GLAM Blog Club “Fear”

Time for another GLAM Blog Club post! I am truly excited to write on the topic of ‘fear’. I’m going to tackle this topic from a variety of angles. Not just because I have many fears, but also because I work with some objects that absolute ignite fear in others.

To start, I’m going to write about my time curating a medical collection. A few years ago I realised that I very easily have vasovagal syncope episodes. Basically, for me, being somewhere medical can result in me fainting and feeling incredibly nauseous. There are also times when my vision has become very blurry and my pulse slows right down. It’s quite hard to manage and even when I try my absolute best not to pass out, it still happens. A couple of years ago now it hit me while I was standing in a pharmacy looking at some medication. I saw the word swelling, yes it only took seeing one word, and I was out. Vaccinations as well as blood tests almost always result in a vasovagal episode.

It is caused by a whole variety of triggers including fear of pain and/or bodily injury. Some people experience slight lightheadedness, whereas others, including myself, just full on faint. So how does this relate to fear in the museum?

I became interested in medical collections in 2015. It makes no sense that I would be wanting to work with the objects that have caused me so much grief. Nevertheless I thought this history was way too interesting for me not to pursue. The real test came with my first internship at the Geoffrey Kaye Museum in Melbourne.

On my first day, I was guided through the collection by my wonderful supervisor, and to my surprise I didn’t feel ill nor did I faint. I was even comfortable handling needles. I thought this was going to be a great turning point for me. However, I still faint at the site of a needle today when it is about to go into my arm.

 

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Handling objects in the Geoffrey Kaye Museum

 

While I was still frightened by some of the old medical equipment, the fact it wasn’t going to be used on me helped in not triggering an episode. Even with the more modern equipment, seeing it trapped behind glass or sitting on a museum storage shelf allowed me to disassociate it from pain. Ironically, the collection of the Geoffrey Kaye Museum and Harry Daly Museum, where I now work as a curator, is all about preventing and treating pain. Luckily for me, the collection generates a different kind of fear that is more focused on ‘I’d hate for that to happen to me in x century’ rather than ‘wow this is actually going to happen to me right here, right now’. Objects such as a full medical kit from World War I including scapels and saws, I can now appreciate for their incredible interpretive capacity and how they might have been experienced without placing myself in the picture.

 

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The drawer of fear!

 

Moving on now to something a little less ‘my medical history 101’. I want to briefly talk about a heritage site, Cockatoo Island. Since February this year, I have started running ghost tours of the island. Some of the stories we share are truly horrible and transform the site from a nice place to picnic on the weekend, to a site of trauma. Considering it was a hard labour prison for convicts for 30 years, then a reformitory school for girls, and a shipyard during World War I and World War II, there are no shortage of terrible stories.

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The tour covers this gruesome history of the island including stories about convicts who were drowned and workers who were crushed to death in our Turbine Hall by large engines. It is truly a scary place. Out of respect to those who died, our tours focus more on the history of the site and tell the stories how they were reported on/how they were described by those who once worked on the island. Everytime though, I can feel chills up my spine and am so grateful to be on the island in the 21st century.

This was a great topic for GLAM Blog Club! Some of my fears, have joined me on my journey in the museum sector. Instead of shying away, I’m trying to work with them and not against them!

Marvelous Marvel

This blog entry won’t contain any surprises. I am a Marvel fan through and through and I am so glad I had the opportunity to see this wonderful exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane. I still cannot believe this exhibition came to my home city! It is the first serious effort to display a whole bunch of Marvel costumes, comics, and objects in the one place. According to the introductory panel, the objects have been drawn from the collection of Marvel Studios in Los Angeles and loans from private collections.

I get a little frustrated when people say that Blockbuster exhibitions are purely money grabbing and cater way too much to the masses. Never in my life have I seen both children and adults so engaged in an exhibition space.. The costumes and comics were true works of art and are just as worthy as any contemporary work of art to be on display in a gallery. Now that I’ve said that, the rest of this post will focus on some of the exhibition highlights.

  1. Overall Theme

The overall theme of the exhibition was to trace how characters in the Marvel Universe are connected. For those who have valiantly sat through every Marvel film, you will know that the universe is complex, interconnected, and outright amazing. The exhibition sought to discover the links between the movies/comics and pay homage to the creativity behind the studio. I thought this was a nice way to connect everything together. Rather than the whole exhibition being just “look at this cool stuff” which, let’s face it, I would have still loved.

This theme is highlighted in the middle foyer connecting the two main parts of the exhibition. There are some computers and touch screens available for interaction. Visitors can select various characters and see how they relate to each other and to the overarching storylines.

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  1. Layout

The exhibition is huge. It covers almost the entire first floor of the gallery and contained approximately nine rooms. I didn’t count the exact number, but it did feel as though it just kept going. The first part of the exhibition covers the main different groups in the Marvel Universe. There is a room for the Avengers, Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Each room had its own feel that reflected the various films. For example, in the room for Thor, the giant throne of Asgard welcomed visitors to the space. This room is juxtaposed against the one for Guardians of the Galaxy that was designed to look more industrial and rustic.

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The second part of the exhibition looked more at how Marvel is created – so the production side of things. Suits worn by actors for CGI purposes and digital storyboards filled the space revealing some behind-the-scenes secrets.

The exhibition was easy to follow and although there was a prescribed path through the rooms, you never knew what was around the corner. It was therefore a little suspenseful and kept things exciting enough.

  1. Text & Objects

Each space had a thematic panel and there were object labels. Because of this small amount of text, people were actually reading the signs. Yay! The focus was, however, on the objects themselves. They were displayed with great impact in the different spaces. For example, in the room for the Avengers, the most eye-catching part of the display was the costumes that had been placed on mannequins. As a picture paints a thousand words, see below for a visual.

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The Captain America room had me completely nerding out because the costumes were displayed exactly how they were in the Smithsonian in the film. It was as if you were walking in on the film. They even had the sound bite playing that was on loop in the Smithsonian. If this isn’t meta – a display of a display in a film – then I don’t know what is.

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The location of the objects was clearly well designed with large spaces between objects catering to the crowds. You didn’t spend the entire exhibition bumping into everyone trying to see everything. Even though it was a Wednesday, it was busy and when we left there were about three school groups heading on in. This is where I do have one criticism. For some reason, and I’d like to know why, there were no timed tickets. I can’t imagine how busy it would get on the weekend. With no clear form of crowd control in place, we were extremely lucky with our timing.

  1. Snippets of Film

In each room there were snippets of film being played that related to the objects on display. There was no sound so it wasn’t too distracting but you could see the objects in action. This allowed for a little more context. As there was no sound, it also meant people weren’t spending long watching the content and blocking parts of the exhibition.

  1. Digital Integration

I thought they might overdo the digital in this exhibition. In the first half there was virtually nothing interactive. It was you, the objects, and bliss. When you went to the section on ‘behind-the-scenes’ a lot more digital was present, but it made sense. My favourite digital inclusion was a large storyboard table that showed the process of designing the characters and the scenes. The comics came to life in front of you without taking up a huge amount of space.

There was even a small section where you could step into a space and see how CGI technology works. Your movements were replicated on the screen by a different character depending on which area you stood in.

Overall, the exhibition met and exceeded my expectations. It wasn’t a tacky exhibition – it was actually really well curated. Rather than placing the costumes on display next to some comics, it tried to tell an overall story and look at the art and technique behind the films. After seeing all your favourite characters, you were then treated to exactly how they were made. The exhibition was self-aware and took this opportunity to actually be informative and interesting.

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Museums Australia Conference Day 3

There we have it – my first Museums Australia Conference is now over. I’m currently sitting at the airport waiting for the flight back to my other home, Sydney. I am going to structure this post differently to the other two and discuss three main themes or ideas that were raised throughout the day. Each will have spanned over numerous presentations so I’ll make sure to credit the talks when they’re raised.

1. Understanding

This was a huge theme of today. Our plenary speaker, Colleen Dilenschneider spoke passionately about using data from cultural institutions to understand visitor satisfaction. This data came from her institution IMPACTS and the National, Awareness, Attitudes, & Usage Survey. What they discovered from crunching oh so many numbers was that social connectivity in the museum is key. In fact, having one-on-one experiences with volunteers and front-of-house staff is actually a leading factor in increased satisfaction and likely repeat visitation.

This made me reflect on how many times I have had wonderful experiences in a museum and why. I don’t think I’ve had many one-on-one experiences to be completely honest. I have been to touch tables but I don’t really engage in that way. I’m such an introvert it’s almost painful and when I go to museums by myself I’m often wearing headphones trying to create a playlist to add a soundscape to the exhibition. Each to their own!

The whole talk was a great insight into understanding what museums can do to ensure high visitor satisfaction and maintaining/building their reputation.

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2. Perserverence

So this theme was kind of central to the emerging professionals skills and careers talk. Each of the seven speakers selected a certain skill that they thought was crucial for emerging professionals to embrace. One common thread that stood out to me was that of try and try again. Try and build as many skills as you can and keep going filling out those job applications.

While this all sounded pleasant enough, I felt that Stephanie Chinneck’s presentation resonated with me the most. Especially how museums should try to meet us emerging professionals half way. It should be a shared responsility of emerging professionals getting out there and museums, in turn, respecting and trusting us. I have been so lucky to have had some amazing internship and volunteer supervisors who have allowed me to go above and beyond to build up my skills. Shout out to them, you know who you are.

Perserverence as well comes from simply applying again and again. I’ve applied for so many jobs now I might as well update my hobbies to include “applying for jobs”. While I’m at it, under languages I’ll add “Jobs NSW” because I’m well aware of their lingo. Anyway if you don’t laugh you cry so thanks Stephanie for an entertaining, too true, look at the life of an emerging professional.

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3. The Future

The final theme is the future. I had a lot of time to reflect in the emerging professionals talk about not only the future of museums, but also, my future. I am constantly reminded at the most random times that I’m not going to give up on this industry. It might be hard, absolutely hard, but I’m ready to tackle it head on. I’ve already made writing job applications my hobby so I’m basically on the right track?

In terms of the future of museums, I have so much faith in what lays ahead. No matter what technology comes out, the physical act of going to a museum has been proven (thanks Colleen) to have no substitute. The industry is and will continue to be moving in new and interesting directions. Being adaptable and open to change is key.

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Thank you to everyone who made my first Museums Australia Conference so memorable. A huge thanks to all you amazing people who have been reading my blog. My post on the first day of the conference had over 200 readers! I have so much fun writing these posts and it means a lot that you are willing to read through my bad jokes and sarcasm that isn’t clearly sarcasm. I am already counting down to the next conference. A trip to Melbourne rarely needs an excuse.

If you have just been following my blog for the conference I encourage you to stick around and subscribe or just drop in from time to time to read about awesome exhibitions and heritage sites I visit. If you want to contribute your thoughts on the conference send me an email!! lush2408@gmail.com. I’d love to hear.

Safe trip home everyone!

Museums Australia Conference Day 2

To keep things interesting, I am going to slightly change the format of my post today. Enjoy!

9.00 am – 10.30 am

I arrived at the conference after battling Brisbane’s ‘peak-hour’ traffic. First up was another plenary session consisting of a welcome and talks from Janet Laurence and Megan Cope. Laurence, who is currently in Germany, sent a video for us to view. I was immediately captivated when she started talking about medical history and botanical specimens. Check out her work, ‘Inside the Flower’, which was on display in Berlin. In this installation, you could walk inside a mini-Reichstag looking glasshouse and be instantly surrounded by a variety of medicinal plants. All of her work highlights this relationship between the human and natural worlds.

Our next speaker, Megan Cope, presented on the interweaving of geography, maps, and identity. This includes breaking apart myths of colonization. Cope spoke so passionately about her work and the messages she yearns to deliver. I was in awe of her ability to challenge herself.

10.30 am – 11.00 am

Morning tea time, yum.

11.00 am – 12.30 pm

The first session of concurrent speakers. I spent some time deciding on which session to attend and went with ‘Working with Diverse Communities’. The first speaker was Amy Wegerhoff from the Western Australian Museum. Her talk was an interesting look at how you can involve communities in shaping your museum content. There were two takeaway messages – engagement takes a long time and think of community in a narrow, not broad, sense. With regards to the latter, this can mean finding communities within a larger community to avoid excluding significant stories or groups. There is a greater chance then of being more inclusive, in theory. What struck me most about Wegerhoff’s talk was how you can’t just assume groups are willing to be participants. Sometimes, you have to go that little bit deeper and care just that little bit more to really get a response and create a ‘people first’ exhibition.

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Wegerhoff was followed by Craig Middleton and Dr Nikki Sullivan from South Australia. I was particularly interested in their talk on including LGBTIQ in museums. Their talk, however, went above and beyond. They started with a fantastic discussion on how you should never include groups in the museum space to increase visitor numbers or as an act of tokenism. This can lead to further marginalization. Their involvement with the LGBTIQ community in South Australia has led to wonderful integration in both museum and community spaces. Although there is much room for progress, their work is truly a great step in the right direction.

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Finally, we heard from Lynne Seear from the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital. This hospital is supporting the amazing integration of art and cultural programs. This is partly to create an environment of normality and beauty in a space associated with illness and sadness. Seear stated at the end that art will not cure a disease, but, it can help in the overall mending process. It reminded me of this dystopian novel (the name has totally escaped me). In the face of destruction and death, the one thing that kept people going was a small traveling theatre society that reminded people of the joy that the arts can bring.

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12.30 pm – 1.00 pm

Lunch and chats. Don’t want to use the dreaded word ‘networking’.

1.00 pm – 1.30 pm

During this half hour, I sat in on the Museums Australia AGM.

1.30 pm – 3.00 pm

I am so excited to write about the first speakers in the ‘Experiential Learnings’ session. Dr Kate Armstrong and Marni Pilgrim, I salute you. To get up there and talk about something that failed IS WHAT I HAVE WANTED TO HEAR THIS ENTIRE CONFERENCE. If you are reading this and want to submit something next year, please do the same. It’s great to hear about success stories, but, since I’m at the start of my career I want to hear about when things go wrong. More importantly, I want to learn what you’ve learnt so I can be more aware! Anyway, thank you for being honest about a selfie Twitter program that did not succeed. Issues about social media platforms, agency with uploading selfies and the composition of photographs were all such interesting things to consider. I took so much away from this session especially that you can’t tell people what to do, but, you can foster creative thinking and fun engagement. The latter is definitely more likely to work and now I have an actual example of why.

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Similarly, Bronwyn Roper spoke on the Library at the Dock in Docklands Melbourne. This was more of a journey through how digital technology in the museum space has been used to its full potential. Digital touch tables were transformed by Monash University students to complement ‘The Docks’ exhibition. The main message was – reach out and find people who can fully utilize the technology.

Finally, Linda Barron from the State Library of Queensland provided an insight into visitor feedback. I really enjoyed this talk because it highlighted the importance of front-of-house staff.

3.00 pm – 3.30 pm

Another food break – honestly being fed really well here.

3.30 pm – 4.00 pm

I could only stay for the first speaker in the next session. Madeleine Borthwick from Kiss the Frog presented on her company’s amazing work in creating immersive experiences. I highly recommend you to google this company and see their work for yourself. They have tackled everything from taking over entire art gallery floors with immersive games and challenges to setting up audio guides.

As you can see, day two was just as exciting as day one. Tomorrow is the final day of the conference then it’s back to Sydney!

Museums Australia Conference Day 1

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The first day of the conference is unfortunately over! It was an incredibly interesting day consisting of a workshop at the State Library of Queensland and two sessions of speakers. I have so much to talk about I am going to try and be as succinct as possible.

State Library Workshop

My day started at the State Library of Queensland for a workshop titled Collection Care – Physical, Digital and Disasters! For two hours, we heard from leading conservators at the library about how to care for your collection. The time was divided between three speakers each of whom talked on the general topic of conservation from a different perspective.

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Our first speaker was Rachel Spano, a senior conservator at the library. Her talk ranged from quarantining objects when they first arrive in the museum to organizing a disaster plan strategy. To ensure nothing nasty enters the collection, when you receive new objects or paper files, it is recommended they are isolated from other items in your collection and treated. This could be blasting it with nitrogen or simply placing the objects in a garbage bag for a certain period of time. If no bugs are present, then the time in quarantine can be shorter. Spano then went through categorizing objects from most to least significant. If a disaster strikes, you are pretty set then knowing which objects to save and which to live and let die.

Next was Grant Collins who has direct experience with managing disasters. Throughout his time at the library, he has managed twenty. The one in focus was the 2011 floods which were unbelievably destructive. He went through information on how to create salvage areas in case of disaster and how to start cleaning up the mess. It was so cool because he actually dipped a book (that was due to be disposed of) in water and showed us step-by-step how to manage the situation. I learned a lot from actually seeing the work in action.

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Finally, Leif Ekstrom talked on digital collections and potential disasters. If there is one lesson I have learned from my numerous years of study it’s that you must literally always back up every single thing you are working on or else you have a good chance of losing everything.

The workshop was super informative and I was able to pick up so many great tips and tricks to take back to Sydney with me. Implementing a basic checklist of how to check up on the collection each day, week, and month will be so very helpful.

Plenary Speaker and Welcome

Post-workshop I registered for the conference and had a lovely lunch. One thing I absolutely adore about the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, & Museums) sector is that almost everyone is genuinely lovely. Makes the dreaded networking a little easier.

The plenary speaker, John Ryan, was interesting. The aim of his talk was to see how the human touch can combine with digital technology. The premise of the entire talk was that his company in New York prides itself on using technology to enhance visitor experiences in the museum and not to detract from the actual museum itself. So you have things like digital pens that you carry around and collect objects then use it to draw on walls etc. I literally could not help but think “if that technology crashed, there goes the experience”.

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One of his projects was designing the digital technology in the 9/11 Memorial Museum. As you enter into the space, you hear the voices of numerous individuals saying where they were when 9/11 happened. You can then watch interviews with certain personalities and record your own answers to the posed questions.

The talk was, in the moment, impressive and had the wow-factor of super shiny new things. Critically reflecting on it though, I can’t help but wonder that’s great for your larger institutions but how can a smaller museum implement such technology? The focus was on keeping the stories central, but, I inevitably think that introducing technology changes things. For better or worse, that’s up to personal opinion.

Why Not Science? Concurrent Session

I was so excited for this session. An opportunity to speak about how to make science accessible is always welcomed. I have ended up working with a medical collection. Rather than being a hindrance, I learned from this workshop that it’s actually of great value.

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We started by breaking into small groups and discussing our favourite moments of science. I talked about how amazing it is when members of the general public visit the Harry Daly Museum and leave with some great stories about early anaesthetics. I heard from some great professionals about their highlights including high school scientific experiments gone wrong and pythons eating possums. We then discussed how to make science accessible. At the end, we came together and had a larger discussion about the role museums can play in facilitating discussions. I left the workshop feeling more confident about my abilities in communicating science and stories of medical history.

Overall, it was a wonderful day and I cannot wait to see what’s in store tomorrow!

Museum of Brisbane

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Seeing 100% Brisbane at the Museum of Brisbane in City Hall was kind of tough. I really miss living in this city and while you can take the gal out of Brisbane you will never take the Brisbane out of a gal. We visited for a Mother’s Day vintage high tea and lecture on changing fashion in Australia. It was such an engaging talk filled with examples of well-preserved vintage fashion and incredible stories from Brisbane’s past. Never forget Cloudland ladies and gentleman.

Post-event, I wandered through the 100% Brisbane exhibition with my mother. First things first, it is an exhibition that aims to engage your senses. As you can see from the map below, there are spaces to smell, listen, watch, touch, and contribute. The following will provide a breakdown of what you can do throughout the exhibition space.

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My favourite space was ‘Scents of the City’. Here, you could smell what defines this city – frangipani, thunderstorms, sunshine, and mangroves. All of these scents sparked memories of my childhood and really got the nostalgia train moving. Behind each scent was a quote printed on the wall and there was a small thematic panel when you first entered the space.

 

 

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Another section that really stood out to me was ‘Brisbane DNA’. If you are visiting Brisbane, this is a fantastic place to start. Basically, it tells you the demographic information of Brisbane. It is told, however, in an interactive and interesting way transforming it from reading like a census to actually being engaging. There was a giant screen in the corner of the room revealing some of the more quirky statistics. This included “do you now work in your dream job?” FYI 22% of people said yes.

On the opposite side to the screen were a series of computers. If you are a resident, you could see how your demographics compared to the rest of the city. It was both data collection, but, a cool way for you to feel as though you were contributing to the exhibition.

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Moving between ‘Brisbane DNA’ and ‘Scents of the City’, you walk through a space called ‘A Day in the Life of Brisbane’. There is a wall with some sort of projections on it that, when touched, gave you a little taste of waking up, working, and living in this city. The technology is integrated so well I couldn’t even tell where exactly the projections were coming from. That goes for the rest of the space, everything just seemed so perfectly integrated.

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The rest of the exhibition tells the story of Brisbane from the birth of the city to how often our river floods. This is all in a very well-designed space with the option of following the story chronologically or selecting your own path. Again, referring to the map, you can see how everything feeds into each other without being a prescriptive path.

I did wander through wondering who is included and who is excluded from this narrative and why. This is why I found the contribution part of the exhibition to have great impact. If a story you could relate to wasn’t included, then you had the power to make sure it at least was represented somewhere.

It was such an engaging exhibition I cannot speak highly enough of it. Sure, I am biased. I related so strongly to the contents because I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in this beautiful city and have since moved away. Seeing the stories and people who live here was quite emotional for this very reason. Even seeing the part of the exhibition on trams made me feel nostalgic and I was born long after they left the city.

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I guess then the exhibition caters to a diverse audience. If you know nothing about Brisbane then it’s a great place to start. In one exhibition you can learn quite a substantial amount of information without feeling overwhelmed. If you live here, you can work your way through with the knowledge that you are a part of this exhibition.

Not to mention the gift shop has now been raided and I will return to Sydney as a loud and proud Brisbanite now equipped with the merchandise to prove it.

Thank you Museum of Brisbane, for reminding me of how much I love this city.

Museums Australia Conference 2017

I am now in Brisbane eagerly awaiting the Museums Australia Conference. This will be my first MA Conference and I cannot wait! Below is the program for the three days. Everything that’s highlighted is what I’ll hopefully be attending. At the end of each day, I’ll write a summary including a brief outline of the presentations and any key ideas that are raised and discussed.

Brace yourselves for some quality museum content.

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