Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

Museum Gallery Interpretation and Material Culture

In new content, what i'm reading on May 31, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Hot on the heels of the new Museum [Insider] book, I’ve published again, just a week later! And just like the last one, this is just as niche and almost as costly.

I have a paper published in a new book called Museum Gallery Interpretation and Material Culture, published by Routledge. The book is an edited version of a conference I spoke at a few years ago with my colleagues David Francis and Claire Edwards from the British Museum. The three of us wrote our paper up into a chapter of the book, which appears alongside other people, including museum interpretation guru George Hein, who we got to share a stage with during a Q&A at the conference – a definite career highlight so far!

Our paper discusses how museums might create an object-centred interpretive approach to interpretation and how that is balanced with a more traditional story-led approach. We had undertaken some research at the British Museum and reported our findings here.

It’s quite a wide-ranging book:

1. Introduction . Juliette Fritsch

Part I: Situating Interpretation in the Museum Context
2. “The Museum as a Social Instrument”: A Democratic Conception of Museum Education. George E. Hein
3. Invoking the Muse: The Purposes and Processes of Communicative Action in Museums. Paulette M. McManus
4. Interpretation and the Art Museum: Between the Familiar and the Unfamiliar. Cheryl Meszaros, eds. Jennifer J Carter, Twyla Gibson

Part II: The Role of Interpretation in Art Galleries
5. Towards Some Cartographic Understandings of Art Interpretation in Museums. Christopher Whitehead
6. Art for Whose Sake? Sue Latimer
7. The Seeing Eye: The Seeing “I”. Sylvia Lahav

8. Part III: How Can We Define the Role of Language in Museum Interpretation?
Juliette Fritsch

Part IV: Interpretation, Personal Experience, and Memory
9. “I loved it dearly”: Recalling Personal Memories of Dress in the Museum. Torunn Kjolberg
10. Welcome to My World: Personal Narrative and Historic House Interpretation. Mariruth Leftwich
11. Narrative Museum, Museum of Voices: Displaying Rural Culture in the Museo Della Mezzadria Senese, Italy. Marzia Minore

Part V: Evidence-Based Practice
12. An Evaluation of Object-Centered Approaches to Interpretation at the British Museum. Steve Slack, David Francis and Claire Edwards
13. The Other Side of the Coin: Audience Consultation and the Interpretation of Numismatic Collections. Effrosyni Nomikou Part VI: Interpretive Strategies for Specific Audiences
14. Designing Effective Interpretation for Contemporary Family Visitors to Art Museums and Galleries: A Reflection of Associated Problems and Issues. Patricia Sterry
15. Interactive Gallery Interpretation for Design Students: Help or Hindrance? Elizabeth Dyson
16. Empower the Audience! How Art Museums Can Become Enriching Creative Spaces for a Wider Audience through Deliberate and Strategic Use of Experience and Learning Theories. Karen Grøn Part VII: Process and People
17. “Reading the Walls”: A Study of Curatorial Expectation and Visitor Perception. Sarah Ganz Blythe and Barbara Palley
18. “Education is a department isn’t it?” Perceptions of Education, Learning and Interpretation in Exhibition Development. Juliette Fritsch


Travelling exhibition coming to Manchester

In Museums on May 26, 2011 at 8:45 am

I’ve just finished work on a small travelling exhibition which is going to Manchester city centre this coming weekend – Saturday 28 May. It’s all about archive film.

I curated a small travelling show for BBC Learning about the social history of Britain in the twentieth century, as told through clips of archive footage. It’s all part of a project to film a new TV show for the autumn called Reel History of Britain, hosted by Melvyn Bragg.

In each episode Melvyn travels to a different part of the UK, using a unique mobile cinema to tell the story of a different key aspect of British life. From holidays to housing, school days to the Silver Jubilee, the programme will use the British Film Institute and regional archive collections and real stories to highlight the hardships and simple pleasures of the past.

If you’re in Manchester, make your way to Albert Square between 10.00 and 17.00 to see the exhibition and perhaps even get caught on camera for the series! The part I worked on is the timeline, inside the exhibition truck – do let me know if you see it.

All the details are on the BBC website.

I’ve also written some resources for the BBC Hands on History web pages, which will be available online later in the year. It’s been great fun to learn more about the amazing film archives that exist around the country and to use a few of them for research. Power to the film archive!

Museum [Insider] Looking Ahead: Handbook of Future Museum and Heritage Projects 2012 to 2017

In Museum [Insider], Museums, new content on May 25, 2011 at 11:20 am

I’m pleased to announce the publication of my new book with Heritage Solution Ltd, the publishers of the online magazine Museum [Insider].

It’s got a snappy title –

Museum [Insider] Looking Ahead: Handbook of Future Museum and Heritage Projects 2012 to 2017 is a look at over 100 projects taking place in the museum, gallery and heritage sector over the next five years. Each entry has a write up detailing what the project entails and what contracts are likely to be offered in the future, along with project data and the all important names and contact details of the key people to speak to.

There are also five introductory articles detailing where I think the museum sector is right now in terms of private business. It’s true that times are tough for the heritage sector right now – jobs are being cut, as are annual budgets. But this book lists the staggering £1.8 billion worth of work that’s out there and gives you the knowhow to go about securing some of it for yourself. It’s the word from inside the museums – the Museum [Insider].

As a market intelligence publication about a specialised industry this isn’t perhaps a book that you’ll buy for the bedside table, but if you’re interested in obtaining a copy, then take a look at the M[I] website.

In the meantime, I want to say a big thank you to the lovely people at Museum [Insider] for publishing a second title with me. Cheers, guys.

How do you ‘lose’ a museum?

In Museums, what i'm reading on May 24, 2011 at 9:21 am

We are set to see plenty of new museums open this year. But have you ever wondered about museums that don’t exist any more or that have closed down? I went to a conference on Saturday all about ‘lost museums’.

It was presented by the Hunterian Museum, along with the Museums and Galleries History Group (of which I am a recent member) and hosted at the Royal College of Surgeons. There was an emphasis to start with on the history of medical museum. Although collections of specimens in jars used to be very popular, especially in the teaching of anatomy, the Human Tissue Act put an end to many of them and now only a few survive. But they are perhaps on the rise again, given the outstanding quality of displays at the Hunterian.

We also learned about Victorian anatomy shows – plaster and wax models of the body with removable organs – aimed at the general public rather than the medical profession. Again, the 1857 Obscene Publications Act put an end to those and many of the beautiful models were melted down in front of magistrates.

There were papers about Henry Wellcome‘s massive collection of objects (over 1 million when he died in 1936) which took 50 years to sort through and John Ruskin’s lost museum in Sheffield, aimed at inspiring artisans and cratsmen of the city. The museum was disbanded long agao, but has recently been recreated at , so it’s perhaps not as lost as we think.

Two papers on natural history covered the lost menageries of animals and birds in Regency London and the history of four museums of sconomic botany at Kew Gardens, all of which have now disappeared.

Perhaps the most poignant paper was from Tim Knox, director of Sir John Soane’s Museum, who recounted the collection of medieval art belonging to a contemporary of Soane. The architect Lewis Nockalls Cottingham (what a name!) collected pieces or art and architecture together in his house in Waterloo and opened it up to the public for a fee. Unlike Soane his collection disappeared when, after his death it was sold off by his family – and then the house was demolished in the 20th century to make way for the Festival of Britain.

It’s all a bit sad really – these museums which have been lost forever. But people are still writing and talking about them, so perhaps they aren’t ‘lost’ completey. Their memory lives on in some way.

I was struck by not only the physical void that the ‘loss’ of these museums created, but also the social absence that comes about when a museum closes down. If we celebrate the new Turner Contemporary as a force for good in Margate because it is set to bring about social cohesion in the town, does the closing of a museum remove something from the social fabric of a place? What happened to the visitors who no longer got to see the objects on display have social, intellectual, beautiful experiences?

Hmmmm, I can feel a conference paper of my own coming on …

In the meantime, the exhibition Lost Museums continues at the Hunterian Museum until 2 July.

Completing Kettle’s Yard

In Museum [Insider], Museums, new content on May 21, 2011 at 7:04 pm

The ‘to do’ list of museums I want to visit has been growing over time, but I’ve just put a new one at the top of the list.

Over the last couple of years I’ve written about dozens of museums and galleries around the country which I’ve not visited in person. If I’m writing an article about a new museum being planned in Scotland there’s actually little point in me going up there to see a building site – in fact it’s much more beneficial to speak with people working on the project on the phone. There are loads of new museums opening this year, but one I really want to go see when it’s done (next year) is Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge.

This charming little property was once home to Jim Ede, a veteran of the art world who would, at one time, welcome students from the local University into his home for a cup of tea and the chance to look at his collection.

The house is now a public building, and has been operating at maximum capacity for some time. After various physical interventions on the site the museum has now realised that it cannot continue to operate efficiently in its present form, so are planning to make some alterations and ‘complete’ the site –  at a cost of £5 million.

I’ll definitely be there next autumn to see what’s happened.

New museums opening across the country

In Museums on May 18, 2011 at 2:24 pm

I was lucky enough to go to one of the previews of the new Turner Contemporary in Margate a few weeks ago. The David Chipperfield-designed art gallery has been a fair while in the making, but it was well worth the wait. I really hope the TC is going to do what it promises and help to regenerate and revitalise Margate, which is a rather sad sort of a town on the north Kent coast.

This is the just the start of the latest flurry of new museums and galleries opening this spring summer.

The redeveloped Holbourne Museum in Bath will reopen later this month, along with the Hepworth Wakefield, a brand new arts venue for West Yorkshire.

Then in June we get to see the Zaha Hadid-designed Riverside Museum, also known as the Glasgow Guggenheim because of its fabulous and eccentric design. And later that month MShed opens in Bristol, the new Museum of Bristol project telling the story of the city. I did some work with the museum team at Bristol on the project just over a year ago, helping them with the early stages of text-writing for the new museum.

July sees the opening of the new Museum of Liverpool – again an extravagant and striking architectural design right in the middle of the city. And later in the summer we’ll see the results of the redevelopment of Taunton Castle into the Museum of Somerset.

So hold on to your hats for a rollercoaster of a summer of venue openings – and let me know if you get an invite to any of the opening parties and need a date!

Multimedia guide to Petworth House

In Museums, new content on May 13, 2011 at 1:28 pm

My latest app is now live in the iTunes app store. It’s a multimedia guide to Petworth House in West Sussex for iPhone and iPod Touch.

It was great fun to make – we visited a few times over the winter months to interview members of staff there and take still shots. We made another visit in the Spring with our presenter, Rob Curtis, to film the interior and exterior shots and footage of him interviewing the National Trust staff who work there.

The guide takes visitors around the house, moving from room to room. Rob welcomes you into a room, gives you a quick overview of what’s important or interesting and then leaves you to browse a few options which we’ve placed on the screen for you. So you can go at your own pace and take as much or as little in as you like.

The guide is £3.50 if you turn up at Petworth House – they’ll loan you a handset for the day. Or, if you’re a die-hard National Trust fan, you can even download it from iTunes for £2.99 and save yourself 51p. Plus you get to keep it afterwards too!

I worked on the guide with the lovely people at ATS Heritage, who I’ve written guides for before at the Ashmolean, Lambeth Palace Library and even a guide to a Stannah Stairlift factory.

More research at the British Library

In Museums on May 1, 2011 at 2:41 pm

I’ve just started work on a new project with one of my favourite clients – the British Library. From time to time I work with them as an interpretive and audience consultant, helping them figure out how the public react to their exhibitions – either displays that have already opened (summative evaluation), or others that are in the pipeline (formative evaluation).

The present idea we are testing is a new exhibition planned for next summer – it’s all rather hush hush at the moment, but it’s certainly another interesting project from the British Library and I’m looking forward to finding out what members of the public think of the plans. Their feedbacl – which we gather through focus groups – will then inform the final planning stages of the exhibition, so they really have a chance to help shape what the final display will look like.

I’ll let you know how we get on ….