Claire Talks ITP at ICOM UK Working Internationally Conference

Written by Claire Messenger, International Training Programme Manager

On Monday I attended – and spoke at – the 7th annual ICOM UK Working Internationally Conference. The conference, the biggest so far, aimed to look at how working together achieves more and I was asked to part of a panel discussion on The Power of Culture & Heritage Networks – more on that later.

The conference took place at the Knowledge Centre at the British Library and included a series of fascinating and informative presentations.

Introducing the conference, the organisers explained how the programme had been put together to look at how museums can be sustainable in a changing world. The sessions identified the need for the culture and heritage sector to be agile, collaborative, to stay informed and up-to-date and provided opportunities to debate, learn, share and network.

Before telling you about the panel discussion, I wanted to share some of my favourite sessions of the day. Lourdes Heredia, Next Day Planning Editor – Languages, from the BBC World Service gave a fantastic – and at times quite moving – introduction to the BBC’s season Crossing Divides.  The project, which begin in 2018, was a multi-platform series that aimed to dispel the sense that the world is becoming more polarised and divided. The programme discovered and presented people and organisations and the techniques they are using to bridge divides – whether these be politics, religion, gender, disability, sexuality, age or beyond.

The programme put people together with different backgrounds, views and experiences and Lourdes shared some of their learning and challenges.

  • The need to create a safe space for people to share their thoughts and to allow a story to ‘breathe’.
  • To encourage those who took part to engage in ‘active listening’.
  • To put aside any prejudices and not consider who was right and wrong.
  • Not to allow outside influences to drive the project or the outcome.
  • To be aware of the impact that these conversations could have on those who took part.
  • To be realistic about what could be achieved.

The stories that Lourdes shared were incredible and you can read, watch and listen to them here – please do – they are amazing and so inspiring.

There was also a fun ‘flash’ session where speakers where given just 5 minutes to present their case study, its outcomes and their learning.

Maria Blyzinksky, Freelance Consultant talked about Brewing Heritage in Malta: transforming a disused brewery into a visitor experience.  Specifically she highlighted the need to stress the importance and value of heritage and culture to the commercial world and how teamwork is key to any project.

Elisa Palomino, Central St Martins (UAL) presented on the V&A, Cristobal Balenciaga Museum and CSM project Promoting the educational function of museum collections and archives where a group of Central St Martin’s students visited the Cristobal Balenciaga Museum for inspiration and shared the outcomes both online and in a fashion show Fashion in Motion.

Pip Diment from Amguedffa Cymru – National Museum Wales talked about their show Kizuna: Japan / Wales / Design and shared lessons learnt including the benefits of careful advance planning and the use of translators to ensure all parties fully understood the project and their role.

Finally, Andrew Manley, Historic Environment Scotland presented Romantic Scotland in China: Understanding audiences, enhancing diplomacy, maximising partnership. He looked at the analysis and learning they gained from an exhibition that took Scottish cultural heritage to China.  Through focus groups (including children aged 6 – 8), a specially designed tracking app, postcard comments, a graffiti wall and a video booth, the project was able to reflect on its successes and challenges.

The panel discussion I took part in gave the three presenters – Julia Pagel, Secretary General, NEMO (Network of European Museum Organisations), Ella Snell, Manager, Living Knowledge Network, British Library and myself the opportunity to introduce our programmes and then answer a series of questions on The Power of Culture & Heritage Networks.  The questions posed included those below and there were some very interesting – and similar – benefits and challenges raised.

  • What do you see as some of the unique benefits of working within your networks that you wouldn’t get if you were not a part of them?
  • How can projects like NEMO, the ITP and the Living Knowledge Network work together?
  • What are the basic principles of networking? What makes a network work?
  • What can networks do to support smaller museums and libraries that are dealing with dwindling resources?

But learning aside, it was a wonderful opportunity to catch-up with some current and former ITP programme colleagues. I was delighted to see Shezza Rashwan, International Engagement Manager at the British Library who previously worked on the ITP; Tim Corum, Director, Curatorial & Public Engagement and Margaret Birley, Keeper of Musical Instruments, both from the Horniman Museum and Gardens and Maria Regan, Director, St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery previously Manager of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.