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Saturday, 23 April 2016

Loving Loan Agreements: Negotiations, complexities and 'no sketching'

When the Guardian released this article on the 22nd April titled 'No Sketching': V&A signs betray everything the museum stands for' by Oliver Wainwright like many I was saddened to hear that the V&A were clamping down on sketching in the exhibition spaces, but it has become clear that not all is what it seems and it is the elusive agreements that museums make with lenders that is the root of the issue.

Museums are sites for reflection and learning and there is no doubt that art museums and galleries hold an important aim in allowing students, researchers and artists of all levels to spend hours in galleries taking inspiration from the objects and works and sketching away. I believe, and have seen from my time in those spaces that this is something that many museums do regularly allow visitors to sketch without much restriction and sometimes even hosting events to facilitate.

But when it comes to temporary exhibitions it's not just the museum's collection at stake, creating a successful exhibition requires curators to lure in the public with an offer of objects they will not usually have the opportunity to see be it from private collections or another museum loans come with their own set of rules and stipulations.

The Guardian article may have played down the importance of the loan agreement in the first instance, later correcting their news story to say that 'it is to do with preventing congestion and the strict loan agreements the museum signs for each new exhibition.'  that influenced the decision to not allow sketching in the temporary exhibition space.

For those of you that are not familiar, the loan agreement is a document that sets out what the lenders and museums obligations are in terms of the transportation, display, insurance and costs associated with the borrowing of an object. Usually the standard contracts cover assurances such as the environmental conditions, a promise that the showcase will not be opened without a courier present and even sometimes the more unusual requests - I once had to add a clause that stated an object would not be DNA tested whilst it was in the museum!

The clauses also cover the IPR, copyright and security of the object and perhaps it was a combination of the three that has reflected in the V&A’s loan agreement that has prompted the no sketching rule. While sketching is an exemption of copyright law many loan agreements refer with presumed knowledge to the complexities of IPR and copyright law and perhaps in fright, some may wish to omit any sort of image taking be it photography or sketching in their agreement. It’s hard to say however without actually checking out the document - which is likely to be stored in a fireproof safe and knowing what loans have requested this omission. Its this same agreement that means that often ' no photography' is allowed in temporary exhibitions.

Whilst it is unfortunate in some respects that the lenders dictations prevent photography, sketching or even DNA testing, without this agreement, and the sometimes complex negotiations that  museum registrars spend time agreeing. It is important to remember that this would not have been a decision that the exhibition team would have taken lightly. And sometimes without these discussions and resolutions agreed in the loan agreement it would not always be possible to borrow and display some of the treasures of private collections and international museums. 

Like many registrars there is a certain level of dislike for complex loan agreements and the sometimes months it takes to iron out the complexities for shows as large as Undressed but we can't deny their importance in securing the rare, beautiful and often never before seen objects for public display.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

NSFW! Field Report: The Museum of Sex in New York

NSFW! Contains images of an explicit sexual nature, not suitable for readers under the age of 18. 

Well we can honestly say that's the first time we've ever had to start a blog with this kind of a warning, but it comes with the territory if you are attempting to review an exhibition about sex. As you can imagine, when we do get out of London for a brief while, we always try to track down the most interesting museums we can. On last week's trip to the Big Apple, we just had to see what was going on at the Museum of Sex (or MoSex, as it goes by- you know like MoMA? Get it). When it opened in 2002, the message of the museum was clear- they were not another tawdry tourist exhibition, but a critical, cultural take on the evolution and significance of sex and sexuality. 

The Museum of Sex defines it's mission as: "to preserve and present the history, evolution and cultural significance of human sexuality. In its exhibitions, programmes and publications, the Museum of Sex is committed to open discourse and exchange, and to bringing to the public the best in current scholarship." The seriousness of this mission has been, since it's earliest days, questioned by the New York Authorities who have been, perhaps understandably, concerned about the idea of a museum about sex. The New York's Regents Board called the idea of a sex museum a 'mockery' of the name museum. Well, you all know how much we love a controversy, so we had to go see for ourselves. 

Glory hole door, c.1990s
In most museums, as you enter the main doors to buy a ticket, you wander through a gift shop. Of course, its clever marketing, but in this case, it's a high class erotic shop. Everything from porn to sex toys to high end art books are on display, full of giggling tourists and serious looking bouncers. My initial hopes of visiting a serious take on the history of sex were knocked down a few pegs. Next, I went to buy a ticket which was a full $17. $17!!! Now I know this is America and museums cost money, but that seemed a lot. Since I'd made the trip especially, I coughed up the cash. Only later did I learn that this high admission price is a result of the fact that New York will not grant the museum charitable status due to its subject matter. Fair enough.

Somewhat shaken after empyting my wallet and having to push through squealing college kids playing with dildos, I finally made my way into the first floor of the museum. I have to tell you - I was shocked. And not in the - oh how salacious way. In a pleasant, impressed way. Well designed but darkly lit, with everything you expect to see in a museum (text panels, themed sections, interesting objects), I found myself in an incredibly professional gallery. Entitled 'Hard Core', the first floor of the museum explores the history of pornography (in its drawn, written and filmed forms) from the Roman era to the mid twentieth century. Its introductory panels introduced the authors and curators - almost every single one of them PhDs and post-docs, many from the UK, including Dr Sarah Bull, a Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow.

Organised chronologically, the exhibition provided a glimpse into pornographic imagery from the works of the Marquis de Sade, eighteenth century 'fancy books' (pornographic etchings' and directories of ladies of fashion (brothel guides).  These printed artefacts provide an interesting perspective on how idea of sexuality were shared and spread in an era before any other kind of communication technology. One pamphlet claimed to tell women how to enjoy sex, as well as including a section on how men might enjoy anal sex. And while the era of print technology certainly took advantage of the new means of communication, the advent of photography in the nineteenth century brought pornography into its own.

As the text label helpfully explained, the Victorians, despite their moralistic outlook on life, were particularly adept at capturing sexuality in imagery. From erotic post cards, images, stereographs, and drawings, you can see why by the 1880s the Victorians felt they were in a moral crisis. Anything they could use to take dirty pictures, they can and they did. And these were no run of the mill cheeky photographs. The Victorians experimented with orgies, mixed race and homosexual encounters, all documented in the Museum of Sex's collections. 

By the early 20th century, the film had brought new possibilities for pornography. And indeed, even as early as the silent film era, you can bet there were pornographic films. I learned that these early pornos were called 'stag' films (for the young, presumably single men who watched them), and porn watching parties, were called stag parties. Lolz. As the technology got more sophisticated, so did the porn and what it could capture.

Personally, I found the exhibition incredibly well curated. While somewhat light on materials, each image or object was carefully described and well lit in the dark gallery. The text labels were written critically and intelligently, each ascribed to a particular curatorial voice. Attributing text labels is something museums talk a lot about, and MoSex has put this into action. of course, this is likely an attempt to give their somewhat salacious exhibition some scholastic integrity. 

Not to ruin it or bore you with a full description of the museum's three floors, at the moment you can also visit an interactive artistic intervention about sex and nature, browse a gallery about sexual pleasure in the animal world, and visit their object in focus gallery. This last one immediately reminded me of the Wellcome as it has a very similar curatorial style. Single objects are highlighted and jumbled together to provide different sides of the history of sex. Items related to public health, fetishes, technology, and social justice are mingled together side by side. 

In fact, I couldn't help but think that the Wellcome's recent exhibition, the Institute of Sexology, really could have stood to learn something from the Museum of Sex. The Institute of Sex was trying to achieve something similar (admittedly with more of a focus on the scientific research into sexual behaviour) but fell down short because, well, it didn't include very much that was sexy! MoSex is packed with very explicit imagery, and yet managed to keep its message firmly on course with its carefully written text. That said, I do believe there was a room full of blow up boobs I could have gone to jump around in. Perhaps more an activity for a group of friends than a lone blogger scribbling notes on curatorial technique.

I left the Museum of Sex informed, entertained, and impressed by what they had achieved with admittedly difficult subject matter. Is everyone ready for a museum with such an upfront treatment of sexuality? Maybe not. There certainly was a lot of giggling happening in the galleries. But in a world in which issues of sexuality are increasingly prevalent, I think everyone could use more of an education. I think the signs for their toilets pretty much sum up why places like MoSex matter:

Definitely worth the price of admission if you are ever in New York! Now let's see how long until this blog gets taken down...

Sunday, 3 April 2016

#LoveMW: I love museums because they help with my depression and anxiety

Today is the last day of Twitter’s Museum Week on the topic of Museum Love. Not really knowing whether it is a good idea to post something like this on the Ministry, I thought I would throw together something personal and a little bit difficult to write. Why I love museums is, at least at the moment, slightly more self-centred than their research potential, engagement with history, or inspiring stories. I love museums because they help me deal with my mental health issues.

Museum Week is a huge time for museum bloggers to be busy, and getting likes and retweets for their social media content. You might have noticed the Ministry has been a bit quiet this week, however, and it’s mostly me to blame. In addition to being overwhelmed with work, personal life etc, it has been a particularly rough period in my much longer struggle with anxiety and depression. We talk a lot about mental health in museums, but typically about how this issues are represented in museums. More frequently the industry is becoming interested in how to reach out to different health communities, and how museums might be therapeutic for the public. Well I have to say as a museum professional they are simultaneously therapeutic and incredibly stressful.

How do I always seem to miss all the exhibitions? The grueling cycle of headline grabbing, queue-inducing exhibitions that London museum’s jostle for make loving museums in the city a stressful affair. Personally I have some serious FOMO, and when I do miss exhibitions it can make me very anxious and down. Too much to see in too little time – unless you are doing it as a job it seems inevitable to only scratch the surface of what London’s museums are doing at any one time. Great for tourists with so many amazing opportunities to choose from, anxiety-inducing for those of us who are trying to keep up with the industry.

But on the other hand, I think it’s the slowness of museums, their permanency, which has helped me out in times of trouble. If you can manage to get into a museum on a relatively calm day, there is something incredibly soothing about performing the role of the museum visitor. You enter the hallowed halls, hang up your coat, select a gallery, and slowly wander round, casually pausing at interesting looking pieces of text. You read from start to finish, you follow the story, you listen to the interactives, maybe you take a picture of something you’d like to share. You sit for a while and think. While I most frequently go to museums as a social outing, they are also a place for me to be alone.

When you have depression, doing anything at all is a challenge. When you combine that with anxiety, at least in my case, it typically means that I continued to be busy doing things (hence the FOMO) just more like a zombie inside. Social interactions are particularly difficult, but my brain is not very keen on letting me rest. Museums are such a blissful oasis in this particular combination of issues. I can be alone, I can be quiet but also keep my brain focused on something that is not anxiety. But I think importantly I’m often looking at objects or paintings made decades or centuries ago, probably by people dealing with the exact same things as me. The world is big, time is long, this moment is short and things will, more or less, continue in the same way (with probably a newer more exiting version of a phone).

So I love museums because (and this is not a particularly trendy thing to say, quite unlike what we normally promote via the Ministry), they are sanctuaries – places where anyone can go to see art, history, or whatever they are interested, and take a little break from the world around them. As a museum person, I know how to ‘be’ in a museum, how to interact, how to get the most out of it. I know this is a privilege of the few, but speaking from a selfish place, the knowability of museum has helped me time and time again when I have felt isolated or too introspective. I’m sure there are many people out there similar stories, and personally I would love to hear if and how museums might have helped with your own struggles.

I’m sure we will be back to your regularly programmed Ministry cheerfulness shortly, but thank you for listening. – Kristin

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Book Review: Micromuseology by Fiona Candlin

Everyone knows that we love to visit London's small museums and promote them through our #hipstermuseum series. We usually like to focus on the more entertaining side of things, focusing on all the insta-worthy experiences you can have beyond the city's big nationals, but of course there's much more to visiting small museums. In Micromuseology, Dr Fiona Candlin, museum studies lecturer at Birkbeck, takes a more academic approach to why small museums rock. Sure to be a required reading for all you aspiring museologists, Candlin's book is accessible enough for everyone who loves Britain's quirky independent and specialist museums.

The Bakelite Museum
What is a micromuseum? This is the basic question that Candlin seeks to answer in her book, and one that is actually incredibly complex. Is it to do with funding? Size? Staffing? Subject matter? Visitor number? Floor space? In trying to define a micromuseum, Candlin ends up questioning what it is to be a modern museum altogether. For example, does a museum need to be accredited to be a museum? Does it need a professional curator? Does it need a scholarly or impartial viewpoint? Considering over fifty micromuseums across the UK, Candlin will slowly change your mind about what you think a museum is or can be.

Museum of Witchcraft 
Compared with the institutions featured in this book, our hipster museums seem enormous! From the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle to the Bakelite Museum in Somerset and the Cornice Museum of Ornamental Plasterwork, Candlin travelled the country in a campervan to visit some of the most obscure small museums she could find. And finding them does indeed sound like half the battle- many of these institutions being run by families, or a small group of volunteers with limited hours and in out of the way places. In order for museums to be listed in the Museums Association Yearbook they have to submit their own details; something small non-accredited museums probably haven't even considered doing. Without any real listing of these museums, Candlin relied on local guides, word-of-mouth, and the trusty hotel lobby pamphlet to find her source material.

Vintage Wireless Museum
I've been to plenty of small museums in my day, including the Museum of Witchcraft which Candlin features prominently in her volume, and I have to admit I've always been a little bit of a curatorial snob. From label tenses to lighting, or the overly enthusiastic museum docent, I have a pretty fixed idea in my mind of what a museum experience should feel-like. But Candlin's book has prompted me to reconsider some of my own professional bias which undoubtedly comes from my background in large museums. I have an idea of what I think the museum should be, but does that match up with what the public wants? Candlin summarises the conundrum brilliantly: 

'There is some irony in this situation because the Museums Association strongly advocates for inclusive museums- which are open to everyone and not just the upper middle classes who historically dominated museum audiences, but they simultaneously disqualify museums that are founded and run by people who do not necessarily belong to an institutional or professional elite...major museums need to acknowledge and represent diverse views. Individual institutions should be open to the populace at large but it is also important to re-evaluate official conceptions of museums, of how they operate, who runs them, and to what purpose: democratization requires that other type of museums are recognized' (Candlin 2016 p.11). 

Two examples from the book address this imbalance perfectly: The Bakelite Museum and the British Vintage Wireless Museum in Dulwich. When Candlin visits the Wireless Museum, she finds a huge specialist collection stuffed in a private home. Sitting drinking tea with the curator/owner and his specialist friend, in a gallery which doubles as the kitchen, Candlin ponders on the idea of public and private space. And yet isn't this more personal interaction with a collection more affecting, more informative, and more in-line with the original idea of the cabinet of curiosities than a large institution with everything behind barriers? In the Bakelite Museum, there are hardly any labels or order at all to guide the visitor through their massive collection dedicated to this versatile material. Does this lack of professional standards put off visitors? Not at all- people report finding the display even more thrilling as they are able to discover things for themselves. 

Personally, I found the chapter on the British in India Museum very affecting as it encapsulates one of the reasons why I personally love working in museums. Established in memorium to the British Raj, the British in India Museum has an unapologetically nostalgic perspective on the British rule of India in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Filled with mementos of lives spent in India, the museum is a 'family sepluchre' for elderly individuals who want their memories saved in perpetuity. The political context of the museum, that is colonialism, makes the memories enshrined in these objects very difficult. However, it is also a perspective which is both often missed out in museums (as I can't imagine any funders being particularly happy with it) and one which is very genuinely felt by a formerly large, but now dwindling group of people. In large museums we so often have members of the public send in family knick-knacks, often very ordinary, unremarkable items, which are hesitant to look after. But aren't all objects in museums just memories that someone really cared about? Isn't all preservation in the end an act of kindness and love? 

Sewing Machine Museum 
Professional or no, after reading Micromuseology I have a much greater understanding of the value of small museums for individuals, for communities, and really for our national memory of the past. Of course we would rather that objects be looked after to the highest standard, but that's not to say there isn't something valuable in, say, a group of engineering enthusiasts running and repairing steam engines. I only wish the book included a listing of all the museums Candlin visited so we could try to hunt down some of our own. The Wireless Museum in Dulwich and the Sewing Machine Museum in Balham are definitely on our list for the near future!

Monday, 7 March 2016

Exclusive Women's Day Interview: Becky Warnock

Here at The Ministry we celebrate the achievements of women across the museum industry and strive for a better representation of women within it. We want to see more women in the top director positions, we want women to be treated equally in the workplace and of course we want to see that women’s history is reflected in the displays and exhibitions across all museums. So back in August 2015 we were like most appalled by the launch of the Jack the Ripper Museum, especially when the museums planning app to Tower Hamlets promised to celebrate the history of women in the East End. It’s certainly a stomach churning turn of events. 

But as we celebrate International Women’s Day lets also celebrate the women who are campaigning for change that will hopefully make other museums think about how they represent women or at least stick to their planning app promises. Celebrate Suffragettes not Serial Killers are petitioning to Tower Hamlets Council to revoke the planning permission and force its closure to reopen as the women's history museum. In honour of this we asked leader of the campaign Becky Warnock to answer a few questions.

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Are you a museum worker? History fanatic? Have you worked with museum groups in the past? And if not, has it changed any of your perceptions? 

Well, I’m not a museum worker, but they’ve certainly been a big part of my life since I was quite little. I used to have a birthday trip to central London every year, where we would go to a museum for the morning, a shopping trip and then to see a west end show. I loved it. The British Museum was my absolute favourite, I was completely fascinated by the ancient Egyptians – and I’d sit for ages staring at Tutankhamun.

In recent years, museums and galleries are still a very special place for me, it’s where I go to be on my own, to think, to learn and find inspiration. I’ve spent lots of time in my career (I work as a Community Artist amongst other things) bringing groups of people, many of whom haven’t been ever before, to see different exhibitions, and encouraging them to engage with the sector. I think museums and galleries should be for everyone, and breaking down the barriers that stop some people engaging with them is really important to me.

2. How did the Jack the Ripper Museum first come to your attention? 

Well, I was actually in Switzerland on a project when I first heard about it. I had been reading the news as I prepped for my next session, and to be honest, it was one of those horrible days where every article I read made me feel sad and angry about the state of the world we live in and I was becoming increasingly irritated (I can be pretty hot headed at times!) Then finally I read about the Ripper museum and it was a bit of a final straw. I was speaking to a friend, who bless him has had to put up with many of my impassioned rants, and he just said ‘well do something then!’ And that was that really.

To give you a bit of context, in October 2014 a new museum gained planning permission by promising ‘the only dedicated resource in the East End to women’s history’. With insulting irony, the museum has now been unveiled as a venue dedicated to the violent crimes of Jack the Ripper. Originally billed as a celebration of East London women and the suffragettes this museum now celebrates the life of the serial killer who viciously murdered women across London's East End, from 1888 and 1891. The original application, upon which Tower Hamlets Council gave its approval, says: “The museum will recognise and celebrate the women of the East End who have shaped history, telling the story of how they have been instrumental in changing society. It will analyse the social, political and domestic experience from the Victorian period to the present day.” The document cited the closure of the local Whitechapel’s Women’s Library in 2013 to stress that the “Museum of Women’s History”, as it was billed, would be “the only dedicated resource in the East End to women’s history”. Instead, as is far too often the case, a celebration of the struggles of women has been forgotten.

I think this particularly set a chord in me because I used to do a lot of work for a domestic violence charity who work all over London, and one of my most recent projects had been in Tower Hamlets, not far from Cable St. The work that we do with them is to encourage young people to think about what healthy relationship is, and also begin to identify abuse and early warning signs of dangerous relationships. 2 women are week are killed by a partner or ex-partner in the UK, and in 2015 at least 126 women were known to be killed by men. Now for me, those statistics are shockingly high, and something that we should be ashamed of as a society. To open a museum to glorify a myth that seemingly celebrates the horrific murders of Victorian women seems to me entirely irresponsible, how do we expect to educate young people against hurting each other, if instead we open a museum to a man that did!

3. What do you hope to achieve through this protest? And what are your main methods of protest?

Well, I’m not a campaigner by trade, so to be completely honest; I am doing a lot of this by instinct. When I read about the development of the Jack the Ripper Museum something inside me clicked into action. 
So I started a petition through the Campaigns by You section of the 38 Degrees website. I didn’t really expect anything else to happen to be honest. Only it did. And now there are nearly 14000 signatures and a series of events happening in line with International Women’s Day.  

We’ve met and petitioned the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, who has been vocally very supportive, but it seems that his hands are somewhat tied in terms of what the council can actually do. The planning permission was granted for the development of a museum, which is what was opened. It apparently doesn’t matter that the content of the museum was so vastly different to what the application said it would be. So legally, there are very few avenues for us to go down. Though if there is anyone more informed that I am reading this – please do get in contact – I’d love it if we could do more!

While initially starting the petition with 38 Degrees gave me an avenue for my frustration, it turns out that lots of other people shared this feeling as well. Through the petition I’ve met women from the ‘East End Women’s Museum’, an online space dedicated to creating the museum we all deserve, who have over 300 volunteers. And we’re all united in a desire to do something about the museum. For now, there’s been regular protests outside of the museum, lots of negative reviews on all tourist sites (it’s really effective apparently!) but now I’m keen to actually develop some of what we were promised in the original museum application. So I’m currently working with a group of local activists and we are aiming to create some events that celebrate the women of the East End, some of them in time for International Women’s Day, and others later in the year.

4. How do you feel your background as an artist has informed your stance? 

Definitely, as an artist, all of my work is about participation –working with communities and people. You can see some of my work here I think that the best art is socially engaged, and in many way artists have the ability to critically engage with society and reflect some of it back to itself. This protest and campaign has taught me a lot about what it means to be an activist, but also, ignited a desire in me to create work that not only comments and engages with communities, but actually attempts to create real social change.

5. Why does London need a museum of women's history? 

Because there are so many incredible women!

Too many times in history women and the role that they played has been overwritten, and we need to celebrate them. Young women deserve to have role models that make growing up easier – knowing that there are people who have gone before them that they can relate to; that have been where they are, overcome huge adversity and gone on to do great things. A museum of women’s history would be a place of refuge and celebration, giving men and women somewhere to come and reflect on what has happened previously and how that has affected our lives today. Even now, many museums, and galleries are dominated by men, and to have a single resource that dedicates itself to women would begin to promote gender equality amongst cultural institutions.

6. Thinking about International Women's Day what does the Jack the Ripper museum say about the state of feminism in the UK? 

I think that this and all the other incredible protesters and campaigns that are around at the moment; Sisters Uncut, No More Page Three, Everyday Sexism, Let Toys be Toys to name a few; show that there is a real desire for change amongst society.

In a blog last year, bel hooks wrote “I didn’t want folks to declare, “I am a feminist” for it seemed that declaration allowed this powerful movement to be subsumed under lifestyle choice. I wanted us all, women and men, to focus on politics.  I wanted us to say, “I advocate feminist politics.”(

Declaring yourself a feminist is part of a rebellious act that says I am this. I will not conform; I do not accept your patriarchy: supporting feminist political ideas for me means a desire for change, and an engagement with the political, social and economic effects of that; but to do that you already have to have found your own sense of identity within feminism first. You have to already declare: I don't want this! I think there is an increasing appetite in feminism to go out and make the changes that we are looking for, and I think that’s really exciting.

7. Where do we go from here, and what can the museum sector do? 

We keep going! From where I stand, (which I am aware is quite a privileged position but hopefully it’s still true) I think there’s lots of really exciting movement happening at the moment, and I hope that will continue. I hope that the museum sector will continue to capture and document that, making sure its capturing a true cross section of it, covering the perspectives of all genders, races, economic backgrounds, sexualities, people with disabilities…but also providing them with spaces of retreat, reflection and inspiration, just like what they did for me as a kid drawing Tutankhamun over and over! 

We urge you to support the campaign and sign the petition and maybe even check out this great event next week! Big thanks to Becky for taking the time to answer our questions, let’s take a moment to appreciate all the ace women in this industry! 

Monday, 29 February 2016

February's Hipster Museum: The Steam Museum

Earlier this month we featured Kew Bridge's Steam Museum as one of our top heritage wedding venues. We have a little suspicion that a few of you may have thought - wait what? Where is that? An industrial museum in London? Is Kew Bridge in London? These are exactly the sort of questions we hope to answer in our #hipstermuseum series, so with that in mind, we made the trek to become one with the power of steam.

If you want to get to the Steam Museum, then you'll need to board a train at Waterloo at take it all the way (shock horror) to Zone 3. Yes thats right, further out than your zone 1-2 travel card- but hey, if you want to see three story tall steam engines in situ, then you need to travel a bit. (Yes we know you can see a steam engine at the Science Museum, but its not sitting in its original, purpose built building IS IT?!) Once you get off the train you shouldn't have too much difficulty locating the museum as its enormous 200 foot high Italianate standpipe tower literally towers over the local area. While it might look like it, this isn't actually a chimney, but a clever series of inter-connected pipes which helped maintain the pressure between the water mains and the fu**king enormous steam engines inside the waterworks.

The Kew Bridge Pumping Station (aka the buildings and machinery which now comprise the museum) was founded in 1838 to help improve the drinking water for early nineteenth century London. As you probably know from your medical history, the first half of the 1800s was not a super great time to be alive in the city- what with all the cholera and that. It was discovered however that the water to the West of the city was less polluted, and therefore the station was constructed by the Grand Junction Waterworks Company. The buildings were made around the enormous steam engines needed to pump water to residents, and many of them are still in place today, now supplemented by further acquisitions to the historic collections. 

Despite expanding and making an enormous amount of money, it turns out private companies like the Grand Junction Waterworks weren't necessarily providing London with the clean water it needed. The government stepped in and created the Metropolitan Water Board in 1904. Not overly impressed with the Victorian facilities at Kew, the MWB chose not to modernise, leaving the steam engines running until the 1940s. After its closure in the mid-twentieth century, Kew Bridge pumping station was immediately designated as a museum - although one that wasn't really open to the public or advertised. You simply had to be in the know to get in. #1950shipsters 

Since its 2014 refurbishment, the newly rebranded Steam Museum is trying to make its name as a cool, interactive place to learn about the history of sanitation and water engineering in London. But its also a totally awesome and aesthetic venue perfect for events, filming, and badass industrial selfies, as well as a popular place for school tours and, as ever, engineering geekery. 

It might be a bit of a trek, but the Steam Museum is such an amazing atmospheric site its already been in some of your favourite TV shows including Dr Who and East Enders. With a swish new cafe, brand new interpretation, and an ever increasing events programme, it's definitely worth the trip west! 

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Collections and connections to boost your brain

 Museums are fountains of knowledge – yep we know all about that! We’re pretty familiar by now with the dispersal of such knowledge through the display of material culture, publications and even collections online but did you know that many museums also run courses where you can use their collections and connections to boost your brains?

Whether you want to learn a little bit more about curating behind the scenes or get a diploma in Asian Art the museum is the place to go. Unfortunately, many are not free and you will have to attend weekly classes but you might get a sneak peek behind the scenes or meet some fascinating people with a similar specific interest to you.

But where to start? Well check out your favourite museums learning pages for more info on up to date courses but here are some of the ones that popped up onto our radar:

For the AV Tech - Projection Mapping @V&A
Promises to  A practical workshop where participants will ‘ Learn about the latest projection mapping techniques with Yiyun Kang, the V&A Samsung Korean Digital Art Resident. Discover how to map digital projections on physical surfaces and move beyond the traditional confines of the screen to create your own interactive installations.’
Cost: £240, £192 concessions

For the Fancy Pants Curator -  MA in 18th-Century Studies At King's College London with the British Museum
Promises to: ‘The course is taught in part by experts from the British Museum and will enable students to engage with the unique, diverse and rich collections of cultural institutions in central London, including the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Society and the Hunterian Museum.’
Entry requirements and likely an arm and a leg in cost.

For the Collections Registrar - Webinar: Sustainable Collections Management @Collections Trust
Promises to ‘look at collections management in the context of environmental, financial and cultural challenges, and explore the opportunities in change. ‘
Cost: Free online

For the forward thinker - Towards Tomorrow’s Museum 2016 @ Tate
Promises to discuss ‘What will be the priorities and policies of museums in the future? Who will be the audiences and how will they engage with institutions? Towards Tomorrow’s Museum examines current questions and new models for the art museum. Over ten sessions, the course considers the major issues involved in rethinking the role of the museum, its programme and collection, and how its activities sit within a shifting cultural landscape.’
Cost: £320, concessions available

For the Peeping Tom - Museum Curating Now: Behind the Scenes at Tate
Promises to ‘ examines the role of the curator and the way in which they negotiate the wide range of artistic, social, political, and economic factors that shape the context within which they work. How are their decisions informed, what strategies do they employ, and what approaches shape the work of museum curators today? Across eleven weeks, the course considers the ways in which curators at Tate develop, manage, and engage with the Collection, temporary exhibitions, events, and arts projects within the current global climate, while responding to diverse institutional and non-institutional contexts, histories as well as geo-political and social conditions’
Cost: £320, concessions available

For the newbie - Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum
Promises to discuss ‘ How can we understand museums today? Who are museums for and why are they working to engage new audiences? How do we respond emotionally to museum objects and spaces? And how can museums play a role in the pursuit of social justice, human rights, or health and wellbeing?

Cost: Free! 

Get learning kids and let us know how you get on!