An Internship with Impact: Working as a Trainee Curator at Bodmin Keep

After months of applying for entry level jobs in the museum sector, between shifts stacking books in a library and pulling pints at a pub, I was finally offered a curatorial traineeship at a small military museum. Leaping at the opportunity, in January 2020 I uprooted my life in South London and moved to Bodmin, Cornwall. Once I had gotten over the shock of hearing owls outside my bedroom window and seeing tractors driving on the road, I was ready to throw myself in to my new life and new job.

The CMP Trainee Curators. From left: Rachel, Sian, Katie, and Sarah

The ‘Trainee Curators’ programme was funded and organised by Cornwall Museums Partnership. There were five of us trainees in total, all placed in different museums across the county. Bodmin Keep: Cornwall’s Army Museum was my host organisation. Run by a dynamic team of motivated and characterful women, Bodmin Keep completely defied my expectations of a rural regimental museum. Whilst working there, I was not only gaining curatorial experience, but the team ensured that all doors were open. I was invited into strategic planning meetings and encouraged to ask questions relating to governance, learning and engagement, and marketing and communications.

Leading a curator’s talk for Heritage Open Day.

The team at the Keep were enthusiastic about my ideas to embark on projects that would diversify our museum displays and digital content. For example, I participated with a podcast the museum produced which explored the Army’s LGBTQ+ history. I pitched an idea for a new display which interrogated some of the colonial collecting stories behind some of the objects in our collection. I launched a mini-series of videos which looked at artworks within our collection using the principles of mindfulness. But the project which really captured my attention was the opportunity to curate an exhibition of my own. The topic: mental health in the military.

The subject of mental health and psychiatric casualties of war is woefully underrepresented in military and regimental museums, despite being one of the most crucial issues for veterans and service personnel today. Bodmin Keep has a significant community presence and a platform to make a change. I hoped that an exhibition could raise awareness of the mental health challenges faced by the military family, myth-bust, encourage empathy, challenge social stigma, and encourage veterans and other members of our local community to access support if they need it. I also hoped that an exhibition on mental health could challenge entrenched ideas about regimental museums as being too conservative or irrelevant to the issues of today’s society, inviting attention from new audiences.

The Bodmin Keep team celebrate VE Day

The exhibition has been collaborative in nature. I was keen to work with veterans within our ex-Light Infantry community, for whom we hold the regimental collection. I have had the opportunity to work with some fascinating people, who have been donating objects and stories to the exhibition. Navigating these relationships was challenging at times, given the sensitive and emotive nature of the topic. However, the experience was rewarding and has offered me an insight into the power that museums have over the way in which histories are told and who’s heritage gets remembered.

A display within Bodmin Keep’s new exhibition about mental health: Trauma to Treatment

My time at the Keep has come to an end, but I have the privilege of moving onto a new role which I never would have thought was within reach this time last year. I will be taking up the post of Assistant Curator at the Military Intelligence Museum, in Bedfordshire. My experience at Bodmin Keep has not only hugely improved my skills, but it has given me the confidence to turn a career ambition into reality. I can now call myself a curator; something that has been a dream for many years now.

My traineeship has given me so much, but I feel that I have also left my mark on the museum in return. I have undertaken many museum internships in the past, most of which have involved staring into space in empty galleries for hours or acting as a human coat rack. However, a traineeship which enables the trainee to leave a genuine impact on an organisation is very special, and I encourage any entry level museum professional to seek these out. Even if it does mean moving somewhere a little bit unexpected.

Pre-book your visit to Bodmin Keep, or go to our website to see Trauma to Treatment, our new exhibition about mental health in the military.

 

-Sarah Waite

#RDNetwork: Volunteering

During 2020 the Cornwall Museums Partnership Twitter page will be handing the reigns over each month to local organisations, who will be guest hosting our Rural Diversity Networking hour; #RDNetwork.

In July, Tehmina Goskar, Director of the Curatorial Research Centre, kindly took over our Twitter page to discuss museums and volunteering. Please continue reading to hear all about Tehmina’s experience of our #RDNetwork Twitter Takeover…

I was really pleased to revisit the Rural Diversity Network which I helped set up in 2017 as an Arts Council England Change Maker. When I look at how far we have come, while it is easy to get frustrated at lack of progress it is important to focus on what has changed for the better. I have observed more discussion about diversity when previously there was none, a more nuanced understanding of how diversity and inclusivity relate to each other – both processes of unlearning our expectations for a ‘typical museum audience’ and generally more self-awareness among colleagues in spotting lack of diversity.

My particular topic was volunteering. A topic close to my heart as we continue to pioneer our flagship Citizen Curators programme that I am leading on behalf of CMP and seven partner museums. Over the last two years (there is one to go) we have provided high quality training in museum awareness and good curatorship to over 50 people – all volunteers from our communities. The programme is designed and constantly being adapted to flex to the needs of the participants rather than just focus on organisational needs. This is a very different way of thinking about volunteering as participation as opposed to free labour.

As someone who has also started a new business in the last two years (Curatorial Research Centre) it is important to me to continue advocating for a progressive mentality in museums, particularly smaller museums in rural regions, not just in Cornwall but all over the world. These museums are the backbone of our sector and yet are so often ignored. So many of these smaller museums and cultural organisations do sterling work in their communities and yet have, over the years, been forced to orientate themselves fully towards the visiting tourist in the tourist season. This means that volunteering has a critical role to play in diversifying what museums exist for and more importantly, for whom. Are we really welcoming to one and all? The other major facet of this work is to make cultural educational opportunities more easily available in places where time and cost of travel is a major barrier. As we plan for yet another radically different year for Citizen Curators (delivered entirely digitally) our volunteers will need to understand their museums as if they had no walls and a genuinely global audience.

-Tehmina Goskar

Cornwall Council Schools Art Collection

Falmouth Art Gallery and the newly re-opened Royal Cornwall Museum have joined forces to stage two exhibitions, one in each venue, showcasing almost the entire ‘Cornwall Council Schools Art Collection’ which has been looked after by the latter institution on behalf of Cornwall Council since 2011. 

This impressive collection consists of artworks originally acquired from locally and internationally renowned artists for the educational benefit of all school children in Cornwall and was begun in 1961 following an anonymous donation of money to what was then Cornwall County Council with a note attached reading ‘To help primary school funds’.  After some debate the Council decided to use the money to start a fund to buy artworks to loan out to schools so that schoolchildren could interact with and learn from them.

The Council approached well-known artists to see if they would gift or sell a piece of work at a reduced price. The first work acquired in this way was ‘Frisky’, by Jacob Epstein, a small bronze sculpture of his beloved sheepdog, gifted by his widow (he had died in 1959).  The sculpture went on tour to different schools and proved so popular that the Council agreed to put aside money every year to collect more pieces of art. Barbara Hepworth and Michael Finn (then Principal at the Falmouth School of Art) were the Council’s advisors helping them to contact artists and grow the collection over the years.

The collection contains works by many of the well-known post-war artists practising in Cornwall.  Barbara Hepworth led by example donating her own Alfred Wallis as well as a print and two sculptures and persuaded her husband, Ben Nicholson, their son Simon and Ben’s daughter Kate, by his first marriage to donate works too. Other notable artists include Leonard Fuller, Alethea Garstin, Patrick Heron, Bernard Leach, Janet Leach, Alexander MacKenzie, Lionel Miskin, Denis Mitchell, Dod Proctor, John Milne, John Wells, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Patrick Hayman, Bryan Wynter and many more.  In addition, Falmouth Art Gallery has loaned their version of ‘Orchard Tambourine B’ by Sir Terry Frost to the exhibition at the Royal Cornwall Museum to signpost a similar work from the Cornwall Council Collection which is permanently on display at County Hall in Truro.

Both exhibitions have been imaginatively curated by Lizzy Broughton who is a Trainee Curator at Falmouth Art Gallery through a programme staged by Cornwall Museums Partnership and jointly funded by Cultivator, European Social Fund, Cornwall Council, the John Ellerman Foundation and Arts Council England.

Henrietta Boex, Director of Cultural Services for Falmouth Town Council, commented : ‘We are delighted to have the opportunity to work in partnership with the Royal Cornwall Museum and to display this important collection across our two venues.  It is a significant resource for children (and adults) in Cornwall and we will be making sure that schools are aware that they are able to borrow artworks from it.  I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Lizzy on curating two really good looking and well researched exhibitions – no mean feat for a first timer.’

Cornwall Council Schools Art Collection is on display at Falmouth Art Gallery from 19 September – 14 November and its sister exhibition is on display at the Royal Cornwall Museum from 12 September – 31 December.  Both venues are open for timed ticketed visits.  Please book through www.falmouthartgallery.com and www.royalcornwall.org

 

A Day In The Life: Ellie Smith, Project Support Apprentice

Welcome to our new blog series, ‘A Day In The Life…’ which is based on each member of the CMP team and what they get up to on a typical day at work.

First up is Ellie Smith, wAVE Digital Project Administrator Apprentice. Ellie is working full time on various administrative aspects of the wAVE project, as well as working towards a Level 3 Apprenticeship and Diploma in Business Administration.

Read on for more on how Ellie spends her time at Cornwall Museums Partnership.

When I was asked to write a blog post about my ‘typical’ day as a Project Support Apprentice, I began to compile a list of what I do each day. Eventually, when that list was spilling onto a third page, I realised that there is no typical day as an apprentice. One of the real joys of my job-role is that I am always doing something different and, more often than not, something new. Actually, I would say a day in the life of a Project Support Apprentice is summed up by doing something new; whether it’s training, using practical skills, or meeting new people. This has pushed me to see challenges and unfamiliar tasks as a way to increase my understanding of the sector and apply the knowledge I’ve gained in practical ways.

Essentially, every day as an apprentice is a school day, particularly as an apprentice on the wAVE project. A key aspect of the project that I help to run is our ‘Immersive Tech Introductions’ sessions, which have been set up to increase the digital skills of SMEs across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Not only have I learned so much about event organisation through actually putting on these training sessions, I have also been opened up to a wealth of knowledge from the immersive tech experts who have hosted the various sessions.

A good portion of my time is spent doing research and development, specific to the modules in my BTEC qualification – this can be anything from ICT and administration to more complex project management skills. What I value most about my typical working day is that I am always presented with opportunities to practically apply the knowledge I am gaining through my theoretical work. For me, having tangible ways to put new skills into practice really motivates me to keep improving and allows me to reflect on the work I’ve done. For example, since I have done a lot of theoretical work on digital communication, I have noticed a huge difference in the quality of the social media and marketing content I have created.

It’s not just the skills and knowledge I gain in my day-to-day role that has such an impact on my personal development, I have gained so much value and insight from all of the people I meet through wAVE. One day we may be working with an innovative tech company, like Hi9, the next day I get to meet the incredible staff and volunteers at one of our partner museums. Whomever it is, I always come away having learned something new, whether it is a different point of view, cross-sector knowledge, or an interesting fact about a museum’s collection. Getting to work with such a diverse range of passionate people really is one of my favourite things about going to work each day.

Though this isn’t really a recount of my typical day at work (usually emails, Zoom meetings, spreadsheets, Canva, and a lot of keyboard bashing) I wanted to write about what I feel defines my role in particular. I don’t think there will be another point in my career where I have so many opportunities to try out new things, absorb knowledge, and have the opportunity to get it wrong and try again.

That’s why I love doing this apprenticeship, each day is filled with the prospect of opportunity and fresh perspectives. I think everyone could benefit from a bit more of ‘something new’ in their typical day at work.

 

-Ellie Smith

Ellie works Monday – Friday and can be reached at eleanor@cornwallmuseumspartnership.org.uk

An introduction to the UK National Arts Strategies (NAS) Creative Community Fellowship and Culture Card

Celine Elliot is Cornwall Museums Partnership’s Engagement Lead. Having joined in 2019, Celine leads our programme of engagement support for museums in Cornwall and Scilly. Having gained experience working with collections in the north, returning to Cornwall has allowed Celine to focus her attention on the diverse and inspirational organisations which make up the museum community in the region.

This year, Celine was awarded an inaugural UK National Arts Strategies (NAS) Creative Community Fellowship.

Please keep reading for more from Celine on this fantastic achievement and how it will link to the current projects she is working on within Cornwall Museums Partnership.

As the Engagement Lead for CMP I work on a variety of strategic partnerships and offer support and develop opportunities for local museums, strengthening connections with local communities.

This year I was honoured to be awarded an inaugural UK National Arts Strategies (NAS) Creative Community Fellowship. Funded by Arts Council England and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, this incredible opportunity was previously only available in the United States. The programme provides the chance to develop a network of likeminded creative leaders across the country while applying design-thinking to a project you are working on.

For me, this will offer me the chance to look at the next steps of the Culture Card project. CMP and partner museums have been working together with Carefree Cornwall – a charity who support children in care and care leavers – to create free opportunities for Care Leavers to explore collections, their own creative potential and further embed museums as welcoming spaces for young people from this demographic. Funded throughout 2020 by Cornwall Council, coordinated by Zoe Burkett at Penlee House Gallery and Museum with expert artistic input from Emma Saffy Wilson, the project has also offered a Youth Work Support Apprenticeship and – as a result of Covid-19 – a new, digital element including a podcast exploring the experiences of Care Leavers.

My background in Youth and Community work means this is close to the origins of my museum practice: rights-based and focused on cultural democracy. Developing this project to its full potential, with the support of the NAS Creative Community Fellowship, is a privilege. The Culture Card project is currently in the running for a national award in the 2020 National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum and I hope that we can begin to see the approach pioneered by Carefree, CMP and Cornish museums adopted by other cultural institutions in the UK.

PRESS RELEASE – 25 Arts & Culture Entrepreneurs Selected for UK Creative Community Fellows

 

-Celine Elliot

Celine works Monday – Friday and can be reached at celine@cornwallmuseumspartnership.org.uk