Thursday, August 10, 2006

Museums Australia Conference writeup #4

Finally, the last of my notes. Oof!


Keynote: Museums Empowering Communities.

Community and Connection: Localism in a Globalized Culture - Robert Archibald
Having investigated the widespread dissolution of place and the resulting rupture of community, Dr. Archibald will discuss the fundamental need for an attachment to place and how people are looking for permanence and reality in a virtual world. Although our instant communication, rapid travel, and the Internet culture has its dangers and drawbacks, these technologies also mean more choices about how we live, which leads back to the human desire for a connection in the earth and the past. Dr. Archibald sees an increasingly positive reaction to the pervasive sense of placelessness and will discuss several hopeful examples as well as discuss the role of museums in the building and rebuilding of community.

* Much of St Louis city was demolished after WW2, and the materials recycled elsewhere. This has disconnected a lot of people from their city/history of place.
* Stories are embedded in place, lives embodied there.
* “Memories are like lichen or coral” – they must attach somewhere.
* When we become inseparable from place, we are home, where we finally belong.
* We cannot act in the interest of a place unless we care for it; we can’t belong somewhere just by turning up.
* Does place matter at all anymore? It would be foolish to think that we could own parts of the earth, considering how long it’s been here pre-civilisation.
* Change is inevitable, however we can guide it.
* People seek close knit situations in which to connect.
* Museums are crucial in keeping/saving local distinctiveness.
* Museums aren’t absolute authorities; they foster dialogue, build up communities, provide a place for connecting.
* Museums can allow communities to create stories; these stories can build bridges, and look at the past and future.
* Humans are no longer isolated in space and time. We become more interdependent and interconnected each minute.
* Tribalism and nationalism won’t do; each human has responsibility to every other.
* Museums can be primary venues for global conversation.
* We must dispose of the idea of ownership of cultural heritage and that it can be bought and sold.
* Stop focusing so much on our difference, but look at what we share.
* Museums and governments must aim to stop one group dominating/owning cultural material.
* Can there be compromise between the need to conserve cultural material and respect for cultural traits?

[Wouldn’t the forced sharing of everything about a culture as if it’s every human’s right to know sort of eliminate what makes cultural identity important and unique?]

Culture Intersections - Binghui Huangfu
I believe that human beings do require cultural connection. I also believe that the fundamentals of how we derive those connections has both changed and is now in continuing state of change. When we talk about ‘cultural displacement’ we need to be careful of how we are applying this term. Whilst it is fair to say that more people these days live outside of their cultures of origin this is certainly not more than a small percentage of the world’s population. So to talk of a need for geographic connection really is only to speak of that minute proportion of the world’s population that is in a position to be affected. If we assume that those people capable of experiencing dislocation represent an avant garde of future human direction then we must consider both the individual and global impacts of that movement. I intend to use my own experience and that of numerous colleagues to examine how we take “root” culture with us and how these cultural connections are both changed and enhanced by a new context. In essence how cultures communicate and evolve.

* The way we build community in Australia is really based on/influenced by the political climate.
* Australian community and Australian government are inextricably linked.
* “Asian Traffic” exhibition: when travelled, local curators and artists took park
* Fear of difference is fragmenting communities.

Community Healing: The Gallery as Palliative Space - John Kirkman
Having participated in the development and presentation of a range of exhibition projects investigating events of historic and community trauma, John Kirkman will discuss how curatorial process and
exhibition presentation can assist and involve communities in assuaging personal and collective grief.

* From djamu Gallery – Australian Museum
* The tension between intention of a project (contemporary indigenous culture and art) and the place/space (colonial links, customs house building)
* Input from the artist as part of a community rather than from a curatorial perspective
* Gallery/museum ownership of objects versus community access/ownership.

Concurrent Session 15A: Exhibition Critique
Dandiiri Maiwar: The Insider Story…and Our Responses
The Exhibition Critique has become one of the most popular sessions at annual museum Conferences around the world. The session is an opportunity for us to look at our exhibition practices and production in a forum together. We can hear the perspectives of our professional colleagues who created the exhibition; the coordinator, the curator, designer or educator and what happened to achieve the end result. Then we can consider the responses of the exhibition ‘critiquers’;
what they saw, felt, understood and enjoyed about the exhibition. This year the exhibition under discussion is Dandiiri Maiwar, the new gallery at the Queensland Museum and the new ATSI Cultures Centre.
The Developers Panel Kevin O’Brien, Designer, Thom Blake,
Curator; Trish Barnard, Collection Manager
The Critiquers Panel Bill Seager, Curator; Glenn Ferguson,
Exhibition Manager; Alison Page, Designer

The first panel was from the development perspective. Kevin (architect) spoke of creating the space for the cultural centre. He put an emphasis on the entry/”resource centre” area as a public space, and the circles/drums and open access collections as more focused.
Trish (curator) spoke on the research behind the project, and the distinct emphasis on community consultation. (And not only this, but feedback from QMATSIC saying they wanted to focus not just on history, but also contemporary life and culture.) It gave the QM a rare opportunity to expose parts of the collection to the community by taking photos of objects out into the field, and get feedback and information from communities. The process of research and field work led to an overabundance of stories and information – which is something that can work to our advantage if we wish to keep the exhibition fresh and cycle stories/information through them. Trish also spoke about the open access collection allowing a degree of transparency with regard to curatorial and exhibition techniques; my personal feeling is that this isn’t being realised as fully as it should be, with a complete lack of information about anything other than object provenance/type.
Tom Blake (consultant curator) a little on the practical issues the team faced in development (for example, limitations of space and negotiating the overabundance of material gathered) as well as other issues like political agendas, the different perspectives of each researcher, and QM Board/QMATSIC expectations.

The critique panel presented as a whole rather than each person going in turn – most of these comments are general unless I’ve noted otherwise.
- Wayfaring issues: not a lot of visual cues to direct towards the centre, especially coming off the escalators or out of the lift; the glimpses you get from somewhere like the 2nd floor foyer are interesting, but no help for direction. Alison felt the placement and location of the centre as a whole is terrible.
- Entry video is very informative, explains the title ‘Dandiiri Maiwar’ to the visitor and provides a comforting initiation. Bill noted it was terrific to have the contemporary feel to it.
The desk area as you enter is not explained satisfactorily, and there is a feeling you want to engage with someone, but there’s nobody there. Bill noted it was a good, open space that could be used for interaction.
- “Drums”: positive about the layout, and how it fosters a non-linear circulation through the exhibition (Glen noting this allows the visitor to piece together their own narrative); there is a sense of overlay of the past and present of QLD indigenous communities. Glen praised the method of displaying the objects and being able to see them from 360ยบ. Bill spoke at length on this aspect of the centre, noting the stories were strong, and all had relevance for today, showing that indigenous culture is not isolated. Both Bill and Alison felt the selection/mix of objects was good. Glen mentioned the kid’s trail, saying the positioning of it focuses too finely on the kids and prohibits parent/adult connection with the material. Alison was positive about the use of circles as a space, as it is overarching in Australian indigenous culture.
- Wall of Queenslanders: good, but a little hidden.
- Multimedia: good content, but a little noisy at times, and the noise levels as a whole in the centre are too much. (I personally think this is just because of noise spillover from the rest of the museum, especially the foyer)
- Open access collection: Alison had a negative reaction to this because it really just looks like a compactus, stuff just thrown together, whereas the drums single items out. She said it’s great to see what some of the items in the collection look like, but what do they all mean?
- Overall: Bill felt there was little transparency and no curatorial voice, and felt there was information needed on the formation/history of the collections. Alison felt the modern contemporary look and layout really helped go against stereotypes of indigenous culture as being static and historic. She also mentioned there is a need to create a space for urban indigenous people to connect within the centre, and a need for transparency of the development process.

Concurrent Session 13B: Museum Learning

Assessing the Impact of Museums in their Local Community: a pilot study - Lynda Kelly
Museums and other cultural institutions are expected to demonstrate the impact they have within their local communities. Several models of impact have been developed in Europe and the United States (Falk, 2000; Garnett, 2002; Hooper-Greenhill, 2004; Persson, 2000). To date, there has been minimal research into impact within the Australian museums sector (Scott, 2003), and little on mapping audiences to regional, specialist and local museums (Scott and Kelly 2004, 2005). Yet across all levels of government there is an increasing imperative to show the impact and value cultural organisations have in their local communities. This paper reports on a pilot project, funded by the University of Technology, Sydney; the Australian Museum; the NSW Ministry for the Arts; and Museums Galleries NSW, that developed and tested methodologies for evaluating the range of impacts museums have within their local communities. A case study approach was adopted using a mix of qualitative and quantitative data gathered at three sites in NSW—a south coast museum; an Aboriginal Keeping Place in northern NSW and a metropolitan museum in Sydney. This paper focuses on results from the quantitative stage of the study—a survey with 294 local residents across the three local areas. Questions assessed people’s views of the importance of museums in their local area; their actual behaviour regarding visiting and supporting museums; and predicting behaviour in terms of
willingness to provide resources (money and time) to their local museum.

* Why examine this issue?
- Increased number of museums
- Need to demonstrate value
- Little previous assessment of impact
- Move from economic models to looking at social/cultural/educational benefits

* Questions: what is the impact, and how can it be measured?

* What is impact?
- Changes that occur as a result of museums/museum activity
- Individual and community levels
- Social/cultural impact

* 3 museums used in case study (small volunteer managed/keeping place/metropolitan museum)
* Quantitative
- Look at individual and community social/economic/cultural aspects
- Findings
1) Social benefits evident when museum is the conduit to the community
2) Integration into community
3) Expression of local culture
4) Develop skills and provide social interaction
5) Economic benefits important
6) Community divisions lead to unclear goals – need clearer focus

Museum Visitors’ Expectations and Approaches to Learning - Jan Packer
Research in formal education settings has identified certain dimensions of individual difference that characterise the ways in which people approach a learning situation. For example, when presented with a learning task, students might adopt a mastery orientation which focuses on mastering the task and improving themselves; or a performance orientation which focuses on proving their ability and competing with others. These patterns do not reflect differences in ability, but they do have a major influence on the way students approach learning and the learning outcomes they attain. Attributes of the learning environment have been found to influence the type of approach students adopt. In the same way, if relevant dimensions can be identified to characterise learning approaches in informal settings such as museums, it will enhance our understanding of the process of free-choice learning, provide information on what visitors want from a museum visit, and pave the way for future research to identify the conditions under which learning is likely to be facilitated. This paper will explore several dimensions on which visitors’ approaches to free-choice learning might be classified. These include an individual vs social approach to learning; a deep vs surface approach; a purpose-driven vs curiosity-driven approach; a focus on learning outcomes vs a focus on learning processes; and a motivational factors approach. Descriptive statistics will be presented for each dimension, in order to provide some indication of their prevalence among museum visitors. (Statistics are based on questionnaire data collected from 150 adult visitors to the Queensland Museum.) Regression analyses will be used to explore which dimensions best predict both cognitive and affective learning outcomes.

* Approaches to learning in formal settings – 2 main things: performance (to prove themselves) or mastery goals (for learn further and improve).
* Not really easy to transfer this into museums
* Approaches in informal settings are more useful to understand free choice learning and exhibitions

* QM study
- Do visitors take curiosity or purpose driven approach to learning (see Rounds 2004/2006)? Curiosity driven – meander haphazardly, looking for shallow, wide information. (75% majority)
- Surface or deep approaches to learning? (60% no pref)
- Focus on outcomes or process of learning? (89% majority for process)
- Learning or non-learning motivations? (63% majority for learning)

* Sciencentre study: Individual (more time reading text) or social (more time interacting with friends/exhibits) approach?
* Potential for categorising visitors – individual versus social, learning versus non-learning.
* Majority come from a learning “experience” more than anything specific; value the process itself. Some also come from non-learning needs.
* What can we do about this? Help them understand their own approaches to become aware of their visits.

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