Museums Australasia Conference 2016: Two perspectives

EMP Conference, courtesy Museums Galleries Queensland.

EMP Conference, courtesy Museums Galleries Queensland.

This year for the first time, the museum offered conference bursaries for the Museums Australasia 2016 conference Facing the Future: local, global and Pacific possibilities – the first joint conference of Museums Australia and Museums Aotearoa.

Two applicants were successful and here are their thoughts on the conference.

Kate Eastick, Curator, James Cook Museum, Cooktown, Queensland:

“My name is Kate and I am Curator at James Cook Museum, a National Trust Australia (Queensland) property located in Cooktown, Far North Queensland. I was very fortunate to receive a bursary from the Australian National Maritime Museum to attend the Museums Australasia conference in Auckland held in May.

The conference began on Sunday with the Emerging Museum Professionals mini-conference. This was an inspiring, but also incredibly practical way to begin the conference, by addressing issues faced by those of us beginning their careers in the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) sector. I hadn’t actually heard the acronym before, and couldn’t help but laugh as glamourous is not the word I personally would choose for the ongoing tasks of cleaning, temperature and pest monitoring, cataloguing and research.

Undoubtedly what I took away from the conference is that I wouldn’t be alone in the words I would use to describe my work, exciting and fulfilling being the first to come to mind. Cooktown is nearly a four hour drive north of Cairns and one of the restrictions of being so remote is the limited opportunities for networking and discussion.

For me personally, there is little more stimulating than an honest and open discourse, and plenty of this occurred at the conference. The topics were not always comfortable, and it was clear that there are insufficiencies that need to be addressed. Yet what I left the conference with was a certainty that they could be overcome and that organisations such as my own still very much have a pivotal role to play in their immediate and larger communities. Being immersed in an environment in which so many diverse ideas and projects were addressed not only highlighted the possibilities and opportunities that exist, it reinforced the enthusiasm I have for the work we do.”

Graham Hinton, Jervis Bay Maritime Museum, Huskisson, New South Wales:

“The note at the front of the conference program opens with the statement that: “The planning of this conference programming began with a provocation, Robert R Janes’ challenge to museums to address pressing social issues and to add social and cultural value now and in the future. … this event is a unique opportunity to consider the ways that museums are aiming to be of social, cultural and ecological value from perspectives across our region.”

Relevance, inclusiveness and sustainability were recurring themes.

Moana Jackson referred to the “silence of the monuments”, a reference to the fact that the European colonists not only occupied the lands of First Peoples, but erected permanent monuments to their kings, queens and heroes, thus implanting their dominance in an omnipotent manner.

David Garneau, an indigenous (Metis) artist from Canada considered “the heritage museum as it transitions from colonial trophy case to non-colonial keeping house through the process called Indigenization.”

Elizabeth Merritt (Museum ‘Futurist’) quoted disturbing figures from the US indicating a declining interest in heritage and culture, and a narrow audience and staff base. She stressed the need to think ahead, to plan well into the future. Museum staff need to be drawn from a wider skill and social base.

Boon Hui Tan discussed “the importance of championing local cultures in museums (as well as) exploring global trends and challenges…. another take on “think locally, act globally”?

Robert Janes spoke strongly about the need for museums to be “important social institutions that are capable of making a difference in the lives of individuals and their communities.” Museums should be active in the climate debate advocating the need to act now. “There is no room for neutrality.”

Dawn Casey also saw museums as agents for change and emphasised the need to involve, rather than merely consult with indigenous groups.

Michael Rolfe summed up Peter White’s, short ‘provocation’ statement on the Museums and Galleries NSW website. “(He) challenged us to think about the absolute importance of ensuring (in a colonial context) that settler stories aren’t complete until they recognise the place of First Peoples through the authorship and ownership of their own stories.”

The parallel sessions I attended were all of a high standard and the conference program offered a difficult range of choice. The ideas and experiences presented were many and varied. Some of these sessions addressed copyright, taking risks, involving artists in the interpretation of history, use of social media, visitor insights and analytics, and collections and strategy. I found the copyright session particularly informative and useful handouts were available.”

Thanks Kate and Graham for your insights.

– Dr Lynda Kelly, Head of Learning. 

Watch this space as the museum offers more bursaries to the 2017 Museums and Galleries Conference, Queensland.

Lynda Kelly blogs about museums in the digital age.

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