Sunday, September 27, 2015


For those in the sector, MuseumNext is sort of that conference a lot of people talking about going to, and then are really pleasantly surprised when they do go.

People told me a lot of things about MuseumNext before I went. I figured, with all I had heard, some of it had to be exaggerated, or blatantly untrue.

Not true. There were a few things that were not quite what I expected, but I think that had more to do with the fact it was the first time the conference had been hosted in America, and naturally hosting internationally is going to change a few things.  Overall, it was well-organized, friendly and supportive, sometimes innovative, always interesting, and very social. I think it's more social in Europe, because a lot of people regularly attend each year and know each other, and this was a bit different because almost everyone was new to it.

The theme was, ostensibly, 'inclusion', although the definition of that got lost somewhere, as 'inclusion' turned out to be rather, well, 'exclusionary' in reality. There was a lot of 'look at all the things we did!' and not a lot of 'this is how you engage those groups that absolutely would not otherwise walk through your door' which is what inclusion actually is to me. There was also very little reference (baring one fantastic presentation) on black communities (which Indiana has a lot of), other racial minorities, the poor, or really, much other than LGBT and young people. Which is great, but is not the definition of 'inclusion'.

I also found that the point about the museum industry being exclusive was raised a lot, but no one really had any recommendations of how to change things. We've been talking about this for years, and I find European museums are actually (slowly) becoming pretty diverse in the work and volunteer force, but it's clear America (and Canada) are a long way behind. There was a lot of 'well, we've been talking about this for 10 years, when you are going to do something?' Inclusions been a hot topic in Europe as long as I've been doing museums, so having an 'innovative' inclusion conference in the US sort of rang of 'late to the party'.

Still, there were some amazing infinitives, not least of which is what Nina Simon is doing in Santa Cruz with their poor communities, the amazingly diverse work of the Amsterdam Museum, the hands-on (rather than tech-on) projects at the Science Gallery in Dublin, and just what you can do when someone gives you millions of dollars and says 'have at' (crop art, apparently).

I'm glad I went. I'm glad I got to spend time with some European compatriots, I'm glad I got to taste some lovely food, I'm glad I got to see Indianapolis, and I'm glad the conference was so well attended. I'm less glad that, unsurprisingly, there were a lot of problems raised, and not a lot of problem solving going on. Seems to be par for the course in the industry these days.

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