Highly personal reflections on MA conference Sydney 2015.
Really interesting conference for me – my first Australian MA conference, so I can only compare to MA (Vic), AAM, ECSITE and the UK Museum association. (Disclaimer: Rushed thoughts before getting on a plane. Notes for me before I forget, really. )
First, it’s a nice size; not so big that you’re just bobbing in a sea of strangers. There’s always session envy, you can’t go to everything, but it isn’t overwhelming. This also helps with the accessibility of thought leaders. They’re nearby, not cliqueing away from a swarm, easy to find them at coffee and ask questions. Oh, yes, half hour coffee breaks are good too!
Next, I think we as a sector are way too nice. I’m not advocating heckling from the floor, we have to be supportive and safe, but I didn’t see much genuine questioning and critique. Too often an echo chamber of a hundred people tweeting ‘hell yeah!’ to each other. Lynda Kelly stands out as a challenging voice (with evidence and references too!) and I’d love to see a few more voices speaking out like that. But beyond individuals, could we make critique somehow safer and therefore more likely? Practicing what I preach – I found the round table arty chat completely unhelpful. Maybe I’m Captain Dunce of HMAS Uneducated, but the big words in long sentences flew over my head.
Presentations were interesting, though I get more from the twitterbursts around them. As for keynotes, Jonathan Jones inspired me – a good reminder that artists’ thinking and research can be as or more inspiring than the resultant artworks. And of course Xerxes blew us away with his narrative presentation. For me, some once-known, half-known and never-known stuff – but he synthesised it with such clarity that I think I now have a framework for engaging our teams in a common language. I’ll be taking it all back to my team.
Randoms? Wifi donkeys and tinder-for-collections. And I missed the improv session (maybe even as I type!) which was a shame for me.
My overriding thought is that there’s a sense of possibility and change, of hope and new energy. Financial pressures are nothing like the UK’s and anyway can be liberating – experimenting and partnerships are forced as well as encouraged. We’re getting the rise of digital native up the organisations, and at the top having some new thoughtful and passionate directors (women, yay!) will develop our sector’s leadership while we still benefit from the experience of the longer serving. Twitter democratises the voices – the influencers shown in the twitter-mappy things were unrelated to internal hierarchies. I think there’s a moment – and it’s a massive privilege and stroke of luck to be a department head at *right now*.
Next time? I’d like a rule that every presentation is slideshared afterwards. Yes, a rule. If you’ve got something to say, we should get it outside the conference walls and give it some longevity. And let’s talk more about narrative, architecture, exhibitions, exhibiting, making meaning through spaces. (Personal biases, yes!)
Last thing – can Rose Hiscock always encourage us to wag off a session to embrace an adjacent creative activity. I enjoyed the photography show at AGNSW and I might not have gone without that challenge.
Right. Session planning for 2016, now!