What is a “Hidden History”?

person with body painting

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

SHARE Museums East have just launched a new grant scheme to support museums to interpret and share “hidden histories”, but what does it mean and why should you care?

Hidden histories are stories which are typically not told by museums. This could be because past curators haven’t collected relevant objects, or they have but museums lack the knowledge (or interest)to properly interpret them.

Often hidden histories are those belonging to minorities, such as people with disabilities, religious groups and BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) communities.

As homosexuality was illegal until the 1960s and continued to be deemed socially unacceptable for some time afterwards, LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual) stories are often under-represented.

However, “hidden” does not necessarily mean minority. Women are fifty percent of the population, but their stories are often not well recorded or shared. In many museums, women are only represented in the domestic galleries, or in relation to their husbands/fathers/sons. Collections are also often focussed on the wealthy or middle classes. Employers of the working class are well represented but the stories of the individuals are often sketchy or overlooked entirely.

Of course, I speak in generalities and there are many excellent examples of the above in museums but they are the exemption, not the rule.

 

How has this happened and why is this a problem? How would it benefit your museum to do more work highlighting these stories?

Many collections have come together through the work of a few private collectors and/or curators. They therefore reflect their particular interests, prejudices and opportunities. More recently, we have tended to rely on objects being offered to us rather than actively seeking to fill gaps. There is also frequently an awkwardness in tackling experiences outside of our own.

However, the world is changing. People no longer visit museums because it is considered “a good thing to do”. By tackling more diverse stories, museums are relevant to more people. They can increase not only their audiences, but their volunteers, donors and supporters, making them more resilient.

 

This is the first in a series of blogs around hidden histories, but I would like to draw your attention to a study day I have organised at the British Museum on 23rd October. This day will look at two different examples of hidden history interpretation.

What the HEG…?

Museum Explorer

I’m not sure when the Heritage Education Group (HEG) first began. I know I first attended, as an Assistant Community Outreach Officer at Colchester and Ipswich Museums, back in 2007.

 

The group and the heritage sector have both changed a lot over the intervening years, and I would love to hear your views on what you value about the group, what you’d like to see more of and, if your museum doesn’t currently attend, what would get you to join.

 

If you aren’t familiar with HEG, it is a group for anyone delivering heritage education or community engagement within Essex, including Southend and Thurrock. While this is largely the staff and volunteers of the counties museums and heritage centres, it also includes parks, libraries, archives, attractions and independent freelancers.

 

We currently meet four times a year, varying our day of the week and location in the county to try and make it as accessible as possible. We regularly have guest speakers or presentations on topics relevant to the group. For example CREST Awards, working with home educators or how to use digital technology in museum learning. There is an opportunity to hear about what work other organisations are doing and to ask for support with any issues your organisation is currently having.

 

The group also feeds into the Museum Development programming locally and regionally through SHARE. For example, conversations at HEG led to the museum education mentoring pilot a couple of years ago and our current “Snapping the Stiletto” women’s history project.

 

If you are not currently on the mailing list (I know a lot of people “fell off” when the new, post-GDPR emails were launched), you can sign up here.

 

Meanwhile, please take a few minutes to complete this survey  and indicate how we can make the group of more use to you going forward.

SHARE Creative Communities Network

CIMS 100 United

Does your museum want to work more closely with local communities? Do you want to bring in new visitors, improve your reach and build relationships? Diversifying audiences and giving ownership to local communities are both priorities for HLF and Arts Council and this network is a way to bounce around ideas with colleagues, learn from each other and hear about funding and other opportunities. We will meet quarterly through the year and help shape the SHARE programme around community participation.

Our first meeting will be in September at Ipswich Museum. We will be focusing on the new OFBYFOR ALL self-assessment tool and we would ask that attendees’ museums have completed the assessment ahead of the meeting, preferably as a team rather than an individual on their own and ideally including some of your community partners in the process.

In addition to join the network mailing list, please email amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk. Additionally, please can you let us have your availability for September by completing this poll   

– Amy Cotterill (Essex MDO) and Eleanor Root (Colchester and Ipswich Museums)

#OFBYFORALL: A Revolutionary Opportunity

Nina Simon and Amy Cotterill

Nina Simon from the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History with Amy Cotterill, Essex MDO 

A few weeks ago I attended the Museum Next conference in London. It was an exciting three days and I learned a lot, but one of the most inspirational presentations was by Nina Simon of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH).

 

If you have time, I urge you to watch the video below. Nina speaks eloquently about how stronger community engagement saved the museum. Partnership working, co-creating programming and changing their recruitment processes have turned them around. In 2011 they had a budget of $700 000, in 2018 it’s $3 000 000. They have gone from 7 members of staff to 32 and17 000 visitors per year to 140 000.

Nina and MAH’s work has been so exceptional, they have raised $900 000 to roll out an international programme of support called OFBYFOR ALL to help more museums around the world work in this way.

 

The first step, one which all heritage organisations can do, is to complete their free self-assessment tool. It will give you an organisational score as to how “of, by and for” your local communities your museum is and highlight your strengths and weaknesses. This could be a good exercise to do as a team, working together to identify ways of improving. If possible, it would be good to include representatives of your community partners in the process as your perceptions and theirs might be different.

 

The second step is to apply to be part of their “first wave” research program, helping to test and co-develop tools which will help your organisation and others become more OFBYFOR. They are looking for organisations that are from diverse sizes, sectors, and geographies that are ready to make change in the next six months.

 

If accepted for the programme, your museum will have:

  • Free access to OFBYFOR ALL online platform and tools for 1 year
  • Personalized support in developing a plan and tracking your progress
  • Global support and community-building with other First Wave colleagues
  • Promotion and PR about your founding involvement in the project
  • Opportunity to be part of the beginning of something big

The OFBYFOR ALL Change Network will eventually become a paid-model, but this First Wave is free as you will be helping to develop and test the model and resources. The only exception is covering travel expenses to attend an in-person event in January (and you may be able to access Museum Development help to support this – contact me if you would like to apply). There will also be the opportunity to attend an OFBYFOR ALL Bootcamp, which you would also have to pay for.

For more information about the programme, the self-assessment tool and the opportunity to take part in the first wave of the change network, visit the OFBYFOR ALL website.

 

Kids in Museums Manifesto – Are You Signed Up?

Museum Explorer

Teddy Bears Picnic at Chelmsford Museum

The Kids in Museums Manifesto is not a new thing. The charity has been doing great work promoting the importance of engaging with children and family audiences for many years now. They run high-profile annual schemes such as Takeover Day and the Family Friendly Museum of the Year Award (nominations are currently open) and deliver regular training on subjects including Babies in Museum and Autism Awareness. The Manifesto is the backbone of all of these areas of work, informing their work and the work of many museums around the UK (and possibly the world…?)

 

The 20-point manifesto is made of really simple things, most of which you are probably already doing including saying hello to visitors and sharing stories. Last year they launched a “mini-manifesto”, covering all the key points:

  1. Reach out. Begin the welcome beyond your door. Help families find you, go out to meet them, start friendly conversations on their home patch and make your museum easy to reach.
  2. Get to know your families. Some have babies, some toddlers, teenagers, parents, grandparents or foster children. Embrace these differences, from your programme to your ticketing.
  3. Seek to reflect your community and include it at your heart in your displays, interpretation and events.
  4. Be positive. Say ‘Hello!’ Welcome enthusiastic comments (which may be loud), have things to touch and explore, challenge your staff to never say ‘No’
  5. Make it easy and Comfortable — with a family friendly café, pushchair friendly toilets, seating in the galleries, a place to store skateboards and teenage kit, child-height stair rails, tap water. Just a few of the very practical ways to help a family relax and have fun.
  6. Be accessible. Families with disabilities may make an extra effort to reach you. Include their needs in everything you do and say — from how to get there to exploring the displays. All your visitors should be equally supported and welcomed.
  7. Tell your story. Families aren’t only coming to see your collections. They’re coming to enjoy your museum and hear your stories. These are what they’ll share when they get home. Find a way to include their stories too. They’ll add new insights and make the museum belong to them.
  8. Communicate well. Let families know what you offer. Include this on your website and social media. Chat with families before they visit and after they leave. Build relationships and include them in long-term decision-making. These families will become your greatest advocates.

 

So, I was surprised to discover that only 17 Essex venues are signed up to this wonderful initiative. Kids in Museums are an Arts Council funded “National Portfolio Organisation” (NPO) so signing up will look good on your Accreditation returns. It is also worth mentioning on funding applications as part of your commitment to broadening audiences and supporting young people. You could also put it on your website and share that fact that you’ve signed up on your social media or in other publicity.

Registering your organisation’s commitment to the manifesto is really easy. Just fill in the short form on their website. You can also have a sneaky look at which other museums are signed up (and which ones aren’t).

While you’re there, why not nominate yourself for Family Friendly Museum of the Year

A Culture of Lates

This guest post has been provided by Culture24.

pexels-photo-668278.jpeg

Culture24 is running the first ever national conference about museum after-hours events at the National Gallery in London on June 1st. ‘A Culture of Lates: How do Museum Lates Build Audiences & Generate Income?’ is aimed at museum/gallery after-hours events programmers and venue decision-makers and will be a fabulous opportunity to learn about Lates and network with colleagues.

 

Tickets are available now from the conference sales page  but if you work or volunteer at an Accredited Essex Museum that is not an NPO please contact Amy before booking as she can help you to access funding to attend.

 

The speaker list includes:

  • Kim Streets, CEO of Museums Sheffield
  • Ashlie Hunter, Producer of Public Programs, Art Gallery of New South Wales
  • Bill Griffiths, Head of Programmes, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, creator of Newcastle/Gateshead’s annual culture crawl The Late Shows
  • Marilyn Scott, Director, The Lightbox, Woking, whose Thursday Lates attract a new audience of local young professionals
  • Lucy Woodbridge, Head of Visitor Events at the Natural History Museum, who opens up access to the museum’s collection while generating income
  • Tatiana Getman, Head of special projects & events, the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
  • Tim Ross, Australian comedian and TV presenter who uses comedy to create original heritage interpretation events and Instagram to market them.
  • Neil Mendoza, entrepreneur and consultant who recently published the DCMS Mendoza Review, an independent review of museums in England
  • Sam Bompas, Experience Designer and Jellymonger from Bompas & Parr, who flooded the ss Great Britain with 55,000 litres of luminous jelly for Museums at Night 2012
  • The Godperson of Lates, the original Lates programmer who started it all off at the V&A in 2001
  • Abigail Daikin, Events Director at Time Out, the media outlet that supports Lates all over the world
  • Kate Rolfe, Head of Events at the National Gallery
  • Alan Miller, Chair of the Night-Time Industries Association
  • Airbnb

 

The programme will feature presentations, panel discussions, socials and practical sessions including:

Programmers’ Question Time – Is your venue’s Lates programme blighted by lack of funding? Do you have a crop of talented local artists but are unsure how to reap the best out of them? Our panel of Lates event programming experts will grapple with your event challenges and help you create your after-hours Garden of Eden!

Plus …

Sussex independent artisan spirit producers Blackdown Distillery will be sponsoring the after-conference drinks party providing a welcome drink to all guests who pop up to the National Dining Rooms from 5.30pm

 

 And if that were not all…

There will be a comedy improve show by Do Not Adjust Your Stage at the National Gallery starting at 7pm on the evening of the 1st June after the conference. The National Gallery are offering all conference delegates the opportunity to buy tickets at the discounted membership price. Delegates simply use this link https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/calendar/blank-canvas to buy tickets at the member’s price and present their ticket along with their conference lanyard on the door on the night.

You may remember that Do Not Adjust Your Stage have previously delivered training for Essex museums on audience engagement, public speaking and giving guided tours.

 

We hope you can join us for this unique occasion!

Snapping the Stiletto Update

Snapping the Stiletto

Logo designed by Essex artist, Lisa Temple-Cox

Pippa Smith is project manager for “Snapping the Stiletto”, an Essex-wide project looking at how women’s lives have changed since gaining the vote in 1918. 

Snapping the Stiletto is a project funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections fund which aims to uncover and celebrate stories of strong Essex women over the past 100 years. Working in partnership with 11 museums across (historic) Essex and a range of community groups to steer the project we will be looking for hidden stories of women in museum collections and creating exhibitions and events to share these stories across the county.

CHMPM 536 Pat Foster, 1st female motorcyclist for EP

Pat Foster, first female motorcyclist for Essex Police (copyright Essex Police Museum)

The museums will be recruiting volunteers to help them to research and tell these stories and I’m busy talking to a range of community groups to discover what sort of topics would interest them. So far I’ve had meetings with representatives from the WI and the Shree Ram Mandir  Hindu Cultural and Heritage Centre and spent a very enjoyable couple of hours with the Razed Roof Theatre Company in Harlow . I’ve contacted the Guides, sisters from a local mosque and representatives from a wide range of groups representing the diverse communities across Essex.

History students at Essex University studying a ‘Votes for Women’ module  have been looking at the representation of women in museums and public spaces and tackling some interesting questions set by the project which we hope to blog about soon.

So far two main themes are emerging- groups are interested in the history of women at work, in particular in industry and women as campaigners beyond the suffragettes.