The World Turned Upside Down

Written By

Mark Johnston, Eilidh Henderson

9.11.2020 Thinking

Various members of the Arts and Culture team have enjoyed dipping into the Museum Association conference that ran online from 2nd to 6th November. With our portfolio of exhibition spaces Page\Park have recently joined the Association as commercial members, and the conference was a useful opportunity for us to engage with current thinking on museum practice and deeper our understanding of the context in which we are working.

The title of the conference – The World Turned Upside Down – focused attention on the key themes of the impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic, inclusion and diversity and the climate emergency. Whilst being discussed here in the museum and gallery context, these are universal themes with the same discussion points happening across the wider cultural and creative industries sector. Essentially this is a discussion about relevance – increasingly critical in a society where the value of our culture is under constant threat, unfortunately which the pandemic is only going to amplify.

These are themes that as a team we have been exploring in our internal discussions around our work which with fortuitous timing we shared with the wider studio on 2nd November. This included our colleague Mark Johnston revealing his recent entry to the Reimagining the Museum for Climate Action competition.

The Museum Association conference delivered a week’s packed programme of webinars for which the MA team must be congratulated. Technical glitches were few and far between and the ‘chat’ function on Zoom was on fire for most sessions we participated in. Indeed, the generosity shown by all participants in sharing resources, personal experiences and ideas was a fantastic positive aspect of the conference.

The move to online provided opportunity for widening participation in the conference, mirroring indeed the possibilities that have opened up by the accelerated embracing of the digital platform by so many museum organisations in recent months. A real positive must be the massive reduction in carbon footprint of the conference by moving online.

Ultimately unsustainable practices across the cultural sector need to be challenged – and there seems to be appetite in confronting difficult truths and exploring new ways for the museum sector to work, be these re-examining whose stories are being told and how, increasing inclusion and exploring how to make both programme, museum practice and building estates less carbon hungry.

As architects who help shape space for our cultural activities, the discussions around the role of museums in placemaking and identity, and of course the climate emergency, are already critical considerations in our work, but key takeaways for our team to reflect on include:

To better consider the impact of our design decisions on everyone   

How to deepen our community engagement and better balance vision, need and available resource   

Be more forceful in challenging decisions that have an adverse impact on the climate 

The keynote speech by Museum Association President Maggie Appleton drew out key messages around courage, kindness, curiosity and hope. That is a great foundation to build on.

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