The 2016 UK Museum Association Conference at a Glance

The Vastari team started the journey to Glasgow for the 2016 Museum Association Conference by checking its official hashtag on Twitter and Instagram (#Museums2016).

Delegates who had already arrived shared shots of Glasgow’s gorgeous revivalist architecture and tweeted their excitement - the perfect online introduction for our journey to Scotland.

With almost 30 workshops, daily keynotes, networking events spread throughout the city and half a dozen seminars per day, we structured our time in Glasgow to learn as much as possible about the current state of the museum sector, its perceived challenges based on fascinating case studies, and the innovative solutions being tested.

We boiled these lessons down to 5 key points that the Vastari team would like to share with you:

  • Whilst the traditional museum worked as a repository of objects, the 21st century museum can change people’s lives through the power of its curatorial and educational projects. Using the capacity of museum artefacts to unfold history into a material spark for memory,  today’s museums should take responsibility upon themselves for being agents that can enable change in today’s society. David Fleming, Director of National Museums Liverpool, identified two of the major issues  that curatorial and education programmes must tackle through objects: modern slavery and dementia. His institution’s House of Memories initiative is an excellent case study in aiding people who suffer from the latter.

  • Technology, both tested and emergent, is at the heart of new approaches in museum programming and development. This isn’t a case of ‘tech for tech’s sake’, as one presenter bluntly put it. Museums are increasingly integrating the physical and the digital in creating interpretation materials that do not end up detracting from the actual content they want to portray. This is how Eltham Palace recently increased its annual revenue and visitor numbers.

  • For many small to midsize organisations, increased collaboration is key to growth and sustainability in a world crippled by continuous budget cuts. To achieve this, museums could use centralised resources, work more with the private sector on research and development, make use of offline networks to share skills, or adopt online tools to reach global audiences, such as Vastari Collections and Exhibitions. Vastari’s own MA workshop, held with the assistance of Nicholas Kondoprias of Pan Art Connections, is an excellent case study in the power of leveraging an online network to grow business. For more information on the latter, check out this post

  • Diversity in the sector is a ‘pipeline issue’. With Equality, Diversity & Inclusion as the running theme for this year’s Conference,Tonya Nelson from UCL’s Petrie Museum made a heartfelt plea for the need to stop focusing on the end point of the museum employment process. When it comes to individuals from diverse backgrounds (and quantifying diversity) more should be done to help this in the first instance, by giving these people more of a chance at entering the employment pipeline in the beginning.

  • A museum of ideas and possibilities can be an agent of change just as powerful as a repository of objects. In a keynote that would put many TED Talks to shame, we were introduced to the Museum of Tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro, a magnificent foray into how the organisation of a museum solely dedicated to ideas reflects the problematics of mankind’s future; we add that the 1.2 million people visiting the museum in its first 10 months were not that bothered that it only has one object in its collection...

There were a myriad of great ideas floating around at this year’s Museum Association Conference. Our summary is just a quick look at the ones we found most interesting.  For a full overview of all the events from three jam-packed days, we would encourage you to consult MA’s online archive.