Museums Aotearoa Conference 2014, Hawke's Bay

By Rachael Welfare, General Manager, Central Stories.

Writing a piece regarding my experiences of the 2014 Museum Aotearoa conference seemed easy several weeks ago when I blithely agreed in the hopes of winning favours with those issuing professional development grants. However, grant spent, conference attended, hours sitting at my laptop later and still no further on with the process apart from a well checked Facebook page and a certainty that I would not be starting my own blog anytime soon (honestly, people do this for fun?!). The problem was I went wearing so many different hats; small museums, emerging museum professional, director and student – how do I even start to address how I related to the 2014 Museums Aotearoa Conference?

MA14 - Conference Welcome Function - MTG, Napier, New Zealand, April 02, 2014. Credit: John Cowpland / alphapix

Like many in this day and age, I turned to Google for help  . . . . start with a quote it reckoned . . . . So, starting with, perhaps the most pretentious quote I could find after a quick Google search, here it is . . . My take on Museums Aotearoa 2014.

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” ~ Confucius

This quote spoke to me because, above all else, I saw Museums Aotearoa 2014 as a massive opportunity to learn. Or at least that’s how I sold it to my board, “a not to be missed professional development opportunity”; because of course three days out of the office in sunny Napier never crossed my mind.

I am happy to say I was not disappointed on both counts; the sun shone (most of time) and there was a vast amount of information, advice and knowledge on offer. The keynote speakers were inspirational and so relevant in this day and age. I particularly enjoyed; Kate Clark’s experiences regarding the identification of value and her subsequent rebranding exercise; Laura Wright’s assertion that the mission and vision should always be a key part in the development of any entrepreneurial elements of the organisation; and Ganesh Nana’s take on how we can communicate value to our stakeholders. I will most definitely be ‘borrowing’ elements of that presentation for my next council report. However it did not stop there; I found the smaller sessions to be just as informative. I attended the Museum branding session on the Thursday and found Alison’s talk particularly informative from a small museums perspective. Friday saw me riveted by Jo & Jessie’s presentation on their identification of value and the how they had chosen to quantify this; a new and really intriguing piece of research and I expect the report will be an extremely powerful tool for Auckland War Memorial Museum and other institutes around the country.

MA14 - Thursday - Powhiri and Awards Dinner, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, April 03, 2014. Credit: John Cowpland / alphapix

This is really to name only a few of the fabulous speakers I listened to over the three days. Reading and rereading my notes, talking with other attendees and relaying my experiences has provided ample opportunity for reflection. There was a nearly overwhelming amount of knowledge shared and I only hope I absorbed some of it in my noble attempts at wisdom.

Never one to miss an easy opportunity though, I daresay there will be a fair amount of learning via imitation occurring down in Central Otago for the next wee while. The amount of projects trialled, programmes developed and various ideas put forward was mind blowing. In my opinion, fellow Emerging Museum Professionals were particularly inspiring; the experiences of public programs, working in remote locations and dealing with the more philosophical questions of museums were delivered in a number of Pecha Kucha sessions with unique style and great wit. The variety added a whole different element to the conference that I didn’t expect but welcomed nonetheless. The Directors of Small Museums Group also provided significant fodder for reflection and imitation. Meeting peers that were finding ways to deal with the challenges of small museums, seeing their passion, some after decades of work, and hearing their tales was amongst the highlights of my trip and my only regret is that I had missed the extended Tuesday session.

MA14 - Thursday - Powhiri and Awards Dinner, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, April 03, 2014. Credit: John Cowpland / alphapix

I honestly have few criticisms. I would have liked to have seen more from a small museums and/or art gallery point of view and I felt there was limited new research or formal theories put forward. However overall; the networking opportunities, both during the conference and those over a nice glass of Hawke’s Bay pinot noir, were excellent; the hosts were welcoming, charming and rightfully proud of their fantastic new facility; and the organisation and successful management of the program was exemplary.  To me, Museums Aotearoa 2014 was, respectfully disagreeing with Confucius, a fabulous learning experience not in the least bit bitter. Expect perhaps that it was all over so quickly! I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did and I hope to see you down my end of the country in 2015.

Rachael Welfare received a Professional Development Grant from National Services Te Paerangi to support her attendance at Museums Aotearoa 2014.

Image credits:

Images courtesy of Museums Aotearoa

Image 1: Conference Welcome Function – MTG, Napier, New Zealand, 2 April 2014. Credit: John Cowpland / alphapix

Image 2: Powhiri and Awards Dinner, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, 3 April 2014. Credit: John Cowpland / alphapix

Image 3: Powhiri and Awards Dinner, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, 3 April 2014. Credit: John Cowpland / alphapix