AMaGA 2022 Conference Summary

Now that I’m back in Brisbane, I wanted to take some time and write a reflective piece on the AMaGA 2022 Conference. It would be an incredibly long post if I summarised the whole conference. Instead, I’ve decided to write about three presentations that fall under the conference theme – Hear. Us. Now. To start, I want to say thank you to the organizers and speakers and a special shout out to Marie Taylor for her wonderful Welcome to Country on the first day of the conference. It was so lovely catching up with people and meeting some in-person for the first time! In a strange way, I missed the in-person conference fatigue. That feeling of your brain being completely full – even days after you leave. It was really nice to experience that again. For those of you on Twitter, search the hashtag #AMaGA2022 and you will find so many further thoughts and reflections on the presentations and overall conference. So without further ado, here are some of my thoughts.

Hear

I want to stress that these presentations have been selected from the ones I attended. I obviously couldn’t go to every parallel session and listen to every talk at the conference. I am looking forward to watching what I missed online when I have some time up my sleeve. The following is the talk I want to highlight for the theme of ‘hear’.

2am Conversations Turned Exhibitions by Natalie Carfora and Claudia von der Borch (MOD. at University of South Australia) & Science + Art = Social Change. A Radical New Gallery for Experimentation & Youth Culture by Dr Ryan Jefferies (Science Gallery Museum, Melbourne).

So I’m already cheating here and including two presentations under the theme of ‘hear’. This is because I really couldn’t decide between the two and wanted to make special mention of both. Encouraging not only participation, but co-design is something I am extremely interested in and it was great to see so many talks that tackled these overarching issues. For this post, I am going to start with the former of the two presentations, 2am Conversations.

This talk, in particular, really spoke to the theme of ‘hear’ in a literal sense. How do we know what exhibitions will best cater to our community if we don’t listen to those in our community? Really listening to your audience means you can develop exhibitions and content relevant to them. In my study this year I have researched a lot into audience participation and how can you ensure that participation is encouraged, respected, actively listened to, and, most importantly, accessible. The team at MOD. are doing fantastic work with their Open Space forums that encourage such a diversity of participants. What I really enjoyed about this model of participation is that it is unstructured but in a guided way. Carfora and von der Borch explained how during this forum people are provided with guiding questions and can join groups that speak to themes or issues they are passionate about. From here, the discussion is really controlled by the participants. The ideas they raise directly contribute to developing the MOD. exhibition program.

The second presentation, Science + Art, was another look at how to encourage participation and co-design. Dr Jefferies started by posing a question, ‘can a gallery give agency to young people to inspire social change?’ The answer is 100% yes. By empowering a group of young people (and paying them too) some really meaningful and inspirational co-design can occur. I cannot wait to visit the Science Gallery when I visited Melbourne in October.

Us

A Place for Everyone: Cultural Institutions’ Role in Driving Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging by Zehra Ahmed (Australian Museum Trust) and Anna Yanatchkova (Sydney Opera House)

When it comes to the theme of ‘us’ I could not look past the panel presentation by Ahmed and Yanatchkova. Both presented on how their institutions are looking to improve access from so many different angles. When we think of access, we tend to reduce it to just building access. But what happens when people step inside? How can we make museums more accessible in the broader sense of the word? I was really inspired by Ahmend’s work at the Australian Museum and the Museum’s commitment to creating a physically, mentally and emotionally accessible space. One particular example I want to mention is the new maps for the Museum that show sensory levels. For those requiring a low sensory experience (i.e. quiet space with low noise levels), appropriate spaces can be easily located on the map.

Yanatchkova’s presentation covered similar themes and asked the audience to have one brave conversation with their institution regarding how to become more socially inclusive and equitable. I think what really stood out to me in this presentation was the slide on how to create impact (photograph below). This includes things like making space for difficult conversations and supporting everyone to connect and learn. That theme of support ran through so many presentations.

Now

Nothing but Memories: Challenges of Collecting Stories from Traumatic Environmental Events by Kylie Elston and Joshua Kalmund

There were quite a few presentations to chose from for this theme but I settled on the one by Elston and Kalmund. I found the theme of ‘now’ most prevalent during the parallel sessions. The particular session this talk was in had a call to action for climate change, responding to a crisis and, in this case, collecting stories. This was a really important presentation reflecting on the challenges of collecting after a traumatic event. Elston and Kalmund spoke a lot about how crucial it is to work with locals and have a people-first approach to allow for agency and the building of relationships. In their Nothing but Memories project, Elston and Kalmund collected objects and oral history accounts from those who experienced the Wooroloo bushfires and Cyclone Seroja. Building that trust and being truly respectful were the core messages. Thank you to everyone who shared their experience for the project.

Final Thoughts

As you can probably tell, the conference dealt with some pretty intense issues and provided a platform for the beginnings of difficult conversations. I really enjoyed the parallel sessions and like I said earlier, cannot wait to watch the ones I wasn’t able to see.

Before I finish, I did want to give a little shout out to the Emerging Professionals session. I could have included it in any of the three categories, but didn’t want to be too biased since I’m on the Committee. What I will say is that Arts Hub has an amazing article on the session that you can read by clicking on this link: https://www.artshub.com.au/news/career-advice/views-on-the-future-for-emerging-glam-professionals-2557893/

I look forward to catching up with people in 2023 when the conference is in Newcastle. Until then, I have plenty of thoughts and ideas to delve into and a lot of reading to wrap my head around. Not only do I miss the conference fatigue, but I also miss the post-conference reflection and energising time too.

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