Thursday was the final day of sessions for the Museums & Galleries Queensland Conference. I would like to thank the organisers, sponsors and presenters for making the past couple of days truly memorable. Queensland is a huge state and this conference provided a great opportunity for cultural workers to gather together, network and share ideas. Read on for a brief summary of the talks I attended during the day and some key takeaway messages.
International Keynote Presentation by Tasia Duske, CEO from Museum Hack
This was the presentation I most looked forward to seeing. Museum Hack is a company based in the United States, that delivers, in their words, ‘renegade, small group tours for people who think they don’t like museums’ (source). I was fortunate enough to experience a Museum Hack tour of The Getty back in 2017. These tours offer an accessible entry point into museums and galleries for those who might otherwise never set foot inside. Of course, the tours can also be enjoyed by those with an interest in museums as a way of experiencing a new perspective. What started as some impromptu tours, led by founder Nick Gray, soon developed into a company with more than 50 team members delivering over 40 tours per week in cities such as New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
Tasia Duske is the current CEO of Museum Hack and injected some much needed enthusiasm and energy into the morning. Her presentation focused on the four main pillars of Museum Hack: start with entertainment and passion, the power of storytelling, social experience and create a sense of VIP. I can attest to the fact that our tour delivered on everything and hearing the theory behind the practice was really insightful. Duske not only spoke about the tours, but almost delivered one herself encouraging audience participation and sharing some intriguing stories. I am still buzzing from the talk and cannot wait to brainstorm ways of implementing some strategies into our programs.
There are two things about this talk that will stay with me. The first is that when targeting groups try not to get wrapped up in age, gender, etc, but also try to target different mindsets. Duske used the term ‘millennial mindset’ to describe the audience Museum Hack are hoping to reach. This isn’t the elusive age group termed ‘millennials’, but anyone with a suited mindset. The second thing is I really appreciate companies that want to make the inaccessible, accessible. After visiting numerous art galleries and even working in one for a year, I can still feel quite alienated and isolated when I visit. What is mostly responsible for this is the language used, especially on labels. Museum Hack really broke down that barrier for me at The Getty and it was great to hear that it’s achieving the same goal for so many other people.
For our first concurrent session of the day, I selected the talks in the Visitor Centre. These all focused on new audiences and in-depth engagement. A nice link to the morning’s session.
Nicola Holly, Manager from Queensland College of Art
First in this session was a wonderful talk from Nicola Holly on how Queensland College of Art managed to engage their new neighbours at Southbank, Flight Centre. The level of collaboration was very impressive as Flight Centre allowed for an exhibition, ‘Morphosis: The Art of Sustainable Transformation’, to be held in their entrance foyer. Of course, this came with challenges such as how to install somewhere unfamiliar and how to conserve the works on display. Despite this, the benefits far outweighed the challenges with increased sales in artworks, a new audience, and the formation of a new partnership.
Shanna Muston, Arts and Cultural Advisor from Banana Shire Regional Art Gallery
Next in the session was Shanna Muston talking about a recent exhibition, A Tribute to Modern Pioneers. This was a bit of a different exhibition for the Banana Shire Regional Art Gallery. The project included finding modern pioneers in the region, collecting their stories, and exhibiting these alongside professional photographs. One huge takeaway message from this talk was how you might have a clear idea for a project and its outcomes, but when collaborating it’s also important to allow a project to evolve. What was initially going to be 10 portraits with a publication and tour, became a project that included loaned objects, additional photographs, behind the scenes videos and public programs.
Lisa Jones, Curator from the Queensland Police Museum
The final speaker in this session was Lisa Jones who introduced delegates to the new Augmented Reality app at the Queensland Police Museum. Originally, the museum had an actual reality crime scene (using mannequins for obvious reasons) where students and visitors could put on their detective hats and solve a murder. To allow for deeper engagement, this is being replaced by an app that all visitors can download onto their smart device and that’s activated by a marker in the space (mannequin). Now, solving the crime can be done digitally and will include searching for evidence that can be sent for fingerprint or blood analysis. I cannot wait to try this app in person when it’s released!
Similar to yesterday, it was about this time that I started to feel the need for a nap but powered through.
Elspeth McEachern, Senior Cultural Heritage Officer from Sunshine Coast Council
Everything in Elspeth McEachern’s talk linked back to her ‘Awesome’ Principle for museums. In a society where there is a marked decrease in leisure time, how can museums ensure they remain relevant? Awesome can help and I’ve included a photograph below of what it means. Soft fascination refers to the fascination people have that’s not directed and, therefore, not depleting.
Rachel Arndt, Gallery Programs & Touring Exhibitions Manager from Museums & Galleries of New South Wales
The focus of Arndt’s talk was on cultural mediation – the process of negotiating and gaining knowledge about the arts through some kind of exchange. A model for this comes from the Palais de Tokyo in France that has employed cultural mediators to be present in gallery spaces. They are not invigilators. Instead, they are there to encourage people to make connections with the artworks and guide people ‘beyond comprehension’.
Similar to the Museum Hack presentation, the two final talks of the day were a call to action.
Gail Mabo, Curator and Kellie Williams, Director from Umbrella Studio Contemporary Arts
It was a wonderful experience to hear Gail Mabo talk so passionately about how to effectively engage Indigenous communities in the arts. You can’t just walk into a community, ask them to produce works for an exhibition, then leave. It’s about fostering a relationship, providing some form of ongoing support, and not using the opportunity as tokenism. Kellie Williams provided an example of working closely with artists when reviewing and signing contracts. Williams sits down with the artist and goes through it word by word to ensure both parties are happy with the contents. It takes time, but it’s necessary.
Sprouting from this discussion also came a fantastic takeaway – ‘Living RAP’, or living your Reconciliation Action Plan. Don’t just have one sitting on your bookshelf gathering dust, you have to read it, action it, and live it. Mabo and Williams also spoke about their co-curated exhibition ‘Legacy: Reflections on Mabo’ that will be touring around Australia not only to ‘white cube’ galleries (as Kellie put it) but also to community centres.
Tracy Puklowski, Director of Creative Arts and Cultural Services and Curator from City of Launceston, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery
Our final speaker of the day also presented a very passionate talk focusing on the direction and future of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (QVMAG). Tracy Puklowski spoke about her background, working in New Zealand, and how this will impact on her new role at QVMAG. Specifically, Puklowski is looking at more seamless integration of stories from different cultural groups that are not stuck in a past, but have a thriving present. It absolutely resonated with me when she stated that you first need to lay solid foundations before moving onto large projects. Something I am currently focusing on in my role. It will be fascinating to see how such a strong background filled with bicultural normality will start to shape and influence QVMAG into the future.
I am very grateful to now have a weekend that will no doubt be filled with reflections on the conference and how I can apply some of what I’ve learnt to my own practice. Thank you again to everyone involved in making this conference so incredible!