It’s been 6 years (!!!) since I attended a MGA Conference. Last time I was at the height of my digital engagement and working on defining a digital strategy for Sovereign Hill. Two periods of Parental Leave and a move to the Costumed Schools has altered the framework of my knowledge. This blog has sat mostly dormant while I have diligently played the role of an 1850’s School Ma’am – find out more about my role and our unique program. But after getting stuck in the day-to-day operations of our program I was looking for an opportunity to pull back and look at the big picture – so here I am at #MGAConf2018
AGENTS OF CHANGE
The conference theme excites me. I am in the GLAM sector because I like the challenges and opportunities it has for making meaningful connections, providing unique experiences and challenging the status-quo. This may sound strange coming from someone who diligently recreates the past.
But it is the contrast between the then and now that draws out questions about what has changed, why it has changed and what still needs to be changed.
Robin Hirst opened the conference with some poignant reminders: while we need to be commercially viable we need to resist the temptation to be so commercial that we forget who we are there for in the first place. He also encouraged us to make the most of this conference because without inspiration we can’t move forward.
On a side note, aspects of the conference organisation reminded me that with some thought and consideration we can change our operations for the better: keep cups, compostable cutlery, seed-paper name tags, left over food being donated to those in need. Sometimes making those small decisions seems hard, but it can be done and it can be meaningful.
Karen opened with an engaging call to action. She challenged us to first be agents of truth before we are agents of change. As we are keepers and tellers of the national story it is our responsibility to tell the truth. She presented some facts, such as:1 in 3 Australians don’t accept that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians were subject to mass killings, incarceration, forced removed from land and restricted movements. Can we address this gap of understanding?
Karen also challenged us to think about our perspective and consider what frames that perspective. She asked us to think about what would an Indigenous person’s perspective be?
I was inspired by her challenges. I felt the opportunity to question and critique the perspectives and stories we are telling was compelling and helps us find opportunities to contribute to reconciliation in a meaningful way.
Kaywin also challenged us to consider perspective and representation. She spoke about our need to acknowledge that feminism has become mainstream and that we should be defining a museum feminism ourselves, not waiting for outsiders to do this for us.
Kaywin talked about women in leadership roles within our organisation. How we still struggle to picture women in leadership roles because we define leadership in male terms. We have assumptions around what leaders look like. She specifically talked about the use of the term gravitas to exclude women.
Women don’t have gravitas
Leaders need gravitas
Women can’t be leaders.
There is also the consideration that the GLAM sector is becoming female dominated and this has implications because when a field becomes female dominated then salaries decrease. Because “if a woman can do the job how hard can it be?”
Within our collections and programs Kaywin encouraged us to consider who are we representing and what are we saying to them about their role and future. If a young girl walks into an Art Gallery and sees next to no works by women she can’t see herself as an artist.
This is a conversation we could have about all kinds of groups and identities. We have a responsibility to be diverse and inclusive.
The plenary was followed with some good discussions and questions. Baltimore Museum of Art’s recent sale of well known pieces by white men to purchase pieces created by representatives of minorities was discussed an applauded. There was also THAT question that has been the source of much commentary, but Kaywin’s response was suitably to the point – for a group that makes up 50% of the population, I would think the ideal representation would be 50%.
Concurrent Session 1 – GLAM Collaborations
Robin Hirst (Chair), Mark Crees, Indra Kurzeme, Kate Follington and Tilly Boleyn
In this session the presenters discussed a vast range of collaborations the have worked on. Mark spoke about the Araluen Cultural Precinct in Alice Springs and the necessity of working together in a place with a small population and creating an integrated visitor experience. He also talked about building the structural capacity for collaboration.
Indra spoke about the State Library of Victoria’s wide range of collaborative projects. Including ongoing projects that allow them to program state-wide through the essential partnerships with regional libraries and galleries, fellowship programs and special projects such as a collaboration with RRR for the inclusion of their achieves in the collection and an exhibition.
Kate spoke about the Victorian State Archives utilising collaborative projects in order to engage the public with their heritage without having their own exhibitions or programming team. She discussed their example of working with contemporary street photographers to exhibit alongside historical collections, which was allowing them to address some of the lack of diversity in their collection.
Tilly spoke about the Museum of Applied Arts and Science‘s major collaborative project with the Wellcome Collection in London on the This is a Voice exhibition. She described it as a true collaboration, not simply a travelling exhibition.
Questions and discussion followed in which the panel discussed what made a good collaboration and how do you make a collaboration work. The panel also discussed the importance of creating frameworks, rules and capacity for collaboration first. Have the tools you need – be it a space or a project application process – that allows you to say ‘yes’ to the right opportunity and ‘no’ to the wrong opportunity.
Robin suggested a really good collaboration work when the two parties get a lot out of it. A low cost to you, but of high value to someone else and vice versa. There was also the suggestion that true collaboration should move aware from transactional arrangements. Values need to align and there needs to be an opportunity for agency – particularly in the case of minority groups. Co-creation, mutual respect and shared risk we some of the key concepts that were agreed upon.
The session presented much optimism and inspiration for collaboration but also useful considerations about the need for frameworks and capacity to ensure collaborations are effective and meaningful.