AMaGA 2021 National Conference
September 13, 2021
The Australian Museums and Galleries Association 2021 National Conference was a long time coming. After a week of conversations and presentations dedicated to Creating the Future: Trust, Diversity, Imagination, I left passionate about the possibilities of what we can achieve in our cultural institutions.
Voice was a common thread throughout the conference. In particular, the importance of giving communities a platform to speak for themselves: to First Nations people, to people with disabilities, to migrant communities, and to LGBTIQ+ people. This is best represented to me through Caroline Bowditch, from Arts Access Victoria, who read the following Junot Diaz quote:
“…if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all… And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”
I truly think that the purpose of all cultural institutions is to make mirrors, but also to ensure that we are making them with the people they are for and about. The saying continues to be relevant: nothing about us without us.
Truth and truth-telling were also strong themes. The time has passed for any cultural institution to claim neutrality. We heard from Megan Davis about the difficulty of reconciliation in Australia and the steps we need to take to be better, we had Beverly Wang explicitly ask why senior leadership in this sector is so white, and Kim McKay, Director of the Australian Museum, proudly stood up for everything her museum does, which was backed up with papers and panels by several other Australian Museum staff who are doing amazing work for and with First Nations people and are taking huge steps of climate action.
I left thinking about action, which conveniently ties nicely into the 2022 AMaGA National Conference theme of Hear Us Now: Turning Conversation into Action. It’s not enough for us to have these conversations. We need to actually start doing these things. We need to make changes to ensure that we are operating sustainably, we need to co-design programs and exhibitions with communities, and we need to ensure we tell the stories that matter, the stories that we as a country needs to hear.