IMA Annual Conference

2020 Irish Museums Association Annual Conference

Transforming Museums

21 - 22 February 2020, Athlone

  • Speakers

    Speakers and Workshop Providers:

    David Anderson, Director-General, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museums Wales

    Dr Dea Birkett, Director, CultureKids Ireland; Co-Director, TextWorkshop; and Ringmaster, Circus250

    Anne Boddaert, Curator of exhibitions and programme manager, Learn and Explore at Crawford Art Gallery, Cork

    Liam Bradley, Curator, Monaghan County Museum 

    Brian Crowley, Curator, Kilmainham Gaol and the Pearse Museum

    Savina Donohoe, Curator, Cavan County Museum

    Kate Drinane, Museum Educator, National Gallery of Ireland

    Judith Finlay, Registrar and founding Keeper-Manager Collections Resource Centre, National Museum of Ireland

    Dr J. Patrick Greene FMA, CEO and Museum Director, EPIC, the Irish Emigration Museum

    Andrea Lydon, Head of the Library and Archives, National Gallery of Ireland

    Donal Maguire, Curator and Administrator, ESB Centre for the Study of Irish Art at the National Gallery of Ireland

    Simone Mancini, Head of Conservation, National Gallery of Ireland 

    Henry McGhie, Director, Curating Tomorrow

    Marie McMahon, Curator, Tipperary County Museum

    Nigel Monaghan, Keeper - Natural History, National Museum of Ireland 

    Lisa Moran, Curator of Engagement and Learning Programmes, Irish Museum of Modern Art

    Evi Numen, artist, curator, and independent researcher

    Simon O’Connor, Director, MoLI (Museum of Literature Ireland)

    Dr Rebecca O'Neill, Project Coordinator for Wikimedia Community Ireland

    Fernando Sánchez, Fulbright-Creative Ireland Museum Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution

    Eithne Verling, Curator, Galway City Museum

     

    Session Chairs and special contributions: 

    William Blair, Director of Collections, NMNI, and IMA Chair 

    Ian Brunswick, IMA Board/Head of Programming, Science Gallery Dublin and IMA Board member

    Carmel Duffy, General Manager, Athlone Arts & Tourism 

    Pat Cooke, Director, MA in Cultural Policy and Arts Management, University College Dublin

    Dr Riann Coulter, IMA Board/F.E. McWilliam Gallery and Studio

    Lar Joye, IMA Board/Heritage Director, Dublin Port Company 

     

    The IMA conference 2020 will be launched by Virginia Teehan, CEO, The Heritage Council 

  • Programme

    Thursday 20 February 2020

    19:30    Pre-conference get-together, Sean’s Bar, Athlone

     

    Friday 21 February 2020

    10:45 – 11:15

    Registration and Tea/Coffee, Dean Crowe Theatre 

    11:15 – 11:45

    Welcome: William Blair, Chair, IMA/Director of Collections, National Museums NI

    Opening address: Virginia Teehan, CEO, The Heritage Council of Ireland   

    11:45– 12:15

    David Anderson, Director-General, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museums Wales

    Moderator: William Blair, Chair IMA/Director of Collections, National Museums NI

    12:15 – 13:30   

    With great power comes great responsibility - Donal Maguire, ESB Centre for the Study of Irish Art, National Gallery of Ireland

    Talking with the Dead: Engaging with Human Remains in a Contemporary Medical Museum Context - Evi Numen, freelance Curator

    Breathing Life into the Dead Zoo - Nigel Monaghan, Keeper, National Museum of Ireland – Natural History Division

    Moderator: Ian Brunswick, IMA Board /Head of Programming, Science Gallery

    13:30 - 14:30    

    Lunch

    14:30 – 15:00

    Groundwork: the art museum as site for research

    Lisa Moran, Educator, Irish Museum of Modern Art

    Moderator: Dr Riann Coulter, IMA Board/F.E. McWilliam Gallery and Studio

    15:00 –16:15

    Workshop break-outs sessions: 

    LGBTQIA+ Awareness in Action in the Cultural Sector - Brian Crowley, Curator, Kilmainham Gaol and Pearse Museum - OPW; Judith Finlay, Registrar, National Museum of Ireland; and Kate Drinane, Educator, National Gallery of Ireland.

    Flip-it: from product-led to audience-madeFiona Bell, Client Relationships Director, Thrive NI

    Curation as a digital and social act: understanding the citizen curator - Rebecca O'Neill, Project Coordinator, Wikimedia Community Ireland.

    16:15 – 17:15

    The future of museums: role and purpose of the LA museum

    Panellists: Eithne Verling, Galway City Museum; Liam Bradley, Monaghan County Museum; Marie McMahon, Tipperary County Museum; and Savina Donohoe, Cavan County Museum

    Chair: Pat Cooke, Director, MA in Cultural Policy and Arts Management, University College Dublin

    17:15– 17:25

    Circus250 Performance

    17:25 – 17:40

    Closing remarks

    18:00 – 19:30

    Reception, Luan Gallery 

    20:15

    Conference Dinner, Bacchus Restaurant (Custume Pier)

     

    Saturday, 22 February 2020

    9:00 – 9:15

    Registration, Dean Crowe Theatre

    9:15 – 9:30     

    Welcome and opening address: Dr Audrey Whitty, Vice-Chair, IMA/ Director of Collections and Learning, National Museum of Ireland 

    09:30 – 10:00

    Colin Catney, Chief Operating Officer, National Museums NI

    10:00 – 10:30

    Museums in a Changing World

    Dr J. Patrick Greene FMA, CEO and Museum Director of EPIC, the Irish Emigration Museum. 

    Moderator: Dr Audrey Whitty, Vice-Chair, IMA / Director of Collections and Learning, National Museum of Ireland 

    10:30 – 11:00

    Tea/Coffee

    11:00 – 11:30

    (Re)Defining the Museums as a Forum: The National Museum of Afro American History and Culture at the Smithsonian Institution.

    Fernando Sánchez-Cano, Fulbright-Creative Ireland Museum Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution

    11:30 – 12:30

    With Head, Hand and Heart: Realising 19th Century Visions in 21st Century Museums

    Simone Mancini, Head of Conservation, Sinead Rice, Head of Education, Andrea Lydon, Head of Library and Archives, National Gallery of Ireland

    Moderator: Brian Crowley, Curator, Kilmainham Gaol and Pearse Museum – OPW

    12:30 – 14:00

    Lunch

    14:00 – 15:30

    Risk taking in a gallery, The Seen not Heard / Seen and Heard experimental project

    Anne Boddaert, Curator of Exhibitions and Programme Manager Learn and Explore, Crawford Art Gallery, Cork

    Past, Present, Future: Access and the museum as a third space

    Simon O’Connor, MoLI (Museum of Literature Ireland)

    ROLE UP! ROLE UP!

    Dea Birkett, Director, CultureKids Ireland; Co-Director, TextWorkshop; and Ringmaster, Circus250

    Moderator: Carmel Duffy, General Manager, Athlone Arts + Tourism

    15:30 – 16:00 

    Museums and the Sustainable Development Goals

    Henry McGhie, Curating Tomorrow                                                                 

    Moderator and Closing Remarks: William Blair Chair, IMA / Director of Collections National Museum NI   

    16:30 - 17:30

    Closing Site Visit and reception, Athlone Castle

     

  • Presentation Abstracts

    Past, Present, Future: Access and the museum as a third space

    Using the recently opened Museum of Literature Ireland as a backdrop, O’Connor will explore the importance of access as a core philosophy in the development of a new cultural institution – in defining the purpose of a museum, in delivering on that mission to all audiences, and the role access can play in ensuring the longevity and resilience of an organisation. From working with academics and exhibition designers on complex literary subject matter, close involvement of the living creative community in the exhibition development process, to the public procurement of café operators, buggy parks and baby changing facilities, garden design and financial models; access considerations and resilience were at the heart of all decision-making as the museum developed. O’Connor will discuss the aim for the museum to develop as a third space, between museum and library, a civic space that acts as both a repository for the past and a laboratory for the future - moreover, a place where visitors simply want to be and, more importantly, feel permitted to be.

    Simon O’Connor, Director, MoLI (Museum of Literature Ireland)

     

    Museums and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

    The SDGs are the most ambitious global programme ever, addressing a wide range of social and environmental challenges in order to set the world on a path to a sustainable future by 2030. Unanimously agreed to by the 193 Members of the United Nations in September 2015, they are not just for governments: they are an invitation to all sectors of society, in all places, to collaborate and participate in the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. 

    The SDGs are an incredible opportunity for anyone, any organisation, and any sector to collaborate in pursuit of common goals, levering their skills, capacities and unique resources. Museums have a great deal to offer this Agenda, and some of the SDGs will not be achieved without museums, as outlined in the guide Museums and the Sustainable Development Goals, which helps empower museums (small, large and of any kind, anywhere), museum workers, museum networks and their partners to contribute to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. 

    Henry McGhie, Director, Curating Tomorrow. 

     

    With great power comes great responsibility

    In recent years, society has become increasingly aware of its immense impact on Earth’s ecosystem with many scientists now recognising the beginning of a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, the age of humans. In understanding the extraordinary power of human civilisation to shape (and break) Earth’s environment, an awareness of our responsibility for the well-being of all life on Earth must also be accepted. Understanding, however, comes only with the acquisition of knowledge, placing museums and sites of learning central to the fight for the survival of our and many other species.

    In March 2019, the New York Times highlighted the growing number of museum exhibitions designed to inspire both artistic appreciation and a desire to respond to environmental challenges, asking the question ‘can art help save the planet’. Within weeks, the National Gallery of Ireland launched its own exhibition Shaping Ireland. Spanning 250 years, this display comprised a range of landscapes, in various media, showing the significant role artists have played in shaping our understanding of the human impact on the natural world. The catalogue included a selection of reflections by experts in various environmental academic and professional fields of work. This presentation will reflect on the development of Shaping Ireland within the context of the evolving climate discourse. It will draw on other exhibitions to consider the potential role and responsibilities of museums in dealing with the social issues and challenges of the contemporary world. 

    Donal Maguire, Curator and Administrator, ESB Centre for the Study of Irish Art at the National Gallery of Ireland

     

    Talking with the Dead: Engaging with Human Remains in a Contemporary Medical Museum Context

    How did medical education practices evolve from body-snatching to body donation? What lessons can we learn from a 200-year-old skeleton in a closet? What can an illustration of a smallpox sufferer tell us about vaccines today? These are some of the questions we are called upon to grapple with, as we embark on a project to establish a medical heritage centre around a collection that spans 300 years of medical education in Ireland, and includes human remains, anatomical models, medical illustrations, and striking portraits of patients and physicians. Some of these queries are not convenient or easy to discuss, entwined as they are with stories and practices of a colonialist past. Others complicate our understandings of human diversity, ability, and consent, and invite us to bridge the gap between specimen and visitor.

    With the availability of digitally-driven resources like 3D printing, apps, and museum interactives, we can investigate how to create a dialogue with a collection that is by definition static, and behind glass. With the ongoing development of imaging and chemical sampling techniques, we can learn more about the pathologies our specimens represent than their collectors ever could, and help living sufferers of their shared conditions. Additionally, such a collection is not solely pertinent to scientific research. Its contents have already inspired artists, poets, and filmmakers. We aim to continue that engagement through a variety of artistic invitations and cultural programming.

    Evi Numen, artist, curator, and independent researcher. 

     

    Breathing Life into the Dead Zoo

    The Natural History Museum in Dublin is a much-loved ‘museum of a museum’ known for generations as the Dead Zoo. This grade one listed building is commencing a major restoration project that will present many challenges. One particular issue warrants discussion with staff, stakeholders and the public – how do we maintain the essence of a museum of a museum, while improving information delivery and ensuring more active engagement than is happening in the current historic gallery?

    This talk will explore ideas to date, including the use of ‘flagship exhibits’ with higher levels of interpretation, acting as key points around this ‘stately home of death’ to convey particular messages that could apply to many more of the 10,000 animals currently on display. Staff have also been discussing technology and how that may support depth on demand interpretation across the entire collection. The museum must close for several years as part of essential refurbishment and should give us time to get the balance right, but we need your input!

    Nigel Monaghan, Keeper, National Museum of Ireland – Natural History 

     

    Groundwork: the art museum as site for research

    Research in an art museum happens all the time. Exhibition curators undertake research in the development and implementation of exhibitions; collection curators undertake and commission research into the art works and artists represented in IMMA’s collections; engagement and learning curators undertake research into strategies to engage the public with contemporary art; artists in residence undertake research in the development of their practice; the technical crew research ways to install art works; artists, writers and curators undertake research in the presentation of their public talks about theirs or others’ work; members of the visitor engagement team undertake research all the time in the preparation of their guided tours and public programmes. This presentation will discuss the ways in which research takes place in the Irish Museum of Modern Art and how a new strand of programming Groundwork aims to make visible, through a series of case studies, existing and new modes of research in a museum context.

    Lisa Moran, Curator of Engagement and Learning Programmes, Irish Museum of Modern Art

     

    The Future of Local Authority Museums

    A number of Local Authority Museums are currently undergoing major capital developments, all funded by external agencies such as the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) and Failte Ireland.  These developments are the direct result of partnerships and collaborations and have led in some instances to the redrawing of museum’s boundaries.  This redrawing brings with it challenges for how Museum’s view their collections, their audiences, their programming and in some cases their very “raison d’etre”.  Curators from each of these Local Authority Museums will examine the changes being wrought in their institutions and how these developments are challenging them to reassess their roles while at the same time maintaining their commitment to preserving the history and heritage of their communities.

    Liam Bradley, Curator, Monaghan County Museum, Eithne Verling, Curator, Galway City Museum, Marie McMahon, Curator, Tipperary County Museum and Savina Donohoe, Curator, Cavan County Museum. Chaired by Pat Cooke, University College Dublin

     

    Museums in a Changing World

    A common perception of museums is that they are unchanging organisations.  The reality is that museums have demonstrated a remarkable capacity for renewal and response to needs in the communities they serve.  This presentation will explore some of the ways in which our sector has risen to the challenges of our times. It will draw on examples internationally that demonstrate a willingness in museums to reinvent themselves and play a part in a wide range of activities of public value. In particular, it will examine how museums are active in areas such as social cohesion, medical research, the impact of global warming and urban regeneration, taking as examples the research into Paget’s Disease at Norton Priory Museum in the UK and the Autism Friendly Museum initiative at Museums Victoria in Melbourne, Australia.

    Dr J. Patrick Greene FMA, CEO and Museum Director, EPIC, the Irish Emigration Museum. 

     

    (Re)Defining the Museums as a Forum: The National Museum of Afro American History and Culture at the Smithsonian Institution.

    Recently, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) has proposed a new museum definition following a worldwide consultation. The updated definition is intended to recognise how museums have transformed in recent years. It aims to retain the “unique, defining and essential unity” of museums in terms of caring for cultural heritage, while recognising the need for them to adapt their values to the challenges of the 21st century, incorporate different world views, address deep societal inequalities, and acknowledge the crises in nature. Attempts to define the museum have been made for almost as long as there has been museums, yet there is no definition that will ever meet everyone’s satisfaction. This presentation will not try to (re)define what a museum is, instead, what it will propose is a reconsideration that may a least help clarify the museum’s boundaries in the 21st century. Using the National Museum of Afro American History and the Smithsonian Institution as a case study this presentation will explore how user-led philosophy has helped to reimagine the place of the museum, its functions and identities.

    Fernando Sánchez, Fulbright-Creative Ireland Museum Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution

     

    With Head, Hand and Heart: Realising 19th Century Visions in 21st Century Museums

    ‘to provide for the Establishment of a National Gallery of Paintings, Sculpture, and the Fine Arts, for the Care of Public Library, and the Erection of a Public Museum, in Dublin’

    The founding Act for the National Gallery of Ireland was passed into law on the 10 August 1854. From its inception the purpose of the National Gallery was civic, providing the people of Ireland with a museum dedicated to the promotion of the visual arts in Ireland and the development of a national art collection.  Central to its mission was education, research and collection care.  Over 150 years later the final phase of the Gallery’s building programme revisits the historic and original purposes of the building with plans for a fifth wing which will provide dedicated state-of-the art spaces for Library & Archives, Conservation and Education. This presentation, from the Heads of Library &Archive, Conservation and Education in the Gallery, will situate the possibilities for museums of the future within the context of the past, specifically through the work of these areas. Drawing together their experience and expertise and knowledge of the visitor on-site, off-site and online, this collaborative and inter-disciplinary approach will ensure that best practice in the areas of museology, conservation, research and education is embedded in the Gallery’s ambitious future plans. The session will argue that through championing, knowledge creation and sharing, inclusive pedagogical experiences, scientific and technological developments and real affective engagement these three disciplines are uniquely placed to support historic museums meeting the challenges presented by changing landscape of the world today.

    Andrea Lydon, Head of the Library and Archives, Simone Mancini, Head of Conservation and Sinéad Rice, Head of Education, National Gallery of Ireland.

     

    Risk-taking in a gallery: The Seen not Heard / Seen and Heard experimental project

    During the summer of 2019, Crawford Art Gallery transformed one of its major exhibition spaces into an experimental play-space.

    After a short presentation of the exhibition and different iterations of the play-space over the 4 months, this presentation will focus honestly on the risks the gallery took, the pitfalls we faced while also talk about the rewards, the learning and potential legacy. 

    In response to the exhibition Seen, not Heard we embraced play and participation. Play, here in the civic space may offer an opportunity to reflect on some of our own ideas around childhood and play, education, cultural production and control. The child in the public space is subject to many preconceptions. How do we respond to children in public space? Do they need a packaged experience? Should we adopt a binary approach with specific child-friendly zones?

    Anne Boddaert, Curator of exhibitions and programme manager, Learn and Explore at Crawford Art Gallery, Cork.

     

    ROLL UP! ROLL UP! Using circus to challenge why, who with and how museums tell their stories.

    Roll up! Roll up! This familiar call to gather together at the entrance to a circus performance is one of the best-known and most powerful phrases in the English language. There’s no equivalent warm welcoming phrase used at the theatre or before a classical music concert. Or a museum…

    Circus is also the most approachable and accessible of art forms – no one feels uncomfortable at the interval because they ‘don’t quite understand it’. Yet not feeling part of a museum or any sense of ownership is a barrier to many visitors and participants.

    So how can you use circus to make your Old Masters, Natural History collections and local history more meaningful, relevant and accessible? How can circus be the tool to co-creation with your audiences, harnessing it tremendous accessibility?

    Dea Birkett gives some examples of how introducing circus to museums has transformed museum practice to enable it to include new stories, perspectives and relevance, including the National Gallery Ireland ‘The Art of the Show’, Sheffield Museums ‘Show of Shows’, Tyne and Tide Museum, Great Yarmouth, Royal Academy, London, and Windsor Castle, Royal Collections Trust.

    Dr Dea Birkett, Director of CultureKids Ireland, Co-Director of TextWorkshop, and Ringmaster of Circus250

     

    Curation as a digital and social act: curation as Wikipedia editing (Workshop)

    What does it means to curate or be a curator in the digital world? Since the creation of Web 2.0, a participatory read/write space, more individuals and communities are engaging as self-motivated, self-selecting curators all around the world. This session will outline the concept of these “citizen curators”, drawing on similar constructs such as citizen journalists and citizen scientists. These citizen curators are empowered by an increasingly multimedia online environment and greater mobile internet penetration to parts of the world that have been offline until this point. Thus curation as it has been understood until now has been liberated from the museum or gallery space. Some of these citizen curators want to work with cultural institutions, dedicating time and effort to improving global understanding and reach of collections and knowledge through recognisable volunteer work online. Many, however, are responding to a perceived gap in curation, particularly of traditionally underrepresented groups such as women, people of colour, indigenous people or LGBTQ+ communities. It is now up to the traditional, professional, paid curators to respond to these new and evolving curatorial spaces and the citizen curators within them. This workshop will focus on how curation has recently evolved, how the role of the curator has been reinterpreted and freed from the museum or gallery, and how those who are employed as curators can and should engage with their citizen counterparts using Wikipedia as a working case study. 

    Dr Rebecca O'Neill, Project Coordinator for Wikimedia Community Ireland

     

    LGBTQIA+ Awareness in Action in the Cultural Sector (Workshop)

    As museums and galleries evolve and engage new audiences it is important to create a welcoming and inclusive environment within organisations. A huge part of this includes language and on-the-ground implementation of a greater understanding of minority communities. This is particularly relevant to the LGBTQIA+ community. The correct use of identities and pronouns can make a huge difference to a systematically marginalised group. In this workshop session, Judith Finlay (National Museum of Ireland), Kate Drinane (National Gallery of Ireland) and Brian Crowley (Kilmainham Gaol) will share their own personal and professional experiences as queer people in the cultural sector. They will explain LGBTQIA+ language and terms that can be used in a practical and supportive way with discussion, group activities and debate. This session will aim to give participants a grounding in understanding the LGBTQIA+ community which can then be used to reach out and engage with groups encouraging social change and audience participation in institutions.

    Judith Finlay, Registrar and founding Keeper-Manager of National Museum of Ireland’s Collections Resource Centre, Swords;  Brian Crowley, Curator, Kilmainham Gaol and the Pearse Museum; and Kate Drinane, Museum Educator, National Gallery of Ireland 

     

    Flip-it: from product-led to audience-made

    For hundreds of years, museums have mostly been collections-led - finding ways to attract audiences to their existing product and experiences. However, the most successful museums turn this upside-down to start with the user – and involve their voice at every level of decision-making.  

    This workshop will look at how being truly user-led requires a fundamental change in the way organisations think about their audiences, their strategy, and themselves. It will explore what this means on a practical level for museums, across four key stages of transformation, and identify successful case studies that will challenge and inspire. 

    • Creating ownership: Examples of museum buildings and heritage strategies that have been built from the ground up by their target audiences and local communities. How you can embed co-creation in the very earliest stages of projects.
    • Using your purpose: Audiences and contexts are changing faster than ever and museums need to continually re-evaluate why they exist and what they do. We’ll examine how you can use your purpose or mission statement as a practical tool to track your impact and relevance.
    • Understanding audience experience: We’ll look at research we’ve conducted across Northern Ireland into the reasons why people visit museums, and how museums are responding to changing visitor needs.
    • Nourishing an ongoing conversation: Creative ways to gather audience feedback (more than just a yearly survey). Embedding continuous audience research and conversation across all levels of your organisation. More importantly – examples of when museums have made changes based on challenging findings.

     

    Fiona Bell is the client relationships director at thrive, audience development agency, Belfast.