Are you an AMA member? please login
7th August 2018 Jemma Green

My AMA conference 2018 Experience — Jonathan Loach

Jonathan Loach, Communications Officer, Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums

This year, I received a bursary to attend my first ever AMA conference. Here is my experience.

I found out on Tuesday morning that Lime Street station was closed for refurbishment, so I had an interesting journey from Newcastle. This involved a train from Manchester to Huyton and then a bus to Liverpool. Nonetheless, I checked into my hotel on the Albert Dock at about 5pm and got ready for the first timer meet-up at Tap & Still.

The meet-up was a lot busier than I expected, with at least 50 delegates in the same boat as me. I spoke to Matt from the AMA and then had a great conversation with Elaine from UH Arts which put me more at ease. It’s intimidating turning up and not knowing anyone but speaking to new people is one of the best things about conference. Getting out of your comfort zone is the only way you’ll grow.

As the evening moved over to Camp & Furnace for the social proper, I enjoyed some tasty street food and got talking to Ellen from the Piece Hall, Sophie from the Edge, Nina from Kiln Theatre and many more I’m sure. Too many to remember. I’ve been to Camp & Furnace before and it’s a great vibe, a perfect place for an arts crowd. I ended the night chatting in the beer garden with Nathan from the Audience Agency about the gentrification of Peckham and the merits of Audience Finder, among other things. And then it was off to bed via a manky room-service pizza, ready for the first day of conference.

I was impressed by the size of the main hall at the ACC venue and the dressing of the stage made me feel like I was attending something important. The first keynote was great and set the tone for the rest of the conference. I particularly enjoyed Deborah Williams’s hilarious but slightly uncomfortable monologue on diversity and, as a museum worker, Alice Procter’s provocation made for a challenging soundbite: “Display it like you stole it”. Sometimes we don’t want to confront our murky histories in museums and I’m really interested in how we can do more of this.

Three breakout sessions later (on Colston Hall’s PR crisis, serious play and influencer strategies) I was back in the big hall for the day’s final keynote with Emma Rice from theatre company Wise Children. I feel as though everybody really enjoyed this session on how a spirit of playfulness can breathe new life into the workplace. Emma was easy and funny and I think her attitude inspired me as much as what she actually said. On failure and fear, her take-home line was, “What’s the worst that could happen? If it’s not death, you should probably just do it”. And she’s probably right.

I was lucky enough to enjoy a private after-hours viewing of the Terracotta Warriors exhibition at the World Museum following the keynote. It’s an incredible exhibition and I felt privileged to beat the queues and see it for free as part of the conference. Then, it was a short walk up to the Philharmonic Dining Rooms, the meeting place for the night’s social, a Beatles bus tour.

The tour was enormous fun, taking in Penny Lane, Strawberry Field and the childhood homes of Lennon and McCartney before ending up at the famous Cavern Club. Our tour guides were fantastic and the complimentary drinks on the bus helped with the party spirit. Again, this was a chance to meet and speak with new people, the most memorable being Michelle from the New Wolsey Theatre who convinced us all that she was named after the Beatles’ song ‘Michelle’. The conference is great in itself but the social opportunities make it extra special.

Another gorgeous sunny day in Liverpool started with a funny keynote from giffgaff’s Tom Rainsford. Tom looks like the archetypal hipster but I enjoyed his tack and took away another great insight: “What you do every day matters more than what you do every once in a while”. So be positive, curious, collaborative and gritty. Make playfulness part of your routine.

Of the three breakouts that followed (on Google Analytics, inclusive copywriting and the marketing basics), I enjoyed the latter the most. Sarah Ogle from Liverpool’s Everyman and Playhouse theatres led the session, which had a strong Lego theme running through it. Sometimes it’s good to revisit the fundamentals, those marketing building blocks. It encouraged me to see so many people attending the session, too. It’s reassuring to know that even professionals need to brush up every now and again.

The final keynote session was entitled “The Joy of Missing Out”. This made me feel slightly better about missing the session but another long and arduous journey was ahead of me. I left the ACC at 4pm got home at 10pm, tired but inspired and happier for having been to the conference. I would certainly recommend it to anyone working in arts and culture comms and hopefully I will see many of you again in 2019 on my own patch – NewcastleGateshead.

My AMA conference 2018 Top Three

— Work hard, play harder. The breakouts and keynotes are fab but the social side is just as important. I did as much extra-curricular stuff as I could (inspite of myself) and I really enjoyed meeting new people and being part of the community. I think it has helped my confidence.

— The elephant will always catch up with you. This came from the Colston Hall breakout session. Be brave. Live your values. Have a plan, but confront the elephant in your room head on before it confronts you.

— Fail again, fail better. This idea popped up again and again in one form or another. Fear is the enemy of play and you should not be afraid to fail. Experiment on a small scale at first. Pilot new ideas. Enjoy your mistakes. In the end, the failure is insignificant but what you learn from it could be transformational.


Images courtesy of Jonathan Loach