The Museums Association Conference – Session 1

Last week the annual Museums Association conference was held in Cardiff, Wales. The largest museums convention in Europe, it is a fantastic opportunity for museum professionals to network and share solutions for the future of cultural heritage. It is also a great way to gain ideas for the ITP!

This year marked the 125th anniversary of the MA, whose mission is “to enhance the value of museums to society by sharing knowledge, developing skills, inspiring innovation and providing leadership”.

On day 1, we attended lectures and workshops on pluralism, pop up museums, international collaboration and museum ethics. Below is a summary of the first session.

Session 1: “The World Is More Plural Than We Think”

This lecture introduced delegates to new perspectives across the museum world. Speakers from three different countries – Brazil, Canada and Argentina, spoke of their approaches to the ‘Museums Change Lives’ document, a manifesto by the Museums Association, and offered advice for museums in the face of political and financial problems.


Brazil: Antônio Vieira, Director, Museu da Maré.

Antônio began by saying that museums should not be afraid of their public, should stamp down on prejudice and change their attitude to society. “Museums are institutions of society and they face the same dilemmas” – therefore they must be more open and come out of their comfort zones. Antônio also spoke of the great potential of museums to be social spaces, encouraging intergenerational dialogue when society is “fragmented”.

Antônio discussed how museums are affected by budget cuts, and how Brazil has 350 museums for 200 million people – a huge population! The main problem, he said, is that people are intimidated by museums. He spoke of his belief in the importance of the land, where people live, in helping museums reach out. If museums understand the local community, there will be a larger sense of responsibility.

He gave advice on what to do when money is short: open up more volunteering opportunities, encourage a sense of community ownership, and be creative. “Having money is good, but creativity is infinite”.

Finally, Antônio announced that museums are fundamental agents in helping to build the society we really want. Daring, he said, is the key word – as is freedom.

Canada: J’net AyAy Qwa Yak Sheelth, Outreach and Learning Coordinator, Royal Ontario Museum.

J’net is the first indigenous full-time member of staff at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada in its 100-year history.

Beginning with the passing of a kaleidoscope around the room, J’net spoke of the need for different perspectives, “to see the world through new eyes” and to “thaw out colonised minds”.

She spoke specifically of difficulties facing indigenous communities during economic troubles. When funding cuts came to Canada, it was not just for Canadian arts, but for indigenous arts. J’net also gave some great advice to help us re-consider our collections – to think not of objects, but of ancestors and as items from living cultures, saved for unborn generations.

Speaking of the lack of diversity in museums in the Western world, particularly Canada and the UK, J’net announced: “we need more colour in our museums”.

A major highlight of her talk was her work on the Youth Leadership Programme – a way for indigenous young people to play leadership roles and add their voice to the community, and to the country’s story.

Argentina: Americo Castilla, Fundacion TyPA:

Americo told delegates how culture is a delicate balance of different interpretations. Sometimes, when these interpretations are in conflict – leading to funding cuts, social issues, and so on, people retreat into their communities and become less open.

He spoke of the potential of small community museums to be platforms for different thinking and dissent. Whereas other media such as newspapers have an established format, museums can be creative and expressive.

Americo gave an example of the Museo Taller Ferrowhite as a museum which is politically active, subversive but importantly, fun. Discussing his belief that museums can be playful as well as serious, he recommended that other museums consider this attitude in their work.

Finally, David Anderson, President of the Museums Association, expressed a statement very close to the core values of the International Training Programme:

“There is great diversity in museum practice across the world; this diversity is an enormous resource for us as we strive to find models that can work.”

This is an important point for the ITP – we can make our institutions the best they can be by celebrating different approaches and learning from our colleagues across the world.