2013 ICMM Congress

Some Reflections on the Conference - Cascais, Portugal, 8-15 September 2013

By Marika Hedin, Director of the Vasa Museum and Chair of the programme committee

The 2013 ICMM Conference in Cascais is now in the past and it is time to take stock of what became an intensive week of talks, panels and excursions. As the Chair of the programme committee, I may be biased – alright, I am biased – but I thought this was a very good conference. And not just because of the wonderful weather and beautiful surroundings. Everyone who participated came with ideas, enthusiasm and good stories to share.

When we started planning this conference, we wanted to take the best parts of the previous ICMM congresses and condense them. To my mind, what makes ICMM so strong is the fact that we are an organisation of peers. We share interests and expericences, we tackle similar problems, even though among our members we have a wide range of museums represented.

The theme of the congress was made up of two parts: on the one hand, discussing how to ’celebrate’ maritime heritage, on the other hand, thinking of ways to make maritime heritage ’relevant’. This doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing: relevancy can be about problematising and questioning, whereas celebration can be about preaching to the already converted. So when we structured the programme, we wanted to capture some of the core areas for our museums, and ask questions about celebrating, while making relevant. This was the background behind, for example, the plenary session about Navy history and the thematic session and workshop on heritage vessels.

Putting it together

The abstracts we recieved took up the challenge very well. The speakers interpreted the duality of the congress theme creatively. In the programme committee, we then placed all speakers in sessions with a deliberately conversational structure. The idea was to guard the idea of a meeting of peers, and make possible a fruitful meeting of minds.

In addition to this, I think we got lucky with our keynotes. Jorge Roque de Pinho d’Almeida started us off with a discussion on the Portugese maritime strategy that connects the past to the future, and João Paulo Oliveira e Costa concluded the week by analyzing Portugal’s strong maritime heritage and how this influences society today. The other keynotes touched upon various aspects of the museum sector: Sebastian Chan on how to think digitally about collections, Helen Weinstein on how to tell engaging stories and Uwe Brückner on exhibition design.

But of course, the congress would not have been a success if the logistics hadn’t worked perfectly, and they really did. Transport and meals were all perfectly organised. And of course, with the Portugese Navy as generous co-hosts of the congress, we were treated to some spectacular evening events and made many new friends. I unfortunately had to pass on the concluding excursions, but I know that they were rewarding to the participants.

The future?

Some lessons can be learned from this conference as well, of course. We will send out a questionnaire to all participants shortly, and the input we get will be important for the Hong Kong and Macau museums when they are planning the next leg of the ICMM touring roadshow. All in all, the 2013 congress will be quite an act to follow. But I feel confident that Richard Wesley and his team are up for this challenge!

The 2013 Congress Programme can be viewed here

A selection of pictures from Cascais (A larger selection of Conference pictures will be available soon)