Meet a Museum Blogger

Meet a Museum Blogger: Alli Burness

Alli Burness is a museum pilgrim. She was a Registrar and Museum Studies Masters student based in Sydney, Australia, until January this year when she packed up and began traveling the world.

Alli has focused on back-of-house, working with collections at the Powerhouse Museum, National Archives of Australia and Australian National Maritime Museum. She began as an Archivist, managing audio-visual materials and a large repository. She moved into managing collections databases and oversaw Registration activities.  She is now immersed in the front-of-house experience, exploring museums throughout the world, sharing her experiences on Twitter and reflecting at Museum in a Bottle.

Alli BurnessDo you work in a museum? If not, where do you work? Tell us about your job.

After some years working inside archives and museums, I’ve been lucky enough to give myself the job of visiting as many collections as possible while traveling in Australia, Europe and South America during 2013.  It’s a dream come true and I’m making the most of it. Four months in and I’ve visited well over 30 museums.

What’s your educational background?

I studied Art History, English Literature and Indigenous Studies as an undergraduate and honours student at the Australian National University. I’ve been working on a Masters of Museum Studies at the University of Sydney and the Australian National University, which I’ll complete with a subthesis when I return home.

What was your ‘sticky’ moment?

It’s not a sticky moment in my case, but more of a gravitational force. My childhood was spent in art galleries, artists studios and museums, with artists, curators and academics in my home. So my passions have been a natural extension of where I started in the world. When I began to travel independently, I found myself pulled to museums and art galleries like a moth to a flame. When I began university, I floated out of my first art history lectures on cloud nine. I’m lucky to have always had a clear understanding of where my passions lie.

What is the name of your blog? How long have you been blogging?  

Museum in a Bottle. I started this blog in January, just before I started my journeys.  I wrote about the ideas behind the name in my first post.

What do you blog about? Why? 

Essentially, I blog about museums that I visit as I travel. I draw on my museum visits as touchstones for reflecting on issues discussed across the museum sector. I connect bigger ideas to my individual experience in museums big and small around the world. It depends on what I’ve been reading as to what ideas occur to me to write about.

Why do I blog? It keeps me thinking about the sector and engaged in discussion. It helps me connect with others in the profession and is a great record of my ideas and experiences. It’s also helping me identify the kind of museum role I’d like to pursue, as well as a topic for my subthesis next year. It’s a great thinking space.

What’s the last exhibit you saw?

Always a good question to ask a museum pilgrim! The last museum exhibit I saw was the Vasari Corridor at the Uffizi Museum in Florence. Giorgio Vasari built it for the Medicis, connecting the Pitti Palace to the Uffizi via the Ponte Vecchio. It’s part exhibition, part storage space as Uffizi staff move works in and out every day.

It’s full of artists self-portraits, chronologically displayed from the Renaissance to the 20th century. It’s a blur of famous artists looking out as you pass. Of course, it’s the artists that mean the most to you personally that jump out, and I was surprised and moved to see a portrait by Giorgio Morandi. It was another sticky moment for me and a highlight of my journey so far.

Do you tweet? Why or why not?

Yes, with enthusiasm! The museum community has an amazing presence on Twitter and I’ve consequently met many museum or collections professionals, particularly via the Drinking About Museums movement that has come of age on Twitter.

I tweet my museum visits as I travel; share photos, observations and remarks made by fellow visitors. It helps me stay reflective, records my observations and has started some great conversations. Ideas discussed on Twitter are often catalysts for blog posts and make my visits more dynamic, so I would love to hear from anyone following along! You can find me at @alli_burnie.

What’s the last thing you bought at a museum gift shop?

Purchasing at gift shops and backpacking isn’t a good combination! I’ve had to prioritize closing the zipper on my luggage. Despite taking lots of photographs in museums, even if I’m not supposed to, I find myself buying postcards of art or objects that have resonated with me. When in my home, I create walls of images and words which reflect my changing interests. My purchases always end up embedded in these collages.

What do you see as the biggest challenge (or opportunity) facing museums today?

I say relevance, like many other featured Museum Bloggers have said directly or indirectly. I’ve been influenced by Michael Edson’s ideas around Museums in the Age of Scale. He talks about the need for museums to scale up – to open out and communicate on a global and digital scale. About the need for museums to become a space in which issues facing the world today (climate change, food availability, the pressures of population) can be discussed and worked through. You can find out about Michael’s ideas by viewing his slides or listening to the first episode of Museopunks.

Michael’s ideas have rung out clearly to me during my travels. I’m amazed at how far global connectedness has advanced. Using my iPhone, I can find out about a work of art while standing in front of it in Madrid, while simultaneously sharing images and discussing my experience with someone in New York and keeping in touch with family in Australia.

The personal impacts of changing weather systems and increasingly globalized economies are discussed wherever I go, always a topic locals and travelers compare and contrast. These issues effect individuals and it’s fascinating to see the connections and patterns emerge as I meet people and get to know places.

In the 30+ museums I’ve visited so far, these issues remain noticeably absent. While I know some museums making strides, I’ve not observed it in the museums I’ve visited. I feel, as a sector overall, we still have a way to go here.

Where do you see museums in 10 years?

I’m starting to consider the idea of a two-speed museum sector. One part able to move with digital connectivity and address global issues, take risks and nimbly respond to community desires and concerns. The other, unable to adapt and change quickly enough (for a variety of reasons), risking being left out of broader sector conversations, by the visiting public and funders.

I also see the next 10 years as a particularly exciting time to be in the sector. As museum time comes together with the fast-pace of digital technology and we work out how to bring digital into the physical museum , there’s a scramble to keep up with emerging ideas and changes.  I love being part of it and I’m looking forward to the next decade!

Thanks for participating in Meet a Museum Blogger, Alli!

In case you missed it, Alli blogs at Museum in a Bottle.

If you don’t follow already Alli, I highly recommend you do. I’ve been following her pilgrimage via her blog, tweets, and Vine. A few of my favorite Twitpics are: Bernini’s Apollo & Daphne, a sneaky shot of David, and door to the Vasari corridor. While I may be slightly envious (in the best way), I am awed and inspired by her journey and am thankful she is sharing it with the world. I hope one day I am able to do the same.

Do you have any additional questions for Alli regarding her profile above? Feel free to start a conversation in the comments below or reach out to her directly on Twitter. Her Twitter handle is @alli_burnie. Please use the #MuseumBlogger hashtag. TY!

Are you interested in being profiled or know someone who would be? Send an email to MuseumMinute@gmail.com.

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