Finding funding for MCN2011

Regular readers will know that I’m volunteering with the MCN marketing committee in the lead up to the 2011 conference. The conference is on in Atlanta, GA 16-19 November – and I am mad keen to get along for a couple of reasons. The main one is because Koven Smith has asked me to be a panellist on his panel asking “What’s the point of a museum website?“, which will pick up where his Ignite Smithsonian speech left off. This is an awesome discussion, and I can’t believe I’ve been asked to be part of it. Having said that, being a poor PhD student whose already been to the States once this year, my ability to attend is going to rely on more than just wishing.

To that end, I’ve put in an application for one of the MCN2011 scholarships, of which there are 15 (plus a further 4 scholarship funded by Kress Foundation and THATCamp). The closing date is next Monday, 1 August and full details are available on the website. I must confess I’m a little bit torn between wanting to promote them as is my role as vollie, and wanting to minimise competition so I actually get one. Ha.

I’m also applying for an ArtsNSW quick response grant, which is funding “available for professional individuals, groups and small- to medium-sized organisations who have received an unexpected invitation to participate in a recognised national or international arts and cultural event/activity.” I’ve never applied for a grant before, so I’m not sure how I’ll go with that… but hopefully they will recognise that this is a pretty awesome and unexpected opportunity and will give me enough to cover the flights over. My fingers are firmly crossed.

It’s all a bit exciting even at this stage… but it will be much more so if I can actually secure funding in order to make it over to the conference. I’ve had a sneak peak at the program, and it looks great. I’ll post more about it once the program goes live (which shouldn’t be too far away now).

Thoughts on the closure of the Dutch Museum of National History

My first guest geek Jasper Visser (don’t worry – there’s another geek speak coming soon) has just announced on his blog that his museum – the Dutch Museum of National History (INNL) – will no longer operate from 1 January 2012, following the announcement of funding cuts by Netherlands’ secretary of state responsible for culture.

This is a terribly disappointing – although not entirely surprising – thing to have happened. When I first met Jasper at MW2011, I spoke to him a little bit about the INNL network – the museum website that won the Best of the Web award for innovation – and at the time, he mentioned that it was possible that his institution could close at any time. I dismissed the possibility… coming from Australia, where our politicians are generally fairly centrist in action if not always in rhetoric, I didn’t really take seriously the threat that someone might close such an interesting and innovative project for seemingly political reasons.** And yet only months later, here we are.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to Seb about the INNL and he remarked how vulnerable it was, being a national museum in a politically unstable country, and moreso being a museum without objects. And its true. After all, our very concept of what a museum is and should be is grounded in the fact that museums are the places that house objects. In Cabinets for the Curious: Looking Back at Early English Museums, Ken Arnold writes (p4) that early museums had three strategies for creating knowledge, being “the telling of stories, the use of objects, and the imposition of order upon them.” The INNL did use objects – like the National Vending Machine, or selected objects through which stories could be told – but it did not house a permanent collection. Instead, it sought to excite people about Dutch national history through stories and projects. And with concepts like “The ‘Land of What If’, a room with alternative Dutch histories”, no wonder it was vulnerable at a time when cultural institutions were threatened by politics.

Despite – and possibly because of – its short life, the INNL raises lots of questions for me about the nature of museums, and what a museum is and should be. Can a museum preserve the past without objects? Does the provenance of a museum come from the provenance of its objects, or its people?

As much as I love and am captured by the ideas behind the INNL, I wonder whether it was always going to be a time-limited project. Reading the vision of the project, I always feel inspired – but without objects, a museum of this nature can only ever be as successful as the people who are behind it, and it is likely that with time and staff changes, a sense of inertia would gain hold.

Yet the fact that it was (or appeared to be) successful during its short life should absolutely inspire those of us working in museums with exhibits to consider how we too could excite people about what we do if we didn’t have our objects to rely on – if we were forced to find new and more creative ways to tell stories.

In the mean time, I’m not sure what Jasper plans to do – or if he will stick around in this field… He has something of the entrepreneurial/world changing spirit about him and I imagine he might want to move on. But I look forward to seeing what he turns his hand to next.

**NB: I’ve recently learned that funding has been cut for This is Not Art – an arts festival that runs annually in my home town. This year might be the first year in over a decade that it doesn’t run, and I am fairly sure that the reasons behind this are political as well… so maybe even in Aust, culture is never safe from politics.