World Leading Conference “Communicating The Museum”: 16th Edition

For its 16th edition, world-leading arts communications conference Communicating the Museum reaches Berlin this year with its most extensive programme yet. Established in 2000, each year the conference brings together over three hundred international arts experts from forty countries to give keynotes, seminars, panel discussions and workshops which provide insight into the contemporary issues faced by the museum sector and the common trends and difficulties which might be on the horizon. To address the current financial climate, this year the conference will even extend to a fourth day entirely devoted to the complex – and often contentious – matter of funding.

The Fundraising Day demonstrates the sheer global diversity of Communicating the Museum, including talks by professionals from institutions as disparate as the English National Ballet, WWF Germany, Yale University Art Gallery and even the Smithsonian Institution. These world class organisations will each discuss their own experiences of philanthropy, sponsorship and fundraising and the ethics and complications which arrive with these decisions. As the cultural sector is now so globalised and funds are no longer location specific, the day is intended to give guidance to entrepreneurs planning to set up new organisations as well as established museums regardless of their location, function or size.

While the conference has developed its global debate each year, this year’s theme is “Dialogue” and therefore a key aim is to look at conversations on the ground, and to study how museums can maintain a global relevance while also addressing their local conditions. This is an appropriate discussion for Berlin: a city that acted as a meeting point between east and west until the fall of the Berlin wall, while in recent times it has welcomed the highest number of refugees out of any European capital.

The conference will take place in the courtyard and buildings of Berlin’s Deutsches Historisches Museum, a unique institution which defines itself as “a place of enlightenment and understanding of the shared history of Germans and Europeans.” Alongside Berlin’s museums for Archeology, Sculpture, Islamic and Byzantine Art, this institution has become a world leader in terms of cultural connectivity through the project “Multaqa: Museum as Meeting Point – Refugees as Guides in Berlin Museums” which Head of Education Brigitte Vogel-Janotta will discuss in depth at CTM. Translated from Arabic as “meeting point”, Multaqa instigates the training of Syrian and Iraqi refugees as museum guides so that they can provide tours in their own first languages, broadening the cultural fabric of Berlin. Considering the lack of foreign language tours in other international cities such as London, this is an innovative step which will not only introduce refugees to German arts and culture but also highlight connections and commonalities between the cultural histories of Germany, Syria and Iraq, increasing acceptance and understanding.

Communicating the Museum will explore how international museums integrate new nationalities into their infrastructure rather than holding outreach programmes: bringing in, rather than reaching out. The Australian Maritime Museum for example, will speak about its own experience of becoming ‘China Ready’ which, following the movements of LACMA and the Getty in L.A., not only involves bi-lingual publishing and exhibitions but more importantly educating their staff to understand Chinese cultural etiquette through a series of comprehensive seminars.

Not only considering “Dialogue” as a face-to-face exchange, the communicative possibilities of architecture will be examined at CTM through projects such as Frank Gehry’s incredible building feat, the Museum of Biodiversity in Panama. An archetypal Gehry project, the building comprises brash colours, clashing angles and precariously leaning roofs which act as illustrations to the story of Panama, whereby the land spit Isthmus arose from the sea to link the two Americas. Containing a series of vivid galleries, and living gardens and biospheres the museum pulls visitors into the history and biodiversity of Panama through functional models that bridge art and science: transforming the historical museum exhibit into a full sensorial experience.

Still, cutting-edge digital technologies mean that now the techniques for experiencing a museum are far greater than ever – although perhaps requiring far less of the visitor than ever before. A series of CTM workshops titled ‘how to survive in the digital jungle’ will investigate the online presence of the museum, and how new media will affect the future of the built institution. For example, since its launch in 2011, Google Cultural Institute has come to host over a thousand international museum collections as well as world-class exhibitions, all of which can be experienced at the click of a button on its dedicated website. If museums allow visitors to take a self-led tour through the collection, while on the train using Google Cardboard, or to watch a curator’s tour at the office computer, what are the implications for the future of the museum?

The museum is essentially a space for concentrating attention and encouraging social and cultural exchange, and the preservation of these factors is critical for the survival of the museum institution.  During the final day of CTM, Director of TATE Modern Chris Dercon will share his vision of the contemporary “Museum of Exchange”, whereby “we have achieved the democratisation of access to art, now we are striving to activate people through art. The art of this century will be based on a new principle: combine and connect. Educating or learning could then be considered as art-activity in itself. We need to implement the idea of exchange: an exchange between the art-object and our audiences, in order to produce different experiences and conversations. Those commissioning bodies and architects of museums that embrace changing things will be the ones that lead the cultural debate, those that don’t will be well and truly left behind.”

Chloe Hodge

1. Photo courtesy of Agenda Communications.