Museums Association Conference, Liverpool 2013, 11th November 2013.

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The Royal Liver Building,’ (prounounced’Lie-ver.’)

On Monday 11th November & Tuesday 12th November I attended the ‘Museums Association Conference 2013’ in Liverpool. I have visited Liverpool before as a child and remember the ‘Liver Bird’  building (pictured above) and not much else. Though I couldn’t have felt more welcome. Liverpudlians are lovely, friendly and warm people.  I found it to be a ‘bigger’ version of Belfast. Albeit with more museums!

My main reason for attending the MA conference was because I was ‘curious.’ By using the word ‘curious’ I mean who attends these conferences? What sessions would be available? What would I gain from the conference?  etc. I was also interested in visiting to develop my museum practice, network and learn what is happening currently in museums. The main themes of the conference were:

‘The Therapeutic Museum.’- How museums can understand the need of their local communities.

‘Tomorrow’s World.’– What will museums/museum professionals look like in the future?

‘The Emotional Museum.’ – Museums need to engage with emotions more, open up from the ‘sterile, academic’ image many have of them.

Monday 11th November.

LP54I have to admit that I was pretty nervous attending my first MA conference. But I need not have worried, everyone was welcome and happy to help if I had any questions. There were ‘breakfast tours’ of various Liverpool museums prior to the conference staring. I did not attend these, but I do know from speaking to fellow delegates that the tours are worthwhile attending. Breakfast and museums, heaven!

The first ‘Key Note’ speech at the opening presentation was given by Ricardo Brodsky of the ‘Museum of Memory and Human Rights,‘ based in Santiago, Chile. Mr. Brodsky talked about how his museum deals with the military coup that took place in Argentina in the 1970’s and the subsequent brutal dictatorship that followed. A lot of what he spoke about resonates with Northern Ireland. Hopefully, Northern Ireland may have a similar museum sometime in the future.

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Opening screenshot and graphics for Museums Association Conference, 2013.

After the opening speech I attended three sessions. These sessions were:

‘The Emotional Museum: Challenging prejudice and discrimination.’

‘Collections vs Ideas.’

‘Tomorrow’s World: The tomorrow people.’

In the ‘Emotional Museum,’ session there were speakers from the Jewish Museum London, Anti-Slavery International and the University of Lancaster. The speakers talks centred around ‘using objects to break down barriers, pre-conceptions and prejudices.’ Judith Vandervelde from the Jewish Museum London talked about using Jewish religious items to break down barriers with inner city London kids. Alan Rice of the University of Lancaster talked about telling the stories of artefacts with ‘difficult’ histories.

I felt that these issues are con current with some museums in Northern Ireland, given the country’s difficult and troubled past. Why not tell a story of a car bomb fragment? Why not use objects to break down barriers? Museum’s in Northern Ireland could use these ideas in their outreach and education programs. They could be at the forefront to battling the prejudices people have about other cultures and the sometimes ignorance of one culture against another.

During the afternoon, I attended the ‘Collections vs Ideas,’ talk. The premise of this talk was to think that the ‘Museums aren’t about collections, they are about ideas.’ The panel consisted of people from the People’s History Museum, Manchester, Think More and True North (both cultural organisations.) The panel argued that museums should deliver excellent experiences for customers, museums should fight for ‘ideas’ to be the ethos of the museum etc.

I found this particular panel to be the most interesting as the panel asked us to collaborate with delegates sitting near us and come up with answers to the panel’s arguements. The various groups then took it in turn to talk about what they had discussed. It was very interesting to see different view’s on the different topics discussed. I also had the opportunity to meet and discuss museums with at this session with Lauren Field who works at Stockport Curatorial Services.  You can check out her blog here. Lauren’s blog is interesting, informative and a really interesting read.

The third and final session that I attended was the ‘Tomorrow’s World; Tomorrow’s People,’ session. This session dealt with the qualities that museum professionals of the future should have. I don’t know if it was afternoon tiredness, but I left this particular session somewhat perplexed. The speakers stated that by 2030 museum professionals should be able to: speak 3 languages, dance the tango in the dark, visit a museum abroad for 3 months a year, paint a painting in two hours etc. I was left thinking that I need to be a Super Woman and have no life to work in the museum of the future!

Though I was able to meet and discuss museums, heritage etc before and after this session with Anna Mikhaylova. Anna is a PhD researcher in Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. We were able to discuss her research that she is undertaken with her PhD as well as similarities and differences in museums in Russia and the UK. You can check out Anna’s work here. Her work is very thought provoking and challenges the barriers faced by museum professionals in Russia.

Overall, I felt that the sessions provided on the 11/11/2013 were concurrent with current museum practice and addressed issues that are effecting the sector at this moment in time. I was able to make a visit to the Museum of Liverpool on my lunch break and visited the Slyvia Pankhurst statue that had this caption on it:

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I feel that the Suffragette motto sums up the overall consensus of the conference. We need ‘deeds’ not ‘words.’ ‘Deeds’ as in action, take action, be fearless, push for change to make your museum up to date and relevant. Not ‘words’ as in don’t write down what you want to do or see happen or change, get out there and do it! More to come on my 2nd day of Conference in the next installment of ‘The Museum Standard.’

A summary of 11/11/2013 agenda can be found here.

All pictures (c) Rachel Sayers unless stated/linked.

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