It is great to be invited to speak at conferences – the idea that we might have something interesting and instructive to say is rewarding and encourages us in our work. But a good conference is a two-way process and what we take away matters as much as what we input. Our director Alex Saint has been busy being inspired (as well as inspiring) this Autumn. The Tourism Management Institute met in Bristol in October, and we were on the workshop rosta, with our client Martin Pople of Bristol & Bath Cultural Destinations Partnership, facilitating discussions about building collaboration between the tourism and cultural sectors. During the session we picked up an explicit shift in thinking about tourism’s partnership with culture. Tourism partners expressed how they increasingly value and champion culture as more than just campaign content and visitor product offer, recognising that culture delivers the local social value activities that underpin progressive and holistic placemaking – essential for healthy economies including tourism.
We were also in Bucharest as a keynote speaker at the 2nd meeting of the Museum Meets Museums, a new network, looking to inspire the development of Romania’s museums and galleries through international exemplar. (A side note on Bucharest – this is a fascinating city where Byzantine architecture nestles alongside the Art Nouveau and Communist-era. Regeneration is being led by a new generation of entrepreneurs, artists and creative industries, who are leading the charge in finding new purposes and tenants for Bucharest’s old buildings. It is exciting to see and somewhere we will definitely return for a weekend break).
But back to the conference. International speakers were united in exploring the theme of ‘leadership’, and whilst we were there to pass on our thoughts and learnings about leadership and collaborative working, we also came away with some intriguing new case-studies for our portfolio.
The War Childhood Museum in Sarajevo, which won the 2018 Council of Europe Museum prize just one year after its opening is one to look at for interesting practice in digital engagement, and community buy-in. The museum began its life in 2013 as a digital platform, a mechanism to crowd-source memories from a very particular and dispersed community – for a book. The powerful stories and ongoing participant commitment and support led to the founding of a museum which includes 3000 objects and 60 oral testimonies of Bosnian war-children.
A second one would be the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris, where a private collection of ‘out-of-fashion’ objects of hunting and colonialism, (and with a resulting decline in visitor interest), has been reimagined into one of Paris’s most stylish, must-see small museums. They have done it by being brave and repurposing the collection, turning it inside out, inviting contemporary artists to respond, reinterpret and make fresh, provocative, issue-based displays and exhibitions relevant for our times. Visitor figures are now close to capacity.
Finally, on Romania itself. This is a fast rising tourism destination, emerging post-communism, post Ceaușescu-atrocities. Its cultural-heritage is immense, and a key part of the nation’s tourism destination messaging; but political change is slow and the museum-heritage partners need investment and more international connection and ambition. This is something that the Museum Meets Museums network is hoping to achieve and the green shoots of change are evident.