ITP Conference Grant Awarded to Ioan Oprea (Romania, ITP 2019): Muże.X Shaping Museum Futures, International Conference, 18-20 October 2021, Valletta, Malta

We are very happy to announce that we were able to award an ITP Conference Grant to Ioan Oprea, Conservator at National Museum of the Union Alba Iulia, Romania and ITP 2019 Fellow. Ioan was awarded a grant to support his attendance at Muże.X Shaping Museum Futures, an international conference held in Valletta, Malta.

Ioan has returned from the conference and has written a blog to share his experience of the event. A report on Ioan’s conference grant will be shared soon!

Written by Ioan Oprea, Conservator, National Museum of the Union Alba Iulia (Romaia, ITP 2019)

Malta has many wonders – amongst the most amazing in the world; even the translation of the name suggests it’s rich past and heritage, but in a metaphorical way. It was baptised by the Romans with the term melite, meaning “honey”, the islands were rich in wild honey and it was associated with the sweetness of honey by the sea people who, in time of crisis or simply while crossing the Mediterranean Sea, had the vital chance to take shelter in the island’s ports, to repair their ships, take supplies and start again on their journey. Due to its strategic position, Malta inspired many legends and created many stories over the centuries, but this blog is about my story and my participation in Muże.X Shaping Museum Futures international conference.

View from daily the ferry, from Saint Julien’s to Valleta

I had the amazing opportunity to attend the 2019 International Training Programme and since then I have tried to follow the ITP’s posts and news regularly; it was from some of the news shared by Claire, that I saw the announcement about an international conference in Valletta. Despite many COVID restrictions, I decided to apply for an ITP Conference Support Grant and travel to Malta for this event. I am very grateful to the ITP for accepting the application and for the chance to be again, physically, amongst museum people for an international event. Nearly two years since COVID began and the new normal is sometimes tainted with this difficult situation so the chance to be in the (almost) normal times, was just pure oxygen.

The conference on the second day

The MużeX. Shaping Museum Futures conference took place between 18 – 20 October in Malta’s emblematical capital, Valletta. The event was organised by the Malta University and was very well received by Maltese institutions. I must mention that I was very nicely surprised by the president of Malta, George Vella, who was present at the official opening on Monday evening and held a speech for the participants and for all those concerned by the future of museums and their role in modern society.

His excellency, George Vella, President of the Republic of Malta

In the next two days that followed, the conference was a physical and virtual hybrid, accepting registrations and presentations both on site and online and in this context, I can say it became one of the most ‘global’ events that I have taken part in. Gathering participants from several European countries, but also from other continents like the Americas and Asia, the conference presented more than 50 research themes and projects. I like to believe the themes proposed by the organisers were the ‘bait’ which attracted people from so many corners of the world and personally, I wanted to be there because of the same reasons and interests. Themes such as ‘the role of the museums’ is something that I had heard and discussed before but I hadn’t had the chance to hear and participate in workshops dedicated to climate change and measures to stop or reduce the dangerous effects of this. Museums must form an international stand against climate change and its effects and inform people about the critical direction in which our world is heading for, fast.

Plenary discussions

The conference’s presentations and themes were enforced and introduced by five keynote speakers who also tried to offer a general view of the present day museum’s situation and interconnect the participants’ themes. In the conference opening, Riel Miller, Head of Futures Literacy (UNESCO) was the main keynote speaker and he was followed on the next day by Jette Sandahl (European Museum Forum), Diana Drubay (‘We Are Museums’), Fabio Viola (museum gamification experience developer) and Mike Murawski (#museumarenotneutral campaign). It was useful to see different visions and presentations of solutions to make museums more effective in modern society, more accessible and open to new trends in the world. Seeing so many participants talking about these subjects, made me think that democratisation of museums, climate change action and the future of museums are now among the current trends of the world, but these themes must also be very carefully approached – especially democratisation of museums.

As historical moments in society, we must remember these issues and themes will add to our knowledge and save us from errors that can be prevented by simply learning from the past. Many can see the future of museums in a digital world, the beauty of the museum is as the classic model, where the artefact is exposed and waiting to tell it’s ‘odyssey’. Digitalisation for visitors, in my personal opinion, is something for the physical museum to use, when the situation allows (after COVID, for example).

I enjoyed listening to so many different points of view in this event – diversity is a beauty that mortals and gods share alike – as the ancients Greeks use to say – and it is the most effective way to learn. I am sure these topics will be carefully approached in the future and hopefully, much sooner implemented.

Short break during the session, University of Malta – a beautiful 16th century building

I left Malta having these ideas in my mind, but not before I revisited some of its nicest places. The Maltese islands have a special place in my mind and left many memories. My first time here was in 2012, as an Erasmus student with an archaeological scholarship in Mosta for two months – two weeks at the Malta Superintendence in Valletta and two weeks in a field survey in Gozo. In the last year, I also ‘conducted’ two Roman missions in Ghajnsielem (Gozo’s main port), visiting some Roman friends right before their events near Christmas in 2017 and 2018. While in Malta, you must visit Mdina, Malta’s best place with a fantastic view of the land and sea in the same frame. It’s also called ‘The silent city’, but if you pay attention, all those yellowish-white stone buildings just can’t wait to tell you their stories. While visiting/revisiting, you must try some of the local flavours and tastes: pastizzi and kinnie; they will not be forgotten.

I particularly like it when an event combines professional work with visits and local experiences (or maybe it is just my visual memory that captures the information in this way). The Muże.X Shaping Museum Futures conference was a great event and I am very grateful for this opportunity provided by the British Museum’s International Training Programme and for the support of the Marie-Louise von Motesiczky Charitable Trust.

Nawguralkom l-aћjar! (Maltese “All the best!”)

Mdina fort, the main entrance to the fort and city can be seen on the right side
Maltese tastes: pastizzi and kinnie
Taken on the last day with Prof. Sandro Debono and Prof. Carmel Borg, main organisers of the event

In the past, the ITP has supported fellows from Zimbabwe, Egypt, India, Uganda and Armenia to attend or speak at conferences or carry out research and we would like to extend this offer to the entire network through open application, for conferences and professional research. Due to a very positive response this year, we are extending the budget for this legacy project. Each fellow can apply for up to 60% of the costs incurred by attending the conference or carrying out their research – up to a maximum of £1000. You can read more about the grants here.