'Art isn't radioactive - you don't just get cultured just by being exposed to it.' : 2014 ICEE Meeting

This Saturday the International Committee for Exhibitions and Exchange concluded its annual meeting, which had started on Tuesday the 23rd.

The conference was held in Finland and toured from the capital in Helsinki to Espoo, Tampere and Mantta. It was the first time that the committee met at another location than the annual ICOM (International Council of Museums) conference, implying a shift in focus. The subject of exhibitions and exchange thus requires more time than just being an annex of a larger conference.

With an exciting programme including international speakers, museum visits, receptions and even a traditional Finnish sauna, the meeting attracted hundreds of participants from over thirty different countries, including Qatar, Korea, Taiwan, Albania, Estonia, France, Japan, United States, Puerto Rico and Canada.

The main focus of the event was to bring together museum professionals, exhibition designers and suppliers to provide a forum to discuss the theoretical and practical issues involved in the making and exchanging of exhibitions.

Dr. James M. Bradburne, Director of Palazzo Strozzi, opened the conference with a very provocative and charismatic keynote speech. Dr. Bradburne drew the attendees’ attention on the difference between exposing visitors to art and getting them to engage with what they are looking at. “Art isn’t radioactive” – Bradburne mused, “you don’t just get cultured just by being exposed to it.”

ICEE Board.

He suggested that the way forward for museums may be to focus on making visitors engage with their permanent collection, by constantly working on creating new narratives with the same pieces. All collections have multiple stories to tell, and will thus engage the audience with the new interpretations.

The keynote speech was followed by a report on the current position of touring exhibition activities for museums in Europe, a presentation from the Swedish Culture Ministry’s agency for exhibition exchange, and a “marketplace of exhibitions” – an insightful session to exchange ideas on the future of travelling exhibitions, and market one’s own projects.

During this session the Vastari team presented its new Travelling Exhibition Network, a new online platform and search engine for exhibition organisers to keep in touch, thus making the most out of the connections that happened during the conference and the international network that exists for travelling exhibitions.

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Francesca Polo presenting VTEN

When a museum is curating a show, Vastari’s VTEN platform allows its curators and/or registrars to upload the exhibition to find partners for co-curation or simply to find a second venue. Additionally, museums can upload shows that happened in the past and are still suitable to tour - or find a show that fit within their exhibition programme.

This day closed with a visit to Espoo, where a great 20th C. building has been transformed into a grouping of 5 museums known as “Weegee.”

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Other themes at stake during the week were cross-sector museum collaborations very eloquently presented. The second keynote speaker, Robert Mac West, President of Informal Learning Experiences, focussed on the evolution of cross-disciplinary collaborations.

Michael John Gorman, CEO of the Science Gallery in Dublin, shared his experiences bringing together art and science to engage with a young audience.  The conference was closed with a fascinating session on drama and cinema as means to make exhibitions more engaging for the public.