Reflections on an ITP week in Manchester

The ITP team is back in London! Soon, we will share with you detailed notes on some of the most relevant sessions we attended at the Museums Association conference in Manchester.

Until then, we have some reflections to share with you – and some photos!

On the train back London on Friday, we each thought about four things that we were taking away from the week spent in Manchester, at our ITP UK partner museums and at the Museums Association conference. Our responses are quite diverse – we hope you enjoy reading them!

Rika Nortjé (ITP 2007, South Africa)

-I loved how the Manchester Museum incorporates art in the exhibition spaces. Reena Saini Kallat’s exhibition is a perfect example of responding/talking about social issues + art + a natural history museum.
Artist – museum
Artist – collection
Artist and museum – audience

-At Manchester Art Gallery, I learnt some methods for engaging with the public in more personal ways, such as mental wellness and mother-and-baby check-ups. This brings a new audience into the museum and I believe makes the public feel like they are important and that they matter and are more than a number.

-Giving up the Power:
‘What is my organisation’s power? How can we give it away?’
This theme was discussed/mentioned in two of the conference sessions I attended. In the context of #FeesMustFall in South Africa, curators at University galleries have had to do the reverse, to protect collections from vandalism. Perhaps if more students were involved with the art galleries, there would be a sense of ownership and curators would not be forced to move the artworks to safety (storage), in the process being accused of censorship.

-Museums should be implementing a civic agenda, developing a social function:
South Africa is extremely diverse with many voices and stories. It is always a challenge to celebrate these differences to try to understand who we are as a united community. I have come to the conclusion that South African museums are quick to tell people who they are, instead of asking them who they are. We should rather share their stories than try to teach them what we think they should know.

Fellows at People's History Museum

Saadu, Waed, Joyee and Rika, People’s History Museum

Saadu Rashid (ITP 2012, Kenya)

-Visiting the Manchester museums, I thought about the value of interactive sessions in all our museum exhibitions, whereby visitors can interact with part of the exhibition, instead of a ‘hands off’ exhibition approach

Saadu and Joyee

Joyee and Saadu, Manchester Museum

-I personally admired and appreciated the ‘mix’ approach of the museums in Manchester: museums having exhibitions and programmes on art, history, nature, science, live exhibits… A variety of exhibitions to suit all audiences. In our case, museums tend to be on one subject only, e.g. history.

-At the conference, I learned about the importance of volunteers in our museums: how to get community members to be volunteers, how to work with volunteers, how people with special needs can be integrated as volunteers in museums.

-The conference also made me think about health and well-being benefits of museums – ie how museums can be healing places for both staff and visitors. I learnt that museums can have health benefits, as well as being places to see artefacts. To me, this visit was quite a learning experience on the value of museums.

Joyee Roy (ITP 2011, India)

-I learnt about the diversity of the culture, food and people of Manchester.

-We received a warm welcome from every museum, and were able to get to know the varied and unique activities taking place in the different museums in Manchester.

How to get the most out of the Museums Association Conference:

-Be selective! There are so many sessions running each day. Make sure you choose sessions that are useful for you and your museum’s activities.

-Use the opportunity to expand your network and also catch up with old friends, including ITP colleagues!

Waed Awesat (ITP 2014, Palestine)

– Being a part of this ITP trip made my dream come true: I was able to enter the mummies storage room!

Campbell Price, Mummy Store

Campbell Price in the mummy store

– Our tour around Manchester with all these wonderful people gave me back the feeling of enjoying myself while learning new things. And how one week can pass as quickly as a day!

-Each talk in the conference opened a door for me to discover a new world, which I am truly curious to know.

-I was reminded that when you love what you do, you will never feel like you’ve learnt enough. And you’ll even be happy to sit on the floor to attend a conference workshop!

Jessica Juckes, ITP Assistant

-At Manchester Art Gallery, we were told that schools are now the most difficult group to provide for in terms of education programming here in the UK, because the arts have been marginalised by the EBacc school performance measure. Museums are having to re-establish reasons for schools to visit – they used to be the easiest to get on board!

Students guessing the Greek gods at Manchester Art Gallery

Students guess the Greek gods at Manchester Art Gallery

-I saw the Ekarv method of text writing for the first time, used at Manchester Art Gallery and the People’s History Museum.

-At the conference, I was interested in the recurring focus on the idea that museums have been trying too long to be neutral and they need instead to be subjective. A number of speakers said they felt we are too scared of offending people. Someone asked “How do we go about upsetting people in the right way?”

-I was surprised by the fear that speakers had when attempting to highlight issues of racial/ethnic discrimination/inequality in museum workforces, interpretation and collections. There’s obviously a feeling that many people in the sector are still not comfortable broaching this subject, and I was left feeling that we have a long way to go.

Rebecca Horton, ITP Coordinator

-At Manchester Art Gallery: Museums are public spaces, like a park, and should be used as such! Let the spaces be what audiences want them to be to get them through the door, then they will become excited by the other facilities you offer them.

Clore Play Area Manchest Art Gallery

Clore Art Studio, Manchester Art Gallery

-At the People’s History Museum: presenting recent history doesn’t have to be provocative or complicated, and can be displayed in a user-friendly way for all audiences.

Conservation, People's History Museum

Conservation, People’s History Museum

-At the conference: Ours is a trusted sector during a time when people are feeling discontent towards traditional institutions such as newspapers, politicians, the BBC… This, plus a surge in ‘fake news’, makes museums’ work with the public more important than ever.

-At the conference: Museums need to make visitors curious. Curiosity will then naturally lead to learning.

Jessica and Rebecca

Jess and Becca look out over Manchester

Claire Messenger, ITP Manager

-All our Manchester partners are FABULOUS!!

-For two years, Manchester Museum will be ‘partially open’ (not ‘partially closed’): positivity is infectious!

– The buzzword at the MA Conference 2017 was ‘co-production’

-For institutional change to be successful, you need staff ‘buy-in’!

With Jackie Bland, TWAM UK Partner Rep

Saadu, Waed, Claire and TWAM ITP rep Jackie Bland