After a few days reflection I have returned to my notes to review what I learnt during the Museums Galleries Australia Conference. Here is the summary of presentations I attended during Day 2. More reflections to follow in later posts…
Plenary – Simon Chaplin and Brian Lobel, Shake the Foundations
Day 2 opened with a joint presentation by Simon and Brian sharing stories from a collaborative project The Sick of the Fringe commissioned by the Wellcome Trust (UK). The Wellcome Trust supports scientific research and medical advancements. Simon is the Director of Culture and Society and Brian Lobel worked as a Wellcome Trust engagement fellow.
Brian’s heartfelt and compelling personal stories (his own and others) gave much cause for reflection. He framed a view of disease, health and disability that is not often considered. The project gave a platform to critical voices that felt unrepresented and allowed them to express their own sense of ‘humanness’.
At the end of the presentation Brian challenged Simon (and us) to consider ‘Who is missing from your museum?’ Simon responded that he didn’t know who was missing due to his position of privileged. Brian also asked us ‘how do we turn over power to the absent voices?’ How can someone unable to be present in our museum have a voice of any kind?
Concurrent Session – Being an Agent of Change
Russell Briggs, Penelope Bartlau & Louis Le Vaillant, and Dr Nikki Sullivan and Craig Middleton
Russell Briggs began the session presenting his catchy ‘4C’s of Museum Change’:
- Community – connect with your community, given them ownership and access.
- Collections – think about how you think about your collections, plan for change.
- Crowds – ask difficult questions and look at things from the visitors point of view.
- Internal Culture – advocate for a diverse staff, empower them to make decisions.
He argued that awareness is the greatest agent of change. But also cautioned that if you have been given the task of being a catalyst of change be sure you don’t become the sacrificial lamb.
Penelope Bartlau and Louis Le Vaillant looked at ways to thwart museum conservatives. They suggested that, typically, there are preservers and interpreter roles within a museum and that the interpreters are usually the more flexible.
They also advocated for engaging the community and bringing them into the museums/gallery. As an example they looked at using theatre in a historic house. Theatre, as an artform, is a fleeting moving space. Museums are solid and static. Wonderful things can happen when they collide.
Penelope and Louis gave their top three easy steps to thwarting conservatism –
- open doors to invaders,
- choose your invaders wisely,
- relax because everything is a yes until they say no.
Dr Nikki Sullivan and Craig Middleton introduced us, with much fun and dance, to the organisation KINQ – Knowledge Industry Needs Queering. They called on us to be supporters in their aim to challenge the hetronormativity in the GLAM sector and progress queer curatorship.
KINQ is our name, cultural espionage is our game.
Their presentation looked at the how neutrality benefits the dominant culture. But also challenged the presentation of only homonormative ideas as queer, as they do not represent the diversity within the queer family.
During question time there was a lot of discussion about self-care, particularly when in the position of being an agent of change. Suggestions including enlisting support from governing bodies and policies, and making safe spaces and counselling services for support and reflection. Also ‘squirreling nuts for winter’: remembering the things that keep you going… for which the presenters told stories of creating meaning, representation, visitors ‘brain explosions’, and grateful visitors.
Nathan Sentence, Wiradjuri librarian – Who drives the conversation?
Nathan presented about his work on his blog the Archival Decolonist. He talked about his motivations for the blog: to create discussions. He found it was the best way to communicate what needs to be changed about GLAM. As an example: Aboriginal stories get catalogued under Aboriginal Myths and Legends, Christian stories are not catalogued as myths. There are power dynamics at play in archival processes.
Nathan’s goals with his blog is to:
- To challenge and disrupt whiteness as the default or “neutral”
- To stop perpetuating the myth of GLAM neutrality
- To question who is being centred
- To advocate to pluralise and decolonise GLAM education
- To expand your cultural values
- To challenge the notion that GLAM organisations are inherently good. – GLAM organisations have assisted the oppressor.
“Museums have the sticks, we have the stories. Without stories, museums only have sticks” – Aunty Grace.
Viviane Gosselin, Museum of Vancouver – First Nations Museum Engagement: Who has the knowledge? Who drives the conversation?
Viviane followed on a similar topic of working with the indigenous people of Canada at the Museum of Vancouver. She asked us: who has the knowledge? Not us, rarely us. There is more expert knowledge outside the museum than within it.
Viviane talking about the #MOVrealconciliation project and working with local communities (paying them!) to be meaningfully represented in the museum. Some considerations she presented:
- New language – substance and process: Terminology eg ancestors instead of remains, village instead of site.
- Mindful collecting – a symposium to invite people to discuss and present their ideas on what should be in the MOV’s Collection Plan.
I was also interested to hear that of MOV’s 30 staff – 5 are educators! A strong representation.
Concurrent Session: Queering the Museum
Richard Perram, Tuan Nguyen, Nikki Sullivan and Craig Middleton
Unfortunately I missed the presentation by Richard at the beginning of the session.
Tuan presented his recently completed PhD thesis ‘Queering Australian Museums’ http://hdl.handle.net/2123/18169 looking into LGBTIQ inclusion in museums in Australia and internationally.
He suggested that in some ways, not much has changed. In other ways there are examples of positive change in Australia. But, although the message of what we are doing/not doing may seem negative, museums have more capacity than ever to engage with the queer community due to social and political change. He argued that we need to update our policies and conversations to consider intersectionality in these issues.
Nikki Sullivan and Craig Middleton, following on from their presentation I went to earlier in the day, looked further at how museums don’t just represent LGBTIQ lives, they construct them. The also discussed the need to critique contemporary museological practise – rather than just include queer subjects.
An example of contemporary representation on queer identity, they talked about Jo Darbyshire‘s work where she did not try to search for ‘queer’ objects but to reimagine any object within a modern queer viewpoint. She would juxtapose things that may not appear to correlate, and in doing so invokes connections, potential paths for connection. She does this rather than portray ‘facts’.
A closing comment in the session was an important reminder: 11% of Australians identify as somewhere in the LGBTIQ sphere – that’s a substantial minority.
Closing Plenary – Director’s Cut
Paul Daley (Chair), Lynley Marshall, Chris Saines, Dr Mathew Trinca
This session was a discussion between industry leaders and to gather their thoughts on where the sector is at and where it is heading.
They discussed the volume of stories to tell and the reduction in funding – the need to do more with less. The discussed the changing dynamics of the field as technology evolves. Although this generated some discussion on Twitter with frustrations that some in the sector had not moved past the notion of technology vs collections.
There was an acknowledgement that Australia still has much further to go to meaningfully and respectfully represent indigenous Australians.
Money was also a key topic. The need for leaders in the sector to raise money so that the staff of the museum can do their important work. But also the need to refine your ‘why’ so that you can articulate your value to those funding the work.
The collection is important, but it is its relationship to the public that is where our core business is. – Mathew Trinca
It was another engaging day with lots of provocations and thoughtful conversations.