IMA Annual Conference
2023 Irish Museums Association Annual Conference
8-9 September, Derry~Londonderry
Friday 8 September 2023
Tsione Wolde-Michael is the Executive Director of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH).
Wolde-Michael’s extensive work in the field of arts and public humanities has focused on developing innovative approaches to community engagement, collections management, cultural heritage, and exhibitions. She served as founding Director for the Center for Restorative History – the Smithsonian’s first center devoted exclusively to community-based redress — and at the National Museum of American History.
Wolde-Michael started her Smithsonian career in 2011 at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where she worked to create inaugural exhibitions including the landmark Slavery and Freedom exhibition. Her international projects in Ethiopia, Mozambique, South Africa, and the United Kingdom have focused on collaborating with local art and history museums to reinterpret colonial collections. Her experience extends to digital media and online exhibitions, curating visual art, writing for academic publications, teaching, and lecturing around the country. She holds a B.A. in Women and Gender Studies from Macalester College and an M.A. in History from Harvard University.
Unearthing the treasures: African collections in the national museums of Ireland, North and South
This panel will discuss how unearthing the ‘African’ collections at museums in Ireland contributes to the amplification of marginalised voices. It shows how through research and collaboration with African communities the museum can provide space for the amplification of voices which have historically been marginalised and silenced by and through colonisation and racism. Through a review of the National Museums NI ‘Inclusive Global Histories’ exhibition and current research on the ‘African’ collections in both National Museums of Ireland and National Museums NI it shows how museums can confront their own role in perpetuating global systems of exploitation and disenfranchisement, and work towards rectifying historical imbalances by acknowledging and addressing their historical complicity in the coloniality of African heritage.
This three part panel begins with the presentation of ongoing research into the African collections in the National Museum of Ireland and National Museums NI and how it is central to decolonising the museums in Ireland by making it more inclusive of diverse and multiple perspectives. Both the second and third parts addresses how the museums in the North and the Republic are decolonising their African collections through curatorial practices.
Olusegun Morakinyo is currently a Research Associate in the Department of History, University of South Africa (UNISA), a Visiting Scholar in the History Department Trinity College Dublin Ireland, and a Visiting Scholar in the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at the Queen’s University, Belfast. Northern Ireland. He was a Writer-in Residence at the University of Stellenbosch Museum, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Transdisciplinary Studies, University of Fort Hare, Alice, and a Research Associate in the Department of Philosophy, University of Stellenbosch. He was the Academic Coordinator of the African Programme in Museum and Heritage Studies, University of the Western Cape and Robben Island Museum, Cape Town, South Africa. His publications include ‘African in the National Museum of Ireland’, Afrocentric turn in African Heritage Studies: an epistemology of alterity and Transformation of Archives and Heritage Education in post-Apartheid South Africa.
Tríona White Hamilton has worked in the museum and heritage sector since 2006. She is Curator of Modern History at National Museums NI, a role which involves research, management, development, interpretation as well as access to the Modern History, Numismatics, and World Cultures collections. The collection she manages is interdisciplinary and stretches back in time to Ancient Egypt and then right up to contemporary life, as well as encompassing objects from all around the world. Her practice is community led and influenced by social justice issues. She often works in partnership with communities whose stories have traditionally been hidden and/ or misrepresented in the past.
Aoife O’Brien (NMI) has recently been appointed curator for the World Cultures/ Ethnography collections at the National Museum of Ireland. She is former curator for the Oceania collections at the National Museums of World Culture/ Världskulturmuseerna in Sweden (2017 to 2022), and has held fellowships at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Washington University in St. Louis, and the Saint Louis Art Museum.
Aoife received her Ph.D. in Anthropology/Art History from the Sainsbury Research Unit (SRU) for the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the University of East Anglia in England where her doctoral research focused on material culture from the Solomon Islands during the early colonial period. She also holds an MA in the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas from the SRU.
Her research interests include the history of collecting and collections, the contemporary resonance/relevance of museum collections, visual anthropology, cross-cultural encounters, and de-colonising methodologies.
Populism, pandemic and the public good
From a global pandemic to war in Europe and from the cost of living crisis to the climate emergency, the past five years have been unprecedented and tumultuous. Everyone on the planet has been impacted by these global events and many are searching for answers, explanations and solace. Some museum workers have turned to activism and campaigns on anti-racism, anti ableism and decolonisation, but are these new ways of working enough and can museums really make a difference? This session will explore how museums and the people that work in and with them have responded to the big challenges in society and what role museums could have in a changing world.
Sharon Heal is the Director of the Museums Association, a campaigning membership body that promotes the social value of museums. Over the past five years the Museums Association has become a campaigning organisation with a vision for socially engaged museums at the heart of their communities. Its flagship campaign, Museums Change Lives, supports museums to enhance health and wellbeing; create better places for us to live and work; and provide space for reflection and debate.
Sharon regularly comments on museums and cultural policy in the UK, speaks at conferences and events in the UK and internationally, has published extensively - including contributing chapters for Museums and Public Value (Carol A. Scott, Ashgate) and Museum Activism (Robert Janes and Richard Sandell, Routledge) - and lectures on the history of museums, museum ethics, museums and social impact and museum activism. She is the Chair of the Museum of Homelessness.
Are we all activists now? Connecting practices across the sector
It is increasingly argued that a museum should be a place of social action, with the scope to address injustices and stimulate dialogue about our pasts, present and potential futures. In this panel, doctoral researchers at Ulster University will interrogate this approach by exploring connections between their research into memory museums, climate action, and LGBTQI+ research. Common to each of these projects is the museum as a space that is not neutral; instead, the museum engages in processes and collaboration that can foster critical thinking that challenges norms. Drawing upon their research, and experience of working in museums in Colombia, Alaska and Northern Ireland, the panel will exchange ideas about museum purpose, activism, and fostering trust in the processes and value of museums.
Anjuli Grantham is a public historian and environmental activist from Alaska, USA. She is a PhD Researcher at Ulster University exploring heritage and climate action. In the past she directed statewide capacity building initiatives for Alaska’s heritage sector. She serves on the committee of the Derry-based charity, Zero Waste Northwest.
Adriana Valderrama Lopez is a Psychologist with a MA in Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution and is in the final stages of her PhD at Ulster University. At the School of Law and Political Science at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana where Adriana has lectured on subjects related with conflict, transitional justice, and political philosophy with a focus on critical theory and psychoanalysis. Her current research examines contested curatorial practice in societies dealing with a difficult past such as Colombia and Northern Ireland. She is the former director (2016-2018) of Casa de la Memoria Museum, Medellin, Colombia.
Kris Reid is in the final stages of his PhD exploring post conflict museum activism within the context of LGBTQ+ heritage. As part of his research, he has written and delivered LGBTQ+ tours at Hillsborough Castle. He is now Collections and House Manager, Castle Ward National Trust.
Sensitive Histories and Vulnerable Museum Practice: A forum facilitated by the NMI'S Sensitive Histories Working Group
The NMI'S Sensitive Histories Working Group was set up in June of 2023 as a forum for NMI staff who work closely with culturally, spiritually, and otherwise sensitive collections. The group’s initial aims are to provide a collaborative and open space to consider practical recommendations for rectifying historical imbalances and embedding inclusivity, sustainability, and diversity in the Museum’s collections and practice and for staff to support each other in their work.
We invite you to join a brainstorming forum facilitated by members of the working group to consider museums roles and potential for shaping public conversation and driving positive change in our society in relation to sensitive histories and their potential to be transformative, harmful, and/or healing.
Throughout the session we also aim to be mindful of the practicalities of doing this work in museums for staff. As early career professionals, we are aware of how challenging it can be to work towards meaningful and sustainable change in the sector while personally reckoning with low-pay (or no pay) and precarious contracts. Working from contract to contract can mean being compliant with the institutional status quo to remain employed in the sector. We will hold space for these realities while considering the possibilities for positive change.
Dr Emma McAlister is a Digitial Curatorial Researcher at the National Museum of Ireland. As part of her current role Emma is cataloguing NMI’s collection database, being mindful of problematic language previously saved to object records. She completed her PhD thesis in 2022 entitled 'Beyond Materiality: Religion and Ritual in Museums and Heritage Sites' at Queen's University Belfast. Her current academic research examines the professional art sector across the island of Ireland and religious ritual behaviour in museums.
Donna Rose is completing an Irish Research Council Enterprise Partnership Scheme Postgraduate Scholar PhD that focuses on the ethical and sensitive development, conservation, management, and mediation of the material remains of Ireland’s institutional systems. Her research is based at University College Dublin School of Architecture, Planning & Environmental Policy, the National College of Art and Design, and the National Museum of Ireland. In 2022, she completed a research project at the National Gallery of Ireland which focused on the history and ongoing legacies of colonial violence and Transatlantic trade in enslaved people as represented in the Gallery collections.
Oein DeBhairduin is the Traveller Cultural Development Officer with the National Museum of Ireland working on developing a national archive and collection through community led curatorial practice. Supporting a rarely heard and largely misunderstood community in the selection, acquisition, and narrative development of objects within the Museum, both within a community specific context and wider societal setting.
In Defence of Display: The importance of encountering humanity in museums
“One day when they come across my remains, they won’t consider assumptions you’ve made,
they’ll see me not the things that you say, they’ll put up my bones in historic display,
I’ll be the symbol of what it all means to be human, to know the earth infinitely
Your bones are there too, we’re both seen as art, It’s ironic, the people can’t tell us apart
We’re the same, we ‘re the same...” https://www.tiktok.com/@sash1e/video/7246526048823790890?
Trans youth Sasha Allen shares his original songs on TikTok. The one quoted above cuts at the intersection of two aspects of the existential conversation that museums are called to grapple with; what makes us human and who has authority to represent that?
Museum practice is moving rapidly towards the integration of decolonisation initiatives in the curation of human remains with indigenous ties. This transition has sparked questions on the value of displaying the dead in museums and generalised calls for their burial. Why do we display human remains? What is achieved through display and what is absent? How do we treat the dead with unidentified cultural ties, or ones that are close to our own?
To answer these questions, this presentation traces the history of viewing the dead in context. In defence of display, it explores the limitations and benefits of displaying the dead and discusses the far-reaching implications that could follow their literal and metaphorical burial from public awareness and access.
Evi Numen is the Curator of the Old Anatomy Museum of Trinity College Dublin. Since 2018 she has been working on a project to catalogue, conserve, and curate the medical heritage collection of the School of Medicine. She holds a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Before her current engagement, she held the position of Exhibitions Manager & Designer at the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia from 2009 to 2016. Her research interests include 19th-century dissection, medical museum practices, and their intersections with end-of-life rituals. She is the founder and curator of ‘Thanatography,’ an online exhibition of contemporary mourning art and writing. In recent years she has curated virtual exhibitions featuring the collection of the Old Anatomy Museum and is currently leading an ambitious virtual exhibition project on the history of pandemics in Ireland, funded by the Heritage Council of Ireland.
Saturday 9 September 2023
Museums and Public Trust in Democratic Societies: Challenges and opportunities.
I have analysed all the available studies on public trust and museums and am now beginning to interview an international range of museum staff and researchers on this topic. These studies demonstrate that museums and museum curators continue to consistently rank as amongst the most highly trusted sources of information in democratic societies such as the UK, Australia, Canada, and US. From this, I have identified common attributes and reasoning which underpin these high levels of public trust. At the same time, it is important to recognise there have been significant debates and critiques within the museum field (and beyond) about some of these attributes of trust, especially ideas of neutrality and impartiality. This leads me to ask:
1. How can museums best use their trusted position for the benefit of contemporary societies, especially in a context of disinformation and a general decline in public trust and institutions?
2. How can museums maintain – or, for some, rebuild – high levels of public trust given some of the recent challenges some of them have faced around the ethics of their sponsorship, the provenance of some of their collections, and historic marginalisation experienced by certain groups in terms of the histories and cultures that some museums represent?
3. How can museums maintain high levels of public trust while simultaneously representing the complexity, nuance and sometimes contested aspects of the histories and cultures which they represent on behalf of the public as a whole?
Rhiannon Mason is Professor of Heritage and Cultural Studies and Head of the School of Arts and Cultures, at Newcastle University, UK, where she teaches and researches Museum, Gallery and Heritage Studies. Her research interests are national museums, identity, and diversity. Rhiannon has also written on silences in museums and is currently researching issues of public trust in museums.
Recent publications include: Silence and Remembering: Locating the Cultural Trauma of Terrorism in London’s Museums, Archives and Memorials”. The Ethics of Collecting Trauma, in press; Museum Studies. Vols 1-5, ed. (2020); ‘Bringing Museal Silence into Focus: Eight Ways of Thinking about Silence in Museums’.International Journal of Heritage Studies 25 (2018); Museum and Gallery Studies, (2018).
Engaging visitors and building trust: Everyday Objects Transformed by the Conflict Exhibition tours LibrariesNI
Dealing with the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland remains a contentious issue and the lack of an agreed narrative is often cited as a reason that nothing constructive can be done regarding the history of the conflict. The Everyday Objects Transformed by the Conflict Exhibition (EOE) gathers a range of items lent by people from different backgrounds and political viewpoints. It was set up by the cross-community organisation Healing Through Remembering as a catalyst to help open up a platform in which diverse voices and experiences of the conflict could be heard. After an initial six-month tour in 2012, it was requested by visitors, host venues and those who lent items that the exhibition continue because it demonstrated how much could be done by creating a space for different voices to be heard, even without one agreed narrative. Visitor feedback gathered at every venue has shown broad support for EOE’s curatorial practices in representing conflict. The exhibition has been touring various museum and non-museum venues (community centres, arts centres, churches, empty shop units, offices) in Northern Ireland and the border counties since 2012.
Karine Bigand is a Senior Lecturer in Irish Studies in Aix-Marseille University in France Following an MA in Cultural Heritage and Museums Studies in the University of Ulster, her research in the last ten years has focused on the role of museums and exhibitions in representing the conflict in post-conflict Northern Ireland. She is a member and former intern of the cross-community organisation Healing Through Remembering based in Belfast and has been monitoring feedback for the Everyday Objects Exhibition since 2012. Recent publications include Faces and Places, Northern Ireland, 1975-2020 (Editions Juillet, 2020), co-signed with French photographer Bernard Lesaing.
Derry author and oral historian Julieann Campbell is completing PhD research into the impact of post-conflict storytelling work within NI communities at Ulster University’s School of Law. Recent work includes a role at the Museum of Free Derry and the 50th anniversary book On Bloody Sunday: A New History of the Day and its Aftermath by Those Who Were There (Monoray, 2022). Other publications include an oral history collection Beyond the Silence: Women’s Unheard Voices from the Troubles (Guildhall Press, 2016) and Setting the Truth Free: The Inside Story of the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign (Liberties Press, 2012), which won the 2013 Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize. A former Derry Journal reporter and former chair of the Bloody Sunday Trust, Julieann was family press officer for the 2010 Report of the Bloody Sunday. She is a regular collaborator with HTR and has developed educational resources in connection with the Everyday Objects Exhibition.
Cate Turner is Executive Director at Healing Through Remembering. She was one of the founders of the initial Healing Through Remembering project in 1999, which led to the establishment of the Healing Through Remembering limited company. The diverse members of this inclusive organisation have spent the last two decades engaging with the challenges of dealing with the past relating to the conflict in and about Northern Ireland. As the Director of Healing Through Remembering, Cate has managed all aspects of the organisation’s strategy, activity, and external engagement. In both this role and her ongoing capacity as an independent consultant, Cate works in partnership with many different organisations, academic institutions, and formal and informal networks, in both the local and international context.
The City as Canvas: creative agency in the public realm
The closure of the Glucksman museum for much of 2020 due to Irish government COVID restrictions challenged our team to seek alternative ways to engage with vulnerable communities who rely on us for creative wellbeing activities. As well as transforming the galleries into safe distance workshop spaces for homeless families and loaning works from our collection to community care settings and rural schools, the Glucksman reframed the public realm as a creative space developing projects with marginalised communities and young people that included a takeover of the façade of the city’s public library, Cork’s first asphalt art project, a large-scale installation on Mallow Castle, and a creative consultation with over 2000 young people on the Cork City Development Plan. These projects enabled diverse communities to express themselves creatively as well as encouraging them to shape the civic discourse around who and what is represented in the public domain.
These new and unplanned projects may have been born of necessity as a way to keep creative engagement possible during COVID restrictions but they opened up new possibilities for the Glucksman, inviting us to consider how we can contribute to placemaking in our city, serve communities through outreach beyond the university campus and use our curatorial experience to deliver joyful, research-led projects in significant urban and rural contexts. We have integrated these outreach activities into our core programme through the Art Library project and developed a new strand of co-commissioning artworks in collaboration with diverse communities to continue to build on these opportunities to create positive change through art.
Professor Fiona Kearney is a curator, academic and writer. She is the founding Director of the Glucksman, an award-winning contemporary art museum on the campus of University College Cork. In this position, she has curated numerous exhibitions of Irish and international art including Parklife: Biodiversity in Contemporary Irish Art, Fashion Show: Clothing, Art and Activism and Home: Being and Belonging in Contemporary Ireland. Kearney has received several distinguished awards including the NUI Prix d'Honneur from the French Government, a UCC President’s Award for Research on Innovative Forms of Teaching and the Jerome Hynes Fellowship on the Clore Leadership Programme. She is currently a board member of Cork Midsummer Festival, Cork Chamber of Commerce and on the advisory council of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.
In Tech We Trust: Museums and misinformation in the digital age
The president of Microsoft, Brad Smith, recently stated that his greatest concern with artificial intelligence is that it could be used in the industrial production of convincing but false content, with profound implications for society and the functioning of democracy. This is not a science fiction scenario; the circulation of ‘fake news’ online is already ubiquitous and trust in the media at a record low. These developments are challenging the popular perception of digital technology as neutral, unmediated, and uninfluenced by human bias.
Meanwhile, many museums are undergoing a ‘digital transformation’, with new and emerging technologies used and integrated in operations, exhibitions, and engagement. Along with cultural heritage, museums now collect and store visitor’s data; this comes with significant ethical responsibilities, particularly in the face of cyber-attacks, hacks, and fraud.
In what ways are new technologies impacting public trust in museums? What is the role of museums and their relationship to ‘neutrality’, and ‘truth’, when misinformation has become normalised?
Drawing on their research, and recent publication, Museum Technology: A Critical Primer, members of the Muse-Tech Working Group will explore ideas of trust and neutrality in the digital museum, how the adoption of new technologies is influencing museums, and in turn, how museums can influence how we think about technology.
Chair: Órla Murphy, Head of the Department of Digital Humanities, School of English and Digital Humanities, University College Cork. Órla’s research explores the integration of emerging digital technologies (with)in the humanities in scholarship and in pedagogy, specialising in the concept of knowledge representation, specifically ‘textuality’ and the impact of text technologies on the world with a particular focus on the Digital Humanities.
Panel – Muse-Tech Working Group: Laura Patrick, Regimental Heritage Officer and Director of the Virtual Military Gallery, Royal Irish Regiment Benevolent Fund; Benedict Schlepper-Connolly, Head of Exhibitions, Digital& Programming, Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI); Adam Stoneman, Creative Communities Engagement Officer, Galway City Council, and Coordinator of the Muse-Tech Working Group.
Careful Attention: museum as a site of attention care in the context of the digital attention economy
The presentation argues for the new role of museum as a site of attention care. While attention scarcity predates digital media (Citton, 2019, p.102), digital technologies introduced economic models where users’ attention became a source of profit and data collection targets users at individual level (Bhargava, Velasquez 2021, p.341). There are growing concerns about potential damaging effects on limited attention ‘human bandwidth’ (Davenport, Beck 2001, p.2), the impoverishment of background attention (Citton 2019, p.117), and other types of attention (Carasco, 2011, p.1487), including creative attention, which, unlike recognitive attention which operates within established classifications, forms new categories and understandings (Citton, 2019, p.105).
I posit museum experiences as embodied events which can support and re-engage creative attention negatively affected by prolonged exposure to digital media platforms. Museums enable ‘aesthetic attention’ (Citton, p.105), through objects and experiences which defy or exceed our preconceptions, and thus enable the delay between the perceiving moment and hypothesis about the nature of what is perceived. This delay is a condition for enabling reflective attention, as we re-evaluate and create new categories and meanings.
Taking the potential of ‘aesthetic attention’ as a point of departure, I assert that museums can employ a range of strategies with this goal and purpose in mind and play a role in stimulating types of attention often less profitable for extractivist attention economies. I posit fostering creative attention as a new important aspect of the role of museums, counteracting the effects the attention economy is having on human perception and cognition processes.
Renata Pękowska is an Irish Research Council PhD Researcher at the School of Media, Technological University Dublin. Her PhD project focuses on phenomenology of embodied museum experience in the context of digital media. She is a visual artist and writer with a background in craft design (BDes NCAD), contemporary art critical theories (MA NCAD) and UX and UI design (MA TU Dublin). She is an art educator in the museum and gallery context. Main research interests include embodied, situated, multisensory perception, book arts and light as a medium in art and design. Artistic practice projects include visual intermedia for live sound performance and digital animation.
Influencing Holistic Dialogues on the Past? Migrants and a World War One Centenary project in Northern Ireland
This paper argues that Ireland’s increasing diversity is a resource which can positively influence how we collectively interpret the past in the present. Over recent decades, increasing engagement between museums and the communities around them have provided opportunities for co-created and co-produced exhibitions which challenge cemented historical narratives. This, however, is never an easy process. Examples involving migrants as active participants include the Ulster Museum’s Inclusive Global Histories Gallery which showcases seldom-heard perspectives and presents an alternative dynamic to that of the western Authorised Heritage Discourse (AHD). This presentation draws on my own experiences of working with migrant groups in projects around identity and the past. I particularly explore the development of a co-produced travelling exhibition in Northern Ireland around the centenary of World War One.
Whilst I am an academic activist, not a museum professional, I argue that migrants’ worldviews on the past can elucidate new frames of analysis which can challenge simplistic or cemented interpretations of the past, especially important in an already ethnically divided place like Northern Ireland. I introduce the notion that such transcultural methods can go beyond a simple ‘overfocus’ on the ethnicity of participants and tease out thematic approaches which speak to wider human experiences.
Thus, co-creation with migrants offers a novel means of generating holistic dialogue on memory which has transformative potential for any society. The learning outcomes around the process of the project, I argue, have relevance for institutions such as museums where engagement processes inevitably raise challenges around trust and power.
Dr Philip McDermott is a senior lecturer in Sociology within the School of Applied Social and Policy Sciences. Philip’s research is concerned with cultural and linguistic identity, heritage and ethnic diversity. He has published widely on these themes in journals such as Ethnopolitics, Current Issues in Language Planning, Identities and Ethnicities. He is currently a co-editor of both the Irish Journal of Sociology and the Anthropological Journal of European Cultures. In 2015 he was a Charlemont Scholar of the Royal Irish Academy and in 2021-2022 he was the recipient of Ulster University’s Distinguished Research Fellowship in the Faculty of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences. His research has been funded by the British Academy, the Royal Irish Academy and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Recently he was a Co-Investigator on the UKRI project Museums, Crisis and COVID-19.
Faiths in Focus – interfaith dialogue in Irish museums
The Chester Beatty’s rich collection is from across Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe plays a key role in its mission and encourages visitors to compare, contrast and explore the historical, cultural, scientific and religious aspects of its collections
The museum acknowledges cultural institutions have a role to play in providing access to collections by co-creating and engaging with local communities. The Chester Beatty has fostered links with its local faith communities through numerous networks including Dublin City Interfaith Forum. Members of this Forum were invited to choose objects from the Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Buddhist collections and explore what these objects mean to them in their lives today.
These responses were recorded on film for dissemination, provide support and understanding of newer faith communities in Ireland, as well as link in with the Junior Cycle Religious Education new curriculum which looks at key faiths for teachers and students in Ireland.
This paper/presentation proposes to look at how museums can foster and support this much-needed engagement with faith-based community members. By providing access to the Chester Beatty collections, it allows for a better understanding of contemporary faith based in Ireland; empowers faith-based communities of diverse cultures to access museum collections; share voices other than museum professionals in the interpretation and display of objects; counteracts misunderstanding of newer faiths now present in Ireland through meaningful, thoughtful and respectful dialogue for our audiences and lead towards tolerance, understanding of newcomer communities in Ireland today.
Jenny Siung is a specialist in intercultural dialogue and on engagement with Islamic, Asian, East Asian, and European religious and artistic collections, she has led and co-developed collaborative learning programmes both in Ireland and internationally. An ICOM CECA Best Practice Award in Education winner (2017), she works closely with makers and museums on questions of Irish national cultural identity, decolonisation of museum learning, on inter- and multi-faith programmes as well as creativity and critical thinking for teachers and schools.
She has extensively worked with boards and foundations including EU Erasmus +, Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Religion, Collections and Heritage Group, Asia Europe Museum Network, Heritage Council, CNCI Learning and Education Group, Anna Lindh Foundation and Dublin City Council.
A World of Stories
‘A World of Stories’ was a Causeway Coast and Glens Museum Services engagement programme culminating in an exhibition in Coleraine Town Hall (2022-2023). The project sought to highlight the stories of those who have resettled in the Causeway Coast and Glens borough from outside Northern Ireland throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
Seen through the prism of both historical records and through the eyes of more recent arrivals, A World of Stories explored beyond the orange and green narrative that so often dominate conversations around Northern Irish community relations to celebrate the growing cultural diversity within the borough.
This project was the first conscious move by Causeway Coast and Glens Museum Services to give a voice to, and a platform for, the borough’s migrant communities. It was born of conflicting social messaging from different elements in our society that sought to welcome refugees from certain backgrounds, while creating a negative environment for others seeking asylum.
This talk will discuss the methodology chosen to approach this project, and explore the challenges and impact of the exhibition and its supporting programme of events.
Nic Wright is the Community Engagement Officer for Causeway Coast and Glens Museum Services and was the project lead for A World of Stories. With a background in archaeology, he has been increasingly drawn into the world of oral histories and their use in recording intangible cultural heritage.
Influence and Power: Museums, society and purpose, post pandemic
‘How do we ensure that museums really speak truth to power when they are beholden to external pressures that may drive specific agendas?’ The period of the COVID-19 pandemic was characterised not only by our collective experience of a global health crisis, but also by an increase in protest action. The Black Lives Matter movement drew necessary attention to ongoing racial inequalities and, concurrently, to the legacies of slavery and colonialism present in our museums. Attention on the climate emergency has also brought about direct action that has targeted museums as public institutions.
These are significant social justice and quality concerns to which museums are seeking to respond. However, this sense of a need to respond to these issues exists within a precarious financial environment. While emergency pandemic-response funding was integral to supporting the survival of some institutions, the impacts of increased fuel costs, high inflation, and political uncertainty places significant pressure on our institutions. How can we feel confident in ‘speaking truth to power’ when we are often beholden to that power for financial security?
This interactive workshop, hosted by members of the Museums, Crisis and Covid-19 team, will provide an open discussion space in which we can explore visions for the future of the museum sector. How can we collectively champion the values we adhere to, ensuring museums are a public good? This workshop will allow us to collectively explore this question.
David Farrell-Banks is Practitioner Research Associate: Collections & Participation at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge. He published his debut monograph, Affect and Belonging in Political Uses of the Past, in 2022. From 2021-2022 he worked at Ulster University as part of the UKRI funded Museums, Crisis and COVID-19 project. His current role is focused on using creative methods to develop participatory and collaborative research practice at the Fitzwilliam Museum.
Elizabeth Crooke is Professor of Museum and Heritage Studies at Ulster University. She was principal investigator on the Museums, Crisis and COVID-19 project. In 2018, she published the co-edited collection Heritage After Conflict: Northern Ireland (Routledge). Her articles can be found in a wide range of journals including Memory Studies; International Journal of Heritage Studies; and Irish Political Studies.