Belinda McMartin, Assistant Curator; the Bradman International Cricket Hall of Fame, Bowral
Having just returned from my first international museums conference I felt it relevant to reflect on what I’d learnt from the last few days.
I entered INTERCOM 2012 with no real expectations however I was immediately surprised at many museum professionals’ attitudes towards me. The vast majority in attendance didn’t even bother to ask where I was from or where I worked because they assumed, given my youth, I was as one woman said ‘just a museum student’. Their shock when I would proceed to say I’d been in my current position as Assistant Curator for over 18 months was equally astonishing given that during my time as both a student, intern and now museum curator I have always felt those around me to be nurturing and very keen to help me establish my skills and a museum career. I wondered is this negativity just a generational issue?
Another issue that in recent times I have come to wonder about and that I witnessed firsthand at the conference, is the difference between those that discuss museums and those that actually work in museums. Without my theoretical education I would not have had a foundation on which to build my museum knowledge of best practices however once I began working in the field I very quickly realised the disparity between what we are taught in theory and what (especially in a smaller organisation) can be undertaken practically. Perhaps those people that spend all their time writing about museums should spend some more time, not within the museum display space, but behind the scenes in the dirty underbelly of the museum.
I don’t know whether it was the speed under which the conference began that would set the pace of the next few crazy days or the wonderful staff at Government House that kept my wine glass never less than half full, but in all honesty I cannot remember much of day one. For me day one was really all about meeting people and getting to share ideas and stories with people from all over the globe. From Russia to Brazil I felt like I was on a one woman museum trip around the globe without even leaving Sydney!
Day Two was definitely my favourite in regards to the presenters and themes. Being a sport museum we often have to fight for recognition. The public and indeed the museum sector often overlooks us as just a ‘place that holds memorabilia’ and more of a ‘sporting thing’, an uncritically celebratory ‘low-brow’ version of history. On the other hand the sporting sector struggles to understand why they should visit a museum. Leo Tenoi’s (Creative Producer Pacific Programs, Casula Powerhouse) keynote speech exemplified just how sport and the museum can come together successfully for the benefit of society. Personally I felt in regards to the Bradman museum this was the most crucial issue to be raised at the conference and I was very glad to see the responses on Twitter that supported the idea that communities could get involved in museums through the means of sport. On a daily basis this is what the Bradman museum endeavours to do. The museums recent affiliation with School Sports Australia is just one example of how we are getting the cricketers off the field and into the museum to try and build a new generation of museum visitors. A major setback I feel our cricket museum experiences however (compared to Casula Powerhouse’s partnership with the NRL) is that most clubs involved were centrally located in Western Sydney. Indeed NRL in general has a concentrated following in NSW and specifically Sydney. In comparison cricket is a truly national sport with headquarters in Melbourne. Not only is the Bradman museum nearly two hours away from central Sydney where the state system is run but it is in another state from cricket’s national body. Through the program initiated by Casula Powerhouse to connect NRL players with their Pacific Island heritage an example has been set as to how museums can connect with sport for the betterment of society.
On a personal note I very much enjoyed Tarisi Vunidillo’s (Secretary-General for the Pacific Islands Museum Association) talks on the work of museums in the Pacific. National identity of Pacific Cultures and the preservation of traditions is something I am very interested in and have done some work on in the past at university. I felt Leo’s talk and Tarisi’s presentations complemented each other well and saw me take much new information away from Day two of the conference.
Our final day made me a very happy chappy! Not only was it the last museum lunch I would eat (day one the lunch was amazing, day two it was enjoyable, day three saw me craving something other than a wrap, juice and some sweet covered in bright icing!) but social media and digital technologies were the theme of the day. If you had told me a year ago I would be part of the museum digital sphere I would have not believed you. Sure, I used to do computer studies in high school and used to be good with technology but that was a long time ago! At university we touched on the digital element of museums but shamefully now I admit I didn’t see the need for this type of digitation in museums. As my personal interactions with social media have expanded I have become an advocate for its benefits within museum use. Our digital followers are a new breed of museum visitor and it is through these means we are attempting to remain in contact with potential and repeat visitors. However unlike in the past when museums had a loyal ‘member’ base that paid annual fees for the privilege of being a member we are connecting with people via social media and so in effect I believe this is our new or future ‘member’ base. This is how we inform people of up-coming events, shop sales etc… and we can do it instantly, we don’t have to wait for a monthly newsletter or annual publication. This is specifically for the new breed of museum visitor. I feel privileged to be able to build this visitor base and explore these new Medias. After all, this is all still one big experiment as to what works digitally and what doesn’t.
At the end of the day I’m happy to be back in the museum. As much as I enjoyed the last three days, meeting people and exchanging ideas it is good to get back to the museum and start implementing what we have learnt.