Monday, 15 June 2015

Museums Australia Conference 2015 Sydney

The splendid Sydney Town Hall was the venue for MA2015

The Museums Australia 2015 Conference was held between Friday 22 May and Sunday 24 May 2015 with the Regional, Remote and Community Museums Day held 21 May 2015. It was attended by 450+ delegates Australia wide and some international but perhaps that was only one New Zealander...

MAT funded two bursaries for members from Tasmanian Museums to attend. As it happens both recipients were from Devonport Regional Gallery. Here is Ellie's and Andrew's reports. 

ELLIE RAY Devonport Regional Gallery

From the perspective of a gallery director overseeing a collection of both heritage and contemporary objects this year’s MA Conference was of particular interest. The conference focus was on the context of cultural production and the role of collections. It brought together a range of speakers from across the globe with both experiences relative to audience members, and those that were unique to the speaker’s organisation.

Collections play an important role in the gallery, yet their meaning and the way they can be accessed and displayed has changed dramatically in the past decade. The varied discussions on the role of
the collection and how it is preserved and presented gave much food for thought.

I attended the Regional, Remote and Community Museums Day at the beginning of the conference and met many gallerists’ working across Australia. Discussions ranged from collection storage to public and education programs. Highlights included presentations on the role of narrative in bringing an audience to the museum. The following day, and subsequent days saw a great focus on the role
of digital media and its future in galleries and museums. While there were many presentations covering different approaches to technology and how it can be applied in museums and galleries, the panel discussion on social inclusion ‘A socially inclusive cacophony’ chaired by Sophie Lieberman opened up lively discussion and debate into the benefits of the Art Museum in marginalized communities.

It was beneficial to attend the concurrent session on partnerships between museums and learning institutions. DRG strives to maintain contact with education and learning institutions and hearing first hand how other organisations – from universities to museums work to maintain and deliver programs was inspirational. While I attended many other meaningful sessions by far the most educative was the Indigenous Reconciliation in the museums and galleries sector panel discussion chaired by Peter White. I left the session a lot more informed on the representation (or lack there-of) of indigenous culture and indigenous employment in the museum and gallery sector.

Overall, the conference was inspiring and educative and allowed for new contacts to be made. Without the financial assistance of the MA Bursary it would have been difficult to attend the conference this year. I’m most appreciative of the bursary and the opportunity it gave me, and my Collections Assistant Andrew Worsley to attend this year’s conference. It was a great opportunity to learn more about other institutions and ways we can improve on our current roles and provide
our communities with memorable gallery experiences.
Ellie Ray
Director, Devonport Regional Gallery

No pic of Andrew as yet...(ed)

As collections and gallery assistant to the Devonport Regional Gallery, I was given the opportunity to attend the MA Conference 2015 in order to further research the vital role that we all play, no matter how big or small, in maintaining our collections to high national standards. These standards are
essential not only for individual organisations, but for collaborative, ongoing individual organisations working together. The open networking of ideas and the active encouragement to participate from the lectures allowed for indepth, relevant conversation as to what is happening in our organisation. This
networking also shed light on practices and procedures in other organisations and, perhaps most importantly, revealed what best practice is being implemented in the preservation, conservation, and presentation of museum and gallery collections locally, nationally, and globally.

All things digital were certainly high on the Conference agenda, thus encouraging me to attend many sessions that explored this form of documentation and preservation. Topics ranged from the displaying of artworks and digital scanning - a very worthwhile session considering the breadth of our scanning project on the Robinson collection negatives. Great topics also included the creation of data hierarchy, and even discussed educational and collaborative gaming (presented by the Powerhouse Museum and Think Space Labs) using sandbox, no narrative, augmented reality games (such as Mine craft. This system is resonating with young people who in turn are teaching the older generations how to keep up with the ever changing digital environment and its relevance to art and collections.

I have found this conference to be inspirational and of great benefit on many levels, primarily for conversation and networking with like-minded collections workers trying to attain best, up-to-date practises for displaying and preserving individual collections. I am grateful to the Director, Ellie Ray and the financial assistance of the Museums Australia Bursary for allowing me the opportunity to attend this conference and to keep maintaining best practices for our collection and gallery.
Andrew Worsley
Collections & Gallery Assistant, Devonport Regional Gallery

MAT committee member, Helen Whitty was a recipient of a MA bursary from the National Office to attend and this is my report. Here is her report. You may want to skip the personal observations and scroll down the page to More with its selection of interviews, talks and resources. For a full list of speakers and so on the program is still available.

Meanwhile I'm offering my take on the four days in these three themes:

  1. Place: its always important 
  2. Technology: its still shiny
  3. Manners: we like to be nice


VIVID Sydney is a festival that attracts thousands to its venues

This conference confirmed my belief that the best gatherings, festivals and indeed institutions arise from the place they are in and the communities that inhabit them. Sydney Town Hall was the central venue although the pre-conference regional and remote day was at the National Maritime Museum; the opening drinks at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (formerly known ad the Powerhouse Museum); the closing drinks at the Australian Museum; dinner at the groovy Ivy ballroom and no doubt I've forgotten somewhere... with the point being we were all over town. The Vivid light festival was glowing and at many sites including the frocked-up Town Hall. The Sydney Writers Festival was in full voice and indeed Rose Hiscock the MAAS Director (at the opening night) encouraged all delegates to play hookie and attend at least something else. I suspect some delegates may have been overwhelmed by the scale of the operation but I felt that the conference was embracing the city.

The sense of place was speaking to me and this is possibly why I leapt to my feet in a one woman standing ovation for keynote Jonathan Jones who was a complete standout speaker (see More). Jones is a Sydney-based Aboriginal artist and member of the Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi nations. He spoke of the historic basis for Australian identity and the grip of globalism upon us based on notions of memory and loss. The landscape is particularly pressing for him and in reading it both historically and culturally we can read ourselves differently. Winner of the Kaldor Art Prize Jones is basing a new work on Sydney's Garden Palace which has always been of interest to me. He wove so many stories around it including the loss of countless Aboriginal and South pacific items from the Australian Museum housed there and destroyed by fire.

Whether or no you believe all culture is local this point was strongly made in the presentation about Trove (see More) and the benefits of joining and showcasing local collections under its banner. The presentation by Kim Biggs and Bridget Guthrie from regional NSW (the Identity Project) was an impressive reminder of how collaborations between small museums can build a bigger picture.

The Reminiscence Cottage at Geelong's National Wool Museum uses familiarity to create engagement with all visitors including those with dementia. Sara Gillies outlined sensitive and useful strategies for any museums interested in extending.


Peter Mahony from MAAS outlining participatory programs using augmented reality

Despite the request to stop calling electronic technology 'new' we still struggled with what to call the digital realm and indeed finding a shared language about it and what it means. Technology still tends to be shiny and not that well integrated into normal museum business. The participatory promise still feels far away despite the rhetoric of sharing authority with visitors. Nevertheless the work in MAAS Thinkspace does just this coupled with the museum developing its own augmented reality application for children to work with whilst learning about coding and teaching their parents a thing or two. Jaye McKenzie Smith's presentation on making 3D models of archaeological specimens at Macquarie University in conjunction with medical imagining facilities was another foray into beyond my comprehension.

I chaired the very popular Digital session presented by Lynda Kelly, Michael Parry and Jonny Brownhill (see More) which exemplified the struggle with 00s and 11s that we still have. How to manage projects, where to locate them in the organisation, how to manage them and deal with the aftershocks.


The Humboldt Forum Berlin is moving into the city centre

Museum workers are nice and I don't think too polite although others have positioned that we need more debate at conferences (see Paul Bowers blog in More).  I think we could take our issues up a little more publicly or perhaps this is simply naive and its all about playing the long game. For example our disengaged response to Hon Arthur Sinodinos (standing in for the real Arts Minister) in his welcome explaining to us the benefits of the budget changes.  Similarly one of the Sydney elephants-in-the-room was finally addressed by Deputy Mayor Robyn Kemmis who built a wonderful argument for the importance of having major cultural institutions in the heart of cities and how they are part of their history and culture. She was speaking about the proposed move of MAAS to Parramatta and the sale of the city site. This was an ironic counterpoint to the presentations by Gunther Schauerte on the Humboldt Forum (getting slightly confused between millions and billions when outlining the budget) and Michael Lynch and the mega West Kowloon Cultural District Project in Hong Kong.

It is at this juncture that I can pop in my session entitled 'Thats just not normal" which looked at my research process in looking at the relationships between families and literacy in a museum. This was part of 'A socially inclusive cacophony' which really is NOT about being nice but about being a museum.  We seemed a funny crew to out together but I found it worked very well together. The presentation by Lindsay Farrell into art making and appreciation by marginalised groups was beautifully put and so too the exploration by the National Portrait Gallery who worked with emotion rather than form to present In the Flesh exhibition.

Twitter feed

I was part of a small group of people who used Twitter during the conference. I found it a great way to reflect on the papers and also connect with others. Here are all the tweets with the conference hashtag of  #MA2015syd complete with screen shots of key powerpoint slides. The # is a way of others finding your tweets about this conference in the deluge of daily tweets.


Here are sites where you can either hear a version of a presenter's talk, a related interview or useful resource referred to during the conference. 

BIG picture

Kim William AM speaking about the urgency of education reform. Banning the bland!

Alec Coles, the Director of the Western Australia Museum tackling whether  museums are indeed ‘safe places for unsafe topics?’ 

Regional Museums

An interview with Sally Waterson, a keynote at the regional and remote museums day who spoke about the importance of speaking the language of local government


Margot Neale from the National Museum of Australia talks about pathways of knowledge and songlines at the conference.

An interview with Keynote speaker Jonathan Jones about his take on Sydney's long forgotten but iconic Garden Palace and a vimeo. 


Interview with Xerxes Mazda from the Royal Ontario Museum on developing criteria to include narratives in exhibitions.

Tech stuff

A piece about Ingrid Mason's talk about GLAM data connected to digital humanities research. Ingrid is a eResearch Analyst and Data Specialist

A slideshare presentation by Paul Rowe on how to cope (onsite) when you open the digital doors to your collection

Lynda Kelly, Australian National Maritime Museum; Michael Parry, MAAS; and Jonny Brownbill, Museum Victoria hosted a discussion session about 'Getting digital done in museums? Not a presentation as such but two speakers used slides to prompt discussion. Lynda's slides are here and Michael's are here


Another on the spot conference interview by Geoff Barker with John Retallick on TMAGs Museum of ME Prison Project

Beautiful poignant work by multimedia artist Jayne Fenton Keane given access to the US Navy's marine audio archive. Extracts played as part of her presentation.

Useful resources

The Cultural Asset Mapping in Regional Australia ran from 2008 to 2013 as a partnership project. CAMRA aimed to provide an understanding of how a region's capacity for creativity and innovation can ensure its quality of life and its economic viability with legacy resources. Here are resources on cultural mapping.

Trove is a National Library of Australia initiative but not just for library s. It brings collection records together from institutions around Australia and the world making them available to the public in a single discovery service. This is how you can find out more about making your collection part of Trove

My Excursion App for any museum to use when organizing school excursions

Thinkspace augmented reality App for a glimpse into one possible museum future. Another glimpse is Tomography. 

Other thoughts on the conference

Marine Soichet a fellow attendee and ardent tweeter followed up with this blogpost on her experience of the conference and so too did Paul Bowers.

Please feel free to share your comments about the conference below or email thoughts for the next conference to MAT at

No comments:

Post a comment