Volunteering at the MA Conference was a rich journey - Museums Association

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Volunteering at the MA Conference was a rich journey

Looking back at the highlights of this year's event in Newcastle-Gateshead
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Kuan-Yu Chen
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In my previous life experience, born and raised in Taiwan, I had never attended a conference like the Museums Association (MA) Conference 2023.

I was fascinated to notice that each speaker had prepared their own visual description. Some speakers delivered their visual descriptions with a sense of humour; for instance, I remember one speaker depicting his hair loss frankly, and he successfully made audiences giggle.

I did not know it is essential for a speaker to deliver visual description until I participated in the MA Conference 2023; moreover, I learned from some speakers to have confidence to show a sense of humour by delivering an interesting visual description – they simply bring a good vibe in a session.

The reason it is crucial to deliver a visual description is because this bridges us with many diverse communities who might need this visual description. From my perspective, a simple visual description is a strong commitment and good practice against ableism.

If I have a chance to share some new knowledge with my friends and families of what I learned from volunteering with the MA, delivering a visual description might be the first thing that I would share,

A new term: Anti-ableism

“Anti-ableism” is a brand new term for me. I was fortunate to listen to Jess Thom’s powerful speech and gained a deeper understanding of disabled communities, especially when she mentioned that most curatorial teams are made up of non-disabled people and thus we need to co-curate with disabled communities.

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At the end of her speech, Jess shared a quote from the Abolition and Disability Justice Collective with us: “Disability justice cannot exist under settler colonialism, military occupation, imprisonment and apartheid. Disability justice requires solidarity with Palestine.” 

This quote evokes my memory of participating in another session called Crisis in Israel and Palestine. The people who spoke in that session with tears overwhelmed me – their kindness, vulnerable and resilience moved me deeply. I realised that I am not the only person who has cried secretly at night to see this humanitarian crisis ongoing.

I was lucky to encounter this rare heart-to-heart conversation and it healed my soul. I will keep in mind that to check up on your peers in the workplace is crucial when a humanitarian crisis occurs. Everyone we meet is fighting a battle we know nothing about – as a result, be kind. Always.

“Hope demands action, but action is impossible without hope.”

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

I am beyond grateful for the Museums Association. Tracing back to my starting point to become a MA conference volunteer, Poverty Proofing Museums is the session that I wished to be included in when I applied for volunteering. Thanks especially to Rebecca Atkinson, because she made my wish come true.

The reason I wished to participate in this session is because I care about many families in Taiwan who are struggling with the current rising cost of living. Many of them, due to financial challenges, have no longer visited some educational places, such as museums, galleries, heritage sites or even local libraries.

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I was eager to obtain new approaches to welcoming people back to educational places. Through volunteering in this session, I learned to create a friendly public place for visitors.

For example, the café in the museum could offer a kid’s meal for £1, or the museum could provide a cosy picnic area for visitors who cannot afford to have a meal in the café and thus bring their own lunch box. I could share these practical initiatives with my hometown, Taiwan.

“Hope demands action, but action isn’t possible without hope," said Shanaz Gulzar, the creative director of Bradford 2025 and one of the speakers at the conference. She shared this quote, which is originally from Rebecca Solnit, with us.

Volunteering with the Museums Association in Newcastle was truly a rich and spiritually awakening journey.

Kuan-Yu Chen is an international student currently studying a masters in curating art at Newcastle University

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