Day 2 at the Museums Australia Interpretation Australia Conference was Community, Regional and Specialist Museums Day. It was a great day showcasing a wide range of impressive projects and stories from across the country.
The first Keynote was given by Alec Cole who is currently the CEO of the Museum of WA, but previously worked with the Tyne and Weir Network of Museums in the UK. He talked at some length about the Regional model employed in Tyne and Weir to develop and grow the museums and galleries in that region. I was quite interested in this having spent time at Beamish, who was involved in the project, earlier this year. There were some great programs within the project, including the MAGIC (Museums and Galleries Inspiring Children) travelling program and the ‘I Like…’ marketing initiative where visitors are encouraged to find sites and events that meet their needs. Alec suggested that the model of regional hubs, which can offer support for cross-marketing, region-wide programs and training, could be used successfully in Australia.
Next speaking was Margaret Anderson, CEO of History South Australia. Margaret talked about how History SA has grown their organisation through their History Week (now History Festival) program and their new online resources. History SA providing an inspiring example on how a passionate group of people working in collaboration with their community can achieve great things. Some of her comments that particularly resonated with me where
- The History Festival works because of the local connections, stories and partnerships.
- The web truly has the potential to make the local global.
The websites they have developed are well worth visiting:
For the first parallel session I attended the Audience stream. This included a number of short presentations about small community museums, an argument for the value of the Artist in Residence program in museums, and a positive example of how a community cultural precinct can successfully draw together a range of fields to create great programs. Also there was a presentation by Andrew Moritz, Director of the Workshops Rail Museum in Ipswich, about their challenges in developing and maintaining an audience. Andrew spoke about the importance of research and then the role of their public programming in achieving audience growth. I liked his notion – if you can’t beat them, join them – in relation to their Thomas the Tank Engine program for kids, which is now the biggest in Australia.
I then attended a session called ‘In the regions’ that looked at some community museum initiatives. Of note was a local Community Museums Project by John Watson that is happening in the Goldfields region around us, that looks to support small regional collection organisations. He suggested from the pilot project that it could be successfully be rolled out more broadly and as priorities should address skills shortages and develop joint projects.
Also in that session Rachel Wilsher-Saa, Regional Manager at the West Australian Museum, providing an intriguing and practical insight into their First Voices collaborative projects for engaging with the indigenous community. In this she highlighted the importance of understanding differences in cultural practices and protocols as key to successful partnerships.
For the final part of the year I attended the session exploring online projects and social media. Rod Annear gave a great presentation about social media tools and the opportunities they can provide us with. Fortunately he has put his presentation online. Amanda James expanded on the SA community history website. Then Andrew Bowman from the Carnamah Historical Society (a small society in a small town) gave a fantastic talk about their virtual existence and the achievements they have made with limited resources using social media tools. Andrew made some really good points, including:
- A web presence is more than a static tool for marketing
- People visit your museum to see and engage, you work to attract people. You need to use the same principles for your virtual presence.
- It’s not about putting everything on the web and closing your physical door – it’s about widening them. And you can reach more people.
- Benefits of a virtual presence – space is not an issue, you don’t have conservation restraints, you can reach more people, there is no geographical restraints.
- You don’t have to replicate your museum – it doesn’t have to be all about objects.
Andrew also discussed the range of online tools they are using – Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Flickr – and how they are reaching different audiences that way. Most people are finding their sites through searches for content rather than for their actual organisation, resulting in a broad reach and new audiences engaging with them.
I came away from Day 2 with some clearer ideas about effective online use and inspiration from successful regional projects.