must remain as flexible as possible with a project starting collaboration as early as possible.

I really want to say a huge thank you to speakers who are boldly going into challenges they have faced.

1.30 pm

The start of the official national conference. After a beautiful Welcome to Country, we had our first plenary by Matthew Pinta Tjapangati, Luke Scholes and Bobby West Tjupurrula. They spoke on the exhibition Tjungunutja: from having come together that was curated in 2017 and displays Papunya artworks. It is now on display at The Galleries in the Araluen Arts Centre. In total, there are over 80 works that reflect the significance of the Western Desert art movement.

3.30 pm

This time, and for me, it was an easy choice which concurrent session to attend. The lightning sessions are a fantastic way to hear a little about a lot. Here are all the presenters and what they had to discuss:

1. Tracey Avery – Arts & Heritage Consultant

The first speaker looked at a serious of climate change adaptation plans and realised that cultural institutions are not included. Avery argued that we need to make a list of what is significant in our collections, nationally, and how these objects can be protected from climate change.

2. Adam Yates – Senior Curator of Earth Science (Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory)

I was especially looking forward to this talk because it had the word Megafauna in the title. In this presentation on reconstructing Baru, a million year old crocodile, Yates explored how 3D printing could be utilised to create a skeleton. This did mean using 6 machines non-stop over 3 months to meet the printing goals. I am hoping to find time and visit the 3D printed skeleton at Megafauna Central.

3. Emma Williams – Curator (Albury Library Museum)

Emma Williams explored how to curate from a private collection. In this instance, an exhibition based on a collection of Charlie Chaplin memorabilia.

4. Yael Filipovic – Public Engagement Manager (Museum of Contemporary Art)

Yael Filipovic presented six ways in which museums can spark difficult conversations. This is through starting with the art as a point of discussion, creating a safe space, using different formats to spark conversations (i.e. workshops, programs), ensuring space is set aside for the unplanned, include voices that aren’t usually in the conversation, and have fun.

5. Michael Rampe – Senior Learning Designer (Australian History Museum)

This was an amazing presentation looking at how digital technology can be used at heritage sites. One particular case study, on the Macquarie Lighthouse, had objects scanned from the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences that were originally in the lighthouse. They were then added back to the lighthouse digitally and could be seen through an AR experience.

6. Sarah Ozolins – Head of International and Domestic Engagement (National Museum of Australia)

It was at this stage I could feel my eyes getting heavier and heavier. So much information in one day! Ozolins spoke on the absolutely extensive international touring program of the National Museum. Not just exhibition touring, but, running public and education programs. I cannot believe the reach with around 50 countries having received an exhibition from the National Museum.

7. Sarah Reeves – Assistant Curator (Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences)

Sarah Reeves spoke on the Inside the Collection blog and how it has been transformed and regenerated. Reeves shared ways in which you can re-evaluate your museum blog including promoting it on social media, improving wayfinding online, increasing staff contribution, implementing a regular post schedule and re-visiting content.

8. Caddie Brain

Our final speaker for the session is behind the creation of the Darwin Audio Tour. If you are ever in Darwin (or even somewhere else wanting to hear the history and sounds of Darwin) download the app and enjoy the tour.

5.30 pm

To finish the day, we all gathered for a Smoking Ceremony and the welcome reception.

I am greatly looking forward to the program tomorrow and having the opportunity to speak at my first Australian Museums and Galleries Association Conference!

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