Symposium 2013 – blog by Sian Thurgood

The word I used when asked to sum up the Happy Museum Symposium on Friday was ‘proud’. However reflecting on it a few days later on a miserable wintry evening, one word seems woefully insufficient.

The ideas of active citizenship, resilience and coproduction explored at the symposium are fresh on my lips. I can ‘be the change you want to see’ and coproduce ‘museums that foster wellbeing that doesn’t cost the earth’.

‘Inspirational’ is an often overused word, but I can’t find a better one to describe the examples of how active citizenship can make a real impact on individuals and organisations given by Ben Twist (http://www.creativecarbonscotland.com/ ) and Susan Sheen (Lambeth Council).

Nick Winterbottom (Chair of GEM http://www.gem.org.uk/ )  and Maurice Davies (head of policy and communication at the Museums Association http://www.museumsassociation.org/home)  produced two workshops that were definitely not ‘vapid’. Nick used dinosaurs, the ‘joyoscene’ and futuristic vehicles to get us thinking about the big idea behind Happy Museum and the ‘tipping point’ from words to action. Maurice instead unleashed another ‘beast’ in his workshop ‘Happy Dragons Den’. The community of practiced presented the business case for 4 big ideas to sceptics (benefits of an organisation with high well-being staff, the benefits of attracting more and different volunteers, making the most of our physical resources and natural and financial resource efficiency).

The ‘community of practice’ has grown in size, confidence and purpose since last year’s symposium. A particular highlight was when the commissions presented the global context for the Happy Museum for the first time to the invited guests and set the room buzzing. Comments from guest such ‘as you are melting my cynicism’ reflected the warmth, inspiration and positivity that this fantastic community of practice has to offer.

The symposium set out to answer three questions posed by the community of practice on the first morning

  1. How can we use happy museum principles to promote active citizens?
  2. What shifts in thinking are required to make museums more sustainable and resilient?
  3. How much do you think happy museum principles influence your sector at the moment and how much potential is there for future influence?

However, it soon became apparent that ‘questions are better than answers’ and ‘wicked problems’ are the best kinds because they will keep pushing you onwards in our four journeys (Awakening to embedding, Individual converts to organisations, Well-being strategies to resilience and Influencing participants to society) to make resilient stewards of the future.