Announcing Essex 2020

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“Essex 2020” will be a year-long and county-wide celebration of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths. It’s a collaboration between Essex County Council, Chelmsford City Council and Anglia Ruskin University. The team are in the early stages of project planning and given the wonderful collections and sites we have in the county, they are very keen for museums and heritage organisations to play a central role. Even if you aren’t a “science museum”, there will be items in your collection made through the application of science – even the processes involved in making paints and pigments count.

 

It is really important that Essex 2020 has a lasting legacy in the county and that long-term benefits for museums are built in to the plans and funding applications. Therefore we are inviting trustees and senior managers to a briefing meeting and discussion on Tuesday 12th February at the Museum of Power at Langford, with a  10:30 for 11am start and followed by lunch and an opportunity to network.

 

The team will share their ideas so far and ask for your input as to how museums can benefit from and contribute to the project. This is a very early, idea-scoping meeting but possibilities include training, events, residencies, youth programmes… anything and everything!

 

 

This is purely a scoping meeting. My colleagues will be giving an overview of the project and then we will have activities and debates to generate and share ideas. You will not be asked to commit to anything on the day. It is also not the only opportunity to get involved.

 

If you would like to come along, please RSVP by 5th February by emailing amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk.

Museums Essex AGM

Friday 1st February 2019, ESCALA, University of Essex Colchester Campus, 10 for 10:30

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The Museums Essex AGM 2019 will take place on Friday 1st February and is being hosted by Essex Collection of Art from Latin America (ESCALA) at the University of Essex Wivenhoe Campus.

The AGM will have a “10 for 10:30” start and will include a briefing by me on current funding opportunities for museums and an opportunity for organisations to swap leaflets.

In the afternoon, Sarah Demelo, Curator of ESCALA and the University Art Collections (pictured), will talk about her work and provide a tour of their current exhibition, which celebrates 25 years of the collection.

Lunch is being provided by ESCALA, so please can you confirm by 25th January by emailing amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk if you will be attending and if you have any dietary requirements?

Papers for the AGM will be circulated as soon as possible. Our location on campus will depend on the number of people attending the meeting, so I will circulate information about that and where to park etc after 25th January.

If you are interested in standing for the Museums Essex committee or would like more information about what it entails, please email Robert Rose at robert.rose@bdmt.org.uk

If you are not currently on the Museums Essex mailing list and would like to be added, please the email amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk

If your museum or heritage site is not currently a member of Museums Essex and would like to join or learn more, visit their website.

 

Dates for future meetings are:

Friday 3rd May

Friday 6th September

Friday 7th December

 

To Catch a “Pink Panther”

Stephen Armson-Smith, Crime Prevention Tactical Advisor with Essex Police, gives us advice in the wake of the Portland Tiara theft.

A gang of thieves smashed an armoured glass display case at The Welbeck Estate in Worksop, Nottinghamshire on Tuesday night and stole the famous Portland Tiara – seen by countless members of the public and described as a ‘national treasure’.

I don’t know if you saw the above in the newspapers, not the thing of iconic movies featuring diamond thieves, but a group of ruthless organised criminals depriving the nation of a work art.

Is this the start of a spate of similar crimes like that in the past with Jade collections that I cannot say, but this would be a wise time look at your collections especially if they contain valuable jewels and review the security you have in place to protect them. Check your CCTV and case/intruder alarms are working correctly, is the time/date on CCTV correct, are the cameras clean and free from obstruction, the earliest activation of the alarm is important, thought about a “fog generator”? are you flaunting the security that you have with good signage (remember some of this could be put away whilst open so as not spoil the “Visitor Experience”).

Then the staff – time for some reminder staff training? in a lot cases it will start with “hostile recognisance” a supposed innocent visit to the collection to establish what security you have in place and the best exit routes, or that person that is on property out of hours or that “lost (?)” person in private areas, ensure your staff keep a look out for and report any suspicious activity – a diplomatic challenge will not upset an innocent visitor but may put off a potential thief (if you can discreetly steer the suspect into CCTV view would be an advantage), BUT NEVER PUT YOURSELF AT RISK. Keep a notebook and pen in your pocket to record time/date and description of people and vehicles including index numbers that are suspious.

 

Just a few tips, not an exhaustive list and hopefully not needed.

Hidden Histories: Display It Like You Stole It

Continuing our series of posts about hidden histories, Eleanor Root from Colchester and Ipswich Museums (and former MDO maternity cover!) shares her thoughts on our recent study day at the British Museum.

 

On Tuesday 23rd October, a group of us journeyed into London to take part in The Exhibitionist’s (AKA Alice Procter) Uncomfortable Art Tour of the British Museum.

Alice Procter, found of Uncomfortable Art Tours, believes that we’ve failed to come to terms with our colonial past and we need to resist triumphant nostalgia and challenge traditional narratives. We need to look through whitewashed labels to see a history of violence, imperialism and genocide committed by British people.

Alice gives tours around several national galleries, but the 90-minute tour at the British Museum focuses on unpicking their founding myths through exploring a series objects and their murky provenance.

We start off in a gallery that explores the beginnings of the British Museum, their collectors and early acquisitions. We discussed how objects collected through colonial expeditions (e.g. missionaries, government officials, explorers) often tell a story of violence even when it’s not expected. For example, Christian missionaries removed children from their families (an act of genocide). Even ‘good’ collectors, who collected through trade, used coercion as they were in a position of authority and power over local people. This manner of collecting is known as ‘salvage ethnography’, meaning the removal of objects from communities as you erase their culture.

The tour wound around displays of Pacific, North American and African cultures, stopping at particularly contentious objects. Alice emphasises the need for need a greater focus on the makers and users of the objects, not the collector, if we are going to begin to address stories of colonialism. In addition, if we ignore the brutal provenance of the object, we deny our history.

Our audiences want to trust us, and we should honour this trust with honesty.

The tour was challenging, emotional and thought-provoking. For me, the key messages were:

  1. We must be cautious when displaying objects from other cultures in case we go against their cultural protocols as this perpetuates the violence committed against the communities from which the objects were taken. For example, displaying an important object close to the floor, could be abusive of the object.
  2. We need to create space for a multiplicity of voices – we can’t speak for all the people our collections represent without resorting to (and perpetuating) stereotypes.
  3. It’s important to talk about individual stories, rather than generalising. This is humanising and especially important for objects that have difficult or violent stories. The objects can become memorials and allow people to have an emotional response.
  4. We need to consider our institutional architecture, for example many African collections are in basement galleries with dark colours and low lighting whereas many Ancient Greek displays are in bright, light galleries.

At the end of the tour, Alice hands out ‘Display It Like You Stole It’ badges and postcards for participants who might want to leave some feedback…

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Visit Alice’s website to find out more.

Hidden Histories: Oral History Interviews

Continuing our series on Hidden Histories in museums, oral history interviews are a great way to fill gaps in your collection and to bring stories to life for audiences, both in your museum and at home.

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Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

As previously discussed, histories of certain groups and communities are often “hidden” because we don’t have the objects in our collection to represent them or because curators lack the specialist knowledge to interpret them.

By conducting interviews with members of these communities, you not only broaden your collection to include new stories and be more representative, you can ask questions which help you to better understand the physical objects already in your collection.

There are lots of ways museums can use oral history recordings. You can include them in exhibitions, either through a fixed unit or a portable player. Essex Record Office’s recent “You Are Hear” project saw special benches being placed around the county played recordings to the people listening to them.

You use clips of recordings on your website. Websites like Soundcloud, you can share clips from your your recordings and embed them into your website or blog, enabling you to share them around the world.

However, it isn’t as simple as simply sitting down with a your interviewee and asking questions. You need to make sure you have their permission to record the interview, to keep it and to share it.  You need to know that the equipment you have is up to the job. You should have a plan about what you want to ask, know how to ask open questions and what to do if the subject becomes upset during the course of the interview.

If you haven’t previously had oral history training, or would like a refresher, I have organised a training day with Sarah-Joy Maddeaux, Sound Archivist at Essex Record Office on 27th November. Click here for more information.

Don’t forget that SHARE’s Hidden History grant scheme is now open for applications. The deadline is 28th January, 2019. There is also a Hidden Histories Study Day at the British Museum on 23rd October 2018.

Hidden Histories: We Are Colchester

Today’s blog post continues out theme of Hidden Histories and is written by Ben Paites from Colchester and Ipswich Museums.

We are Colchester 5Colchester Museums have recently been looking to engage with a wider range of audiences through a series of projects held predominantly at Hollytrees Museum. “We Are Colchester”, an exhibition running from July 2018 to January 2019, has been the launchpad for this work.

The concept of the exhibition began in 2017 when it had been suggested that we have an LGBTQ+ exhibition in Hollytrees Museum, as this is an audience that is currently underrepresented within our collections. I held a focus group in April 2017, where I invited representatives from a wide range of organisations to come and give their thoughts on this idea. It was unanimously agreed that an LGBTQ+ exhibition might not be suitable for Colchester, as there would be the potential for alienating the very audience we were trying to attract. The fear of visitors to such an exhibition having to “out” themselves was quite problematic for some attendees. However, the concept of identity more broadly was a much more favourable topic.

“We Are Colchester” therefore looks at an individual’s identity as expressed through a single object. We have items loaned to us by members of the public, as well as objects from the museums’ collections. The exhibition explores a wide range of characteristics, such as gender, race, religion and profession. Encouraging visitors to add their own stories to the exhibition, there is an engagement wall where visitors are able to add a label expressing their own identity.

Following on from this project, we are hoping to turn our attention to the permanent displays in Hollytrees by inviting individuals from various communities within Colchester to explore our galleries and see whether they feel they are reflected in the museum. We will then work with them to see if we are able to reinterpret objects, rewrite labels or even actively collect new items to be part of the museums’ collections.   As it is Black History Month, we are currently recruiting individuals with an interest in Black and African History to get in touch and to be part of this project. We will be doing the same in February 2019 for LGBT history month, with the hope of engaging more audiences in future.

Museums News – 3rd October 2018

Dear All,

There are still spaces on the free “Donation to Disposal” seminar being run by Collections Trust on 12th October at Rayleigh Weir Fire Station. The day will be a thorough look at the new SPECTRUM 5 guidelines and will be really useful to anyone working with collections or responsible for Accreditation. More information is available here.

On 23rd October, I have organised a free “Hidden Histories” study day at the British Museum. The day will include an “Uncomfortable Art Tour” with Alice Proctor, looking at the colonial past of the British Museum’s collections. In the afternoon, we will have free entry to the museum’s “I Object” exhibition, which looks at the history of dissent. For more information, click here.

There is also an oral history training day on 27th November at Essex Record Office in Chelmsford.

To book on any of these, email me at amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk with your museum name and a contact telephone number.

Best wishes,

Amy