Making the Most of your Collection, the Museums Seminar, which we held in Cambridge at Trinity Hall College, in conjunction with Bonhams and Ecclesiastical Insurance, gave museum professionals from both the independent and government sector the opportunity to hear about the experiences of other curators. In addition Arts Council England gave their perspective on Accreditation, De-accessioning and Acquisitions, while strategic Arts Consultancy, Cawdell Douglas, shared some of their ideas on how to achieve effective PR for Museums.
Hugo Johnsen, Museums Director at Castleacre ‘We had not only a wide range of speakers but a wide range of delegates with different levels of experience. Independent museums sat alongside government museums and national organisations. We have had some great feedback – people enjoyed hearing about the real-life experiences of other museum professionals they also relished the opportunity of meeting and sharing their own experiences with complementary organisations. There were some genuinely inspirational and innovative collection management ideas – which could be adapted to all sorts of museums regardless of their size or collection.’
Dr Jane Eade an Associate Curator from The National Portrait Gallery, Mark Bills Director of Gainsborough’s House, and Hazel Forsyth the Senior Curator of Medieval and Post-Medieval Collections, at the Museum of London, looked at innovative exhibition strategies, partnerships and the re-evaluation of items in storage with a view to drawing them into the main body of the collection. Hazel Forsyth reviewed the Museum of London’s ground breaking exhibition, ‘The Cheapside Hoard’ , which was centred on a collection of jewellery which had been held in storage by the museum for many years. Dr Jane Eade, looked at the successes of the NPGs ‘Imagined Lives’ exhibition at Monacute House, a partnership exhibition with the National Trust and Bristol University, while Mark Bills explained how to re-vitalise single artist collections through his work at the Watts Gallery and Gainsborough’s House.
Common themes included the idea of exhibiting very different pieces from the same period (sometimes loaned from other collections and organisations) to help enrich the exhibition experience, setting paintings or objects within a much more tangible context and helping to engage not only visitors but researchers and journalists.
In trying to provide more engaging exhibitions all three curators emphasised the importance of re-assessing collections and exhibition spaces, the value of experimentation, change, trial and error and the importance research in placing collections in a wider context. Surprisingly, unanswered research questions, had sometimes increased visitor curiosity and interest .
Isabel Wilson provided a very compelling Arts Council perspective on Accreditation, Acquisitions and De-Accessioning and explained how using Arts Council guidelines to inform collection management could actually help ensure that the direction and purpose of an organisation was always put at the very heart of the decision making process. Many curators and trustees view the process of Accreditation as a series of hurdles that need to be overcome but Isabel explained that guidelines had been designed as a tool to help museum professionals improve museum practice and ultimately visitor experience.
Diana Cawdell, Director of an independent Strategic Arts Consultancy, looked at how organisations can approach public relations effectively with limited resources -maximising both digital and print opportunities with clear strategic process – she also stressed the importance of defining at the outset the aims of an organisation or a specific exhibition. Looking at PR from a slighty different perspective Ceramic Conservator, Penny Bendall, beautifully illustrated how the Fitzwilliam Museum had turned a potentially negative story, the damage to two Chinese vases, into a public relations success story with an open communications strategy – providing information to the press immediately after the story broke and through the restoration and final reveal of the restored vases. Curator Hazel Forsyth also showed how her open- minded approach to new media , sponsor partnerships and journalists, had paid great dividends in terms of innovative display and sustained press interest leading to record visitor numbers for the Museum of London.
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