MuseumNext Geneva

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Now that I’ve finally made it home from MuseumNext Geneva, I’m sitting back at my desk feeling mildly shell shocked trying to make sense of all the literature, notes and business cards I brought back with me. For those of you who haven’t heard of MuseumNext it’s an international conference for museum professionals that focuses on the future of museums. It’s a very intense 3 days of talks and workshops but it’s also an opportunity to network with others in fantastic museum and gallery settings. The host city this year was Geneva which meant delegates had the pleasure of exploring venues across the city such as Batiment des Forces Motrices, MAMCO Le Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain and the Musée d’art et d’histoire.

For me the power of storytelling was the big theme of the conference with lots of speakers talking about how to engage with our audiences. Museum Hack founder Nick Grey spoke with great enthusiasm about setting up private museum tours for people who don’t like museums with good storytelling being key. In today’s fast paced environment audiences need to be entertained before they can be educated which is something museums can forget despite every object in their collection having a story to tell.  Something that Christian Lachel from BRC Imagination Arts also touched on when he talked about storytelling was the need for the stories to be emotive. Emotional stories resonate with audiences and become something that we want to share.

Emotion and sharing was also a big part of Jake Barton from Local Projects presentation on their work on the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Jake said that the stronger our emotions, the stronger our memories and as 9/11 was the most viewed event in human history there are a lot of people with their own memories of the events that took place on that fateful Tuesday. The museum tells the stories that took place that day but also allows visitors to contribute to the exhibit through video recording booths, ensuring their thoughts and reflections are part of the story too. Examples of storytelling and audience engagement were dotted throughout the programme which is what made it stand out for me as the biggest takeaway from the conference. Humans are born storytellers after all, so it’s no surprise that we would continue to develop our means to tell a good yarn.

If you have a spare 10 minutes now and want to learn more about the power of storytelling check out this great TED Talk by Andrew Stanton of Pixar on how to tell a good story.

Becoming more Agile (the project management method, not becoming gymnasts) was also something that was talked about a lot over the course of the conference. I actually blagged my way in to the Agile for Beginners session that was being run by a bunch of guys from Cogapp, a creative agency who help clients use digital media. When my office asked me what I learned in this session I managed to thoroughly confuse everyone by handing them an expertly made paper plane. This led management to question exactly what I was doing in Geneva before I explained that the paper plane was merely the embodiment of the Agile Method. (Again I don’t think they we’re convinced.) The lovely Gavin, Andy and Josh were using paper plane building as a way to demonstrate the quick, adaptive and responsive method of delivering projects. Agile means shorter periods of development (aka sprints), more time for feedback and more opportunities to change the final outcome of the project. Whilst this was the only workshop specifically for Agile the method was mentioned time and time again by other speakers who had used it to deliver the projects they were presenting on. Agile used to be something used exclusively in software development which is why it’s really encouraging to hear about more museums who are getting results from changing the way they work.

The social impact of museums was also a thread of discussion through the conference, whether that be through health and well-being or through the influence museums have on policy making and agenda setting. This was unsurprising to most of us who attended the Museums Association’s conference last year on the theme of Museums Change Lives. It was great to see Tony Butler from Derby Museum’s Trust mentioning Happy Museum Project (or Cantie Museum Project as it’s known in Scotland) or Goranka Horjan from the European Museum Forum talking about how museums need to stay relevant to society. The changing role of the museum in communities and societies as a whole is something that we’re going to start hearing more about in future conferences.

Those were my highlights from MuseumNext. If you’d like to hear a few more be sure to check out this fantastic video from Cogapp who asked everyone (myself included) what the highlight of the conference was for them

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