Master of Museology Alumni Symposium 2014

The first ever alumni symposium for the Master of Museology took place on 04 June at the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden. All Master of Museology alumni, former and current students were invited to attend the symposium to share their experiences of theory and practice and to learn, discuss and be inspired by different perspectives.

The day was opened by Wayne Modest, Master of Museology alumnus and now Head of the Research Centre for Material Culture at the National Museum of World Cultures. He described the Research Centre as a place for discussion and for engaging with research fellows. He reflected on the question that had brought him to the Reinwardt Academy (how to conserve better) and his thesis on prevention being better than the cure. He related these questions from his past to those that are being asked currently – what does austerity mean for ethical issues like de-accessioning? What role can cultural institutions play during anxious times? How do we balance the commitment to causes whilst still engaging a wide audience?

Hester Dibbits then welcomed everyone personally to the symposium and explained the reasons for the occasion. Firstly, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the course, secondly, to meet friends and to reflect, exchange and share ideas and, thirdly, to strengthen the Reinwardt network or ‘community of practice’. Hester posed several questions for participants to reflect upon during the course of the day; how can we, as trained museologists, use our skills and knowledge as best we can? What are the main issues and changes happening in the world and how can we change our programmes to reflect this? How has your career changed as a consequence of recent issues and changes? What role do we take ourselves in the field? Are we activists, designers or facilitators? Finally, drawing on the theme of the symposium, Theory and Practice, Hester asked why theory is so important to our practice. She proposed a response from Sharon MacDonald; ‘Theory can allow a step back and allow ‘awkward’ questions to be asked”.

Peter van Mensch then took to the stage for his keynote speech. He explored the idea of theories in museology mutually competing with each other, constructed around biographies and focusing on iconic moments and places. Peter asked the audience to reflect on how we organise our work and if we are guided by a notion of community or crowd. He stressed the importance of strengthening our rhetoric as a counterbalance to other rhetorics and asked us to reflect on what role the Reinwardt has played in our discourse. He urged us to increase the sophistication of our work and train ourselves to look beyond the obvious. He left us with the thought that inevitably we all have the freedom to create our own reality in the field of museology.

The afternoon was split into two separate sessions – the first half of the afternoon comprised Roundtable Discussion sessions on three separate themes which was followed by a choice of three workshops later in the afternoon. The Roundtable Discussions were chaired by Master of Museology Alumni Jasmin Alley and Annegien Cannoy and masters student Anneke Groen.

Jasmin’s group had a lively discussion around the ethical and social issues of implementing New Museology in the commercial heritage field. Annegien hosted a session on how museology could help the Natuurmonumenten organisation to create a sustainable foundation for themselves now and in the future. Anneke’s discussion group tackled the challenges of encouraging museums to form partnerships with museums and other organisations in the non-profit/for-profit sector. They debated the challenges and opportunities alongside the capabilities required in order to ensure success.

After a short break for tea, participants then attended one of three workshops hosted by Danielle Kuijten and Hester Dibbits, Paula Assuncao dos Santos and Claire Bown. The workshops were a chance to experience recent developments in different museological fields and to get an idea of new and future teaching in the Master of Museology curriculum.

Danielle and Hester focused on and debated issues of contemporary collecting with reference to a recent programme developed in conjunction between the Reinwardt Academy and Imagine IC. Paula presented a workshop designed at looking at possibilities for collaboration and exploration between the heritage field and the food movement. Claire’s workshop was based on her work using Visible Thinking in the museum environment with groups of all ages. Participants gained an introduction to the method through using thinking routines to discuss David Hockney’s painting “My Parents” and got to experience the benefits of working in this way.

The 2014 Master of Museology symposium ended with a review of the day over drinks in the museum café. Feedback from all participants demonstrated that the day had been wholly successful in achieving its aims of providing a platform for debate and networking and it was unanimously decided to hold the next event in 2016.


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