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…

dear+art+gallery+2

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.

black smartphone and headphones on a desk

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.

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

AIM Conference 2018: Changing Gear

Caroline Hamson, Heritage Collections Officer for The Scouts, shares her experiences of this year’s Association of Independent Museums Conference.

IMG_8336.JPG

Diversity was the focus of the first day, or as Shaz Hussain suggested, representation not diversity. Hannah Fox the Derby Silk Mill Project Director discussed how imperative it is to design exhibitions/museums/sites alongside your communities. You must have human centred design which focuses on think, do and feel. The top down approach is out of touch and more importantly, is not impactful.

IMG_8337.JPG

Victoria Rogers from Cardiff Story Museum gave us a run-down of the top 10 tips for building and diversifying audiences, with the mantras, ‘Ask, Listen, Act’, ‘Live your commitment’ and ‘Review, Learn, Amend, Grow’.

A tour of the new collections store at Gaydon was an eye opener, what a magnificent facility! It even includes a full view of the workshop where staff and volunteers maintain and repair the vehicles. A facility which means 100% of their collection (bar the archive) is on display. What a dream.

 

It’s also where I found my next car…..

IMG_8341.JPG

On day two we learnt about the free stuff and resources that are available to us as AIM members. The free resources through the, ‘Open Up: Museums for everyone’ project which will help museums of all sizes increase the diversity of their visitors to make real and lasting change in the museum sector. And a new three-year partnership with the Charity Finance Group means AIM members can sign up to receive advice, trouble shooting, resources, all for free!

A fascinating talk by Sue Davies told about the positive impact understanding your type of museum can have. Club, temple, forum or attraction? Understanding this can lead to better management by adapting your leadership style; leader, facilitator, guardian or business manager.

IMG_8346.JPG

What did I learn? To be the best we can be and serve our communities we must listen, really listen, don’t impose our ideas on people, be open to criticism, have a great sense of purpose and vision which is shared by everyone, and be willing to try and test ideas without fear of failure.

Collections Trust Training Day – October 2018

20150420_141111.jpgThe Collections Trust will be delivering a free training day in Essex on Friday 12th October and I need your help.

 

Firstly, is anyone able to provide a venue for the day? If so, please contact me.

 

Secondly, what would you like the training to cover? The event is open to all museums, not just Accredited ones and the Collections Trust team are eager that you find the day as useful as possible. Please select as many of the options below that would be of use to your museum:

 

Summer Vacancy with the East Anglian Railway Museum

This temporary, part-time post is a great opportunity to gain paid experience in a museum

East Anglian Railway Museum

The East Anglian Railway Museum at Chappel and Wakes Colne, near Colchester (www.earm.co.uk) looks after the archive of the National Railway Heritage Awards (www.nrha.org.uk).

EARM wish to employ someone with curatorial experience to commence the filing and cataloguing of this archive, which consists of year by year files with competition entry forms, and the appropriate images taken by judges. This will be logged onto an Access or Excel database for future reference use within the NRHA web site.

We are looking at 3 days per week for the duration of the summer recess, at a pro- rata rate of £24,000 per annum. Days of the week would be by arrangement, with considerable flexibility, and the successful applicant would require to commence work as soon as possible.

Applicants should submit a brief CV demonstrating experience of similar work to the below named by 20th July 2018. Interviews will be conducted by ‘phone.

For any further information please contact Museum Curatorial Trustee Mike Stanbury at mike.stanbury@earm.co.uk.

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!