Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

Online gallery for Bradford

In Museum [Insider], Museums, new content on April 25, 2011 at 10:39 am

It’s only a few years since the National Museum for Film, Photography and Television in Bradford was rebranded as the National Media Museum. They realised that the ‘new’ media were expanding so rapdily that they couldn’t just keep on adding more and elements on to the end of the name – the ‘National Museum of Film, Photography, Television, Cinematography, Print Journalism, the Internet, Social Media and Text Messages’ would just be too unwieldy.

And as a result of the new name the museum has decided to create a new suite of galleries devoted solely to the story of the Internet – it’s inception and development along with the impact it has had on our lives. I suppose this wouldn’t really call for a traditional museum display with objects in boxes – what objects would they use that tell the story well anyway?! In fact, it’s going to be much more interactive – indeed the museum wants the new displays to blur the boundary between museum content and online experience.

We’ll wait and see what they come up with – I’m sure it will be something clever. In the meantime there’s an article all about it live on Museum [Insider] now.


Tweeting museums

In Museums, what i'm reading on April 19, 2011 at 3:12 pm

I follow quite a few museums on twitter.

Most of them put out the same kinds of content – information about events and exhibitions coming up, along with the occasional interesting retweet or information about intriguing objects in their collections. But many of them are delivering rather similar content.

But recently I’ve seen a few institutions being more creative with their tweets – getting objects from the collections to tweet. (To be honest, it looks like this idea has been around for a while and I’ve only just noticed it.)

@NatHistoryWhale is the whale from the ceiling of the Natural History Museum in New York. He (or she?) tweets about American politics and the state of affairs in the arts sector, along with notes about marine conservation.

@SUEtheTrex describes herself thus: “I’m a Leo, I like meat, Chicago, the movie Jurassic Park, and what else? Oh yeah, I’m the world’s greatest apex predator.” She’s the hilarious Tyrannosaurus-Rex at the Field Museum in Chicago who writes haikus for followers and makes jokes about visitors and other museum objects she doesn’t like. And it must be working – she has over 3000 followers!

@William_Kidd was the most infamous pirate to be executed in London. He’s also the subject of a temporary exhibition this summer at the Museum of Docklands, Pirates: The Captain Kidd Story and tweets regular updates about life as a swash-buckling adventurer.

Other favourites of mine include @YuffyMOH, the official twitter feed of the learning team at the Museum of Hartlepool and @EmperorHadrian who updates us all about what’s going on at the various tourist sites along Hadrian’s Wall.

There are many more out there. You can check out more of them on this twitter list or just have a search and see what you can find.

Who – or what – will we see tweeting next?

I’m a Museum Person, officially

In Museums, new content on April 12, 2011 at 8:18 am

The lovely people at Museumist  – the online forum for debate, discussion and display of all things museum-related – have kindly featured an interview with me on their blog. The regular column I’m A Museum Person features interviews with people from all around the world, asking them the same set of questions.

I was asked about why museums matter; what makes up an ideal exhibition and my favourite museum memory. There’s also a quiz for each interviewee to complete based around identifying which museum is in which international city. I think I need to do some revision as I didn’t do that well!

The blog is run by a group of museum enthusiasts in Philadelphia, PA.

My full interview is online at

Spring awakening

In Museums on April 11, 2011 at 7:58 am

The annual museum and gallery exhibition calendar is well established now. The summer blockbuster is a favourite set piece for the nationals and this year is no exception. As per norm the National Portrait Gallery will have the portrait award and the Natural History Museum is doing another massive exhibition about dinosaurs.

But for a long time I’ve been a fan on an exhibition in the Spring. Often, less bombastic or sensational than its summer counterpart, the Spring Exhibition tends to be more discursive. It asks questions or provokes debate. Exhibitions at this time of year are often simpler and more reflective than the showy shows of the summer and can be quite inspirational.

Some that have caught my eye right now are:

Women War Artists, which opened at the Imperial War Museum last week, looks to be an interesting reflection on female artists working in wartime.

Foundling Voices opens this week at the Foundling Museum. Based on their ongoing oral history research, this exhibition seeks to bring the actual voices of people who grew up in the Foundling Hospital to the public. There’s going to be a rap competition – can’t wait to see that.

I’ll probably make a visit to Manchester to the People’s History Museum to see On The March, an exhibition about banners used protests and marches. I imagine it will be full of intriguing objects with strong stories.

And, of course, I’m hugely looking forward to the next exhibition at the Museum in Docklands – Pirates: The Captain Kidd Story. You can even follow the captain on twitter!

In addition to the temporary exhibitions there are some new museums and galleries about to open for the first time as well. The Riverside Museum in Glasgow and the Hepworth Wakefield are both set to open this Spring. And tomorrow I’m off to the opening of the David Chipperfield-designed Turner Contemporary in Margate.

There’s so much going on, I might just take a month off work and go visit museums!

Writing text for new museums

In Museums on April 5, 2011 at 9:26 am

I’ve always enjoyed writing for museums. My first love has to be exhibition text – the panels on the wall, the labels in the display cases, and every other piece of text in between – maps, diagrams, image captions etc. Making all the text in an exhibition work together is rather an art and I suppose I’ve done quite a bit of it over the years for a variety of different subjects – from contemporary Japanese crafts to the history of the British High Street, via Leyton Orient FC and reggaeton.

Recently I’ve been working on a few projects with museums who are preparing their text for new displays. But now, rather than writing the text myself, I’ve been training museum staff in how to go about putting their text together.

There’s much more to writing text than sitting down one day and starting to type. In fact the preparation for writing and way in which it’s managed internally are crucial – especially if there are multiple authors on a project.

I ran a workshop last year for staff at the Museum of Bristol, who were preparing text for the new MShed museum – the challenge here was to bring together a team of many curators and writers who needed to create text that was representative of a diverse community and can be updated.

And a few weeks ago I ran another workshop for staff at Chichester District Museum, where they are now writing their text for their exciting brand new museum. This project is on a smaller scale, but the challenges still remain – in this case taking time out to think about the voice of the new museum and how the staff there were going to go about putting their text together.

Each workshop is designed specifically for the client, with short presentations from me combinted with practical writing exercises and group discussions. In fact, I’m not really teaching how to write text. I’m asking the right questions – based on my experiences – to help museums come to their own conclusions about what text will look and feel like in their new displays.

And they seem to like it. Tracey Clark from Chichester said:
“I would like to say a massive thank you for the workshop you provided and for the text guidelines you have also supplied. Everyone came away from the workshop full of enthusiasm and all commented on how much they enjoyed the day and how well you had presented it all to us.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day and was raring to go with the text writing afterwards. Just working through preparing and writing text and considering when additional flamboyant text could be used was really useful. It was also good to see how the team reacted to the training and the examples of text writing that they produced on the day. This gave me confidence that we can produce some exciting text for the new museum.”

I hope they’re enjoying writing their text now. I look forward to going back to Bristol and Chichester to see how it all turned out. If you’re working on a similar project and you’d like a friendly, helping hand to point you in the right direction on museum text, then drop me a line:

I’ve fallen in love with a building

In Museum [Insider], Museums, new content on April 4, 2011 at 6:58 pm

I think I might have fallen in love with a building I’ve never even visited. It’s the home of the novelist Sir Walter Scott in the Scottish Borders – Abbotsford House.

Scott designed and built this place and worked here for much of his life. It’s undergoing a massive overhaul over the next two years, to restore parts of the historic structure and to build a new visitor reception centre nearby. I was researching it recently for an article on Museum [Insider] and ended up falling for the place.

Take a look at their website and you’ll see what I mean – tall towers with turrets, a cutesy walled garden and the most amazing study a writer could ever wish to work in.

And best of all is the news that when the upgrade to the building is complete in 2013 they will have turned some of the former private rooms into five-star self-catering accomodation, so you can go and stay there. Or, more precisely, I can go and stay there.

I’m booking as soon as they announce prices! Anyone want to come with me?