Last week marked the end of the two-week MCN 2020 conference. As a first-timer at the event, I was mostly absorbing information and learning about the community. This conference was also an opportunity for my team and I to learn how best to serve museums.

If you want a refresher on what the MCN is all about, you can read MCN 2020 Here We Come.

Continue reading if you want to hear my thoughts on the community, a few of my favourite presentations, and the importance of accessibility in the museum industry.

A Vibrant Community

The first thing I noticed about the museum network is how vibrant and welcoming everyone is. There were so many different types of people from all around the world and the organizing committee was really able to keep a sense of community despite it being solely online. 

There was a Slack workspace with an array of channels for everyone to discuss everything from inclusivity in museums to sharing images of their adorable pets. There was even a karaoke Zoom night!

My MCN set up

One of the first things that struck me during my time at MCN was how inclusive everyone was. It was the first time I had seen such a large group take the time to consider everyone’s needs and make them feel welcome. At the beginning of every presentation, speakers made sure to announce their pronouns and give a description of themselves and their physical background. Every presentation also had closed captions via Otter.ai or CART for those who needed it.

I have been to several conferences throughout different industries and I have never seen such care and diligence to make every person feel comfortable. Not to mention that because everyone was online, the conference itself was more accessible to those across the world who may ordinarily not have been able to travel to Baltimore, Maryland for the occasion.

Now, let’s get into the fun stuff – my three favourite presentations! These were Ignite, Bright Spots, and New Horizons.

🔥 Ignite MCN

Let’s start with Ignite MCN. This presentation involved 8 presenters who had 5 minutes to go through 20 slides of 15 seconds each. It was super fast-paced but some of the most entertaining presentations of the whole conference. 

One of the most notable was the presentation by Jeremy Munro, “They Will Save Us If We Let Them”. He spoke about the fall of Vine and how it was subject to a community archiving project. Before Vine was officially archived, the community that loved and enjoyed Vines created YouTube compilations of their favourites. It was so successful that Vines have become jokes within an entire generation that has only watched YouTube compilations. Jeremy argued that this demonstrated Vine’s community archiving project as a successful culture transmission.

Image: Presentation title via Jeremy Munro’s MCN Ignite presentation

There was also the lovely presentation by Virginia Poundstone & Garrett Graddy-Lovelace who spoke about the “Future Wisdom Via Metadata” which discussed quipus.

Quipus are an intricate knotted system of communication and accounting tools used in Andean cultures in Peru. Researchers talking to Quechua elders are discovering the depths of quipus and how they were also used to tell stories. The amount of longitudinal data collected makes quipus the first version of metadata existing through knots. They’re even considered a three-dimensional binary coding language!

Image: Quipus via Kantar Information is Beautiful Awards

And of course, Sandy Goldberg presented us with “Welcome to My 2-D World” where she introduced us to her life interpreting art with limited vision. Sandy has helped a multitude of museums create audio guides but never revealed to curators or her collaborators that she was living a 2D reality. The pandemic led to Sandy publicly embracing her limited eyesight and expressing herself again through art. When she realized that walking became a popular activity during quarantine, she got the idea to represent her walks in a 2-D format.

Image: walks on paper via Sandy Goldberg’s MCN Ignite presentation

All the presentations spoke to real-world issues and topics but in such an engaging and fun way. I left Ignite MCN excited for the remainder of the week, and I think everyone else who watched would agree.

💐 Bright Spots: Creating Social Media Moments of Joy During a Pandemic

I was really looking forward to this presentation and it did not disappoint. I, like many others, have spent a lot of time on social media throughout the pandemic. Social media became an overwhelming place where a lot of heavy subjects were being discussed. As important and necessary as a lot of those topics were, the levity that the museum industry brought to social media was a huge source of joy for many people.

The Shedd Aquarium showed us their success with their adorable penguin, Wellington, using a segment called #WheresWellingtonWednesday. There they showed Wellington roaming around the museum and interacting with unfamiliar wildlife.

In response, the Field Museum created “unSUEpervised” where they showed an inflatable T. rex named SUE run around their museum and empty exhibitions. Both served as light-hearted ways to showcase their museums and bring joy to those who needed it across the globe.

There was also the heart-warming #MuseumBouquet that took over social media thanks to The New-York Historical Society and Hirshhorn Museum. Several museums started to send their versions of a Museum Bouquet to their fellow museums whether it was paintings of flowers by Andy Warhol or beautiful flowers from the New York Botanical Garden.

This presentation was a beautiful reminder of the importance of museums and how many individuals turn to them for joy and learning opportunities.

👒 New Horizons: A Critical Examination of Animal Crossing for Cultural Heritage Institutions

One of the final presentations I watched was exploring the use of Animal Crossing for museums and how it can foster a feeling of community not only for those working within the museum but also those who could not visit them due to the pandemic.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons unleashed new potentials for museums because it became possible to open a museum and buy and create your own paintings.

Even The Met took part by making 406,000 Open Access images available for Animal Crossing homes and islands. Some of their classic pieces are available, including their collection of tiles. You can even hang a painting from Van Gogh in your living room!

Image: Nintendo via The Met

Digital Accessibility

Throughout the entire conference, one subject kept being discussed. No matter the subject, there was always mention of accessibility. This is something that is important for many throughout the industry. Whether it’s website design, touchscreen usability, or even the conference itself, accessibility was something that was always considered and questioned.

Digital accessibility was a subject that stood out to me because it’s so important but not discussed as heavily in other industries. It encompasses everything from design, front-end development, back-end development, to content creation. There are so many resources that you can use to learn how to make your website more accessible, like this website: Essential Accessibility.

See You Next Year

We are looking forward to next year’s conference, which will hopefully be held in person. Although the virtual experience was great, there is something special about having off the cuff conversations between presentations. The Slack channels did help a ton and the effort of the volunteers and co-chairs was definitely felt, however, I would love to have the full MCN experience.

With that being said, I hope to see some familiar faces next year and continue to grow our network within the museum community!