Friday, July 28, 2006

Museums Australia Conference writeup #3


Image, Place, and the Future of Museums - Emily Sano
The boom in new museum construction, expansion, and renovation projects that peaked in the decade of the 1990’s shows little sign of slowing down. These projects have offered museums the opportunity to rethink their priorities and programs, and forge new visions of what they can become. This talk will examine the new Asian Art Museum at the San Fransisco Civic Center as an example of the kind of transformation we hoped to achieve in opening our new facility in 2003. The points to be covered are:
– Reasons to move out of Golden Gate Park
– The construction challenge
– New focus on collection galleries
– New education and public programs
– Budget challenges
– Public response
Despite a positive reception upon opening three years ago, the operational reality for the Asian Art Museum going forward looks diffi cult, and a new strategy is needed for the museum to survive and flourish. The museum has undertaken a strategic planning effort to address a new business plan for the next five years. Controversial examples of new museums raise interesting questions of value, cost, and public satisfaction. The talk will conclude with an examination of criticisms raised about the Museum of Modern Art in New York in an article in the New Republic magazine of February, 2006.

* Museum moved to Civic Centre in San Francisco – a library converted to a museum. Library space doesn’t equal museum space; the conversion was difficult, long (1966 – 2003) and expensive ($180 million US all up).
* Public art museum: their aims are collection care, education, reaching the Asian community.
* Culturally, no “Asia” exists – it’s a geographic term. The museum’s aim is to show the cultural differences and similarities through art.
* Special exhibitions tend to focus on classical/traditional art.
* Essential for a museum like this to have a conservation team with broad skills (dealing with a variety of objects like paintings, ceramics, etc)
* They have mixed funding: 1/3 public contribution, 1/3 city funding (this is always dropping), 1/3 earned income (from the shop, holding functions, etc)
* They need to build new and stronger audiences

Publications mentioned: “Arriverderci Moma” by Jed Perl – Feb 2006 New Republic Magazine)

Citing the City: Museum Architecture, Mapping,and the Tourist Gaze - Naomi Stead (Paper available here)
Nearly ten years after the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the so-called ‘Bilbao effect’ has been widely discussed amongst museum professionals, governments, and architects alike.
Within this broad discourse, much attention has been paid to the role of spectacular or iconic architecture in city branding, the promotion of cultural tourism, and the revitalisation of depressed urban centres. What has been less discussed is the way that architectural tourism itself serves to constitute the city as a kind of ‘museum’ of sights, spectacles, and objects, to be consumed by the tourist gaze. In this way, the tourist serves to reconstitute and re-map the city as a series of spatial urban artefacts, landmarks, and souvenirs, to be ‘collected’ in the experience of the city. In examining this notion, the paper will discuss the role of museums in shaping a cultural space and visitor experience, and the significance of museums within a broader urban fabric and milieu.

* Perl’s article: Attack on curatorial vision, and that it is tourist-friendly/”dumbed down”, and a poor view of the director
* Museum buildings transcending their purpose: the building becomes something of its own.
* Tourist maps – museums as landmarks, museum buildings as markers
* Iconic architecture makes the promotion of a museum easier
* The idea of the city as a museum, full of buildings-as-artefacts

Cultural Connections— The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art - Lindsay Clare (Paper available here)
Whilst the museum creates opportunities for multifarious cultural connections the character of the architecture can respond to the spirit of place and provide a framework to enrich visitor experience.
The theme of connection, physically and culturally, has been explored and developed, resulting in a building that responds to its function in a clear and uncomplicated manner: a building that interacts with its south east Queensland location. The building is simultaneously inward focused (art) and outward looking (city).

* “White boxes” (museums/galleries) as open and inviting versus “black boxes” (cinemas) as dark and intimate.

Stories, Identity, Ritual and Place – Alison Page (Paper available here)
A simple ring of rocks once marked a place of ritual and storytelling and is a symbol of a traditional culture in Australia. The land around it too has a story of it creation and holds clues to the identity of the people who occupied it. The places remain but what happens to the stories, the ritual and the identity of people? Like the ring of rocks, a museum is a place where stories are told, people come together and identities survive. This is the context for the creation of new Indigenous places of significance within museums, which continue to play an important role in expressing the identities of people from places whose stories we have yet to hear. The complexities of expressing the contemporary culture of Aboriginal people with spiritual potency will be discussed in the creation of a permanent Indigenous Gallery at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney called Bayagul (speak up).
Engaging people in a collection of cultural stories is the premise behind a travelling exhibition named Our Place, which has been designed to be like a nomadic Aboriginal camp, inviting people in to experience both traditional and contemporary Indigenous culture. Exhibitions can play a significant role in preserving culture but must also accept the responsibility of expressing its continuity. Questions remain as to how continuity is sustained and what role museums play for remote communities.

* Museums as both keeping places and gathering places
* The process is part of the story; there is not a lot of transparency in the process of museum curation/exhibition design, little insight into what goes on behind the scenes.
* It is possible to achieve protocol and connection with people in exhibition content
* Bayagul exhibition – celebrates Indigenous participation in modern art, and challenges stereotypes of indigenous art
* Sense of “reward” – the way that things are revealed in the exhibition, and “hidden” artefacts means that you get more out of spending longer in the exhibition
* Partnerships with community must be active and involved and allow input from the community.
* Connecting with communities during the process of developing exhibitions can create deeper meanings..

Cultural Places for a New Demographic - Sir Peter Hall (Paper available here)
New demographic is a term, still almost unrecognised in academia, that has recently come into recent currency in marketing. The underlying idea is that new markets are constantly emerging through a combination of demographic and lifestyle changes, and that sellers of goods and services must keep up with them in order to compete and finally to survive. Thus, an international market analysis company like Experian uses GIS routines to combine a variety of different data—census and postcode geographies, including electoral data, credit applications and court judgements by postcode—to subdivide populations into a bewildering variety of groups and subgroups or “Tribes” which often have only a very indirect relationship to the conventional socio-economic groups or classes which still form the mainstay of Census and other official statistical sources. These “Groups” carry names like Symbols of Success, Happy Families, Suburban Comfort, Ties of Community, Urban Intelligence, Welfare Borderline, Municipal Dependency, Blue Collar Enterprise, Twilight Subsistence, Grey Perspectives and Rural Isolation. They further divide into a bewildering variety of 61 “Types” ranked by wealth, ranging from “Corporate Chieftains” at the top to “Tower Block Living” at the bottom. These “Tribes”, located minutely by neighbourhood on maps, are then analysed to give clues to almost all aspects of behaviour, from purchases of consumer durables to voting patterns in elections. Almost every large consumer-oriented organisation uses such neighbourhood classifications as a key element in retail planning, target marketing, and customer management. They are likely to prove equally relevant in the planning of new cultural facilities and the reshaping of existing ones to meet new patterns of demand.

* “New demographic”: the emergence of new socio-economic groups that are defined partly by income, and partly by lifestyle
* MOSAIC – demographic profiling
* “DEMOS” study 2005 outcomes
- Different lifestyles use urban spaces in different ways – sometimes compatible, sometimes not.
- Urban spaces: conventional and unconventional
- Come up with types (of behaviour and of uses of space)
- Best public spaces are those that welcome different groups; must be co-produced with users
- Can’t just lay down a space and expect it to work
- Local authorities should conduct “public experience audits”
* Growth of pop culture has led to a merging of retail/entertainment
* Creative industries are becoming an urban economic base
* There are three kinds of innovation: one important one is the marriage of art and technology; culturally- Technologically Innovative Cities
* Next innovative wave – digitalisation, and the internet as basic infrastructure
* 3 kinds of cities:
- Established metropoles
- Favoured sunbelt cities
- Renaissance cities (reinventing, converting, looking for a new role)
* Cultural cities: part of the new urban tourism. There is competition between cities – if there’s too many players it’s all the same. Must build active creativity.
* Learning from creative cities:
- Passive vs active creativity
- Urban quality
- Cities can lever themselves upward
- Creative planning

Mobile Culture - Jeff Jones
Mobile and web technologies have become a ubiquitous part of the everyday lives of most young people as they increasingly play a vital role for social communications. However, mobile technologies have the potential to intervene in much more complex place-based relationships resulting in more dynamic experiences. This has interesting consequences for establishing connections between young people in cultural spaces that are concerned with the visual and intellectual relationships between people, place and artefact. Integrating mobile and web technologies provides a capacity to link people to artefacts in both physical and digital environments that are so naturally inhabited by young people. Interaction Design is an emerging field made up of many different discipline perspectives that enable us to exploit the common uses of mobile technology and certain features of video games to make place-based cultural experiences more dynamic.
A key issue for cultural centres is to make sure that new methods of engagement do not overlook the potential for content and technology to contribute to sustainable connections with young people. Equally important is the need to mitigate against the tendency to be preoccupied with the newness of the technology and its commercial possibilities. This discussion will provide details of how the interaction design process can be used to reveal social, temporal, spatial and cultural dynamics in order to design better visitor experiences.

* People have more control over their information and technology now
* How does our technology change our relationships with the places we go/interact in?
* Issues for museums: how do you integrate place/artefacts/content (web/mobile)?
* Mobility means being on location
* Participant observation helps understand what people are after in experiences
* “Convergence” of communication
* On-demand services have measurable impacts on visitor experience

The Cultural Frontline of the Sea Change Phenomenon - Virginia Rigney (Paper available here).
The notion of the sea change phenomenon that describes the shifting demographics of people from metropolitan areas to seaside communities has now entered common understanding—we have
TV shows, a Sea Change Task Force and a barrage of statistics and writing on the topic. The sexiness of the topic is wearing thin for councils struggling to meet strains on roads, water and health care and there is also growing awareness of a rise in social dysfunction and conflict in these communities. What is less understood is the potential and the need for cultural spaces as part of this new infrastructure picture. The Gold Coast is the oldest and fastest growing of the sea change destinations and our experiences offer insights into the new kinds of cultural models required for communities undergoing dynamic change.

* Public space (galleries etc) as inclusive and welcome; input into social capital, helps serve the need of people to connect
* Museum representative of place and community through the collection (in this case, Gold Coast surf/beach culture)
* Hard to travel exhibitions that are so focused on a local community like this
* Wonderful buildings for museums are not enough, on their own. What’s inside counts.
* No public gallery or city museum in the Gold Coast area. Very little cultural support.

Which Demographic? A Social Geography of Cultural Spaces in the City - Chris Gibson
Demography and social mapping are increasingly relevant to cultural promoters, museum and gallery directors and grass-roots arts organisations interested in identifying new markets, reaching new audiences, and reflecting the desires and concerns of local communities. Demographic topics have founded much debate, especially since the emergence of popular theories of the ‘creative class’ (a social segment attributed for much of the growth of creative industries, arts patronage, and inward migration and investment to cities) and their impacts on cities. This paper asks a key question of museums in light of this: to what extent ought cultural institutions hook their futures onto courting particular demographic groups perceived to be key to urban change, or who have important economic power? I will briefl y discuss statistics on recent demographic changes in Australian cities and regions, to argue a case for widening discussions of demography, museums and the arts beyond the much-touted ‘creative class’.

* “The Rise of the Creative Class” (Florida 2002): Key to urban transformations, investment, migration.
* New demography should be part of a chain of critical planning and reflection, not dominate it.

Concurrent Session 9A – Interpretive Space

Striking a Balance: Multiple Perspectives on Constructing Interpretive Space - Meighan Katz and David Priddle
An architect and an historian walk into a bar…they begin to talk about the construction of cultural space. The result is this exploration of ‘constructing space’, how should museums balance philosophy and practicalities when creating museum and exhibition space? What role does stimulating and well delivered design philosophy play in interpretation? Is interpretive design ever as important in a decision as function? How is a museum’s raw material such as historical sources translated into affective and interesting gallery design? How far can curators and designers collaboratively “push the envelope” and still engage audiences? Is design sense developed over time through environment and education, affecting what children and adults consider to be stimulating design? We aim to explore how constructed space is used to encourage audiences to ask questions, how it affects issues such as curatorial transparency and voice and for whom the space is constructed. Perhaps most importantly we discuss how audiences read space and whether the understanding of space is a challenge for which museums need to seek collaborations with other educational institutions. This paper originates in our respective Master of Arts research and out of informal discussions at the 2005 MA Conference. It seeks to combine our backgrounds in architecture and history with our curatorial experience.

* Information can be obscured with “overdesign”
* “Dichotomy of program” exists between art museums and artefact museums (Susanna Sirefman)
* Postmodern thought applies to both curation and architecture
* We should look at art museums for guidance in creating engaging spaces. Given a better space, designers don’t have to waste time transforming poor space, and can focus on the exhibition itself instead.

Body Hits: The Dynamics of Kinespherics and Interpretation in Current Museum Displays - Kit Messham-Muir (Paper available here).
This paper explores the importance of spatial dynamics in object interpretation in museums; particularly, it examines how the positioning of objects in relation to visitors profoundly influences the meanings and interpretations of the object. Current museum theory and practice mainly emphasizes the social and cultural contexts of objects; from the academic field of artefact analysis to the practicalities of significance assessment, we recognize the importance of narrative surrounding objects. With this emphasis on narrative, interpretation tends to utilize museum texts to provide conceptual frameworks for objects. Objects do remain important for most museums, but when it comes to their interpretation they tend to remain inactive, at the eye-of-the-storm, while interpretation happens around it. Objects can, however, have an active and pivotal function in how museums interpret them. And, importantly, that interpretation can be dynamic, even uncertain and provocative. When we encounter objects we do so within spatial relationships that are charged with meaning.
But, just as the meanings of objects are not fixed within time, neither are they fixed within space. From moment to moment, as we move within the space of an object, engage them within the kinespheric space of our bodies, our perceptions alter its meanings for us. This paper examines current examples from museums in Australia and overseas, in which the dynamics of kinespherics inform the interpretation of the objects, and reveals an emerging trend in museum practice.

* Simulacra; simulate, rather than feel.
* Objects themselves convey physical information that’s very separate to didactic information
* Touching an object gives so much information – not just cognitive, but situated in interpretive framework and the physical character of the piece
* Physical engagement is non-linear
* We move around objects and engage with them in space; touch is only one aspect of this.
* “Kinesphere” is our lived space, our personal space, the space we feel physically and emotionally.
* Physical encounters are meaningful because of conveyed meaning, by what we feel, “encountered signs”
* Communication using objects is not just cognitive but also affective
* Intense moments are what drag us in.

Concurrent Session 6A: Indigenous Interests

Discovering Indigenous Intangible Culture in Canada and the USA - Lori Richardson
I have recently been awarded a Churchill Fellowship to undertake a research project into Indigenous Intangible Culture. My project will be to research the ways in which Indigenous Intangible Cultural
Heritage is identified, collected, exhibited and preserved. My travel will include visits to, the National Museum of the American Indian (Washington DC, USA), the Canadian Museum of Civilization (Ottawa, Canada), the Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump Interpretative Centre (Alberta, Canada), various community museums and cultural centres in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (New Mexico, USA) and the Bishop Museum (Honolulu, Hawaii). I am specifically looking at the use of Indigenous language within the museums/cultural centres, storage and access to collections and Indigenous interaction with the museums. My research includes meetings with Museum directors, evaluation, public program and curatorial staff.

- $300 million for the museum (specifically designed storage areas)
- Community curators: information, stories etc provided by members of the community.
- Storage space facilitates communities interacting with objects. [No gloves used! Eek.] Large drawers with objects in boxes – little movement for the objects.
- Community conservation, renewal of objects – concern for authenticity/history of objects (similar to issues with rock art here)
- “Head Smashed In” Buffalo jump (Blackfoot)
- Native front of house staff as well as director and board
- Not just the location of the museums, but also consultation with community
- Public programs are prolific
- There is a need for a National Museum of ATSI culture in Australia, instead of being part of NMA. (This was a Keating promise for the ’92 election; Mulvany saw the idea of separation as cultural apartheid.)

(Google – “Lori Richardson” Churchill)

Concurrent Session 7B: Virtual Assets

Show off Your Assets: Victoria’s Cultural Broadband Network - Jonny Brownbill
The Victorian Government funded Cultural Broadband Network (CBN) is a technology-based tool that will connect major Victorian cultural institutions and provide Victorians, Australians and audiences worldwide with sophisticated access to their cultural content. The CBN will enable participating organisations to work effectively and efficiently with each other in the creation and delivery of programs that incorporate their collections, research and information functions. The CBN project has collaboratively developed standards, templates and metadata required to bring together collection, icon and story information from Victorian cultural organisations. Funding of “Digikits” for loan to community-based cultural organisations will enable them to digitise key components of their collections for inclusion in CBN programs. The CBN project will integrate and make available its content via other Victorian Government networking initiatives to metro and regional audiences, including education (SmartOne) and public libraries (VICNET). A wide range of CBN programs are already underway—this paper will report on their progress and provide a particular focus on community engagement opportunities, especially in regional areas as well as a snapshot of future developments.

* Cultural broadband network – functions:
- Online access to resources (rather than pare down for the web, develop something big and broad, then add to it for physical space)
- Collaborative content development
- Deliver programming to/from regional areas
- Facilitate shared corporate systems and services
- Work with other industries

* Content projects: online exhibitions/events?
* How can you measure if it’s all working/reaching an audience?

Creating and Maintaining Communities of Interest in the Museum - Angelina Russo
How can the museum act as a proactive leader in the development of communities of interest? The Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum (CHNDM) a Smithsonian Institution) in New York has developed two outreach programs which capture target audiences to build sustainable professional networks. CHNDM offers models for the successful development of communities of interest, in this case, educators and designers in the development of strategies for cultural content development and educational resources. The programs draw on the design collection and develop invaluable community knowledge in relation to design practice. At the heart of each program is the museum’s impetus to enable scholarly debate regarding the future of the sector. This talk is informed by a recent Smithsonian Fellowship which included the development of a strategic method for networking design professionals to each other, the museum and the wider community and the development of a strategy for building national educational networks and creating alumni within the design community.

* Digital cultural communication builds a relationship between the cultural institution and the community
* Creative Commons/Intellectual property

Online or Virtually so? Cultural Spaces Created for Children through Online Museums - Robbie Johnston (Paper available here).
Most online museum resources are provided by large well resourced institutions. Small regional institutions face particular challenges which this study aims to address. This paper outlines research exploring the pedagogical orientation of online and virtual museum sites developed for children. Through detailed study of the literature and of web sites developed by historical museums, the research seeks to identify lessons that can be learned by smaller institutions with a view to gaining greater recognition. By identifying critical features of participatory e-space, this research aims to contribute to electronic information flows from rural and regional Australia as well as from large urban centres. The paper also comments on and critiques the potential for online museums to promote unbounded communities of learning and enquiry as well as social inclusion. The uptake of online technologies is adding to debates about the pedagogic role of museums and their potential to fulfil their mission of greater visitor participation and involvement in learning through online interfaces. With the advent of digital technologies, it is argued that museums are taking a lead among institutions with an interest in promoting lifelong learning. Accordingly, there has been a proliferation of research exploring the development of online and onsite learning interfaces that are developed for children and adolescents.
There is considerable interest among educators in learning from online museums. Rethinking the role of museums in consideration of constructivist theories of learning and of changing views of knowledge has allowed the museum to move beyond an “institutional space of enclosure” and seek to promote greater social inclusion through participation in unbounded communities of learning. Through a detailed analysis of several museum web sites, this paper comments on the web contents that are available for children and contributes to understanding of what marks this rapidly evolving cultural space.

* Planning for kid’s learning:
- Tends to avoid contentious topics, perpetuating sanitised views of the past
- Fear of representation of difference
* How can the past be represented and be engaging without becoming homogenous?
* Soja (1996) – “The Third Space”; 3 dimensions of viewing space:
- Actual
- Representational
- Contested
* “Spaces of enclosure” – constraint through institutional learning
* Links to other stories, and people’s specific stories are important
* Create a vastly enhanced cultural space by not isolating certain websites/web projects from other stories etc.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Museums Australia Conference writeup #2


Keynote address: Indigenous People and Cities - Jackie Huggins (Paper available here).
Forty years ago next week, a referendum was passed that allowed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be counted as Australian citizens. This year, another national census will be held and although the counting of Indigenous Australians is fraught with difficulty, unprecedented numbers of us will raise our hands in cities and towns across the country. The vast majority of us are young, a fair proportion live in cities and despite the fact that more of us will report higher incomes and loftier professions, too many Indigenous Australians remain on the fringes of urban life. Four decades on from the 1967 referendum in which a remarkable 91 percent of Australians voted YES for Aboriginal citizenship, communities of today must use what they have learned, through failures and some success, to take the next step in reconciliation. Achievement hinges on national teamwork, identifying what works, and backing it on the basis of Indigenous aspiration and evaluation. The objective can be simple: closing the 20 year gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children.
The solution is complex only in that involves all sectors of the Australian community, and that our commitment to it must be long term. But life is too short to put it off any longer.

* Museums should be telling the stories of the referendum, using the objects etc that have been collection with regard to the campaigning. The stories are worth telling and re-telling to aid reconciliation, and the stories give renewed meaning to indigenous citizenship.
* There are many strong people whose names are unknown outside of their own communities, despite their activism and efforts during the time of referendum.
* Suggests that next year a project be started aiming for the 50th anniversary with things like story trails between museums, recognition of significant sites and objects, and a real trail to follow – regions to weave their trails together, which would then map together over the nation.
* Use these opportunities to trigger thoughts about and conversations with our collections.

Exclusion Zones: Urban Indigenous People in Unfriendly, Built Environments – Samuel Wagan Watson
Since its inception in 1825 the city of Brisbane, capital of the Smart State, has been a problematic environment for Indigenous Australians to navigate. From the hanging of a prominent tribal resistance leader in ‘colonial-period’ Post Offi ce Square, to the death in custody of a young, talented song-man and dancer in the 1990’s, and now onto the new ‘Move-on’ laws enforced upon the Indigenous people in the city at present…the dysfunctional patterns of progress prevail. Although the local government has strategies which acknowledge the ‘inclusion’ of people in arts and cultural practices, why do the ghosts of ‘exclusion’ linger and prevail?

* Boundary streets in Brisbane
* No metropolitan areas in Australia were planned as a meeting place for all cultures; they were forced upon indigenous groups
* Indigenous models of land rights are being taken on by East Germans and also the Sami in Norway.
* Important to consider the past of Brisbane when looking to the future.

(Publications mentioned: “Bound in Bitumen” and “Last Exit to Brisbane”)

Finding Country - Kevin O’Brien
In acknowledging Jackie Huggins’ paper I find myself gazing directly at the tension between Indigenous Australia and the idea of the City. What contributes to this tension? To take Brisbane as an example, what are the references to Aboriginal culture (and people) within the urban fabric? It is easy to mount an emotive argument that demands action, but what precisely is the action in this construct? How do I feel about these issues as an Indigenous person versus what can I do as an architect? As a member of MERRIMA design our work strives to make architectural places in an idea of Country rather than as a derivative component of any specific city. It is this approach that now informs an observation about our cities, one where the Australian landscape supports an initial layer of Aboriginal culture, overlaid by a separate layer of European culture. The challenge for our cities is to find those architectural possibilities that connect all three.

* The sense of place is paradoxical; there are points of connection and difference.
* How can you incorporate a sense of Australian culture as a construct? How can you bring multiple histories together in place?

* 3 scales:
- Acknowledgment of people and place
- Architecture attempting to engage; places specifically designed for cultures
- Public art
(the last two using urban spaces)

* Designing in and around indigenous spaces rather than over them is something that should be considered when developing urban spaces.

Keynote address – Interpreting Cities - Tim Evans. (Paper available here)
Tim will provide a brief understanding of his role as Project Manager of the National Museums of Liverpool project, the history of Liverpool and the client organisation. The objective of his paper is to:
– Convey the vision and mission for the New Museum of Liverpool
– Provide an understanding of its future role in the city community and the local, national and international visitor experience
– Discuss the fundamentals—what will make it a radical Urban History museum
– Outline the key risks, pragmatic realities and issues that have been/will have to be addressed to deliver the project
– Review the organisation and process that has evolved to develop the vision, content and design.
– Illustrate where we have got to and how the design delivers the vision.

* The fundamentals of the new museum – history, location, money
* There are about 8 national museums in Liverpool, including the Museum of Liverpool life.
* The vision is simple: a “wondrous place”
* Aim is to provide for Liverpool’s community as well as visitors; to be a portal for the city. Want to be a “radical urban history museum”

* At the moment, the approach doesn’t see the need for 100% of proposed exhibitions to be finished for day 1. The idea is to phase things in over a few years after the bare minimum in the beginning. [Would visitors be happy with this though? Wouldn’t it seem half-baked and non-committed?]
* Aims for the exhibitions include: accessibility/touchable stuff; Beatles; football; Tale of Two Cities (savoury/unsavoury sides of Liverpool); testimonies from Liverpool community; “Community Pods” small exhibition spaces [not unlike Te Papa]; avenues for feedback from visitors.

Lost and Found in the Museum of Collective Memory – Peter Emmett
Are there fresh metaphors to interpret the shifting dynamics rather than fixed development of cities? How can museums represent the lost voices of those who have been excluded from the city biography of firsts and greats? And how can we engage in conversations across time and place to nourish the collective memory that sustains the dynamics and diversity of cities?

* Archaeological displays “in situ” give the idea that modern metropolitan areas are built on deep history
* Cities and museums should be places of memory
* There seems to be too much focus on identity (and difference) rather than urbanity (and being).

Interpreting Cities: Brief Suggestions for Actively Engaging Visitors and Residents with the Cityscape - Roy Ballantyne
In response to Tim Evans’ discussion regarding work currently being undertaken to design and establish the New Museum of Liverpool, brief suggestions are made regarding the way in which interpretive experiences can facilitate the achievement of the ‘planning group vision’ by engaging visitors and residents in learning experiences within the ‘living’ cityscape. In particular, themed interpretive trails (both guided and unguided) are advocated as a useful method of designing ‘powerful’ free-choice learning experiences supporting messages and reinforcing learning gained from exhibits within the museum. Practical examples are given to illustrate how these can be designed and delivered.

* The interpretation of cities tends to focus on the past and on heritage more than emerging environments.
* How can you draw visitors in to the interpretation of cities that encompasses past/future?
* Interpretive trails should ideally encourage perception of the urban environment, and to boost their ‘urban literacy’
- They shouldn’t just itemise and label, provide historical blurbs
- Arthur Percival (1979) writes on successful urban trails – focus the senses, tell the truth, look for links with the past and future.
* Interpreters who try to work neutrally in a value-free zone will not engage visitors
* Trail examples – focus on senses; look at conservation areas; focus on problem areas; investigate patterning
* The way visitors are actively engages in trails in important. Involve them with:
- higher order thinking
- problem-based learning
- empowerment
- active citizenship
- environmental investigation
- reflection
* Don’t’ contain visitor experience just within buildings, take them out into the urban landscape

Gone in an Instant? Museums and History - Kay Saunders
This paper addresses the issue of the viability of representing important historical events within a museum context. Specific attention will be directed towards the Russian communities’ experiences in Australia in the period 1917 to 1961. The Red Flag Riots and the deportation of Russians living in Brisbane in 1919 and the internment of Father Valentine Antonieff, the priest in charge of the Russian Orthodox Church in Brisbane in 1942, events all contained within the area of South Brisbane, permit an interrogation of events of global significance within a defined geographic area. These events are difficult to display in a museum lending themselves far more sympathetically to an archives or library exhibition. In contrast the crowning of Chinese born White Russian refugee, Tania Verstak as Miss Australia 1961 was a landmark event in Australia, heralding a new attitude to multiculturalism. By utilizing her extensive collection in the National Museum, the parameters of debasement concerned with core British identity, ethnicity, politics, celebrity and Australia’s international reputation can be evaluated in some depth.

* Many events in Brisbane history have been forgotten to history and archives, and the streets now feel so different.
* How could we have been at the centre of particular world events (re: her example of the Bolsheviks) which have all but been forgotten?
* We need artefacts, not just documents, to tell stories in museums (even though there’s so much information and so many stories in the documents – they need to be accompanied)
* Stories of people/events reflect cities – how can you get across the complexity of these things, however?

Concurrent Session 1A: Vital Cities and Belonging

Local Heritage and Cultural Vitality - Melissa Hayes and Richard Holt
At a local government level the policy context that applies to a municipality can influence and shape the way heritage is considered. At the City of Port Phillip, where a commitment to ‘cultural vitality’ means heritage is recognised and valued as critical in framing what the community is, some innovative and collaborative approaches to the collecting and dissemination of stories and the preservation of community artefacts have emerged. While dedicated heritage and curatorial staff generate much of this activity the policy context results in projects demonstrating a strong appreciation for heritage values across the organisation. Thus the importance of understanding where the community has come from is not a primarily academic exercise to the organisation but is woven into the fabric of public administration in the City.

* Council of Port Phillip (Melbourne) - 90,000 people, oldest of the municipalities.
* “Icon Study” allows the council manage significant places
* Port Phillip “museum without walls” – with no museum building, they can look at getting stud out into venues and presenting it to the community in different ways. For example, the Baths exhibition at St Kilda (put together with input from community); situated within the context of foreshore history.
* Council understands and recognises places of culture/heritage (a good and sometimes rare thing for most councils); all bids for development money must consider culture and heritage of the area.
* There is quite a lot of consultation with the cultural management sections of council for certain ‘products’.
* An “Urban History Centre” is under development, which will hopefully be of use but no encroach on using other venues as they have been. This centre will be used as a space for community, and to facilitate understanding between groups.

Beyond the Garden Walls: Greening Cities and Cultivating Communities - Janelle Hatherly
Large government-funded cultural institutions have a mandate to serve the entire state or nation, not just those who visit their spaces and collections. The Botanic Gardens Trust in Sydney has a commitment to take its expertise and programs ‘beyond the garden walls’ to enrich the life of our cities and regional centres, serve the broader community and green the urban environment. To this end the Trust joined forces with the NSW Department of Housing to establish a state-wide program called Community Greening. This program facilitates communal gardening on wasted public land and in housing estates, schools and churches. Through this program, disadvantaged groups in our society, including residents of public housing and local school communities in urban and regional NSW take ownership of their surroundings, connect with plants, learn new skills and make friends with people from a diversity of backgrounds. The program also involves the participation of several local and state government bodies and benefits from contributions-in-kind from industry and the commercial sector.
Beyond greening the urban landscape, community gardening builds social cohesion and develops community networks. People who might never visit botanic gardens are given the opportunity to gain an understanding of plants, recycling and sustainable horticultural practices. However there are challenges involved in establishing community gardens and empowering individuals and neighbourhoods. This presentation will examine the role of botanic gardens in the urban environment, not only as a cultural space but as a catalyst for social change and community building.

* Current attitudes (in general) are so urbanised that we are “nature blind” and very removed from green spaces. Botanic gardens can allow “measured access” to nature.
* Botanic gardens are museums with collections both inside and outside. There is a big challenge to educate and raise awareness of this, as well as living with/managing nature.
* There are 2024 botanic gardens worldwide.
* There is a pressing need for botanic gardens to be involved at a local level in their area.
* There are great physical and mental benefits in proximity to parks/botanic gardens. “Healthy parks, healthy people” programs. Community gardens, to help people connect with each other and green spaces.
* Sydney Botanic Gardens reach out State-wide with education programs; “Community Greening”
- Help develop the gardens that communities want
- Gives people something meaningful to do, somewhere to meet, skills to learn
- Successful for urban renewal

There is a Pottery in our Street: Cities and Belonging - Jacqueline Healey
This paper explores the role of small metropolitan galleries and museums in creating a sense of belonging in their communities. Despite limited resources and facilities these galleries and museums are able to engage at a grass roots level that teases out a myriad of connections with the local community. The labyrinths of cultural organisations that map our cities outside their epicentres create intense layered experiences that are difficult to replicate in larger state and national cultural organisations. Through the case study of the development of the exhibition Premier Pottery Preston and its tour to regional centres I will support this premise. Bundoora Homestead Art Centre (the public gallery for the City of Darebin) charter is to develop exhibitions that reflect the cultural and artistic heritage of the City of Darebin. The catalogue and touring exhibition Gumnuts and Glazes: The Story and Art of Premier Pottery, Preston 1929-1956 paid tribute to a remarkable pottery that emerged from Preston in the heart of the City of Darebin in the midst of the depression in the late 1920’s. A group of unemployed potters established their own business and created a range of ceramics called Remued ware that became an icon of Australian ceramics. The process of researching the exhibition was undertaken in the community where the pottery existed. It brought together the families that contributed to the pottery. While the exhibition was on display members of the public, some who had worked in or lived near the pottery came to share their memories. Such a gathering of community could only have happened in the heartland of where the pottery had existed. As streetscapes change and buildings are redeveloped or replaced, the past life of an area may disappear in a generation. This project documented the life of the Premier Pottery Preston in Oakover Road bringing to life the cultural and artistic legacies of that era to the community.

* The BHAC is trying to create a vibrant community by creating connections to neighbourhoods.
* What is distinctive about local gallery exhibitions – accessibility, connectedness, belonging; creating local connections as a result of the process of developing an exhibition.
* The community wanted the exhibition done locally, and held locally. There was a strong input from families involved who have heritage in that area, and connections to the pottery.

Concurrent Session 4B: Creative Access to the Digital Space

New Literacy, New Audiences - Angelina Russo and Jerry Watkins
How can Australian cultural institutions use creative media technologies to create new audience experiences? This major Australian Research Council research project has brought together an expert group of strategists and technologists from some of Australia’s leading cultural institutions. This group is examining the challenges and opportunities presented by the evolution of ‘information literacy’ in their audiences, brought about by the widespread uptake of internet, games and mobile technologies.
New Literacy, New Audiences examines how both information literacy and creative media technologies can be used to reconfigure relations between the institution, the communities it serves and its wider audience. The project will inform a model for effective digital content distribution, and in so doing will advance national research priorities for smart information use and the promotion of innovation culture.

* New audiences are gained through multi-platform distribution; selective content distribution to targeted audience segments across multiple communication platforms

* One-way knowledge transfer:
Source --> Content --> Platform --> Segment
--> Web platform expands available segments
--> Multiplatform extends further (more content available through the multi platforms, and more segments available – niches, harder to reach people)

* Online – there is an appeal to youth, hopefully engaging them for lifelong learning.
* One model of multiplatform distribution of cultural experience is the Australia Zoo site. This site appeals to pre/post visit or those unable to visit at all.
* New literacy – skills required to produce and consume digital media; co-creative media (interactive communication), feedback, no longer one-way communication.
* Co-creative media projects engage community and produce new cultural content
* Examples: ACMI memory grid, QLD stories Workshop, NMA broadcast studio

Making Connections: Telling the Story of Artefacts Online - Steven Decosta (
Capturing the spirit of an artefact and illustrating it online presents a number of challenges. Not least of which is the difficulty of harnessing this forum to communicate an artefact’s cultural, historical and aesthetic value in a relevant and diversely understandable context— How do you tell its story online?
A number of existing online spaces will be reviewed to give a broad overview of approaches that can be taken in the telling of these stories. Focusing on aspects of the online experience that communicate a sense of value for the user will reveal any commonalities between these approaches. This paper suggests that to communicate the value of an artefact to an online user the virtual space must inspire a personal connection between the artefact and the individual. The lesson for curators of online exhibits is to provide opportunities for people with diverse learning styles and educational backgrounds to make such connections.

* Approach: What are the stories to be/that can be told? How can we structure stories? How can we expand stories?
* Methods
- Reconstruction
- Thematic overview
- Embedded info
- Contextual overlay

* Making connections
- Think hard about intention
- Provide context that works online
- Provide content
* Ensure you make a meaningful connection.

Manhua Wonderlands Exhibition and Education Project (State Library of Queensland in partnership with MAAP (Multimedia Arts Asia Pacific) - Kath Kerswell
2005 celebrated the Queensland Centenary of Women’s Suffrage and also marked the 40th anniversary of Indigenous People’s gaining the right to vote in Queensland. The Queensland
Government’s Office for Women initiated historical resources through its website and encouraged participation by organisations across the state. The theme developed for the year was “Celebrate the past, claim the future”. The State Library of Queensland administered a program of events during 2005 which responded to historical, contemporary and futurist perspectives on the topic:- What We Want—an historical exhibition featuring material drawn from the John Oxley Library including political cartoons from 100 years ago. This small exhibition was displayed at Cannon Hill and is currently touring regional libraries and museums. Sufferance: women’s artists’ books an exhibition featuring the work of eleven artists who were invited to research the State Library’s collections and commissioned to produce artist’s books which address these issues from a contemporary perspective. Locus voci: a place of voices featured new media works by young women which comment on the lack of voice traditionally afforded to women by their representation in mainstream film. The publication Mending Matters included commissioned works from writers who were encouraged to envisage futurist scenarios from diverse perspectives. The HERizons Symposium stimulated debate on issues raised
by artists and writers contributing to the yearly program. What We Want documented an historical perspective on events of 100 years ago drawn from traditional news media and published historical references held in the State Library’s collections. This exhibition represented a response which could be considered typical of Government celebratory interpretations which re-present historical material in a didactic format drawn from published sources. The other projects gathered responses in “non-traditional forms”, such as visual art and fiction, which challenged the “authoritative” perspective of historical accounts in published material and mainstream media. Many of the artists and writers responses address the enduring difficulties which continue to be experienced by women in their domestic, personal and working lives.

* This project was developed by and for young people, and exhibited in real/virtual spaces. Made use of mobile multimedia lab, DVD zines.
* Multimedia artforms and new forms of literacy are being combined for this project.
* Creating, presenting and reflecting on the work are some of the most important things.

Ah, I shouldn't have left writing this stuff up for so long. My notes are so vague!


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Museums Australia Conference writeup #1

Okay, so it's been a bajillion years (well, a couple of months). I figured I should type up my notes. All still in point form. My brain can't do much else. Here's Sunday! The rest of the week when I get through it. Slowly.


Hidden Gems: Creative Industries in Rural Economies - Kate Oakley
The urban environment has been the focus of much creative industries policy development—as cities from Bilbao to Shanghai have fought to re-brand themselves as ’creative cities.’ But what opportunities do these developments offer to smaller towns and rural areas? Lacking the scale of urban economies and with dispersed population and thin markets, what can rural areas do to create ‘local buzz’? What is the role of public cultural institutions such as museums and galleries? And how do we ensure that such developments are sustainable and do not just benefit wealthy incomers? This paper will draw on recent research to try and answer some of these questions.

- Rural economies
* New rural economy is about innovation and diversification
* There’s a fast growth in creative industry.
* There is an effort to stop the ‘brain drain’ of creative people moving away from rural areas
* Creative people can be of input to other industries

- Creative infrastructure
* Bringing the cultural and creative together (making of milieu)
* It’s important to create links between creative and other industries so they can foster each other
* Connect cultural institutions to the broader economy

- Joining in
* Cultural institutions don’t just exist in their sphere, but in the greater spheres of leisure etc; they are unique, but should be considered within these other spheres.
* Museums to develop social bonds, to include people
* People make places; don’t make the mistake of breaking people down into “kinds of publics”/demographics, but thinking of “one public” sometimes

- Opportunities
* Low entry barriers in some sub-sectors
* Digital technologies can help to connect (‘borrowing scale’ in dispersed networks)
* Quality of life attracts creative practitioners

- Challenges
* Creative industries are seen as urban
* Low visibility reinforces the isolation
* Consumer base is dispersed

(Publications mentioned: “Renaissance in the Regions: a new vision for England's museums”)

When a Place Means Something, It Matters: Adding Value Off the Main Road - Sam Ham (Paper available here)
Remote museums have an opportunity and obligation to interpret stories that unfolded in the actual places where they occurred. But to capitalise on the advantages of proximity and authenticity, remote museums must see their function not as information givers but rather as facilitators of profound meaning. When visitors are provoked to think deeply about some aspect of local heritage, they make connections that put the place in very personal perspective. In this view of interpretation, we attempt not simply to impart colourful facts to visitors, but to connect them to things that are symbolically
significant to the visitors. When such connections are made, Regional & Remote museums achieve their highest aim, and in the process, add value to the experiential product they offer.

* Small museums have the advantage of proximity and authenticity, as well as heightened visitor curiosity.
* Meanings are the main impact you can have on people. Meanings are the not the result, but the experience. Experience is nothing more than what we think, 100% subjective. Every visitor will have a different experience, even in the same physical environment. [I like this idea, but for the madness it brings to exhibition development. But yeah, you can’t really pretend to know what people are going to think coming out of a museum can you?]
* Remote museums must be facilitators of profound meaning.
* Didactic evaluation looks at the retention of facts – not always the best way to look at the success of a museum. Perhaps museums should look at the success levels of provoking people to think (i.e. experience)
* Learning created by the learner themselves (constructivist view of knowledge). If visitors leave thinking and having their own thoughts, if they’ve been provoked – then that’s successful.

* Anthropological studies – “Numen seeking” (Numen-beckoning from gods). In the 50s, Rudolph Otto introduced the idea in a religious way. In the every day experience, it means we’re provoked to thought – the main points of this are intense engagement, sense of self, loss of time movement. (See also Cameron/Gatewood 2000 study).

* Visceral reactions to places and material culture; Numen seekers want to be provoked and moved, to be connected.

* Provide insights; instill empathy in visitors, give them personal stories.

Audience questions:
“How can you avoid manipulating visitors”?
By simply providing information/experience, we are manipulating. Where do you draw the line? Trust your own ethics.

“What about people going in cold to museums?”
It’s not just pre-conditioned/converted, regular museum-goers we want to aim at, but everyone with a range of interest/knowledge. Meaning-making is possible with them all.

Sustaining and Invigorating the Regional and Remote – respondents
Why Do Some Towns Thrive While Others Languish? - Ian Plowman (Paper available here)
Eight Queensland country towns participated in the research. It is the people and their attributes that make a difference. Net inflows bring diversity of ideas and experiences. The least innovative towns have net outflows, and it is the most innovative people that leave. The more innovative towns are also differentiated by younger average age, higher levels of education, and greater frequency of overseas travel, all sources for new ideas. They also have higher home ownership and a much higher level of distributed leadership and civic responsibility broadly shared.

* We all have mobility choices – who moves where and why?
* Towns with more leaders had less innovation.
* More innovative towns had people coming into their population
* Creative people have higher levels of mobility, and crave supportive environments.
* Creative vitality thrives in atmospheres of tolerance, talent and technology
* Humans are naturally conservative, which makes tolerance hard to find.
* Leadership often prohibits the opportunity to gain civic experience
* People make the place.

- Innovation
* What makes up innovation? Availability of professional/semi-professional people; change of leadership; quality of communication.
* Is innovation contagious? Yes, but diminishingly so. A very small part of a population innovates, you have another smallish part who pay attention to this and feed out to the rest of the community.
* Innovation is dangerous when the environment is stable, but necessary when the environment is changing.
(Publications mentioned: “Rise of the Creative Class” by Florida, UQ Press.)

DillyBags, Digital Stories and Dreaming Festivals: The Modern Day Hunter Gatherers - Debra Bennet
Retrieval of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts and Cultural practices, which acknowledge the wisdom and richness of the past, contribute to present day community and cultural development.
Acknowledgement of the changes and impacts to Indigenous communities, through colonisation and subsequent waves of migrant and foreign tourist arrivals on our shores, has highlighted the resilience, and resourcefulness of Indigenous People. The reshaping and refining of age-old traditions and inventiveness to evolve new tools and ways of working in many communities, are keys to social, political, economic and environmental diversity and sustainability.

* There is a need for representation and self-determination for Indigenous people in the media, to connect with and tell stories – to access stories and tell them in their own words.
* Move toward academic and political fields
* Cultural tourism important to share
* Telling out into communities

Significance Assessment and Community Identity: What’s Happening in Regional Queensland - Deborah Tranter (Paper available here)
Cultural heritage collecting was a phenomenon in regional Queensland throughout the 1970s. It was a reflection of communities harking back to the good old days and a response to its residents’perception that it was losing its identity. Fast forward to 2006—what is the current state of cultural heritage collecting and collections in these communities? This paper will discuss the work of the Museum Resource Centre Network in Queensland and its new strategic direction involving state-wide thematic mapping and significance assessment projects. It will highlight the partnerships with local government and the role of collections in forging community identity in the 21st Century.

* Regional Services
- Provide support for collecting organisations
- Lifelong learning (constructivist model)

* Engaging people on a personal level is important for regional museums.

* Are regional communities better or worse off with museums? What part of our museums are important? (collections, people, etc?)

* “Hidden heritage” report

* Mapping collections over QLD (197 so far)
* Significance assessment
* No collecting happening now (do we need the shift to start collecting again?)
* Inviting the community into the museum. Don’t forget people + institutions and focus only on collections.

* The shift (for more collecting etc) at Cobb + Co – is this innovation during a stable time, a dangerous move? Or was it a natural option?

R&R Skill Session 6
TITLE Engaging Community: acting on intentions
This skill session will provide a stimulating environment
in which participants can discuss and reflect on:
– how museums work with communities
– how museums reach their communities
– the mutual benefits between communities and museums
– do museums exist within the community or alongside it.
The session also aims to provide an environment where participants can:
– reflect on and analyse the way in which their organisation engages with its communities
– identify a range of ideas and strategies to support their implementation within their organisation.

Case Studies

Museum of Brisbane
- Community collections; no collecting happening, but rather there is borrowing from the community for part/whole exhibitions
- Postcards sent out to canvas the community for contributions (an expensive way to do things, without a great percentage result)
- How do you hand on to those communities once their collections are no longer on display, and that has effectively removed their major connection to the museum?

Jewish Museum
- Funded, primarily, by Melbourne’s Jewish community
- Bridge between Jewish and non-Jewish communities
- Responsibility to community

Museum Victoria
- Visitation data important
- “Attract” (what brings people), “Delight” (what delights people when they’re there already)
- Community festivals at the immigration museum (mutual benefits for museum and community)
- Community input into info on collections
- Engaging with demographics (eg. Kid’s Labs @ Scienceworks)
- Sharing space, supporting community groups (no other input)

Major Points of the Workshop:
- Identifying communities and vital people within those communities (appropriate representatives) is important
- Set boundaries for groups working with museums
- Change the culture of the museum to work better with communities
- Disparity in what “community” is – locals, tourists, what? Is it people grouped by location, or interest, or something else? Hard to serve more than one community when they want different things.
- Engendering a sense of community ownership
- Aligning agendas – harmony between museum and community
- Inviting community groups vs waiting for them to come to us (how to find them? Face to face, mailouts, advertising, direct marketing, going to communities, etc)
- Museums must look at what communities can provide for them, not just what the museum’s got that’s relevant.

(Publications mentioned: “Birth of the Museum”; “Mastering Civic Engagement” – US Museum Association)