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

 

How to Write a Post for Facebook

The third in our social media series from Louise Winters:

Fabulous Facebook posts for your museum

Whether you have a personal Facebook account or not, it can be a bit daunting to start writing posts for your museum’s Facebook page. If you do already use Facebook at least you have an idea how it works and what kind of things other organisations post. Even so, it is a different thing to be posting on behalf of an organisation instead of just for yourself.

If you don’t normally use Facebook then the whole thing may seem really difficult. If you’re in this situation, try asking a friend or neighbour who does use Facebook to show you how it works before you sit down to write your first post.

Get writing: What is normal on Facebook and what isn’t?

One of the really nice things about Facebook (and all other social media) is that it can be fun and informal. It isn’t like a press release or a newspaper article. Social media is for short, friendly, eye-catching updates that let you get to know what someone or an organisation is REALLY like. The other brilliant thing about social media is that your followers can talk back by leaving comments. This is great: you should encourage people to reply to your posts and always reply to any comments and messages you get from followers.

Here are the three things, in order of importance, to keep in mind when creating a post for Facebook:  be FRIENDLY, make it CATCHY and keep it SHORT.

1/ FRIENDLY
• Your post should be friendly and talk to people as if you know them. Your aim is to make them feel welcome before they’ve even set foot in your museum.
• You don’t have to be formal and start with ‘Dear all’ or ‘Dear Visitors’ as you might in a letter or email.
• Do use ‘We’ when writing posts instead of I. You are writing on behalf of the museum, which is a collection of people so ‘we’ is better
• Write about things that are ‘behind the scenes’ or that show there are real people at the museum e.g. exhibition set up, birthday cake for a colleague or views you enjoy.

Lovely sunny spring post by Chelmsford museum:

http://bit.ly/2qRqPcW

• Ask questions to encourage a conversation – don’t be disheartened if no one replies at first. It can take a while, but keep asking. E.g. “We really enjoyed today’s event, what was your favourite bit?”
• Say thank you to people. For example: thank you for coming to an event, for helping to raise money, for volunteering at the museum or for replying to your posts.

Here are 2 examples that show the friendly side of museums:
https://www.facebook.com/chelmsfordmuseums/photos/a.440481002658800.99515.104334979606739/1657203684319853/?type=3&theater
https://www.facebook.com/museumbraintree/photos/a.404737529547592.86988.202985223056158/1468412493180085/?type=3&theater

2/ CATCHY
• Use interesting and eye catching words that really tell a story about whatever you’re trying to write about. “Beautiful glass vase” is more interesting than “Nice vase”.
• Use easy to understand words as you don’t know who will be reading your posts.
• Include photographs or videos as they catch people’s attention more than words alone. Be careful to credit the author if you use someone else’s video or photograph.
• You can also try searching for gifs (animated pictures) and emoji to brighten up your post.
• If you link to an article or blog post online Facebook will usually show the article title in the weblink preview so you can focus on giving new / extra information.
Examples showing museums being catchy by using descriptive words (“fantastic”, “sister, wife, lover, mother”) and photos:
https://www.facebook.com/museumbraintree/photos/a.404737529547592.86988.202985223056158/1473422179345783/
https://www.facebook.com/southendmuseums/posts/1864464276912550

3/ SHORT
• Get the most interesting bit in the first line. Don’t build up to it because Facebook often only shows a few lines with an option to click to see the rest.
• People skim through their Facebook feed quickly so make sure you’re friendly, but to the point. Ideally don’t write more than 4 lines.
• Including a photo, a gif or a video is a good way to convey an idea immediately. Make sure the photo, gif or video is relevant.
• If you find you often want to write long posts, consider writing blog posts to go up on your museum’s website and then sharing a link with a photo and a 1 line introduction or summary on the Facebook page.

Good examples of short, to the point posts with great photos and a photographer credit where necessary:
https://www.facebook.com/epolicemuseum/photos/a.111531825582471.12468.107798892622431/1239553546113621/?type=3&theater
https://www.facebook.com/TelegraphMuseumPorthcurno/photos/a.222240081120101.67350.187033977974045/1455608367783260/?type=3&theater

Keep writing –  Things to avoid doing:

Hopefully the tips and examples above will help you get started or increase your confidence when writing Facebook posts. Social media is informal and mostly very forgiving of the odd mistake, however there are a few things to think about to avoid causing offence and making your museum look bad:
• Don’t let people forget about you. Posting 1-2 times a day is a good amount. If you can’t post that much then a minimum of 2-3 times per week is good to aim for.
• Don’t use someone else’s intellectual property without their permission and without crediting them, especially photographs.
• Be wary of posting photographs of children without parental consent, even if you took them.
• Don’t share information that is private or shouldn’t be in the public domain.
• Think carefully about what you post and ensure it isn’t offensive and remember that something you consider funny may be seen as an insult by others.

Now you’re armed with some simple tips for how to write a great Facebook post: Good luck! Do you have any tips of your own to share or any posts where you got a really good response? 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/

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.

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.