I can still clearly recall my excitement when I travelled to Melbourne, from my job teaching in Katherine (NT), for my second interview at the State Library of Victoria, where I was to be offered the position of Education Officer – Medieval Programs. I had met a range of interesting and inspiring future colleagues, I had been taken through the amazing maze of buildings that made up the Library and I had even handled a Medici Manuscript. Before I had even begun, I was completely sold on this new professional path I had taken.
I have a great personal interest in Medieval History and I was delighted to be able to spend my working hours playing the role of storyteller to others. I loved finding the fascinating, obscure and shocking stories and capturing children’s interest by retelling them with as much drama and intrigue as I could muster. What’s more, this role opened to me a new avenue to use my skills in Education and open the minds of children to new ideas, an idea that had romantically motivated me to enter the teaching profession in the first place.
At the conclusion of the State Library’s Medieval Manuscripts exhibition, my role became more focused on Victorian and Australian history, and other programs relevant to the Library’s collection and services. I was enthusiastic in delivering the mission to make students feel like it was their library: relevant, useful and accessible to them. I also considered myself progressive and willing to share the difficult and uncomfortable stories as well as the fun and happy ones.
But since those first months working in the cultural sector I have travelled a path of my own personal and professional learning and now, 11 years on, while I still love and believe in the sector I work in, I have a more complex and less romantic idea as to my role, responsibility and influence.
On Monday I attended my first professional development seminar since starting Maternity Leave in February. It was a lunchtime seminar at the Immigration Museum Melbourne on the topic of ‘Rethinking the Museum Experience‘. I did have my, very obliging, 5 month old daughter in tow, so I wasn’t at my full capacity. Unfortunately I missed all of Andrea Witcomb‘s presentation while I was settling her.
Nonetheless, there were some interesting messages I took away from the seminar. Laurajane Smith and Philipp Schorch spoke about research they had conducted with visitors to the Immigration museum. Both looked at how the visitors engaged with the content in the museum, particularly in relation to emotional engagement and the role of identity in shaping their visit.
I had been hoping to visit MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) for quite some time, so I was pleased to finally make there last week. I had heard a lot about MONA and their mobile experience ‘The O’ at various Museum conferences and gatherings, so I had quite high expectations. I’m pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed and it lived up to the hype. A visit to MONA is quite a powerful experience.
Photography is allowed inside the museum, but publication on websites is not allowed without permission. So I will share only images of the entrance.
I arrived at MONA by car, rather than ferry. When you enter MONA you travel to the lowest level by a cylindrical lift or spiral stairs that wind around the lift. You emerge into a cavernous hall with towering stone walls. This entrance really set the scene for the visit. It feels like you are delving into something deep, unknown, confronting and surprising.
Last week I visited the recently renovated Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in Hobart. I hadn’t visited it prior to renovation so I can’t comment on the transformation, but what I did see was quite impressive. What struck me the most was the aesthetic quality of the exhibitions, particularly those in the Bond Store Galleries. They were very beautiful spaces to be in.
Recently, one of my Twitter colleagues, @stoleasheep, sent me an article: What makes a good museum? It was good to read an article suggested by someone else, rather than one I had looked for myself. The article caused me to reflect on my beliefs about what makes a good museum, but also my experiences with museums in both a personal and professional capacity.
The last day at the MA and IA conference began with another contrasting mix of keynote speakers. First was Professor Ross Gibson who talked about the power of art to transform a person and the importance of considering emotions and aesthetics when planning exhibition to encourage this transformation. I understood the ideas he expressed and I have seen the power an aesthetically thoughtful space can provide, but I thought the ideas were possibly over-analytical for a good portion of the audience and that some practical suggestions could have made the information more useful.
Back at the Heath Ledger Theatre in Perth for Day 3, the program began with some very different keynotes. Firstly Andrea Witcomb discussed, from quite a philosophical platform, how immersive or interactive approaches provide reflective opportunities to build empathy of challenging topics. Andrea used theMemorial to the Murdered Jews of Europein Berlin as an example of a good reflective space. She argued that these spaces are important because: visitors need the provision of some vantage point to question their own relationship to the topic. Andrea compared these reflective spaces to role-play experiences putting the visitor in the victims place, which she thought easily became a farce and did not allow for an emotional transition. I felt however, that it was comparing a very good immersive space example to an average role-play example. I don’t believe it means we should dismiss role play out of hand – especially in the case of children visitors.
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.
Last night I presented at the ENVI (Museums Australia Education Network Victoria) end of year event Travellers Tales. I spoke about my travels earlier this year and from this experience suggested what makes a good museum: LOVE.