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Museums Australasia Conference and Awards

By EleanorW Posted Under News

The Museums Australasia conference was held in Auckland mid May. I attended for two days and had the honor of picking up a couple of Special Commendations for Culture Victoria: a MAGNA for Seeing the Land from an Aboriginal Canoe, and a MAPDA for the Culture Victoria website, designed by us and Carter Digital. Yay!

Over the couple of days I was there, four topics kept coming up. Here's my summary of those key themes (in no particular order):

Who’s doing the speaking: systemic obstructions to diversity. Throughout the conference the lack of representation of diverse ethnic groups and young people in museum employment (and up through the chain) was noted. There were calls for acknowledgement of the disparity, which dovetailed with calls for greater transparency about who’s voice is used in museum communication. An example of redressing the latter was to have museum didactics credited with curator’s names. An example of redressing access for young people was for museums to partner with emerging professionals when they are in the ‘wilderness years’ (between university and permanent employment). It was noted that the sector needs to be vigilant to ensure that recent federal funding cuts do not increase disparity whereby only people who are able to afford to volunteer or undertake internships gain entry. Link: Tusk culture, emerging professionals taking matters into their own hands: http://www.tuskculture.com

Bringing in the bucks but not loyalty: what is the purpose of blockbuster exhibitions, and for that matter all exhibitions. The blockbuster approach to exhibitions was criticised as failing to attract return visitation. It was noted that thoughtful blockbuster programming provides audiences with access to international material, that blockbusters can be money-spinners and that when exhibitions are produced in-house they have ongoing IP that can be exploited for years. This discussion extended to the broader question of how exhibits dominate museum practice and whether they need to become more episodic in nature (drawn from programming and delivered iteratively).

VR is not social: what do new technologies mean for museums. In a world where we are drowning in information, and with the advent of mobile and VR, why would museums try to do everything on-site? Instead, museums need to filter out the noise and become experienced based, shifting from informing to inspiring, rivaling virtual reality with actual reality. Museums will need to take a more artistic approach where galleries are an ‘entrance to the self’, 3D story-worlds that share in emotion. Museums need to explore ‘the encounter’ and be unafraid of local specificity, where global is not a sphere surrounding the local but a small space at the intersection of many locals. Of course, museums need to ensure that access to information is provided online for pre/post visitation. Link: VR will break museums: https://medium.com/@adrianhon/vr-will-break-museums-794bfaa78ce4#.yevs17wk6

Hoarders: what is the role of the collection into the future. In 2037 Marie Kondo will publish a new tome, Deaccessioning: how to simplify your life and focus on your mission. Museums need to have clear collecting/deaccessioning policies. Collections are the point of difference for museums and museums need to enact their communities through their collections. Museums need to shift to collection exchanges and inter-museum collaboration. Link: Making Museum Moral again: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/17/arts/design/making-museums-moral-again.html?_r=0

To finish, here is a sign that I saw on route from Auckland airport to the conference. It summed up some of the themes nicely (I've searched for what the building is but can't find anything).

Building with digital sign that reads "Respecting differences is very difficult".

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