Figge group to present at Denmark conference

Posted Online: April 19, 2013, 5:56 pm
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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com

A five-woman panel representing the Figge Art Museum will make a presentation April 24 at a three-day an international museum conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Figge education director Melissa Hueting will host a 90-minute discussion at the 2013 Inclusive Museum Conference withAnn Rowson Love, director of Western Illinois University's museum studies program, graduate students Jessica Cruz of Davenport and Sarah Keim of Port Byron, and Pat Villeneuve, director of arts administration at Florida State University.

Ms. Villeneuve came up with the idea for the Figge's "Waxing Poetic" exhibit last summer, in which area poets wrote pieces paired with existing art in the museum collection, and the public was invited to pen their own poems that also became part of the exhibit.

The Figge's recent quilts exhibit included a community project where visitors could make a quilt panel that was displayed with others.

The Copenhagen conference will highlight an evaluation of the Figge's community engagement and interaction, and how the concepts can be applied to other museums and exhibits. Museums from around the world will be represented and participants will tour Copenhagen museums.

Ms. Love said this will be her fourth international museum conference, which is in a different location each year. "It's been great for our area; we've met so many interesting people at these conferences."

Founded in 2008, the Inclusive Museum program promotes ways museums can connect more with visitors -- become more accessible, community-minded and thought-provoking in programming, she said.

"Museums that aren't actively engaged with their community are really struggling," Ms. Love said.

Such links also create public "ownership" of a museum, boosting the time and money people give, she said. The WIU museum studies program serves 20 to 30 master's students at a time, and the Figge offers classes and internship opportunities.

Museums trying to involve their audience is a growing trend, Ms. Hueting said."When you have multiple ways to interact, they're more likely to engage where they feel comfortable, then they're more likely to enjoy it, get something in terms of lifelong learning and come back."

The WIU grad students evaluated the Figge's programs, and their report will help the museum "continue to move forward with new, creative ideas," especially as it's in the midst of strategic planning, Ms. Hueting said.

"If people can't make a personal connection, then what are we doing?" she asked.

Compared to the more frequent attendance at national conferences in the U.S., "It's important to spread the Figge name" farther afield, Ms. Hueting said. "I know we're a regional museum, but it's still nice to be part of the international community."

"The idea sharing is totally different; there are different needs and parameters at museums in different countries," she said. "We're going to be up against new things that are trending you wouldn't otherwise hear about.You never know where these new connections are going to take you and how they're going to benefit the community."

Ms. Love met an art student in 2010 at the Istanbul conference, whom she invited back to the Quad-Cities to do work on her dissertation at the Figge.

The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum has become an authority on the changing relationships of museums to constituents and communities, publishing 200 articles across a range of museum disciplines and practices, according to inclusivemuseum.org.

"The Figge really values its employees, and wants to promote high-quality employee retention," Ms. Hueting said of professional development available to all staff. Two others will attend the American Alliance of Museums conference in May, in Baltimore.

"I feel very fortunate to be part of this team and very fortunate to be part of the Figge and this community," Ms. Hueting said. "We're doing really cool things here."

This will be far from her first educational trip to Europe. While a Knox College junior in 2003, she spent a semester doing archaeological work in Athens, and took part in anarcheology program in Rome while in grad school at University of Iowa. Ms. Hueting first visited Copenhagen in summer 2003 during a family vacation. As part of occasional Figge art tours, she will lead a group to Italy this September.

"I love to travel," she said.


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