Thoughts and feelings on the first day at the MA Conference 2019, Namrata Sarmah, Assam State Museum, Guwahati, India, ITP 2018

Overlooking the narrow English channel, Brighton has been a historical crossroad. For centuries, people, artefacts and ideas travelling from continental Europe to Britain and vice versa, have stopped by its coastlines. Hence, it is quite appropriate that the city hosted Europe’s biggest heritage event of the year. Museum and heritage professionals from across the world descended on Brighton for this year’s Museums Association Conference. The breezy, maritime weather of the city provided the perfect backdrop to envisage strategies for unleashing the transformative potentials of museums by placing them at the heart of communities. 

at the conference…

Our world in the new millennium is plagued by drastic political shifts, demographic crises, growing inequalities, a rise of prejudice and emerging concerns about climate change. The only fruitful way forward appears to be an advocacy for holistic, sustainable, ethical and egalitarian communities. And the museum sector, as facilitator of dialogues between the past and present, can provide crucial interventions for a saner, secure future. With such an ambition, the conference played host to delegates of numerous backgrounds and nationalities, brainstorming and pulling their resources for a more ethical, sustainable and inclusive heritage management culture. 

The first day began with a keynote address by Sharon Heal, Director of the Museums Association. She emphasised on building lateral solidarity with numerous strands of ethical activism about climate change. She also stressed upon museums as compassionate institutions with the potential to change lives. While engaging with the human factor the museums must focus on the lived experiences rather than on impersonal statistics, she added. Hedadd Fychan, Head of Policy and Public Affairs reiterated this issue of personal connection and compassion by emphasizing that ‘museums are not neutral’, and one must embrace this fact. Due to this, the museums must be innovative in their approach to sponsorships and self-sustainability, she added. 

‘museums are not neutral’

With the growing concerns for ethical and personal issues in professional contexts, the first day of the conference witnessed a well-attended panel on situating the #metoo movement in the museum sector. Participating in the panel, Adele Patrick, Clare Gunnaway and Irene Aristizabal focused on the importance of acknowledging the role of feminism, and fair practices for a safe and inclusive workplace. The days ended on a jolly note with a conference party at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

To sum up, the conference has been able to bring together different voices of different professionals in the museum sector on equal footing at the same pedestal. The events of the first day engendered an overwhelmingly positive atmosphere to discuss and deliberate upon an ethical, sustainable and inclusive future for museums. A future hopefully enabled to response effectively to rapidly changing economic, political and environmental realities. I would take this opportunity to thank ITP Team Claire and Anna for having us here in this conference.