The IMA Annual Conference is a fantastic opportunity each year to hear some brilliant speakers and also meet some fellow museum geeks. It was at last years conference that the NI & ROI Museums Professionals Network was conceived and after this years event there are further projects in the works. Watch this space!!!
The conference was held in Waterford this year hosted by the Waterford Museum of Treasures. I had attended an event during the summer in the Medieval Museum and was eager to return and get a chance to explore the museum in more detail. Waterford has miraculously managed to open three new museums in recent years in spite of the financial crisis. I have to say I was in awe when I heard this and even more impressed when I got a chance to look around the museums. The exhibitions and collection are of such a high standard and I found myself getting very jealous as I walked around and took in all the splendor, including the multitude of cases that were on display. I would recommend that anyone who has the chance to visit Waterford checks out this new cultural hub in the Viking Triangle.
The conference itself was a weekend of activities, with talks, workshops and tours. Unfortunately I did not get down in time to see any of the talks on Friday due to work commitments but I did get a chance to take in some of the tours and the reception. The line up of speakers on Saturday was a great example of what can be achieved with passion, understanding and drive. The speakers were very diverse including both lecturers and museum professionals from Ireland and abroad.
The theme of the weekend was ‘Museums and Memory, Challenging Histories’. One of the big topics of the weekend was the Decade of Centenaries, one which the majority of museum professionals will be very familiar with. For the last few years and a few more to come museums are marking the events of 100 years ago, this year we have the centenary of World War I, a pivotal moment in history that warrants recognition. The point of the weekend was as Raghnaill O Floinn put it is to ‘explore and reflect on key events in our past’. Looking at the caliber of the speakers shows how important this notion is. Remembering the past is intrinsic to the work of museums and can be done in a variety of ways. Luke Gibbons states how the past is performative, that it gives us the opportunity to view the events of the past as an act of performance that can be altered or changed by outside perceptions and ideologies. Gibbons sees museums as being dialogic not monologic in that they offer more than one view. This is something that I thoroughly agree with, museums should offer multiple views and allow the visitor to create their own story around an object or event.
Some of the other speakers of the weekend focused on the events of Ireland’s past including remembering the troubles and marking the centenary of the 1916 Rising. Both Kris Brown and Roisin Higgins focused on these events with Higgins remarking how there is an idea that an event has to earn the right to be commemorated. There is also the notion of having to commemorate in order to fix or in essence do better than we have done before. Brown touched on the work of Healing through Remembering and how they work to change the views and perception of people.
In order to not run on too long in this blog I am focusing on the speakers that most impacted on me. The two international guest speakers were an inspiration, Dr Lidija Nikocevic spoke about her work in the Ethnographic Museum of Istria. The museum has worked hard to remember its tumultuous and diverse history in an interesting and engaging way. By exhibiting the stories of the various ethnicity in the Istria area it has transformed the museum into a place that represents the true and diverse history of that nation. Guido Grussels the Director of the Royal Museum of Central Africa, spoke about the large renovations works that are being carried out in the museum. This three year project is supported by the state in Belgium and is being carried out for the astonishing budget of 75 million. Grussels is a very passionate leader and is more than happy to speak about the work of the museum. I was lucky enough to be at the same table as Grussels for dinner and by the end of the night I honestly was considering moving to Belgium. The way the museums are promoted and supported is inspiring and I would love to see this same level of support being given to the heritage sector in Ireland.
The weekend was a thoroughly enjoyable one which left me pondering the best way to further develop my career and move forward. It is always a fantastic opportunity to meet new people and hear about all the great things that are happening in the sector. If I had to pick one thing that I took away from the weekend, it is that Irish museums should be doing more to try to source funding and opportunities in Europe. One of the biggest revenue streams for museum funding is through the EU and as yet it is a largely untapped market in Ireland. I really think that this is the way forward for Irish museums and should be the next step in trying to progress towards the future. Overall it was a great weekend, with the right balance of work and fun. I would recommend the IMA events to anyone who works in or is trying to break into the heritage sector in Ireland, it really is a fantastic networking opportunity and chance to meet new and like minded people.