Well, we’ve finally come down off our amazing-conference-high long enough to sum up what we’re sure all delegates will agree was a truly special day. On Thursday 12 October, Museums Galleries Scotland hosted our 2017 conference Inequalities: Bridging the Gap, which focused on reducing inequalities. It looked at the work museums are doing to address inequality in education, health and well-being, and access. The conference helped the sector to embrace the ethos of equality, and we had an amazing group of speakers who inspired everyone to think about their work in this way.
What We Talked About
Our inspirational keynote presenters were Dr Adele Patrick, Glasgow Women’s Library’s Lifelong Learning and Creative Development Manager, and Nik Apostolides, the Deputy CEO of the United States Capitol Visitor Center. Adele presented us with a thought-provoking look at GWL’s grassroots approach to inequalities, and Nik explored how urban museums can better serve their diverse local communities. The feedback we received on our keynotes in particular absolutely blew us away, so thank you to everyone who got in touch to let us know their thoughts.
In our morning breakout sessions we looked at what we mean by inequalities and how we can go about addressing these, with the National Galleries of Scotland asking what we mean by ‘widening access’ in museums and galleries; Edinburgh Museums and Glasgow Women’s Library exploring their respective Proud City and Lesbian Archive Development projects; and Engage Scotland, Art in Healthcare and the National Galleries of Scotland highlighting recent innovative practice in arts and health work, amongst others.
The afternoon sessions looked at the broad theme of how to engage audiences with complex needs in a way that is meaningful to them, and how to approach audience development. Highlights included asking how we weave first-hand accounts of mental illness into exhibitions by exploring the positives and pitfalls encountered by Wellcome Collection and Core Arts; Leeds Museums and Galleries asking how museums can use collections to inspire expressive communication in children with special educational needs; and the National Trust for Scotland sharing the experience of organising autism-friendly sessions. VocalEyes and the Burrell Collection explored the visitor journey through research into access information and inclusive exhibitions, and Youthlink Scotland and Live Borders took us through two projects using creative methods to engage hard-to-reach community groups in the museum and heritage sector.
What Our Outcomes Were
We set Twitter alight across the museums’ world and in Edinburgh (where we were trending second at one point!), with high-level deep thinking (and the occasional gamer excitedly thinking they’d stumbled across a Metal Gear Solid conference!). Delegates were coming out of sessions buzzing with excitement, and this shows on our twitter feed. There were 947 tweets on the day and 1401 in total on the #MGSConf hashtag, so a huge impact was made.
We had a huge number of first-time attendees this year. The engaging topic brought in people from the biggest nationals to the smallest local museums, as well as supporting charities and bodies. We reached out beyond the museums’ sector, with delegates from government, large theatre venues and touring theatre companies joining us. Bringing people in from different sectors amplifies what museums can do to make a difference to society and communities.
It was a remarkable day overall, and firmly underlined the role museums can play in helping to tackle inequalities. Museums are for all kinds of people, and, as our CEO Joanne succinctly summarised in her closing remarks, “anybody can come into a museum and have their lives changed in a positive way, and that is truly inspirational”.
We’re already looking forward to our next conference in 2019!