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.

Learning & Engagement Grants For Essex Museums

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Essex Museum Development is offering grants of up to £500 to support the delivery of learning and community engagement using collections.

The grants aim to support local museums to:

  1. Develop relationships with local education providers including schools, colleges and home education groups
  2. Develop new learning and engagement resources
  3. Develop an adult learning offer
  4. Deliver activities which will reach new audiences
  5. Make their venue more accessible for disabled audiences

The funding scheme is open to any Accredited museum (or museum registered as Working Towards Accreditation) within the Essex or Southend-on-Sea local authority boundaries. Please note that to apply you must have attended at least two of the following training days:

It is important to read the guidance document before applying. It contains some suggestions as to what the grant can be used for, but this is not an exhaustive list. Please do get in contact if you wish to discuss your ideas.

To apply, complete this application form and return it to amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk by 5pm on Tuesday 23rd January 2018

Learning and Engagement application guidance 2018

Click here to download the application form

 

Rising Tide: Navigating the Future of Cultural Learning

Royal Opera House Bridge Annual Conference 2017

Chatham Historic Dockyard, 29.06.2017

I’m lucky enough in this role to attend training pretty often and I often see inspirational people discuss the importance of the work of the heritage sector and hear incredible case studies. I won’t write about all of them, but I did want to share what I learnt at Rising tide: Navigating the Future of Cultural Learning, the annual conference of Royal Opera House Bridge. This conference interrogated the role of cultural education, from dance to museums and opera to archives.

We’re all busy people, so I’ll try and keep this blog short and I haven’t included all the sessions. If you’d like to chat about anything below, just get in touch. The Royal Opera House Bridge will be publishing resources from the day, so check out their website for more details.

Why Tomorrow’s Children Need a 21st Century Enlightenment (Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive, Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce)

Matthew kicked off the conference by taking us back to the 1700s and the Age of Enlightenment. He described the three key ideas that shaped the Enlightenment:

  1. Autonomy – we are the authors of our own future and not in a chain of control that was preordained and we must simply accept our fate in life.
  2. Universalism – all humans deserve dignity.
  3. Humanism – purpose of all human endeavour is to liberate and enrich human life.

These ideas have become narrowed over time. Autonomy doesn’t just mean a free market, universalism isn’t just a metric of social justice and humanism isn’t controlled through the economy. We must revisit these values to bring them up to date:

  1. True autonomy requires self-awareness and self-discipline… not through shopping.
  2. Universalism is about empathy and engaging with those whose beliefs and ideas are different to ours.
  3. We need to identify what a good life is to understand humanism. What are we working towards?

Engagement in the creation and enjoyment of culture helps us understand these ideas.

So what is the role of cultural education? Cultural education makes three assertions:

  1. Citizens have a right to access their own, their countries’ and the world’s culture.
  2. Cultural education supports young people to develop positive ways of shaping society (and we need a robust way of measuring this impact that will appeal to budget holders).
  3. Cultural education has a role in preparing us for our future.

We are starting to move into a late material culture, with more people stating that self-expression is more important than what they own. People are coming of age in a sluggish economy and don’t expect to own more and better things than their parents. It should be our ambition to ensure that everyone has ‘good’ work with scope for development and a sense of purpose. If we shift into this new kind of economy, cultural education will be more important than ever.

To Lift All Ships (Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive, Education Endowment Foundation)

Sir Kevan challenged the conference with a series of provocations, but made the assertion that when people want to challenge the world, they turn to culture.

  1. Are we creating a boring and irrelevant education for children?
  2. Should we be concerned that creative subjects are becoming sidelined into extra-curricular activities for the middle-classes? For many people the educational system seems broken and there isn’t time to focus on anything but ‘core subjects’. Is this true, or is this argument to trick us into giving schools to other people to run?
  3. Is the word ‘culture’ being appropriated by people who see education as either skills for knowledge. Through setting culture as ‘knowledge’ are they able to decide what counts as culture?
  4. How can a child spend 13 years in education and fail? Huge numbers of children are failing to get a level 2 (e.g. GCSE) qualification.
  5. As the education offered to children narrows, how do we demonstrate the contribution that culture makes?

Most job growth in Britain and the world doesn’t require just one subject but needs people with broader life skills, for example relationship development, empathy and creative problem solving. A strong cultural education builds these kind of skills and supports the core subjects.

We must implement a scientific approach to measure the impact of cultural education, disseminate what we’ve learnt from projects and mobilise good projects nationally.

Empathy Lab (Miranda McKearney, social entrepreneur and co-founder of Empathy Lab and Sarah Mears, Library Manager for Essex and co-founder of Empathy Lab)

Miranda and Sarah argued that in an increasingly diverse world children must be able to thrive in diverse environments. Empathy and social skills are being squeezed out of education and these are vital to children’s attainment at school and preparation for their futures.

Research has shown that children must see and experience empathy to develop these skills. Socio-emotional skills cannot be a bolt-on but can be embedded in a child’s wider education. The Empathy Lab is trialling developing empathy skills through reading, which is at the core of educational programming in schools.

Empathy can be divided into psychological and physiological:

  1. Psychological Empathy:
    1. Cognitive – understanding that someone is upset
    2. Affective – feeling upset when someone is sad
    3. Empathetic concern – wanting to help someone in need
  2. Physiological Empathy:
    1. Endocrine system
    2. Mirror-neurons

If you’re interested in reading more about the scientific side of Empathy, check out the Empathy Lab’s website for resources.

Academics are starting to understand the relationship between reading and developing empathy. Just as the brain responds to words for smells, touches, etc as if you were smelling and touching something, your brain responds to stories as if was the real world. This means that the way we feel empathy for characters in stories, wires our brain to feel the same sensitivity for real people. This means that children can learn empathy from reading.

The Empathy Lab is trialling different approaches in schools, asking children to read books, look at how the characters felt and naming those feelings and then asking them to build this into actions. For example a group of children read a story about refugees, explored how it would feel to be a child refugee and then wrote letters to child refugees and politician. The children involved moved forward with literacy, family involvement and classroom relationships.

The Empathy Lab are looking to extend this work to museums, so watch this space.

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.

Does Your Museum Need A Firearms License?

 

The Home Office is currently consulting with the public about the cost of firearms licenses.

“It is proposed the fee for a museum firearms licence will be £1,440, and the licence will be valid for five years. The current fee for a museum licence is £200. The renewal fee is to be revised to £1,240, with fees for alterations to valid licences to be changed to between £110 and £780.”
Obviously this would be a huge increase (over 600%) and could hit museums very hard, but does your museum need a license?

 

Given the large number of military-themed museums in Essex and the social history collections which may contain guns, I have taken advice on this matter from William Brown, National Security Advisor at the Arts Council.

 

You need a firearms license if your collection contains live firearms, although there is an exception for historic firearms. However, no definition is in place as to what constitutes a “historic firearm”. The decision is made at the discretion of your local police.

 

If the guns in your collection have been deactivated, you do not need a firearms license.

 

Your museum is eligible for a firearms license if:

  • It has as its purpose, or one of its purposes, “the preservation for the public benefit of a collection of historic, artistic or scientific interest which includes or is to include firearms”
  • It is maintained wholly or mainly out of money provided by Parliament or a local authority
  • It is Accredited by the Arts Council (nb. This means fully Accredited and not “Working Towards” Accreditation)

 

If you wish to contribute to the consultation regarding the increase in costs for museum firearms licenses (by over 600%), you can do so here.

 

The Home Office Guidance on Firearms Licensing Law can be found here.

 

The Firearms Security Handbook, which includes guidance on museum storage and display of weapons and ammunition, can be found here.

Please do get in touch with me if you have any questions.

Learning & Engagement Grants For Essex Museums

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Essex Museum Development is offering grants of up to £500 to support the delivery of learning and community engagement using collections.

 

The grants aim to support local museums to:

  1. Develop relationships with local education providers including schools, colleges and home education groups
  2. Develop new learning and engagement resources
  3. Develop an adult learning offer
  4. Deliver activities which will reach new audiences
  5. Make their venue more accessible for disabled audiences

 

The funding scheme is open to any Accredited museum (or museum registered as Working Towards Accreditation) within the Essex or Southend-on-Sea local authority boundaries.

 

It is important to read the guidance document before applying. It contains some suggestions as to what the grant can be used for, but this is not an exhaustive list. Please do get in contact if you wish to discuss your ideas.

 

To apply, complete this application form and return it to amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk by 5pm on Tuesday 28th February 2017

Guidance Document: learning-and-engagement-application-guidance-2017

Application Form: learning-and-engagement-application-form-2017