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Posts Tagged ‘museum consultant’

Celebrating rejection

In Museums on August 17, 2017 at 3:46 pm

The life of a consultant means regularly pitching for work.

My freelance CV over the last decade or so in the museum sector looks pretty good. But I don’t win every project I apply for and sometimes the news of an unsuccessful pitch can be a blow.

Rather than glossing over those projects that I didn’t win or hiding them away in the corner, I thought I’d share them, in the spirit of being open and honest.

Today, I stuck my rejection emails to my office door, in an act of celebrating my own failures.

Why am I doing this?
It’s partially in response to a twitter post by Nick Hopwood @NHopUTS and subsequent blog post sharing some of his rejections for academic papers and research projects.

He says:
“the effect of not sharing our rejections publicly is that we (often unintentionally) uphold the illusion of uncompromised success.”

And I think Nick is right.

Challenging perfection
There’s a belief held by some that we consultants are problem-solvers. We swan in, offer a solution to a problem and swan away again. Well yes, we do do that – especially the swanning.

That doesn’t mean we know all the answers, though. This might come as a surprise to some, but it turns out I’m actually not completely perfect.

By choosing not to explore our own vulnerabilities or failures we consultants are, I think, contributing to an idea that we’re actually any better than anyone else working in the heritage sector. Often, museum consultants simply have wider experience, not better experience, than their clients. We offer perspective and we try to share the best practice that we’ve gathered by moving around within the sector, but we certainly don’t know all the answers.

Being humble
I’d like to think that by sharing a list of projects that I didn’t manage to win, it shows I have at least an ounce of empathy for others when things don’t go quite to plan – your rejected exhibition proposal, your failed HLF bid, your disappointing visitor numbers or shop sales. Life’s a competition, and sometimes we don’t win. We have to learn to deal with that.

It’s also good to take a dose of humility sometimes, and to learn some compassion for when I have to let others down gently. Some of the recurring phrases in the feedback listed here are a rather trite and I’d like to think that in the future I’ll be conscious of how I present negative feedback to others.

Celebrating failure
It turns out there’s nothing new in taking time to reflect on our failures within the heritage sector. There’s even a twitter account already dedicated to museum gaffs. @Museum_Oops is well worth a visit. And, of course, the Museum of Failure is a lesson in eating humble pie.

Go on, have a gawp
For clients of mine, potential clients, and other museum consultants, this post is perhaps a moment to enjoy some schadenfreude while looking at the bids where I wasn’t successful – especially if you won some of these nice gigs. If you did, my wholehearted* congratulations.

If you want to know about my successes, it’s very easy to see. My CV is right here for anyone to view – a half-decent array of projects over the years, I think, and I’m justly proud of it.

But if you want to see the other side of it, then here are my rejections.

Celebrating rejection

*half-hearted

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The Novium

In Museums, new content on November 29, 2011 at 4:54 pm

I’m currently working on a project for a brand new museum, set to open in 2012. It’s called The Novium* – a new building in the heart of Chichester to replace the existing Chichester District Museum.

There’s an article all about what they’re up to, with quotes from me, on the BBC website. (I happened to be down there last week and got chatting to the journalist who was preparing the piece.)

My work on the project has been around the interpretation for the new museum. I worked with staff in Chichester back in February, helping them to think about the tone and style of the text for the displays. Now I’m back helping them with the final push, looking over the text as it is being drafted and doing some little bits of research and writing to help out.

Apart from the early planning phases, I find this part of a project one of the most exciting. The objects are selected, the text is coming together and the designs are coming through from the studio. Everyone is being creative and using their expertise to create a first-class museum product that I’m sure visitors will find really interesting and engaging when the doors open next year.

Watch this space for more updates on the project.

* the name NOVIUM comes from the Roman name for Chichester, NOVIOMAGNUS REGINORUM.

Researching the past, on TV

In Museums, new content on October 12, 2011 at 10:32 am

I’ve taken my first, tentative steps into television.

Following on from a couple of projects I’ve worked on recently with BBC Learning – curating two small, travelling exhibitions about British history – they asked me to write and present a short clip for their website about how to go about researching history.

I’m not an historical expert – I don’t pretend to be an authority on any one subject. But I have done plenty of research over the years and I know and understand how to use museums, archives, libraries and the Internet as historical sources. In fact, there are so many free resources out there just begging to be used, that I leapt at the chance to tell people about them in this video.

It’s live on the BBC Hands on History website now, or just click on the picture below to see me in action.

I really enjoyed the filming process from writing a script to being on set. And doing many many takes of the same piece of dialogue when I messed up/a dog ran by/ plane went over etc.

Do let me know what you think of the clip. I only did it as a bit of fun, but I think it turned out rather well.

Maybe I’ll have another go soon.

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

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: steve@steveslack.co.uk.