My Trainee Journey – A reflection of (almost) a year in museums

Hello again

The end is nigh for my, and my remaining colleagues’ traineeship. It is rather scary, as it only feels like last month we had our induction week.

I have been on leaps and bound these last 11 months. I’ve achieved things I never thought I would, and learned every step of the way. From documenting African collections and Munnings’ sketchbooks, to project management around Autism accessibility, and not to mention all those fun work trips and conferences like Moving on Up and Transformers.

What I am keen to write about is my perception of museums in general, before and at the end of my traineeship. Everyone who works in museums, always says “you will never visit/look at a museum/exhibit in the same way again!” and this is certainly true. For example, when visiting my brother in Glasgow, I went on a trip to the Riverside Museum and I actually enjoyed it more than the art museums I used to always see and love.

I could write a whole thesis on this, but I’ll stick to my main points. The reason I particularly enjoyed the Riverside is because I now have a better understanding of museums, rather than JUST the collections, as I did before the traineeship.

Museums are more than simply physical buildings of historic objects, as I have learned through The Training Museum and from everyone of my colleagues at Ipswich, regardless of their role or position.

They are the centre of a community. The objects and history are the core of a museum, this I have no doubt, but they do not define it. Rather they are a strong case for having a presence in the community.

Without going off on one, I want to conclude by saying: next time you are visiting a museum and you see a Tudor Cap dating 1504, or a master class painting from the 20 century, remember that there is so much more going on around those objects, and museums are, and always will be, striving to change lives.

Phew! A bit of an article, but I hope you get my drift.

Until next time

Mark

[I dedicate to this post to every colleague in the last 12 months who has made this traineeship a success.]

 

Autism Access Project

Hi everyone

Today I am going to write about something slightly different than what I have blogged about in the past. Today I am going to give you a glimpse of the Autism Access Project, a subject close to my heart.

This blog directly leads from the last one I wrote about Transformers, which is an on-going development programme based on diversity. Transformers has been highly informative for this project. I briefly talked about Early Bird Hour last time, which I will mention as we go on.

The Autism Accessibility Project is an initiative I am leading on in Ipswich Museum. When I was four years old, I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and thus have years of life experience in the area. When the opportunity came to lead on this project, I almost jumped at the chance!  

So what is Autism? It would take too long to explain fully, but basically it is a neurological condition that affects the way an individual communicates, interacts and makes sense of the world. Here are some listed traits: 

  • Difficulties with communication and interaction, which often results in confusion around relationships.
  • Repetitive behaviours that might appear strange, but give comfort and keeps a balance of certainty in their life.
  • Sensory sensitivity. Over or under sensitive to touch, sound, taste.
  • Being a “spectrum” condition means that autistic traits affect people in different ways. Some traits may not even apply to some autistic people.
  • People with Autism are by no means stupid. They generally have focus, which makes them very clever and thus good employees.   

The world can be a challenging and confusing place for autistic people, and thus they may behave in a way that others would struggle to understand. Therefore, training is key in this project, in order to raise awareness of what concerns there might be for autistic visitors, but also to highlight the positives and challenges.

I was ready and able to personally deliver the training. It went down a great success with my colleagues and I am incredibly proud to have given them an insight about what it means to be autistic and how best to support visitors with special needs. I liked it so much that I doing it again in a couple of weeks (eek!).

Alongside helpful access information on the website, we at Ipswich Museums are piloting the Early Bird Hour before normal opening times. 9 – 10am on the first Friday of every month (August being the next one) we are trialling an early opening just for people with special needs.

Early Bird hour 1

My intention for introducing this was to give a quieter and stress free space to explore the museum. In public places, you are often faced with bustling crowds and loud noises. This is often overwhelming for autistic people with sensory issues. It was something that I intensely struggled with as a child, and I thought that introducing the Early Bird Hour would help us be more inclusive for people with special needs.

Hopefully that has given you a good insight into the work we are doing at Ipswich. If you would like to know more about Autism, I would suggest visiting the National Autistic Society website.

If you are interested in the Early Bird Hour and Autism access at Ipswich Museum, please look at the Making a Visit page on our website and scroll down to Early Bird Hour. 

Thanks for tuning in!

Mark

Transformers Diversify – Making Change in Museums

Hello all.

This week I want to talk to you about an exciting adventure I have undertaken; the journey to transform museums and make change in the sector! Not sure what this means? Well, allow me to explain…..

Run by the Museums Association, the Transformers Programme is a workforce initiative for museum professionals who are taking a radical new approach to museum practice. As you can see from their website, Transformers is made of three strands, which museum staff from across the United Kingdom can apply for: Influence, Innovate and Diversify. I am going to focus on Diversify, as this is the strand that I have applied and successfully joined.

An important part to this programme is a publication that the Museums Association launched a short while ago called: Museums Change Lives. Through case studies, it explores the theory that museums are changing, becoming environments that improve well being, as well as inspire and stimulate us. With the many changes to society and politics, museums must respond, in order to accommodate new demands.

Transformers Diversify has Museums Change Lives at it’s heart. It teaches the people on the cohort the skills needed in order to make lasting change in the sector. Diversity is a key issue in society today and recent studies have shown that the various equality groups (ethnic minority, disability etc.) are misrepresented in the cultural sector. What we hope to achieve as Transformers is to pitch ideas for diversity, which change perceptions within museums and allow opportunities for all. Back at Ipswich Museum, I am in the middle of various work related to diversity and access in museums, so this seemed like the programme for me!

Opening Picture for Residential

To kick start Transformers, we all met for the first time on a two-day, residential trip in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. Here was a chance to familiarise ourselves with everyone, as well as some intense, but fully satisfying training. The content was well devised and the structure exceptionally organised and flexible, showing understanding to the needs of the cohort.

I rubbed shoulders with an eclectic mixed of museum individuals in terms of their job role and ideas for diversity. The atmosphere was lovely. We all shared our passion for museums, but equally our understanding for change.

Each one of us had an idea for change related to diversity, which we want to carry forward in our respective museums, with help from the Transformers programme. My particular idea is based on autism awareness and access in museums. It is a project I am taking a lead on here at Ipswich. For example, at Ipswich Museum we are currently piloting an Early Bird Hour for Autistic visitors, which happens on the first Friday of the month. I am sure I will talk to you more about this in future blog posts.

Early Bird Hour

These couple of days have been such a mesmerising experience that they will inform my future career in museums. I have learned valuable skills like influencing, leadership, active listening and challenging preconceptions. Effectively, these fantastic skills have formed a toolbox to engage my ideas of the present and also the future, to enact in my work and the work of my colleagues alike.

I hope that for the rest of my time here at Ipswich, Transformers will have a positive part to play in how I go about my Trainee role and the way I might influence the organisation.

Until next time folks!

Mark

Follow the Nose!

Michael here once again with tales from Ipswich Museum.

One of the roles of our Visitor Services Team is to keep the museum clean and tidy. We do some work before the doors open in the morning, but we also keep an eye on things during the day. Tissues are dropped, maps get shredded, whilst toys, costumes and cushions get thrown about. Nothing terrible, though vomiting schoolchildren can be more of a challenge!

Anglo Saxon Brooch

As I keep an eye on things, I have become increasingly aware of nose prints on glass. Finger and hand prints are always to be found on the display cases, but nose prints are different. Nose prints are a sign of genuine interest. They represent a need to get closer to the object. A visitor wants to look much harder to understand what is in front of them. In this situation they become oblivious to glass, it’s transparency creates a sense of ‘out of sight, out of mind’…which is when they hit the glass.

Usually there is a round, oily mark from the tip of the nose. Occasionally we find a more pronounced shape, which takes in the bridge, tip and nostrils. This implies a more intense level of focus. Now and then, I come across the highest level of absorption, which contains a full nose print combined with a section of forehead. This must be painful. I have heard “ouches” in the gallery followed by laughter or embarrassed denial.

It is firm proof that our collections can fascinate and absorb people. Museums today have a necessary obsession with data collection and visitor feedback. There is an important need to understand what aspects of our displays are of particular relevance to our local communities. Maybe nose prints can become part of this data collection process, where the highest density of oily, nose marks points to the highest level of visitor engagement. Maybe charts or tables can be created, like the ones football pundits on TV use in their post-match analysis, which show clusters of visitor movement and engagement based on nose print ratios.

I have photographed some of the key objects in Ipswich Museum that accumulate the most smears, so you can see for yourself what attracts the highest scrutiny. This is a statistically unproven representation of course.

In the meantime, it’s my job to remove nose prints with a damp glass cloth, helping the next visitor to see clearly and engage more deeply.

FN5

Michael

A Hundred Warm Welcomes

Hello, Michael here again.

I’ve just found out that this is the 100th blog post from The Training Museum Trainees! I know that pomp, ceremony and fireworks are required for this significant event, so I hope you are suitably uplifted by the end of it.

Whilst working at Ipswich Museums, I have been struck by the efforts of everyone here to make people welcome. It happens at all levels, from Visitor Services to the curatorial teams, from event and workshop organisers to the design and exhibitions team. I don’t think museums were always this open and friendly, but luckily times have changed.

As a boy growing up in the 1970s, I was very interested in drawing and painting. Most of my inspiration came from comics and cartoons. I was from a working class, immigrant family living in inner city Manchester. We weren’t the kind of people that went to museums or were even particularly aware that they existed. Our local school never made a visit to one.

I first noticed Manchester City Art Gallery when I was thirteen. I had walked past a few times on the way to the shops. Though I loved to paint and draw, I had no idea that I might be allowed to go into this building. I noticed that people went in and came out, and that there was a uniformed man at the door, who I assumed would not let me in. The building was very grand, looking like a classical temple with a huge flight of stone steps up to the front door. I stopped and looked several times, occasionally climbing those steps, but never making it through the entrance. The man in uniform glared at the scruffy boy stood outside looking in and I knew it was not a place for me.

W4

I didn’t give up. My interest in art was growing and I was an inquisitive little chap. I found The Whitworth Art Gallery whilst walking my dog Patch. It was a friendlier looking building with an entrance at ground level. Eventually my curiosity got too much. I tied Patch up to the railings and ventured through the door. Nobody stopped me. The guard looked and said nothing. I WAS IN! What I saw there fueled my passion for art and art history, shaping my choice of future career. From that point on, there was no stopping me. When I came out, I realised that Patch had been making a terrible noise all that time and had disturbed all the visitors to the gallery.

W5

I can safely say that museums and galleries have changed my life, which is why it is so wonderful to see how much effort Ipswich Museums put into encouraging people to enter. There is always a friendly smile when you arrive, along with an offer of help. The museum is free for everyone and genuinely attracts a wide range of people from all kinds of backgrounds. There are signs outside to coax you in, as well as encouragement to feel comfortable in the building. This is so important, as our museums and galleries belong to all of us. It’s great to be a small part of this warm welcome.

W10

Maybe the best way to celebrate this 100th blog post is to think of the hundreds and hundreds of warm welcomes that museums offer members of the public each and every day.

Michael