Tuesday at the Museums Australia Conference – a summary
The Museums Australia conference is being held this year at the University of Adelaide. The University sits alongside the South Australian Museum, Gallery and Library, so we are well-placed in the cultural hub of Adelaide.
The day began with a very warm Welcome to Country by Aunty Josie and an official opening by the Minister for Arts, John Hill. There was also a welcome from Andrew Sayers of the National Museum, who is also the President of Museums Australia.
The opening keynote was given by Roy Clare from the Auckland War Memorial Museum. His presentation was looking Towards 2020, and he said he chose 2020 because it was far enough away that we couldn’t plan it, but near enough that we could still envisage it. He spoke of being clever with money (in their case, by being clever with airconitioning) and clever with reporting. But his main message was that museums are moving from keepers to sharers. He presented some case studies of exhibitions and projects at his museum, notably the Identi-tee exhibition. For this exhibition, they collected the content by asking young people to photograph and describe their t-shirt, then created a digital reflection which was uploaded, shared and voted on using social media. This was an example of contemporary collecting and community engagement. Two things they discovered was that socio-economic status was not a barrier to iPhone use, and the project brought more youth to the museum to see the exhibition. While I didn’t feel his talk covered anything exceptionally new, I thought his points formed a good basis from which to start the conference; looking at working with audiences in new ways.
After morning tea the second keynote was given by Robin Hirst from Museum Victoria. Robin gave a charismatic presentation with a strong positive message: that museum research should be innovative and, broadly and diversely communicated. His talk was presented through an introduction to some of the researchers/curators at Museum Victoria. He talked about their stories being important to share. I thought the idea of tapping into the passions of those within the organisation to be a positive message. It was also positive to hear him promoting and embracing reinvention and change. This fitted nicely within the context of Roy Clare’s presentation too.
The final keynote for the day was Dennis W Stevenson from the New York Botanic Gardens. Although Dennis’ talk was very field specific – he spoke about species classification and DNA barcoding – his broader message was very relevant. He talked about using research in new and entrepreneurial ways. He also talked about building capacity through partnerships and of the value of benefit-sharing across disciplines in our field. He also spoke about building bridges from science to society. Again echoing that message of the importance of engaging the community in research.
During the keynotes there was a good conversation going on Twitter with a small but vibrant group. I’ll share more about some of the Twitter discussions in a later post.
In the afternoon I went to a workshop session about Outreach Education with the South Australian Department of Education and their educators working in cultural organisations. The session was started by Bronwyn Sugars who manages the project then there were presentations from four of the educators. Each one discussed some of the programs that have been doing in their organisations and how they engage with teachers and students. Overall the discussions presented some valuable examples of good practice in museum education. The theme of the session was about modeling good teaching and learning practice, particularly for teachers with limited experience in teaching history/science.
The second afternoon session I went to another Education stream and heard Jo Henwood and Katherine Sutcliffe speak on Education programs in museums. Jo spoke specifically about gifted learners and creating programs to suit their needs. Katherine talked about her research on student response to learning programs, in compared to non-structured experiences. Ultimately her research pointed out that students could understand and recall more from a structured learning experience than an unstructured experience. Although Katherine did recognise that her research was very limited, including that it was a small group and that the learning was measured based on what the museum wanted them to learn, rather than the learning priorities of the school and didn’t measure the impact of their experience on long-term learning.
I found the day to be interesting and in some parts, positive reaffirmation of the work I do. But I made the decision to extend my learning to new areas in the next part of the conference.