Between the 4 and 7 June 2018, Melbourne hosted the 17th annual Museums Galleries Australia conference at the historic North Melbourne Meat Markets. The #MGAConf2018 was attended by 400+ delegates from around Australia, New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific region and some fascinating international key note speakers, with an incredible 24 WA delegates attending.

The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Agents of Change’ and they certainly delivered, hosting an environmentally friendly conference thoughtfully put together to help preserve our history, present and future with hessian conference bags, a keep cup for our warm beverages, seeded recycled name badges that we could take home and plant, electronic program to reduce waste and local social enterprise catering for vegetarian and gluten free majority so everyone could feel welcome and eat together.

There was a range of social events and networking opportunities including ‘birds of a feather’, walking tours, behind the scenes and free entry to the Melbourne Museum and ACMI.

The theme Agents of Change challenged people throughout the conference on topics like The Invisible Farmer and addressing the countless untold stories of Australian women in agriculture and that it is time we addressed this gap, other gender inequality issues were raised regarding pay / senior positions held by women and the especially interesting session by Kaywin Feldman from the Minneapolis Institute of Art on “Feminism: No Longer the ‘F’ Word”. The need to change what leadership looks like across the board as currently in America ( she was talking from her data and knowledge) 20% of congress women are voting for 50% of the population, unfortunately the statistics for Australia seem to be even more unbalanced.

Professor Genevieve Bell is the Director of the 3A Institute, a cultural anthropologist, technologist and futurist, best known for her work at the intersection of cultural /practice and technology development.

Prof Bell talked about when “the decision makers aren’t relevant anymore” when they don’t know their audiences instinctively and how do we get around this? A fine example was the Kodak problem where they believed they were loved for film, and discovered they were loved for the photos. Where is Kodak now? As we continue down the digital path, of being connected 24/7, we are losing skills, our ability to think critically, work in a team, socialise, story-tell, have a healthy point of view and communicate.

What are the consequences of Artificial Intelligence (AI), data algorithms, ways machines learn, sensory tech, reason and ethics and how do we cope with it.  “The notion that we are building autonomous systems that make decisions and possibly affects our surroundings without our involvement has complex implications in terms of liability and responsibility… We have the opportunity to shape the future of our societies as we transition from a concrete, machine-powered world to one that will increasingly revolve around Big Data and powerful, autonomous cyber-physical systems.”

Dr Simon Chaplin spoke from The Wellcome Collection, a free museum and library that aims to challenge how we all think and feel about health. Creating opportunities for people to think deeply about the connections between science, medicine, life and art; psychosis and how it affects people’s experiences and relations with nature; how to benefit people with learning disabilities. How can we make sure people are all at home in a museum, and if they aren’t comfortable ‘are we doing our job?’

Dr Brian Lobel from The Sick of the Fringe, and works alongside Dr Simon Chaplin, pushes these changes and talked about living in a word that doesn’t separate out sick and healthy, He dreams about a unified, compassionate and accepting world, to have all people connected and embrace the differences.

Questions he asked Dr Chaplin on behalf of an invisible patron: “Who is included (excluded) when your museum says ‘we’?”

“When do ‘curious’ audiences become gawking audiences?” People’s fascination with ‘otherness’ isn’t something to be entertained by, but challenged by.

“Who is absent from your museum and gallery and why?” Dr Simon Chaplin honestly answered “I don’t know, and that’s the problem.”

What is the manifesto for Real Change: to be culturally appropriate, although what works in one place won’t always work in another; how to facilitate that content which is missing?

There is a need to realise that we can’t do as much as we want to do; social justice, being more inclusive and acceptable; climate justice, how our practice can look at the environment of degradation; can museums be part of the circular economy, no waste cities; how to decolonise our museums, it takes time to build trust, it can take decades for acceptance.

Rather than talking about innovation, focus on the power of small wins as a means of furthering the social work of museums. Ideas without actions do not make a difference, to be ‘Agents of Change” museums must research, work as a team and create a strong network to help unify and expand the community; assist in changing people’s behaviours for social good. The Victorian MGA Conference certainly made us all look at the small changes we can make for the better.


Thank you for a wonderful and challenging conference and looking forward to Northern Territories conference in May next year.

Nina Frichot