Saturday, April 28, 2012

Canadian Museums Association Conference 2012 - Part 2

Michaëlle Jean
Arts for Action. Arts for Change
The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean

Jean began her address by saying that we need to rally the creative forces of the country. The conference theme this year was "On the Edge", and she pondered the interpretation of this phrase - are we on the edge of a precipice upon which our raison d'être is being challenged? Or are we on the edge of a breakthrough of cultural identity being revitalized?
In the current climate arts organizations must be more effective in communicating our value to Canadians. We must be explicit in expressing our purpose and its connection to social and economic benefits. We are the custodians of the nation's soul. Cultural institutions used to be considered as essential as air or water, but now we are more like a rudderless ship floating perilously at sea. Culture is a way to bring people together and sustain Canada's legacy. We must look at the current landscape as an opportunity; a test of character, a chance to reinvent ourselves and to heighten creativity and convert fear to hope. Hope and promise lie in young creators (the emerging artists and professionals) defying the odds; they are using the arts for social change. Creative life is married to social responsibility where creative minds are always thinking about the greater good. Fighting has become a creative exercise - the arts is true engagement and a labour of love. We are not simply aesthetic but can save lives, mould active citizens, contribute to sustainable communities, build bridges, and break down prejudices.

Young people are creative, socially conscious, and tech savvy. Through Jean's work with young people, she has heard that they fear established institutions are mere repositories that don't recognize the value of their content - artistically and/or socially. These institutions must be centres for creative expression of the present and future, not just a sanctuary of the past. Canadian museums need to become centres of their community to celebrate the creative soul of the nation. She suggested starting small, such as using one wall for community arts events, crowd-sourced curation etc. The goal is to become the nerve centre for cultural happiness with the public being active participants. We must ensure that art continues to matter. The message to our communities needs to be that we are together, we are conversing, and in this alliance anything is possible.

Designing Relevant Exhibits for People Who Hate Museums
I would summarize this session by saying "variety is the spice of life". All three panellists talked about the importance of research, planning, and thinking outside of the traditional museum box. The research component is crucial, and in developing each exhibit museums need to be asking who they are trying to reach (visitor target), what they are trying to say (storyline), and what visitors will do (interactive experience). Social media and mobile technologies can play an integral role in the experience, but we don't want to create an activity that people could just do at home.

The Montreal Science Centre identified 3 turning points in expanding their audiences:
1. development of a marketing plan that was backed by demographic research - who are the museum's clients, what do we want to accomplish, etc.

Ken, Exective Director of the
Museum Association of Newfoundland
& Labrador tries his hand at
Pacart's Plinko game in their
climate-controlled exhibit
transport truck during a break
2. refreshing the permanent exhibits with diverse displays and have controversial/bizarre temporary exhibits - grab people's attention and make them think twice about their idea of what a museum is and does (it is possible to have fun while learning)
3. pair internal offerings with online content - give visitors a way to connect with the museum before, during, and after their visit

At the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts they make sure to change exhibits regularly, integrate technology, cover a variety of subjects in their programming, and respond to visitor feedback. They have opened the doors to storage and invited artists to select something from the collection and then use it as the centrepiece to their own exhibit in the museum space, breaking down the old authoritarian boundaries. While this approach may seem simple enough (dare I say common sense?), it has resulted in a dramatic visitation shift - younger people are coming through the doors and regularly engaging with the museum.

The final panellist was from a west coast design firm and talked about how space, ideas and emotions must tie together to create great experiences. In designing exhibits, the outcome should be singular - a word or phrase that sums up the message and is supported throughout the exhibit narrative, allowing the visitor to easily take the idea with them. The space needs to be organized in such a way that the orientation reflects the tone and attitude of the exhibit, and subtle shifts in display techniques should allow the visitor to engage their body with the space. The key is to involve the public and not be afraid of trying new things. 

In case you missed them:
CMA Conference Part 1
CMA Conference Part 3

CMA Conference Part 4

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