Explore the ideas shaping the future of museums with sessions on co-creation, community-led collecting, and rethinking power and agency in the museum space. Discover how museums can be reimagined as co-produced, people-focussed organisations in a time of growing inequality, environmental emergency and political crisis.
Sponsored by Art Fund and BECK, Museum Ideas 2023 takes place on 12 October in London and will be chaired by Dan Hicks, Professor of Contemporary Archaeology at the University of Oxford and Curator of World Archaeology at the Pitt Rivers Museum.
Speakers this year include Jennifer Scott, Director and Chief Curator, Urban Civil Rights Museum, United States; Puawai Cairns, Director of Audience and Insight, Te Papa Tongarewa, Aotearoa – New Zealand; Helen Arfvidsson, Curator of Global Contemporary Issues, National Museums of World Culture, Sweden; Afia Yeboah, Senior Producer: Community Partnerships and Participatory Practice, V&A East; and Khalil Thirlaway, Creative Producer: Community and Youth, Natural History Museum. Further speakers will be announced soon.
Now in its twelfth year, the Museum Ideas conference has welcomed thousands of museum workers from over 30 countries. Each year the conference brings together speakers to share transformative ideas in concise, powerful talks. What unites the conference is the passion, commitment and enthusiasm of contributors along with their desire to share valuable expertise and experience.
“Museum Ideas is the best museum conference. It secures superb, relevant speakers, who cover a rich and wide range of topics. It offers food for thought and feeds the soul with engaging and inspiring conversation, networks and ideas” — Helen Whiteoak, Head of Participation, National Portrait Gallery, London
“A packed programme with a breadth of insight into museums that is not otherwise accessible – diverse and inspiring” — Susan Eskdale, Lead for Community Engagement, Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton
“An impressive conference, expertly curated to bring together voices from across the world. I would highly recommend to colleagues and will definitely attend again in the future” — Laura Crean, Assistant Director, Strategy and Governance, Imperial War Museums
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Museum Ideas 2013 Speaker Profiles
Jennifer Scott is the founding Director and Chief Curator of the Urban Civil Rights Museum in Harlem, New York’s first museum dedicated to civil rights. The museum will explore the unique stories of the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, and the long fight for justice in the North, from early African American communities to the current Black Lives Matter era. Prior to her recent appointment, Jennifer held the inaugural role of Senior Vice President of Exhibitions and Programs at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, one of the earliest and most significant Black history museums in the United States. Jennifer has also previously served as Director and Chief Curator of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum in Chicago – a dynamic memorial to social reformer Jane Addams, the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Before that Jennifer worked for a decade as the Vice Director and Director of Research at Weeksville Heritage Center – a significant historic site in Brooklyn that memorializes a Free Black, independent community in the 19th century. She was part of the leadership team that helped to restore and re-interpret the historic site and develop its trademark innovative programming, community engagement and new interpretations of history, culture, and the arts. With degrees from Stanford University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Jennifer has been an assistant professor at The New School for Public Engagement in New York for more than 20 years where she teaches courses in arts and civic engagement, cultural anthropology, race and ethnic studies, and museum studies. Jennifer researches, writes, and lectures internationally on arts and social change, memory and place, contested histories, and innovative strategies for museums and public history sites.
Puawai Cairns is of Māori descent from Tauranga Moana and belongs to the Ngāti Pūkenga, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui tribes. She has worked in the museum and culture sector for twenty years and presently works as the Director of Audience and Insight at Te Papa Tongarewa where she oversees the audience facing work of the national museum. Puawai has a curatorial and research background, and previously was the Head of Mātauranga Māori for Te Papa where she specialised in contemporary social history research and collecting to reflect the stories of Māori communities. Puawai co-wrote a book on the material culture of protest (Gibson, S., Williams, M., & Cairns, P. (2019). Protest Tautohetohe: Objects of resistance, persistence and defiance), which won the 2019 Ockham book award for Best Illustrated Non-fiction and has recently completed co-writing a book about the Gallipoli exhibition at Te Papa (Cairns, P., Pugsley, C., Keith, M., & Taylor, R. (2022). Gallipoli: The Scale of our War (1st ed.). Te Papa Press.). Puawai serves on numerous boards across Aotearoa, including Heritage New Zealand, Māori Heritage Council, and Atamira Dance Company, among others. She advises nationally and internationally on museum practices, advocating for greater indigenous participation and leadership in the heritage sector.
Helen Arfvidsson is a curator of global contemporary issues at the National Museums of World Culture, Sweden. She holds a PhD in Politics and International Studies from the Open University, UK. Before entering the museum world in 2018, Helen was a lecturer at the School of Global Studies at the University of Gothenburg, worked with urban development at the research centre Mistra Urban Futures, Chalmers Institute of Technology, as well as with human rights at City Hall, Municipality of Gothenburg. Helen is also a qualified social studies teacher. Her varied background has enabled her to merge her research interests in the fields of international relations, urban politics and critical museum studies with her current work involving exhibition production and development of museum education. Her recent interest in the democratic potential of the handling collection stems from a desire to rethink and transform Ethnographic/World Cultures museums into more inclusive spaces by engaging audiences differently.
Afia Yeboah has over 15 years of experience working within the UK Cultural & Heritage Sector. During this time she has have worked in arts education, programming and producer roles for Chisenhale Dance Space, Southbank Centre and the V&A as a specialist in theatre, performance and community engagement. She previously led the Young People’s Programme at V&A South Kensington and is currently working with V&A East as Senior Producer for Community Partnerships and Participatory Practice.
Khalil Thirlaway is Creative Producer for Community & Youth at the Natural History Museum in London. His current work includes co-hosting the Wild Crimes and Our Broken Planet podcasts, producing the after-hours Lates programme and a wide range of activities building relationships with and advocating for local communities and under-served audiences. Khalil has a varied background in science communication and museums, including exhibitions, events, writing, audio, video, games and laboratory research. He is happiest when using innovative and creative approaches to engage audiences in surprising ways. Prior to joining the Natural History Museum in 2019, Khalil worked as a content developer and curator at the Science Museum in London for three years. He has a degree in biology from the University of Bristol and a PhD in Immunology from the University of Nottingham.
Dan Hicks is Professor of Contemporary Archaeology at the University of Oxford, Curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum, and a Fellow of St Cross College, Oxford. Dan works on the material and visual culture of the human past, up to and including the modern, colonial, contemporary and digital world, and on the history of Archaeology, Anthropology Art, and Architecture. His curatorial work has ranged widely, and most recently included the co-curated exhibition and book Lande: the Calais “Jungle” and Beyond in 2019. Dan has published eight authored and edited books, and has written articles, essays and op-eds for a variety of journals, magazines and newspapers, and has regularly appeared on Radio and TV, including Radio 4’s In Our Time, Today Programme, and Making History. Before coming to Oxford in 2007, Dan was Lecturer in Archaeology and Anthropology at Bristol University where he created and directed the masters programme in Historical Archaeology of the Modern World. Before that, in the 1990s Dan worked as a professional archaeologist in the local authority and private sector. Dan supervises masters and doctoral students on a wide range of topics, across world archaeology, heritage, museums, and material culture.
Past Speaker Highlights
Past speakers have included Bonita Bennett, Director, District Six Museum, Cape Town, South Africa; Sree Sreenivasan, Chief Digital Officer, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC; Joyoti Roy, Head of Strategy, CSMVS Museum, Mumbai, India; Manal Ataya, Director General, Sharjah Museums, UAE; Kaywin Feldman, Director and President, Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell, Head of Public Programs, Smithsonian American Art Museum; Esmé Ward, Director, Manchester Museum; Nina Finigan, Curator, Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira, Aotearoa New Zealand; Maria Ribas, Head of Audience Development, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona; Winnie Lai, Curator, Learning and Interpretation, M+ Museum, Hong Kong; Christian Díaz and Romina Frontini, HABEMUS//, Bahía Blanca, Argentina; Ranmalie Jayawardana, Community Participation Lead, International Slavery Museum, Liverpool; Rachael Minott, Head of Participation, Birmingham Museums Trust; Aleema Gray, Collections Gallery Partnership Lead, Wellcome Collection, London; and Nick Merriman, Chief Executive, Horniman Museum and Gardens, London.
At the 2018 conference award-winning playwright Linda Brogan spoke about the ‘Excavating The Reno’ community project in Manchester’s Moss Side. Bringing together archaeologists, artists, social historians and the public, the project explored the story of a soul and funk club that became a sanctuary from racism in the 1970s. Linda’s talk was extraordinary. This is what Sandra Shakespeare from Museum Detox had to say about it: “Excellent to see the work of Excavating The Reno — an absolutely remarkable fresh change to see such honesty at a museum conference where the tendency is always to showcase the great and the good. It was deeply moving to witness vulnerability and authenticity.” This was echoed by Dhikshana Pering: “Still thinking about the Excavating The Reno project at Museum Ideas — hands down no conference session in my life has left such an impact”
Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell, Head of Public Programs at Smithsonian American Art Museum, opened the 2019 conference and set the agenda with her compelling talk ‘Break the Wheel: Museums Challenge the Status Quo’: “As museum practitioners we can allow museums to be a tool of the establishment, the powered, even the oppressor. But through a reflective practice and a reimagining of our purpose, we can instead exercise the power of the museum towards challenging the status quo.” Dr Lauren Vargas from the University of Leicester commented: “This may have been the best museum conference presentation I have ever witnessed — thank you for reminding museums of their role in challenging the status quo and how power is determined by relationship with social justice.”
Other highlights from previous editions of the conference have included ‘The Right to Remember’ by Bonita Bennett, Director of the District Six Museum in Cape Town; ‘A Year in Museums’ by Sree Sreenivasan, Chief Digital Officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC; ‘The Good of Being Different in a Time of Sameness’ by Mike Sarna, Royal Museums Greenwich; ‘Immersive Theatre in Museums’ by Peter Higgin, Director of Enrichment at immersive theatre company Punchdrunk; and ‘Talking to Strangers’ by Rosie Stanbury from Wellcome Collection.
Since the conference launched in 2012, Museum Ideas has featured speakers from South Africa, Argentina, India, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, United States, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Spain, The Netherlands, and UK — and has welcomed delegates from over 30 countries.
Museum Ideas 2023 is sponsored by Art Fund and BECK