Why I'm a dissenter

Rebecca Hale, 26.11.2018
It's time for museums to be bold and disruptive
Rebecca Hale shares her thoughts on the Museums Association (MA) Conference 2018

From Sharon Heal’s welcome address, proudly introducing people as dissenters and putting museums at the heart of striving for a better vision of tomorrow, I knew I was in the right place. I was only able to attend after gratefully receiving support through the Trevor Waldon fund and I felt that I was exactly where I needed to be.

At this early stage in my career I have been investigating what museums can do to tackle the issues I see in everyday society. I have begun an AMA to support this and attending this conference was crucial to my professional development. But, from the opening address I knew the conference would mean more to me.

I felt like this would be a place where I could safely seek answers to questions I had been asking, such as should museums be safe and neutral, or bold and disruptive? Can they be both, and if so how? How do we ensure museums affect positive change? I was really thankful for being given the space to ask these big questions.

I tried to attend as much as possible, to make the most of the opportunity I had been given through the funding. Every single talk I attended was of huge value and after thirteen different sessions I did not feel exhausted, but excited and enlivened. I gained a lot of expected outcomes, such as a better understanding of how to engage with the different stories that museums hold.

But it was the unexpected outcomes I enjoyed the most. The highlights of these were; hearing how the Women of Tyneside project had really helped to tackle today’s experiences for local women; understanding that being direct about issues such as racism, sexism and homophobia in our museums is a way of ensuring they are open and approachable - not hostile; and feeling truly supported about the ideals that I am passionate about.

In the UK’s current climate of feeling politically divided, exhausted by austerity and uncertain of the future I was reminded of the importance in remembering what values you hold dear. This conference not only put museums at the heart of positive change, but it was also a huge encouragement personally. From Paddy Gilmore speaking about having the courage to stand up and speak out, to Harry Reid’s explanation of his job title as a ‘paid hand-grenade’, and a reminder that even the smallest of actions can make a difference - there was so much to feel inspired by.

I even got an answer to my question regarding museums as safe and neutral or bold and disruptive, to which there was a clear consensus; museums and public spaces are not neutral. Even if museums think they are being neutral they are not; by being neutral, they are taking a side. This is the time for bold statements and I am proudly going to be a part of it.

Rebecca Hale is a learning officer at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, Norfolk. She attended the MA Conference earlier this month with assistence from the MA Benevolent Fund (including the Trevor Walden Trust), which supports the training and education of students participating in programmes organised by the MA.