Museums Connecting the edge

As I was going over my notes from day 1 of the Museums Australia Conference in Launceston I was struck that it read a bit like a poem – so I nudged it into one. Here are the ideas and words of wisdom from the speakers on the day…

Resurection, Relevance
a new audience found
Finding relevance in a contemporary community
Standards ever increasing
Shrinking numbers of arts journalist
As audiences become creatively engaged
Half the audience are kids
Nearly everyone thinks indigenous is important
And private and public funds co-mingle


Slow media
Fast change
Museums as slow media
Climate Change impacting Pacific Islands
where fresh water systems are dying even before inundation.
And islanders flee to New York
Sensations of the future: awe, vertigo, excitement, disorientation

@Twitter hashtag confusion #
Disrupted media?

Learners and Learnings

Digital Labellings
Say one thing in 100 words not 100 things on one wordy label
Digitally can sort items according to themes
To see what other weapons grace the gallery
Turn the object around and zoom in
You can list people related who used the items
Then see everything about them
With just one click!

Click for history
Click for art
Click for curatorial

No click necessary for the paper label
But it’s only a sentence,
A line, maybe two.

Digital have as much as you want
But not more than a screen at a time
Digital titles can be creative,
Not like paper – boring and straight

Digital labels
Show the gun being used, barrage maps, paintings, the manual – anything else
even though you can put more stuff on need to be more disciplined
Know what you are talking about
know what you are going to tell
Just because you know something, it doesn’t mean you have to tell
Choose wisely, remember

You are not always teaching – you are entertaining
Digitally delve into dioramas

Is it really important, should I put it in?
Remember Voltaire – the secret to being boring is to leave nothing out.
Don’t bore visitors by giving too much of the wrong stuff

Digitally be clever

I come for emotional issues?

Are museums just for learning or entertainment?
What does visiting mean?
Museums are theatres of memory
Heritage sites and museums are places where people go to feel
look at the emotional side
Feelings lead to insights
Meaning making is what visitors engage in.

Registers of engagement
Emotional and critical insights interact
Reinforcement too – reinforce what they already know and believe

Visitors only talked of learning experiences in relation to children,
or something they should be doing
They come for emotional reasons

Museums are not safe places for visitors who do not like being challenged by what what they see and feel.

Understand the emotional impact of heritage sites
Some people actively seek the emotional impact
like the black woman wanting the walk through the ‘coloured’ door so she could understand.

People who close down emotional engagement
close down intellectual engagement too


biggest collection of aboriginal collections of photos, recordings, papers and the rest
Great personal and cultural significance
Diversification of historic record
Schools visits, dignitaries, researchers, go out to places
Online presence but no direct access online to materials
Problematic to put materials online – community permissions and copyright
Community owns expressions of culture
Difficult to describe
Meaning making happens elsewhere

Future Paradigms
Museums: Cultural broadcaster, communicator, co-creator
Cultural communicator
Museum of curiosity BBC
Posts Kingdoms of South America
Curatorial scholarship is central
Jensen – museums as institutions to think with
It’s scholarship that make museums different
Cultural Broadcaster
Vikings live from British museum
Connections between different spaces – Swedish Ice hotel with British Museam Viking artefacts outside in a cabinet
Simultaneous live streaming to cinemas to watch Viking Doco
plus game online ‘Viking yourself’
Cultural Co-Curator
Strong graphics to get people through the door
How do people engage
Shop fronts as exhibits???
Engaging with what the library has to offer in terms of infrastructure.
New-Inc – first museum led incubator
Partner to make resources available – physical and digital
Can we bring people back in new and interesting ways?

Futurist manifesto 1908 futurists excited about cars
Worlds E.L. Doctrow
US Mums got duped by the car
While -Amsterdam mums protested that kids needed to be able to take themselves to soccer,
Us mums got a licence! They were duped!
Problems of highrise housing commission was demographic not architectural
Design buildings and communities specially for bikes
Buildings with long ramps up to each floor

Our aboriginal and Torres Straight islander history is what makes Australia unique.
We haven’t done very well in acknowledging that
If this is so significant why is it not more visible?
Most people have had no contact with aboriginal people
Very poor at telling these stories in ways people will bump into incidentally.
Give people pathways into the stories for new immigrants
The earnings from cultural activities in Australia isn’t far behind mining
and the arts employes/engages? many more people.
Aus politics is almost always a 5050 split and the argument is shaped by the 49% – it’s not just the winners
Cultural impact must be measured
just as environmental impact has leant to be measured)
50th anniversary of ‘the lucky country’ – the irony has been lost and it’s become a slogan instead – more irony?
ANZACs long shadows
Someone said when Alan Bond won the Americas cup, it was Australia’s greatest victory since Gallipoli!
We must not forget to remember

Cliche we are in a digital revolution
MA 1993 Internet 1993 FB 2003. Twitter 2004
Trove – mechanism to get us up there as discoverable
More people are discovering what we are about from the virtual rather than in the real world
It’s a digital evolution rather than revolution
Connection to history, place, story … It’s the ecology of museums
Virtual is just another tool to add
Art, culture, museums, galleries – words Australia has difficulty with
Unresolved tensions around the term culture
Culture is the biggest term.

‘As war begins in the minds of men, it must be in the minds of men that we build peace’

Thanks to the speakers below whose sessions I attended. Not sure I ‘got’ your messages properly, but I enjoyed them all.

I. Tony Grybowski
II. Libby Robin
III. Robert Nichols
IV. LauraJane Smith
V. Evelyn Whitelaw
VI. Prof Angelina Russo
VII. Dr Stephen Flemming
VIII. Dr Julianne Shulz AM
IX. Final panel

Author: Janis Hanley

Janis Hanley creates education programs for museums. She has a strong interest in digital engagement. Her programs have received several Queensland National Trust awards. Janis is the Queensland representative of the Museums Australia Education committee, and founder/coordinator of MAEdQ - a Queensland Network for Museum Educators . Janis is currently researching the value of digital story telling in community museums.

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