Museums as Sites of Civil Society: Audiences and impact

Wednesday, 8 December 2021, 12:00:00 am UTC

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Session Convenors

Dr Chiara O'Reilly, University of Sydney
Dr Anna Lawrenson, University of Sydney

Session Moderators

Dr Chiara O'Reilly, University of Sydney

Session Speakers

Seth Ellis, Griffith University
Dr Jennifer Blunden, State Library of NSW / University of Technology Sydney
Danielle Harvey, University of Queensland Art Museum

Art galleries have revolutionised their relationship with visitors in the twentieth and twenty first centuries with a greater focus on relevance, inclusion, participation and collaboration. Embodied in that shift is a recognition of audiences as central to the work of museums and galleries. When Covid struck, galleries were left without audiences. How have galleries transformed their practice to chart their unique impact within the Covid stricken world and beyond? Aside from the rapid pivot to online delivery, what will be the lasting impact of Covid on the cultural sector and how has it inspired change and innovation? How will cultural institutions seek to reinvent their impact and maintain relevance? What social role will art galleries come to play? The panel seeks to open a discussion on change across the cultural sector and welcomes papers from people inside cultural institutions and across academia that interrogate the role and impact of galleries today and into the future.

PAPER #1
Engagement and authorship in the curation of online archives: two stories about narrative metadata from the State Library of Queensland

PRESENTER
Seth Ellis, Griffith University

Digitising collection objects creates new objects in the form of the digital records, which can then form the basis of emerging archives in patterns of public use and interaction. These emerging archives, often consisting of online engagement, then become a powerful vector for community participation and decentralised authorship of historical and cultural narratives—an avenue that has become all the more pressing since the advent of COVID. This paper follows two such projects at the State Library of Queensland: the highly successful Corley Explorer, which created an interactive, participatory online experience of the Corley Archive of photographs; and the subsequent SLQ Explorer, which has sought to capitalise on this success by making similar online engagement possible for other curated sets of objects in the Library’s collections. The Corley Explorer, like many similar successful projects, does not just enable members of the public to “access” the collection, but empowers individuals to author their own experiences with the archive—experiences that are by their nature represented and stored online as crowdsourced tags, descriptions, and recollections, which thus become their own record of public memory. How can this participation best be engendered, and possibly preserved, for online experiences of catalogues and collections?

PAPER #2
Rethinking Universal Design

PRESENTER
Dr Jennifer Blunden, State Library of NSW / University of Technology Sydney

Developed by a team of US researchers in the late 1990s, Universal Design a set of principles for designing products, technologies and environments that are accessible to everyone. The aim was to challenge the boundaries of mainstream design, pushing designers to rethink assumptions and produce designs that could be used by the greatest number of people, without the need for modification. A key principle of Universal Design was to minimise, if not remove, the need for language, which is essentially culturally specific and often discipline specific. But what happens when the principles of Universal Design are turned back on language? How effective are they at framing an approach that maximises accessibility to written and spoken language? This paper draws on a series of workshops held with staff and volunteers at the Art Institute of Chicago which set out to explore this idea. It shows that while Universal Design aimed to avoid language, it can itself offer a valuable framework for museum writers and content developers, particularly in the wake of Covid-19 as museums have looked afresh at the exhibitions, programs and resources they offer onsite and online in an effort to maintain and attract audiences.

PAPER #3
Reinvigorating audiences and audience engagement teams: how cultural mediation transformed the University of Queensland Art Museum’s atmosphere

PRESENTER
Danielle Harvey, University of Queensland Art Museum

This paper examines how ‘cultural mediation’ practice has reinvigorated The University of Queensland Art Museum’s public facing visitor engagement team, while enabling deeper connections with, and understanding of, its audiences. Mediation is a complex and multi-layered term—used academically in cultural and media studies, and in everyday terms to understand conflict resolution. UQ Art Museum is researching this practice to understand how cultural mediation can empower audiences to engage with art by creating the conditions for mutual exchange between museum and visitor. Facilitated by a Mediator, this act defies the authoritarian ideals of knowledge transmission (one way: from institution to the visitor) traditionally employed by museums. This paper will discuss how Cultural Mediators at UQ Art Museum are using the practice to nurture an exchange of cultural knowledge and interpretations, negotiate artistic provocations and ideas, and to draw on visitor experiences to illuminate connections with art.

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Biographies

Dr Chiara O'Reilly, University of Sydney

Dr Chiara O’Reilly is an academic in the Museum and Heritage Studies Program at the University of Sydney. Her research examines museum and gallery history, collections, exhibitions and audience experience. Her work has been published in Journal of the History of Collections, Museum Management and Curatorship and Museums and social issues and she co-authored the monograph The Rise of the Must-See Exhibition. Blockbusters in Australian Museums and Galleries (Routledge, 2019) with Dr Anna Lawrenson. Her current project Museums as sites of Civil Society is a collaboration with Dr Anna Lawrenson and Dr Lee-Anne Hall.


Dr Anna Lawrenson, University of Sydney

Dr Anna Lawrenson’s career has spanned critical museology and applied practice having worked in academia and the arts sector. She has been a part of USYD’s Museum Studies, and now Museum and Heritage Studies, programs since 2010. Her background is in art history, and she initially taught in this field. Parallel to this she worked in the arts sector in management, curatorial, consultant and research positions. This dual focus has driven her research, which is informed by her experience of the practical issues that museums and galleries face while being underpinned by a strong theoretical foundation. 


Seth Ellis, Griffith University

Seth Ellis is senior lecturer in interactive media at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, where he is program director of the Master of Interactive Media program and convenor of the Interaction Design major. He is a narrative artist and interface designer; he has worked with libraries, museums and galleries on their collections and exhibitions, most recently the Museum of Brisbane and the State Library of Queensland, where he was the 2019 Mittelheuser scholar-in-residence. His own projects have shown in galleries, streets, symposia and festivals throughout the U.S., Europe, and Australia.


Dr Jennifer Blunden, State Library of NSW / University of Technology Sydney

Jennifer works and researches in the museum and cultural heritage sectors, with a longstanding focus on communication, accessibility and public engagement. Her research interests include meaning making and knowledge practices in museums and galleries, which she has explored in a series of research residencies, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago. Jennifer currently works as a producer in the exhibitions team at the State Library of NSW, and is an industry fellow/research associate at the University of Technology Sydney and University College London.


Danielle Harvey, University of Queensland Art Museum 

As the Engagement and Training Officer at UQ Art Museum, Danielle Harvey leads the strategic development of UQ Art Museum’s cultural mediation program and training. She has over 7 years’ experience working in audience-focused roles and has a Master of Museum Studies from the University of Queensland.