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.]

 

The Keys to the Museum

Hello, Michael here again.

It’s been quite a task this past year getting to know the innumerable keys for the different museum buildings. Large ones, small ones, even tiny ones! Old keys, as well as new keys. Silver, gold and bronze keys. One has a bit of red tape, another has a B written on it. One has a triangular head, another looks like a helmet. No one knows what this other key is for.

The keyholes also pose a bit of a challenge. Some are difficult to manoeuvre, they need to be waggled or tugged in a certain way before the mechanism will respond. You need to get to know them. Others turn anti-clockwise. Some keyholes are very hard to get at and involve crouching or stretching to reach them. There are doors that push open, doors that pull out, screens that slide across or shutters that lift. Large historic locks with big black keys are my personal favourite. It is very satisfying to unlock the main door to Christchurch Mansion.

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Roman keys from Castle Hill Villa, Ipswich

The process of getting to know all the keys has gone hand in hand with understanding the job. It is a happy experience now to open up in the mornings. I know what key unlocks each door and the whole process glides along like a pleasing ritual that must be performed every day.

key2

There are dangers however. The jangle of a large set of keys is very uplifting, but it’s also something to be wary of. Walking through the museum at closing time and jingling your keys can lead to an over-inflated sense of self-importance. ‘It’s time to go home!’ they tell the last few visitors in an officious manner as we roll towards 5pm. This feeling is quickly pricked when you realise you still haven’t quite got the hang of all the alarms and security settings (luckily the Duty Officer has) and that there is always plenty more to learn in this job.

Michael

A penny found

Hi, Esme here,

Just thought I would share this incredible photo with you. I stumbled across it while sifting for images for the Colchester + Ipswich Museums website, which is undergoing a revamp so visitors can better access our services.

The image may have been shared through our Museum social media in the past, but I thought that it was just too good not to share again and I am sure that Colchester cyclists today would find this image inspiring.

I can’t help but wonder how fast the race would have been. Due to photography at the time, surely they might have been more blurry if they were moving at great speed? Unlike the two in the distance, wobbling along and having a chat.

I did a little research into penny farthings and found a famous quote from American author Mark Twain, which he wrote while learning to ride (also known as an ordinary) that goes: “Learn to ride a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live.” How brilliant that someone thought to record this race and that it has been kept safe, so we can peer into the incredibly dangerous world of penny farthing races!

Until next time!

Esme

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

Oh Happy Study Day!

Hello, Michael here again.

A day at the British Museum! What more could a Trainee want? Especially as the visit took us behind the scenes and introduced us to the mounting and storage methods used by the Collections Team for their vast trove of works on paper.

I have always been fascinated by drawing, painting and print-making. When I saw the British Museum had organised a Skills Sharing Day devoted to the care and presentation of these works, I was quick to book a place. I’m not usually a morning person, but on this occasion, I was very happy to be on the 6.18am train to London. I even arrived early in the fierce London heat, full of eager anticipation… and I wasn’t disappointed.

The morning was spent studying the different materials and methods used to mount and display works on paper. We learnt about conservation mount boards, their different types and weights and how The British Museum uses a French-made brand. We learnt about hinging and backboards, as well as melinex sheets to protect fragile surfaces. We also got to make two hinges from delicate Japanese paper, a V-hinge and a T-hinge, which hold and support the paper within the mount.

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Box of Italian Renaissance drawings.

I have always been able to spot a British Museum mount for two reasons. The first is their elegant rounded corners and we were given a demonstration of their simple and effective corner cutter. The second is the distinctive stamped name and details that appear below the window aperture. Again, we were given an explanation of the manual typographic stamper, which requires a good eye, a steady hand and a brave heart to use. Following the practical work, we toured the hi-tech mounting room, containing huge computerised mount cutters, as well as traditional manual devices.

After lunch, we moved to The Prints and Drawings Study Room, an historic interior with a special atmosphere. Here we were shown several methods of storage used by the museum including conservation boxes, portfolios and folders. I was impressed by the way they had used a difficult Victorian space to accommodate a vast number of priceless works. Boxes marked Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rubens and Constable filled the old storage-shelved cupboards. Prints by Rembrandt, a drawing by Degas and the original print blocks engraved by Durer were all brought out for us to see. I knew I was in Heaven when I sat down to look through an original, hand-coloured copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake.

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The day was full of fascinating insights into the way The British Museum operates and it was all delivered in a practical and helpful tone. It felt like one group of museum professionals helping others with sensible, down-to-earth advice, which is exactly what the day had been designed to be.

I felt very lucky to be a part of it.

Michael.

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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

Back in Black (and purple)

Hello, Tim here

Well, this is a post of mixed emotions. On the one hand, I’m very sad to say that I’ll be leaving The Training Museum traineeship much earlier than planned. On the other, I’m overjoyed to tell you that I’m not leaving Colchester + Ipswich Museums. For, as of tomorrow, I’ll be a permanent employee with the Ipswich Visitor Services team!

I will miss a great many things about Colchester. I will miss my fellow Colchester Trainee Esme (ironically I will now be seeing MORE of my other Trainee colleagues), the Colchester staff, the Castle and (of course) getting to dress up as a Celt.

Yet, I am looking forward to making new friendships and connections with the collections and staff in Ipswich. Knowing some of them already, I am sure it will not be long before I feel as at home with them as I have done in Colchester.

I will not prattle on about what I will be doing as a member of Ipswich Visitor Services, as Mark and Michael have already done that very eloquently through their blogging (and at the moment they know a great deal more about the intricacies of the role than I do!).

I feel really lucky to have been given the opportunity to learn so much about museums. I now understand the service in a holistic way, which I never could have even imagined before. The traineeship helped me to realise what path I want to take with my future career, but also set me well and truly on it, by giving me the chance to successfully apply for my new job at Ipswich. What more could one hope for?

Tim shoes
I always was rather partial to a bit of black and purple.

All that’s left is to say thank you to all the people who have helped me on my journey through this traineeship. Particular mention must go to the Colchester staff and Esme – I am certain that I would not have made it here without you guys. Thank you for being there for me whenever I needed help or just someone to talk to. I wish everyone the best for the future. As I am still a part of the museums however, it is not like I am disappearing off the face of the earth! Who knows, I may even return to, er, “grace” this blog and let you know how I’m getting on.

If you fancy paying a visit to Wool.i.am in Ipswich Museum, checking out Christchurch Mansion or coming to meet the Clangers and Bagpuss at Ipswich Art Gallery, you might come across Mark or Michael. But now you might also see me, because odds are I’ll be there – back in black (and purple).

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You said it.