Event Blog | Museums Association Conference 2013

Trumpeted as the Museum Association’s biggest event to date there were 1500 people in attendance, incorporating delegates, visitors, exhibitors and speakers across the three days and two nights...

As a first timer, there were two things that struck me immediately: how good Liverpool looks these days – testament to a strong legacy from the city’s 2008 Capital of Culture – and the sheer scale of the conference.

Three themes were explored: the therapeutic museum – making connections with well-being, health, housing and social care agendas; futurology – what the museum of the future might look like and the emotional museum – empowering communities to stimulate social cohesion.

Another theme that dominated however were the impacts being felt by funding cuts. Brought to a head in the keynote: Crisis, What Crisis? between David Fleming, Director of National Museums Liverpool and ACE Chair Peter Bazalgette, both speeches referenced the recent reportRebalancing our Cultural Capital. The report highlighted a number of headline statistics, the most attention grabbing one being in 2012/13 London received £69 of taxpayers benefit per head of population in comparison to £4.60 for the rest of the country. Add to this, that local councils across England have also cut their funding to museums by an average of 11% (according to figures from the Museums Association) and the future picture looks bleak.

It was enlivened by a range of quality speakers including Iain Watson (Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums), leading the audience in a rendition of ‘Que Sera Sera’ and introducing his futurology seminar with the caveat that your own future idea or vision is likely to be one of merit if seen as ridiculous by those around you! Newly appointed Shadow Culture Minister Helen Goodman – the first Labour minister to appear at the MA conference in some years – told us she considered museums were ‘the cheese in the sandwich, not the icing on the cake’ and in a bold move, took unsolicited questions from the floor.

There were a whole host of seminars, interactive workshops and events on offer – personal highlights included a wonderful tour of the new Museum of Liverpool and a scenario planning session on the future museum, (referencing Peter Schwartz’s The Art of the Long View).Participation on trial, was a ‘mock courtroom’ scenario with both prosecution and defence presiding over the work undertaken by museums to engage audiences and an entertaining role play session on trustee and governance used the game of chess to demonstrate how to win resilience for museums.

In summary, some thought provoking keynotes, a warm welcome from the people of Liverpool and a fascinating mix of attenders (including some of our Audience Finder museum clusters in London, Cambridge and the South West), all made for a stimulating conference. As a first timer I’ll certainly be looking to next year’s event in Cardiff with interest.

Pam Pfrommer