This post is a little delayed (partially by going to Liverpool for the Museums Association Conference 2013). The week before my sojourn to Liverpool I was at a conference in Portsmouth hosted in the fabulous new Mary Rose Museum. The Society for Museum Archaeology promotes the interest of archaeology in museums across the UK and their annual conference is a great way to debate current issues and learn about new projects. This year’s theme was ‘What’s the Big Picture?’ with experts from around the UK talking about big projects and big ideas.
Individual chests are used to illustrate personal stories at the Mary Rose Museum
The day started with an introduction to the Mary Rose Museum and tours from the curators. It is a truly amazing piece of interpretation and it will get its own blog post review in the near future. The boat theme continued with talks on the Newport Medieval Ship from Toby Jones and Ian Panter discussing his work conserving eight (!) log boats for York Archaeological Trust. Following this the keynote came from Simon Thurley (head of English Heritage) and provoked a lively debate which continued on into the conference meal.
The double sided viewing gallery Mary Rose Museum
The second day of the conference kicked off with an introduction to the Creswell Crags collecting project and then to Brian Graham’s artwork. The picture element of the conference title was continued in Mark Hall’s discussion of interviews with artists who use archaeological sites and objects as inspiration. We also heard about the Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition at the British Museum from Senior Curator Paul Roberts.
A view through the Mary Rose
The most shocking event of the conference came next when “somebody” took his shirt off… it’s OK he was showing off the art and archaeology inspired t-shirt underneath and waxing lyrical about art in archaeological museums. The conference then moved into the slightly more serious annual ‘State of the Nation’ session in which we got updates from Scotland, Wales, Arts Council England and The Council for British Archaeology. I’m personally looking forward to seeing the redevelopment at St Fagan’s National History Museum, Wales my childhood museum.
Following that David Dawson talked about the Wessex Museums Partnership and strategies for making local authorities plan for archaeological archiving. That reminds me that I should flag up the recent opening of their new prehistory galleries. Another one for the planner followed that talk: the still pretty new Experience Barnsley complete with recently repatriated archaeological collections from regional museums.
The New Mary Rose Building
The conference ended with the AGM in which we bade farewell to some extremely hardworking committee members. Eagle eyed readers will also have noted that the name has changed from the Society of Museum Archaeologists to the Society for Museum Archaeology and this reflects a redrafting of the constitution. Finally, I should probably announce that I am the new Training Officer. If my account of the conference has sparked off any ideas please get in touch!
For those who aren’t in the know, the Museums Association conference is the big event of the year for museum bods in the UK. This year it was in Liverpool which also gave us the chance to look around some world class museums. I am only one woman so I couldn’t make every session. I am also unable to get into all of the individual debates here (that’s why I have lectures!) so what follows are some of my highlights with links which you can follow up at your leisure.
Liverpool Museum from my window (with rain!)
On the first day I got up early to attend a breakfast tour of the recently opened Museum of Liverpool. The Museum was opened earlier this year by a 6 year old boy who wrote in and asked nicely. This story demonstrates the commitment of the museum to the people of Liverpool. The displays balance celebration of people and place with more serious discussions of controversial historical and contemporary issues.
After a quick run to across the docks to the conference centre we were welcomed by a moving keynote from Ricardo Brodsky, Museum of Memory and Human Rights, Santiago, Chile. The keynotes are always interesting and sometimes controversial. Helen Goodman (shadow culture minister) was pro-museum but talked more about export bans and gifts in lieu than funding the care of existing collections. The Plenary Debate: Crisis? What crisis? between David Fleming (Director, National Museums Liverpool) and Peter Bazalgette (Chair, Arts Council England) dealt with the impact of funding cuts. The Rebalancing our Culture Capital Report was mentioned by several speakers (including new President of the Museums Association David Anderson) and some tweets behind Sir Peter Bazalgette in the plenary debate illustrated the frustration felt by many in the audience. Have a look at the hashtag #museums2013 on twitter to follow the debates. The Museums Association also has summaries up on their website.
It should be noted that when choosing activities I engaged in some obvious nepotism by attending sessions run by my colleagues e.g. ‘Overcoming your fears of managing volunteers’ and the University Museums Group session which launched a new report. Other than that I found the ‘Emotional Museum’ strand particularly thought provoking and it included my star session, a workshop on LGBT activism in museums. On a related note the Social Justice Alliance for Museums launched on the first day and the three conference themes The Therapeutic Museum, Tomorrow’s World and The Emotional Museum all referred to the bigger question of who and what museums should be for.
On a lighter note I had great fun mooching around the exhibition area, quizzing people about digital developments and picking up free pens (and teddy bears). However, there were also a number of sessions somewhere in the middle, giving concrete examples of how high concept ideas can be put into practice.The ‘I Tweet Dead People’ session from York Museum and Imagemakers was a great example of the kind of innovation which can marry new technology together with engaging interpretation. This is what the conference is really about for me, learning new things, meeting new people and developing new ways of moving forward together.
I tweet dead people