“Discomfort is a sign you are grappling with something significant.” Eoin Dara
These words have stayed with me since the Museums Association conference in Belfast last year. The conference theme was ‘dissent’, how museums are presenting, responding to and engaging with dissent. And there were some truly inspirational speakers there, people working hard to disrupt the cultural norms of the museum world in order to answer the social needs of the present.
But overall it all felt like a bunch of nice grammar school kids playing with a bit of rebellion. There was some swearing, and a drag queen, and punk, but these were presented as an amusing spectacle, graciously allowed a space on the main stage. It was clear that museums could allow dissent in, and simply accommodate it, without really having to change in any fundamental way. It was all very comfortable. This isn’t what I want from museums. And I’m not the only one.
It was at that conference that Adam and I started a conversation. Simmering with frustration and a sense of lost potential, it occurred to us – what if we could be part of the change we want to see?
We talked about how, in a world where public space is increasingly privatised; where traditional social centres like churches are irrelevant to many; and society appears to be fracturing – museums and other cultural institutions could be something different, something truly wonderful. They could be places where people of all walks of life gather together, for debate and dialogue, for learning and inspiration, and (most importantly) simply for fun.
Is that really so far away from what museums were always supposed to be?
People still believe in the museum when their faith in other institutions has been shaken. That belief will allow museums to be challenged and stretched and broken down and emerge reshaped, as something better. We just have to dare to take some risks. And not be afraid of a bit of failure along the way.
Since then our conversation has expanded and evolved. With Jonny and Shauna, we’ve begun to see that these challenges are not only relevant to museums, but to all kinds of cultural and public spaces. There are other people who feel the same way we do and are simply waiting for an invitation to try something new.
Here’s another thought that stayed with me from the conference – imagine a world where museums were more like Giro’s …
You might not have a notion what that means. But if you’re interested in finding out, we’d love to include you in the conversation.
Image from: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2017/feb/22/ricky-adam-belfast-90s-punk-warzone-collective, accessed 21.10.2019