The news is full of openings and events, with excellent coverage of the opening of the Rugby Museum and Oceania (Te Papa/City Gallery Wellington) and lots of rugby-oriented exhibitions, as well as the people of Ashburton arguing about the future of their museum and art gallery – see the round-up in our members’ area here (you need to be an MA member to log in).
Earlier this week I attended the Human Rights Commission’s Diversity Forum in Hamilton. The presentation made to the plenary session by delegates from the weekend youth forum was especially encouraging. While they identified the expected issues of discrimination such as gender, religion and race, they also came up with solutions for including young people fairly and actively in all aspects fo society.
Diversity in practice – focus on youth
Following the plenary presentations, about 20 people gathered at Waikato Museum for the museums and galleries session. This was warmly hosted by staff at Waikato Museum, and supported by Museums Aotearoa and National Services Te Paerangi. We were welcomed on the museum’s marae ātea, and then taken through the Ngaa Pou Whenua exhibition by concept leader Moana Davey. She explained their exchange approach to concept and exhibition development, where ‘ownership’ is shared with iwi, and most of the material generated for the exhibition is to be given to the various marae at the end of the 3-year lifespan of the exhibition.
Sarah Morris shared her experience of developing The Mixing Room, a ground-breaking Te Papa exhibition developed with young refugees. Sue Superville and Kristelle Plimmer who had worked with Sarah were also there, and the project had clearly had a huge impact on their thinking. They had consciously stepped up from consultation and collaboration to co-creating, where the young subjects of the exhibition determined what and how their stories would be told. The young people’s refugee backgrounds were often traumatic, and the long period of project development raised many issues, especially in the personal relationships developed and the responsibility of museum professionals when their role blurs into social agency.
Puke Ariki curator Ruth Harvey shared what she had learned on her 2010 Churchill Scholarship study tour of the USA. Ruth had packed in visits to 30 organisations in 7 cities in 5 weeks. Although she must have been exhausted, she came back inspired with some great ways to work with young people, and has already put some ideas into practice at Puke Ariki. Ruth focussed on what is meaningful to young audiences, and how to make engagement meaningful, for instance through using museums as social spaces. Her excellent report can be downloaded from our site, here.
The fourth speaker was archaeologist Tarisi Vunidilo, who has held positions at Creative NZ, Te Papa, Waikato and Fiji museums, and is now secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Museums Association. Tarisi is particularly interested in young Pasifika engagement in museums, and highlighted the opportunities which have been developed through individual passion, personal connections, and building relationships with other organisations.
Forum attendees – from Taupo, Thames, Te Awamutu, Taranaki, ATTTO as well as other places that don’t start with ‘T’ – had a lively discussion about the issues raised. All agreed that the topic is important and fruitful, and it is very rewarding for museums and galleries when young people are actively engaged. I thank the presenters who opened their practice to scrutiny, the participants who took up their challenges, and look forward to more opportunities to inspire each other to explore meaningful engagement with young people.
On the way back from Hamilton I called in to the National Army Museum. Their exhibitions continue to evolve, with the medical services display evoking hospital smells, and Khaki and Black highlighting the Army’s active rugby tradition. They too are aware of their young audience, with signs on some tempting displays reminding parents that “we have trained our motorbikes not to climb on your children”.
A brief stop in Palmerston North was also a reminder of the looming rugby event. It was great to see the NZ Rugby Museum now fully operational upstairs in Te Manawa. The enthusiastic volunteers were very welcoming, and the displays successfully offer context and insight to their unrivalled collection of rugby memorabilia. Downstairs, Te Manawa was a hive of activity, with staff installing new permanent exhibits before its final stage opens in late September.
All the best to everyone as the kick-off draws near!