MA Conference Liverpool 2013. #Museums2013

There has been a lot going on the past two weeks and most of that has been training or talking about training.

The view from the conference centre.

The view from the BT conference centre.

On November 11th/12th I attended the Museums Association’s annual conference, which this year was held at the BT conference centre in Liverpool. I attended numerous seminars over the two days; I’ll briefly discuss my highlights.

The Emotional Museum: Challenging prejudice and discrimination.
Judith Vandervelde, senior educator at The Jewish Museum London spoke of how she was approached by teachers in her community concerned that pupils were using the word ‘Jew’ in a demeaning context and as an educator could she help address this issue. She went on to explain how she took collections items into schools to help the pupils to ask the difficult questions they may not be able to in any other environment and thus to help them understand cultures different from their own. For example, one of the objects Judith used was a Kippah with a football teams badge sewn onto it, that belonged to her son. This is an invaluable tool as it challenges the behaviours and attitudes that can result in addressing certain stereotypes. This understanding can result in communities that are able to find a common ground and so allow for interaction that wasnt happening before, stimulating a social cohesion, addressing problems in society and people who are in a position to challenge discrimination and prejudice.

Collections Vs Ideas.
This session discussed if museums should still be about collections or ideas. So, a museum should have an idea (not a slogan) that they work everything, collections, education and the over all experience around. To me this did not make sense. In my opinion a museum is nothing without a collection. I understand that having an idea and running in various directions with it such as towards exhibitions, activities and outreach etc, is a great tool. To be able to connect these different areas of the museum then allows you to connect with your visitors. But, surely to have this ‘idea’ you must have an initial collection and collection objects to fuel the creativity, as it were. Of course, this is just my opinion, the session itself was an interesting interactive experience and some good debates were had.

In this session I was able to meet and have a chat with Rachel Sayers. She is a curatorial assistant from Belfast, check out her great blog HERE.

Richard Sandell, professor of museum studies at the University of Leicester also spoke at Hold that Thought.

Richard Sandell, professor of museum studies at the University of Leicester also spoke at Hold that Thought.

The Emotional Museum: Hold that Thought.
Artist Phil Sayers spoke how his work addresses LGBT themes and how this has caused powerful reactions from visitors and the public. We heard how some pieces caused outrage, being deemed disgusting and inappropriate, not to mention being “unexplainable to children”. Phil spoke of a piece that was, to date, the only piece ever defaced in the gallery in which it hung because he dared to acknowledge lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender topics. However, this emotional reaction is exactly why these themes should be identified in museums. They have a responsibility to make people look at their perspectives and opinions and to challenge them, to cause emotional engagement and to allow for these otherwise unheard narratives to be expressed. After all, it’s exactly the purpose of a museum to educate, to be the tool that looks at difficult subjects, to evoke an emotion that results in an exchange that can be the stepping-stones towards having a clearer understanding.


Lucy Worsley.

Keynote: Lucy Worsley.
Broadcaster and chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, Lucy Worsley spoke on how to represent your museums on television and during interviews. She spoke mostly in relation to the six series’ she has presented for the BBC and in particular ‘Harlots, Housewives and Heroines: A 17th Century History for Girls’ from 2012. She discussed the technical issues from early evenings and lighting loss to the price of filming at certain sites, what would be your best options in certain situations, for example if your site was just used as a background shot, and outlined the benefits (and some disadvantages) for your museum through this medium. Lucy even showed us some outtakes, making this session as entertaining as it was interesting.

Mind the Gap: The benefits of strategic collecting.
Fiona Talbott, head of museums, libraries and archives for the HLF discussed the success of collections programs and announced the details of the HLF’s new collecting program to be launched this year. I saw Fiona speak earlier this year (read about it HERE) discussing disposal in collections and it was refreshing and inspiring to hear how the HLF are now providing funding in the collections area to allow for objects to be purchased and bought into a collection. Isabel Hughes, curator of collections and engagement at the Museum of English Rural Life then went on to explain how this funding opportunity helped her team highlight an area in their collection they were lacking in or could be improved and they were able to source and acquire a Series 1 Land Rover! I left this hour feeling inspired, thinking of our collection and how great it would be now that funding specifically aimed at improving a collection is available and all the amazing objects that could be introduced into the collection. You can read more about this program, Collecting Cultures, HERE, which also includes collection success stories.

Dead Zoos.
Which I have already wrote about HERE.

Henry McGhie, head of collections and curator of zoology at Manchester Museum speaking about Evolution.

Henry McGhie, head of collections and curator of zoology at Manchester Museum speaking about Evolution.

In addition to this on Thursday 21st of November I attended a Working with Natural Sciences day at Manchester Museum. Here I gained a clearer view on how to look after and, to some extent, conserve collections in geology, zoology, entomology and botany. It was interesting to see the differences between how various museums handle storage, for example, and the issues which some are facing that came up for discussion throughout the day.

The main issue is obviously money and man power, every museum could do with more of both but that is almost impossible. However, sharing useful tips and debating about solutions to these problems was a useful, enlightening and valuable thing to do. I picked up a lot and I am excited to consider them when looking after and thinking of our own collection. Maybe not the preservation of recently (naturally) dead bird specimens, which we were given a brief step by step walk through of.

Not just yet anyway.

Catch up on tweets from the MA conference at #museums2013.

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