Attending the sessions
Any conference is all about the sessions, of course (oh, yes, and the lunch buffets). At any given time, there were three concurrent sessions happening at this year’s OMA conference, making it a bit difficult to take in everything. Fortunately, we had a few people attending so we could share responsibility for attending some of the important programs. I stayed mainly with the interpretation sessions.
In keeping with the conference theme, many of the sessions in the interpretation area were largely concerned with reaching out to communities and local audiences. The folks from the St. Catharines Museum presented an entertaining and interesting session about their efforts to put their museum literally in the community by hosting evenings in bars and coffee houses. They would bring featured artifacts (mini exhibitions) to various locations and create programming events around them. Artists working live and thematic entertainment were popular features of such evenings. The approach is fresh, fun and intended to not only build interest in the museum, but also for the museum to become a part of neighbourhood life.
Probably closer to the conference theme were a number of sessions concerning the social responsibility of museums. The idea for these sessions arose from the traditional notions of museums being places of trust and, to some degree, of moral authority. Today’s museums are expected, to some extent, to be community leaders in areas like social responsibility, ecological sustainability, and health and well-being. Part of this means being willing to let go of a single point of view and instead explore all aspects of the interpretation of historical events or places, striving to be inclusive of various cultures and of various levels of learning abilities.
Much of this conference was aimed at small, community museums. Being from what is effectively a national museum, I frequently felt out of place but there was food for thought from every session that could be easily applied to our more scaled-up institution. Besides, museum folk are museum folk and we all live in similar worlds. Regardless of our national mandate, we still live in a city and in a museum community and we do have responsibilities there: just more things to consider as we head toward building the master plan for the new Bank of Canada Museum.
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