IMA Annual Conference

2020 Irish Museums Association Annual Conference

Transforming Museums

22 - 23 February 2020, Athlone

  • Presentation Abstracts

    Presentation and session abstracts will be added below as they are confirmed. 


    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 of MoLI (Museum of Literature Ireland)


    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 is an artist, curator, and independent researcher from Athens, Greece, based in Dublin, Ireland.


    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 is Curator of Engagement and Learning Programmes in the 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 is Curator of Monaghan County Museum, Eithne Verling is Curator of Galway City Museum, Marie McMahon is Curator at Tipperary County Museum and Savina Donohoe is Curator of Cavan County Museum. 


    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 of 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 is a 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 is Head of the Library and Archives, Simone Mancini is Head of Conservation and Sinéad Rice is the Head of Education at the 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 is curator of exhibitions and programme manager of the vibrant 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 is Director of CultureKids Ireland, Co-Director of TextWorkshop, and Ringmaster of Circus250




  • Programme

    The full programme will be announced in December 2019