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.

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.

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

Periscope and the Paraloid Sandwich: Upcoming Demonstration and How To Access It

(@EssexMDO)photorealistic_logo

One of the most common techniques for writing an identifying number on a museum object is a technique known as the “Paraloid Sandwich”. It involves writing the number between two layers of a chemical varnish.

 

Emma Cook, Museum Development Officer for Bedfordshire, and I have become aware that while YouTube is populated with numerous videos demonstrating methods for labelling objects for which the Sandwich isn’t appropriate (e.g. costume collections), this technique isn’t covered.

 

However, rather than just create a video, we thought we’d experiment with the streaming app called Periscope. Periscope you to broadcast video live and people following you on the app or who have clicked a link on Twitter can watch and even send in questions. The video then stays on Periscope for 24 hours. However, we will also then be able to upload it to YouTube, where it will be available for anyone to watch.

 

Therefore I am very happy to announce that Emma and I will be live-streaming a Paraloid Sandwich demonstration on Wednesday 25th May. We will repeat it 4 times, so you can log in, watch demonstrations and ask questions at 12:00, 12:30, 13:00 and 13:30 (British Summer Time).

 

So, how can you view our demonstration and ask questions?

 

  1. Download the free Periscope app to your mobile or tablet and set up an account
  2. “Follow” me (EssexMDO)
  3. Have the app or tablet connected to the internet between 12pm and 2pm on Wednesday 25th May

Additionally, a link will post on my Twitter account (@EssexMDO) every time we go live. You can click that link to watch along if you have Google Chrome as your web browser (Internet Explorer doesn’t work).

 

If you want to watch, but can’t get online at that time, it will be available to watch for 24 hours via the Periscope app.

If you do not have access to the app, we will then be making the video available as soon as possible via the SHARE Museums East YouTube account. Links to the film will be posted on this site and others.

What Essex Sounds Like: Soft Launch of Essex Sounds Audio Map

Sarah-Joy Maddeaux, You Are Hear Project Officer at the Essex Record Office, talks about the sounds of our county:

For the past six months, the You Are Hear project team at the Essex Sound and Video Archive has been asking the public what Essex sounds like. Whether stopping innocent passers-by in shopping centres, appealing to the public through newspapers, or calling for suggestions through e-bulletins, we have been asking you what noises you hear in your daily routine; what noises you associate with the county; what sounds represent your community.

Now we have the answer! Well, to a point. We have compiled the results with our sound recordist, Stuart Bowditch. Based on your suggestions, he has been venturing into the far corners of the county, braving all weathers, to capture those soundscapes. And now you can hear some of the results on our audio map, Essex Sounds.

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The hunt parade through Maldon, 1st January 2016. Image courtesy Stuart Bowditch.

From church bells to firework displays; the sounding of ship’s horns at Tilbury to bring in the New Year to the annual New Year’s hunt parade through Maldon (yes, he managed to capture both, and more besides that day!): see if your suggestion of an Essex sound has been recorded.

In our public surveys about Essex sounds, many people commented on a perceived difference between the north and south of the county. Commonly, people considered the southern part of the county to contain more industrial noises, more hustle and bustle, more crowded atmospheres: with more people speaking with a London or ‘TOWIE accent’. The north was depicted as quieter, more rural, where the people are more likely to speak with a ‘traditional’ Essex accent.

Is this an accurate depiction of the county, or is it over-generalised? Why not consult the Essex Sounds map to see if it reflects this north-south divide?

The map also enables comparisons between old and new sounds of the county. We have uploaded some historic recordings from the Archive. For example, you can listen to an auction at the Chelmsford cattle market in the 1950s.

 

You can then compare it with a recording made on that site in 2015, capturing the busy atmosphere of High Chelmer on a Saturday. Try it out here

 

If your sound suggestion has not yet been added, do not fear: our site is still a work in progress. Stuart will continue to record Essex sounds over the next few months, gradually uploading them to the audio map. We will also keep adding historic recordings as they are digitised, as part of this Heritage Lottery Funded project. We are happy to receive further suggestions of places and events to record, though we will not be able to include everything within the scope of the project.

In the next phase, our web developers will build an app version. By the autumn, you will be able to take the map on location, listening to the clips in the very spot where they were first recorded.

In the meantime, why not contribute your own recording to the site? We want the map to fully reflect your experiences of what Essex sounds like. You will find instructions on the ‘contribute’ page, but please get in touch if you have any questions.

We would be delighted to talk to any museums that want to use the Essex Sounds map for engagement activities. Maybe you want to host a recording day, encouraging people to venture out into the surrounding area with their phones and tablets to capture what your community sounds like in 2016, then upload the fruits to the map. Or perhaps a workshop is more up your street: inviting theorists and practitioners to review the material and discuss how the sounds of Essex are changing, and what this means about bigger socio-cultural shifts. How does sound affect our sense of place? What sounds are absent in our collections, and how can we redress that for future generations?

We would love to hear any feedback you have, so that we can continue to improve the site and pass on your comments to our website developers, Community Sites. Please be gentle with us, though: we are still in the development phase! We would also be grateful for any volunteers to test the map more extensively, particularly if you are using accessibility software. Please get in touch find out more.

For more information about the You Are Hear project, you can visit the project site. You can also listen to more recordings on our Soundcloud channel.

 

From summer 2016 to summer 2018, we will be showcasing a selection of our recordings on interactive touchscreen kiosks and listening benches that will tour public locations across the county. We are also looking for volunteers to help us with installing listening benches in the following areas:

  • Burnham-on-Crouch
  • Chelmsford
  • Clacton-on-Sea
  • Coggeshall
  • Epping
  • Great Baddow
  • Great Chesterford / Clavering
  • Southend-on-Sea
  • Witham

Please get in touch if you want to be a part of our tour, or if you can help with the community benches.

Heritage Lottery Fund

 

 

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 1

Object Handling, Packing and MarkingBooking for the new SHARE training calendar opens on 2nd September, but who are SHARE and why should you be interested?

SHARE Museums East are Arts Council England’s Museum Development partner for the East of England. They receive funding to provide training and other support to Accredited museums and those working towards Accreditation. Their activity programme includes formal training days, seminars, peer networks and project cohorts. The subjects covered are based on ACE Goals and include nearly every aspect of running a museum such as collection care and conservation, learning and engagement, income generation, marketing and reviewing your governance. Those of you who responded to my training needs survey have had their thoughts and ideas passed up to SHARE and that information helped to shape this year’s calendar.

Most of the details for this “school year” have already been uploaded to SHARE’s website so you can have a look and see which events you and your colleagues might wish to attend.

However, please be aware that SHARE is funded to provide these opportunities to Accreditation museums and those officially “Working Towards Accreditation”. While other museums may book, priority will be given to museums that fall within their remit.

If your museum isn’t Accredited yet but would like to be, or if you don’t really know what Accreditation is and would like to know more, please send me an email to discuss it further.

There are over 100 training events on the calendar so I’m sure there will be at least one subject of use to your museum.

Interesting session coming up in the first month are:

07/09/2015
10:00 am – 3:30 pm
Captivating Captions – On A Budget
The Red House, Aldeburgh Suffolk
18/09/2015
10:00 am – 3:30 pm
How to Run a Youth Panel
Colchester Castle, Colchester
21/09/2015
10:00 am – 4:00 pm
SHARE Retail Forum: Selling Skills and Sound Retail Practice
The Mews (National Horseracing Museum), Newmarket
22/09/2015
10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Social Media: Next Steps
Stockwood Discovery Centre, Luton Bedfordshire
24/09/2015
10:00 am – 3:30 pm
Volunteers: Getting Them In and Keeping Them Happy (a Volunteer Co-ordinators’ Forum event)
Ipswich Transport Museum, Ipswich Suffolk
25/09/2015
9:30 am – 1:00 pm
Being Creative With Memories: Music and Life Stories
Chelmsford Museum, Chelmsford Essex
28/09/2015
10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Public Services Collections Seminar
Bishop’s Stortford Museum, Bishop’s Stortford Hertfordshire
29/09/2015
10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Keeping A Record: The Essentials of Museum Documentation
Parham Airfield Museum, Framlingham Suffolk
30/09/2015
10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Excellent Visitor Programmes
Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Norwich Norfolk

Most of the calendar is already on-line and available to view here.

In part two I will go publish the results of the training needs survey and highlight where you can find the training you’ve requested