Friday, February 15, 2008

GEM conference thoughts

This year's GEM conference was advertised today (4-7 September, Leicester
The blurb said: "As government and funding priorities shift to fulfil expanding learning and social agendas, are heritage organisations being realistic in trying to be "all things to all people?"
Every Audience Matters provides an active and in-depth exploration of how we can meet these growing demands, and addresses the wider implications of our evolving roles, from regional, national and international perspectives.
The three days focus on:
Diverse Learners
Diverse Audiences
Diverse Organisations"

This looks like a really useful conference. I had a couple of thoughts. The first is that I'm not sure that many organisations do try to be 'all things to all people' in shifting their focus towards excluded audiences and an educational mission. Many that are making this shift are building strong relationships with some very specific groups, which is generally 'a good thing'. It is true perhaps that these organisations are becoming 'quite a lot of things to some particular people'. I sometimes wonder whether it is possible to target specific groups a bit too much and to make assumptions that their strongest interests or identifications are what your programmes should be all about. This is a potentially controversial view, expressed tentatively.

The second thought is a gentle musing about the fact that there are two separate days on Learners and Audiences. Now, if museums are for learning and if learning experiences encompass everything including inspiration and enjoyment (ILfA), what is the difference? Of course, we would categorise a student taking part in a museum-based course as a 'learner', but they are also an audience for a cultural experience. We would also categorise a tourist wandering into a museum, passing by the shop and out again, as an audience member rather than a learner, but even at their most passive they are learning something simply by looking around them. The false differentiation can cause problems between teams in organisations, in funding bids and in scoping new projects. I'd be interested to hear comments from anyone who has views on this distinction.