In November 2016, our North American museum conference took place at Tribeca Center for Performing Arts in New York City, bringing together an international delegation from more than twenty countries. The event was organised in partnership with cultural organizations across the city.
MuseumNext New York took place less than a week after the American Presidential election. At a time when the United States was reflecting on what the result meant for the country and how a divided nation could come together.
MuseumNext New York offered presentations on the transformative power of museums.
The conference was opened by Dr Melissa Chiu, Director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Gardens in Washington DC. She spoke about the challenges for museums in a time of tremendous change, from a burgeoning art market to the role of museums in society.
This keynote was followed by a panel discussion which looked at identity and the next narratives needed to navigate this. The panel which included leaders of arts organisations from across North America described the complex nature of identity and suggested that their are no simple answers which fit all audiences.
Ellen V Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History opened the afternoon session. Having led her museum for more than two decades she has led the transformation of her organization and shared with delegates the ground breaking work which is reshaping the museum.
Ananna Muhammad, a school teacher from Washington DC followed Ellen with a moving presentation about the work that she is doing to get her students to think of careers in museums. That presentation on work in schools was followed by a presentation by Heather Maxson from the Whitney Museum of American Art and Danielle Linzer from the Andy Warhol Museum about the impact that art museums can have on teenagers. This shared the results of the Room to Rise research program.
Cyborg Artist and Activist Neil Harbinsson followed these presentations with an incredible look at how he is transforming himself by merging with technology.
Staying with technology, Minecraft Artist and Educator Adam Clarke followed Neil with a presentation on Minecraft and the Museum in which he shared his work which has included creating artworks from the TATE Britain collection which people can virtually walk into and recreating the Great Fire of London using this gaming platform.
Victoria Young from TATE followed Adam with a presentation on data, curiosity and observation. The last presentation of the day came from Jake Barton from Local Projects and Sia Sanneh, Senior Attorney at the Equal Justice Initiative.
They spoke about the deep divides that still exist in the United States and their work together to create a National Memorial to Victims of Lynching.
The day concluded with a private evening reception for delegates at the National Museum of the American Indian.
The final day of the conference started with a powerful keynote from Mike Murawski, Director of Education and Public Programs at Portland Art Museum. He asked how museums can start an empathy revolution and be more recognized for their meaningful work.
Mike was followed by another powerful presentation, this time looking at the work which LACMA and Chicago Botanic Garden have done with veterans.
This was followed by a fascinating look at how two museums with very different audiences were working together to reach new audiences, and New York’s El Museo del Barrio talking about the essential role which artists residencies have played in the museum.
After lunch, we had our open stage session which invited eight delegates to make quick fire presentations about on the theme, ‘the future of museums is…’ Scott Stulen, Director and President, Philbrook Museum of Art delivered a powerful call for brave new leadership in the museum field.
The Open Stage was followed by a presentation by Virginia Shearer and Sarah Schleuning from the High Museum of Art about turning their museum inside out with a public piazza.
As MuseumNext New York moved towards it’s conclusion we were joined by Beat Hächler, the Director of the Swiss Alpine Museum in Bern. He shared the museums surprising and inventive work to transform the museum into a 21st century institution.
Another museum transformation story followed with Alex Benay, the charismatic leader of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation sharing the complete reboot that his organisation has gone through.
The closing keynote came from Tony Butler, Executive Director of Derby Museums Trust in England. He reflected on Brexit, inequality and the role of museums as places which can bring people together.
The conference concluded with an exclusive closing reception at the American Museum of Natural History, with delegates mingling with the world’s largest dinosaur collection.