World’s top museum professionals to congregate in Sydney

One of the world’s most prestigious museum conferences, CIMAM, brings industry leaders together to consider the evolving practices of the 21st century museum experience.
World’s top museum professionals to congregate in Sydney

Brook Andrew, Warrang, 2012. Commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. Photograph: Brook Andrew.

The museum conference market globally is enormous and possessed of an urgency felt sector-wide, as professionals seek to future-proof their organisations; to find relevance, stay visible and innovate.

From 15-17 November, the lnternational Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern and Contemporary Art (CIMAM) will hold its annual conference in Sydney at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.


While that might sound like just another date on the calendar, it is an incredible program for professionals in the museum and galleries sector.  

Founded in 1962, CIMAM’s conference has only been held in Australia once before, in 1998, when the art museum landscape was very different.

This year’s theme The 21st Century Art Museum: Is Context Everything? CIMAM brings together directors, curators and arts professionals from around the world to network with colleagues and discuss common issues.  

Some 200 delegates from over 50 countries are expected to attend. Learn how you can attend.

MCA Director and CIMAM President, Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE, told ArtsHub: ‘I know from my own experience, it is hard to get curators to take that extra leg of the journey to come to Australia. It just shows that there is an increasing interest in what’s happening here – it’s a big vote of confidence.’

Will the talk really change the problems our museums face globally?

‘Not everyone agrees on things, so we need to air those conversations,' she said.

‘An organisation like CIMAM is increasingly important today as museums deal with the same issues: the rise of populism, the impact of social media, changing political structures which can put curators under more pressure, the increase of private sector involvement and the ethical issues that arise, censorship and the impact of climate change. For example, CIMAM is involved in the campaign against Censorship developing guidelines for curators following the decision made by Guggenheim to remove artworks in response to a social media campaign.

The state of play in the sector is reflected by the “Museum Watch” portal on CIMAM’s website. ‘It is exactly what it sounds like; we have taken up the cases of a number of curators who have faced difficult issues. There is a global pattern emerging and we need to address it’.

She added: ‘Museums are no longer simply places where great works of art are preserved for the future. They are social spaces which have a responsibility to the communities they serve. ICOM - International Council of Museums - is the process of updating the definition of the museum to bring it into the 21st century. CIMAM is contributing to these discussions from the point of view of modern and contemporary art.’

The lineup of speakers includes a strong roster of curators, artists, researchers and museum directors addressing three key areas:

Day 1: Challenging the Narrative: Indigenous Perspectives

How and to what effect are museums in the 21st century recognising and incorporating the cultural leadership of First Peoples?

Day 2: The Future of Collections

How could museums approach to collecting change as they face the consequences of their infinitely expanding collections? And what challenges and opportunities exist in digital strategies for collections?

Day 3: Beyond the Walls

The identity and activity of the 21st century museum is less bounded by physical architecture than its 20th century precursor. How are museums growing audiences and transforming visitors into participants through programs taking place ‘outside’ the museum? 

Keynote speakers are:  

  • Bruce Pasco: Aboriginal author of Dark Emu, and anthropologist from the Bunurong clan of the Kulin nations, he is Director of the Commonwealth Studies project on preserving the Wathaurong language.
  • Franklin Sirmans: Director, Perez Art Museum Miami, which focuses on presenting work from Latin America and the Caribbean, and previously curator of contemporary art at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2010- 2015.
  • Sally Tallant: Newly appointed Director, Queens Museum, and previously Director of Liverpool Biennale and Head of Programs at Serpentine Galleries.

Macgregor said: ‘The keynotes set the agenda each day and then more practical examples are rolled out through mediated panel discussions.’

See a full list of speakers for the 2019 CIMAM Conference

Macgregor added: ‘We hope that the conference will give members the chance to hear new perspectives and contribute their own to an ongoing debate about the role of museums.  This is an incredible opportunity to sit in a room with colleagues from around the world for three days; to network, to share stories, to learn in real time.’

All 15 CIMAM board members will attend the Sydney event, hailing from prestige institutions including Mori Art Museum Tokyo, Tate Modern, Moderna Museet Stockholm, M+ Hong Kong, among others.

The CIMAM Conference will be held over 15, 16, 17 November 2019 and is open to museum directors, curators and arts professionals.

Registration closes on 30 September 2019. To book visit the CIMAM website

CIMAM is an affiliated committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM).

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Gina Fairley

Thursday 16 May, 2019

About the author

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW.

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