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Pacific museums futures explored @ AWMM

Kim Meredith, Closer ties with community key focus at museum conference, Live Now, 24 March 2024

Establishing a new network of Pacific Museums is one of the ideas mooted at the Commonwealth Association of Museums 2024 Triennial conference.

Attendees from the Commonwealth Association of Museums 2024 Triennial conference. Photo/ Supplied/ Auckland Museum.

The Pacific region’s Museum community came together earlier this month in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, providing an important forum for countries dealing with post-colonial issues.

The Auckland War Memorial Museum hosted the Commonwealth Association of Museums 2024 Triennial conference.

It was the first time such an event has been hosted in Aotearoa New Zealand since the organisation was formed some 50 years ago, with representatives from nine Pacific nations taking part.

The idea of forming a new network of Pacific Museums was floated, given the complexities Pacific and indigenous countries face when attempting to have taonga returned.

Only last month, eight Māori whakairo rākau (traditional wood carvings) missing for 200 years (and thought lost forever) were rediscovered by New Zealand historian Dr Deidre Brown, in six museums around the world.

The theme for the conference was The View from Here: Sustainability, Community and Knowledge and Dr Katrina Talei Igglesden, Acting Director of Fiji Museum took time to speak on PMN’s Pacific Mornings about the future of museums in the region.

The week-long conference used the umbrella theme of kaitiakitanga (guardianship) with a programme that included Dr Igglesden’s presentation (Re) Connecting, (Re)Shaping, (Re)Telling: holding space and enacting social change through inclusivity and community access in Fiji’s national museum.

When asked how museums could better engage and reach out to communities to increase inclusion and make museums a welcoming environment for the community, Dr Igglesden said the global pandemic had helped to usher in major changes at the Fiji Museum.

“Like the rest of the world, Covid-19 really changed the way our museum worked and the way we did things. And like everybody else, we were closed for a very long time.”

That disruption provided the opportunity to make changes to the exhibitions in the museum for the first time in several decades.

“And that allowed us to create … the first major change to exhibitions that we’ve had in the museum for over 30 years.”

Using the approach of working from the inside out, her museum began to center the community within its organisation.

“How can we want to engage our community if we’re not engaging our museum community in the entire process of creating these exhibitions, and this exhibition itself.”

She said Voyages, an exhibition highlighting the stories of an ocean of people, is a collection of accounts from communities all around Fiji. Her team went across the country to collect and gather the stories to share within the exhibition space itself.

“So it’s really putting our community within the museum instead of feeling a little bit exclusive and not feeling part of the museum itself,” referring to the efforts to make meaningful connections and relationships with the public, and increase accessibility, particularly for indigenous communities.

Dr Igglesden said taking a “community centered and community focused” approach ensured the needs of the community would be “served best and served first”.

“We really are looking at projects such as, you know, helping our marginalized communities come into the museum.”

External funding that had recently been acquired from Australia meant there was now capacity to expand on physical accessibility to usher more people into museum spaces. Within that discussion was also an emphasis on making space for youth.

“We also are looking more at focusing on youth … so youth can feel that they have a place within the museum itself. As we often know, knowledge transfer and exchange doesn’t always happen with the youth themselves.”

It was particularly important thinking about the future that through internships, through exhibitions and self-led projects that youth were given their own voice.

“In the sustainability of our own institutions. Because in order to continue celebrating our heritage and our culture, we need to get to the younger generations ready to take over the roles that we currently hold and the care that we currently provide for our communities.”