Stanhope Forbes’ England – Evaluation

It’s been nearly two months since the artworks for Stanhope Forbes’ England went back to their owners and one year since we began the Skills for the Future traineeships, so I have been reflecting on all that I have learned.

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Stanhope Forbes’ England at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum

As part of evaluating the exhibition, I hosted a swap shop, introducing the trainees to the principles of front-end, formative and summative evaluation before we spent a few hours observing visitors to Stanhope Forbes’ England. From these observations and evaluating visitor numbers and the comments book we now know that:

  • There were around 19,000 visitors to the building during the duration of the exhibition
  • 81% of visitors came specifically for the Forbes exhibition
  • 51% of visitors came from outside the WR postcodes

We also received some inspiring comments in the visitor book, including:

“Thank you for bringing this exhibition to Worcester”

“Excellent exhibition. Inspires me to find out more.”

“Chadding in Mounts Bay – one of the great paintings of the 20th century. A fine exhibition well worth the drive from Newlyn to Worcester!”

A particularly lovely moment in evaluating the exhibition came when one of the trainees observed two couples who came separately and did not know each other, but began to talk about the exhibition and then continued around the museum together. These types of comments and observations make me feel so proud of everything that Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum achieves and highlights what exhibitions can bring to the local community.

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Stanhope Forbes’ England at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum

Evaluating my learning while working on Stanhope Forbes’ England has also filled me with pride, in both my own achievements and in the people I work with. I was offered a rare combination of freedom and support from the team here at MAG, which I believe significantly fast-tracked my learning. Curating Stanhope Forbes’ England offered me an in-depth understanding of the complex processes behind loans based exhibitions including project management; securing Government Indemnity insurance; arranging transportation and packaging; managing environmental conditions; planning an exhibition hang; writing interpretation, marketing materials and a companion publication; as well as giving public talks and tours.

I am aware what an incredible privilege this is at such an early stage in my career and the benefits I have gained do not only lie in this widened skills set, but have also had tangible results as I have been offered ongoing curatorial work at Museums Worcestershire. I have also been awarded a position on the British Arts Network’s Early Career Curators Group (supported by Arts Council England and Tate) for the next two years which includes a professional development bursary. I hope to use these opportunities to continue bringing great exhibitions to Worcester and to continue developing as a heritage professional.

Emalee Beddoes

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Preparing a workshop

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Receiving an award from the Worcestershire Historical Society for my Independent Study

Just lately, my working life, academic study, and spare time have all been about the Worcester Infirmary. I have been preparing to deliver my first ever workshop and it is based on my independent study about local funders of Worcester infirmary. I received a fantastic grade for the original work and subsequently two great prizes, the latest presented by the Worcestershire Historical Society. And now I am ready to present my research to the public. I hope.

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The Worcester Infirmary board room

Like similar services around the country, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service offers courses and workshops to the public to help customers with their research and show them what we have. This also helps the service to maintain its reputation with customers new and old, and to generate a small amount of income to cover costs. When I first arrived I sat in a few very interesting workshops and when I offered to run one myself that’s where the work really began. It is one thing to have written an academic piece of work, but quite another to develop that into something I can deliver in an interesting way to the public.

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My independent study and the Worcester Infirmary minutes

In preparation for my workshop, I have attended some workshops by other members of the team, and taken staff training at the university on how to train and deliver research. I even used training as for my last assignment for the PG Cert in Leadership and Management. And I have practiced public speaking by talking to colleagues and students.

Picture curtesy of the George Marshall Medical Museum: Postcard of Worcester Infirmary 1914

Picture curtesy of the George Marshall Medical Museum: Postcard of Worcester Infirmary 1914

Now the time is drawing near. I have done further research on different subscribers to the Worcester Infirmary to be able to tell their stories in the workshop. I have delivered research in tours and talks as preparation for the big day: a successful tour of the Infirmary for Worcester Belles WI and a talk for University of Worcester history students. I have advertised on social media, helped to write a press release, and now a blog post….now there is nothing more to do but to walk into the room and deliver my workshop on 19th May at 2pm at the Hive. Places on this workshop can be booked through this link.

Sarah Ganderton

Diversifying your Audiences

I recently travelled up to Manchester Central Library to attend the equality and diversity training provided by The National Archives. The aim of the day was for delegates to have a further understanding of how we can promote equality and diversity in the workplace for both staff and users.  We started with the basic guidelines of the Equality Act 2010 and the nine characteristics that it protects. Many of us were unaware of the full extent of the Act and the different ways in which harassment was measured and understood. The day was a real eye opener to not only the scope of the Act but also the barriers we face in our workplaces in achieving greater diversity.

Manchester Central Library

Manchester Central Library

Manchester Central Library was closed for refurbishment in 2010 and reopened in March 2014 with an impressive new interior. Particularly striking was the central focus on archives as you enter the building. Rather than being hidden away, the Archives+ department took centre stage on the ground floor of the library. The interactive displays made archival material more accessible to people of all ages and told the story of the local area from different perspectives. It was refreshing to see such a large space dedicated to the promotion of archives as well as many partners, such as; BFI Mediatheque, University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University, working together cohesively.

An example of an interactive which tells the story from the archives

Touch screen displays showing the diverse communities within Manchester

The training day consisted of workshops as well as presentations and each delegate was asked to consider how their own workplace can promote equality and diversity to a greater extent. A common issue that arose was that equality is normally discussed at a recruitment and HR level but not filtered down on a smaller departmental scale. As the job role of an archivist is expanding, professionals need to be increasingly aware of their audiences and the legal framework in which they are expected to operate. It is important to recognise that equality and diversity should be implemented in all aspects of work practices and not be a separate entity that is only considered on a higher administrative level.

Brainstorming ideas on how to promote E&D

Brainstorming ideas on how to promote E&D

Another interesting point of discussion was on the perceptions and definitions of diversity. The Equality Act 2010 encompasses so much more than just race and disability and it is important to have an understanding of all areas of the Act in order to truly determine what diversity means. After all, you cannot define a group of human beings simply by their appearance and you certainly should not judge them on what you see.

The centrepiece of the the Archives+ area

The centrepiece of the the Archives+ area

Manchester Central Library was the ideal venue for this training day as the diverse collection on display provided a more representative memory of Manchester rather than showcasing the experiences of a few. Kevin Bolton, Archives+ manager, discussed the changes in his collecting policies to fill the missing gaps within the community in order to achieve this broader and more realistic understanding of life in Manchester. Despite the Research Collections not being a local or family history collection, the issue of being representative and diverse still applies in terms of making our collection as accessible to our students as possible.

Thanks for reading.

Danielle Joyce

Stanhope Forbes’ England Part 2

In my previous work in publishing, creating content for marketing and press was a day to day task for me, but there I had the benefit of an existing international specialist-interest audience.  When beginning work on press for Stanhope Forbes’ England, I was conscious that exhibition press is a very different species: it must appeal to both those who spend every weekend gallery-hopping and those who rarely visit, as well was both Forbes newbies and enthusiasts.

Stanhope Forbes' England advert

Stanhope Forbes’ England advert

My previous post, Stanhope Forbes’ England Part 1, gave some of the draft press material I had written to send to our talented PR team: Museums Worcestershire’s Marketing & Events Manager, Helen Large, and freelance PR consultant Helen Annetts. I met with the two Helens last week to discuss the draft and our plans for marketing. I was extremely pleased to find that they were happy with what I’d provided and used the text in various different ways throughout the press materials. Helen Annets also shared all sorts of useful advice about writing for the press, some of the key points that stood out for me were:

  • Begin by writing down bullet points of the key things that you wish to highlight – much like planning keywords before writing a blog post.
  • Including quotes from someone like the curator, a well-known subject specialist or even a member of the community involved in the project can add interest to a media pack.
  • Make key pieces of information easily accessible –the press are extremely busy people!

Working with ‘team Helen’ has highlighted the importance of dedicated marketing professionals in the heritage industry. While curators or front of house staff might be able to tweet, blog and make calls to the local press; the media savvy, contacts, and experience of PR and marketing teams are an essential step in insuring the success of exhibitions.

A Smithsonian Institution report on audience building highlights that “Museum marketing is unique because museums have a mission to educate the public as well as build audience and revenue.”[1] As heritage professionals we have the privilege of working with objects and stories that are entirely fascinating and do much of the work for us. The key duty of museum marketing, therefore, is not simply to stimulate revenue, but as a service that makes these objects and their stores accessible to as many people as possible.

[1] Smithsonian Institution, Audience Building: Marketing in Museums, October 2001 <http://tinyurl.com/l3aytca>  p. 1

 

Emalee Beddoes

 

Heritage Management

We are coming to the end of our second module of the postgraduate certificate course. The module is called Heritage Management and centralises around the issues facing future heritage leaders. Our course tutors are Dr Heather Barrett, Principal Lecturer of Geography, Archaeology and Heritage Studies, and Dr John Paddock, the curator of The Mercian Regiment Museum (Worcestershire). This combination of theoretical discussions and practical experience has helped to enhance our understanding of what it means to work in the heritage sector.

Through this module we are asked to evaluate the contemporary debates surrounding heritage including its authenticity and purpose. As future heritage leaders we need to be aware of the processes that are influencing change and understand how these shape the role and actions of heritage management professionals. By understanding these changes and the skills needed to manage these, we can better define the requirements needed to be a successful leader in the sector. From both this and the previous module, I have learned that in order to look to the future you need an understanding of the current environment that you are in. Sector awareness will enhance your knowledge of potential threats or areas of growth. We are learning about the theoretical discourse surrounding the issue of heritage but also the legislation and policies put in place to protect sites and collections across the United Kingdom.

Photo Courtesy of Blake Sporne

Historical Re-enactment of the Battle of Worcester – Photo Courtesy of Blake Sporne

The main theme of this module is that of authenticity. How authentic can heritage be if it is taken out of its original context? Or how authentic can an object be if it has been restored? To what extent is an historical re-enactment authentic? These are all questions which have arisen throughout the course of this module. As students of Leadership and Management (Heritage) we are expected to be aware of the issue of authenticity and how it can affect our visitor experience. This topic is not only important for our module but also for our career progression in the sector.

Thanks for reading,

Danielle Joyce

 

“Curiouser and Curiouser”

The trainees had a wonderful day in London last week, visiting a range a museums and archives. At the Imperial War Museum, and the Wellcome Library, we met and talked to professionals. Both venues have recently refurbished and installed an area that invites curious visitors to get closer to the collections, and coming from my placement at Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, I was interested to see how both venues are attracting new audiences to research.

At the Imperial War Museum Tim Free the Visitor Engagement Officer kindly showed us around. He explained the new layout of the displays, with the idea of a ‘cluster’ of objections linked together by a story which really appeals to visitors. The new layout has ‘post-it’ style labels don’t reveal a lot about the artefacts, but in the Explore History area the most interested visitors can learn more.

Explore History

Visitors are invited to Explore History at the Imperial War Museum

During the time I chatted to the assistant in Explore History, several people popped in to utilise the touch-screens for information on the museum displays. But visitors can go further. The area is full of books that give more in-depth information about artefacts, while oral histories can be searched and listened to on the computers. And yet there is more. The assistant told me about the number of people who are inspired by their visit to the museum to research their family and local history. Via a collection of leaflets and the next door research room visitors can access original documents. This is a brilliant way to connect with visitors who are inquisitive enough to get started with research.

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Wellcome Library Reading Room: for the incurably curious

And the story at the Wellcome Library is a similar one. There I was met by Ross Macfarlane who showed me around the ever growing library of medical- and health-related books and artworks. The library was wonderfully spacious and quiet, with industrious students working away in each corner. But my favourite part of the library was the brand new Reading Room. Here, visitors to the Wellcome Collection are encouraged to be curious. Exhibits such as phrenology heads, and medical implements are displayed with very limited labels alongside connected books, copies of documents, images, and even medical equipment, to encourage visitors to search for themselves, to learn more about the objects. For a while we chatted about the area and the ideas behind it, while watching visitors look around and interact with the displays, before I could no longer resist and had to get my own hands on the books and artefacts.

It is such a brilliant idea to have an area in between museum exhibits and research collections. The new areas provide a link between museums and archives, breaking down the invisible barriers between visitors and documents.  Judging by the number of visitors enjoying the two London sites we visited, access to documents is popular with the incurably curious.

Sarah Ganderton

Enthusing, Enthralling and Entertaining: Learning how to do Tours

An important aspect of my traineeship has been learning how to conduct tours. Given the setting of Worcester Cathedral Library – up a very narrow medieval spiral staircase, and with no glass cases in front of our books – we cannot be open to the public all of the time, and visits must be escorted.  Yet conducting a tour is so much more than ensuring the well-being of our visitors and the security of our objects – it is also about educating and entertaining.

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The tour that we offer typically lasts about an hour. That means there are a lot of books to get through (we get some out for display), and a lot of information to hold in your head at one time! So far, I’ve only been doing parts of the tours, while shadowing my supervisor for the remainder. However, he has taught me far more than just facts to regurgitate!

Knowing who your audience is and pitching to them is of critical importance. By picking up on someone’s particular interests, or where they’re from, we can present them with material that is going to fascinate them. Most recently, a group of retired nurses were engrossed with our anatomy and medical textbooks, a visitor from the Netherlands was keen to see one of our medieval Books of Hours written in Middle Dutch, and an American man was enthralled by some of our earlier maps that erroneously showed his native state of California to be an island.

It is a very rewarding experience when someone really enjoys their tour, but there is more in it than just personal satisfaction. The more impressed someone is by their visit to the Cathedral library, the more likely we are to benefit from word-of-mouth recommendations, or even receive generous donations. Interacting with the public face to face also gives me a good idea of what topics will be of most interest generally when it comes to the other roles encompassed by my traineeship: exhibition development and running the blog, both of which are all important aspects when it comes to opening up the collection of the library and archive to the widest possible audience.

Talking of the blog – we have a steadily growing number of hits per week, and I have now got a good amount of material coming in from our fantastic team of volunteers.  This is important for making sure that I don’t write just about the things that I’m interested in! See our latest content here: http://worcestercathedrallibrary.wordpress.com/

Tom Hopkins