Conference: Museums Australia 2015

Last week I attended the Museums Australia national conference in Sydney: 4 days of discussions, debates and inspiring ideas. I wrote this post quickly after the conference to remember the highlights of that event and useful tips for the next one. 

A few highlights

Xerxes Mazda, “Exhibition and the power of narratives”

I was really interested in hearing Xerxes Mazda. I have never met him before but I have read some of his papers about displaying controversial issues from the  work he did at the Science Museum. He presented a framework about exhibition and narratives with 7 criterias to produce good stories.


The emotion criteria reminds me of this paper from Dr. Julian Raby I have already quoted in a previous blog. Unfortunately Xerxes Mazda has not published any paper about his approach of narrative yet (he said he will) and there is no conference proceeding (bad point about this conference) but here is a short video within which he summarizes his talk.

Alec Coles “Museums and freedom of speech”

Alec Coles is the CEO of the Western Australian Museum where I currently work. He advocated the idea of museum as a place for freedom of speech knowing that every idea is unsafe to someone.

He really stuck with the News and quoted the recent terrorist attack in Paris and destruction in museums in Mossul by Islamic State.

Jim Fishwick “The applicability of improvisation to museums”

From the beginning of the conference, I discussed a lot both on Twitter and AFK with Jim Fishwick from the Powerhouse Museum. Jim is passionate about improvisation theatre and tries to import that approach in museums. He gave a very energetic talk in a session called “Introvert vs extrovert in cultural construct”. He was definitely the most extrovert speaker on stage. It seems he has some fans now who want to hear him again next year.

Lynda Kelly, Michael Parry & Jonny Browbill “Getting digital done in museums”

Lynda Kelly (National Australian Maritime Museum), Michael Parry (Powerhouse Museum) & Jonny Browbill (Museums Victoria) hosted a 0% bullshit session about digital in museums. It was not 3 talks followed by Q&A but a real discussion with the audience. All questions and remarks were welcome. The strategy and management of digital with organisations were particularly discussed such as a “provoking” question: do curators/museum people put collection online for themselves? Lynda’s slides are here ans Michael’s here.

Women at the top

Kim McKay, CEO of the Australia Museum, gave a  talk about museums and media content. She has a background in communication and marketing and she previously worked for National Geographic Channels in the US. She considers museums have great stories to share and should be like media that research, write, edit, produce and publish content. I don’t know what Australian Museum staff would say but she appears to me an inspiring and refreshing leader. Then I wondered how many women were museums CEO in Australia. There were at least 3 at the conference:Kim McKayAustralia Museum ; Rose Hiscock, Powerhouse ; Janet CardingTasmanian Gallery and Art Museum. If you know some more, let me know and I will add them to that Twitter list. I should use another format because all of them are not on Twitter. Any suggestions?

Blue birds

As always, half of the discussions are on Twitter. Some were a bit wild like when we discussed Tinder-like app for museums and speed-dating with Jim Fishwick and Paul Brower.

There were about 1000 tweets in 4 days with the hashtag #MA2015syd. Here is a map of interactions.

My tips

I have already attended few conferences like that one, Saastec and Ecsite for example. Here are few tips to make the most of that kind of event.

Look closely at the program before and choose where you would like to go. In conference like Ecsite there are many sessions in parallel and it can be tricky too chose 2 minutes before session start. If available, read the abstract or paper, not just the tricky and sexy session title.

Follow people, not topics as Nina Simon said in a blog post about the AAM conference. Find the interesting and inspiring people and follow them.

Scan the list of attendees before the conference and spot who you want to meet. Check their blog, LinkedIn, etc. If they are on Twitter, follow them. Get in touch with them and set up a meeting.

– Tweet and tweet again. Tweet before, during and after the conference. I am not so active on Twitter but during a conference I tweet frenetically. Twitter is a great way to meet people, engage them in conversation and agree to catch up at the next tea break. That’s great if you are a bit shy and don’t dare to engage in person. It’s a bit tricky to listen to the talk and twit at the same time. You need the good device. Personally I prefer my laptop with Tweetdeck (one column with the conference hashtag and one with mentions) rather than a table. Spot the powerpoint to charge to device (don’t forget your charger). Tweeting is also a way the stay awake during a boring talk.

Swap between sessions. It is always the same, too many interesting things at the same time. Feel free to leave a session and go to another one.

Check the exhibitors (the private companies that set up stands). Your next boss or contractor might be there. Anyway, write down their name and website or take their business card, it may be useful one day.

Sleep at night and/or drink coffee. Conference come with night events (drink, diner, etc.) and sometimes you end up staying up late with drinks and funny people. That’s a good way to build a network but be sure to be in a good shape the day after, ready to tweet and chase the CEO of the museum you dream to work at.

Stay few more days. Conference often take place in a nice city with interesting museums to visit and great people to meet. Stay few more days after the conference to do so.

- Have business cards in your pocket (if you wear a dress, be sure you have a pocket) and maybe even your resume.

What about you, what are your conference tips?

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