Reflections on MA12 – Andrea Hemmins

Over the next few days we will be posting some reflections from people about their experiences at MA12, starting today with Andrea Hemmins from The Kauri Museum.

Collaboration For Success while Maintaining Integrity

The Museums Aotearoa 2012 conference theme of collaboration was very timely and encouraging. With challenging times for Museums and Galleries now and ahead, keynote speakers were positive, realistic and some truly inspiring. The sharing and exchange of ideas and experiences was enhanced by being in Wellington, and at Te Papa, the heart of New Zealand’s culture and heritage. There was a mutual awareness of the current financial challenges and how adaptions can be made to overcome pressures facing most GLAM sector institutions.

The view from Te Papa

This was highlighted and reinforced by the Stick it to the Man campaign. A bold and honest move by Te Papa to urge the public to have their say about Te Papa today and Te Papa tomorrow. A simple but very effective campaign where a life-sized cut out of Director Michael Houlihan invites visitors to stick a ‘post it’ with their opinion on various walls throughout the galleries. The day before the conference a few ‘post its’ graced the walls, by Friday layers of colourful opinions and ideas sprung fourth and became part of the Te Papa experience. A clever method of empowering New Zealanders with a voice about their/our Te Papa; and most importantly creating a feeling of coming together for the greater good. Also an example of how the visitor can participate as collaborator. This all done at a time when media announcements were being made about budget cuts and limitations.

The reality is, no matter what industry you’re in, today there are now limitations we may not have experienced yesterday. Knowing that we’re in it together and can find ways to utilise each others resources and skills is a useful way to uphold staff morale, visitor experience and overall understanding. Being creative about overcoming restrictions and celebrating team achievement empowers everyone to a higher level.

Speaking of teamwork and celebration, Jock Philips kicked off the conference with an overview of his travels during the New Zealand Festival and Rugby World Cup to discover What is Real NZ? He frequented a multitude of small and large museums and outdoor celebrations from Invercargill to Auckland, drawing up a variety of conclusions in a blog along the way. He commented that the most successful places provided an ‘urgent relevance to the world around’ and that successful celebrations were where communities centred the activity, naturally bringing people together in a hive of activity and enthusiasm; whereas towns that sent visitors in different directions to the outskirts tended to dilute the atmosphere.

Jim Marchbank, previous CEO of Science North in Ontario Canada, provided very good practical advice for museums and galleries seeking collaboration with outside commercial and non-commercial partners. He spoke of collaboration for survival, and the need to remain true to mission statements and brand identities while fulfilling the mutual benefits for all parties involved. ‘Use your strengths and pursue win-win’ he stated. Though he was also quick to point out the importance of flexibility within your own organisation to cater to the requirements of an external party so as not to halt progress. He raised how expectations on both sides of a collaboration should be made clear in the beginning and that major decisions be shared so empowerment is equal and encouraged. A sense of pride on both sides is an indicator of success.

Umberto Crenca’s presentation was truly charismatic and inspirational. His presentation The Art of Community, about the complete turnaround of the city centre of Providence, Rhode Island, through the use of art, foresight, and pure determination, gave us all a reminder of why we love what we do. Whether museum, library or gallery based, GLAM professionals generally have a heightened social conscience, his work setting up the AS220 organisation to revive the city centre and install a sense of place through community participation for social improvement was commendable. This was recognized by the resulting applause. Each of us facing challenges of our own could relate to his vigor and drive to strive on for social awareness, education and facilitating overall greater good for communities.  

Umberto Crenca

The final segment was dedicated to Christchurch, with the museums and art galleries discussing how they came through the earthquakes, and how their futures look. A discussion involving emergency policies and procedures was very informative. On the panel, Coralie Winns Gap Filler project aiming to raise the morale of Christchurch residents through community projects in empty spaces around the city was greatly inspiring.

In summary, the conference relayed the importance of new and long term close working relationships for mutual gain; togetherness; and the power that can be harnessed by individuals and communities while upholding original long term personal and/or institutional goals. In the words of Victoria University student Shannon Wellington, in reference to collaboration ‘risk anything except your institutional integrity’ and put eloquently by celebrated maori language educator Mereana Selby, ‘behave in a mana enhancing way’.

Andrea Hemmins
The Kauri Museum

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