Today’s blog has been written by David Holgate-Carruthers, a Teaching Museum Trainee with Norfolk Museums Service. David has worked on a range of successful community history projects at the Museum of Norwich since April 2017 and attended the SHARE Conference in Bedford this November.
How do we respond to adversity? In the face of change, who do we want to become? And when so much is being cut back, what do we feel is essential to hold on to?
These were the kinds of questions being asked at this year’s annual SHARE conference. It was hosted in Bedford, split across three amazing heritage sites: The John Bunyan Museum and Free Church, The Panacea Museum, and The Higgins Bedford. They sit together in a rough triangle; a huddle of historic buildings rich with culture and story. Delegates had the opportunity to visit all three. They explored the headquarters of a unique religious community, followed in the footsteps of the author of ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ and lost themselves in the beautiful collections begun by brewer, politician and local mayor Cecil Higgins during the 1800s.
The Bunyan Church, Bedford
The main event, held in the meeting hall of the Bunyan church, saw delegates gathered to hear speakers from across the museum sector addressing a wide range of topics. It was a busy day with a high turnout, where all of those gathered had a lot to discuss.
Norfolk Museum Service’s Teaching Museum trainees were invited to be a part of running the day, giving us the opportunity to see behind the scenes as we helped to set up and deliver the conference. Our traineeships have given us a very wide scope of experience, but I had never before been involved with the delivery of such a large event. There’s an impressive amount of very careful planning and a whole host of logistical questions that I would have never even thought of. Working with the SHARE team has been an invaluable part of this year, providing me with a lot of working knowledge to carry forwards. Thinking about that point at the end of this traineeship, it’s an interesting time to be setting out into the culture and heritage industry.
It’s no great secret that, all across the country, many services are struggling. Museums are no different and the themes of this year’s conference reflected that. The focus was on change, how to navigate it, and how to ensure resilience.
The Panacea Museum, Bedford
The Museum Association 2017 report writes that ‘64 museums in the UK have closed since 2010 [and that] the majority of closures are the result of reduced public funding’ with a ‘31% real-terms cut in local authority funding since 2010’ for museums in England and a similar story for those in devolved nations.
Against this backdrop, amidst cuts and the politics of austerity, you would be forgiven for imagining that the atmosphere of this conference was bleak, bearing grim tidings. There were certainly plenty of stark, striking statistics, but the voices that filled the hall weren’t despondent.
Speakers told of experiences at both a micro and macro level, where stories of individual responses to challenges stood alongside broader questions of strategy and ambition. The first keynote speaker, Julia Kaufmann, raised the issue of how change requires careful balance between internal and external influences, asking to what extent we try to anticipate change and to what extent any adaptation is reactive. With each successive speaker, we heard interesting, varied takes on the same key question: What should the museums of the future look like?
Megan Dennis, Museums Change Lives
For me, Megan Dennis’ focus on the MA campaign Museums Change Lives was particularly inspiring; at a time when the future seems increasingly uncertain, having an awareness of our past is all the more important for people. Engagement can strengthen bonds and ensure that people feel rooted, and we are in a unique position in museums to have a tangible, positive effect on wellbeing within communities.
It would also be unforgiveable not to mention Bernard Donoghue’s closing keynote speech, exploring the shape of excellence in visitor attractions and reminding us all of the importance of sex, death, gin and chocolate. I came away from the day driven, not defeated, full of ideas and ambition, knowing that resilience doesn’t equal inflexibility. It doesn’t mean hunkering down, or weathering out the storm, but is the strength and tenacity to adapt and to constantly question. If you couldn’t make it to this year’s conference, I’d definitely recommend that you get yourself to the next.
The unforgettable Bernard Donoghue
Below are photographs from the SHARE Conference that took place at Bunyan Meeting Church, Bedford on 6th November 2017. If you wish to use any of these images, please credit SHARE Museums East / Norfolk Museums Service.
If you would like a copy of any of these images in a higher resolution, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
came together to tweet about their organisations around seven daily themes. Worldwide over 179,600 tweets were sent.
For the British Schools Museum it was an exciting week. Following the SHARE #Museumweek training I had drawn up a plan of content as well as putting up posters and sending out a press release to promote our involvement.
Gathering the content together was really enjoyable and we started #secretsMW on Monday with our first ever Vine: a six second video of the stores. College students on a takeover day at the museum also wrote tweets about what they had been doing, and we posted these on their behalf which attracted retweets from @teensinmuseums and @kidsinmuseums.
#architectureMW Wednesday was a successful day with lots of interest, particularly from local press about photos tweeted of plans for major redevelopment of the site. From this interest we are hoping that the local paper will carry an editorial article about the proposed plans.
On Thursday #inspirationMW was a great opportunity to celebrate the work of our volunteers. I collected and tweeted nine volunteer comments, but unfortunately didn’t receive much interaction perhaps due to a lack of photographs. However, it was great to get the volunteers involved with social media and to gather wonderful comments which could be useful for other projects.
#familyMW Friday allowed us to showcase all the ways in which families can explore the museum. We talked about the museum ‘family’ and had comments from staff about their work which was re-tweeted and favourited but a range of people. This was a good way to raise awareness of social media with other team members. It was great to get a #FF (Follow Friday which encourages other account to follow you) along with @eh_stonehenge and @NMMgreenwich. This led to a flurry of interactions and new followers.
Many of the weekend tweets were scheduled, allowing me to check in and respond to activity. #favMW was all about favourite parts of the museum, and a tweet about the scones in the café generated the most activity!
Sunday’s #poseMW invited visitors in take photos of themselves in poses. Being aware of our audience demographic we focused instead on posting pictures of mannequins in the museum, and interesting costumes in archive photographs.
We received a lot of interaction throughout the week but our most successful feature was ‘Book Bingo’ on Monday #secretsMW. We ask people to tweet us a number between 5245 and 5537, and we would tweet back a picture of the book. We were surprised by the level of enthusiasm and replied to twelve bingo requests.
Over the week we gained 45 new followers and got to interact with a wide range of people and organisations. #Museumweek does involve a time commitment to work well but it is great for public and professional exposure, as well as being great fun to be involved with. I am looking forward to #Museumweek 2016.
Emily Shepperson, Curatorial Assistant, British Schools Museum
@B_S_Museum / britishschoolsmuseum.co.uk
by Kathy Moore, Project Officer (Children & Young People), SHARE Museums East
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The Biodiversity Conference was a great success (full report to follow!)
Molly, our Natural History Trainee, tweeted the progress of the conference throughout the day. A few students tweeted comments and pictures from the workshops, particularly the excellent “Carry on Collecting” session run by Dave Waterhouse (Natural History Curator) and Molly Carter (Natural History Trainee).
In the evaluation at then end of the day, one question referred specifically to Twitter. We found that about half the students said they never used Twitter and of the rest, about half of those were considering following and or tweeting about the conference. So I vote it a partial success and a good introduction for me to see how Twitter can be used. However, I must use it now. A good way to learn would be for me to fill the role that Molly did for this conference (I was far too busy and too much a novice to manage that and running a conference) but I feel I could Tweet about someone else’s event now.
There still remains the question about how to get the students’ attention before the conference, which we feel might lead to more digital participation. When I send the workshop information out to schools, there may be a way to entice them to follow us then with the promise of something extra!
by Kathy Moore, Project Officer (Children & Young People), SHARE Museums East
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It’s 3 days before the A-Level conference and things have not gone entirely to plan. I took the easy, lazy route and asked Molly, our Natural History trainee and main tweeter for @NatHistNMAS, to post our tweets and monitor the traffic, so I’m not really learning as much as I could if I did it all myself. (Next time..)
No students are following us on Twitter but we can’t encourage them other than via their teachers, which hasn’t really worked. Looking at the school websites, there is very little Twitter activity. One teacher didn’t think her students used Twitter. We think they probably do but just well away from anything to do with school (this may be part of our problem!).
All is not lost however, as one of the main aims for using Twitter at the conference was to ask students to tweet their comments during the day itself and to continue the debate from the afternoon over the following days. I will report back on this and on the lessons learnt.
by Natasha Hutcheson, Regional Museums Development Manager, SHARE Museums East
‘Digital technology’, it seems to me, is fast becoming an overused phrase in the world of museums development, and the cultural sector in general; it is too generic. When the phrase ‘digital technology’ is used, it usually results in a level of incomprehension. There is no clarity as to what it means, largely, I assume, because it means anything and everything digital; from developing a comprehensive organisational digital strategy, through to creating a one off YouTube film (no mean feat in itself!). I have also noticed that many museums (and by museums, I really mean the people who work in them) have a tendency to freeze with anxiety when digital technology is mentioned.
So, having thought around the subject of digital technology and workforce development for some time, and having undertaken various pieces of work with varying success rates, I have come to the conclusion that we need to think about digital technology differently. We need to break it down into its component parts and start to think of digital technology as a tool-kit.
We know, for example, that as public organisations, one of the areas of work we are often engaged with is marketing and audience development. To have a dialogue with our audiences, we often reach out for a range of ‘paper-based’ tools, such as visitor books and exit surveys. But, we can also reach into our digital toolkit and pull out, for example, our social media and website tools to facilitate a dialogue – and we can use website analysis tools to better understand our online audience. When considering our best approaches to collections management, we need to take out our CMS tools, such as, for example, MODES or EHive. At this point, we can start thinking about how our collections tools can be related to our audience development tools – can we put some of our collections on line – and then tweet about them? To make this happen, do we need to delve into our digital toolkit and take out our digital camera and start making digital images of some of our collections?
Now, I am sure my analyses and suggestions are over simplified, but I do think it is important to get to a place with digital technology where it is does not become overwhelming, but instead becomes part the toolkit we have to deliver the best museums we can. And rather than starting with what should we do with ‘digital technology’, we should head back to our organisational forward plans and see how we can use various digital tools to deliver our goals.
So, reflecting the ‘let’s unpack the toolkit’ approach to understanding digital technology, SHARE Museums East will be providing support in this area of work in a number of ways. There will be social media training opportunities, and opportunities to undertake ‘point and shoot’ collections photography training. We also have an offer from one museum in the East of England to provide a session exploring digital storage. We will be producing a short report on digital strategies, and will aim to provide signposts to other digital resources. We will also be experimenting ourselves, and might have a go at producing a Wiki, and we will feedback our experience! Finally, from here on in, we will be keeping a regularly updated blog – which in the first instance will roll out the diary of our ‘virgin tweeter’. So please do follow, and if you would like to share your experiences in any areas of using digital technology, please do offer to guest blog for us. And, go and have at look at our Digital Ideas Bank, and keep an eye out for digital training opportunities on the next SHARE Museums East training calendar.