Rob Davidson, our expert conference curator spends a night in the meetings museum.
Believe it or not, there’s a Pram Museum in Rugby; a Pencil Museum in Keswick and a Fan Museum in Greenwich. There’s even a museum in Dundee dedicated to the jute industry and a museum in Cornwall dedicated to witchcraft.
So, isn’t it time we opened a museum dedicated to our own industry? After all, surely there are more people in the UK who are employed in meetings than in the jute industry or (admittedly, I may be wrong here) in witchcraft?
The Museums Association estimates there are 2,500 museums in the UK, documenting the history of various industrial sectors and their products, so what about creating one that celebrates and documents the history of our conferencing? I’m serious. There’s a generation of meeting planners and delegates out there, who have never seen a flipchart, for example, and who wouldn’t know one end of an overhead projector from another, never mind where to put the acetate transparency sheets.
If we don’t do something about it, they’ll all grow up thinking it was always conference apps, online registration and tweet boards.
But the museum wouldn’t only be an exhibition of conference equipment through the ages. We have our own conference industry heritage here, from the early days of Roman Britain, when meetings were held in the local basilica, a public building where business or legal matters were transacted; through the 14th century guild halls that were used as meeting places; to the ‘Winter Gardens’ and ‘Floral Halls’ of the Victorian resorts and the first major purpose-built civic conference centres constructed in the 1970s and 1980s.
Add to that the history of how the UK conference industry organised itself as a profession, beginning with the British Association of Conference Towns (which only people on the SAGA side of 60 will remember), and you have a story well worth the telling.
To add entertainment to the educational value of the museum, it would have an interactive element, naturally. For example, a ‘Design your own meeting room’ feature could use technology to let visitors experiment with different seating configurations, sources of natural daylight, types of chair, and so on. And, of course, each visitor would get their own ‘badge’, preferably RFID-enabled, to let them interact with the displays.
The more I think about it, the more objects and displays I can think of, to put in the Museum of Conferences.
And just as the National Gallery has its Sainsbury Wing, surely our museum could find a generous benefactor to fund a section of our museum. What about the Chudley Wing? If there was ever a meetings industry dynasty in the UK, surely it must be the owners of the Sundial Group of venues. (Well, at the very least they might be persuaded to lend us the Chudbus on a semi-permanent basis, as an exhibit).
A museum dedicated to our industry would be an excellent way of raising public awareness of the role of meetings in this country and inspiring the next generation of conference professionals. You’d be up for a visit, wouldn’t you?