What another fantastic day at the Australian Museums and Galleries Association Conference. I am truly grateful to be able to attend and listen to some incredible speakers from all over the country (and internationally). The good news is, there are still two days to go! As per usual, I will be writing this post to basically provide a summary of my day. Because literally so much happened, I am going to try my best to pick out some of the key points from all talks and spend longer on those that I feel left me with food for thought.
First speaker for the plenary this morning was Neil MacGregor who was the former Director of the British Museum and is now working with the Humboldt Forum. I won’t say a lot about this presentation because it skirted some of the most significant issues I wish had been addressed, i.e. Indigenous objects in the British Museum. There were a few interesting points raised including the role of the museum in reflecting and shaping identities. MacGregor also asked a lot of questions for the audience to contemplate. My favourite was, can museums be a place of atonement? I most definitely think museums need to engage in difficult conversations, but, I’ve never thought about whether or not museums can serve this specific function.
As well as identity, MacGregor raised issues of decolonisation. It would have been nice to have these related to an Australian context. I’m saying this primarily because it was a plenary presentation. Instead, MacGregor focused on case studies in Berlin, America, the United Kingdom and Palestine, to name a few.
Jumping straight ahead, past morning tea, to the Session 2E (CAUMAC Network session). CAUMAC stands for Council of Australian University Museums and Collections. It is such a shame that at this exact time there was a talk on disruption as a strategy. I really believe it should have been a plenary. Anyway, I was in this session because I was a presenter and wanted to support other university museums.
First in the session was Dr Barbara Rothermel visiting from the Daura Gallery at the University of Lynchburg, Virginia. There are a few statements I want to mention that were particularly relevant. The first is that university museums are central to the academic experience. Secondly, university museums should be inter-disciplinary and encourage their faculty to engage with others. I also completely agree with the fact that university museums are an indispensable component of a university’s mission. It was a pleasure listening to Dr Rothermel and hearing about all the wonderful collaborative exhibitions and projects that have either happened in the past or are currently underway at the Daura Gallery.
Next was my talk! I was a little nervous, but, mostly excited to speak about the Integrated Pathology Learning Centre (IPLC). It was a perfect opportunity to reveal our brand new statement of purpose. After a quick overview of who we are and what we do, I spoke about our three main audience groups – medical students, secondary school students and students from other University of Queensland disciplines. I looked at how each of these groups use our specimens to further their study of health and disease. For example, I outlined our secondary school program and how we have been able to incorporate public health campaigns when discussing certain specimens. Thank you to everyone who attended my talk.
After my talk, we heard from Dr Toner Stevenson who focused on partnerships between museums and universities. In particular, financial partnerships and how universities and museums can work together to achieve grants and deliver amazing outcomes.
I’ve had my eye on this workshop session, facilitated by Sabine Doolin and Sally Manuireva and titled Tear up the Audience Rule Book, since the program was released. I was interested in seeing how the workshop would be structured.
To start, we learnt a little about how museums need to change their approaches to audience. With so much happening in the world around us, now is the time to stop and respond in order to remain relevant.
This was the context which sparked our first activity. As a group, we were given a pack of cards with a statement on one side, regarding audience, and a colour/theme on the other. We were told to read the statements and, as a group, decide whether or not we would hear them in our institution.
Statements included, our museum is for everyone, our stories are generally told from the museum’s perspective and our audience development mainly happens when we have a specific project. Our group had such a great discussion surrounding each of the cards. I was very interested in hearing how other institutions viewed their audience and what challenges they faced.
After we had decided whether the cards were a yes (we do hear this in our institution) or no (we do not hear this), we turned them over and saw the themes. They were: insight, intention, innovation, collaboration, inclusion, activation and impact. Basically, we had to see whether our yes and no piles had many of the same theme/colour or not. We ended up with quite a rainbow and decided that because we were all at different stages of audience engagement this made sense.
With this information, we then had to brainstorm what mindset is required to truly place the audience at the centre. We brainstormed the following words (it is much easier to provide them in a photograph then type them all out):
Finally, we had to write down a rule of audience engagement then tear it up! A really good one was that a museum audience can be everyone. Rip that up!
To finish the day, our plenary presentations were by Keir Winesmith and Shaun Angeles.
Winesmith came to the stage with a great energy to talk about the museum and the future, specifically looking at technology. We learnt that the museum does not need an app. What we do need is a really engaging website. Around 90-100% of visitors will have looked at your website before visiting, so, make sure it is informative and accessible. I have been to too many websites where even finding opening hours is near impossible.
The most important thing I took away from this presentation was that sometimes, and for some people, there is a preference to play over a preference to read. I could not agree more. There are multiple exhibitions I have visited where I have enjoyed interacting and immersing myself in the exhibition through doing, rather than through reading. A perfect example is the American Writers Museum which had so many interactives that were directed at adults, not kids! Shock horror!
Our final speaker, Shaun Angeles, presented on the opportunities and challenges of digital collections, providing an incredibly valuable Indigenous perspective. Thank you Angeles for sharing some wonderful photographs from the Strehlow Research Centre collection and their stories. It is sensitive material with some images depicting private ceremonies. Through working with the collection, there has and continues to be this amazing transfer of ancestral knowledge between generations. Something that could only be achieved through the meaningful hiring of Indigenous staff.
Tonight, there was the Museums and Galleries National Awards (MAGNA) and Museums Australasia Multimedia and Publication Design Awards (MAPDA). Congratulations to all the very well-deserved winners.