Monday, 11 November 2013

What we're looking forward to at Museums 2013

This week we are exhibiting at Museums 2013, the annual conference and exhibition of the Museums Association, in Liverpool, UK and in this week's post Laura Bradford, one of our Publishing Executives, shares her thoughts on the programme...

"This is my first Museums Association conference and judging by the flurry of announcements about themes and keynote speakers, it’s not going to disappoint. In a time of on-going turmoil for the museums and heritage sector, the range of sessions and topics here promise to address the challenges organisations face today and question how they can adapt to survive and flourish. The Museums Association provides a vital resource for news and commentary on the museums sector and I’m sure their conference will once again set to inspire and encourage delegates to tackle the challenges facing museums and heritage organisations today.

Museums 2013 aims to address the matter of wellbeing. Liverpool is leading the 2012 Decade of Health and Wellbeing national campaign and so is perfectly placed to ask these questions. Can museums play a part in improving the wellbeing of their audiences? Should museums concentrate on engaging with audiences rather than protecting their collections? How can museums do this whilst building foundations for the future?

Three key themes set the structure for the conference; ‘The Therapeutic Museum’ asks how museums can play a part in improving mental health and wellbeing. Sessions will look at the partnership and funding opportunities between museum organisations and health and social care providers; engaging and empowering older people to take an active role in museums; and ensuring museums publicise the difference they make to encourage more organisations to follow. Research at the New Walk Museum in Leicester did just that—they studied frequent and infrequent visitors to the museum, and conducted interviews and self-reported data using the State Trait Anxiety Inventory. Participants reported a reduction in their levels of anxiety after visiting the museum. The full study was published in the peer reviewed journal Museums & Social Issues.

‘Tomorrow’s World’ aims to address how organisations can learn from the challenges we face today in order to plan for a sustainable future—not just for the short term, but changes that could shape the museums experience for our grandchildren and great grandchildren. In a time of severe cuts in funding and depleting resources, museums have had to become savvy to new sustainable measures and money saving techniques. Sessions on this theme will explore how to implement new and perhaps leftfield ideas, looking at the unconventional ways in which museums can engage with audiences. The International Museum of Women (IMOW) for example is an online-only museum which has harnessed online technology to create a new way of engaging. Journal of Museum Education has dedicated an issue to the growing use of digital technology in museums and one article by Katherine Whitney explores how the IMOW specifically has used technology to accomplish their aims.

‘The Emotional Museum’ will run sessions addressing whether museums are doing enough to engage with their audiences. In recent years, museums have realised that they need to revolutionise their exhibitions in order to attract diverse audiences—reams of information just doesn’t cut it anymore. Audiences seek more interactive and empathetic information to allow them to engage with the exhibition and make it a memorable experience. Sessions focus on case studies including how some museums have challenged social attitudes relating to prejudices and discrimination, and how other museums have tried to adapt their exhibits to make them more engaging. Journal of Museum Education published a special issue recently on this topic, entitled ‘Protecting the Objects and Serving the Public: an On-going Dialogue’, which seeks to discover how museums can prioritise the visitor engagement whilst maintaining the exhibition of artefacts.

I’ve only looked at the key themes and already run out of space! There is so much to explore at this year’s conference including keynote speeches from the director at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights Ricardo Brodsky, shadow culture minister Helen Goodman, and TV presenter Lucy Worsley; networking events and tours around Liverpool’s top cultural hotspots; workshops on all aspects of museums engagement, as well as CV building workshops and internship management advice. Last but not least, don’t forget to visit the Museums 2013 Exhibition for your chance to meet and network with the world’s leading suppliers and consultants. It’s going to be a busy one!"

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