Tag Archives: museums

Museums & Wellbeing

So apparently there is a Museums and Wellbeing Week.  This is quite exciting for me as my PhD has taken a wellbeing turn (see below) and now I find a week where museums are promoting wellbeing.

Museums & Wellbeing Week Information

Anyway, I have been working hard on my PhD to the point where I have put in to present at two conferences this year. One with a poster and one with a Pecha-Kucha.  To do this I had to communicate my PhD topic in a more academic fashion than my blog post about is earlier this year.  So I got my head around my literature review plan, and wrote this:

I am exploring how museums can better engage with audiences of diverse communities, such as the communities in Leicester.  Drawing on the work of Chatterjee & Noble (2013), I will be looking at how local museums can better support local communities by creating a sense of belonging.   This will include building on the museums inclusivity in relation to identity and race (Crang & Tolia-Kelly, 2010).

Initially I will be looking into the experiences of family groups from the local Leicester area in the local authority museums focusing on their emotional and sensory experiences (Roberts, 2013; Munro, 2014) to better understand the senses of well-being and belonging in the museum.   I hope that this will be a basis on which museums can better represent their local communities and contribute to wellbeing and create an inclusive museum.

This is what I have submitted to see if anyone wants to hear about my research, and it has been successful.  The poster submission deadline passed and today I found out that I shall be presenting my poster at the Museums in the Global Contemporary Conference in Leicester in April.  The other deadline is the beginning of March so I have a little wait for that one.

Chatterjee, H. and Noble, G. (2013) Museums, health and well-being Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate
Crang, M. and Tolia-Kelly, D.P. (2010) Nation, race and affect: senses and sensibilities at National Heritage sites Environment and planning A., 42 (10) 2315
Munro, E. (2014) Doing emotion work in museums: reconceptualising the role of community engagement practitioners Museums and Society March 2014 12(1) 44-60
Roberts, R.C., (2013) Questions of museum essence: Being, Being With, and finding connection in conversation Museums and Social Issues 8:1&2 pp. 89-101


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Cultural Heritage? Banksy and the Elgin Marbles

It seems that the shoe is on the other foot. The Banksy Mural that has been removed from the wall of a Poundland shop in North London is up for auction in America. The auctioneer says it is all above board, enquiries have been made and the sale is legitimate. I believe him. No self respecting art auction house would put themselves in the position of selling stolen Banksys. The legitimacy of the sale is not really the point though. Banksy creates street art, not commercial pieces designed to be sold to the highest bidder. He appeals to the general public to spread political messages or just entertain. Marc Shiller uses the phrase “location specific commentary” to describe the works and also this:

“I’m not buying the argument that because Banksy put a piece in public it gives a person the right to steal and resell it,” he said. “When he is on the street he is giving his work to the public to enjoy for a day, a month, a year or more. His position has been that if you take his work out of its context it’s not his work any more, it’s no longer a Banksy.”

From the Guardian

Apparently the auction house has received threatening phone calls and messages about their involvement in the sale of this piece of work. There is outrage, there are also secrets, the seller has not made themselves public. This is within the seller’s right to remain anonymous, but by doing so is creating a furore about who they are and what right they had to remove the mural. For all we know this is Banksy himself trying to prove a point.

Maybe, though we should be looking at this from a different viewpoint. Is this how the people of Greece felt when the Elgin Marbles were removed and put into a museum for the British public to see? Did they wonder who had the right to remove these works that they had access to and could see on a daily basis if they wanted to and take them to another country? I am sure they did (and still do). According to the British authorities all the paperwork was in order and legitimate, nothing untoward had been done. I am not going to go into the minutiae of the Elgin Marbles case, but I want to highlight the longstanding debate about having cultural objects in museums.

I felt that my understanding of this issue was highlighted when I saw Henry VIII’s armour in the Met Museum in New York. I knew it was in there, I had seen it on a (admittedly trashy) tv show. However, when I stood there in front of it, I had a feeling of resentment. Why was it in this museum? What did they know about Henry VIII? Why wasn’t it in the Tower of London or at the Royal Armouries? It is housed in a room with armour from all over the world, but I didn’t have the same feeling about the other pieces in there. It was because it felt personal. I then realised that I was a little more enlightened about how other people must feel about the Elgin Marbles, and now the Banksy.

There are many objects that are in museums that are from other cultures, that must have a specific meaning to peoples and cultures. These objects are part of what makes museums places to go, all part of the experience. I don’t have an answer to the long standing debate, I am a supporter of original objects in museums, but also support the legitimate acquisition of these objects. I just feel that everyone should see something in a museum that gives them the feeling that it is theirs in order to better understand this debate.

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Raising funds…

Apologies for the long gap in posting.  I nearly posted while I was on holiday in New York about this, but then I remembered I was on holiday for a reason!

While we were enjoying the Big Apple over the festive season, we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I did my homework before we went.  I noticed that the Met has “recommended” entrance fees.  They point out that all of their exhibits are free once you are in the museum and could visitors please pay the full recommended amount in order for them to be able to provide these at no extra cost.  I thought this was an interesting viewpoint compared to some UK museums (I am being quite general here, there could be UK museums that use this approach).   The Met goes as far to recommend an amount for senior citizens, students and children, in the same way other museums would lay out their prices.    I think I like the honesty of the Met for this, it doesn’t explain every reason for a fee, but there is an explanation.  Before we went one thing did cross my mind; how many people actually paid full price or had the confidence to say no?  How would that work?

Once we were there I found out.  I also got annoyed with a UK visitor behind us in the queue (but didn’t do anything or say anything as you just don’t in these situations).  The other visitor had not done his homework and was kicking up a fuss as a tour guide had told him it would be “free like the British Museum”. There was no consideration of where the funding came from for the Met and how that may be different from the British Museum.  I was starting to get a little tired of the comments about how the British Museum could let people in for free why couldn’t the Met, when we got to the counter.  The admissions lady was welcoming and gave a full explanation of the recommended fees, but stressed that we didn’t have to pay the full amount if we didn’t want to.  It was a no pressure conversation, she double checked we were happy with the cost and when we paid the recommended price she thanked us kindly.  (Although everywhere, except the Guggenheim, thanked us kindly.)  It worked.  Not that I felt that I had to pay the recommended amount, but that I was given the option if I wanted to, to pay what I could afford, or wanted to, or get in for free if I really wanted to.  I would imagine that if I was a semi-regular visitor, I may choose to pay a lower amount or even go in free if I was working on a project using the museum as a resource.
It was busy and I missed the conversation between the visitor behind us and the admissions lady.  I would have liked to see his face as she politely explained how it worked and how he didn’t have to pay anything if he didn’t want to and hoped that he had a nice visit.

In addition to this observation I had an amazing time in the Met.  Knowing we couldn’t see it all we planned a rough route to see some of the things we prioritised and then got lost and sidetracked by rooms of armour or expressionist paintings.  There was also a good 10 minutes spent in Warhol’s Silver Clouds…and it snowed.  Perfect really.

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After October being a hectic month, November has been a little less frantic. It has been mostly waiting for results and news. During the waiting I was lucky enough to go to a lecture by Bettany Hughes on Helen of Troy.

After having watched quite a lot of her television programmes, I have to admit that I wasn’t enamoured with her presenting style on tv. However, in person, she is engaging and lively. There is an element of Horrible Histories to her style which, not only provides interesting facts, it also makes it all the more memorable.

All the news came at the same time in the end, I went to a teaching event for my MRes and was sent all the results and approvals required to get on with things. My essay result wasn’t disappointing either. I knew I wasn’t going to get another distinction this time. I struggled to engage with the subject matter (quantitative methods are not as exciting as qualitative ones) but did manage to produce a piece of work of merit standard. Reading around the subject always helps, I tried to look at it from the most interesting viewpoint possible. I also got news that my dissertation proposal had been approved.

I had a meeting with my supervisor today and now have somewhere to get started. We talked about the scope of my research and it has now grown. I initially anticipated focusing on one museum, but now I am looking at a national, local authority and privately run museums. My first challenge is to find a national museum and privately run museum who will allow me to give family groups cameras during their visit. Then I need to think about logistics of carrying this out, but I think I might be able to manage it. I do have a year to do this. These are relatively minor issues compared to the seemingly mammoth task of the literature review.

The literature review was a common theme at the teaching event. It seems to be the thing that people panic about. We discussed how you write it and by the end of your research you have to re-write it. During my meeting today, we talked about approach and that detailed notes and plans will be enough until it is time to write it up. This is going to reduce the amount of re-writing later, but I think it could be more work in the meantime. I need to know everything about my subject matter. I am looking forward to this!

I now have a plan again, and a rough schedule. Time to get back to the studying!

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So October was busy! It all started on 30th September (I know, this isn’t October). I volunteered to help at the opening of the Big Draw Campaign at the V&A. I couldn’t resist, my pseudo sister-in-law had volunteered and when I expressed my jealousy she called me out and just told me to volunteer. I took her advice and had an amazing day. I didn’t realise that The Big Draw was happening before that, or that it was such a big draw (hahaha!). I spent my morning standing in the front entrance of the V&A handing out paper, pencils and information and my afternoon encouraging people to add their doodles to one of the large templates of the museum. I met some wonderful people and will definitely be looking at what we can do in Leicester next year and how I can get involved again.
That was just one day though, I also had a deadline for my final MRes essay on quantitative methodology. I cannot say that I found this topic easy. I also had the distinction for my previous essay hanging over me. I needed to make sure this essay was as good. Looking back I am not sure it is at all; I tried to read around the subject, look at it from different angles and make sure I was finding some good case studies. I am not even sure I can say that I did my best as the subject matter was dry and formulaic. I kept being draw to how exciting some of the qualitative methods had been and how interesting the case studies were. I just have to hope that I got the point of it all and managed to explain it clearly and concisely. I don’t want a fail on my record!
Along with that, I had a blog post to write, not for here, but somewhere else. If it gets published I will link it all in. I have had my first experience of having something sent back for amendments. Luckily I had been prepared for this by some of my colleagues, so it wasn’t a shock and I didn’t see it as a sign of weakness! I hope that this will help me get more things published in the future. It all helps towards that PhD goal.
Along with these things I had organised an event for the end of the month. This year has not been easy events-wise and it was needed to sort a few things out on going. I think it was enjoyed by all the participants.
That’s my quick October update. I have since written and submitted my research proposal for my MRes dissertation. I am fully expecting some questions about this. My ideas seemed amazing earlier in the year, but putting fingers to keyboard to get it on paper seemed so difficult! Again I hope I managed to explain my question, methods and objectives sufficiently to get approval and get going. Or at least get some feedback on how to improve on it! Since that has been submitted, I am now “study-free” until 23rd November, barring any emails about submitted work.
As I am not able to switch off at the best of times I have learnt about American Revolutionary history (through the medium of Assassin Creed 3), more about the Tudors (by reading Winter King) and more about Raphael (by going to a lecture hosted by the University). I am feeling quite full of facts at the moment!

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Everything happens at once…

I had a quiet weekend planned of catching up with my coursework and tidying my house.  Since the August Bank Holiday weekend, the house has been full of camping equipment and then the contents of the loft as we had new insulation fitted.    I received a phone call from my sister in the middle of last week asking if I would replace her ill other half at a black tie dinner in Birmingham.  I agreed, it was an excuse to dress up, I needed a haircut anyway and there was a chance to pop into Birmingham Museum.

Then the option to visit the Richard III dig opened up as well and the scheduling began.

The University of Leicester has been digging up the Leicester City Council Social Services Car Park in the search for Richard III.   http://www2.le.ac.uk/projects/greyfriars
It sounds like an unlikely place to find the body of a long dead king, but the evidence that he was buried in the Greyfriars Friary is insurmountable and now they have located the building there is a chance they can find his resting place as well.   We arrived at 11am, when it opened to find a queue which trailed off into the distance.  To be honest, the queue was long, but the management of groups of people on short tours around the dig site was good and so no one was waiting too long.  I was quite surprised by how obvious some of the finds were, the Friary walls and floor were clear to the un-archeologically minded.   The excitement among the dig team was palpable.  It was brilliant to see so much enthusiasm, it was contagious.  Fingers crossed that in the next week, they find more amazing objects and even a king!

The dig bought together two parts of my life, my museum life and my working/academic life.  Seeing the University and the Museums Service working together on this project was inspiring.  It also means that the objects found will definitely have a good home and end up being on show to as many people as possible.

So, following my excursion to see a dig, I went to get my haircut and styled for the evening and headed off to Birmingham.

I had the privilege of being a guest of the Royal Society of Cumberland Youths at their triennial dinner.  It all sounds a bit like a gentleman’s club until you realise that he Cumberland Youths are a bell-ringing society!  The dinner, held at the Birmingham Council House, was lovely.  Good food and interesting conversation, although some of the in-jokes went a bit over my head.

It was a slow start to Sunday morning, but we managed to walk from Brindley Place to the Bullring and have a look at St Martins, while navigating through various stalls and entertainers of the Artfest.  There seemed to be a lot of interesting activities and groups to take part in and join.  I wish we had more time to look around that part.  After arriving at St Martin’s during a service and after the ringing had happened we decided to go to St Chad’s as we would be in time for my sister to ring there (and cross it off her list of towers she had rung in).  We got there in time, and I waited outside while the church emptied.  I asked nicely and the priest said I could have a look around while I was waiting.

The church still smelt of incense and was quite hazy when I went in, but it added to the atmosphere.  The church (actually a cathedral or minor basilica) was the first Catholic church to be allowed following the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  I hadn’t realised this until I googled the place while waiting outside.  The interior was designed by Pugin, and is beautiful.  There was also a shrine dedicated to Cardinal Newman, which raised a question in my mind about when parts of people get collected a relics…at what point did they decide to take a lock of his hair and keep it?

Following the ringing finishing, we walked back to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.  The aim was to see the Love & Death exhibition, the Staffordshire Hoard and the Egyptian exhibition.  All of these were achieved.  I didn’t realise how little I knew about the Pre-Raphaelites until this exhibition.  I hadn’t even heard of Lawrence Alma-Tadema but his paintings and the details of everything in them are amazing.  We spent a while looking at the differences between the artists, how some used quite expressionist techniques and others were incredibly detailed and precise.  We also discussed the best viewing position dependant on size of painting (although you can’t beat getting up close and personal on some of the detailed paintings regardless of their size).

We spent a good 5 minutes looking at the Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott because you have to.

The Staffordshire Hoard is even more impressive in real life.  The photos do it justice, but being able to see how small some of the pieces are, and how intricately constructed they are is unbelievable.   I particularly liked the examples of foils from the different helmets which have been discovered recently, and while how similar they are, how different the designs are.  One of the questions posed at the exhibit is ‘why is each one different?’ My opinion on this is that no one wants to be stood next to someone wearing the same helmet as them, a bit like dresses at a wedding.

We then wondered into the Pharaoh: King of Egypt exhibit.  Again impressive objects!  How wood and mummy wrappings can stay as well preserved over 3,000 is inconceivable.   I had also never seen hieratic writing before, so that was one more thing which was new to me.   We had an interesting discussion on how mummies might have been measured for their sarcophagi, and was the shrinkage taken into account when measuring?

As we were walking back to the restaurant for a spot of lunch, we encountered the Moselele band, a ukulele band who were playing as part of the Artfest in the museum, and then as we went back towards the exit there was a choir singing.  The Artfest had it all worked out, as you went from performer to performer, there was no overlap.  Just as one sound faded, another grew loader as you walked.  Nicely done.

My weekend was topped off with my journey home.  It was a busy two days, and while I should have been doing more coursework, I think the cultural experiences made up for it.

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