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"The Inclusive Museum": The Benaki's Museum Conference

What are the roles of museums and cultural institutions in society? Indeed, what will the museums of tomorrow look like? This topic, along with many innovative ideas, was presented Thursday, November 26, 2015 at The Inclusive Museum Conference sponsored by the Benaki Museum held at their Pireos Street Annex in Athens. Attended by 6 current members of the HERMA 2016 class, and several former members from last year, this day long conference included several forward-looking museum professionals from the United States and England.


Banner at event entrance

Karen Wong, Deputy Director of the New Museum in New York City kicked the day off with her visionary presentation. For those of you are not familiar with the New Museum’s collections please don’t be. They don’t have one! What they do have is IDEAS… and lots of them. In fact Ms. Wong co-founded the IDEAS CITY initiative which explores the future of cities with the belief that art and culture are essential to our future. The New Museum sponsors the first museum led incubator for art, technology and design. This incubator serves as a platform for entrepreneurs to collaborate and ultimately launch new ideas for a new world. Many of their innovative young thinkers have used the incubator to launch new cutting edge businesses in the arts and technology fields which have shown real gains to the economy through job creation. This initiative called NEW INC offers membership in return for office space and materials to work and creative license to soar. In the first year, these entrepreneurs produced 22 permanent jobs.


NEW Museum infograph, created by artists at the event

They have also launched “100 Ideas for the Future City.” This is a 6 day workshop brought to cities in need in collaboration with professionals from The New Museum that works to target issues, provide real solutions and then implement concrete actions. This workshop will be brought to Athens in September 2016.
For those more traditional museologists, Esme’ Ward, Head of Engagement at Whitworth And Manchester Museum in Manchester, England spoke about the many inclusive changes implemented by her team at The Whitworth. The museum was transformed into a new space that includes the outdoor park adjacent to the museum. While undergoing development to the museum building the Whitworth team took a calculated risk and moved their collection outdoors! They invited all members of the community to come be a part of ” Whitworth Weekending” which was basically a picnic atmosphere in an outdoor museum combined with innovative exhibitions that delighted all ages. Not only did they enthrall the teenage audiences, but they even allowed those young future museum curators to plan and run the events. It’s risks like these that have won The Whitworth countless awards including Artfund Museum of the Year. A quote from the chair of Artfund, ” The transformation of the Whitworth has been one of the great museum achievements of recent years. It has changed the landscape: it truly feels like a museum of the future.”


Whitworth Infograph, created by artists at the event

In the afternoon session after a round table conducted by Sophia Handaka from The Benaki Museum, Anita Contini, Arts Program Manager from Bloomberg Philanthropies spoke on ” Audience Engagement in a Digital World.” Her topic, so relevant to our industry was a walk through technologies being implemented in museums all over the globe. Bloomberg is helping finance some of these emerging technologies through their research and development efforts. They have created an online platform to engage cities in creating and implementing new ideas into action. Ms. Contini emphasized the growing importance of the digital world and encouraged everyone to get on board.
On a personal note, I would like to thank Sophia Handaka of The Benaki Museum for including the HERMA class of 2016 in this conference. We were able to re-engineer the evaluation form that was handed out to all present at the sold out standing room only conference. We will continue our volunteer efforts by compiling this information for the Benaki. Thank you Ms. Handaka for your inclusive outreach!


Rae Rippy is Student Academic Officer for the HERMA class of 2015-2016. With a background in business, journalism, and geology, he is interested in the preservation of heritage around the world, and the role of education as it pertains to that goal.
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