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)

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