{Iceland} CECA 2009 – Day 5

October 9, 2009

Iceland

The day started off with a keynote paper from Jocelyn Dodd, Director for the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG) at Leicester University.

Jocelyn’s presentation ‘Museums – Inspiration, Creativity, Learning’ introduced the RCMG’s action research project ‘Rethinking Disability Representation’ (details of which can be found on the RCMG website). One of her conclusions was that while museums often shy away from being bold, they should be active creators of identity and advocates of social justice. It may be tempting to sit back and just let e.g. the media cover or tackle these issues, but museums are seen as authoritative and trustworthy institutions, so it is their responsibility to take a stance.

Some of the other presentations from this morning:

AlmaDís Kristinsdóttir (Iceland) presented her ‘MuseumBelt’ and ‘MuseumCard’ prototypes for engaging families, based on a pilot project in five museums in the northern town of Akureyri. The belts are similar to the idea of backpacks popular in the UK and USA, but don’t focus on specific themes but are to enhance general visits, also they are smaller and more practical;

Helka Ketonen (Finland) shared her experience of working with museums in Vietnam through the United Nations Volunteer Programme. Lessons learned included giving voice and ownership to local people, promoting sustainability, sharing not lecturing, and finding locals means to communicate instead of relying on the internet;

Marián Cíz (Slovakia) spoke about how museums can help in the education of politicians, and proposed that for museum educators pedagogy is not enough and diplomacy skills are also needed. Education of politicians is an ongoing process as office holders can frequently change so you need to start over, but endorsement from politicians can raise the profile of a museum;

Mette Boritz (Denmark) spoke about a project for provoking discourse and encouraging young people to think and reflect, through the topic of arranged marriages in Pakistan. This was done through open discussions, where the young people compared their own experience and traditions with those in Pakistan and Denmark. The constructivist approach meant there were no right or wrong answers, the young people had to make up their own minds. An important outcome was that many present issues are not just black & white, and that being tolerant and respectful is often not enough, it’s also about not being indifferent. Mette concluded that museums are a place for thinking and for discussions, and that they can often do this better than e.g. schools and in a more neutral forum, so museums should use this opportunity;

Samuel Thelin (Sweden) introduced us to the idea of ‘hot spots’ for addressing current issues in museums, tools for museums to work with contemporary issues in society. He suggested that to be relevant, museums should be controversial and provocative, thus attracting new audiences and contributing to current debates in society. Tackling issues as they arise is difficult in museums, so collaboration is essential, as is continuity. The design should be easily recognisable, and they can be placed not only at the museum, but anywhere they will attract attention, e.g. outside the museum entrance, in libraries, shopping centres, railway stations etc.

In the afternoon we had another study trip to a string of museums. First we visited the Arbaer Open Air Farm Museum, part of Reykjavík City Museum. Unfortunately there was a storm sweeping over this part of the country, with wind speeds of over 40 kilometres per hour and lashings of horizontal rain, so it was not much fun to be outside, but the displays inside the individual buildings were very interesting, e.g. the exhibition for children with replica rooms from different time periods aiming to give children a sense of the past and an opportunity to feel the past. Next we visited the settlement exhibition Reykjavík 871 +/- 2, which is based around an excavated Viking long house and has a range of multi-media interaction to learn about the settlement surrounding this house, including a 360 degree panoramic view that would have been seen from the house, and a table top touch screen to explore individual features. Our final stop was once again the National Museum of Iceland, this time to hear about their education programme.

In the evening we had our gala dinner. This was due to take place on the the island of Viðey outside of Reykjavík, but due to the uncertainty of whether the ferry would be able to run in the bad weather, the venue was relocated to a local football stadium. As well as some traditional Icelandic singing, led by our hosts, the evening’s entertainment included two guys going by the name of ‘Hundur í óskilum’ (An unclaimed dog) playing dubious Eurovision cover hits on a variety of instruments, which was a big hit with everyone.


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