Culture Syndicates’ Day Out: MDEM Regional Heritage Conference – 24th September 2019
Last week I had the pleasure of attending Museum Development East Midlands’ Regional Heritage Conference at Newark Civil War Centre. The conference gathered museum professionals from the East Midlands and beyond. Also in attendance were professionals from outside of the sector, who injected interesting perspectives on the work that museums do. The day was filled with useful advice, honest and inspiring stories.
Ruchi Aggarwal, the morning’s keynote speaker, set the tone for the day with her energetic and inspiring talk. Ruchi comes from the corporate sector and her experience of succeeding as a woman in the corporate world inspired her intriguingly titled talk, “Off the ‘Sticky Floor’ – Make Room for Yourself!”. The talk was based on the idea that individuals can create change, even within a context of structural limitations, or, glass ceilings. Ruchi calls this process of self-empowerment ‘pulling yourself off of the sticky floor’. She offered delegates seven do-able ways to create change and move off of the sticky floor.
Arts Marketing Association CEO Cath Hulme then presented a compelling case for 21st century organisations to be “cause led and visitor focused”. More than a mission statement, a cause statement should inspire passion for the museum’s cause and offer staff a framework for action. I then attended Cath’s breakout session, in which she offered further advice on creating positive visitor experiences. She suggested that organisations create personas for their audience types and then think about possible ‘friction points’ in the visitor experience for each persona. It was particularly useful to discuss organisational friction points with other delegates, who offered refreshing, detached perspectives. This exercise reiterated the important role that critical friends can play in developing your visitor offer.
After lunch, delegates were treated to fizzer presentations. From the extremely relatable ‘typical untypical’ day, to the more niche issue of disposing of leathered human skin, all of the fizzers offered entertaining insights into the realities of museum work (in exactly five minutes!).
The final fizzer, Debbie Austin, shared her experience of Autism as a woman. Wanting to know more, I headed to her afternoon breakout session which she delivered with her Autism East Midlands colleague, Kevin Packham. Debbie and Kevin shared offered advice to enable organisations to be more accessible to people with autism. “Be clear, be specific, be predictable” and remember that not everyone on the autistic spectrum have the same experiences were the main take-home points from this session. Debbie and Kevin also signposted useful online resources, including videos like this one which gives an insight into how people on the spectrum experience the world around them. This talk will definitely stay with me and I am keen to find out more about how organisations can be accessible to those with autism.
I then got the chance to build my Lego skills in the ‘Being Family Friendly’ session run by Helen Martinez (Erewash Museum) and Jodie Henshaw (Mansfield Museum). Delegates were in safe hands, as both organisations have been shortlisted for the Kids in Museums Family Friendly Museum Award, with Mansfield winning in 2011. Both sites have also used Lego to successfully attract family audiences. They put delegates to the test, challenging us to make Lego replicas of the Kids in Museums logo. I was part of the winning team, along with Paul Baker and Jennifer Horseman from Creswell Crags and Alison Brand-Parker of Nenescape.
Meanwhile, Nottingham Trent University suggested how museums can engage with audiences through livestreaming, following the huge success of Feixue Huangdu’s live stream from Ruddington Village Museum (see news coverage of the broadcast here).
The day closed with a talk from Denny Plowman and Tom Huggon from Green’s Mill, Nottingham. The pair shared a humorous insight into partnership work and how they have managed a venture which started as an idea in a pub (as all great ideas do)! Green’s Mill is an example of an organisation which has pulled itself off of the sticky floor thanks to the determination of dedicated trustees, staff and volunteers.
I headed back to Culture Syndicates thoroughly inspired and with the practical know-how to implement my new ideas (including, but not limited to, Lego making)!
By Natasha Clegg, Projects Officer