The Post-Pandemic World and the Museum
24-27 September 2023, London, United Kingdom
From 24-27 September 2023, delegates from across the world’s transport and communications museums gathered in London, United Kingdom, for IATM’s 46th Annual Conference: The Post-Pandemic World and the Museum. The International Association of Transport and Communications Museums explored future proof ideas, practices, and strategies that respond to the newly defined roles of museums following the Covid19-pandemic.
IATM delegates discussed what contributions transport and communication museums must make in the post-pandemic society. Questions of relevance, strong (corporate) relationships, and collections, locations, and knowledge as beneficial working assets were explored in differing formats. The conference was jointly hosted by London Transport Museum and The Postal Museum.
The pre-conference reception was held on Sunday, 24 September at London Transport Museum.
The delegates were welcomed by London Transport Museum Director Elizabeth McKay, newly in post in succession to IATM President Sam Mullins.
As we all face new and uncertain times, Sam stressed the important role of IATM in building personal relationships across boundaries and in sharing good practice between ourselves and with our colleagues.
Monday, 25 September 2023
At the Postal Museum, the first conference session was hosted by the Royal Mail, a live link to Ukraine to hear a keynote address from Igor Smelyansky, CEO of Ukrposhta (Ukraine’s Postal Service). This keynote address shared his fascinating and uplifting account of the importance of the postal service in promoting national stability and hope in times of conflict. He moved from providing vital support and a next day mail service for letters and parcels to the supply of medicines and pay by post. He described the pressures of maintaining and making the service resilient while under attack.
Ukrposta mobilised quickly at the Russian invasion to rally support and raise funds with powerful stamp designs, starting in Spring 2022 with an artwork by Boris Groh depicting a Ukrainian soldier giving the finger to the flagship Russian cruiser Moskva – a design voted for by the Ukrainian people. Subsequent bold designs followed, breaking all the rules, e.g. by issuing new stamps in the record time of three weeks.
The leadership demonstrated to deliver business as usual, under fire and financial pressure was visible, present at the front line, agile and entrepreneurial, a lesson for us all.
Laura Wright, Director of the Postal Museum, opened the first session welcoming delegates to the museum and introducing the Postal Museum through a series of short presentations by colleagues from different departments: Elizabeth Pilliere, Senior Visitor Experience Manager, Devon Turner, Marketing Manager, Helen Dafter, Archivist, Emily Boldry, Community Programme Producer, and Joanna Espin, Curator looked at flexible working in response to Covid, data-led decision making, digital preservation, and community outreach.
Embarking on the Relevance for Communications & Transport Museums in the fast-moving post-pandemic world the delegates were invited to follow stories from three museums who got on the matter in very different ways.
Andreas Scherffig, Event Manager at the Museum for Communication Berlin, Germany, pointed towards different opportunities of museums as collaborators, places of debate, and societal advocacy. For Unleashing Debate: The Event Program of ‘Arguments: An Approach’ the museum collaborated with artists, theatre groups, and activists to accompany the debate-led “Arguments” exhibition. It explored current relevant topics of the public in connection to the exhibition’s thematic areas. This was achieved through a combination of thematic guided tours, discursive sessions, and artistic interventions. He also informed delegates about challenges, and opportunities.
There was no question that the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada at Winnipeg airport, was to stay a museum for the community after its re-opening in May 2022, said Terry Slobodia, its CEO. Following intensive market research, this lead to a number of actions to heighten the museums relevance for the local community, the aerospace industry, and corporate and funding partners. Among them, its efforts to support and grow a skilled and diverse STEM workforce from Kindergarten to higher education in close collaboration with educational and corporate partners.
Annie Duffield, Head of Marketing and Communications, introduced delegates to the importance of video content in digital marketing at the Postal Museum, London. Annie stressed that 73 per cent of people today prefer to be informed by a video about a product or service. TikTok and Instagram are significant drivers of museum visits. Her top tips were to lean into the data, make a plan for audience development, try things, be agile to respond to success and have some fun!
In a later session, IATM past president Stephen Quick relaunched the funded opportunities of a SkillBridge grant from IATM. Case studies of past placements and offers for the future from member museums underscored the programme’s potential for instutions and individuals. Stephen’s presentation is a briefing document and guidance for applications to IATM for up to 5,000 Euros funding. (»Further information on the programme)
The afternoon continued with IATM’s General Assembly.
Sam Mullins presented the President’s Report on the past year’s activities, in Oliver Gotze’s absence the Treasurer’s report was presented by Joachim Breuninger.
At the election, Joachim Breuninger was elected next president for IATM. Upon his election, he said: “IATM is an intense network of communications and transport museums around the world with a sympathetic familial spirit. I feel deeply honoured to act as President of IATM in the next four years. I want to keep that spirit and develop the association as a knowledge hub for all its members. I am looking forward to welcome you all in Tampere, Finland to our next annual conference in 2024.”
Tiina Lehtinen, Director of the Finnish Railway Museum, responded to the IATM board’s invitation to make a proposal to host the 2024 Conference in Finland from 8-12 September 2024. She introduced the outline of a conference themed on Museums in Danger.
In the evening delegates rode on Mail Rail, the Royal Mail’s former 2’ gauge underground railway which ran 6.5 miles beneath London and linked stations and depots until 2003. Introduced by Chris Taft, Mail Rail is now a very successful visitor experience for the Postal Museum.
Tuesday, 26 September 2023
The next morning delegates took to London Transport Museum to explore the question How to win friends and influence people. This session looked at best practices of managing key relationships with transport authorities, city councils, corporate owners, members and sponsors.
Lord Hendy, Chair of Network Rail, Trustee of London Transport Museum and of the Science Museum Group, as well as heritage bus owner, answered the question Why Do We Support Museums? in his keynote address.
He introduced the importance of transport heritage and design to London and outlined London Transport Museum’s identification of the past, present and future of that story as the space to occupy. This had secured long-term support from the Mayor and Transport for London (public transport authority governing the largest section of London’s transport network), as well as the transport industry supply chain for the museum.
Sam Mullins chaired a series of case studies on the matter.
With Joachim Breuninger, director, Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin, introducing the Junior Campus. An educational programme on mobility, sustainability and science in cooperation with the BMW group. He drew a vivid picture of the programme’s development over ten years, responding to different needs, and interests as well as challenges.
A different approach on corporate relationships was presented by London Transport Museum’s Director of Audiences and Development, Claire Williamson, and Head of Development, Wesley Salton. With LTM Corporate Membership – from transaction to long term relationship they ventured into motivations for companies and the role of museums as facilitators beyond their “usual” audiences. Giles Clifford’s story on the motivations of Gowling WLG to be a corporate partner of LTM tangibly illustrated the concept.
Laura Wright concluded the session and shared the Postal Museum’s relationship with Royal Mail.
In the last session for the day, Laura Mullins, Head of Trading, and Chris Nix, Director for Collections & Engagement, both at London Transport Museum, presented ways to turn collections and locations into assets.
Laura Mullins shared how a successful and profitable £3.2m retail business has been created from the LTM collections and stories, and how remarkable growth of 39 percent has been secured over the past 5 years. This featured Laura’s insights on online trading, the benefits of exclusive product development, range planning, online marketing and LTM’s ambitions for the future of cultural retailing.
Chris Nix introduced Hidden London; the Tour, the Book, the TV show, the Business which was followed by the delegates’ travel to Deep Shelter at Clapham South. Built in 1942, it is one of London’s subterranean shelters. The extensive guided tour by Chris Nix and Siddy Holloway, Hidden London Curator, took us through a mile full of stories.
Afterwards, delegates returned for a summary by Sam Mullins and supper and drinks at London Transport Museum concluding the conference’s presentation days.
Wednesday, 27 September – Study Day
A Day Out with I.K. Brunel – Study Day at SS Great Britain, Bristol
Twenty delegates opted to extend their stay with a I.K. Brunel themed study outing to Bristol. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one of the greatest engineers of the 19th century, influenced the transportation system in the United Kingdom like no other. Among his best known projects were the Great Western Railway and the SS Great Britain.
We met at Paddington station, the Great Western Railway’s terminus in London and were introduced to its history by Tim Bryan, Director of the Brunel Institute, SS Great Britain. The travel continued to Bristol Temple Meads station on Brunel’s former broad gauge ‘billiard table’ GWR express line, where we visited Brunel’s original 1841 station, currently being restored.
Afterwards, the tour took us by boat through Bristol’s floating harbour to the SS Great Britain, the world’s first screw-powered iron ship when launched in 1843 as an ocean liner to New York. IATM delegates toured the ship, the Dry Dock beneath the waterline which is the conservation strategy for the iron hull, the Being Brunel exhibit, and the next development within the neighbouring Albion Dock.
The study day was concluded with a meeting with I.K. Brunel himself.
Brunel’s original sketch of the faux gothic hammer-beam roof of the 1841 station and the station under construction below, boat tour, the SS Great Britain at water level and the dry dock underneath, and meeting I.K. Brunel in Bristol.
Thank you to all attendants and members of IATM for another inspiring and delightful conference of exchange and learning!