As I mentioned in a previous blog, earlier this year Mansfield Museum won the Kids in Museums award for the most Family-friendly Museum in the UK after being anonymously visited by ‘undercover’ families. In the view of the professional judges, the museum ‘transforms the social and industrial history of the district into an interactive journey through the ages. What the museum lacks in objects – a collection of 18th-century porcelain may not thrill your four year-old – it makes up for with inspiring, fun events. Lego Day and picnics to celebrate Paddington Bear and Pooh’s birthdays are just some of their half-term activities’.
I was at Mansfield Museum in August for an event linked to the exhibition ‘Our Local Larder’, and took the chance to ask Jody Henshaw, its Development Officer, to tell me more about the award and what makes the museum so family-friendly. The activities are obviously very important – and there were plenty of children tasting the samples of traditional East Midlands at the food event and telling us what they liked best (or what had the ‘Ugh!’ factor) - but feedback from visitors also highlighted the ’really friendly experience’, with the staff talking to people as they came in and making them feel genuinely welcome. They ‘don’t feel as if they are just another visitor’ – and ‘you don’t have to be quiet here’! The team at Mansfield is small – only nine in all – and work closely together. As Jody says: ‘We all know what each other does, and we all fit together really well. We all love our job and really care about the place. We work really hard to make it the best that we can’.
The search for the 2012 most Family-friendly Museum has just been launched by Kids in Museums through The Telegraph newspaper. See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/family/8827578/Whats-your-favourite-family-friendly-museum.html for more details of the scheme and how to nominate your own favourite – along with an interesting article by writer and poet Michael Rosen on his own experience of museums as a child.
By the way, the famous Mansfield Gooseberry Pie was one of the items on offer at the food tasting in August, specially made for the occasion by a local baker - see http://www.digitalengagementnetwork.org/eastmidlandsfood/2010/06/29/gooseberry-pork-pie/ for more about these pies, along with a great photo of the Mayor of Mansfield cutting one in the Market Place in 1927. And very tasty it was too…
Do you use oral history in your museum? The Museums Association journal Museum Practice is asking museums and galleries to submit oral history case studies for inclusion in the November 2011 edition of the online publication. These should be no more than 250 words long and could cover: using new technology to gather, record and present oral history projects; tackling difficult and controversial subject matters; outreach projects using oral history; and general experiences of integrating oral history into displays. Please email your case studies and relevant photographs to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday 4 November 2011.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be looking at some of the imaginative and creative ways in which museums and galleries can use oral history, and sharing a few extracts from interviews deposited in the East Midlands Oral History Archive (www.le.ac.uk/emoha). In the meantime, there is lots of practical guidance both on the EMOHA site and that of the Oral History Society at www.ohs.org.uk.
If you don’t already know about it, you may be interested in Culture Shock!, a major two year digital story-telling project in the North East of England. It has now been completed, having engaged with nearly 600 participants who created stories inspired by the museum and gallery collections. All the finished stories have been permanently added to museum collections, broadcast online and made available at special events.
They ‘aim to raise awareness of the diverse heritage of the people of the North East and encourage people from similar and different backgrounds to explore, document and share their heritage with each other and the wider North East community. Culture Shock will help to make museum collections more relevant to the lives of people living in the region and creating these new digital stories will mean that people can capture elements of their lives in museum collections for people to enjoy for years to come… The creation of digital stories is a participant led process. Each participant has complete ownership over the creation of their story from the idea of the story itself, the compilation of the story script, the recording and editing of the script, the selection of the visual material to illustrate their audio and the production of the story in the film making software’.
The project was led by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM) and included Beamish – The Living Museum of the North, The Bowes Museum, Hartlepool Museums & Heritage Service and Culture:Unlimited. It was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Renaissance North East, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums Business Partners and the Gillian Dickinson Trust. The digital stories can be viewed on the Culture Shock! website at http://www.cultureshock.org.uk/home.html, where there is also further information about the project.
In August I visited the ‘Our Local Larder’ exhibition about food at Mansfield Museum with David Amos, the MuBu mining scholar, where the display about Lander’s bakery prompted an interesting piece of oral history. David was a ‘bread lad’ for the bakery from 1969 – 1973, so I took the opportunity to film a short video of some of his memories. You can view this on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aorTibWKYY8. You will hear lots of children in the background – a reminder of why, earlier this year, Mansfield Museum won the national Family-friendly Museum award, awarded by The Guardian and voted for by visitors to the museum. More of that soon…
A recent notice about a colloquium in December 2011 – Heritage without borders: making critical connections - posed some interesting questions about the concept of heritage and the impact of ‘practices of heritage’. The conference is in Canberra, so attending it may be out of the question – but I wonder if you have any views on these questions that you might like to share.
Is there a single underlying theory of heritage?
What impacts do the various theories and practices of heritage have on people and environments?
Does heritage preserve a cultural legacy or create it?
What are the emerging critical themes for the practice and theory of heritage?
The conference itself aims to ‘transgress the traditional boundaries between the distinct fields of heritage studies, such as archaeology, museums, memory, landscape studies and materials conservation, and to explore connections and differences in their dealings with people, place and things’. There is further information at http://australia.icomos.org/wp-content/uploads/Heritage-without-borders.pdf.
I was looking recently at a careers website which had a description of the role of curators. The list of ‘duties’ and ‘responsibilities’ made it all sound rather dull, not much like the actual working lives of some of the curators I have talked to across the East Midlands – or the challenge of curating the annual Sculpture in the Garden exhibition in the ‘outdoor gallery’ of the University of Leicester’s Botanial Gardens.
The curator of this exhibition, now in its tenth year, is the sculptor John Sydney Carter FRBS, who originally studied painting, sculpture and design at the Leicester College of Art, and whose own work forms part of the display. See him on YouTube talking about Sculpture in the Garden and how the sculptures and their surroundings compliment each other – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsWk3yTq3mQ.
There is still time to see the exhibition, which runs until 30 October. For more details, see http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/press/press-releases/2011/april/sculpture-in-the-garden-celebrates-a-decade.
If you can’t make it by then, the Botanical Gardens themsleves are always well worth a visit – see http://www2.le.ac.uk/institution/botanic-garden.
Among the fascinating films that you can view on the My Leicestershire website, there are two in particular that illustrate different aspects of working in museums or heritage sites. One shows a demonstration of framework knitting by Martin Green, believed to be the last framework knitter working commercially in Leicestershire, with a commentary by Wendy Freer of the Leicestershire Industrial History Society (LIHS). This gives an overview of the framework knitting industry across the East Midlands, and close-up views of the knitting process with an explanation of how these hand-operated knitting frames actually worked. Examples of them can be seen at the Framework Knitters Museum in Ruddington (www.rfkm.org/aboutus.html) and the Wigston Framework Knitters Museum near Leicester (see www.le.ac.uk/emoha/community/resources/hosiery/museum.html for more details). The Knitting Together website at http://www.rfkm.org/aboutus.html also has lots of information about different aspects of the hosiery industry in the East Midlands.
Another film shows the recapping of Swannington Hough Mill in 2009, to enable it to rotate as it would have done when the mill was in full working order. The mill was in a derelict state until being restored by the Swannington Heritage Trust with the help of a grant from the HLF, and was opened to the public in 2002. There is more information at www.swannington-heritage.co.uk/pages/mill.html, along with details about opening hours for visitors.
You can browse the full contents of the My Leicestershire site at http://myleicestershire.org.uk/. These include oral histories, photographs, historical directories, and archive recordings from BBC Radio Leicester, as well as more films from the LIHS and the Media Archive for Central England (MACE).
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