Last week the inaugural Museums Australasia conference was held in Auckland. I'm sure many of you were there. It was a madly packed week with many people attending the pre and post-main Conference conferences, including myself and Matariki. Five days of conference is a lot to take in (did anyone do the full 7 days? If so - hero). But boy was it worth it. There were some firsts for me which include but are not limited to - crying during a keynote and participating in a panel discussion on 'Leading and developing leaders for the future' with two epic Australian ladies and Aotearoa's own OG Courtney Johnston. We caught up with old friends and made some new ones. We drank A LOT of orange juice and coffee. And we were witness to some incredible kōrero and provocations. These are some (emphasis on some) of my reflections:
1. Yell into the void – fill the silence. The first two keynotes, Moana Jackson and David Garneau, centered our thinking on the indigenous. Moana told us - "museums can be dangerous." They are full of silences and "myth-takes" as he called them. He talked about the importance of names and of reclaiming names. David told us we must "exorcise colonialism's hungry ghost.” It is a fine balance - we must not forget but we must strip these narratives of their power. This was echoed later when keynote Boon Hui Tan (eg. new sector crush) said that it is “time to let colonialism die. Leave it to dust. Leave it to silence.” We must stop feeding it. Or at least stop giving it nourishment. I have such hope that thoughts like these will form the structure of remembering around the Captain Cook 250th anniversary. It is a nervous hope...
2. Let the mana of the objects guide you - they will tell us what we need to know. We are no more than our collections and our communities. We are not above or separate from the world that surrounds us, that gives us our collections, and gives us our people. We collapse without these elements. During the Mana Toanga panel discussion, Te Awamutu Museum educator Tereoa Crane told us that he is "propelled by the mana of the toanga." This is echoed in the (incredible) Curating for the Contemporary Pacific; 95 Theses (New Zealand Edition) driven by Te Papa's Senior Curator of Pacific Cultures Sean Mallon and contributed to by a whole host of incredible Pacifika people in the sector. I've printed it out and read it over and over. I suggest you do too regardless of your role in the sector.
3. We need to challenge top-down leadership structures. The leaders of tomorrow want to be transparent, interdisciplinary and bottom up. As Courtney Johnston told us during the Emergeing Professional's mini hui, leaders of tomorrow are “fostering a culture of connectivity, collaboration and change.” We give a lot to the sector and we expect a lot - not for ourselves but for our communities. As the main conference wrapped up last Wednesday, Roy Claire observed that it had been a "conference for iconoclasts." That makes me pretty happy. And hopeful.
4. The theme of the conference was "Facing the Future: Local, Global and Pacific Possibilities." Boon Hui addressed this in his beautiful keynote - "the global isn’t a place, it is a common human experience." The global is the intersection, the meeting point, of many locals. Being global doesn’t mean rejecting the local and it doesn’t mean embracing the Global Museum concept - it means understanding your context. Boon Hui's talk was peppered with stories of how contemporary art can ground us in our unique environs but can reach out like arms stretching to embrace other places and cultures. Conversely, the global can act as a mirror and in it you may see your reflection, like Zao Wou-Ki's realisation that “it was only when I went to Paris that I realised I was a Chinese painter.” Know your local – it is your staging post. It will give you context in the world.
5. The conference began with provocations and ended with a call to action from Taiaha Hawke from Ngāti Whātua. He asked us - what can museums do for the survival of Māori? He re-centerd the active role museums must play in restoration of language and culture. It is what we owe our communities and it is what is entrusted to us. He spoke of language and that Te Reo is still threatened. Regardless of our intuitions and collections, we all can (and must) understand and act.
Conferences are always hit and miss, but I've come to understand that museum conferences are special. We represent such an incredibly diverse collection of people, organisations and expertise. We are not afraid to call out and be called out - we must be lovers and fighters and we must always check our privilege. We leave forums like Museums Australasia with many more questions that when we arrived. But I think this is our purpose - we must constantly ask, listen and reflect. And then rinse and repeat.
Tough love ya'll!