WE ARE MUSEUMS 2017 (DAY 1)
We are Museums is arguably my favourite conference. It’s inspirational and manageable; over 2 days you get to talk with most of the people in the audience. It also manages to keep a great balance between local and international speakers as well as the male/female ratio of speakers. Moreover, it’s not shy to question and discuss the relationship between museums and private companies, museums and commerce.
This year, the conference was held in Riga, arguably the perfect conference city: the weather is mild, 70% of the population speaks English, and everything is 15 minutes’ walk away. The only downside is that the city really loves its slow food and slow coffee culture so you will wait at least 15 minutes to get your filter coffee…. but it will be freshly prepared.
Given that the conference is known for having a tech focus I thought that the best way to encompass its spirit, and to sum up the best lessons learned, is to do it through the best tweets.
The conference was off to a good start even before the first speech happened, with everyone admiring the provocation posters and of course the beautiful setting of the Latvian Art Academy where the conference was hosted.
After the introduction to the founders, and some of the supporters of the conference, we were off to the races.
Leyla Tahir from Tate Collectives
Leyla talked about Tate Collectives and about museums being brave. It exemplified opening up and giving curatorial power to young non-museum people, and letting them play around with the collections. These collaborations often produced results that went viral, such as this gif created from James Abbot Whistler’s ‘Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander’ (1872-4).
I thought this was a fantastic talk to kick off with, because no matter where the museum is located, getting young people through the door is often a challenge. A programme such as Tate Collective could be developed by any museum and in any setting; all that is needed is a supervisor or coordinator to look after the group of young people and to guide them through the collections. I know that growing up I would have killed to be involved in something like this in one of my local museums. This idea was echoed the next day by Linda from Kim? (the Latvian Museum for contemporary art) who actually used Tate Collectives as an inspiration for the educational programme at her museum.
Seb Chan spoke about how ACMI (Australian Center for the Moving Image) embraces the startup principles of radical transparency, co-working, and thinking about staff experience, not just the visitor experience. The ACMI believes in sharing space and resources not just with colleagues but also with companies relevant to the museum. Opening the offices up to other companies meant that they could curate their set of tenants, and also bring additional income to the museum as the tenants pay rent.
More importantly, these steps (to embrace the digital and to open the space to startups) were not done as a fad, following the startup culture that is currently trendy, but actually reinforced the original mission of the museum - focussing on moving images and by extension on new technologies. Possibly the biggest take away from the talk (apart from the need to be lean) was the statement that ‘people don’t come to museums for technology’.
Mirjam started her talk by questioning what a Jewish museum is. Is it a community museum, is it a minority museum, is it a history museum, is it a memorial site, or is it a museum of tolerance?
These open-ended questions led to two very concrete questions which were asked during the transformation of the museum and tied to their vision.
1 - What is the impact of the political climate on the situation of Jews in Europe?
2 - How can a diverse non-Jewish audience be attracted to engage with Jewish material culture?
The takeaway tool from the talk was an Empathy Map that helps develop visitor personas.
Ulla spoke about courage. The courage that takes for a 100+-year-old institution to rethink what they do, to take a leap of faith and to become experimental, to learn to balance the new, the past and nostalgic. To not be afraid to learn more about visitors, and learn who their audience is, to not be afraid to wear multiple hats.
Also, isn’t this the best mission statement ever? I would love for my city to have this!
The Workshop hour was incredibly exciting for Vastari as we hosted our own workshop about temporary and travelling exhibitions. It was wonderful to learn how museums in Poland, UK, Latvia, France, Netherlands, Lithuania and Scandinavian countries work with exhibitions, as well as sharing lessons we have learned running Vastari Travelling Exhibitions Network! The main lesson was that when it comes to travelling exhibitions every museum works differently: some tour for profit, while others don’t charge anything and just want more people to engage with their content. And the only way to learn how different museums work is by speaking to them (and using Vastari for research of course!).
Kajsa Hartig from Nordic Museum, Sweden
Kajsa Hartig spoke about leadership in a digital age rather than the more common digital leadership.
And the need to change the mindset of museums and their staff about digital rather than just give them the skills.
Kajsa introduced a fantastic case study where the Nordic Museum invited cosplayers to interpret the creatures found in the folklores that make up the collection.
Milja Liimatainen from Kiasma Museum
Milja spoke about collecting online art. The talk understandably started with explaining what online art is.
And as soon as she introduced the portal arsplus.kiasma.fi/ everyone got lost within a new procrastination tool that has the in-built excuse ‘this is research for work…’
Of course when something new is introduced assumptions are made and questioned. For example, some artists still feel that their work needs to be seen within a white cube.
Luise Bachmann from The SCHIRN KUNSTHALLE FRANKFURT
This talk spoke about the engagement they achieved with a small team. They have 8 exhibitions a year and have over 8 million visitors a year!
As a case study, the team at SCHIRN demonstrated how they used social media to really engage audiences with their Matisse exhibition, particularly using hashtags developed in-house.
Meret dedicated her talk to Open GLAM, public domain images, and bringing art into the public domain. But don’t listen to me talking about this final talk of the day, in the spirit of openness, you can explore Meret’s entire talk on slide share.
As the first day came to a close, Geis Richard pointed out that 7 out of 8 speakers were women! This is awesome, as at many other conferences the opposite is true, despite the museum industry employing primarily female workers.
After that, it was all drinks and fun at the beautiful Latvian National Museum of Art. And being a local Rigan, I invited some 25 museum professionals to join me at one of the local restaurants.