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

One Small Step For Trainee’s, One Giant Leap for Mankind

Hello everyone!

Although I somewhat quoted Neil Armstrong in my title, The Training Museum isn’t attempting a Moon landing! It is in fact about some work I’ve done with Michael on documenting the Mankind Gallery. We are starting with the Native American display case, so let me take you on a path through the forest…….

Here are some moccasins, made by the Cree people of indigenous Canada. As Native American everyday footwear, they are often made of deer hide or soft leather, with a variety of patterns and colours. There was much excitement among the two of us as we handled each object.

Team Ipswich Trainee had the pleasure of inventorying nine pairs, as part of the Collections Information ProgrammeOne person recorded important details, including measurements and an accurate description. At the same time, the other handled the moccasins and took high quality photographs.

I can’t speak for Michael, but I was fully in my element with this task and not just because of how much fun I have with documentation. When patrolling the galleries on Visitor Services, I quite often find myself going back to the Mankind Gallery, reading the text and admiring the collections. To me, it is a fantastical world of exotic wonders, which I would love to be the curator of!

One by one each moccasin was documented and inventoried successfully. They had beautiful colours and intricate patterns in their design. It was fascinating just how old they were, with some dating back to the 17th century. The moccasins had so much character and sophistication to them that I wish I owned a pair!

Eventually Michael and I had to pack up the kit and finish. It was fun but had to end sometime. Between the two of us, I think our knowledge of North American moccasins has doubled!

Chao for now!

Mark

Horse’s for Courses at the Munnings Art Museum

Salutations folks, Mark reporting.

After being ill for about a week, I have a new sense of energy, which I will now express in a fantastic blog post…….

Following Tim and Esme’s posts, you are probably seeing a trend. I am also going to talk to you about my placement, which has been at the Munnings Art Museum in Dedham.

Before I start, I’m going to tell you a little bit about Alfred Munnings. He was a well-known Suffolk artist of the early 20th century. He was a keen painter of the quintessential landscape, but is more commonly known for his skillful works of horse’s in action. Castle House was Munnings home for much of his life, but is now owned by the Castle House Trust and was made into a museum and research centre, dedicated to his life and works.

An an art lover, I am undertaking a very exciting and highly involved task for my placement. Museums can have massive collections, which have been accessioned over many years and there is not always a complete paper trail for every object. As a result there is much work to be done to properly document objects and modern database technology has allowed for this task to become easier.

The Munnings Art Museum is no exception and my task is to document, catalogue and digitise wonderful artist sketchbooks into their collections database.

For me, a day at Munnings is usually split into two activities. The main one involves taking sketchbooks from the store and recording the details of every page into an entry on their database. I have to assign each page a number, fill in information like it’s location and measurements, and write a basic description for identification purposes.

The other task is to photograph the pages, making sure to have a variety of shots including zoomed in details. Once I have a whole sketchbook complete, I go back to the database and upload the photos to the relevant entry.

And voila! You have a fully catalogued sketchbook with information and pictures!

This has been such a valuable opportunity in two ways. Firstly, I refer back to my title-pun: “Horses for Courses”. Munnings Art Museum has been an ideal placement for me, coupling my strong passion for art and keen interest in collections management. Secondly it has given me an insight into how an independent museum operates, as opposed to Colchester + Ipswich Museums, which is local authority run.

Finally, I’d like to just say a huge thank you to The Munnings Art Museum for having me. They have a fantastic and knowledgeable team who dedicate their time towards researching the artist, and I really take my hat off to them.

If you are ever in Dedham, make sure you stop by at the museum. It is highly recommended and they have a new exhibition, titled ‘Munnings and the River’.

That is all. Mark signing off.

Moving on Up

 

Hello everyone! Mark reporting on behalf of all the Trainees.

It feels like a lifetime since I was last in the office. There is much to catch up on, but fortunately I have some time to tell you about our fantastic trip to Edinburgh, alongside what the other Trainees thought.

Monday 

Here we are at Stansted airport. We had to get up bright and early in order to catch our flight. We arrived in Edinburgh safe and sound, excited for what was in store. Tim and I even bagged a selfie!

After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, it was time for the first event of the trip. Thanks to the efforts of our wonderful line manager, Lib (Museums Project Officer), we had the pleasure of meeting some Trainees from National Galleries of Scotland at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

The four of us were most impressed with their range of high tech equipment, which they kindly showed us. This included their digitising process for works on paper. It allows them to successively scan an image, which is then transferred immediately to their Mac computers. All in all, we were impressed, if not slightly envious, of their facilities! They also came from diverse and interesting backgrounds, just like the four of us, ranging from leaving school to being an ex- tree surgeon.

That marked the end of the day and, after a hearty dinner, it was time for some well-earned sleep ready for tomorrow.

Tuesday

The big day! We all had high spirits for the itinerary ahead, as well as some butterflies in our stomachs. Moving On Up was situated at the Royal College of Surgeons, a lovely venue with the recently, redeveloped Surgeon’s Hall Museums. The day was jam-packed with keynotes, breakouts and participatory sessions. It was chaired by Hilary Carty, Freelance Consultant and Coach, and attended by experienced professionals with helpful advice. The room was mostly inhabited by those early on in their careers. Just like us, they all had their own story to tell. Our group found the speed mentoring sessions particularly helpful and constructive. We had mixed feelings about networking but nevertheless, did our best.

The conference ended with much enjoyment and happy feelings, but we were also shattered. The four of us went to bed that night, satisfied with our achievements.

Wednesday

Our trip sadly came to a conclusion. Here are a couple of pictures of the time we spent around the spectacle that is Edinburgh. We left this trip, enthused with fresh ideas. It was an amazing experience, which we won’t forget for a long time.

This is Mark signing off.

ps. I have been reliably informed it is National Apprenticeship Week! #NAW2017

 

Harry Potter Book Night at Ipswich Museum

Salutations Muggle’s. Expelliarmus!……  Mark reporting.

Last Thursday evening, we were going mad for all things wizardy at Ipswich Museum, as we hosted a Harry Potter Book Night event. Staff dressed up in an array of costumes and the Museum was decorated from top to bottom with magical props. Michael, Tim and I had all hands on deck. With the rest of our brilliant team and helpful freelancers, we knew this was going to be a blast!

Of course you might ask: what has Harry Potter got to do with the Museum? Firstly, local museums are an interesting environment to host events, as they contain historic collections found nowhere else. Secondly, and most importantly, as a public venue, we want to welcome as many different people as we can. One way to do this is by putting on events that appeal to a diverse range of people. That way, after having a fun experience at the museum, they will perhaps make another visit at a later point, thus achieving our aims.

Visitors were greeted as they arrived in a Harry Potter fashion, with smiling faces and clear instructions for their fun night ahead. You could have your photo taken in our ‘Mirror of Erised’ booth in the Anglo Saxon gallery; take a lesson in Potions, where you could make Immersion Elixiers (bath bombs) to take away; or even handle some magical creatures, which included snakes, toads and ferrets! There was much to get involved in and, even though I was working, it was a lot of fun, especially with the dramatic Harry Potter music getting my pulse racing!

Soon enough it was time to close the doors. Time sure flies when you’re having fun! I believe the evening was a roaring success, as the visitors seemed to really enjoy the activities we put on. It was such a great feeling to know that you’ve helped run an event on such a large scale like this. I also believe it did help achieve our aim of bringing a different audience to the museum, as I noticed plenty of people interested in our objects! Every time people flowed into the main museum building, the shiny glitter of the Wickham Hoard caught their eye.

That’s all from me.

Mark