Conference Report: Museums Association 2016

Thanks to Museum Development North West I had the opportunity to attend the Museums Association (MA) conference which this year was hosted in Glasgow. The conference was held at the Scottish Exhibition Centre from 7th-9th November and the three themes the conference focused on were Being Brave: Courage, Innovation and Risk Taking, People and Places: Stories, Communities & Collections and Health and Wellbeing: Impact, Evidence and Delivery. As a first time delegate I was a little apprehensive about attending but starting with the first time delegates’ breakfast on the Monday morning soon settled any fears. It’s early (7.45am) but I’d definitely recommend going as it’s a great opportunity to network as well as meet MA board members and representatives.

The conference programme included many interesting sessions that I would have loved to attend but clashes on concurrent sessions meant I had to decide one which sessions would be most useful. One of the most interesting and engaging sessions I attended was about getting to grips with gender and using the ‘F-Word’ in museums. This session focused on how women’s museums and collections are for everybody and that museums and other organisations can go some way in redressing the invisibility of women’s lives and achievements in public spaces through their work. The Women’s Museum in Denmark gave a simple example of how they have done this through putting female perspectives first by using the phrase ‘girls and boys’ rather than ‘boys and girls’. The session ended with questions from the floor and the audience voted in favour of one organisation covering up all the male images in their building when they focus on women’s history and suffrage next year (being brave in action!). This really gave me food for thought about how we represent gender within our collections and displays and is something I am going to reflect on over the coming months.

Another session titled ‘Adapt or Die? discussed the future of the National Media Museum in Bradford and gave an excellent insight in to how museums are having to change the way they do things and step outside their comfort zone in order to survive. There were some great top tips that came out of this session which were to ensure you have a strong collecting policy so you don’t lose your sense of purpose, be open about what you are doing and ensure public understanding of the language we use to talk about disposals and transfers and finally have the courage to change and tackle policy. If you were wondering where in all of this there was time to also check out what Glasgow’s Museums had to offer, the evening drinks receptions allowed us the opportunity to see the wonderful Riverside Museum and Scotland’s oldest museum the Hunterian. The Wednesday also provided a full programme of tours to different museums from which I chose the Tenement House. The tenement was a beautifully preserved, step back in time piece of history which I could contrast and compare with how we interpret our set of cottages here at the museum.

Overall the conference gives you the time to step back and reflect on the bigger picture and the issues that are facing our sector, something you rarely get to do on a day to day basis. The Being Brave strand of the conference really struck a chord with me when Sacha Coward said ‘If you haven’t got LGBT histories in your collection, it’s because you haven’t found them yet’. I now want to know more about all aspects of our collection and the hidden histories they might contain so that we can tell new stories from different perspectives about the history of the inland waterways – just to find the time to do it!

Zofia Kufeldt, Collections & Exhibitions Assistant, National Waterways Museum

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