Guest Blog: My First Time At the MA Conference

Today’s post is written by Iona Farrell, Volunteer at Beecroft Art Gallery and Museum in Southend.

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My First Time Delegate Badge

I have volunteered for Southend Museums and in particular Beecroft Art Gallery as an Exhibitions and Archive Assistant for a number of years. Volunteering has fuelled a desire to gain full-time employment in the sector and I therefore jumped at the chance to attend the Museums Association Conference. I knew I would gain fantastic insights into the museum world and learn new skills to put back into my volunteering and my future career.

Essex Museum Development provided me with a bursary to attend the whole three days of the conference and I could never have imagined how jam-packed the conference would be!  It was an inspiring mix of interactive sessions, workshops and fantastic keynote speeches rounded off by visits to cutting-edge museums within a beautiful city.

As a first time delegate (I even have a badge to prove it!) what most struck me was how welcoming everyone was. The first time delegates breakfast on Thursday morning provided an opportunity to mingle with fellow first timers (helped along by delicious bacon butties) and throughout the whole three days whoever I spoke to was always so encouraging in giving me advice.

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The auditorium within the Conference Arena

I had to deliberate long and hard over my conference booklet to decide how I could attend as many sessions as possible ! There was a real mix of content from workshops on how to write CVs and crack into the industry to practical guidance in staging accessible exhibitions and writing interpretative text.

What really surprised me was the variety of speakers. The hilarious Poet and Playwright Lehm Sissay and the equally side-splitting comedian Francesca Martinez opened and closed the first day of the conference with messages of empowerment and acceptance. Whilst Alejandra Naftal, director of ESMA museum, a former detention and torture centre in Buenos Aires opened Fridays proceedings with a hard hitting talk. Equally engaging were the broadcasters Lucy Worsley (who I must admit I was slightly starstuck at!) as well as presenter and historian David Olusoga who spoke about the potential for museums and television to collaborate. Something I am really excited about is the BBC Civilisations series airing in 2018. The BBC wishes museums to stage a series of events that co-ordinate with the programme and are providing free access to BBC archives for museums to tap into. This is something I think would be brilliant across Essex Museums!

Museums change Lives

The resounding message I took from the conference was the potential that museums have to truly change lives, one of the Museum Associations own manifestos. 2017 has been a turbulent year, with Brexit, increasing social isolation as well as the alarming rise of world leaders such as Trump. In her opening speech, Sharon Heal the director of the Museum Association Heal stated museums can respond to this by allowing people to explore their own histories and shape their futures for the better.  It is about being inclusive and reaching out to those who are on the margins.

History of Place- Reanimating Collections of Disability History

Linked to this idea was a session I attended run by the History of Place, a programme that uncovers the lives of the disabled and deaf within heritage sites. It was really useful in showing how museums can create accessible exhibitions, open to those who may not be reflected within traditional museum collections. Creative approaches such as replacing object focussed displays with multi-sensory exhibits using touch, taste and even smell to communicate to visitors really stuck with me. I am excited at how these exhibitions seem to be gaining momentum and look forward hopefully to seeing more examples of this within Essex.

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Museum Detox’s Pop-Up Stand

Museum Detox

Of course inclusivity is not just about expanding audiences but about workforces, one of the main themes of the conference. Museum Detox a collective of BAME museum workers (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups) had a pop up stand where ‘patients’ could take a White Privilege test, and were administered pills (Tic Tacs I might add!) and a prescription to challenge societal injustices within museums. Having studied the idea of the inclusive museum on my Masters course it was great to see these ideas put into practice and discussed so passionately.

It was fantastic to see how museums can tackle these issues creatively and I think that becoming more inclusive is so important within museums but it has to have real meaning and not just be a tokenistic activity.

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Samira Ahmed, Matthew d’Ancora and Ian Blatchford debate on the fake news phenomenon

Fake News and Museums

Another stand out for me was ‘Beliefs Trump Facts’ a debate that looked at how museums can respond to the disturbing trend of ‘fake news.’

Science Museum director Ian Blatchford and Matthew d’Ancora, a Guardian journalist argued it was about striking the balance between rational facts and personal stories. I will definitely take this aspect away, that with great storytelling you can connect with visitors and with this you have the potential to communicate important messages that can lead to a real positive impact in the wider community.

Yet journalist Samira Ahmed astutely countered their stance when she asked what are the parameters of free speech in museums, where should the boundaries be placed, should we state all the facts and reflect every viewpoint however controversial they may be? It seems there is no easy answer but museum workers should use their support networks, such as the Museums Association or within Essex Museums and seek advice from within the wider museum world.

Exploring Manchester Museums

After such an intense but rewarding few days on Saturday I journeyed to The Whitworth, as museums across Manchester opened their doors to delegates. Uthra Rajgopal, Assistant Curator of Textiles and Wallpaper showed us the exhibitions that are being staged as part of the #NewNorthSouth programme across the North of England that is supporting the work of South Asian artists.

In the afternoon I explored Manchester Art Gallery and was particularly moved by the video installations of artist Hetain Patel, whose work brings marginalised subjects into the mainstream. One piece (Don’t look at the Finger) was a mesmerising mix of sign language and kung-fu (yes really!) and I took away how powerful multi-media installations are within a museum setting. This work was also part of the #NewNorthSouth programme. I thought this was a brilliant idea in connecting venues together with a shared message. Southend Museums have a number of venues across the borough and it would be amazing if future programming could bring together all these sites with a shared theme.

Time to go home

I had such a fantastic few days in Manchester and left filled with ideas I can’t wait to put into practice. The conference has shown me what modern museums can achieve in an era of change and uncertainty. Through the support Essex Museums have given me by funding my conference, as well as speaking to delegates I came away knowing Museums are supportive places that truly have the potential to make a worthy impact on peoples’ lives. I want to thank Essex Museums Development for giving me the opportunity to attend.

Use Social Media to be a Part of the Local Community

The second in our social media series from Louise Winters:

It’s really easy to think of social media as something you do to tell everyone about your museum. Social media is also a way for people to talk to you, tell you what they’re interested in, ask questions about your museum or the work you do.

The fact that it can be a two way conversation way makes social media very different from traditional PR and it’s a much more approachable way to reach out to potential visitors. Through social media, your visitors are much more likely to see you and other volunteers / staff as people like them.  Listening to what other people say or post is an important as what you say or post.

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What does community mean to you?

Why do you work at the museum? Do you volunteer your time or you work at the museum because you’re interested in the history of the objects, people and organisations your museum is working hard to preserve and share? Are you interested in the local area and the local people and maybe you like seeing children enjoy the museum? What other things motivate you?

 

Lots of people who like doughnuts

Answering these questions about you and your colleagues can help you figure out who / what is part of the community of your museum. And these are people and organisations who may want to talk to you on social media. Some examples:

  • Staff & volunteers
  • Visitors or supporters you
  • Charitable organisations your museum or colleagues support
  • Local schools
  • Organisations or local businesses whose work & stories your museum documents or links to
  • People or organisations who’ve donated to your museum, sponsored events or added to its collection

They’re all part of your community and you can use social media to follow as many of them as you can find on there. Once you have your own social media channel set up (it could be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – it doesn’t matter which):

  1. Write down a list of people & organisations for your museum by using the list above
  2. Look to see if they use social media and follow them if they do. If they don’t you can try to find a website for any organisations.
  3. ‘Like’ any social media posts they make that you think are interesting, especially if it has an obvious relevance to your museum
  4. Re-share interesting posts from those you followed (this is retweeting their posts on Twitter or Sharing their posts on Facebook)
  5. Post positive replies on their posts (e.g. “We love your photos” or “Good luck to everyone involved in the event”)
  6. Take photographs if you visit another interesting organisation and share on your social media account with, tagging it with their social media name.
  7. Share the link to blog posts written by other organisations or people , if you think they’re interesting or relevant to your museum.

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Why should I spend time talking about what someone else is doing?

The great thing is while you’re talking about someone else who is important in your community you’re also promoting your museum. Because social media is public potential visitors (and many other people) will see you talking about other organisations they like. They may never have heard of your museum before and you may not know they’re out there, but this will give them a reason to notice you and maybe come into your museum.

Those you talk to and promote on social media are also more likely to follow your social media and then share your posts, so your posts will then be seen by more people. It works in the same way you make friends: if people realise that you and they have something in common, they’ll take more of an interest in what you do and what you’re interested in.

And so your social media community begins to grow … and grow … and soon it will take over the world. Mwuahahahahaha! Ah, sorry, I mean it will help you find more visitors and help more people appreciate the excellent and hard work that goes into running your museum 😉  Almost as good as taking over the world, isn’t it?

Do you have any suggestions on how to be a part of the local community using social media? We’d love to hear them and they may be really helpful to other museums so please share them in the comments below.

 

Please do get in touch, I love saying hello:

On Twitter: @pinkyandnobrain

By Email: me@louisewinters.com

On LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/louisewinters/ 

My website: http://louisewinters.com/

INTO Museums: Why Use Social Media?

Welcome to the first of a series of posts by social media expert, Louise Winters.

Louise is endlessly fascinated by people and their stories and loves seeing and helping people using social media to share things they care about. Her experience includes working in a social media agency with corporate clients across Europe, but now much prefers working with the public sector and small businesses as they’re a lot more friendly! She now manages social media and blogs for various clients, as well as offering training to get other started.

 

Why do you want to use social media for your museum? It can seem like a distraction from the core job of running the museum every day, especially if you’re not sure how to use it or why it is useful.

The main reason to use social media is to bring people into your museum. It is great because you don’t need an advertising budget to use it, just some time to set it up and post updates regularly. By posting on social media or writing blogs you give people who wouldn’t normally come to your museum a chance to find out about you without even having to leave their homes.

If you consider their point of view, why would someone decide to visit your museum? What would interest them and what might stop them from realising how much they’d enjoy it? The answers to those questions will be different for different types of people (for example, parents with small children, teachers who want to inspire their students, older people who’re interested in local history). Because you post small bits of information often, you can use social media to share things that are interesting to these different groups of people. Once they know your museum is interesting to them, they’re more likely to want to visit.

I don’t know that much about social media – can I really help?

Yes! You can! You know all about the museum: why the collections are valuable, how important it is to preserve the stories the museum and its collections tell for future generations and what people will find fascinating, educational or fun. No one will know about your museum if you don’t tell them and social media potentially allows you to share your enthusiasm with so many people!

So your main reason for using social media is to share the enthusiasm and passion of people already ‘into’ museums (like you) to get other people to realise they’re ‘into’ your museum. Once they understand why it matters to them they’ve got a reason to physically get into your museum.

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Who do you want to talk to?

As well as knowing why you’re using social media, you also want to know who you most want to talk to using it. This will help you write your posts with relevant groups of people in mind. It is fine to write one post aimed at parents and the next one aimed at older people who live locally. Here’s a simple exercise to help you figure out which kinds of visitors you’re most interested in appealing to and what will attract their attention.

1/ Which age group visits your museum most?

  • Write this down and think about what would be interesting to that age group (for children also consider what will interest their parents)
  • Which age group do you wish would visit the museum more?

2/ What do you think visitors enjoy about your museum?

  • What types / ages of people enjoy each thing?
  • How can you demonstrate to a person in one of these groups that they’ll probably enjoy it too?

3/ What do your colleagues like best about your museum?

  • Write this down for all your colleagues and think about the type of person or age group your different colleagues represent.
  • How can you share your colleagues’ enthusiasm with new people?

4/ How are your museum’s collections relevant to the everyday lives of people who live nearby?

  • What kinds of things are most relevant to different types of people?
  • How can you share and show that to people who have never visited the museum?

5nr/ For the different types of people you’ve identified above:

  • What might put them off visiting the museum? Can you change this? If yes, how and how can you tell them about it?

If you need a head start on thinking about different age groups or types of people here’s a list: Primary school age children, Secondary school age children, Parents who live locally, Further / Higher Education students, Young adults from the area, Tourists, Older people who live locally

Tell stories about your museum to specific types of people

I guarantee you won’t have answers to all those questions. That is absolutely fine! Whatever you’ve written down will be useful. Social media works best when you have an idea who you’re trying to talk to for 2 reasons (i) you can focus different posts on different types of people with different interests (ii) it gives you some inspiration for social media posts by thinking about what previous visitors or colleagues enjoy about the museum.

The things you’re enthusiastic about are a good indication of what other people will get enthusiastic about. Think about it from the perspective of a few different types of people and you’ve got a great start on stories to share that will make people want to come see what your museum is all about!

 

Please do get in touch, I love saying hello:

On Twitter: @pinkyandnobrain

By Email: me@louisewinters.com

On LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/louisewinters/ 

My website: http://louisewinters.com/

Farewell For Now

Today is my last day as Museum Development Officer for Essex… Until I return from maternity leave in November.

 

In the meantime, I’m leaving you in very capable hands. Eleanor Root is joining Essex County Council as my maternity cover on secondment from Colchester and Ipswich Museums.

 

In addition to leading on projects like Snapping the Stiletto, Eleanor will be your main contact for all things museumy in Essex, will continue to send out the e-newsletter and keep this website up-to-date. She’ll also be taking over the @EssexMDO Twitter account (although if you spot any tweets with AC at the end, it’s because I couldn’t quite give up my social media addiction).

 

Coming up over the next few months, the Stiletto project will be getting underway, there’s an opportunity to get involved in a new volunteering project and from next week we’ll be hosting a series of weekly blog posts from social media expert Louise Winters on how museums of any size can make the most of these free platforms.

 

Thank you to everyone who has been in touch over the last few weeks to wish me luck, and for all your support over the past three and a half years.

 

See you all again in the Autumn.

 

Amy Cotterill.

SHARE Volunteer Awards 2017: Don’t Forget to Nominate!

Volunteers at Rayleigh Mill

Volunteers at Rayleigh Windmill, who won the Museums + Heritage Volunteer Award in 2014

**STOP PRESS**

The deadline for nominations has been extended until 1st May

 

Forget the Oscars, the BAFTAs and the BRIT Awards, the glitziest night of the year is the annual SHARE Volunteer Awards. These awards are museums’ opportunity to say “thank you” to the people who give their time, energy and passion to collections and visitors out of love for what they do. There is also a category for Volunteer Managers, who could either be volunteers themselves or paid members of staff supporting volunteers within their museum.

 

Essex museums have previously done quite well at these awards. Last year, Dick Waylen at the Museum of Power was Highly Commended in the Bringing Innovation category, Jacquie McGregor Hall at Chelmsford Museum was Highly Commended in the Learning Volunteer category and the team at Maldon Museum received the Judges Special Award.

 

You can nominate teams as well as individuals and there are eight categories:

 

  • Working Together
  • Outstanding Young Volunteer
  • Volunteer Management
  • Unsung Heroes
  • Learning Volunteer
  • Front of House Volunteer
  • Trustee Board Award
  • Collections Champion

 

Given how many passionate and dedicated volunteers we have in the county, it would be great to see a lot of nominations from Essex, especially from museums which are entire volunteer-run as these have been under-represented in the past. Who in your museum always goes the “extra-mile”? Has the work of an individual or group made a significant impact on what happens at your museum? Have your trustees worked hard to provide the wider team through a recent rough patch? This is your chance to show your appreciation.

Information about the awards, the different categories and how to make nominations can be found on the SHARE Museums East website.

The nomination form does ask for images, but please don’t let a lack of photos stop you from putting in an application.

 

The deadline for nominations is Monday 1st May (extended from 21st April). The ceremony itself will be on Thursday 8th June at the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket.

Museums Association Conference: Bursaries for First-Time Attendees

Debating modern ethics

Debating modern ethics at the Museums Association Conference, 2014

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**STOP PRESS** – DEADLINE EXTENDED TO MIDNIGHT, FRIDAY 7TH JULY

 

I am able to offer two bursaries for first-time attendees to this November’s Museums Association Conference. The three-day annual MA Conference is the biggest gathering of museum staff and volunteers in the country and is a fantastic opportunity to learn about the work other organisations are doing, discuss issues affecting the sector and meet colleagues from around the country (and the world!).

Alongside the Conference is a “Marketplace” where you can meet suppliers of museum services and equipment. There are also usually fringe events such as tweet-ups, networking dinners and “unconference” break-out sessions.

Each bursary is targeted at a different area of the workforce:

  • Established professional

Those who have been in paid employment in the sector for more than 7 years (i.e. who began work before November 2010). This could be full-time or part-time paid work and doesn’t include paid traineeships. They should have been working at their current museum for at least six months by the date of their application.

  • Museum volunteer

Those who have regularly volunteered at an Essex museum for at least six months by the date of their application. This can be within any role in the museum.

The full eligibility details are outlined within the guidance document, but you do have to work or volunteer at an Accredited (or Working Towards Accreditation) Essex Museum.

You may find it useful to read the Top 10 Tips for Attendees and a summary of the 2015 Conference.

Please read the guidance notes before applying. The deadline for applications is midnight on Friday 7th July. Please contact me if you have any questions.

Click to download the application guidance

Click to download the application form

Autism and Museums

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Freelancer Jo Gillam has been supporting Chelmsford Museum to improve access for autistic visitors. Here she gives us an introduction to autism and changes museums can make…

World Autism Awareness Week (27th March-2nd April 2017) is a good time to consider how to make your museum more autism-friendly….

30 years ago, my brother was labelled as unfriendly, difficult, and having a ‘mental handicap’. Today, he’s described as having autism plus learning disabilities. Autism is certainly a word that many people recognise now but how many know what it means? How can your museum be more welcoming to people with autism and their families?

What is autism and who can have it?

Autism is a lifelong condition thought to be caused by a combination of genetics, brain development and part of the natural variety among brains. i.e. ‘neurodiversity’. It affects 1 in a 100 people in the UK – women as well as men. There’s no evidence that it’s more prevalent than before or that any ethnic or socio-economic group has a greater propensity to it than others.

Autism isn’t a learning difficulty, a learning disability, or a mental health problem. Some people with autism do have mental health issues, not least because they can find life extremely stressful. About 50% of people with autism have a learning disability. Sometimes this is severe but all people with autism can learn and develop with the right support. About 10% of people with autism have high intelligence (the preferred term is ‘high functioning’). Until recently, this was diagnosed as Asperger syndrome which is a term still commonly used. For some, far from being a disorder or disability, autism offers valuable abilities and unique perceptions. Examples of exceptional autistic contributors to society almost certainly include Mozart, Einstein and Turing.

How does autism affect everyday life?

Autism affects how a person processes information, relates to others, makes sense of the world and how they experience it through their senses. To people who don’t have autism, these differences are invisible. What they notice is behaviour caused by the difficulties created by a mis-match between autistic differences and the surrounding world. How people react to this behaviour makes a big difference to the emotional well-being of people with autism, who often feel excluded from social activities.

How can your museum help people with autism?

Some of the most effective changes you can make are also the cheapest!

  • Promote patience and understanding when someone behaves unexpectedly in your museum.
  • Limit the number of questions you ask and allow more time than may seem comfortable for the person to reply.
  • Be direct. People with autism commonly take things literally so try not to cause confusion by using statements like “I’ll be back in a second”.
  • Don’t feel offended if someone doesn’t engage with your friendly small talk as this is something people with autism can find uncomfortable.

Parents often feel that they are judged to be inadequate when their autistic child has a meltdown. The real reason may be that the child is being overloaded with sensory input. For an insight into how this feels, take a look at this powerful little film made by the National Autistic Society (NAS): Too Much Information

Small changes to your museum can make a big difference and help other visitors at the same time.

It can seem daunting to make your museum more autism-friendly, when autism is so diverse. After all, how do you manage hypo (low) sensitivity and hyper (high) sensitivity to certain stimuli such as light and sound within the same venue? The answer is flexibility and choice.

  • Make your light and volume settings adjustable. If this isn’t possible yet, provide visual and written information so that visitors can seek out or avoid particular areas.
  • Advertise times when your museum is most quiet or open it for special Early Bird/Night Owl sessions when you turn down/off some sensory experiences.
  • Ideally, offer a low sensory area where someone who feels overloaded can take a break.
  • Loan relaxing objects like stress balls and stimulating, sensory kits which can be carried around.

Most visitors or their carers will know what they find challenging and may bring their own aids such as ear defenders. At Chelmsford Museum, we offer free pairs just in case.

Changes made to help visitors with autism, often improve conditions for other people with access needs. Avoiding ‘busy’ floor or wall patterns, for example, also helps people who suffer from certain visual impairments, dementia, epilepsy or migraines.

Full and honest pre-visit information can be a key to unlocking future visits

Potential visitors with particular needs can come to expect poor access and so not consider coming. Consequently, providing clear, accessible pre-visit information (and advertising this) is crucial. For people with autism, who often find breaks from routine and unfamiliar situations intimidating, having floor plans, images and outlines of what they can expect at a museum, can make the difference between whether or not they visit.

Museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), the Science Museum, and the Natural History Museum (London) are leading the way in autism accessibility. These and other examples are listed by blogger Tincture of Museum.

On a smaller scale, Chelmsford Museum is developing its own resources aimed at visitors with autism and their families. We’re working towards achieving the NAS’s Autism Friendly Award. I’m teaching the team how they can make the museum more autism-friendly and would be delighted to provide training elsewhere. We’re also holding an event for World Autism Awareness Day (1pm-4pm 2nd April 2017) aimed at everyone. It would be great to see you there!

For further information, try these organisations:

The National Autistic Society | – NAS

Autism in museums | Network Autism

Ambitious about Autism

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Jo Gillam, Freelance Heritage Professional

Mob 07754 130145   

Email: 1joprice@gmail.com

Twitter: @1accessforall

If you would like to learn more about how your museum can support people with autism, Jo will be talking about her work with Chelmsford at this event in June.