5 Simple Things Museums Can Do to Help the Environment

In recent years, there has been a large focus on what individuals can do to help the environment. From switching energy suppliers to shopping more sustainably, people have been advised to change their everyday habits. Responsibility has been shifted away from governments and organisations to the individual, and in response, individuals have tried to shift the blame back to them when they fail to address the issues themselves. I think there is definitely a middle-ground to be had, and a ‘trickle up’ effect to be triggered. I am optimistic that if individuals within larger groups, communities and organisations make changes to help the environment, it will set a precedent that will force governments and transnational communities to listen. In museums, there are of course some limitations; certain artefacts and collections have to be kept at a particular temperature and humidity so that they do not deteriorate, for example. However, the following 5 actions are reasonable, feasible ways in which a Museum Professional could make their workplace more sustainable:

  1. Recycling bins: This may seem obvious, but this simple change could dramatically reduce the amount of material sent from your museum to landfill. Even if you already have recycling bins in your museum, think about how they are used. Are they available to staff AND visitors? Is there a clear guide near each bin about what is and isn’t recyclable? Are the bins easily locatable?
  2. No plastic bags: Museum shops often provide more rigid plastic bags than supermarkets, for example. Whilst this may encourage some visitors to reuse the bags, they are often also made in unhelpful sizes, designed specifically for postcards, pencils or other miscellanea, and are therefore left unused or put in the bin. Some museums now only offer paper bags, which is a better alterantive. I think museums should not encourage the use of ANY plastic bags; they are unneccesary and known to be damaging for the environment, taking much longer to decompose than other recyclables (if they are, indeed, recycled). The Horniman Museum has eradicated single use plastics from its catering – no plastic bottles, no plastic food wrap – but believes that paper bags are more expensive than plastic ones. Why not… insist that people bring their own, or SELL paper bags?
  3. Link collections to environmental issues: This is something that, as a museum volunteer, I have seen in practice. The MAA in Cambridge has linked its Pacific Islands collections to the environment by directly linking information about Pacific Communities to the effects of pollution and climate change on their livelihoods. The museum has also run events with a specific focus on global warming. The same has been done in several natural history museums, such as the collection at the Bristol Museum, who veiled animals that would become extinct as a result of global warming.
  4. Join a group or community that wants change: Culture Declares Emergency is just one of many communities of Arts & Heritage organisations that are fighting for the environment. Art not Oil is another. There are plenty of groups out there, and even if the museum you work for doesn’t want to declare itself a member, there’s nothing to say that you can’t and go on to enact small changes as a result.
  5. Incentivise sustainable travel: Whilst more difficult for smaller, rural museums to enforce, city or town museums could easily do this. Incentivising the use of bicycles, buses and trains over car travel, to staff AND visitors, may well reduce the environmental impact of visiting your museum.

Of course, there are larger things that can be done by museums to act in favour of sustainability, but they require meetings with operations teams, managers, directors, and so on. Small changes – if done well, advertised, and shouted about within the community – could well encourage bigger dicussions to happen. There is already a large eco-warrior community within the Arts & Heritage sector… let’s keep that trend going!

‘Marvellous and Mischievous: Literature’s Young Rebels’ at a glance

If you are looking for a family-friendly exhibition to start your year off, the British Library’s latest exhibtion may be just the thing. Addressing children’s stories, old and new, the exhibition exlores what it means to be a rebel, and the difference between naughtiness and bravery, misbehaviour and activism.

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I was delighted to see the ingenious way in which this particular exhibition was designed to engage adults and children alike. My favourite example can be seen below.

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At adults’ eye-level, an original draft and a later manuscript of Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’ are hung on the wall, with an explanation about how the content changed between versions of the same story; it is explained that Matilda was originally portrayed as a mischievous child until she was rewritten as a helpful, kind and brave little girl.

Meanwhile, at a child’s eye-level, a short passage reads:

Can you count how many korrections
corections correcshons corrections
Roald Dahl has made?

Remember to keep trying
next time you make a mistake.

You never know what
marvellous story it could lead to!

I think that the impact of correcting ‘correction’ and the message’s other simple language is a very clever way of engaging children and encouraging them to problem-solve. The link between mistake-making and creativity is a wonderfully positive message to communicate, especially in relation to such a well-known author whose stories may well inspire the children visiting the exhibition.

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The same double-captioning was used throughout the exhibition, as can be seen above with modern favourite ‘Clarice Bean’.  It’s also worth noting how the exhibition doesn’t shy away from exhibiting original content, from the collage-style page design on loan from Lauren Child (above) to handwritten manuscript of ‘Jane Eyre’ (below).

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Even though all of the exhibits sat behind glass, it was lovely to see old texts such as this Latin Textbook and ‘Child’s First Tales’…

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… sat next to ‘The Jolly Postman’ and ‘Tracy Beaker’…

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… as well as international, foreign-language texts such as this new edition of ‘Mulan’.

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This truly gorgeous exhibition is definitely worth a visit, and whilst it is certainly family-friendly, there’s more than enough for big-kids to enjoy too, with or without the brood!

Marvellous and Mischievous: Literature’s Young Rebels

– Free, and open until Sun 1st March 2020

I did a Museum Traineeship Application

As of literally 15 minutes ago (23:30 GMT), I have applied for a Museum Traineeship! My brain is buzzing and I think it is an important thing to post about, so I have included a couple of my answers to some of the application questions below (adapted and anonymised, of course). Hopefully, this will help anyone who is applying for entry-level museum roles to prepare for the sorts of questions you may be asked. Regardless of the outcome, I will share any feedback I receive from my application in a future post.

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Why do you want to work in museums?
From a young age, museums have played an important role in my life. As a child, museum visits engaged me intellectually and emotionally as they gave me so much material to connect with and think about. Museums can be loud, exciting and stimulating, but they can also be quiet places of reflection. When the real world of the here and now gets a bit too much, museums offer a refuge where you can distance yourself. Objects from the distant past are presented in a way that makes them seem otherworldly, intriguing and amazing, whilst objects taken from the recent past or present day possess a detached quality when placed in a museum, becoming objects you can analyse and think about.

My interest in social history and anthropology in particular is what led me to study Modern and Medieval Languages; when I applied to university, I was unaware that Anthropology existed as a discipline, but knew that I wanted to study a subject that would help me to further engage with the world around me. During my degree, I spent a year working abroad; I went to South America with the intention of gaining teaching experience whilst absorbing as much of the cultural heritage as possible. I enjoyed the
experiences I had of teaching, but I now know that I do not want to be a school teacher, and this realisation has led me to focus my attention towards Arts & Heritage Education.
I successfully applied to work at Education and Outreach events at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge in 2018. I work one-off events and lead handling sessions, where members of the public can come in and touch artefacts that
would normally be in storage or behind cases – something that I would have loved as a child. I help run activities that encourage children to engage with celebrations like Día de los Muertos, using knowledge I have accrued from my studies to help them learn about world heritage.

Through my volunteer work, I have come to appreciate that museums are the happy meeting point of many things that I love: travel, culture, art, history, education and outreach, people, and places. I believe cultural heritage – our own, and that of others – is something that should be accessible regardless of income, social status, gender, race, health issues or mother-tongue. Culture is something that everyone has and should have the ability to understand and explore. I am passionate about promoting access to cultural heritage, and I can achieve this through working in museums.

How do you feel you would benefit from the Traineeship?
I believe that the traineeship would provide me with a springboard for a career in the Arts & Heritage sector as a Museum Professional. I have found that finding work in the sector is extremely difficult without a Masters degree, and this is something that I am unable to carry out due to the financial and health implications it would have for me. However, because I have done a Bachelors degree, I cannot qualify for schoolleavers programmes or apprenticeships. I am also not in a financial position where I can work as a full-time volunteer, and so I feel that I am now stuck in a middle ground where museums are reluctant to employ me. This traineeship, however, would offer me the opportunity to learn about museum work in depth, regardless of otherwise limiting factors. The accessibility of the scheme mirrors that which I would hope to encourage within museums themselves, as someone who is passionate about promoting access to cultural heritage.

The traineeship would also give me the opportunity to learn alongside others stepping into the Arts & Heritage sector. Whilst I would be working independently in a designated role at an assigned museum, I would have the chance to be able to meet and talk to other trainees as we all progress through the traineeship together. In my experience, the museum community is incredibly supportive; Museum Hour – a twitter phenomenon where people come together from the museum sector to discuss topically issues online for an hour a week – has prompted so much warmth and comfort; sometimes, knowing you’re not alone in your concerns and struggles – whether related to finding a job or coping with issues at work – is all that is needed to feel positive about your career.

I am determined to pursue a career as a Museum Professional, and the opportunities for self-development this traineeship will provide me with are unquestionable. I am keen to learn, and enjoy learning, so a traineeship comprising of a combination of on-the-job, supported and independent learning is an ideal format for me. Through self-development, I believe that I will gain the confidence to make a real difference within the Arts & Heritage sector in the future.

What qualities and skills can you bring to a trainee post?
Initiative, Independence and Drive: During my university study, I freelanced as a self employed Tutor, working 20 hrs/week on average. I also sought out and completed online courses as part of my professional development, including ‘WW1 Heroism: Through Art & Film’ (University of Leeds), ‘Politics, Art & Resistance’ (University of Kent) and ‘Exploring Copyright’ (CISAC). As a freelancer and student, I was able to manage my workload and time with positive results.

Teamwork Skills: Working as part of a team has been necessary to succeed in my past employment, particularly in the role of Enrichment Coordinator at a bilingual college. My ability to collaborate on teaching approaches, delegate tasks, act on instructions from colleagues and adapt to the needs of those around me allowed me to implement the best possible support for the SEN children I was teaching.

Communication and Interpersonal Skills: All my paid and voluntary experience has been client-facing in some capacity, requiring a high level of emotional intelligence, verbal clarity, understanding, cooperation and approachability, whilst setting and maintaining boundaries. My success as a Telephone Fundraiser demonstrates my capacity to conduct telephone communication effectively, maintaining strong existing relationships, whilst my teaching and volunteering experiences has relied on my ability to engage with people of a variety of ages and backgrounds.

Accuracy and Precision: My BA Hons degree required editing skills, detail-oriented close-readings, and a focus on grammatical, syntactical and lexical meticulousness, in English, French and Spanish; I wrote, on average, 2 essays (1500-2000 words) per week. My inquisitive nature led to many in-depth, constructive supervisions on a range of topics from Spanish Baroque Art to Contemporary Hungarian Cinema!

IT Skills: I am proficient in Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook), WordPress, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, and Social Media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter).

Enthusiasm and Commitment: I have been a museum volunteer for 15 months and run a blog called ‘Museums and Musings’. I am determined and motivated to work as a Museum Professional. I am committed to completing the full traineeship. I would be able to work across the county and would be willing to keep in touch after the programme.

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Any comments on my answers? If you think so, leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading!

Exploring the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi

Following the Taste of Anatolia Film Festival at the end of September, I went to Georgia as a representative of Balik Arts, with Balik Arts’ Chairperson, to take part in an Erasmus+ training program focusing on Gender Equality. Before meeting with representatives from across EU and EU-partner countries for the program in Bakuriani, I had a spare couple of days in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital city. Of course, this gave me the opportunity to do some site-seeing and get to know a bit more about Georgian heritage. Up to this point, I had never been to the Caucasus region and knew very little about soviet history, let alone ancient Caucasian history. And so, after making my way around the city to see its hilltop fortress, its many orthodox churches and its markets, it seemed only natural to take the time to explore the country’s National Museum.

It truly is an amazing museum. Although relatively new, its contents are incredibly varied and extremely well-curated. The museum integrates a number of collections that were previously housed elsewhere, including the Museum of Ethnography, the Institute of Paleobiology and the Museum of the Soviet Occupation. It is this latter collection that stood out to me as a must-see, as I was totally uneducated on the topic.

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The Exhibition of the Soviet Occupation of Georgia was both educational and humbling. With a very simple layout and circular route spanning two levels, it detailed the events between 1919 – with the Founding Charter of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Georgia – and the present day.

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Given recent political history, it was interesting to see the effects of both western and Soviet involvement in Georgia, which depicted both the UK and the USA in a relatively positive light. Russia (or rather, the former USSR) is unsurprisingly condemned throughout the exhibition, and with good reason; damning documents calling for the deaths of Georgian civilians, politicians and priests, photographs of those killed during the occupation, and propaganda are displayed on every wall. The photographs had a particularly strong impact. In many cases, a picture of siblings, cousins or a whole family would be presented with simple captions detailing who the people were, how they were related, where and when they were killed, and how old they were when they died. Poignantly, the exhibition opens and closes with a reflection on current relations with Russia. The emotionally charged film that can be seen as you enter the exhibition is contrasted with a map illustrating the bare facts as you leave the exhibition. I was astounded to discover that areas of Georgia remain under occupation and are sites of ongoing conflict… Indeed, the exhibition has been the subject of a great deal of criticism, with accusations that it exhibits “purely nationalist propaganda”. Given the evidence in the form of official documents, letters and photographs, however, it seems difficult to dispute its verisimilitude.

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Inevitably, the remaining exhibitions in the museum could not top the experience I had in the Exhibition of the Soviet Occupation of Georgia, but I thoroughly enjoyed them nonetheless. The paleo-biological display of skulls was unlike any presentation of pre-Palaeolithic history I had seen before, and the examination of Georgia as a “crossroad of cultures” was fascinating. With artefacts dating back to 3000BC, I was left awestruck by the richness of Georgian culture.

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Particular attention was paid to the Goblet of Trialeti, a work of Bronze-Age goldsmithery encrusted with coloured stones and amber. I quickly learnt that Georgia and the rest of the Caucasus regions played an important role in the dissemination of cultural and technological innovations between the Middle East, Near East and Europe.

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I left the Georgian National Museum keen to learn even more about Georgian culture, and thankfully I had the opportunity to do so over the fortnight that followed. I doubt that I will find myself in Georgia again (at least, not any time soon) but I would definitely return to the museum again if I had the opportunity. I have to say, this museum takes tied first place with Madrid’s Archaeology Museum as the best museum I have been to this year. Please, if you happen to be passing through Tbilisi, take the time to visit this wonderful place – you won’t regret it!

Lizzie Champion – Multilingual Solutions for your Museum’s Accessibility

I recently reached out to museums in Cambridge over twitter about multilingual resources, and am thrilled to have already heard back from people who are interested! Off the back of this, I would like to extend the offer I made to anyone who feels that their museum would benefit from my Multilingual Solutions.

In recent years, I have observed a lack of multilingual resources available to those visiting museums throughout the UK. As a former Modern and Medieval Languages student at the University of Cambridge and a University of Cambridge Museums Volunteer, I feel that I can resolve this issue through linguistic dexterity and an understanding of the Arts & Heritage sector. I am able to provide a range of support, including:

  • Translations of existing museum content – signs, labels, leaflets, etc.
  • New content for museums, in English and Foreign Languages
  • Bespoke resources for museums, highlighting culturally relevant exhibits, artefacts and themes for international visitors in audio and/or text form
  • Collaboration with education, events and outreach teams to arrange multilingual, in-person support for sessions in museums
  • Bespoke tours/tour guides of museums in Foreign Languages

Further or alternate multilingual services can also be provided. I am also open to proposals, and any fees will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

I genuinely think that – especially in the face of Brexit – UK museums need to be as accessible as possible to those whose native language is not English. I am sure I am not the only person to think this, and believe I am capable of helping everyone to enjoy their museum experience, regardless of where they call home.

If you happen to be interested in any of the above, or know someone/somewhere that would benefit from becoming a multilingual space, please do get in touch via the form on my blog. Thank you for reading!

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Introduction: The 12 Days of Blogmas

I have decided to publish 12 blog posts over the 12 days of Christmas. Why? Because I realised that I had a backlog of content that needed publishing, of course!

The last 6 months have been a bit hectic. Discounting my recent post about the British Museum’s ‘Troy’ exhibition, I have not posted anything since June 24th 2019. This is a result of many factors, but above all due to low-self esteem following a series of unsuccessful museum-job applications and confusion about the future. I felt reluctant to post anything when my next steps felt so uncertain and my motivation was dwindling. Since June 2019, however, a lot of noteworthy things have happened which merit acknowledgement on at least a personal level.

And so, I find myself here, hoping to get myself back into good habits by motivating myself to post content regularly. For the next 12 days, I will be publishing 1 post a day, in order to whizz through the backlog of content. From January 6th onwards… Well, let’s wait and see!

Accessibility: myth and reality – A critique of the ‘Troy’ exhibition at the British Museum

There has been a lot of controversy about the latest temporary exhibition to be launched at the British Museum. Art Not Oil is one of many groups to have been outraged by BP’s sponsorship of the exhibition, for example. However, upon visiting the exhibition last week, my primary concern was that of the exhibition’s accessibility.

Access means different things for different people. In the Heritage sector, accessibility commonly refers to how equipped the space is to feel welcoming to disabled and/or differently-abled people of all ages. For me, access is more than that. Accessibility, in my view, goes beyond issues of disability, encompassing language-barriers, barriers to education, mental health issues, pricing, and so on… essentially, I would say that an accessible exhibition should present no barriers to anyone.

Unfortunately, the Troy exhibition was not an accessible exhibition, for the following reasons:

  1. The cost: A full-priced ticket to the exhibition costs £20. For many people, £20 would cover the cost of food for a week. To sell tickets to a single exhibition at such an extortionate price restricts access to those on a budget, trying to save or simply incapable of paying such an amount, many of whom may well be keen to see the exhibition or may benefit from seeing such an exhibition. Given the content of the exhibition – and its BP sponsorship – it is also unclear where exactly this money is going…
  2. Capacity: When I went to visit, on a Tuesday afternoon, the exhibition was full. People were crowding around exhibits and there were queues to see even the first objects on display. This was very odd, given that the exhibition did not seem ‘full’. I believe that the objects on display were too close together, so perhaps the rooms should have been laid out in such a way that would facilitate people’s view of the objects.78890291_523420575048936_6012507430427033600_n.jpg
  3. Labelling: The first half of the exhibition were labelled with panels that were very low down, at mid-calf level. There were elderly people hunched over trying to read the labels and others kneeling down or straining to do the same.
  4. Lighting in the cases: In many of the cases, light was shone onto objects either from the side or diagonally from above. This obscured the details on some of the objects, such as the fragment of pottery below, whose cuneiform text is totally indistinguishable because of the shadows caused by the lighting.78675211_982519448794739_2290266902292856832_n
  5. Lighting of the space: This was one of my biggest concerns. The exhibition was very dark, with low lighting throughout. I appreciate that this gave an ‘old-worldy’, mysterious atmosphere to the exhibition, but it was personally very disorientating, and did not help with the fatigue triggered by the case-lighting and low-level labelling.
  6. Sounds: There were also a lot of disorientating and distracting sounds being played throughout the exhibition. A high-pitched song (possibly a folk-song or chant) was being played on repeat in the second room and this could be heard as you travelled around the exhibition. Repetitive sounds are really unhelpful to those – like me – who are often overstimulated by what is going on around them. I often found myself unable to concentrate on anything, let alone the content of the exhibition.
  7. Content: My issue with the content of the exhibition is twofold. Firstly, the text was not as clear as it could have been. As a graduate who had the opportunity to study classical literature and culture, I was able to follow the content of the exhibition. However, had I not received the education that I had, I would have found it an incredibly difficult exhibition to follow. There was an attempt at a continuous narrative, but it was too wordy and in many parts comprised little more than a list of names which, without context, would mean absolutely nothing. Perhaps an introductory room, with a storyboard of key events in the mythical story of Troy and the key protagonists, locations and interpretations, would have made this more accessible. Secondly, I found the physical content of the first half of the exhibition quite underwhelming. A lot of the content had been lifted from artefacts that I felt I had seen before and which were doubled in the permanent Greek exhibits at the museum. The links between these objects and the Troy myth were also sometimes tenuous, and their relevance was not always explained. Furthermore, content that had been added from elsewhere only went to exacerbate the narrative that Troy belonged to a realm of white, male academia. The treatment of the story was dry, which is a shame given that the story itself is so exciting and could have presented a real opportunity for the museum to engage with a large audience that may not otherwise be excited by history and culture. I personally went to the exhibition in the hope of seeing something *new*. Thankfully, the second half of the exhibition did a better job of fulfilling this, but I was left disappointed by the first half. Perhaps the intention here was to show the contrast between ancient and recent history and their interpretations of the story of Troy… If this were the case, I feel it could have been carried out more effectively.

 

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There were aspects of the exhibition that I really liked. The collaboration with Waterloo Uncovered, for example, was wonderful. It was excellent to see the exhibit addressing (albeit briefly) contemporary issues such as mental health in its discussion of grief and PTSD. The same was done with brief comments on colonialism and sex-trafficking in relation to Marian Maguire’s artwork and Helen of Troy’s experience respectively. It was also encouraging to see the exhibit (finally) address the role of women, but disappointing that this appeared as an afterthought, at the end of the exhibition. ‘The Shield of Achilles’ was also an exceptional addition to the exhibition.

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The main conclusion to be drawn from my visit is that the accessibility of the exhibition was compromised by its curation. I feel that changes could have been made to make the exhibition more engaging, accessible and ‘complete’. If I were to re-curate the exhibition, I would perhaps start from the end, from the present day, and work backwards; I think this would be a more impactful, engaging and tangible way to start the exhibition. I would prioritise the sensory experience and eliminate the aforementioned barriers to appreciating and interacting with the content. It is clear that accessibility was not a priority for this particular exhibition, and perhaps the price of entry charged by the British Museum was set as a deliberate barrier to dissuade attendance of those that its accessibility issues would affect…

Cambridge Museums: Museum of Zoology

I have spent a lot of time in and around the Museum of Zoology. Not because I work or volunteer there, but because a close-friend of mine – due to begin her PhD at Yale very soon, and perhaps the most impressive and interesting person I know – has been studying, researching and assisting there since we both began our studies at Cambridge in 2014. Until very recently, however, I had not “done the tour” exactly; I’d been behind the scenes, in the stores and the labs, down dark corridors and through many high-security doors, but had not ventured into the exhibition space itself, beyond the first column on the top floor.

And so, now that I have finished my first degree and have a bit more time on my hands before starting a paid job (hopefully!), I have decided to explore Cambridge’s museums, starting with the Museum of Zoology.

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My first impression of the exhibition space was “Wow. That’s a lot of bones”.              There are skeletons of all shapes and sizes, in displays, in boxes, hanging from the ceiling… It’s quite a surreal space for someone who is used to books, buildings and bits and bobs. But there is far more to the museum than just lots of bones! The museum is arranged really pleasingly, with a balcony overlooking the lower floor, integrating all of the animals together but thematically and by family. There is also an exhibition space below the entrance foyer, which – at the time of visiting – housed many works by Jonathan Kingdom, which will remain there throughout the summer.

The Jonathan Kingdom exhibit was facinating. The theme, ‘Evolution as Inspiration’, attracted children and adults alike with its bright colours and patterns. It seemed a very accessible exhibit, depicting the key concepts relating to evolution in a tangible way.       A range of media was used; sketches sat next to paintings, bronze sculptures sat next to ceramic masks. I was pleasantly surprised to see this sort of exhibit in a scientific space. Having been to the Natural History Museum in London, I expected animals, animals and more animals, but did not expect to see them in pieces of modern art. Kingdom’s sketches had also been placed among the species themselves, where appropriate, including my favourite sketches of his (those of a serval cat). My favourite piece overall was the gorgeous bronze zebra-head that resembled a helmet of a Roman Praetorian Guard… Very majestic indeed.

There was also a bronze sculpture akin to the work of Henry Moore, simply entitled ‘Mammalian Motherhood’. It is unclear what type of mammal Kingdom based this piece on, but the message is clear: all mammals, through nursing, are dependent on the generations before them. I found it to be a very humbling piece, placing us as humans alongside the rest of Earth’s mammals, just as strong and just as fragile, just as dependent and just as nurturing.

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I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Museum of Zoology, and will definitely be going back again soon!

How Museums Have Improved My Mental Health

This year, International Museum Day (May 18th) has fallen at the same time as UK Mental Health Awareness Week. Although the focus of Awareness Week is quite specific this year (Body Image), I think it is still important to discuss all mental health issues at this time, where more exposure is given to such issues. I’d like to address both Mental Health and my appreciation for museums this International Museum Day by reflecting on how my involvement with museums has improved my mental health and wellbeing.

As A Visitor:

Before I was involved with volunteer work and an academic career that involved museums, I benefitted from exposure to the Arts and Heritage sector as a visitor. I have been visiting museums since a very young age, and as a small child, museum visits often took place on weekends with my siblings and my Dad – who, at the time, was working extremely long days in a financial role to support our family whilst my Mum was training to be a teacher. Often, my weekend trips to museums, parks and events would be the only moments where I got to spend quality time with my Dad. They engaged me intellectually and emotionally – I was a very sensitive child, and took a lot from museums and galleries, which gave me so much material to connect with and think about – and my Dad seemed to love witnessing and being a part of that.

Some of my favourite places were – and still are – museums. Museums can be loud, exciting and stimulating, but they can also be quiet places of reflection. When the real world of the here and now gets a bit too much, museums offer a refuge where you can distance yourself. Even objects taken from the same here and the same now possess a detached quality when placed in a museum; they become objects you can analyse and think about; they are artefacts. Meanwhile, objects from the distant past carry an ethereality, and an ephemerality, in spite of their age; they seem other-worldly, intriguing, and amazing.

And, beyond the intellectual stimulation and distancing that museums create, they have also benefitted my mental health and wellbeing in very simple ways. When I visit museums, my step-count goes through the roof, and I exercise without really feeling it. In my reflective state, my breathing is controlled. I am very much in touch with the things around me, feeling grounded and mindful. When I am at a museum, I am having fun, and I smile.

As a professional:

As I highlighted in my first blog post, working in a museum gives me a sense of purpose. Beyond that, however, there are genuinely so many benefits to working in a museum as far as mental health is concerned:

  • Social engagement, with the public and with collegues; people are interested, and intersting! Interacting with other people who are likely as keen to hear about the museum as you are to tell them is a joy, and social contact is super for encouraging good mental health.
  • Getting creative, using arts and crafts to help children and adults engage with a museum, is awesome. Whoever says cutting and sticking is for infants is frankly just… well, wrong. Cutting and stick, and colouring, and painting, and doodling, and flower-making, and pot-decorating… these are all really relaxing things to do, as well as really heart-warming things to help others do too.
  • Being organised, or at least forcing yourself to be organised, is vital. On bad mental health days, it can be really difficult to find the motivation to do anything, so having a fixed time and place to be really helps with feeling like you have things under control.
  • The museum community is so supportive. In #MuseumHour – a twitter phenomenon where people come together from the museum sector to discuss topically issues online for an hour a week – has prompted so much warmth and comfort; sometimes, knowing you’re not alone in your concerns and struggles – whether related to finding a job or coping with issues at work – is all that is needed. IRL, the museum workforce is also incredibly encouraging. I may be biased, but I think museum workers might be the best out there!
  • Working – and looking to work – in the museum sector creates resilience. I know there are many jobs out there that make people stronger than when they stepped in the front door, but in museum jobs, there are so many pressures, and often very small teams fighting them. Work can be unpaid, inconvenient, or simply non-existent at times. It’s an incredibly popular and competitive sector, and job-hunting is sometimes soul-crushing… but it makes you stronger, and even in the early stages of my Arts and Heritage career, I am noticing changes in my resilience, for the better.

 

I am so happy to have museums in my life. Yes, that is such a sappy thing to say, but it’s true. I am a happier, healthier person because of my involvement and engagement with museums. It’s important to have a passion, and it’s important to have a purpose. But it’s vital to be well. And anything that promotes your wellness can’t be a bad thing, in my book.

36 hours in Madrid

I pondered for a long time about what title to give this post. I settled on ’36 hours in Madrid’, because a day and a half is a relatively simple amount of time to get to grips with. The New York Times has written a load of ’36 hours in’ articles already. The truth of the matter is that, *technically* my recent trip to Madrid only lasted 32 hours. I stepped off the plane at 10:00 on the Monday and took off again at 18:00 on the Tuesday. Door to door – from my home in England to Madrid and back again – it was a 41-hour round trip. Oh, the joys of visa-free movement in the European Union; R.I.P.

It was a pretty ridiculous thing to do really, go to Spain and return again within two days. I qualified my trip to myself with reassurances that visiting a friend up North would cost just as much and take just as long. In fact, my fleeting trip to Spain was very inexpensive – approx. £100 including food, flights, a night in a hostel, and travel to and from the airports!

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After leaving home at 4am, I arrived at the Museo Nacional del Prado at 11.30am. There was a long queue to get in, but I was *in* by midday. Returning to the museum following my first visit 5 years ago was the main focus of my trip; one of my final year papers for my degree in Modern and Medieval Languages focuses on Early Modern Spanish and Latin American Culture, and I have chosen to focus a lot of my attention on Baroque Art. Earlier this academic year, I wrote on Velazquez’s ‘Mythologies’ – housed in the Prado – and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a closer look in person. I was in my element, writing notes about the colours, the tones, the narratives, the naturalism, the brushstrokes, the classical-roots, the Venetian influence, his links to Rubens and Titian… it was an absolutely nerdy, truly wonderful experience.

Although I spent a solid 5 hours in the Prado during my very-mini-break, I also made sure to take some time to visit places I had not previously been to: the Parque del Retiro, the Templo de Bebod, the Plaza de España, the Jardines de Sabatini, Plaza de Colón and the Archaeology Museum (M.A.N.). The Archaeology Museum in particular was amazing! It is one of the best museums I have ever visited – clearly laid out, really engaging, and full of incredibly tangible content.

 

Was my very-mini-break worth it? Well, it was planned for a very specific purpose – which it achieved – and I got to see some cool new places too, so yes! Would I ever do such a short museum-based trip again? Probably not; it was a very rushed trip, and even though I took my time walking around El Retiro park, I was constantly checking the time to make sure I squeezed as much as I could into every moment. It was not a *relaxing* trip, but having not taken a trip abroad in a while, it was a refreshing one, and makes for a quirky little story to tell at parties.