Museums Australia Conference – Reflections from Day 4

The last day at the MA and IA conference began with another contrasting mix of keynote speakers.  First was Professor Ross Gibson who talked about the power of art to transform a person and the importance of considering emotions and aesthetics when planning exhibition to encourage this transformation.  I understood the ideas he expressed and I have seen the power an aesthetically thoughtful space can provide, but I thought the ideas were possibly over-analytical for a good portion of the audience and that some practical suggestions could have made the information more useful.

The next speaker was Lotte Lent from the US and she spoke about how interpretation can be an important tool for creating experiences that have a great public value.  I found her talk to be a positive encouragement for organisations such as ours to play meaningful roles within our communities.  She gave a number of examples that institutions are doing to be of public value.  These included: embracing Wikipedia (and programs such as Wikipedians-in-residence), youth leadership training programs, an outdoor historic site running a sustainable farming program, and a literacy and support program for women living in shelters.  Lotte suggested that to develop programs of public value organisations should have a toolkit comprising of the following:

  • Your mission statement
  • Publications/objects that are inspiring
  • A group of willing ‘different ones’ – different from those within the organisation, looking for community need
  • List of possible collaborative organisations
  • List of grant-making foundations
  • Your passion as an interpreter and as a change agent

The last of the keynote speakers was Masaski Morishita from Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific Museum in Japan, who gave a humbling and gut-wrenching recount of the devastation caused to museums and collections by the earthquake and tsunami earlier this year.  However his talk was also inspiring, because it showed how organisations and volunteers are coming together to try to save what they can.  Impressively they are saving major public works and private, personal collections side by side.  They still have a big job ahead and great losses to overcome, but the drive to save what they can and collect and preserve items that tell the story of the devastation keeps them going.

For the parallel session I attended the hand-held technology (HHT) stream, with presentations by Jenny Horder, Julian Bickersteth and Maryanne Leigh.  Jenny talked about the Australian Museums pilot project and trial of iPads in their Education programs.  She discussed the feedback that had collected, which indicated that the use of HHT led to increased engagement, interest and learning among students.  She also made some good practical suggestions about what to consider when using them, including: logistics such as storage and charging, ratio of HHT to students (which she recommended three to one machine was good to encourage interaction and maintain engagement), and ongoing assessment to respond to what does and does not work.  There is further discussion on the Web2U blog.

Julian from Smarttrack talked more specifically about the use of smartphones, particularly to gather information about visitors to our organisations.  He said smartphones currently held by our visitors  can provide information such as a visitors path through a museum or exhibit, dwell-time in certain areas and what ticket sales transfer to actual visits.  Julian also gave some advice for the future, he recommended that museums should be prepared to work with: a range of platforms, multi-sense initiated devices, context aware applications, and augmented realities on mobile devices.

Maryanne Leigh provided a basic rundown of what an ‘app’ is and how they are being used.  She used a range of examples of how organisations are currently using them.  She reiterated some ideas I had about the potential value of mobile applications, including: to increase the reach of an organisation to new audiences, to break down barriers (physical and financial), and the idea that it gives an organisations interpretive content and experiences greater reach.

The next parallel stream I took was mainly to listen to Margaret Anderson and David McIntyre talk about the Museum Metadata Exchange project which I only knew a little about.  I got a good overview of the project and was impressed to see organisations working together to achieve such a worthwhile and significant outcome.

In the session I also heard about two completely different projects: Mini Muses from the West Australian Museum and Better Beginnings from the State Library of WA.  Both projects were about engaging very young people, and their families, in cultural and literacy learning experiences.  Both projects reminded me of Lotte Lent’s talk in the morning – they were both projects of great public value.

Unfortunately I was not able to stay for the closing keynote due to illness.  But I left the conference with my mind chock full of new ideas and inspiration.  I met a number of interesting and impressive people, both physically and through the robust twitter conversation #maia2011.  There are so many great projects happening across the sector and while there are different ideas about what makes a good project or a good experience, I think we are at a great time of change and growth.  There are many tools for listening to and engaging with our audiences in powerful ways.  I’m really glad to be part of this industry.

Added note – there are been a number of other bloggers writing about the conference whose thoughts are worth reading, including: GeoffRegan, Keir and Bernard.

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