For many GLAM professionals, the Museums Aotearoa/Australia conference is seen as the main forum to network, engage with current practice, and generally feel galvanised by the sector we work in. This year the delegate fee for the three day conference was upwards of $800. Factoring in travel and accommodation, this would swallow up the annual professional development budget of most small institutions, and limit the numbers sent by the major organisations. With the bulk of these places filled by managers and directors, how can the early-career museum professional get a taste of that sweet conference life? Expand your focus and you’ll find smaller, subject-based events which are more accessible yet still provide meaningful opportunities for connecting and learning.
Earlier this month, I attended the annual Costume and Textile Association New Zealand (CTANZ) symposium. $150 got me two packed days of presentations, store tours, exhibitions, lunches, and optional workshops. CTANZ was established in 2002 by a group of knowledgeable and well-connected museum professionals, historians and craft practitioners. The symposium they produced reflected this expertise.
Textiles are my chief interest, but I strongly believe that any GLAM worker would have found value in the symposium. Textiles are often perceived as sitting low in the art/craft hierarchy, yet they can function so powerfully as evidence of conversations, moments, encounters. Topic-based symposia like CTANZ give us an opportunity to weave together disciplines in a way that is sometimes difficult within the silos of our own institutions. Priscilla Wehi of Landcare Research and Karyne Rogers of GNS Science explained their isotopic analysis of kahu kurī, nudging open the door to understanding the relationship between kurī and Māor. Vivien Caughley chased the story of the earliest recorded sampler known to have been made in New Zealand, placing it into a broader narrative of exchange between missionaries and indigenous peoples, and encouraging me to reconsider the role of samplers in my collection. And Rangi Te Kanawa’s keynote on reconnecting paru-dyed textiles with their origins (which included a deft demonstration of how to extract muka fibre from harakeke), brought a sense of urgency to our work – so much knowledge is locked into objects which will continue to disintegrate despite our best efforts.
One thread that emerged frequently during the two days was the precarious state that much knowledge of craft is in. Grace Hutton spoke of the growing practise of painting tivaevae, rather than laboriously stitching over months, and Rangi showed photos of paru (mud) pits which had completely grown over through lack of maintenance. It brought to mind the question Tusk asks: what can we bring to the sector? I think this can be extended to: how can we, as young or emerging professionals in the sector, help to keep this matauranga alive? Learning from symposia such as this, having these discussions, and perhaps being inspired to try our hands: it’s a start.
Smaller events like the CTANZ symposium, where you are surrounded by people drawn together by a mutual interest, offer a comfortable space for asking questions, and can be a less intimidating prospect if you are considering presenting a paper. CTANZ also produces a bi-annual publication, “Context”, providing an opportunity to publish work around a project.
Beyond CTANZ, there is a surprisingly large number of cheap-to-free conferences, talks and symposia on offer; and even weekend events are worth asking your organisation for time-in-lieu for. For example: earlier this year, the Four Waves of Feminism conference at the Dowse (koha); this month, the St Paul St Gallery Symposium (koha), and the Objectspace National Symposium on Craft, Applied Art and Design at Auckland Museum ($5/free). My advice: be curious, find opportunities that speak to you and your interests, and don’t be afraid to make your thirst known within your institution. Then you’ll have a good case for following up on those opportunities when the time comes around.