Joe Blogs

Today’s blog is brought to you by Joe Hoyle, SHARE’s outgoing Museum Development Assistant. Joe worked in this role for two years; administrating the SHARE training calendar, coordinating large events and overseeing the team’s communications and finance. Prior to this, Joe had worked with the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum collection at Norwich Castle, the National Trust in Cambridgeshire, and spent 2 years with Lancashire Museums Service.

In what is fast becoming SHARE tradition, I am ending my time here with some final thoughts. If you are reading this, I will spare you any holier-than-thou predictions. I am neither qualified nor experienced enough to talk about museum futures or their place in the world. My role has offered many fly-on-the-wall moments though, and I have been privy to a range of discussions, meetings, experiences and challenges that have shaped how I perceive museums in this region. I have also had a great deal of fun, so I’ll start there.

September 2016, Newmarket. My colleagues Ruth and Kathy have joined me in the gent’s toilets at the Jockey Club Rooms. We are gazing in awe at the bathroom’s mellifluous grace and majesty. Kathy is holding the soft white hand towels, Ruth is examining the fine cubicle doors and I’m trying to take a photograph of a sink. Nobody is standing guard but we’re hoping not to be found. Our attention to detail while museum conference planning knows no bounds. The best toilet I’ve ever been in? Undoubtedly.

The team at the Jockey Club Rooms, Newmarket. This wasn’t the toilets…

Fast-forward three months. I have made a grave error. I’m sat in a meeting at Imperial War Museum Duxford with my back to the window that overlooks the runway. Half an hour in and I can hear the unmistakable splutter of a Rolls Royce Merlin engine behind me. A Spitfire is taxiing along the runway and I’m missing it. I can only guess at what is happening from examining the eyes of those across the table. They, in turn, are craning their necks around my despondent face to catch a glimpse of the fierce flying machine. I’m a man in his twenties close to tears.

Like the Jockey Club bathroom, I saw the Spitfire in all its splendour eventually. I then saw a Hawker Hurricane. I went back later and saw a Bristol Blenheim, a Douglas Dakota and a Vought Corsair. I also saw a huge French Tricolour that month, captured in 1800 by Horatio Nelson himself and unfurled for the first time in a generation.  My job has taken me from creaking wooden buildings of rural Suffolk to sleek, modern edifices in Cambridge. From the Broads of Norfolk to inner city Luton. I have met a great many people, from volunteers to senior managers to celebrities of the trade (I’m still processing shaking hands with John Orloff, the American screenwriter who penned some of the HBO Band of Brothers episodes). Everybody I’ve met has a head full of ideas, all equally valid. But what have I learned?

Delivering a session in Norfolk

Here goes… Are this regions museums in a downward spiral, chronically underfunded yet bloated with CVs from bright-eyed professionals? Well, yes and no. Are museums struggling to broaden their audiences? Probably. Is a museums’ place in society being increasingly side-lined by local government? I think so. Is everybody being asked to do more with less? Almost certainly. The future looks grim for many museums out there, but not all… I think.

In all this hullabaloo, “I want to work in museums” is something I’ve heard a thousand times. Admirable indeed, but why? Museum jobs are as varied as a blacksmith is to a DJ. How does the wish to work “in a museum” manifest itself into brushing mould off the back of a wooden door? Surely… Surely those who work in museums have a fundamental appreciation of history, art and heritage at a base-level? Whether it’s teaching children, informing new audiences, writing, designing, conserving, working in the community, improving accessibility or helping the museum to grow financially, this fundamental appreciation surely comes first? This is certainly the reason I’ve worked in heritage for five years.

“I want to work in museums”. Hmmmm.

When I landed my first museum job at the Lancaster City Museum, I couldn’t help but feel a little short-changed when the manager told me she was originally from Stafford, 100 miles down the M6. A foreigner in a local community museum!? I learned very quickly that this was quite normal and I was in fact being preposterously ignorant. She was a great match for the museum because of her passion and skill. She was a curator first and foremost with a love for heritage.

To be blunt, that’s why I’ve enjoyed my time in the sector. Who else could be so excited by a piece of old cloth or bit of metal in a damp store? I read last week that a novelty lighter from the Mexico 1986 Football World Cup had just washed ashore on a beach in Scotland – my first thought was “get it accessioned somewhere!” My favourite museums, like my favourite people, are always those that are rough around the edges. Those museums where subject matter is the absolute priority (sometimes at the expense of other amenities), put together by staff and volunteers who care. Their collections, lovingly embraced, speak to people.

Life for me beyond SHARE is unknown. Though my compass is pointed north west, I’ve yet to figure out what I’ll be doing. I’m a realist though – it may never be in the sector again. I’ll end on this – If the Goddess of Museums visited me in my sleep tonight and granted me one wish for Her dominion, it would probably be;

“No matter what challenges our institutions face (and there are many), may we never lose sight of how subject matter binds us together with a lust for learning, sharing and caring. May this passion influence what we do, who we employ and how we work.”

Passion and natural enthusiasm trump all other facets, and I really hope it remains so in every museum. Whatever the weather. It may be the only thing some museums have left.

Please be passionate for the subject!

Remembering Katrina Siliprandi

We bring you today’s blog with a heavy heart. Saddened by the news of the death of  Katrina Siliprandi last week, SHARE’s Kathy Moore, a dear friend of Katrina, writes:  

Many of you will be aware of Katrina’s pioneering work in Museum Learning as Head of Learning at Norfolk Museums Service for many years. She was hugely important for NMS as an organisation but also for many individuals whom she mentored, inspired, and encouraged. She gave me my first job in museums and had been my touchstone ever since.

Katrina and I at a SHARE event

She was passionate about all museums, large and small, about their collections as a foundation for fantastic learning and life-changing experiences. She was dedicated to improving Access and Inclusion in museums and worked regularly with looked after children, young offenders and many other minority groups.

Katrina with Cathy Terry, Senior Curator at Strangers Hall

After her early retirement from NMS on health grounds a few years ago, she recovered enough and was enthusiastic to deliver SHARE training on Reaching Different Audiences, Learning from Objects and Reflective Learning Practice.

Katrina at her leaving do, Norwich Castle

She had been diagnosed with terminal cancer just over a year ago and initially thought she had only weeks left to live. As you would expect, if you’d known her well, she fought hard to have as long as possible with her family, including young grandchildren. She always had time for her friends too and many kept in touch and visited her during this last year, keeping her up to date with what was happening in the museum world. She wanted to know all the news from NMS, SHARE, GEM etc.

One of Katrina’s favourite projects saw the production of this short film. Just like Katrina, it highlights the values of thought-provoking and interesting learning alongside barrels of fun!

[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SNxvNcyCSo[/youtube]

 

Her early death is a huge loss to her family, friends and the museum profession as a whole.

Katrina in action at the Scott Polar Research Institute

 

The SHARE Conference: A Trainee Perspective

Todays guest blog comes from Anne Brown, a Teaching Museums trainee with Norfolk Museums Service. Anne shares her thoughts on the SHARE Conference in November and reflects on the things she’s learned along the way.

On the 21st November 2016 I had the great pleasure of attending my first SHARE Conference, in the awe-inspiring Jockey Club Rooms in Newmarket.

Although only my first conference, this was in fact the 6th Annual Conference for SHARE Museums East and it was immediately clear to me what an important event it has become in the eastern area museums calendar. With well over 100 attendees from a diverse range of settings, representation came from the smaller independent museums, such as the Mildenhall and District Museum and The Norfolk Tank Museum (both run entirely by volunteers), through to the larger establishments like IWM, The Fitzwilliam and my very own, Norfolk Museums Service.

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The day was a well thought out combination of speakers, workshops and the oh-so- important time to network with colleagues you rarely get the opportunity to see, let alone have enough time to talk to.

For the Norfolk Museum Trainees it was a great opportunity to be introduced to so many people from across the region, hear about fabulous projects and join in the various breakout sessions in the afternoon.

The theme of the conference this year was ‘Better Placed? Museums at the heart of successful communities’. After a welcome and introduction Chris Garibaldi and Jamie Everitt, the thought provoking morning Keynote speech ‘Culture making places- challenges and opportunities’ was given by Paul Bristow, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Arts Council England. This was followed by a series of presentations providing working examples of projects based within the heart of the communities they serve. There were plenty of opportunities for questions and comments from the floor, which provided the opportunity for more in-depth discussion of the projects described, both in the room and later over tea and coffee and a very impressive lunch. Chris Garibaldi then provided an introduction to Palace House and delegates at the conference had the opportunity to take a look around the museum. Despite the weather, many delegates took up the opportunity and the chance to say hello to the horses – who were really very welcoming!

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After a long lunch break allowing plenty of time for eating, networking, visiting the museum and the ‘market-place’ (where various organisations and groups- including the Trainees- had set up shop), the afternoon Keynote speech was delivered by Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund for the East of England. Robyn not only provided an interesting and useful insight into how much the HLF values community engagement, but also reflected on the morning’s presentations. The remainder of the afternoon was spent with delegates taking part in a variety of break-out sessions, providing more opportunities for the exchange of information and ideas. This was another great opportunity for myself and the other Museum Trainees to get involved in discussions and workshops with professionals from across the heritage industry in the East. The day was rounded up with thanks and reflections from Steve Miller, Head of Norfolk Museums Service.

My reflections on the day would have to be what a valuable experience it was for me and my fellow trainees. The opportunity to hear about such a range of inspirational projects from passionately committed staff, both paid and voluntary. To meet and have the time to discuss a range of issues, ideas and to hear about the plans, hopes and aspirations of colleagues from across the Eastern region.

A day very well spent. If you have the opportunity I strongly recommend you get yourself booked onto next year’s conference. I know I will.

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Thoughts from Simon Floyd

At the end of July, the longest-standing member of the SHARE team, Simon Floyd, left to pursue his great passion; the theatre. Simon was a mainstay of SHARE from 2009. He played a key role in developing the now well-established SHARE ethos, whereby all contributions are freely offered and equally valued. This has enabled SHARE to nurture a Museum Development programme second-to-none. He was also the inspiration behind the famous owl logo!

Before he left, Simon wrote a short piece on the ethos and achievements of SHARE:

“The SHARE Museum Development Programme has proved that skills-sharing can benefit museums of every size. We work hard to incorporate offers of expertise and resources from museums of all different types. Bishops Stortford museum offered their collections photography expertise, which evolved into a highly successful training course; the National Horse Racing Museum ran a course in business skills; and our networks continue to grow and develop with the goodwill of museum-based coordinators – especially in learning, heritage engineering and costume & textiles. The networks have contributed not only to their own knowledge but to that of the wider museums sector. The deliberate informality of SHARE has been a strength, helping us to deliver successful partnerships involving the biggest museums (including the British Museum) to the smallest volunteer-run organisation.

“SHARE has not only been busy, it’s been cost-effective. By looking for the support we need in our own backyard we have rarely had to pay for trainers, external facilitators or venues. With central coordination and a real willingness from participating museums, SHARE has proved that a lot can be done for not very much.

“Museums across the region now recognise the benefits of offering SHARE support to their own organisations. They see that by sharing time, skills and expertise, staff and volunteers can develop their practice and knowledge. By contributing to the development of others they learn to value both their own contribution and that of their museum.

Simon

“We value all contributions equally – experience, knowledge, resources, even attendance at an event. In challenging times it takes a leap of faith to believe this, but the principle survives: it’s good to share, and everybody is stronger for it.

“Here are a few of the things we’ve learned along the way:

  • To give is to receive – if there is not a win for the contributor, it’s not SHARE.
  • Making and maintaining relationships takes most of the energy, but it is the most important thing.
  • Get people with similar interests together and, if you help them with small amounts of money and central support, good things will always happen.
  • Trust the instincts of those who do the job, and be ready to take risks.
  • Be collaborative and listen – try to meet needs with practical solutions.
  • Stay informal, people are much more comfortable talking about their ‘experience’ than their ‘expertise’.
  • Find a brand that unites people behind an idea – our owl and strapline (‘a network of know how’) work because they are inclusive, simple and encourage participation.

“One thing is certain – we all have something to give and something to gain. Long may we explore what this wealth of knowledge and experience enables us to do.”

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Museum Development – The National Picture

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By Annette French, Regional Museum Development Manager, 
SHARE Museums East
annette.french@norfolk.gov.uk

 

 

The National Museum Development Network’s annual one day conference, sponsored by AIM, was a great opportunity to hear some case studies on resilience themed programmes from other regional teams. Being new to my role in the region this was a valuable networking event, meeting colleagues in the wider national museum development network and making contact with potential partners.

From the range of delegates it’s clear that Museum Development Officers work in a variety of funding and organisational contexts.  It’s a dispersed and diverse picture and the different regional models can be a challenge to working strategically at a national level. The conference highlighted a range of potential partners looking to make contact with museum development providers and we reflected on how the opportunities to use existing local and regional networks and adapt national programmes to local need were sometimes missed.

The Museum Development Network has developed as a national forum to enable the sharing of skills, experience and resources across diverse boundaries and contexts. Increasingly there is a recognised need to develop better advocacy and achieve a stronger voice nationally for museum development to reach funders and stakeholders. To support the longer term resilience of museum development a planned governance review of the network was proposed.  As part of a light touch skills audit workshop we were able to see a simple overview of some of our main skills areas and identify common CPD needs. This simple exercise generated lots of discussion with new ideas for skills sharing, mentoring and partnership working.

A series of brief presentations outlined opportunities for national support with links to museum development programmes.  Many of these have led from successful applications to the Arts Council’s Museum Resilience Fund and the conference provided a forum through which external partners and funders were able to make contact with Museum Development professionals across the country.  Museum Development in our region, through SHARE Museums East working in partnership with the county based MDO’s, is well placed to help match up opportunities by inviting museums to participate and help with national programmes, to identify case studies and to promote and share training and resources. The SHARE monthly e-bulletin is one of the key ways we can help signpost these opportunities to you so please do distribute widely to your own networks and encourage others in your organisations to sign up too.

Listen Up!

brain-synapsesSimon Floyd, SHARE Co-Ordinator

At NMAS’s recent conference on Museum Workforce Development and being a Teaching Museum,  Gaby Porter, Museum Association board member, surprised everyone by turning most of her keynote speech into a lecture on neuroscience.

Essentially what Gaby was trying to get across is that for far too long we have been using our rational, analytical brains to construct and deliver development opportunities, at the expense of the intuitive, empathetic side of our natures. The ability to rationalise, categorise and define – our left brain – has come to be the master, not the servant.

How many training courses have you attended where you felt like you have been filled up with information and expert opinion without the chance to explore or even form the questions that might lead you to a deeper understanding of the subject?

We don’t leave enough time to enquire, to express doubt or speak as the situation actually is, as opposed to what it should be.

This is surely why SHARE programmes are filling up quicker than ever. More and more we are emphasising experience alongside expertise, acknowledging that we are all experts to some degree – by very virtue of our experience. For example, one of the models of workforce development we use is the “cohort model”, where a group of around six museums and 12 staff are brought together to chew the fat on a particular issue, such as volunteer development, forward planning and community co-creation. To see them recognising and wrestling together with common issues is much more meaningful and ultimately a more practically useful exercise for those involved. Here are two quotes from recent participants:

“One of the most useful things was the cross pollination and cross fertilisation of idea – simply realising you are not alone.”

“The meeting of others with the same questions gave you an opportunity to be really honest and download stuff and that was the most valuable of all.”

By stressing peer to peer learning and valuing each contribution, giving the time and space to listen to others and to express themselves without the fear of determining immediate solutions, we create real capacity for positive change.

One group for whom the in-tray of issues is always full is the lone professional of a small or medium sized museum. Very often they have a huge load to contend with: an army of volunteers needing direction, a motley board of trustees, finances, health and safety, security, premises management and legal issues. And all before they get to even consider working with the collection. How can we help them?

Well of course, solution oriented things can and do help. If you need to know how to fill in a spreadsheet or deal quickly with a thorny HR issue, then a factsheet or bit of clear directed teaching is a big help. But it works on the symptom not the cause. The pressure of managing multiple tasks for which you do not feel qualified in relative isolation is surely only eased by making trusted connections with people who have been in a similar boat and survived.

Not Only But Also is a SHARE programme running throughout next year that aims to create such connections. The course will use much of what we have learnt in the programmes we have developed in the last few years. As well as practical, instructive sessions and resources on the kind of issues mentioned above, we will be working hard on developing a mutually supportive network amongst the cohort, underpinned by the simple act of listening to each other. To further stitch in this approach some of the regions most experienced leaders are offering their services as mentors; professionals ready to give time, ears and the benefit of their experience to the participants.

How much easier everything is when we know we have a network around us. We don’t promise solutions, only support. Let the solutions find themselves.

So I hope we are doing Ms. Porter proud. Skills and knowledge are rife – we can find expertise in every field to draw on. But the attitude – to be prepared to share, and to listen and to support – that is lasting help. We will continue to do work on programmes which will help the long neglected other side of our brains to thrive, and enable lasting change in the process.

For more information on Not Only But Also, please contact Simon Floyd on 01603 638141 or at simon.floyd@norfolk.gov.uk

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