Regroup, Rethink, Reset – SHARE conference November 2021
The three teaching museum trainees at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery attended the excellent and engaging SHARE conference last week, and we are here to share our thoughts, takeaways and highlights from the two days. We also helped to prompt discussion and asked questions in the chat for some of the speakers. We are Sophie Couling, Learning Trainee; Kathryn Goulding Mountford, Modern and Contemporary Art Trainee; and Bea Prutton, Communications Trainee. Thank you very much for having us SHARE, and thank you to all the speakers, organisers, and fellow attendees, who brought brilliant, interesting, and important topics and conversations to the conference.
Bea Prutton, Teaching Museum Communications Trainee:
This year’s SHARE conference was an engaging, inspiring and thought-provoking reflection on the changing landscape for museums since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a cathartic exploration of healing (as demonstrated by Rachel Mackay’s discussion of The Recovery Room), a celebration of incredible achievements in the face of adversity and collective struggle (as exemplified by Emmie Kell’s collaborative work through the Cornwall Museums Partnership, and Liz Power’s community engagement at the London Museum of Water and Steam), and an opportunity to share and formulate new ways to adapt to changing audiences and obstacles (with talks from the inspirational Ruchi Aggarwal and Zak Mensah, who highlighted the continual need for personal growth).
The conference began with a ‘disco wellbeing session’, which invited attendees to dance to the tunes of Cher (pun intended), Meatloaf (highly controversial) and Taylor Swift. The chatroom was as lively as the dancing! While having a virtual boogie with colleagues felt unnatural to many of us, it was an excellent way to promote good mental health and active movement, which are two aspects of post-Covid remote working that we all recognised as significant issues. However, the highlight of the conference was, for me, the dedicated networking sessions, which took a relaxed approach to the discussion of topics such as volunteering, wellbeing and social prescribing.
Being new to the museums sphere, these were an excellent opportunity to listen to the thoughts and opinions of those who have worked in the sector for many years and have seen, first-hand, museums move over to the digital realm, engagement and audiences ebb and flow, and the impact of social justice movements and the pandemic. The resilience of many of the attendees was admirable and motivating and speaking with them was an excellent learning opportunity. We had fruitful and engaging discussions about the future of social prescribing and the work already being done by museums in Cambridge and Southend to engage and aid the vulnerable and to support mental wellbeing. I very much hope to attend the conference next time, and to contribute to such positive, constructive and impactful discussions and developments in museums.
Kathryn Goulding Mountford, Teaching Museum Modern and Contemporary Art Trainee:
What a brilliant and stimulating two days! A really striking takeaway I’d like to highlight from the conference, is how refreshing the format was. I’ve attended different virtual or partially web-based conferences now and though all were excellent, it often left online-only attendees feeling left out or quite isolated because of the lack of interaction. Having a chat facility is great, but it can often feel quite disconnected from the rest of the very audio-visual based delivery. Therefore, the SHARE conference being a zoom meeting, rather than a webinar, allowed for a much more interactive – and friendly and interpersonal! – experience, everyone had their cameras on, and when we entered breakout rooms for conversations about specific topics, the level of communication was amazing. Attendees could talk and engage with each other directly, but also enter links, conversation and questions into the chat. It worked wonderfully! As the three of us were often starting off questions in the chat for speakers to answer after their talks with some of our own, it felt lovely to really feel part of the flow of the sessions, and again, the dynamic of the zoom meeting rather than a webinar allowed for that continual conversational communication between attendees, speakers and organisers, throughout.
Some of my favourite parts of the conference have already been highlighted by Bea, but a standout for me was the “Museum professional wellbeing in a (hopefully) post-Covid world” session by Claire Warner. It was, to me, a very vital and important topic. I especially liked Claire highlighting “what can we be brave about?” and including “Putting your wellbeing first; prioritising self-care; learning what your best looks like and how to achieve it; finding your coping mechanisms; doing something different; and checking in on others”. I think wellbeing and mental health in the workplace can be very hard to follow through with for many of us, but is incredibly powerful, impactful and integral to our lives.
Thank you SHARE for the conference – I took away so much that I will carry with me in my professional (and non-professional!) life!
Sophie Couling, Teaching Museum Learning Trainee:
SHARE’s 2021 conference – Regroup, Rethink, Reset – was a fascinating two days of dynamic discussions and perspective-altering talks about the changing nature of the museum sector. As a trainee just joining the sector, it made doing so in a period of uncertainty feel incredibly exciting, rather than daunting.
A key takeaway for me was Liz Power’s (London Museum of Water and Steam) ponderance on whether ‘museum’ should be considered as a noun or a verb. That is to say, is it the spaces and collections themselves which are essential to our museums? Or is it the role and functions of museums in the wider community which defines them?
Wherever we as individuals stand on this debate – and, in case you’re wondering, the Twitter poll found under #SHAREconf21 stood at a 50/50 split at my last check… – it definitely succeeds in provoking reflections on what museums are, what they do, and how they do it.
Incredibly, this was reflected in the conference itself. The ‘Conversations’ sessions were the perfect demonstration of one of Emmie Kell’s (Cornwall Museums Partnership) ‘Collaborative strategies for success’ – networking! Similarly, Claire Warner’s (Purpose Driven People) ‘Museum professional wellbeing in a (hopefully) post-Covid world’ as the closing talk offered a poignant contrast to David Burgess’s (Apollo Fundraising) fun-filled ‘Wellbeing Disco’ which opened the conference. I’m not sure I can forgive playing Coldplay on a Monday morning though, sorry David!
The only thing left to say is thanks once again to the SHARE team for their hard work, all the speakers for their inspiring talks, and the attendees for engaging in such rich discussions. The conference certainly presented an opportunity to: regroup as a sector, rethink how our practices can be informed by our values, and reset for the future.