Museums Australia Conference Day 2

Wednesday at the Museums Australia Conference – a summary

The second day at MA had a more vibrant feel to it. I may be biased, but I think it had a lot to do with the presence of a Museum Theatre stream. As an IMTALAP member, I was really proud to see the group so well represented to the broader museum sector.

The first Keynote was from Jill Austin of the Chicago History Museum who spoke about exhibitions they had done that addressed potentially sensitive topics. In particular she spoke about their exhibition Out in Chicago which explores the history of the LGBT community in Chicago. A particular feature of the exhibition were video stories from Chicagoans. These videos were used to give the community a voice and connect the collection items to contemporary stories. Jill spoke about the very thorough research they undertook and highlighted the importance of community consultation. The exhibition is now in it’s 10th season.

For the morning parallel session I attended the Researching New Audiences Stream. The first speaker was David Bock from the Australian Museum, who spoke about their after-hours adult event Jurassic Lounge. I had been keen to hear more about this event after reading about it online. Some of his points I found interesting included: the importance of good food and their choice to move to ‘dude food’, including a projected twitter stream during the event and the dynamics this caused, despite concerns they found items did not get damanged and the clean-up was less than during school holidays and that the feedback they had indicated visitors felt like they had had a cultural experience. I also loved the idea of their anti-Valentines Day event with a live heart dissection and speed-hating… fun!

The second speaker was Elizabeth Pascale from the University of Adelaide who spoke about the development of the Hub Heads exhibition in an non-gallery and insecure space. The project worked with local street artist (and student) Peter Drew to create a series of large scale faces around the Hub. They used current students as subjects and received good feedback on the project. There was also a documentary created by Peter capturing the project which can be viewed on YouTube.

The second Keynote was a collection of presentations that showcased Museum Theatre. It was opened by Michael Mills (as Professor Flint) with members of the Australian Classical Youth Ballet performing a dinosaur stampede. Then Catherine Hughes from the Atlanta History Centre spoke about her research and experiences with Museum Theatre. She explained why theatre was effective means of connecting to an audience from a cognitive science perspective. But she also made a few poignant remarks including quoting Freeman Tilden’s fourth principle of interpretation: The chief aim of Interpretation is not instruction, but provocation. Catherine made the important point that museum theatre was not about adding something to the museum, but about bringing something out of the museum.

Catherine’s talk was complimented by a presentation from Nigel Sutton who actively demonstrated the value of theatre and the importance of establishing the ‘rules of the game’ as a basis from which the audience can interact. He had us play a game called ‘Die’, for which I was a lucky/unfortunate volunteer, to demonstrate how establishing the rules of the game can make the audience feel comfortable and be focussed on the message. He also had us giving each other a shoulder massage to highlight how theatre can make us reconnect with each other, but that it required risk-taking. Nigel ended with the important message that ‘not all things we will do will work, but that should not make us risk adverse.’

At lunch I met with Floyd from STQRY to talk about their mobile app, so unfortunately I missed the first speaker in the Digital parallel session. The other speakers talked about a range of digitising projects, including: Joe Coleman on the Biodiversity Heritage Library, in particular their use of Flickr; Rhiannon Stephens discussing the Biodiversity Volunteer Portal, which uses crowdsourcing to complete transcriptions; and Sindy ? on Grove Library’s use of Conduit to develop a mobile app showcasing their collection, which is entirely digital.

The final speaker in the session was Susan Cairns. Suse decided not to go with her initial presentation and instead wanted to open a discussion on why digitise and what the role of digital collections are. She referred to Koven Smith’s thoughts on the topic as a lead in point. I was familiar with Koven’s writing on this and thought it was a valuable topic to discuss, however I don’t think she had quite the right audience or environment for the discussion. I certainly didn’t feel comfortable contributing within the sparsely populated Elder Hall environment.

For the last session of the day I went to a workshop run by Jo Clyne and fellow IMTALAPers on how to create Museum Theatre. It was a great workshop – definitely hands-on and practical. Jo outlined the considerations museum theatre designers need to make and what makes museum theatre effective. Then using this, we were put in groups and charged with the task of designing a piece based on a randomly selected artifact, performance space and target audience. We had a good time generating and sharing ideas, and as a diversely experienced group we were able to build on each others suggestions to come up with some very exciting ideas.

In the evening the Education and Museum Theatre groups combined for dinner.

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