On Monday 20 August, I attended the New Zealand Diversity Forum in Auckland. Organised by the Human Rights Commission, the Diversity Forum is an opportunity for people involved in race relations, human rights, and cultural diversity to come together to share ideas and good practice.
The museum and gallery sector has a significant contribution to make in encouraging cultural diversity. A special session, ‘Museums and galleries – changing faces, changing ways’, was hosted by Museums Aotearoa with support from Auckland War Memorial Museum, National Services Te Paerangi, and host venue Auckland Art Gallery.
The museums and galleries session provided an inspiring overview of ways museums and arts organisations are engaging with diverse communities. Jo Brehaut of Auckland War Memorial Museum discussed research the Museum is undertaking into Auckland’s diverse population and how it relates to the Museum’s audiences, while Bethany Edmunds, also of Auckland War Memorial Museum, provided insights into the Urbanlife youth outreach project.
Ema Tavola, co-curator of Home AKL, currently showing at Auckland Art Gallery, discussed the challenges involved in advocating for the free bus service that brings South Auckland residents to the Gallery. Ema provided some food for thought on the barriers to engagement experienced by some community groups.
Te Papa’s Lynette Townsend spoke about collecting and exhibiting youth experiences, and her involvement in the ‘Growing Up in New Zealand’ research project in progress at Auckland University. Lynette raised interesting points about the way children are represented in museums. Childhood is often exhibited in a way that serves adult needs, usually from a nostalgic perspective. As part of the ‘Growing Up in New Zealand’ project, Lynette is working with a small group of children to take account of their voices as Te Papa builds its collection of items related to childhood.
Richard Benge of Arts Access Aotearoa discussed methods for increasing accessibility for disabled visitors. Richard opened some eyes with questions about how the audience’s museums cater to disabled visitors. One in six New Zealanders identify as disabled – are the one in six represented in your museum or gallery’s audience? Have you reviewed your museum or gallery’s accessibility lately? Visit Arts Access Aotearoa’s website for information and resources.
For me, the key message was the importance of developing great relationships with community groups, engaging in ongoing dialogue, and involving community groups in museum projects and programmes from the outset. This approach can help build increased engagement in museums, galleries, and their programmes, which is beneficial all round. I came away with lots to think about and some ideas for new museum resources!
Finally, big congratulations to Museum of Wellington, which won an award for the excellent Death and Diversity exhibition at the Diversity Awards held that evening. Well deserved!