A week ago I attended the Museums Australasia 2016 Conference; the first joint conference between Museums Australia and Museums Aotearoa in Auckland, New Zealand. I was fortunate to have been invited to present the preliminary outline of my Masters research exploring contemporary artistic interventions in Australian art collections.
The intensive five-day schedule generated conversations around relevance through themes of custodianship, place, knowledge and practice. Inherent notions of partnership and collaboration extended the discussion with a focus on Australasia and the Pacific region. The conference theme: ‘Facing the Future: Local, Global and Pacific Possibilities’ manifested itself in many ways. The most interesting and engaging centred on projects that moved beyond collaboration to co-authored partnership. These involved programs at C3 West (Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney), and the Auckland Art Gallery in particular. The weight of collections was also addressed in depth through significant provocations by Robert R. Janes of the University of Leicester and Elizabeth Merritt of the Centre for the Future of Museums and American Alliance of Museums (and while their questions of the ongoing sustainability and requirements of collections weren’t unfamiliar, they did manage to drag us from comfortable positions of negation).
Blair French, Assistant Director Curatorial and Digital, Museum of Contemporary Art detailed C3 West’s highly successful community projects, including Transforma, and Food Fight: The Battle for Food Security. Beginning with a residency undertaken by artist Michael Tuffrey, Transforma saw the retrieval of dumped and torched cars from the Upper Georges River recast as a larger-than-life sculpture, raising awareness of river health and behaviours such as arson, dumping and littering. Meaningful engagement with the community, workshops with young people, and public programs were highlighted as integral components in achieving an ultimately successful project. Food security – the right to access fresh, nutritious, affordable, and culturally appropriate food was highlighted in the Food Fight Liverpool art project. Led by contemporary artists Branch Nebula and Diego Bonetto, the packed program involved a daylong event involving food stalls, cooking demos, local foodies, a DJ set and live acts. An unrivalled food fight performance concluded the evening and ensured the project achieved its stated aim: raising awareness of a real and hidden issue.
The Auckland Art Gallery’s extensive outreach programs also stimulated interest and generated discussion. Programmes directly connecting people to art and the gallery enabled creative experiences outside the gallery building, and in the community. Facilitated introductory tours with new migrants, early childhood educators, and in languages other than English, coupled with Family Drop-In sessions, Outreach festival stalls, and tertiary internships, all provide opportunity to extend access and increase collaboration and connection with community members.
Robert R. Janes, research fellow of the University of Leicester and author of Museums without Borders discussed the moral imperative of museums to explore climate change. These notions of sustainability and social relevance were extended in Elizabeth Merritt’s keynote address. ‘There is a profound imbalance… we collect more material than we preserve, and preserve far more than we interpret’. Drawing attention to the burdensome responsibility associated with collections and the unquantified ‘future generations’ timeline we make reference to, Merritt described the reality of the future’s cultural institution.
All key note lectures and parallel sessions programmed throughout the conference provided opportunity for fresh perspective and meaningful dialogue. I am grateful to Jane and Ngarino in providing the opportunity to contribute.