“It looks like we made it!” The final day of #GEM2019 was blessed with sunshine and a can-do attitude from all of the delegates and speakers. GEM Director Rachel Tranter warmly welcomed everyone in the morning and then spoke about what to expect for the day. We were then whisked away from the British seaside to warm and sunny Qatar by Qatar Museum’s Deputy Director Learning & Outreach Alexandra Bennett who talked about their journey of creating a children’s museum. The organisation completed an impressive amount of research on children’s museums worldwide in order to glean ideas and I was happy to see that lots of examples of great children’s museums were from America! Shout out to Boston Children’s Museum and The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis!

In her keynote, Alexandra stated the need for internal advocacy, especially communicating the necessity for specific processes and practices to upper management to make sure they were all on the same page regarding specific methodologies for creating a museum specifically for children. Qatar Museums is doing amazing things and Alexandra should be very proud of the fabulous work that her and her team are doing. I was particularly impressed by the amount of workforce development and CPD that is offered as well as their willingness to operate outside of a permanent physical space. At the moment, the Qatar Children’s Museum doesn’t have a home and so they are operating programmes out of community centres which is terrific for forging partnerships and reaching new audiences. I would encourage everyone to check out the fantastic work that they are doing and to be inspired by the way they incorporate play into their family programming – hint – they have marker skateboards and a cardboard city!!

When Alexandra’s keynote ended, we zipped right into a panel discussion called Community Voices: Representation and Inclusive Practice, featuring the following panelists:

  • Sean Curran, Community Learning Manager, Sutton House, National Trust
  • Tehmina Goskar, Director & Curator, Curatorial Research Centre
  • Jozie Kettle, Public Engagement with Research and Projects Curator, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford (participated remotely)
  • Anikó Miszné Korenchy, Head of Education and Outreach, Hungarian Museum of Trade and Tourism (talk about a long trip!)
  • Thanh Sinden, Specialist Consultant in diversity, inclusion and engagement in the cultural sector & Chair, Museum Detox

The panel was expertly chaired by Dr. Jen Walklate, Teaching Fellow in Museum Studies, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester / ed. Museums and Communities: Diversity, Dialogue and Collaboration. Dr. Walklate started off the panel by asking everyone for their definition of community. While Thanh, Tehmina and Jozie all viewed if from a perspective of defining the word (a commonality, similar heritage, goals, shared experiences), Sean and Anikó interpreted community within the context of their work – defining it as the people who are in the immediate vicinity of the museum. Moving onto HOW they engage with communities, Anikó shared that young people in Hungary have to complete 50 hours of public work before graduation, so all of the museums and libraries take advantage of that opportunity. 1000x better than roadside cleaning – right?! Sean chimed in with some thought-provoking statements. They shared that in their opinion, the biggest problem with the museum sector is that we assume that everyone wants to come to museums. They went onto say that frankly, some people have got better things to do and that there is a real sense of arrogance within the sector that museums need to be for everyone. However, in the end, if people don’t want to come, they don’t have to come. – A true statement, even if people don’t want to hear it 😉

The panel concluded with Dr. Walklate sharing the following takeaways – “Be messy, look outwards and be welcoming!

Next up, we had three pre-lunch breakouts to choose from:

  • Becoming part of the ecosystem through Local Cultural Education Partnerships with Rachel Macfarlane, Senior Manager: Norfolk & Suffolk, Festival Bridge, Norfolk and Norwich Festival Trust
  • Supporting Communities: Using collections to explore Wakefield’s work heritage with Syrian refugees with Esther Graham, Collections Officer, Wakefield Museums and Castles and Tali Krikler, Freelance Learning and Participation Consultant
  • Who Decides? Community participation as a model for developing exhibitions and encouraging institutional critique with Grace Todd, Senior Learning, Participation and Interpretation Officer, National Museum Cardiff

We had baked potatoes for lunch today which made me feel like a true Brit. That, and the fact that I had a curry delivered to my hotel last night while watching Channel 4!

I (Devon Rose Turner) ran the lunchtime surgery which was ironically on digital detoxing. Now I KNOW this may come across as hypocritical, especially from a Communications Manager, but I think that’s all the more reason to talk about it. I find myself spending HOURS in front of screens – my cell phone, computer, television etc… I’ve come up with the following ways to work creatively without screens to keep my sanity in check. Allow me to share them with you?

  • Screen time notifications– Go to settings, check out screen time and prepared to be shocked. There are also ways to set screen time limits on Apple and Android devices. Handy link included -https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/01/smarter-living/how-to-make-your-phone-limit-your-screen-time-for-you.html
  • Writing out ideas– Before diving into writing that article or email, write out some ideas on paper – this exercise can help to get the juices flowing.
  • Mind-mapping – My workspace at home looks a bit like a scene from A Beautiful Mind, but I find that mind-mapping really works for me. As a visual person, I’m able to think better through pictures and sketching out ideas.
  • Go to a creative space– If you are working in a café at a museum or gallery you can easily shut your laptop and go for a wander to get reinvigorated AND you’re giving your coffee money to a cultural institution rather than a Starbucks.
  • Sketching– I keep a mini sketchbook with me wherever I go. I find that doing a quick sketch on the train really helps me to use a different part of my brain and then makes getting back to work (and the screen) a bit more palatable.
  • Bullet journaling– A tried and true method of digital-free organisation. This works better for some people over others, but it’s definitely worth looking into. Buzzfeed beautifully breaks it down here. https://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelwmiller/how-to-start-a-bullet-journal
  • Zen– I love yoga, stretching and taking a few quiet moments to close my eyes and reflect. This really helps me reflect and think about my own wellbeing.
  • Walking– I could sit and stare at the screen for ten more minutes OR I could take a quick walk around the neighbourhood. Getting my blood pumping by walking around REALLY invigorates me and helps me take a break from the screen and then get back to the task at hand.
  • Coffee meetings– Rather than a massive email chain with a colleague, ask them out for a coffee! Also, as a freelancer, I’ve found that meeting up with people and having a casual chat is the best way to find work. My motto is, “Never underestimate the power of a coffee meeting”.
  • Music/Kitchen dancing – Basically, crank up the tunes and take a 10-minute dance break! Also, if you’re in an afternoon slump, or co-workers are feeling cranky, put on a feel-good song and encourage everyone to dance or sing along. Doing this can get you out of your own head and just get your groove on for a bit. Might I suggest checking out my playlists? I’ve got some pretty dope tunes @DevRoseTurner on Apple Music

After lunch, we entered into a challenging and impactful keynote given by David Anderson of National Museum Wales. He spoke first about the redevelopment of St. Fagan’s Museum which saw 120 communities actively and regularly contributing to shaping the museum and practices. This interconnectivity was highly stressed by David. The importance of involving the community was a HUGE theme for #GEM2019 and this was echoed in David’s words. Something that was super interesting to me about St. Fagan’s and made me want to go to Wales was Gweithdy: a gallery and workshop. David stated that this space and ethos harkens back to the fact that humans are intrinsically makers. That dimension of ourselves is reinstated within this space and with the programmes carried out there.

After speaking about his own museum is Wales, David went on to speak about the sector at large, questioning and challenging existing practices like museum neutrality and inclusiveness. Museums are not neutral…Would you agree? This point was hammered home by David, especially when he discussed the controversy around the ICOM definition of a museum. Grab the popcorn if you haven’t look that one up yet! It’s crucial not to be wishy-washy was my main takeaway from his keynote. He posed a question to the audience in saying that, “Every person has the RIGHT to culturally participate, do we as museums help people to have those rights, or are we critical of people’s right to culturally engage?” Then David turned his attention directly to GEM (rightly so) and asked US where we were in all of this. What is OUR stance? Who are WE serving? As a membership organisation, GEM has to be a voice for all of the educators who are innovating under difficult circumstances. We are a respected sector voice and it’s time to be more active in informing and changing policy. We need to BE the change we want to see. You can expect to see more of that from GEM. Help us represent you better and advocate for the change you want to see in the sector.

Phew! I’ll step off my soapbox (whilst still maintaining my principles!) and get back to the recap, because you all want to know what happened right?!

The rest of the day continued with two rounds of workshops…

  • How can museums support and promote young people’s social action and wellbeing? with Alison Bowyer, Executive Director, Kids in Museums
  • Difficult conversations and challenging collections: approaching sensitive histories with families and young people with Shannen Johnson, Learning and Engagement Office, The Peace Museum; Emily Elsworth, Teaching Assistant, Broadgate Primary School; Esther Graham, Collections Officer, Wakefield Museums and Castles and Rosie Goodwin, Freelance Consultant
  • “What are they doing in here?” Young children and the right to cultural participation with Nicola Wallis, Fitzwilliam Museum and Jo Graham, Learning Unlimited

These workshops all went swimmingly. By the third day of conference, the ice has been sufficiently broken and it was evident that delegates were much more comfortable talking about sensitive issues and productively sharing ideas. The final breakout sessions were super great, and perfect for ending the conference on a high. They included the following sessions:

  • Building Bridges for Firm Foundations: Exploring the collaborative work developing between St Albans Museums and The University of Hertfordshire with Eleanor Payne, Learning and Interpretation Officer, St Albans Museum and Sally Beniston, Assistant Learning and Interpretation Officer, St Albans Museum
  • Taking the next step: identifying ways to meaningfully connect with our communities with Emma Taylor, Senior Community Engagement Officer, Science Museum; Iain Hendry, Audience Developer, National Science and Media Museum and Christopher Whitby, Senior Audience Researcher, Science Museum Group

And then – that was it! #GEM2019 ended on a high note with delegates hurrying off to the train station to travel back to their museums full of ideas and suggestions. We hope that the conference was impactful and meaningful to all of the attendees – see y’all at the next one!