Our inaugural conference, hosted by Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, was a great success. We had the opportunity to hear some very engaging talks, be stimulated by our keynote speaker Professor Simon Knell, exchange ideas with one another and with our colleagues from the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and, perhaps most importantly, plan for the future of ICOM New Zealand, ensuring that it is in the best place to service the members going forward.
The conference started with mihi with a mihi from Mark Brunton, from Otago University, representing Kai Tahu. We are very grateful to have had his input and it set the tone for the rest of the meeting.
The first session, sponsored and run by Museums Aotearoa, was begun by Thérèse Angelo, Director of the New Zealand Air Force Museum (and an ex officio member of the ICOM NZ Board, in her role as Chair of Museums Aotearoa). She gave a talk on her work leading the creation of the Canterbury Cultural Collections Recovery Centre, which was set up to assist with storing and managing collections effected by the Christchurch earthquakes. This important work has allowed the Canterbury heritage sector to begin the huge job of reestablishing momentum after such a long displacement.
The second part of the morning consisted of a workshop in which members of the museum sector in Otago discussed key issues that effect their professional practice. They divided into groups and discussed issues such as collections, communication and networking, then coming back to plenary to share their ideas. This is part of a national project being undertaken by MA to explore the broad picture of concerns and aspirations within New Zealand’s museums.
Conference participants who were not from that part of the country, or were from BGCI, were invited to Olveston House, Dunedin’s most important stately home (see the pervious post for details) where they were treated to a tour and morning tea, courtesy of Olveston House and ICOM NZ.
At the end of that session, the conference moved into the Atrium where registration took place, along with a shared lunch with members of BGCI. During lunch, delegates were treated to a visit to the Dunedin Chinese Garden, kindly organised by Jennifer Evans, Acting Director of Toitū Otago Settlers Museum. This garden, which celebrates its sister city relationship with Shanghai, was opened in 2008. The garden uses authentic Chinese materials crafted by a team of artisans from Shanghai and the garden’s hand-made tiles, bricks and lattice-work and hand-finished granite paving stones provide a beautiful backdrop to the hand-made wooden buildings.
After lunch we listened to a stimulating keynote speech by Simon Knell in the Museums beautiful Social Hall. He challenged us to rethink collections and the missions museums, using ICOM’s definition of what a museum is as a platform for thinking about it does. For conversation, he offered an alternative definition that focused more on museum spaces and changing collections within them. This sparked considerable discussion.
That night, we went to the historic Duke of Wellington pub to refresh ourselves before heading to the Etrusco Italian restaurant in another historic building, the Savoy. It was good to debrief on the day and get to know colleagues from around the country in this peaceful atmosphere, the perfect venue for thoughtful discourse.
The next day began with three engaging talks by recently graduated students with Masters in Museums Studies from Victoria University of Wellington. These were Emma Meyer, presenting the evolving way in which museums in New Zealand have presented moa, Chloe Searle discussing public perceptions of collection development at Te Papa, and Rebecca Loud, talking about the deccessioning process at Wellington Museum of City and Sea.
After this we had the AGM, in which members were updated on the activities of ICOM NZ and had the opportunity to give feedback on how the National Committee can better serve their needs. Many of these excellent ideas will be put in place over the coming year. Finally, we discussed structure and venue for the 2014 conference. Details of that should be announced before the end of this calendar year. After this, I gave a talk on the Rio Conference, and his observations of Brazil in general.
The day, and the conference, finished with three talks on international perspectives on collections, the theme of the conference. Ian Wards explored styles of presentation and interpretation in museums in Europe, Conal McCarthy gave us a preview of the book on museum practice he is editing, with a focus on the collection chapters, and Phillipa Tocker rounded it off with a talk on “oceanic intelligence” and a discussion on the works of Bill Culbert and Ralph Hotere currently on display at Dunedin Art Gallery after being shown at the Venice Biennale.
All in all, the conference was a great success and paves the way for greater activity and better service to members in 2014. Already, the conference has fostered communication and collegial debate, increased membership, and given the Board a lot to think about as we move forward. I would like to thank our sponsors, National Services Te Paerangi for supporting Simon Knell’s trip (not only to Dunedin but to other major centres in New Zealand) and for providing bursaries and funding to allow fuller participation. Thanks also to Museums Aotearoa, Victoria University of Wellington, Massey University and Olveston House for funding and in-kind support that made a big difference to the our outcomes. The Board worked very hard on the logistics and supported our success in many ways, and we couldn’t have done it without this level of camaraderie. Thanks, too, to our hosts Toitū Otago Settlers Museum for their unstinting hospitality and for working so effectively with us on the every aspect of the venue over the last months. Thanks to all the speakers for their stimulating contributions, especially Simon Knell, whose participation involved a round trip of over 50 hours. Finally, a huge thank you to all the conference participants who made the two days enormously worthwhile. I look forward to fostering the many friendships and collaborations that sprang to life during our time together. Ka nui te mihi ki a koutou. – Eric Dorfman, Chair