24 April 2014

MEG Conference Review

MEG Conference – University of Aberdeen, 7/8 April 2014 Collections, Collaboration and Communities

Delegates arrive for conference registration
The 2014 Museum Ethnographers Group conference at the University of Aberdeen attracted a wide range of participants including curators, researchers, artists and educators from across the UK, Europe, Canada and the US. The theme – Collections, Collaboration and Communities – seemed especially pertinent to our times and generated thought-provoking presentations and stimulating discussions.

Astrid Knight presents the first paper of the conference 'Miniatures, Ambiguity and Distortion in Nunavut: The delicate art of sharing values and knowledge in collections-based research on historic Inuit material culture'
First speaker Astrid Knight set the tone for the two days with her paper ‘Miniatures, Ambiguity and Distortion in Nunavut: The delicate art of sharing values and knowledge in collections-based research on historic Inuit material culture’. Her efforts to elicit collections knowledge through collaborative work with members of a Nunavut Arctic community revealed a fundamental disjuncture between museum and indigenous understandings of what ‘knowledge’ is, who has the authority to ‘give’ it and with whom it can and should be shared. Knight’s useful reminder that ‘collaborative projects do not inevitably bring benefits to the community’ was revisited several times over the course of the conference.

Tobias Sperlich and Lace Marie Brogden, in recounting their research into the history and interpretation of First Nations material culture in small museums in Saskatchewan, Canada, talked about the agency of objects to evoke historic relationships formed under colonialism as well as their potential to promote intercultural understanding in a political landscape ‘not yet post-colonial’. Magdalena Buchczyk also addressed the impact of governmental policy in the forming of communities (here the craft communities of Romania) and collections in her discussion of a ceramic collection given by the Romanian government to the Horniman Museum in the 1950s as part of a programme of Cold War reciprocity and cultural relations.

Phillip Schorch presents his paper 'Assembling communities: Curatorial practices, material culture and meanings'
Phillip Schorch, in ‘Assembling communities: Curatorial practices, material culture, and meanings’, explored how the application of theory, particularly assemblage theory and hermeneutics, can offer a more nuanced perspective on museums’ work with communities. Communities which, as Eve Haddow showed in her discussion of a project to review Pacific material in Scottish museums, can exist between museums as well as within them, as Sarah Brown and Keiko Higashi from the Powell-Cotton Museum, Kent, were to demonstrate later. June Jones, in her reflections on the repatriation of Maori human remains from a medical collection, and Pauline van der Zee, in addressing the ‘taboo’ of colonialism within Belgian museums, emphasised the emotive aspects of museum work with communities, whether through the process of healing described by Jones or the revulsion felt by van der Zee in encountering the crude manifestations of colonial ideology at the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium.

Pauline Van der Zee presents her paper 'Il faut prendre patience Ethnographic collections and the taboo of colonialism in Belgium' The slide shows the Museum of Central Africa, Tervuren. The Museum is currently undergoing a major renovation. 
A series of presentations by artists working with museums (literally and conceptually) – Katie Smith, Christopher McHugh and Alana Jelinek – revealed some of the tensions inherent in arts practice which attempts to span collections, collaboration and communities. They expressed a concern about the instrumentalism of arts practice and a reluctance to submit themselves and project participants to the agendas of others, including museums or art funders. ‘In general, it does not create good art’ Jelinek noted while Smith reflected positively on a self-initiated museum project, ‘The Moveable Museum of Found Objects’, the result of ‘just sending an idea out’.

Socially engaged artist Katie Smith presents her paper 'The movable museum of found objects' The slide shows some of the found objects which were donated by members of the public
In her recounting of the British Museum’s experience of running its youth engagement initiative, Talking Objects (TO), Lorna Cruikshanks raised the issue of legacy for museums’ collaborative work with communities. The British Museum had struggled to maintain interest from project participants and for some their Talking Objects experience remained an isolated one. Cruikshanks also hinted at the tension between museum agendas and community ones: most of the TO outcomes remain online rather than in-gallery.

Ross Irving presents his short report 'Just a couple of pots: a collection from Papua New Guinea now in National Museums Scotland'
While not directly addressed to the conference theme, many of the ‘work in progress’ / ‘short report’ presentations also highlighted the rich seam of activity being conducted by museums in terms of collaborative collections-based work, whether through exploring the ‘relevance to contemporary audiences’ of historic material from the Pacific (Alison Clark), the social worlds that produced a collection of Papuan pots recently acquired by National Museums Scotland (Ross Irving), re-imaginings of the past informed by contemporary realities at the Folklife and Ethnological Museum, Macedonia & Thrace (northern Greece) (Eleni Bintsi), and the creation of new digital heritage resources for Yupik consumption (Jacquelyn Graham).

A selection of papers from the conference will be available in the next issue of the Journal of Museum Ethnography (JME) (available to MEG members from April 2015) ensuring the conference findings and discussions contribute to this topical, provocative and productive area of museum discourse.

Helen Mears, Keeper of World Art
Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

Read a review by conference delegate and speaker Lorna Cruikshanks on her blog Sensible Culture Follow Lorna and the blogging team on twitter @SensibleCultr

22 April 2014

Job Vacancy: Associate Curator of Oceanic Art

ASSOCIATE CURATOR of Oceanic Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the world’s finest museums, seeks an Evelyn A. J. Hall and John A. Friede Associate Curator for Oceanic Art who will be a full time member of the curatorial team of the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing in charge of the Oceanic collection.  In that role, they will be responsible for all aspects of curatorial work including:  recommending acquisitions; the care, study, interpretation, and publication of the collections; developing special exhibitions; cultivating donors; engaging with the academic community; and forging relevant relationships with cultural institutions and organizations in Australia, New Zealand, and across the Pacific. For full details and how to apply visit here. 
   Plan and oversee updating of gallery installations of the permanent collection, including the selection of art works and writing of didactic content
   Research and recommend acquisitions and develop a list of gaps in the existing collection to be filled
   Cultivate strong institutional relations with private collectors of Oceanic art
   Develop collaborative projects that engage specialist researchers with MMA's collection
   Propose and undertake publications relating to the permanent collection
   Review, revise, and expand collection object files and records
   Propose and develop special exhibitions and related publications
   Work with Education Department to develop public programming relating to the collection for general audiences and those with a specialist interest
   Collaborate with other AAOA curators in developing cross-departmental projects including exhibitions
   Promote the importance of the collection and represent the field internationally through institutional collaborations, exhibitions, and lectures
   Expand the presence of art from the Ancient Americas at MMA through negotiating strategic loans
   Engagement and awareness of cultural patrimony issues
   Other related duties

Application Deadline: Sunday, June 1, 2014, 6:00pm
Evelyn A. J. Hall and John A. Friede Associate Curator for Oceanic Art is a full-time position and includes full benefits. Salary will be commensurate with experience. Send cover letter, indicating position of interest, resume, and salary history to:

as a Word attachment only with “Associate Curator/Oceanic Art” in the subject line.

Tuesday 4 — Wednesday 5 November 2014

A Two-Day Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Conference hosted by the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, in partnership with Migration Museum Project

This conference seeks to explore the notion of museums as living organisms and the multiple questions that emerge from this context.  Museums, like living beings, do not live in isolation, rather, they are embedded in complex eco systems. Museums are occupied and given life by people. They are constantly evolving, directly affected by the changes around them, as well as effecting and acting as catalysts for change. Museums Alive! — Exploring how museums behave like living beings, organized in partnership with Migration Museum Project, will be the sixth conference developed by the PhD community at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, and follows last year's highly successful Museum Metamorphosis conference.

We aim to discuss and share ideas on some of the most seminal issues in museums today.  Papers addressing the following themes and questions are encouraged, but we also welcome new suggestions and creative proposals:

Conscious Living

· How do museums form their identity both internally and externally?

·  How do museums facilitate the creation of identities, and how in turn are museums’ identities created by the communities they serve?

· How might we define living in the context of the museum?

· Should museums remain neutral or express emotions?

Open System

· How do museums as ‘organisms’ coexist and relate to the wider eco system? How do we define what that system is?

· How do museums migrate in order to adapt to the environment, not only in ways of living but also in ways of thinking?

· How do museums affect the world around them?

·  How do museums behave in reaction to perceived threats and/or opportunities of change?

Organic Evolution

· How are museums born and do museums get sick or die? Do they mutate? How can we portray a museum’s life cycles? 

· How can museums use bodily ‘senses’ to respond to, capture and integrate with their visitors and the public?

· How do museums collaborate and compete with different types of ‘species’?

· How can museums become laboratories or spaces for experimentation?

· How can museums become adaptive within in a defined structure? How and 
why do museums evolve?

The conference team welcomes all postgraduate students, early career researchers and practitioners who are interested in and researching topics related to the museum field. All disciplines and nationalities are invited to participate.

We welcome and encourage creative and alternative presentational styles, alongside the traditional paper. Workshops, panel debates, creative writing, films, installations, visual creations, displays and ignite presentations will all be considered.
· Presenters of traditional papers will have 20 minutes to deliver their paper (ending with a 30 minutes Q & A with the whole session panel).
· Workshops, panel debates and other alternative formats can either last 30, 45 or 60 minutes (please specify on submission proposal).
· This year we are also inviting proposals for ignite rapid fire presentations, a great opportunity to spend 5 minutes presenting about a particular project, area of work or piece of research.

Abstracts and session submissions should include the following information:
1)     title of abstract or session
2)     author(s)' name and contact information (including twitter handle)
3)     biography (max. 100 words)
4)     format and style of presentation
5)     abstract or session description of no more than 250 words
6)     optional: up to two jpeg images, each under 2MB, to complement your proposal

Abstracts should be sent by email to Sipei Lu, Conference Secretary, by midnight GMT on 20 June 2014, to msphdconf@gmail.com.msphdconf@gmail.com
Successful participants will be notified by mid July 2014.


Early bird fee (until 31 August)
Full fee (after 1 September)

Lunch and refreshments will be provided on both days. In addition, there will be optional social events and museum visits.

Conference email: msphdconf@gmail.com
Twitter: @msphdconf