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Ahead of a busy summer of summits and conferences, MuseumNext Founder, Jim Richardson discusses the themes for his upcoming events, what he’s looking forward to learning and his thoughts on how the museum landscape is shifting as a result of the pandemic.
With three multi-day virtual conferences lined up for June and July, Jim Richardson is leading MuseumNext into one of its busiest periods. After a successful Digital Summit in February which saw over 9,000 delegates attend across a jam-packed three day event, Jim is excited to see another crop of informative and influential speakers present in the same accessible format.
“We were obviously delighted with the response to February’s Digital Summit after what had been a very uncertain period for the arts and culture sector. It felt like there were a lot of pent up experiences that museum professionals were keen to share and, having been starved of the traditional conference schedule during Covid, it was hugely encouraging to see entire museum teams tuning in to learn and collaborate.
Going into this year I think it was still unclear what type of events and formats would work best. But I hope we’ve now found a balance that provides learning experiences people really value. Cost of travel, cost of accommodation and cost of tickets are all reduced or removed, which ultimately makes our events more accessible for professionals.”
June 14 – 16
First up this summer is next week’s Culture Geek – a three day event that has evolved from the one-day conference Jim had been running in London for several years prior to the pandemic. He says,
“Culture Geek is always an interesting one because it draws on industry professionals not just from the museum sector but also from theatres, festivals, production companies and more. Because it’s a broader field than our other events, it has always provided a really nice melting pot of ideas. While there are obviously differences in the way that arts and culture organisations operate, there are so many ways that they can share best practice, innovations and challenges.
“In the past we’ve welcomed speakers from the likes of Cirque du Soleil, Sydney Opera House, The Met and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Seeing how some of these teams have experimented and pushed the boundaries to inform and entertain their audiences can be eye-opening for museum professionals.”
“Last year we pivoted our in-person conference to an online event as a response to the lockdowns and managed to deliver the same one-day session on a remote basis. This year, with a bit more time to plan and more experience in running virtual conferences, we’ve been able to really build on that and put together a strong line-up over three days.
“Instead of eight or nine speakers we’ve got an incredible array of 50+ speakers across our afternoon and evening sessions. It’s always been a problem that our ‘Call for Speakers’ results in more quality submissions than we can pack into an event. But in a virtual format we have been able to accommodate a greater number of talks.
“It’s also interesting to see that some professionals who may not be able to submit a presentation because of geographical or budgetary challenges can be involved when we run summits online. If anything, that has deepened the pool of talent and I’m sure our delegates will appreciate that rich mix of views and insights.”
This flexibility of programming and undeniable enhancement in accessibility seems to have been the biggest revelation of the last 12 to 18 months – not only for MuseumNext but across almost all industries and sectors. Jim suggests,
“While we all love congregating in a physical space and most of us are looking forward to having face-to-face interactions back in our lives, the feedback we have had in relation to our conferences is that the benefits of digital delivery far outweigh the drawbacks. For what we are trying to achieve – both for the MuseumNext community and our sponsors – being able to provide a service to thousands of people rather than a few hundred in a room is certainly gratifying.
“What we’ve also learnt is that there is an enduring interest in the talks we record. Institutions like being able to access videos of sessions long after the event has concluded. We’ve had organisations request access for entire teams so that they can revisit speaker sessions as discussion points for internal professional development and brainstorming workshops.
“Given that many museum professionals have been under stay-at-home orders during much of the last year, having team or museum-wide access to the conferences seems to have played a valuable role in keeping colleagues engaged with each other and with industry trends.”
June 28 – 30
Beyond Culture Geek, which will run from the 14th – 16th June, MuseumNext will be hosting a Digital Income Summit at the end of June.
According to Jim, this theme is one that has been on the priority list for the last couple of years but has now, almost inevitably, become one of the hottest topics in town for museum professionals.
“There are certain events that I’ve wanted to run for some time but for one reason or another may have felt too niche in previous years. Certainly, the concept of generating additional revenue streams and, in particular, digital income has gained momentum over the last five years. But at this juncture it really feels like the most pertinent time to run this conference.
“Coming out of the pandemic, it’s no surprise to hear that finances for most institutions are tight. And across a whole host of industries we’ve already seen organisations being forced to close because of tough trading conditions. As a result, we’ve recognised a growing appetite for information on diversification, the development of ticketing funnels and ideas that can help enhance fundraising efforts, among other things.
“When we put out the call for speakers for this conference, which will run between the 28th and 30th June, we were inundated with submissions. It has actually been extremely hard to narrow down our final speaker list but I think we now have a programme that has a healthy blend of museum professionals and outside experts with insight to offer.”
From developing commercial models around digital experiences to monetising adult learning; optimising the online gift shop to exploring crypto art and NFTs, this conference is one not to be missed.
It is perhaps no surprise to anyone in the museum space that XR should be the focus of MuseumNext’s other summer event, running in July. As one of the hot button topics of the last 18 months, the pandemic appears to have sharpened the sector’s focus on immersive technologies and whetted the public’s appetite for rich, extended reality experiences.
“We’re delighted to be able to present such a strong line up for this summit. In recent months we have reached out to experts from around the world to bring some of the leading authorities in this field. We have also tried to complement this by incorporating talks from XR experts outside the museum sphere – because we know how important those insights can be.
“The online delivery of these talks is also particularly well suited to the topic and I’m excited to get the feedback of our delegates on this one.”
From Emmy award-winning film directors to TV producers and app developers to immersive experience experts, the XR Summit is undoubtedly one of the strongest speaker line-ups MuseumNext has ever assembled.
“Virtual, augmented and mixed reality are no longer considered to be part of the distant future. They appear to be breaking into the mainstream in a meaningful way and so this event is aimed squarely at those curious about the opportunities that are heading our way.”
And what about that all-important networking, which online events often struggle to provide?
“Without coffee breaks or networking drinks to offer, we’ve had to investigate other ways of generating that same informal environment to facilitate greater communication. So for upcoming events we have brought a band in to run a pub quiz and trial a new way of getting people involved.”
Not yet signed up for our digital summits and conferences this summer? Find out more and get your tickets here.
Tim Deakin is a journalist and editorial consultant working with a broad range of online publications.
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