MA – Outside Insights – NZMS Insights

The theme of Outside Insights into the sector was definitely upheld at this years’ Museum’s Aotearoa Conference. Repatriation of human remains, sexual and physical abuse, where science and art overlap, biculturalism, inclusiveness, youth leadership/transformation and, of course, Artificial Intelligence were all examined; most particularly how the museum sector can confront, address and contribute to these important (burgeoning!) social issues.

Museums are the protectors and preservers of our national and social history, they push the conversation forward through discussing challenging topics and making our culture aware of significant issues affecting our society.  Importantly they do it openly, the need for this resonating in many of the topics mentioned above, and often right in the heart of our communities – arguably where this kōrero should occur.  Conferences like this can also help shape the future by confronting difficult and sometimes challenging topics which we take back to our respective communities.  We think the Museums Aotearoa Conference informs those who help shape the way New Zealand’s history is recorded; inspiring our museums to continue to protect and preserve our history.

We have long been dedicated to supporting these significant events in the museum sector and always encourage our staff to attend the conference and associated workshops and events.  This year no less than five of us from NZMS took part from our Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland offices.  As Andy Fenton observed:

“We gain valuable, important and relevant industry knowledge to inform us contextually, so we can better understand, share, service and contribute right across the sector with the digitisation, community engagement and consultancy work we do for museums – and the rest of the cultural heritage (GLAM) sector…  it also nurtures the professional development of our people; digitisation technicians, management and the Managing Director all benefit.”

Some of the NZMS team share their personal insights from the conference

Ella Beckett – NZMS Digitisation Technician, Christchurch

(Emerging Museum Professionals (EMP) Conference committee member)

“I joined the EMP18 conference committee when it was formed back in July of last year.  The committee consisted of eight of us from various locations around Canterbury.  The theme of our conference was Inside Insights, a reference to the main MA conference theme of Outside Insights.

We were very lucky to have a beautiful overnight stay at Wheke Marae, Rāpaki where we were visited by the lovely Kārearea, ‘Hera’, from the Marlborough Falcon Trust and her handler Vicky Smith.  We were given a presentation about conservation of the New Zealand Falcon as living taonga, and the challenges of training Kārearea.
On the Sunday we left Lyttelton Harbour (and a beautiful sunrise!) and headed to the New Zealand Air Force Museum for a morning of workshops on conservation cleaning, education in museums, inclusion, and entomology/insect pinning. In the afternoon, we had a series of EMP’s speaking about their experiences and ‘inside insights’ in the sector. It was a great opportunity for those willing to get public speaking experience, and for the rest of us to hear some great stories!


But the fun didn’t stop there for me! On Wednesday I attended a workshop session on Copyright and Creative Commons in New Zealand.  It was great to hear real applications and experiences surrounding copyright in this sector (good and bad), and to hear that it doesn’t have to be as scary as we think.  Thinking about intellectual property rights, and doing ‘right’ by rights owners becomes more and more important as our world becomes more digital, and as it’s definitely a topic I’d love to learn more about, the session was a great starting point.

For me, the conference ended in the dark Barbadoes Street Cemetery, where a large group of us had met for a late night tour of the oldest cemetery in Christchurch.  As it was late May in Christchurch, we were lucky both the rain and spirits held off as Lyndon Fraser from the University of Canterbury shared stories of the inhabitants and their Christchurch lives. This was a lot of fun and definitely a highlight.

Having the conference in Christchurch this year has been such a treat for us living here.  As both the EMP and MA conferences move to Wellington for 2019 I would absolutely recommend those in the capital get involved in any way they can. It’s a great way to hear about what successes and challenges are happening in the sector and if you’re interested, there’s usually something for everyone!”


Siobhan O’Brien – NZMS Digitisation Technician, Christchurch

“I found the 21st Century Curator workshop I attended very insightful. It was great to hear from various curators around the country talking about aspects of the job, current challenges, and opportunities.

The workshop covered a variety of topics around curation, with a focus on what participants wanted to gain from the session – which was impressive. Since there was a large attendance for this workshop, we were split into groups. The workshop ended up comprising three main parts, beginning with a discussion around collecting, accessioning and deaccessioning objects, and the Collection Policy which governs these decisions. As part of this discussion, each group came up with an object in a collection they are familiar with that could be considered for deaccessioning, by assessing its viability to remain in the collection using the criteria of the current Collection Policy. I particularly enjoyed this part due to the interesting objects that came up for review – some were quite controversial, but the importance of their provenance and other factors nevertheless deemed them important items of the collection.
The second topic was how research is conducted in museums, which involved a lengthy discussion regarding the differences and similarities between academic and museum research. Finally, we arranged ourselves into groups based on experience, and there was a more general discussion around curation and moving forward with it.

I would highly recommend that other team members attend MA conference next year. If you have an interest in a particular job or position in the GLAM sector, I think it’s a really good way to find out more about it through hearing from a range of people with experience actually doing it. It is also an opportunity to meet and get to know people – contacts which could prove useful for professional development and collegiality in the future.”


Leigh Rout – NZMS Southern Regional Manager

“Going to the MA conference reinforced how mindful we must all be regarding any cultural protocols required when working on a project and the importance of asking best practice instructions and advice before commencing.

Much of our work involves the careful handling and unpackaging of heritage material, so it is tremendously important for us to keep up to date on handling different mediums. The EMP conservation workshop lead by Becky Helliwell was a good reminder on what to consider when cleaning material, things to look out for and who to contact if you need advice.

Tā Mark Solomon’s keynote was a surprising topic. He discussed his commitment and passion for supporting whānau to speak up about family violence and how he has conducted many gatherings to raise awareness of the issue and encourage whānau to take action in a programme called Tū Pono (stand in truth).

I had never heard of FAFSWAG (which is a collective of Maori and Pacific LGBTQIA+ artists in Auckland, who “battle” through vogueing – a dance form that originated in black and Latino communities in Harlem in the 1980s) until attending the “What’s at the end of the rainbow” parallel session, where  it was discussed how Museums can support inclusivity.

My favorite part of the conference was the dinner and no, not just for the food (although I do now have a new love for pretzel buns)!! It’s the part where people connect on a more personal level plus it was great having the band (RNZAF Jive Bombers) and activities such as the quiz, which was extremely challenging thanks to Tim’s quirky questions. The toy propeller contest was a laugh as no one hit the target even when following the instructions, and the option to take control of the Mosquito Mission flight simulator if you were brave enough – I now know why I would not suit being a pilot!!!”


Andy Fenton – NZMS Managing Director


“What will come of #MA18NZ? Lessons, networking, experiences BUT I hope after the repatriation wānanga in front of Minister @CarmelSepuloni we might see #leadership, guidance & a national kiwi Register so we can learn/coordinate a respectful approach TePapa? MCH? #RiseUp

“Yep, I tweeted that and there were many poignant moments many of which ‘rocked my world’ and more fool me for having assumed what to expect at a Museums Conference.  Having attended around 10 or 12 of them and considered myself ‘programme-complacent’, I am now reawakened.

Regarding twitter, I tweet to keep a record of the salient ‘take-homes’.  Why?  I retain them as notes … and we all know writing things down reinforces learning; also, for further sharing across the GLAM sector and with NZMS colleagues. It’s also an informative way to access a channel of communication running in parallel with the presenters and protagonists at a conference… the twitter channel for #MA18NZ trended while it was on, it was sharing the salient points raised by presenters, and presents a platform to supplement the presenter’s ideas and themes with URL’s to related or parallel, or contrary, information.

I loved MA18 for many reasons…


Leigh Rout is right… Tā Mark Solomon’s keynote was both surprising and passionate… quite frankly it was in your face… confronting… uncomfortable… but so very real!  What was the link to museums? Well a very important exhibition has just closed at Canterbury Museum highlighting that domestic sexual violence …


“WTF? Tā Mark Solomon tells us … women’s refuges nationwide fill up if the @AllBlacks or local rugby team lose #Shameful! Museums can join the conversation, raise awareness #MA18NZ
Tā Mark Solomon tells us we must “do our job, protect our Whānau” #MA18NZ Here’s one way Museums can help raise awareness:…”

Earlier in her role as Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage and Pacific Peoples, Carmel Sepuloni gave a pertinent address acknowledging the need for ensuring accurate (bicultural) descriptions of collection contents as well as the need for increased #digitisation to complement and improve access (talking my language there!). I was well-impressed that the Minister kept her address relevant, & she further earned our respect when she stayed behind after her presentation to listen to the wānanga / the first big kōrero of the second day: a panel of incredible tāngata who work at the forefront of repatriation work in Aotearoa. Nine panelists on the stage from a variety of organisations, 9 perspectives on the intricacies and dilemmas with this sensitive issue. We are making progress, just not fast enough for some.

Both days of the main conference starting with emotion-jarring, heady topics and a welcome lighter reprieve when we got to hear first-hand from Pacific Youth about one of my favourite subjects – leadership. Here’s a link worth checking out for the inspiring PYLAT Council – Pacific Youth Leadership And Transformation – I commend it to you and your staff:

“If aliens ever land on earth I want #MA18nz keynote Elizabeth Connor in the advance comms party… if anyone can ‘connect’ she can! #Sentience”

Lizzie Connor, who won the inaugural Prime Minister’s Prize for Science Communication in 2009, asserts that science holds invaluable answers to enrich the culture, environment, health and well-being of our people (I would add that Museum’s personify this), but for it to reach its potential it needs to break out of the confines of the labs and academia.  She wants to connect with people, across sectors, engage in opportunities that would draw from collaborative pooling of skills and knowledge and has created The KinShip to strive to realise that goal… a worthy cause well worth reviewing folks.

One meme she offered that really resonated with the audience (and me) was her concept of ‘Brown and Gold Thinking‘:

“It’s a healthy alternative to black and white thinking is based on the idea that most things have gold in them somewhere. They’re just caked in shit.”

As a ‘people person’ who takes time and strives to see the good in all people I like this; she is telling us to dig through people’s external persona to get to the gold.

MA18 wouldn’t have been a contemporary GLAM conference if it didn’t reference Big Data and its potential for understanding our sector better – Alex Garkavenko presented well on this fascinating subject:

“I like the analysis of influences affecting Museum visitation – many of our Museum locations have more & more cruise ships visiting now – are we actively embracing the marketing opp? I’m interested in how we are acting on / implementing the #BigData analysis AlexG #MA18nz

In closing, it’s worth noting that the 9-month old Labour-led coalition government has said it is serious about Cultural Heritage (refer the recent announcement of a review of Archives and Libraries).  I think the Minister Sepuloni’s attendance, and a welcome/well-wish greeting via video by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage (and mother in waiting who thus has a pretty good reason not to be there in person) manifested that.

The importance of the Museums Aotearoa Conference is plain as a sectoral gathering of over 200 museum professionals.  Drawing them to the Christchurch Conference over and above the opportunity to network and develop life-long collegial friendships was the line-up of impressive keynotes, the ability to learn from others and (channeling Ella and Siobhan’s comments above) see how others view their world, and, how we can change and influence people’s lives with our museology.  Even the choice of venue was inspired – the stunningly refurbished (post-earthquake) #IsaacTheatreRoyal was excellent for the purpose”

-Andy Fenton

It seems appropriate to finish with one of Andy’s tweets:

“And a BIG thank you to you @phillipatocker & @MuseumsAotearoa Admin, volunteers and Board – your efforts to provide us with a rewarding & thought-provoking conference are VERY much appreciated #MA18nz See you in Wellington next year”


The NZMS Team