Impressions of My First NatSCA Conference

Last April I had the opportunity to attend the NatSCA conference at Leeds City Museum. I have been a member of NatSCA since I came to live in the UK three years ago and finally this year, thanks to one of the NatSCA bursaries, I was able to attend the conference. With more than 70 participants from all over the UK and beyond each day, more than 20 talks, interesting stands showing projects and new technology, good coffee and lunch in a uniquely-shaped hall, the event was very successful.

Over the two-day conference, I met colleagues from work, I recognised familiar faces from previous events and the most exciting part was to meet new people and to hear about the amazing projects and experiences from different experts in the museum environment. We also heard about the benefit of working with communities, schoolchildren, teachers, volunteers, undergraduate students, artists and many other groups.

After thinking carefully about what really impressed me (a difficult job with so many good talks), I would like to highlight the following topics.

Facing Challenges and Thinking Up New Strategies to Engage

The first two talks about the exhibition Dinosaurs of China in Nottingham really impressed me. The project involved extraordinary team work in organising the loans, the trips, the installation of the tallest dinosaur skeleton ever displayed in the UK, and the running of a very successful event with large numbers of visitors. The second talk showed brilliantly the role of theatre to enhance the visitor’s experience and engage the public while also showing a good marketing strategy. Moreover, selecting the artist with the required performance skills was very demanding work.

Supporting Museum Collections

Different examples of making collections accessible were discussed and the importance of collaboration when financial and human resources are scarce. Talks also provided tips on how collections can survive. The last talks gave an inside view of two herbaria, focused on the support of other herbaria and museums, and the crucial support of early career researchers and students in collecting, mounting, and curating specimens as well as using specimens in their research and as teaching materials.

Saskia Harris from the Royal Horticultural Society, delivering her presentation Growing a different type of standard. © Rachel Jennings

Generating Impacts Beyond Museums

Even more exciting was to hear about projects going beyond museum walls and making impacts in communities, for example, involving museum research projects with education in schools in Cambridge and in remote areas of Sumatra, and communicating ecology and species conservation issues. This project created a high positive impact when kids from different schools had the opportunity to share their work and experience. Teachers in both places were also involved in training sessions and in creating long-lasting shareable resources from handling collections.

Involving Locals and Volunteers in Creating a Symbol for Campaigns

Many museum activities involving volunteers and local groups were highlighted during the conference. The one that caught my attention was how local groups were crucially involved in collecting, transporting, cleaning a 12 m Fin Whale found dead on the coast in Cumbria. They were also part of a successful fundraising campaign to enable this. The whale is now on display in the main entrance of the Tullie House Museum in Carlisle after four years of preparation. Locals not only participated in proposing the name for the whale, ‘Driggsby’, but also created a symbol for conservation in the area. A campaign for cleaning and maintaining Cumbria’s coast to be free of plastics was one of the results of having ‘Driggsby’ exhibited at the Museum.

Driggsby the Fin Whale hanging in the entrance to Tullie House Museum, in Carlisle. © Nigel Larkin.

Finally, I would like to thank NatSCA again for the bursary to attend the conference and the people who made me feel welcome at my first NatSCA conference, and also to this year’s hosts and the Committee Members for all their hard work in organisation. I hope to attend the next NatSCA conference in Dublin.

Written by Diana Arzuza Buelvas, Visitor Team Assistant at Manchester Museum, The University of Manchester

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