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Saturday, 3 October 2015

Museum job interview questions

Hello everyone! So here at the Ministry we get a lot of questions about museum careers and job hunting. Constant job applications are an inevitable part of every museum persons life- whether you are starting out and struggling to find something, or just because so many of us are on short term contracts! But as someone recently pointed out to us, there's actually very little guidance on museum-specific interview questions hanging around on the interweb. 

So in order to help the community at large we are asking you to submit some of the questions you've been asked in museum/art gallery/ and other heritage organisation interviews. Tweet them at us using the hashtag #museuminterview and then we will compile them into a final resource!

Here are a few we've had in the past just to get your started:

  • Give an example of a time you prioritized tasks.
  • Can you give an example of a documentation practice you improved?
  • Talk about a time you made a mistake and how you solved it.
  • What procedures are necessary for returning an object to its owner?
  • What research sources do you use in documentation work?
  • Can you name a time you applied SPECTRUM standards in the work place?

Saturday, 26 September 2015

The Ministry Recommends: Autumn Picks

 Finally Autumn is here! For many of us  museum professional the end of the summer months are filled with long hours, heavy lifting and courier supervising in anticipation of your institutions Autumnal Blockbuster exhibition. For me, the end of the longest shift ever is only cushioned by the anticipation of seeing what all of the other London museums are showcasing and fortunately this autumn season looks to be a particularly thrilling one with Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age's long awaited launch and Ai Weiwei's presence in the city and exhibition throwing London into an Ai selfie  and protesting frenzy. Where do we start? Here at the Ministry we're going to spend every weekend touring the autumn shows, but what are we most excited about? Well...

Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age 18/09/2015 - 13/03/2016
I may be a little bit biased encouraging visitors to this show having spent my summer escorting space craft across the country and into the Science Museum. But seriously, the exhibitions thrilling design, shop and out of this world (pun intended) objects make this show an absolute must. Memorabilia from the first man in space, the first woman in space's space craft and suit and a whole section on space animals. Seriously check it out before it all heads back to Russia in March.

Gotta theme the outfit for the exhibition! 

Ai WeiWei
19/09/2015 - 13/12/2015
When Ai WeiWei recently joined a Ministry planning session at the Royal Academy there was no way that we wouldn't feature his exciting exhibition in our autumn picks. Really we've spent the last few weeks obsessively watching the artists movements on Instagram,  felt crushed as his visa was rejected,  overjoyed as Theresa May stepping in to grant him a six month working visa and then liberated by the consistent instagramming of the installation build at the RA. The Royal Academy show is the first major survey of his work since 1993, often controversial he opens up conversation between Chinese and western art - upsetting some along the way. building on the familiarity of Tate’s success with the turbine hall's sunflower exhibition (surprisingly not featured) this promises to be an explosion of political thought provoking pieces, but be quick! It’s only on until December!

Liberty in Fashion
09/10/2015 - 28/02/2016
There’s no doubt that as the nights draw in you'll be pulling the scarfs out of storage and wearing them as acceptable daytime blankets but I doubt many of us museum workers will be in the possession of a beautiful and iconic Liberty silk scarf. Fear not instead of window shopping Liberty's department store for this seasons fave you can take a look back in the Fashion and Textile Museum's latest show Liberty in Fashion which looks into Liberty the brand and how it has influence Brit fashion across the years.

Cycle Revolution
18/11/2015 - 30/06/2016
Later in the season the Design Museum brings a treat to all of the push biking commuters of London with their exploration of the British cycling trends in Cycle Revolution opening 18th November. There’s no doubt a friend or colleague with a passion for bikes will love this exhibition as it explores the much obsessed over craftsmanship of bicycles and their accessories as must have design items. 

what will you go and see? keep up updated on twitter @curiositytweet

Friday, 18 September 2015

A love letter to museums: Joseph Cornell at the RA

Art and I don't always get along. As more of a history, object-centric person, I can find historical portraiture a little so-so, and contemporary art baffling. But at our recent visit to the Royal Academy, I came across an art exhibition that was speaking my language: the collages of American artist Joseph Cornell. 

Who? you might ask. Well, if you are a bit of an art amateur you might anyway. I like to think I know a little something about modern art, but I hadn't come across Cornell before. I was blown away in the exhibition by the casual mentions of Surrealist greats like Max Ernst and Rene Magritte who Cornell not only admired, but knew! Cornell is famous for his assemblages in shadow boxes. This cut-and-paste art works brought together Victorian bric-a-brac, historic images, tiny objects, maps, and all sorts of other materials to create wonderful mini-sculptures. 

Cornell was fascinated by museums and cabinets of curiosities, and it shows strongly in this exhibition. Books carved into storage boxes, pharmacy cabinets, and extensive labelling all appealed to Cornell's (and my!) love of order and organisation. His piece 'Museum' even plays on this idea: it's a box of tiny scrolls which need to be opened to reveal the treasure in side; the opposite of a museum where everything is on display!

Aside from these more literal museum connections, the exhibition, and indeed Cornell's work, is a testament to the power of museums. I couldn't help but be reminded of the Museum Association's 'Museums Change Lives' initiative: they certainly changed Cornell's. Even though he lived his entire life in the general New York area, through museums, books, and maps, he was able to explore the world. Cornell's works feel like an adventure through space and time, from the Medici's to the plants and animals of exotic South America. Cornell's work reminds us of the importance of museums to expand our minds and have the world at our finger tips.

Wanderlust is only on for another week at the Royal Academy, so you'd better get down while you still can! Find our more info here.

Also - though we can't claim this will happen to you on our visit, look who we met!!! 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The history of being Well: an immersive theatre experience

It's 7pm on a gloomy Bank Holiday Monday evening and the Ministry of Curiosity has trekked to the far East- Dagenham East that is, in search of a history of medicine adventure. After a few failed attempts, we find ourselves in front of an old factory building, the former May and Baker pharmaceuticals factory. Organised by Creative Barking and Dagenham in partnership with the local community, we embarked on an immersive theatre experience through the building an the history of chemicals production in East London...

As a historian of medicine, I was incredibly excited for our visit to Well. Theatre, performance, exciting London spaces, and medicine - I mean honestly what more could you want! Although a few minutes in, I honestly did think to myself - oh lord, what have you hipsters done now? Spooky actors uplit by florescent bulbs, ominously pouring one phial of coloured water into another isn't necessarily how I would communicate the history of a pharmaceutical factor to the public. Walking down a cooridor which looked more or less like it had been decorated with print outs from Wellcome Images, I wondered to what extent the theatre directors had actually spoken with any pharmaceutical historians.

However, as the performance continued, I started to change my mind about the experience. For me, the turning point was really the scene in which the participants watched a factory employee prepare for their day, with complete health and safety gear, while listening to an oral history about the personal experience of being a part of the May and Baker family. It occurred to me that this project wasn't really about the history of medicine or pharmacy, it was about people's relationship with this building and their sense of purpose of what they were doing (Sanofi specialised in cancer-fighting drugs). And that was when I really started to enjoy myself. Entering an area mocked up as a ball-room with former employees waltzing in memory of all the Christmas and going-away parties of the past, I almost cried. 

The concept behind Well is absolutely fantastic - engaging members of the local community, and former factory employees, in an exciting project that allows them to share their experience of and love for the Sanofi factory. The building itself is absolutely worth the price of admission - winding your way through the chemical stores, factory floor and offices is absolutely fascinating - an incredibly rare peak into the spaces of 20th century science. 

To truly experience Well, you might need to put aside some of your more pedantic preconceptions (why is this an Ebola ward, there was no Ebola outbreak when this factory was open, and they certainly never treated patients here) and focus instead on the incredible emotional investment that the local people have made in the factory building. Along the way there are certainly touches of pure genius, a lone shower of pills in an echo-y corridor has an absolutely amazing effect. But really it's the people, the participants, that make it all worth while. 

Well is only open until September 6th - but believe us, it's worth making the trip East! For more information on opening times, tickets, and booking click here

Museum loving: After Hours

Want to know what's going on in London's museums and galleries after hours? Then you have come to the right place!

After a brief hiatus our much loved event calendar is up and running again and full of suggestions for evening entertainment for museum loving adults in the city.

Every morning we will be tweeting these events from our account @curiositytweet so you can plan your evening on your commute.

Please note we have a strict criteria for events to ensure they appeal to our followers, events are adult focused, out of usual working hours and at a reasonable cost. Additionally we work to ensure all events in the current month are covered, next months events will be added in due course. Please feel free to contact us with suggestions or if you would like your events listed drop us an email ( with all relevant details.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

#HipsterMuseum - Benjamin Franklin House

You will know well enough by now that here at The Ministry we love to celebrate London’s hidden gems, the smaller museums whose presence is often overshadowed by blockbuster exhibitions and huge crowds. But don't let this impose on their significance, those smaller, volunteer led and largely grant funded museums they can be an exciting trip into the past and our next hipster museum is no exception.

Oddly situated in a fancy Georgian terrace behind Charing Cross station (I swear this street appeared out of nowhere) 36 Craven Street or now Benjamin Franklin House is a delightful step back to the 1730’s. Funded by donations and HLF grants the house museum is run by only three members of staff and a group of volunteers offering visitors tours throughout the day choosing from the historical experience (£7 per person) or the architectural tour for £3.50.

We were invited along for the architectural tour which thankfully began with an introduction to the man himself. Benjamin Franklin is one of those annoying people who can turn their hand to anything, an inventor, political reformer and writer and he is even credited as the first American for his early campaign for colonialism. Franklin’s life was dictated by his politics and spurring his move to London was to make Pennsylvania a Royal colony rather than a proprietary province in 1764, originally intended for six months it soon turned into sixteen years staying in Craven Street and it was here that he even developed a phonetic alphabet.

Gentrification has played a key part in the life of 36 Craven Street. Previously known as the grim Spur Alley an 18th century road riddled with prostitution the 1830’s saw the street become Craven Street attracting a different sort of clientele with its close proximity to the Houses of Parliament, set back houses and coal stores under the road out front. The building soon became a lodging house where Benjamin Franklin stayed on his trips to London and for its longest stint from 1764 to 1775. It is now the only surviving home of Benjamin Franklin and one of the most intact properties of the era. Having undergone extensive conservation prior to its launch as a museum in 2006 the house hosts the only complete 18th century staircase in the world, original floors and ceilings and with many original parts of the fireplaces. The staff even x-rayed through 26 layers of paint to get the same sickly green colour that Benjamin Franklin would have experienced.

The museum sees the house is the object. A curatorial decision has made that each room was to only have one or two  props and not to be furnished with eighteenth century replicas one room may have cards and another a writing desk as the only occupants in bare crooked rooms, but it is an effective decision. The rooms are as original as possible and have removed the 'glass and rope' of other historic homes allowing the room do the talking. This is beautifully done in the kitchen where the only props are large object labels hanging from the ceiling.

However the education room in the basement does host two small and high spec showcases with a collection of human remains discovered during conservation. No Franklin was not a murderer, but his landladys son in law was a wannabe anatomist, who like all good 18th century  self-taught medical students relied on a steady income of cadavers from body snatchers and without the correct waste facilities had no option but to bury them in the ground.

The attic also features a replica glass armonica. Yet again the super successful Franklin was credited as the first American instrument maker and by this point of the tour you get the feeling he is a bit smug, especially as he apparently enjoyed two hour long air baths every morning (you'll have to find out more about that on the tour!) If you’re lucky you will get to have a go on the glass armonica and hear it produce a creepy sound mimicking the tones of a wet finger round running around crystal glass. It even inspired Mozart to write music for and has been used on the Harry potter soundtrack.

The museum is open every day 10.30am-5pm, except Tuesdays when the House and Box Office are closed for weekly Schools Day. But we would highly recommend a tour with the absence of objects or even text panels the knowledge of the guides creates a different experience meaning that is a necessity.     

Follow @BFhouse

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Down the rabbit hole with Alice in Cartoonland

Coming up with the title for this blog I could think of so many Alice in Wonderland inspired puns it was hard to pick just one. Maybe that's because Lewis Carroll's classic story has become such a part of our culture we find it everywhere. Well, actually that was the Cartoon Museum's premise when they decided to explore how the imagery and illustrations of Alice have pervaded drawing and cartooning from the late nineteenth century to today. Short, sweet and snappy - Alice in Cartoonland is charming and refreshingly straightforward.

Ministry accomplice Becky gets excited
I have to admit, I had never been to the Cartoon Museum before - but the Alice exhibition seemed the perfect time for a first visit. Hidden just around the corner from the British Museum, the tiny Cartoon Museum is a little place with a lot of heart. While the Ministry may never have made it there before- it was clear from the huge crowd the exhibition opening had drawn that this was a place with some seriously loyal fans. Fun house mirrors, a magician dressed at the Mad Hatter, and some amazing Sipsmith gin cocktails certainly set the mood!

Fun with mirrors and the Mad Hatter!
In its relatively small floor space, the Museum packs in two permanent galleries and a sizable temporary exhibition space, in this case absolutely packed with every iteration of Alice inspired image you can imagine. From Carroll's original drawings of his characters, to Victorian political satire, Guinness advertisements, comic book renditions and prints from the famous Disney film, Cartoon land takes you on a tour of our fascination with Alice and her friends. 
Victorian satire

So often these days it seems exhibitions try to be everything and then some. What the Cartoon Museum has done so well is to capture our fascination with Alice on a level that everyone can interact with. Do you like history? It's there. Contemporary art? Got it. Your childhood films? Boom. Wanted to learn something about Lewis Carroll? Of course. 

Simultaneously showing our diverse interpretation of Carroll's story as well as the power and variety of cartoons and drawn images- the visitor walks away remembering their own unique memories of the book, film, characters - or whatever else means the most to them. Without being didactic, Alice in Cartoonland is a fitting celebration of the 150th anniversary of the book's original publication. 

Alice in Cartoonland is on at the Cartoon Museum until the 1st of November. Don't forget to check out their great events series to go with the exhibition! Hat-making anyone?