Archive for September, 2014

Esther Rutter from the Wordsworth Trust reflects on the last GEM conference

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Being an Enterprising Educator: GEM conference

Selwyn College, Cambridge (2 – 4 September 2014)

written by Esther Rutter, Education Development Manager at the Wordsworth Trust:

This year I went to the GEM (Group for Education in Museums) conference for the first time. As with all conferences, I approached with the usual trepidation: will it be useful? Would I be better staying in the office for three days? Will I actually learn anything? Well, as it’s a conference run by education specialists I shouldn’t have worried. It was a brilliant three days of meeting, discussing, being inspired and learning, learning, learning so much about how be an Enterprising Educator.

These are dark times for funding for the arts and so the theme of ‘Enterprise’ was a very pertinent one. Each day began with an intellectual double-header: key note addresses from entrepreneurs from within and without the sector. School for Creative Startups’ Medeia Cohen enthused us all with her vision of creative enterprise, followed by the funny and very acute Dean Paton of Liverpool-based Big Heritage who reminded us that cultural heritage is a tool to affect social change, not just an asset. Community comes first, history second. Or, to use his exact words: ‘It’s just a shitty brown pot unless you learn otherwise.’

After the key speeches a choice of interactive workshops was on offer: the only problem with them was choosing which one to go to! Top of the pops were ‘Can we make money from the national curriculum?’ (which included hugely helpful data on secondary outreach from Leeds Museums and Galleries); ‘That’s entertainment: draw in the crowds without losing the learning’ by Rosie Amos of the Polar Museum, which came complete with origami penguins to help tell the story of Scott’s expedition to collect penguins eggs; and Homerton College/Fitzwilliam Museum’s session on ‘Making a long-term investment’ by working with teachers of the future through Initial Teacher Training (ITT). Although the speeches were always good and often inspirational, it was the workshops that really helped me develop my skills and knowledge, from how to use Jing to how to make a successful HLF bid.

But what I absolutely loved about the conference was the chance to meet other educators from every level from across the country. Interns and volunteers mixed with heads of service and directors, sharing ideas and experiences. Sometimes working in one small organisation can feel isolating, particularly if the education department only consists of one or two people. The GEM conference was a great opportunity to discover solutions to shared problems, getting new collaborations off the ground, and finding opportunities you never even knew existed. My personal conference highlight was being allowed to wander through the Fitzwilliam Museum after hours with a glass (or two) of wine, talking with colleagues from all over the UK about what we love about our work, what we love about the Fitzwilliam, and how we could change the world. At the conference I was also invited to pitch an innovative idea for museums to the MA Conference’s Dragons Den in October – so watch this space.

Heritage Lottery Success for Kendal Museum’s digitisation project Loking Through the Lens

Friday, September 19th, 2014

‘Looking Through a Lens: Preserving and presenting the past through digitisation’ has won Heritage Lottery Fund support. Kendal Museum has been awarded a grant of £53,400 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the digitisation of two of its important collections; the geology and herbarium. This exciting and innovative project is being led by Curator Manager Carol Davies and Digital Imaging Consultant Tony Riley.

The project will take place over a two year period starting in October 2014 to September 2016 with the photographing of these rare specimens in the Museum’s collections. A touring exhibition of the completed photographs will then be shown in various venues in Cumbria. There is also the opportunity for volunteers, the community and school groups to get involved with the project in workshops, family days and seed planting. This will help with developing links with the wider community and bring new audiences to the Museum.

Carol Davies Curator Manager of Kendal Museum says “the museum team are absolutely thrilled to be awarded the Heritage Lottery Funding to digitise our collections. We are looking forward to Tony bringing these artefacts that belong to the public to life to a global standard, the first to do so in Cumbria. Our direction and energies as a teaching museum working with Kendal College together with our students are now defined for the next two years, bringing two of our most precious and delicate treasured collections to the public attention”.

Sara Hilton, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund North West said, “This is an engaging project which will actively involve people with Kendal Museum’s important mineral and herbarium collections. Volunteers and the wider local community will have great fun while learning about the collections, and HLF is delighted to be able to help people connect with their natural heritage.”

https://www.facebook.com/kendalmuseum

Stockport considers future of museums

Friday, September 12th, 2014
written by Gareth Harris, 08.09.2014
Stockport Council needs to save £40m by 2017 and is considering plans to run its museums at “arm’s length” in a bid to meet savings targets and boost income.

The council aims to reduce its total budget by almost £40m between 2015 and 2017.

A council report dating from 12 August says that “a new delivery model” will be developed for museums and cultural attractions operating “at arm’s length from the council, based on a reduced cost base, increased income generation, and greater volunteering/community involvement.”

The new model will need to “safeguard the council’s cultural assets, protect existing income streams, and avoid the risk of financial penalties from external funders”, adds the report.

Patrick McAuley, executive member for Regeneration and Economic Development, said: “The council is keen to safeguard its unique and distinct heritage attractions, and is in the early stages of looking at options for operating museums with a reduced budget.”

Over the next two to three months, options will be identified by working with staff and stakeholders and a detailed proposal will be available by December, he added.

The museum service covers seven institutions including Bramall Hall, Stockport Art Gallery, the Hat Works Museum, Stockport Story Museum and Air Raid Shelters.

A council spokeswoman declined to comment on whether switching to trust status is an option.

However, the council leader Sue Derbyshire told the Manchester Evening News: “The council would retain ownership of the buildings, but put the management of museums into trusts. These bodies will manage them and actually run them as tourist attractions. Hopefully, it will encourage entrepreneurship.”

The council also declined to say if the move would lead to staff cuts.

Stockport Council needs to save £40m by 2017.

Stockport Council is considering plans to run its museums at “arm’s length” in a bid to meet savings targets and boost income.

The council aims to reduce its total budget by almost £40m between 2015 and 2017.

A council report dating from 12 August says that “a new delivery model” will be developed for museums and cultural attractions operating “at arm’s length from the council, based on a reduced cost base, increased income generation, and greater volunteering/community involvement.”

The new model will need to “safeguard the council’s cultural assets, protect existing income streams, and avoid the risk of financial penalties from external funders”, adds the report.

Patrick McAuley, executive member for Regeneration and Economic Development, said: “The council is keen to safeguard its unique and distinct heritage attractions, and is in the early stages of looking at options for operating museums with a reduced budget.”

Over the next two to three months, options will be identified by working with staff and stakeholders and a detailed proposal will be available by December, he added.

The museum service covers seven institutions including Bramall Hall, Stockport Art Gallery, the Hat Works Museum, Stockport Story Museum and Air Raid Shelters.

A council spokeswoman declined to comment on whether switching to trust status is an option.

However, the council leader Sue Derbyshire told the Manchester Evening News: “The council would retain ownership of the buildings, but put the management of museums into trusts. These bodies will manage them and actually run them as tourist attractions. Hopefully, it will encourage entrepreneurship.”

The council also declined to say if the move would lead to staff cuts.

A blog about the 22 -27 June SPNHC conference in Cardiff

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

by Steven Garland

The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections held their latest international conference from 22nd to 27th June in Cardiff. It was organised jointly with the UK groups NatScA and GCG and hosted by the National Museum of Wales.

The first day consisted of site visits including to Big Pit, the innovative South Wales coalfield Geo-heritage trail (with Welsh whisky distillery thrown in!), National Botanic Gardens, Parc Slip nature reserve and the Glamorgan Heritage Coast. It was a great icebreaker day in sweltering Welsh summer weather! I attended the National Botanic Garden and we were guided around by an Bruce Langridge, who used to work for Oldham Museums. The visit looked at the learning programmes that made use of the collections and surrounding parkland.

The SPNHC Conference always has a packed programme and this was no exception, with a wide mixture of events including:
• Keynote speeches relating to the sector
• Panel sessions where you can contribute to discussions and debates about topical issues
• Practical training sessions, largely targeting collection management and conservation
• Presentations about historical collections and collectors
• Democamp sessions, where you can see demonstrations of the latest techniques, presentation about cutting-edge research and have opportunities to see (and sometimes use) new equipment
• poster sessions covering subjects that couldn’t be included in the main programme
• social events with an opportunity to build truly international networks, and to enjoy local food and drink

This year there were several exciting contributions looking at the ways that natural history collections are contributing to research on environmental change. The SPNHC President (and eminent export from the UK) Chris Norris gave a rousing presentation about the emerging value of natural science collections in world issues, especially those such as health. Many emerging diseases are presenting major concern (since then Ebola has made the headlines) and most are zoonoses (i.e. those that can be transmitted from animals to humans) resulting from environmental destruction bringing people into closer contact with previously remote or isolated species. Finding the source of a new disease quickly could potentially save the world – and historic collections can be the quickest way of doing this – faster than trying to isolate it from wild creatures in their natural habitat. What value would you put on a collection that literally saved the world – $billions potentially?

Repeatedly we heard about the use of exciting new studies using the latest scientific techniques, especially around DNA and chemical analysis. Matthew Collins summarised several fascinating pieces of research. A study on the DNA of bacteria on the teeth of 800 year old nuns had demonstrated the total lack of antibiotic resistance. Studies of lactose residues on pottery finds had produced a detailed map of the spread of dairy farming across Europe. He also spoke about several lines of amazing research using the innumerable parchments held in UK archives which provided dated samples of millions of sheep over hundreds of years.
There were concerns expressed though that current collecting is weak and unstructured and cuts to such activities could leave problem gaps in the long run. We are not be collecting material that we may need to secure our future.

Practical sessions included a look at ways of minimising risk when working with hazardous collections containing mercuric chloride or naphthalene residues (both occur in most natural science collections and others).

Technological items included demonstrations on the latest in web and mobile app thinking as well as the use of new techniques for data capture and processing enabling more effective digitisation allowing wider access to collections across the world. There were also some fascinating sessions on 3-D digital imaging, which is now becoming much more affordable.

There were some excellent collections management sessions including managing projects to move large collections, using Environmental Sensitivity Profiling to manage and develop storage effectively, and a fascinating demonstration of the use of thermal imaging cameras to improve environmental standards in collection stores.

There were sessions covering numerous collection digitisation projects including several that focused specifically on small collections where resources are limited. There were also several great examples of crowdsourcing digital capture, access and documentation and examples of the benefits of sharing these resources internationally. The Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris scanned their herbarium using conveyor-belt processes and then placed the material online for people to transcribe the data from labels to populate the database.

Finally, for the younger set there were events for the Emerging Professionals Group (EPG). If you are interested you can find out more at http://crackingthecollections.wordpress.com/about/
With such a dynamic and varied conference it was impossible to see everything. Thankfully every session was recorded/videoed and will be available online in the near future.

If you ever get the chance to attend a SPNHC conference, I highly recommend it.