Friday, May 18, 2007

Museums Australia Conference 2007

HI all, am attending the annual Museums Australia conference in Canberra and am going to attempt to blog my experiences. There are no internet facilities at the conference (!!) so will check in when I can.


LyndaK said...

Day 1 17 May

Unfortunately I missed the plenary session as we decided to visit CSIRO Discovery and the Canberra Museum and Gallery. I will be reviewing CSIRO Discovery on ExhibitFiles.

Attended the parallel session Multimedia and emerging technologies: the case for creative collaboration. This session was organised by the Musetech group, a mixture of techos and those interested in the process and outcomes. The first paper by Michael Parry from acmidiscussed Culture Victoria (formerly known as Victoria’s Cultural Network). This project links eight major Victorian cultural institutions located close tother in the Melbourne area, who have created a network to share and collaborate on digital resources and content.
There was so much to digest in this talk, but the main issues for me were the lessons learned that Michael talked about:
• Don’t organise yourself to death – too many groups and committees and acronyms can slow the process down
• Don't divide and conquer – splitting core parts of the project mean lack of coordination, ensure responsibility and sharing makes sense
• Don’t expect people to stick around (4 year project) – therefore you need to get buy-in across the organisation
• Do make strike “teams” – create smaller working groups and membership not just based on representation, if external people make sure they live in the organisation
• Don’t forget it’s still them and use – agencies are competitive by nature
• Don’t wait – just do it then ask for feedback
• Don’t wait for standards
• Do build something that continues – use a CMS and still needs staff time to manage
• Do let go
• Don’t get tied up with lawyers
• Don’t outsource everything – need to upskill staff and create buy-in
• Do persist as there are long-term benefits

The second session was by the lovely Jerry who talked about the work QUT has been doing with the Museum on the Australian Museum stories project. The main discussion point was how a collaboration of this kind is able to change an organisation, and how the principles of participatory design method was used to help guide the Museum in its endeavours. I won’t talk about it here but Jerry might upload the paper on the NLA blog. The main point I got from his talk was to separate the strategy from the tool/medium. The V&A families online project looked good – the V&A provides the portal and creative tools and you can upload your own content about your own collections – the community and institutions create new collections together. A great way to get our collections and content out and to get some content in.

Joanna Cobley talked about Podcasting 101 using the museum detective. I did learn that you can record using your iPod and a plug-in microphone with good results. Joanna uses M audio recorder which we’ve used for our stories with good results (note to self – buy some of these!).

A theme from this session seems to be just to dive in and give it a go – bit like this blog really! The process of trial and error is really important, learning from mistakes and changing as you go.

With such a rich program it was hard to decide which session to go to in the afternoon. I decided to stick with the technology theme, given my new expanded role as acting web manager (plus I couldn’t be bothered changing venues!). The session started with a paper from Hayley Townsend, from Museum Victoria about how collaboration can add value. She started with the why question – why do multimedia, answer because technology can enhance the visitor experience and it’s fun! Hayley showed some fun examples, and also (thankfully) spoke about accessibility (don’t hear much about this issue at museum conferences...

Liz Murphy’s talk was called Connecting research, collections and public participation, something I’m very interested in given our rebuild. Liz talked about the World Ocean Observatory an online global network of exchange about ocean issues. They have monthly topics they look at and invite experts in their field to connect with audiences. Use Centra 7, can see and ask questions directly of curators and other specialists. I kind of didn’t get it, but Tim Hart reckons it’s cool so definitely need to check it out further.

Overall thoughts: strategy before technology; ability to connect is enormous; there is interest; lots of people doing stuff; a way to provide access to a whole range of people from all around the world. You never know who’ll you meet (and I’ve met new people and learned new things just on my funny old blog!).

I missed Joe Coleman’s talk about making great experiences – multimedia and Museum Victoria as I had to rush off to the ICOM Australia AGM to see whether I got re-elected to the committee (I did!).

I also managed to catch the end of the ICOM session, where a panel discussed what the future holds for us with partners in our region in the context of the ICOM Australia Museum Partnerships Program (IAMPP). Ian Galloway (the retiring chair of ICOM Australia) set us the challenge to think about how museums across Australia can work with museums across the Pacific region and support them. Tony Martin reported that ICOM Paris are looking to Australia to play a greater role in the Pacific region. Collaboration is a common way that organisations are now working and the internet has played a big part in the development (for example e-Bay). Tony feels that we have a good chance to use these principles in the way we work with museums in the Pacific (and then perhaps an opportunity to change ICOM itself? Good luck with that one Tony!). Vinod talked about the interest in museums and cultural centres by the communities – they want them and he did say that sustainability is an ongoing issue. He thinks IAMPP is a good leadership program and should continue, with continued focus in the Pacific. Meredith Blake (the Secretary of PIMA) thinks that the main outcomes of IAMPP were training, capacity building, collection management and partnerships. There are huge issues in Pacific, they are concerned about climate issues, health, sanitation, and therefore culture comes low down on the list.

At the end of the day a good lot of sessions, lots to think about and a lovely dinner with the folks from MV and Sovereign Hill at a nice Italian restaurant.

LyndaK said...

Museums Australia Conference Day 2 May 18

I was very excited to see the plenary session papers today. Working in a natural history museum and having attended these conferences for many years I have seen a trend to not include much stuff on our area. Climate Change as we know is an issues that affects us all, a recent study I did showed that visitors and potential visitors were incredibly interested in this topic and saw it as a way for the Museum to make itself more contemporary.

Due to busy cafe, Canberra cabs and other irritants I got late to today’s plenary but managed to hear David Pemberton, a senior zoologist from the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, talking about natural history collections and using the Alarmingly few thylacines that are left in collections as a sad indictment of the problems in museum collecting practices and systems. He showed a mad movie about how to collect and preserve a sperm whale specimen that had washed up on the beach. He got asked to rationalise and prioritise why they were collecting sperm whales. Molecular work has thrown open new challenges and findings, therefore need to collect widely across rather than a narrow focus. New technology will help speed up the preparation process for large animals. CAT scans can help with 3D data. Technology is changing what we collect and how. Animal ethics is a big issue and need to work with local community to collect species in non-lethal ways (eg caught by trawlers, etc). Climate change is also affecting how and where museums can collect. OH&S is also affecting where they work and how they do it – field biology can be dangerous. Have to also collect non-perfect specimens. Research is waning, performing is in...

The next speaker was about the debates around living collections, delivered on behalf of David Hancocks from the zoo sector. “a responsibility shared is not a responsibility halved”. New type of institutions needed as a holistic and integrated forms of collecting and perhaps zoos could morph into this role. Zoos have failed to rise to this challenge and need to do so, according to David. Zoos do not measure themselves against nature – it is the yardstick for how quality of zoo experiences for the animals and visitors should be done. Feels the focus should be on increasing visitors’ understanding of the habitat, not just the animal. He believes that we “need to treat the visitor’s intellect with respect” build exhibits around complex ideas, like museums often do. Although he’s talking about zoos this is very applicable to museums – treat visitors’ with respect and understand the prior knowledge, experiences and skills they bring. Zoos often don’t focus on small creatures, and consequently, many people cannot name more than about 20 animals, mostly large that they’ve seen in zoos. Don’t just breed animals, breed more compassion – he said there have been no studies into visitors attitudes and perceptions after a zoo visit,. There have been three studies that I know of:
Adelman, L., Falk, J., & James, S. (2000). Impact of National Aquarium in Baltimore on Visitors' Conservation Attitudes, Behaviour and Knowledge. Curator, 43(1), 33-61.
Swanagan, J. (2000). Factors Influencing Zoo Visitors' Conservation Attitudes and Behaviour. The Journal of Environmental Education, 31(4), 26-31.
Falk, J. (2006). An Identity-Centred Approach to Understanding Museum Learning. Curator, 49(2), 151-166.
As well as Jan Packers’ work on different learning experiences at museums, galleries and aquaria:
Packer, J. (2004). Motivational Factors and the Experience of Learning in Educational Leisure Settings. Unpublished PhD, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane.
Packer, J., & Ballantyne, R. (2002). Motivational Factors and the Visitor Experience: A Comparison of Three Sites. Curator, 45(2), 183-198.

Great and provocative paper with much food for thought!

Anne Duncan, the Director of the National Botanic Garden in Canberra talked about the role of botanic gardens in climate change. Three key roles:
• Understanding and identifying plants – basic data about plants
• Conserving plants in living collections – biological insurance, maintain living and genetic material of threatened species
• Connecting with people – increase appreciation and understanding and often under appreciated by gardens and governments

Overall theme from this morning? Partnerships and different institutions have to work together it’s urgent; we can do something about it. Collecting institutions have enormous potential to be relevant through our long history of research and collecting.

LyndaK said...

Wow!! Have found a wireless connection (thanks Jo!) and can now make posts in a more live way – a challenge!

The second plenary session looks to be an interesting one. Five art museum directors in a room – I wonder what the collective noun for art museum directors is??

Ron Radford, Director of the National Gallery of Australia, talked about blockbuster exhibitions and the growth in them. However many challenges now in terms of transport costs and insurance. Harder to get large sponsorship. New markets have opened up in Japan, Koreas and oil-rich national of middle East. They have failed to challenge as we have chosen “safe” topics that will give good numbers rather than provoke and inspire visitors. Also people now travel and have experience with seeing exhibition overseas so have high expectations (we found that strongly in our tourism study – something that I hadn’t thought about before but is an issues we need to keep on top of). Something that grabbed my attention was when Ron talked about the substantial Pacific collections held in Australia. Caution!! I did a study about audience interest in Pacific collections and exhibition and news was all bad (but some good!) – we need to make sure we focus on the people and community, not the object! Are art museums up to that challenge I wonder??

Jackie Menzies from the Art Gallery of NSW, about exhibition challenges. Just doing fast notes now:
• Growing impact of China in the travelling exhibitions market
• Most Australians will soon be more Asia literate and therefore more open to Asian exhibitions [I don’t know about this ...]
• Number of exhibitions increasing places pressure on getting objects for them
• Many museums opening in China, and may impact on us getting shows, but also presents an opportunity to travel shows there
• India and Japan also getting into the market and building new state-of-the-art museums, therefore opportunities for us to travel
• Indigenous art has a high OS profile, also offers opportunities
• Important of government diplomatic endorsement is key
• Measure of success is the "memorability” of the exhibition, not the numbers
• Networks and opportunities to add to permanent collection are also important measures
Thanks Jackie, enjoyed the paper and the audience/community focus you took in your talk. Haven’t heard much about audience in the plenaries so far... The conclusions you made were great and it was hard to keep up! I suggest people download Jackie’s paper when MA publishes it.

LyndaK said...

Afternoon parallel session – attended the one called The Bigger picture: individual, digital and global (re) adventures, which sounded intriguing.

The first speaker, Barbie Greenshields, talked about a collaborative project between artists in a small country town and the Western Australian Museum. Some of the lessons I took from this: allocate enough time for project; stringent communication with the museum curators, allow project to operate and increase buy in throughout the Museum, give the artists’ scope. Embrace the project and harness the enthusiasm and passion, don’t stifle with politics and complications!

Next was Leonie Hellmers talking about the Dictionary of Australian Artists Online, an ARC project with University of NSW and a range of partners across Australia (due for release mid-2007). The database is a research tool for advanced searches on biographical information of Australian Artists. Targeted or broad search. Not a static project. Help art historians, curators etc to do their job. Have representatives of users involved throughout. What they wanted (which are of broader applicability I think):
• Very specific information on each artist – hard facts
• Simple search interface
• Ease of contribution
• Identify artist that share common characteristics
• Discover related, contextual information
They have built in the opportunity for peer-reviewed editorial on site (double-blind peer review), as well as commentary facility. If get further funding will look at interoperability and data exchange with other resources (eg Picture Australia).

Susan Ostling gave an interesting overview of the Guggenheim phenomena but due to my sore neck and tiredness (see below!) haven’t taken any notes...

Rose Hiscock from Museum Victoria spoke about branding, something very relevant given that we have just gone through a re-brand ourselves. Only short notes now:
• Remembering that branding is more than a logo, it’s the way your organisation is (and wants to be) perceived
• Listen
• Get staff involved
• Do your audience research
• Think across the organisation and bring everyone together
• Be honest
• Need to be able to demonstrate impact, therefore need to do qualitative research.

LyndaK said...

Thoughts on conference blogging:
• Frustrating – limited wireless and internet access means can't really be live (but I found a sub-culture of those in-the-know about free wireless and other access)
• As the papers weren’t submitted earlier needed to take heaps of notes to give the context as you couldn’t read it for yourself (like you could with M&W2007), therefore posts became very long
• Sore neck and shoulders – potential OH&S problem!! Really think I can only blog two papers at a time because of this
• Due to the structure and my sore neck can only blog a really small snapshot of the conference today
• How to make delegates aware of the blog and encourage them to contribute - see my other post on low levels of understanding of Web 2.0 – might this be different next year? Will we have moved on??

In the spirit of experimentation I've passed these comments onto Mel, my intern's blog for further discussion.

LyndaK said...

Given all my grumbles about blogging, can't resists one final post, especially as the last session I attended was terrific.

Genevieve's paper looking at the hierarchy of knowledge was outstanding and i think we could have debated the issues she raised all afternoon. Need to think about that one and hopefully get her paper. Much of what she said resonated with my thesis findings and some didn't of course! Tom Hewitt, a consultant designer gave an entertaining and thought-provoking paper about designers and museums. Loved it - thanks Tom! Finished with the lovely Jerry again who extended his earlier paper, and in the true spirit of social media Jerry has already uploaded the notes on our NLA project blog.

Now people, am tragically blogging this from home so, after my three-hour car trip, am signing off my MA 2007 conference blog experiment ... don't know who's out there reading this, probably noone, but I guess that's not really the point! Nite all.

LyndaK said...

OK, final last one. Just checked out the museum detective site and there's heaps of good stuff there on podcasting, including all the links Joanna mentioned in her talk.

Jerry Watkins said...

Lynda! Jerry here! You are the Queen of Blogs! But how come I can't leave a comment on your Museums and Web 2.0 piece?

LyndaK said...

Oh, I dont know! I moderate this blog but I managed to get this comment. Do you want to try again? I'll try making a post too.

mel said...

Very interesting Lynda. I have just read the comments on Museum 2.0 about 2.0 apathy, and it is interesting to hear the low level of involvement in this forum. However, i think these postings are a good example of the use of 2.0 - an immediate summary of what is interesting and relevant, open to anyone to read, not just conference attendees.

I also think the 'just do it approach' is very significant - otherwise i think there is a danger of these processes being percieved with suspicion by people in a museum environment - as another bureaucratic procedure, rather than a way to participate.

LyndaK said...

Here's a Radio National piece about the conference (and museums generally) with interviews from Bernice Murphy (Museums Australia), Matthew Trinca (National Museum of Australia) and David Pemberton (Tasmanian Museum and Gallery).

LyndaK said...

Have just found the link to the conference papers - check them out here