Conference Report: Edinburgh GEM Conference 2016 by Alex McLeman

I had an excellent opportunity to attend the GEM conference in Edinburgh through co-funding from Museums Development North West and my organisation, Bolton Library and Museums services. It was great to listen, learn and share ideas with museum professionals from across the country. I attended so many interesting and relevant sessions and will briefly mention 3 of the sessions I found particularly inspiring.

Museums for learning: the challenge of optimising outcomes in the age of austerity. Julia Bryan and Angelica Vanasse, National Museums Liverpool

I learnt more about utilising the community to engineer effective exhibitions at The Walker Art Gallery. I discovered from Julia Bryon an ingenious way of developing characters for museums. It is to use children in your focus group and to get them to design the character. This is how Winnie the baby spider from the Museum of Liverpool was created. It certainly is a cost effective way to bring children’s ideas to the heart of the museum and much cheaper than using a graphic designer when resources are low.

Influence your own destiny – tools to develop an effective advocacy strategy, Robin Hanley and Collie Mudie, Norfolk Museums Service

I discovered more about how to be a more effective advocator during the workshop by Robin Hanley and Collie Mudie from Norfolk Museums Service. They shared practical tips on how to develop an effective advocacy strategy to influence your own destiny. Some of these ideas include –

  • Importance of continually adapting your advocacy strategy in response to the challenges faced.
  • Showing stakeholders, decision makers and councillors what your museum does so they may be more sympathetic when cuts came around and more positive in supporting your organisation.
  • Good images of events, exhibitions are very powerful in advocacy.
  • Realising who do I need to influence? Who can I personally influence and who I can’t. If I can’t personal influence a person maybe it might be possible to do it through my line manager or senior manager
  • There will be a different message depending on who you are advocating to.

Cultural Writers: inspiring creative writing through cultural experiences

Fay Lant and Lucy Kerrigan

I found the session from the Literacy Trust very relevant and useful as I work across a joined up library and museum service in Bolton. They made clear links between the importance of using our collections and venues as inspiration to connect with literacy projects. This has raised levels of enjoyment and motivation and really benefitted both pupils and museum staff. I even volunteered to read aloud a child’s poem during the workshop when asked, I gave a lot of expression although I don’t think my Scottish accent held out all the way through.

Comedy classroom with BBC was one of many project which helped children improve their performance in literacy. National Literacy Trust have developed lesson plans to help introduce literacy workshops in a sustainable way and can be adapted to your individual museum. The National Literacy Trust can provide effective CPD for museum and library staff.

Research underpins everything and the National Literacy Trust have discovered that children from the most deprived backgrounds can be inspired the most by engaging with poetry and literacy to help express their emotions.

This is a quote Fay shared with us this extract below by Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal.

“When people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language—and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers—a language powerful enough to say how it is.
It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.”

This quote struck a chord with me about the children and communities which we inspire at Bolton through literacy project. This session increased my confidence and encouraged me to continue to target disadvantaged communities with low levels of literacy at Bolton.

I would like to thank Museums Development North West for making it possible for me to attend the GEM conference in Edinburgh.


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