The 2014 Museum Ethnographers Group conference was held last week at the University of Aberdeen. The conference topic of ‘Collections, Collaborations and Communities’ brought together speakers from the UK and elsewhere, and from different disciplines, including curators, artists, academics, and other museum professionals.
Some of the speakers shared their experiences of working with communities whether that is a community local to a museum, or source communities that may be more geographically distant. The discussions around community engagement often came back to questions of who should guide a project when a museum works in collaboration – is a project more effective if a community approaches an institution with a need, or should a museum form a project for a perceived need and then flexibly map that into reality? This tied in to another recurring theme of the conference: communication. There was a clear agreement of the importance of communication to working in collaboration.
The subject of ‘knowledge’ arose throughout the conference – questions were raised over how one defines knowledge, who holds knowledge, and how we share it? At times more specific questions were asked such as ‘how do you display sensory knowledge?’ It seems collaboration is often about different individuals or groups bringing different knowledge to the table. In an ideal situation the equation for collaboration might read: knowledge + knowledge= increased knowledge and understanding.
I presented a paper at the conference focussed on the Pacific Collections Review project. It was an opportunity to share some of our work with collections over the past year. I reflected on the value of working in partnership with other museums, particularly in terms of exchanging knowledge and looking at networks of objects. I also presented the ways in which we have been trying to connect with different communities, whether that community is the Scottish Museum community, a Pacific island community, a research community, etc. Finally I considered the potential legacy of this project and the types of communities for whom we hope it will have impact.
In addition to the papers delivered at the two day conference, delegates had the opportunity to visit the University of Aberdeen Museums collections centre and the Fiji exhbition currently on at King’s Museum. We also all enjoyed dancing at a Scottish ceilidh!
You can find out more about the Museum Ethnnographers Group here: http://www.museumethnographersgroup.org.uk/en/