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.

IMG_20171122_073711

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.

IMG_20171116_165318 (2)

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.

IMG_20171116_111344 (2)

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.

IMG_20171116_170842 (2)

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.

Involve Museum staff and volunteers in social media

The seventh in our social media series from Louise Winters.

When you’re looking for ideas for your museum’s social media, people who already love your museum are a brilliant source of inspiration.

Your museum’s staff and volunteers are the easiest place to start. They love the museum and they know it well. The people that help to run the museum make it what it is as much as the collections and objects. You may even get them to share any posts you write about them to their own Facebook or Twitter networks so they’re seen by a bigger audience. Even if they don’t use social media they’ll probably enjoy getting involved.

How can I involve them?

Here are some simple ideas for social media posts about the fantastic people that help to run your museum (and yes, that includes you!)

  • Photographs of staff and volunteers at work in the museum.
  • Say thank you! Post a big thank you to volunteers for their work at an event or on a specific project or even just on a busy bank holiday.
  • Ask about a colleague’s favourite object and why they like it and use this for a post with their name and a photo of them with the object (check with them they are okay with this before you do it).
  • Post a happy birthday message for a colleague on their birthday (do ask their permission first).
  • Ask a colleague how they got involved in the museum and share their story in a blog a condensed version for social media.
  • Ask colleagues about their favourite other museums to visit and write up into a short post, don’t forget to tag the museum on social media if they use it.

Some examples to show you how other museums are doing this:

 

 

 

 

 

All posts you create that are inspired by a specific colleague should include the name of the person you are talking about and tag them on the relevant social media network, if they use it. The general public like to get to know who works at the museum and find out more about them. Human beings are nosey and like knowing a bit about the real people that work in a place.

Have you ever looked at social media for the National Trust for Scotland? They’ve even set up a Twitter account to talk about volunteering and encourage volunteers to share photos of the things they enjoy doing.

 

Social media is a really good way to make sure everyone knows how important your volunteers are, and showing appreciation for your museum staff is equally important.

I’ve asked if colleagues want to get involved and not had a good response

It’s useful to remember that your colleagues often won’t realise that their own interests and stories are interesting. Their enthusiasm for the museum and working there is infectious – if you can show that they care about the museum then others who see that will care too. Be patient and keep showing colleagues what you’d like from them. That may be to share photographs they take with you or it may be to have a chat for 10 minutes about their favourite object.

Your mission is to find out what makes them light up and find a way to share that with all those potential visitors. Think about which kinds of people will find your colleague’s story interesting and aim your post at those people. Ask your colleague to share with their family and friends on social media and see what kind of response you get.

Last piece of advice: try not to be disheartened if your posts don’t immediately get a huge response. Your social media efforts will gradually build up likes and responses as you keep posting regularly. Reassure your colleagues that their help is really important for creating interesting posts.

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/

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.

Snapping The Stiletto: Re-Examining Essex Collections

 

Image courtesy of Essex Police Museum

Image courtesy of Essex Police Museum

The Essex County Council Museum Development has secured a grant of £95, 445 from the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund for a two year project working with museums across the county.

 

2018 is the Centenary of the of the Representation of the People Act 1918 which gave the first British women the vote, the 90th anniversary of the Equal Franchise Act 1928 which gave all women the vote and the 50th anniversary of the Dagenham Ford Worker’s Strike. These important national and local anniversaries are serving as a catalyst to explore, record and celebrate the diverse and inspirational stories of Essex women.

For the purposes of this project, we are working with partners from across “historic Essex” including those areas which are now unitary authorities or part of London, thus enabling us to tell interpret both existing collections and the stories discovered through our research as part of the wider story.

We will research and record how Essex women’s lives have changed during the last century and celebrate the stories of individual and groups of women in the county, for example Suffrage campaigners and Dagenham strikers but also women whose stories aren’t yet well known. This may include but not be limited to women who were involved in World War II, gained qualifications at a time when most women were unable to access further education, who entered male dominated professions including the services, those who moved to Essex from around the world and made a home for themselves by overcoming language and cultural differences and those who have raised families during a time of changing expectations for their gender. By highlighting women’s contributions, we will add another layer of understanding to elements of history that the public are possibly more familiar with, for example WWII, and change their perceptions of what took place. Also, through telling the stories of inspiring Essex women, we hope to weaken the negative “Essex Girl” stereotype.

 

Image courtesy of Southend Museums

Image courtesy of Southend Museums

 

 

The project is part of an overarching strand of work called “Snapping the Stiletto: 100 Years of Change”. We will be shortly be submitting further funding applications for oral history and other work, so there are still plenty of opportunities for heritage organisations and other groups to get involved. We will also be recruiting a large number of volunteers during 2017.

 

For more information, to sign up for project updates or to learn how you can get involved in the project, email amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk

 

 

 

Our museum partners for “Revisiting Essex Collections” are:

  • Braintree Museums
  • Brightlingsea Museum
  • Chelmsford Museum
  • Colchester and Ipswich Museums
  • The Combined Military Services Museum
  • Epping Forest District Museum
  • Essex Fire Museum
  • Essex Police Museum
  • The Museum of Power
  • Redbridge Museum, Ilford
  • Southend Museums Service

Could You Host A LUMeN Placement?

Sarah Allard, Museum Liaison & Student Support Officer introduces their student placement scheme – Leicester University Museum Network (LUMeN).

 

As many of you will know, the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester is a world-leading hub for research, teaching, thinking, debate and practice.

As part of our Postgraduate Campus Based taught Programmes, all students are required to complete an eight week placement in a museum, gallery or related institution. By working closely with these museum services we hope to develop projects which give valuable experience to students as well as enable museums to derive tangible practical benefits.  Information on how the scheme works and feedback on recent placements can be found here.

We are always keen to broaden our network of placement providers.  If your museum, gallery or cultural institution has not previously offered a placement but would like to do so we’d be very keen to hear from you. Please contact me at sa563@le.ac.uk to register your interest.

Students and Museums: A Match Made in Heaven

A member of the vTeam supporting young peopleStudents from the University of Essex are looking for meaningful placements within local cultural organisations. The courses these students are on include:

  • Art History/Curatorial Studies
  • History
  • Literature
  • Film Studies
  • Creative Writing
  • Playwriting
  • Multimedia Journalism
  • Business and Marketing

These students have many skills that could be helpful to your museum, beyond traditional volunteering roles of room-stewarding, research, documentation and digitisation (although those are great too!).

Karen Gooch from the University says: “Students bring fresh enthusiasm and ideas, and often new skills, which placement providers welcome”.

Why not:

  • Work with film students to produce a tour of parts of your building that aren’t accessible to wheel-chair users?
  • Ask playwriting students to develop a script for in-character interpretation?
  • Work with marketing students to promote your events and activities?
  • Ask a journalism student to produce your regular newsletter?
  • Work with students to stream talks and “Out of the Box” presentations live on the internet to reach audiences around the world
  • Ask creative writing students to write a children’s story for use in your museum or run a poetry-writing workshop
  • Work with students to develop new tours and trails of your museum
  • Contact me or Karen to discuss your needs and we can help you define a paid-internship or volunteering role

The University may be able to help fund roles for interns with your organisation or help you recruit volunteers. There are campuses in both Colchester and Southend but do not be discouraged if your museum is further afield. There may be ways that travel costs can be supported so do still get in touch.

For further information, contact Karen Gooch, Placements Manager, Faculty of Humanities at the University of Essex

New SHARE Training Calendar – Part 2

20150420_141038

Thank you to everyone who took part in my training needs survey earlier this year. I fed all the information back up to SHARE and they have used it in producing this year’s calendar, which goes live at 9am today.

In today’s blog, I am going to highlight where you can access the training that the majority of people requested in each category. However, it is in no way an exhaustive list of what’s on offer (over 100 training events between now and next spring!) so I do recommend taking time to have a look through and see what would be of use to you and your colleagues.

Of those of you who responded to my survey, only one third had not attended any SHARE training in the last year and of them only 10% said that this was because the training was too hard to get to. If there is training that your museum needs, but cannot afford the travel, it isn’t running or it is simply too far away, please do contact me as I may be able to help.

Several of the training days are running in Essex, but please remember that SHARE have to support the whole of the East of England. Therefore they move they days about and if a particular subject has been in Essex recently, they do have to move it somewhere else this year.

Most Requested Training By Category

  1. Collections

There was a strong “digital element” to the training requests for collections, including Copyright, Digitising Collections and Managing Digital Images.

I have spoken to Simon at SHARE about Copyright and they have identified that it is a need for support with this area, however from their experience they aren’t sure if training is the best way of providing it. SHARE is currently formulating a plan and I will update you as soon as possible. If you do have any urgent copyright questions, please get in touch.

Regarding digitising collections, there are several useful days coming up:

  • “Point & Shoot: Collections Photography Using Digital Cameras” is running on 6th October at Ely Museum and 2nd February in Norwich
  • “Digital Technology & Collections: Promoting Access and Engagement” is on 5th October in Ipswich

For managing digital images, I suggest:

  • “Managing Digital Images” on 15th December at Mill Green Museum and Mill in Hatfield or 27th April in Wymondham Heritage Museum, Norfolk
  • “Create Once, Publish Everywhere: How to COPE With Your Digital Content” on 1st December at the Museum of Cambridge or 20th April at the Long Shop Museum in Leiston

I would also suggest having a look at joining the Digital Development Forum if you are planning on a large digital project. The next meeting is on 20th October in Norwich

Other Collections based training that had a large number of requests are Conservation Basics and Rationalisation.

There are several conservation-themed days coming up:

  • Handle With Care: Object Handling & Packing on 2nd December in Mildenhall, Suffolk
  • “Conservation Uncovered: Major Museum Tours” on 19th November is going behind the scenes at the University of Cambridge conservation lab
  • “Environmental Monitoring” on 26th April at the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge
  • Integrated Pest Management: Level 1 on 10th November at Royston and District Museum
  • Integrated Pest Management: Level 2 on 2nd March at University of Cambridge Museums.
  • The 2nd Annual SHARE Collections Care Conference on 20th January at Hughes Hall in Cambridge.

Some sessions are much more specialised but will be relevant to several Essex Museums, including:

  • Assessing and Repacking Military Costume: A Costume & Textiles Network Event on 6th October in Norwich
  • “Preventive Conservation for Waterlogged Archaeology: A Maritime Heritage Network East Event” which is on 15th October at Southend Central Museum

SHARE also have their online Collections Care Syllabus. This current version is available online but it is being reviewed and updated so look out for updates later in the year.

For Rationalisation, SHARE are running “Rationalisation, Review and Disposal: Getting Started” on 8th October. Please note that there will also be funding support for rationalisation available later in the year. It is not compulsory, but I would recommend attending the training if you wish to apply.

2. Audiences

The most requested audience-themed training days are: Writing Engaging Text, Marketing on a Budget, Display Techniques and Understanding Audiences.

There are two different text-writing events booked in this year:

  • Captivating Captions on a Budget is one of this year’s first trainings, happening on 7th September at The Red House in Suffolk.
  • Make it Snappy: Writing Effective Text on 11th April at the Museum of East Anglian Life

There isn’t a generalised “marketing” training on the SHARE calendar this year, so I will organise something for later in the year. However, there are two specialised courses which may be of interest:

  • “Awareness, engagement and impact: Marketing to drive fundraising and income generation – a SHARED Enterprise event” on 25th November at Verulamium Museum in St Albans
  • Social Media Next Steps on 22nd September in Luton and on 9th March (venue TBC). If you feel that you need a “Beginners” level Social Media training, please DO NOT book on to this course. Contact me and I will arrange for help and support.

There are a couple of events coming up for Display Techniques:

  • Basic Display Techniques, 13th October in Stevenage and 12th January at Gainsborough’s House in Suffolk and on 14th April in Norwich.
  • Cutting Edge: Making Professional Labels & Panels on 3rd March at Hollytrees Museum in Colchester

There are several events which will be of interest for those of you who requested “Understanding Audiences”:

  • Front-of-House Forum on 19th October in Norwich
  • First Steps in Community Participation on 14th January in Luton
  • Complaints, Criticisms and Conflicts: How to Handle Them All on 28th January in Ely Museum
  • Managing Successful Events on 25th February at the Fenland Museum and Denny Abbey in Cambridgeshire
  • Working with Different Audiences on 4th March at The Polar Museum in Cambridge

There were also several requests for How to use HistoryPin, which SHARE are offering on 21st October in Ipswich

“Being a “Dementia Friendly” venue” and “Making your museum accessible for people with Autism” were also both highly requested. Working with these audiences will be covered in “Working with Different Audiences” and Helen Griffiths (Essex County Council’s Cultural Access, Learning and Participation Officer) and I am planning to run Dementia Friendly training soon.

3. Children and Young People

The most requested training session for children and young people are Setting Up A Youth Panel/Young Curators, Working with Schools, Child Protection/Safeguarding and Using Digital Technology to Deliver Learning With Schools.

“Giving Young People a Voice: Youth Panels and Young Curators” is running on 18th September at Colchester Castle (NB This will follow the Essex Heritage Education Group meeting).

Regarding Working With Schools, Helen Griffiths and I are planning a series of training in this subject and Child-Protection/Safeguarding for later in the year (look out for more details soon) however, you may also be interested in:

  • Surprising Science For Schools is on 21st January at the National Horseracing Museum in Newmarket.
  • Learning From Objects on 9th October in Ipswich or 7th December in Bedford
  • Object Lessons 3: SHARE & Bridges Children & Young People Conference on 10th February, venue TBC
  • Consider Yourself: Reflective Learning Practice for Learning Staff and Volunteers in Museums, 18th April, Museum of Cambridge

As you may be aware, I’ve been working with several museums in the county on a digital learning pilot. The case-studies from the project will be shared via my website, SHARE and the Heritage Education Group later in the year.

4. Resilience

The most commonly requested training sessions in this section fall into two categories, Volunteer Management (Volunteer Management, Volunteer Recruitment and Young Volunteers) and Fundraising/Income Generation (Alternate Ways to Boost Your Income, Making The Most of Your Shop, How to Talk to Funders and Other Stakeholders and Writing Funding Applications).

SHARE have recently launched the Volunteer Coordinators Forum, details of which can be found here. This is a great source of support for anyone managing volunteers, including those who are volunteers themselves. I also recently commissioned a volunteer management toolkit which is available here. 

SHARE are offering the following training events:

  • Volunteers: Getting Them In and Keeping Them Happy (a Volunteer Co-ordinators’ Forum event) on 18th April at Ipswich Transport Museum
  • Volunteer Co-ordinators’ Forum: Youth Volunteering, 8th December, John Buyan Museum, Bedford

SHARE also have a Retail Forum which offers peer support to those running museum shops. More details can be found here and there are some relevant training days too:

  • “Top Tips For Retail” on 4th February at Braintree Museum
  • “SHARE Retail Forum: Selling Skills and Sound Retail Practice” on 21st September at the National Horseracing Museum in Newmarket

Regarding applying for grants and other fundraising training, there are lots of options:

  • “Relationship Fundraising and Legacy Giving for Museums – a SHARED Enterprise Event” on 12th October at Colchester Castle
  • HLF Young Roots Seminar on 19th October at the HLF Office in Cambridge
  • “Awareness, engagement and impact: Marketing to drive fundraising and income generation – a SHARED Enterprise event” on 25th November at Verulamium Museum
  • “Enterprise & Philanthropy: building relationships to fund museums” on 2nd March at the Museum of London

I would also like to highlight that my colleague Andrew Ward and I are offering a “surgery” connected to Essex County Council’s Cultural Development grants on 23rd September in Chelmsford.

The other training that I would especially like to  mention is Understanding Museums. This is a six day course (one day a fortnight). While six days is a big commitment, this is the perfect course for anyone who is new to working or volunteering in museums. It explains why we do what we do, how different types of museums operate and looks at the history and ethics of the sector.

I would like to thank the SHARE Museums team (Annette, Simon, Kathy, Miranda and Liz) for all their hard work in pulling together this training offer – and wish them luck when the booking opens at 9 o’clock!