Cabaret – Part Five

Citizen Curators is a free work-based training programme in museum awareness and modern curatorial practice aimed at volunteers from our community. The programme is provided by Cornwall Museums Partnership in collaboration with seven museums, with the main goal of providing a new form of meaningful museum participation.

The programme is led by Dr. Tehmina Goskar, Curator and Director of the Curatorial Research Centre. The Citizen Curators have just completed year two out of three and to celebrate, we wanted to share with you some of the wonderful experiences some of our Citizen Curators have experienced throughout the programme.

Please keep reading to hear from Citizen Curator Andrew Fentham, stationed at Falmouth Art Gallery…

As part of my role as a Citizen Curator, I was invited to help curate a Cornish National Collection. I chose to submit a t-shirt owned by my neighbour Julian Mockford. The item was produced by Cabaret Mechanical Theatre and features a design by Paul Spooner, suggesting links to Falmouth’s automata-making community. I interviewed Julian to ask what the t-shirt meant to him, and what it might tell us about a place and time in Cornish history.

AF: You were given this ‘Egypt: Land of Mystery’ t-shirt by Sue Jackson of Cabaret. How did you know her and why did she give you the shirt?

JM: The truth is I met Sue through her husband Peter, who was the doyen of the antique trade in Cornwall and elsewhere. Urbane, witty and wise with a dry sense of humour! I knew him through the trade and when I opened Serendipity [an antiques shop] in 1982 at the bottom of the High Street our friendship blossomed and within days I met Sue. She was one of those rare people who could truly be considered a ‘life force’! Halfway up the High Street (on the opposite side) was the curious, not to say eccentric exhibition known as Cabaret Mechanical Theatre. Sue had a hundred ideas a day and quite a few of them worked! Skipping forward: how Cabaret ended up in Covent Garden was down to the narrow, blinkered attitude of the then Falmouth Town Council, the imagination of Sue, as well as Ken Livingstone (then the Leader of the GLC). At one of our riotous and jolly parties (my birthday) Sue gave me the Egypt t-shirt which has been much loved and well worn (hence its condition) over the last thirty years!

AF: How do you remember the Cabaret store/space and the High Street in those days?

JM: The High Street was the principle entry into Falmouth and in the 70s, 80s and 90s was a bustling, thriving hub of activity mainly centred around the antique trade. Among others were the Gealer / Jackson clan with several shops related to the trade. Also the Star & Garter pub which was previously Demelza’s – a naughty night club! In the early days Peter and Sue opened Oscar’s, a wine bar which in those days was a first virtually, for Cornwall! Oscar’s from day one became the centre of much of the entertainment and business of the High Street. Many a deal was struck over a glass of wine! Oscar’s had an upright piano, as did the Star & Garter, and anyone who could was welcome to play on either of them. Jazz nights on a Monday became an institution at the Star and ran for many years. Sue wrote poetry and we had readings in Oscar’s, and later in Covent Garden. The mix of shops covered all aspects of the trade, from stripped pine at the Old Town Hall, to Peter’s notoriously serious antiques shop, and down to me at Serendipity. There was also a splendid art deco building that housed a ships’ chandlery. The building remains, in a state of dilapidation, but the chandlery has long gone. Many were the parties held in the street, virtually any excuse would do (or none)! There was a tremendous sense of belonging. Cabaret was an important piece of the life and character of the street with its famous bubble blowing machine. When Cabaret left and also Peter’s pivotal antiques shop, it marked the beginning of the end and the High Street became what you see today. A charming mix of shops, everything from a baker to a tattooist or two.

AF: This t-shirt is designed by Paul Spooner. You have another by Tim Hunkin. Who else do you remember in association with Cabaret and the High Street?

JM: My good friend Tina Fabray worked for both Peter and then Sue in Cabaret both in Falmouth and London. I also remember many model makers including Paul Spooner, Tim Hunkin, Peter Markey and Danny Markey, among others.

AF: There is a mural by Peter Markey near Falmouth Art Gallery, at the bottom of Webber Hill. Can you tell us about it and its recent restoration?

JM: It was commissioned by Falmouth Civic Society in 1985 and executed from a drawing by Peter Markey. It depicts a view from Gylling Street in Falmouth. Peter Markey taught Art at Falmouth School, as a department. Certain features of the mural (the cats, for example) are highly characteristic of sculptures he had in Cabaret. The wall which the mural is on is now the back of Tesco, and it was restored in 2018. [The restoration was carried out by Falmouth Art Gallery as part of their Heritage Lottery funded project ‘A Cabaret of Mechanical Movement’ – more info at automata.falculture.org]

AF: Coming back to the t-shirt, what personal significance does it hold for you? Is it at all representative?

JM: Yes, it reminds me of a very happy period of life in the High Street in the late 70s and early 80s.

Falmouth Art Gallery is currently open for free timed-ticket visits. More info is available at their website www.falmouthartgallery.com

Picture captions:
1. Detail from Cabaret t-shirt by Paul Spooner (photo: Becky Screeton)
2. Cabaret t-shirt by Paul Spooner (photo: Becky Screeton)
3. Peter Markey mural on Webber Street, Falmouth (photo: Andrew Fentham)
4. Julian Mockford and Mango the cat in their garden in Penryn (photo: David Devanny)

 

-Andrew Fentham, Falmouth Art Gallery

Talking Intern

Talking Intern is a podcast born from lockdown. Lockdown has been incredibly limiting to museums in some ways but has also offered the opportunity to start creative projects that, whilst not physical, are nonetheless impactful.

The idea was first presented to us by Cornwall Museums Partnership. Would the trainee curators like to create a podcast? I was pretty excited as I had been making my own podcast for a couple of years in my free time but this was something completely different. This relied on five hosts for one show and each of us recording in a completely different location, without being able to see each other or gauge the reactions or body language of the other four. It meant we had to really trust each other and foster an environment that was collaborative, not competitive. We also had to produce something professional sounding as we are not only representing ourselves as individual trainees in various host museums, but also as part of a network created by Cornwall Museums Partnership.

The pressure was on! However, I think it surprised us all how naturally we fell into recording. We managed to not talk over each other and almost always achieved the exact run time we wanted. Of course it helped that very early on we realised we needed a basic structure and order for the podcast so we would know what to expect.

So…what is the podcast about? Each episode, five trainee curators in museums across Cornwall answer three questions on a particular topic. Some of the topics we have covered so far have been starting out in the industry, what is a curator’s role during lockdown and what social history means to each of us. Who is it for? We intended this podcast to be for those starting out in their careers within the culture and heritage sector. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be of interest to anyone else within the sector.

We are in a sector of continuous change where discussions are being had on the diversity of collections and exhibitions, negotiating the repatriation of objects and exploring new ways for museums to become more accessible to all. We’re excited to carve out some time each week during our podcast recording sessions to reflect on how the sector can evolve to become a more inclusive space and how we might be able to contribute to these goals in our own work as emerging museum professionals

We have been given the opportunity by CMP to create a space for ourselves where we can offer our opinions, thoughts and reflections on the industry. As emerging museum professionals this has been so valuable. During our recording sessions, we don’t have to feel worried about not sounding intelligent enough, or not knowing enough; we can leave our imposter syndrome at the door! We are simply creating a supportive space in which to share our thoughts and hoping that listeners can either relate, learn or just enjoy.

-Sian Powell, Trainee Curator at Wheal Martyn China Clay Museum

You can listen to the Talking Interns teaser trailer here. The first episode will be released on Friday 21 August 2020.

Heritage Treasures – Part Four

Citizen Curators is a free work-based training programme in museum awareness and modern curatorial practice aimed at volunteers from our community. The programme is provided by Cornwall Museums Partnership in collaboration with seven museums, with the main goal of providing a new form of meaningful museum participation.

The programme is led by Dr. Tehmina Goskar, Curator and Director of the Curatorial Research Centre. The Citizen Curators have just completed year two out of three and to celebrate, we wanted to share with you some of the wonderful experiences some of our Citizen Curators have experienced throughout the programme.

Please keep reading to hear from Citizen Curator Tiffany Coates…

 

Life in Cornwall always turns up surprises and the Citizen Curator course has proved to be one of them. I wasn’t sure I particularly liked museums, but the information about the course intrigued and interested me. I signed up and didn’t look back.

Starting with the 10-foot cannon confronting me outside the Museum of Cornish Life in Helston, it has proved to be fascinating from start to finish. A widely varied group from a range of backgrounds, we came together and shared our learning each month, bringing our experiences from our various host museums.

My host museum was PK Porthcurno – the Museum of Global Communication. I got to know its various departments, exhibitions and storage areas. It was fascinating to delve into the archives.

When I recently looked back through my curatorial logbook about my learning experiences, I found the following sentence which has some resonance now, a description from my first session in the archives:

“Reading through documents and discovering new jargon and words that needed looking up, such as furlough.”

Meanwhile on the course on our first session, we were introduced to the tools of the trade….

The teaching sessions continued on rotation through the other partnership museums, giving us an insight each month into how they operated and what they showed.

During the six months of the course I went out of Cornwall a number of times and used the opportunity to visit other sites of cultural interest, taking what I had learnt with me. These places ranged from the CS Lewis Square in Belfast to the House of Lords in London; I found that with the experience of having been on the course, I was looking at them in a different way. Enjoying them whilst also pondering the reasons for the choices of the curators and how everything is presented.

Early on in the programme we came across this: “Research has shown that people trust museums more than they trust newspapers” which made me realise what an important role curators can play. We explored the role of the curator, which is 50% Communication and 50% Creator. We looked at methods of research and the questions to ask about objects: What, How, Where, When, Who and Why.

Our topics were wide-ranging including ethics, digitising collections in 2D and 3D and the role that Augmented Reality can play in museums. How to organise an exhibition. The packaging and handling of objects. Visitor Challenges, equality and diversity, Cornish identity and what it means.

A session at the Penlee House Gallery and Museum included a look at the collections that had been curated by our colleagues on the course. From paintings to ceramics and textiles – fascinating to find out about the decisions they had to make regarding which objects to include in their exhibitions, and what went on behind the scenes to create these collections.

We enjoyed some interesting field trips, including to St Ives to see the Tate and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, Shelter Box and Kresen Kernow which is home to the world’s largest collection of documents, books, maps and photographs related to Cornwall’s history and also houses Cornish Records. We looked at old documents, deciphering copperplate handwriting was a new skill to most of us.

In January I found a muddy coin in a field, it turned out to be a 1909 Edward VII penny. I tweeted a picture of my find for Heritage Treasures Day with the hashtag #HeritageTreasures

As part of my work I had a project to complete with the aim of showcasing archive objects. I was to select an item from the archives, carry out some research on it and produce a short video at the end to show my findings. I’d never made a video before but with the museum to support and advise, it went really well.

I discovered a didgeridoo on a shelf in the far corner of the archives. Something about it caught my imagination as I tried to work out how it had travelled 12,000 miles from Australia to the small village of Porthcurno in Cornwall.

I proceeded to research, both locally and further afield, getting in touch via email with Aboriginal Arts Groups in Australia as well as Museums over there.

It was a fascinating process, I also enjoyed turning my research into a video, learning new skills about video production and putting things online. The results can be seen in the short video here.

As with everything in the UK since the end of winter, the Covid 19 virus affected activities. Luckily we had just finished our final core sessions and field trips. It was mainly my video work that I had to adapt, relying on still photos rather than filming.

The course was a great experience, with many interesting learning activities and experiences. It has changed the way that I view so many things – I now find myself spotting ‘curated’ collections in unlikely places. I would recommend the course to anyone who might have a curiosity about the world around them.

-Tiffany Coates

The Life and Times of a Citizen Curator – Part Three

Citizen Curators is a free work-based training programme in museum awareness and modern curatorial practice aimed at volunteers from our community. The programme is provided by Cornwall Museums Partnership in collaboration with seven museums, with the main goal of providing a new form of meaningful museum participation.

The programme is led by Dr. Tehmina Goskar, Curator and Director of the Curatorial Research Centre. The Citizen Curators have just completed year two out of three and to celebrate, we wanted to share with you some of the wonderful experiences some of our Citizen Curators have experienced throughout the programme.

Please keep reading to hear from Citizen Curator Carolyn Thompson, volunteer at the Museum of Cornish Life

Yes, I do have a full time career that consumes a vast amount of time and energy and no, I definitely wasn’t looking for more work in my life. What on earth was I doing looking at a poster advertising a course for Citizen Curators and furthermore, actually considering joining the 2019/20 group of students?

Reader, I enlisted.

Among other things I am a volunteer at the Museum of Cornish Life in Helston. Essentially my time at the museum is spent chatting, (some might say gossiping), on the front desk. Two of us work, running the shop, the information centre and generally creating a convivial atmosphere for visitors to enter. I love a local museum and always have. Memories from my childhood centre around many rainy days spent in local museums, (yes I holidayed in Britain). They are quirky, random, unexpected and full of curiosities. The Cornish Life museum is tops in all categories. It is not only a museum of Cornish life but of all life and in this respect, there is something relevant in the collection to each of us.

It was here that I came across the poster.

Fast forward to June 2020, the course and its tasks have been completed – what have I learned and experienced since its start in the balmy days of Autumn 2019?

The course covered training in museum awareness and curatorial practice for volunteers from seven designated Cornish museums. We learnt how to care for and how to learn from museum collections, and heard first hand accounts of the different areas of work within the museum community. Interwoven with this was a historical guide and commentary on the formation of museums, both national and local, and the leading goals and aspirations that accompanied the establishment of their presence in our lives. This led to some challenging and interesting discussions about the stories that museums and galleries tell, knowingly and unknowingly. Voices from the past that have dominated our history have been challenged for many decades but now in the light of Brexit, Black Lives Matter and contemporary issues on gender and diversity, these discussions were particularly pertinent.

Our job as curators was to learn, to listen, and to hear all the different voices in these discussions and to use this information to enable us to undertake the specific task of creating a Cornish National Collection. In addition to this we were asked to evidence our journey through this course. My own wish was to create a visual handbook for children, illustrating the various topics we had encountered and explored. (I think visual imagery is under used as a powerful tool in communications). For some strange reason I thought this was a great idea. Ah yes, the clarity of hindsight.

The mission for the Cornish National Collection was to present a collection that would reflect the diversity of Cornish society past and present, and to pay particular attention to hidden stories or voices previously unrepresented. No worries at all then for me who had pretty much zero knowledge of Cornish history, had never passed a minute thinking about the cultural nature of Cornwall or examining the Cornish identity. I mean other than reflecting on the quality of the Cornish cream teas I regularly wolfed back.

This question needs to be answered.

In 2014 Cornwall gained recognition as a National Minority, this comes with an obligation to bring an understanding of its cultural heritage including the controversies. Discussions about Cornish identity can become politicised and in particular, with Brexit as our back drop it sometimes felt uncomfortable to be thinking about cultural differences rather than our commonalities. It’s clear that Cornwall needs to be understood and celebrated as more than a holiday destination and that a wider set of voices and stories should be heard within the museum and gallery sector. Our proposals had to support this aim.

My particular contributions ranged from objects within the museum space, (the float suit), to man made structures in the landscape, (the Cornish Hedge), to the artistic imagination expressed in a film, (Gorthwedh). All of these were intimately bound up with a unique expression of Cornishness not generally heard or noticed.

To be brief, (and that would make a change) the float suit by Trengrouse was one of many life saving devices he designed after witnessing a fatal shipwreck on the Cornish coast. As you can see from the photos, very little has changed since his original design. Imagine the lives he has saved, thousands of these suits are bought each year for toddlers and yet he’s unknown. I thought it might be timely to celebrate people who had saved lives rather than individuals who have massacred thousands in the pursuit of British values.

I wanted to include the Cornish Hedge firstly because I love them, but also I felt that landscape had so clearly shaped the lives of Cornish people that it would be an omission not to put forward something from the natural world that is crying out to us and needs to be heard. “Cornish hedges are older than the pyramids, older than Stonehenge and the oldest manmade artefact known to be still in use for their original purpose”(cornishhedges.co.uk). What’s not to celebrate?

The film Gorthwedh is made by a collaborative of Cornish artists led by Callum Mitchell. It’s an exploration into the industrial past and the hidden stories of the tin coast in Cornwall and its meaning to the local residents. The focus was on those who are not usually given the opportunity to be heard. That ticked all the boxes for me and it’s also a deeply moving film.

Many more things were learned and mulled over in the time of this course and it’s given me a depth of understanding about the land of Cornwall. I left the course determined to undertake study in Medieval Cornish history, learn the language, learn the furry dance. Have I done any of these things? Watch this space…

-Carolyn Thompson

Citizen Curators Two Years On – Part Two

Citizen Curators is a free work-based training programme in museum awareness and modern curatorial practice aimed at volunteers from our community. The programme is provided by Cornwall Museums Partnership in collaboration with seven museums, with the main goal of providing a new form of meaningful museum participation.

The programme is led by Dr. Tehmina Goskar, Curator and Director of the Curatorial Research Centre. The Citizen Curators have just completed year two out of three and to celebrate, we wanted to share with you some of the wonderful experiences some of our Citizen Curators have experienced throughout the programme.

Please keep reading to hear from Tehmina Goskar of the Curatorial Research Centre

I developed the Citizen Curators programme while working with Cornwall Museums Partnership as an Arts Council England-supported Change Maker in 2017/18. It is rare in our sector to be able to support and see change over time – projects come and go, new audiences come and go. To be able to continue working with CMP and the seven participating museums underlines the commitment of museums in Cornwall to being open to change over the long term.

“I wanted to thank you for everything; this entire experience has been really inspiring and I’ve never felt so confident to speak up. I’ve felt engaged and involved in my community.” (Carla Symons).

Citizen Curators is an adaptive and flexible programme whose main goal is to provide a new form of meaningful museum participation. A flexible opportunity that can be shaped around participants’ other commitments – those who want to take part but who find it difficult to engage via traditional volunteering (turning up on site at specific times and days). This year, as last year, many participants had care commitments, studying alongside, worked, or lived at a distance. The quid pro quo (equitable reward) is important. Participants benefit from a high quality and wide-ranging experiential learning course alongside working on ideas within their museums. They help museums diversify the voices that interpret and represent them, while benefitting from practical real-life museum-based learning, and an opportunity to learn directly from museum professionals. Learning from the things that were tried and didn’t work is just as important as learning from those that did.

“It’s made me review my life. I left school at 16, I didn’t go to university, I didn’t do anything. I educated myself through art.” (Carolle Blackwell).

Citizen Curators is also an active research project where we collect evidence on experiences, reactions and changes in understanding and awareness. Does such a programme really contribute to diversifying processes and cultural democracy in our museums? How do the views and confidence of participants change over the course of the annual programme?

“I was keen on the opportunity to learn/develop in an area that I never really thought I could play a part. I’ve always loved museums, and this felt like a different kind of volunteering. It’s an excellent scheme. I feel I’ve lucked out at the Museum of Cornish Life.” (Julia Webb-Harvey).

 

Diversity of Citizen Curators

In 2018/19 our analysis of diversity and inclusion within the cohort suggested that certain dimensions of exclusion were being tackled by the programme:

• Age range of participants seems to be broader than regular museum volunteers (not tied to a particular programme) with over 40% under 30
• 39% identified as working class, while 10% did not ascribe to any social labelling
• Nearly 60% reported a condition that affected their daily life or relationships, from physical disabilities to health conditions such as diabetes. Most responses pointed to unseen disabilities or conditions that most people deal with without comment or notice, such as mental ill health especially anxiety, dyslexia and dyspraxia and challenges with words and language
• The financial situation of participants varied across the cohort with 35% of the cohort reporting financial independence
• Travel preferences varied with 37% owning their own car and the majority of the cohort relying on public transport, car shares or lifts
• Both the above demonstrate the impact of this programme on Cornwall’s ‘time and cost of travel’ barrier to cultural participation.

A critical part of this Museums Association Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund programme is how the budgets are used with dedicated budget for direct expenses incurred by volunteers and an insistence that those volunteers have some say over how those budgets are spent.

“I have toughly loved being able to learn new skills surrounded by likeminded people… I have gained a lot more confidence as a result.” (Rob Palmer).

Areas that still need addressing in terms of diversity – and as we shortly evaluate the diversity and inclusion of the Year 2 cohort we may be able to better understand what is going on – is the gender imbalance. Last year women made up 71% of the cohort and 42% held Masters degrees. These two dimensions of museum volunteering in Cornwall suggest that we need to address both recruitment and expectation from volunteering.

Small museums rely on self-starters to make their museums work. Capacity spread thin means providing support can be challenging. This means that we tend to attract the attentions of those who are already confident and already have some sense of what a museum’s functions are. Why all the women? We are still trying to understand this but it is reflective of a situation across the sector.

“As I hoped it would when I applied, the experience and knowledge I have gained will be of great value to my role as a trustee at Geevor.” (John Swarbrooke).

 

Curating during lockdown

Just as the formal learning part of the programme ended in mid-March 2020, lockdown severed many volunteers from their museums, including the Citizen Curators. This year the emphasis has been less on outcome and more on process and participants were asked to chart their journeys and reflect on their experiences whether or not a product emerged at the end. Many had already been drawn into the core of their museums’ work, shaping and creating content for exhibitions (e.g. Penzance Selects at Penlee House and exploring the Benow 2020 at Falmouth Art Gallery), developing digital storytelling at PK Porthcurno, co-curating an animation festival at Museum of Cornish Life, Helston, working on provenance research on taonga Māori held by Royal Cornwall Museum, making a start on reinterpreting the Indian Mutiny Gallery at Bodmin Keep, and attempting to find women’s stories of the China Clay industry at Wheal Martyn.

I was fully expecting much of the cohort to abandon ship, with pressures on work and homelife taking precedence. But they didn’t and that’s a tribute to their tenacity as well as the high esteem in which the programme and our museums are kept. Through a series of video messages, sharing of resources (e.g. access to online journals and books) and online support 23 out of 29 participants successfully completed the programme, using lockdown to share their journeys individually with us in a variety of formats: photo essays, scrap books, videos, portfolios, blogs, reflective prose. In the series of blog posts that follows this one some of this year’s Citizen Curators will share their journeys with you while we also work on showcasing their work online. A critical aspect of the programme that we all sorely missed is the annual celebration event where all the groups meet each other, sometimes for the first time, show and tell their work and receive their certificates. As Programme Leader I particularly have missed this opportunity for togetherness.

“Thank you so very much for everything. Your support, generosity of time, and the very interesting training sessions we have received over the programme has made the process an absolute joy to be part of and I’ve learned so much.” (Kerrie Bramhall)

 

 

What next?

Our Citizen Curators already came with an array of talents and experiences. We so often overlook these in the context of museum volunteering: a medic, accountant, professor, students, graphic designer, farmer, artists and writers, NHS worker, mental health professional, a motorcyclist and a potter, how lucky are our museums to benefit from these diverse lived experiences?

“Thanks a lot for the course, I really did enjoy it and learn a lot. Also, it definitely helped me to get the job at Lanhydrock! Great to have that learning under my belt. It also helped keep me sane for the period that I was unemployed.” (Marella Alves dos Reis)

Last year some Citizen Curators remained as volunteers but most went on to do new things, including going onto formal qualifications and jobs in museums or archives. Trainee Curator Siân Powell (Wheal Martyn) was one of our original Citizen Curators during the pilot. She now supports Wheal Martyn Citizen Curators. Stephen Murley, formerly Citizen Curator at Penlee House and volunteer at Hayle Heritage Centre undertaking his AMA (Associateship of the Museums Association) now works for Geevor Tin Mine. For this year’s cohort it’s still early days. Some continue to support their museums, others are going their own way, returning to their main practice or finding new opportunities elsewhere or being inspired to take on professional development in other sectors such as mental health. Some are looking to develop their experience with more specialist training such as a Masters degree or CPD, one will take up an internship in the USA as soon as travel permits, another is working up a partnership between Penlee House and Geevor Tin Mine (both within a few miles of each other in the far west of Cornwall).

“Just today I have been told that I won the History department’s annual award for best local history dissertation! I truly could not have done it without your support or the existence of the Citizen Curators programme.” (Anna Somner)

The final year of the Esmée Fairbarin Collections Fund is coming up. The pandemic and the ongoing constraints around access to buildings, collections and other people mean we have to remodel—our commitment to Citizen Curators being responsive and adaptive is really being tested. We are working together now to see how the programme can support digitally-based online participation in museums. The core programme will be delivered online—in many ways this opportunity may broaden who will apply but we are also aware this will mean some will not apply as they don’t feel comfortable or able to participate online. The new cohort’s experience of museums will feel significantly different but that is a good thing. I feel a need to use this opportunity to continue to change how we do things and how we think about the very boundaries of our museums.

-Tehmina Goskar

Curator Storyteller – Citizen Curators Part One

Citizen Curators is a free work-based training programme in museum awareness and modern curatorial practice aimed at volunteers from our community. The programme is provided by Cornwall Museums Partnership in collaboration with seven museums, with the main goal of providing a new form of meaningful museum participation.

The programme is led by Dr. Tehmina Goskar, Curator and Director of the Curatorial Research Centre. The Citizen Curators have just completed year two out of three and to celebrate, we wanted to share with you some of the wonderful experiences some of our Citizen Curators have experienced throughout the programme.

Please keep reading to hear from Lesley-Anne Harris, Citizen Curator at Bodmin Keep Museum…

When I signed up to be a Citizen Curator I expected to learn things – how to pick up old teapots (not the handle!) or the perfect length for an object label (shorter than that!), but what I didn’t expect to learn was a deep, dark truth about myself – that I am a communicator.

It’s an uncomfortable revelation for someone who considers themselves rather stoic and unreadable, but the fact is most of my life revolves around communication. My job as a graphic designer is all about conveying information and my “job” as a musician is all about conveying emotion. Unfortunately, I am a storyteller and I’m just going to have to own it.

One of the things we discussed as Citizen Curators was the idea of a curator as “creator and communicator” and where on that spectrum we as individuals might lie. The answer to that for me was always very skewed towards the “communicator” end of the spectrum, but the scheme certainly helped me to develop my “creation” skills as well – ask me about my own personal research rabbit hole, the military quilt.

As a designer I’m used to being given raw information and developing a way to present it to convey a message – but being involved in the process from the very beginning and trying to generate that information has been fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. The big advantage I normally have comes from swooping in at the end of a project with an outside perspective that allows me to focus on what serves the message rather than, “this bit is my favourite, we must keep it at all costs”. Attempting to keep the internal editor alive and well has been a tricky challenge.

What Citizen Curators has really inspired me to do is open up the ways I think about communicating in a museum setting – I love a tasteful info panel as much as the next person, but we have the means – and the obligation – to move beyond that.

For some people, museums are a place of preservation, of facts, objectivity and detachment – for me museums are places for storytelling. The objects we display in a museum are not an end in themselves, but a vivid and beautiful illustration in the story we are trying to tell.

The more we can explore and diversify the way we communicate, the more we can engage people’s senses and the more we will resonate with our audience. Approaching a museum exhibit, or even the display of single object, with the idea of “What story do I want to tell?” rather than “Which facts do I want to teach?” is incredibly inspiring and exciting for me, and I hope for you too.

Citizen Curators has really given me a chance to explore new avenues for communication and the confidence to start to evolve my practice as a designer. The passion and dedication of museum professionals and volunteers is an amazing thing to be a part of. Let’s embrace the communicator buried within us. Let’s tell stories.

 

-Lesley-Anne Harris Citizen Curator at Bodmin Keep

#RDNetwork: Mental health and wellbeing in children and young people

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 May, Alison Bowyer, Executive Director of Kids in Museums, kindly took over our Twitter page to discuss how museums can support children and young people and their mental health and wellbeing. Please continue reading to hear all about Alison’s experience of our #RDNetwork Twitter Takeover…

 

We were pleased to host May’s #RDNetwork chat to discuss whether museums and heritage sites play enough of a role in the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a great opportunity to celebrate what museums are already doing and see how we can expand this work further.

Mind has described young people’s mental health as “rapidly becoming one of the major challenges our society faces.” Research from Understanding Society shows that children’s level of happiness has fallen significantly in the last decade. With many young people separated from their friends during lockdown, and museums with a great opportunity post lockdown to connect to their local community, this is likely to become even more of a priority over the coming year.

The questions we asked during the #RDNetwork were:

1. How can museums and galleries better support mental health and wellbeing in children and young people?
2. How could museums and galleries do more to support their younger community?
3. How could museums and galleries help tackle mental health in children and young people during or after COVID-19?
4. Do you feel museums and galleries play a big enough part in mental health awareness, wellbeing and health of children and young people? What would you like to see more of?

Museums joined in the conversation from across Cornwall and beyond, and were in consensus that museums are ideally placed to support young people’s wellbeing, whether it is in person or online. When you consider the Wheel of Wellbeing, heritage sites can provide the opportunity to learn, connect with others, take notice, give time and look after the planet.
Participants questioned whether wellbeing should be added to formal learning programmes and pointed to the role of museums as a safe ‘sanctuary’ outside of a structed learning environment.

 

From our Hurdles to Participation report, we know that young people often think of museums as ‘boring’ and ‘not for them’. If we want to offer wellbeing support, we need to think about whether our spaces are attractive and welcoming to them. To best engage young people, museums need to consider pricing, age-appropriate activities, an engaging digital presence and how to represent their views through displays, youth panels or volunteering opportunities.

Penlee House Gallery and Museum stressed the importance of acknowledging young people’s views and showcasing their work. How can we use objects as catalysts for promoting creativity and self-expression?

We shared this report from Beatfreeks, which is useful in understanding how young people are experiencing COVID-19. 65% of those surveyed said COVID-19 had made them worried about mental health. They felt connection with others helped most with this and want to be consulted about the response and recovery from the pandemic.

During lockdown, museums have been providing a wide range of activities for young people online. We enjoyed hearing great examples from SS Great Britain and Bodmin Keep.

One key point that came up in the discussion was how important it is for museums to partner with local organisations to reach and engage with young people. Museums need to understand the needs of their local community and ask young people themselves what they would like to see.

As communities recover from COVID-19, there is a big potential role for museums in this space and it would be great to see more getting involved in wellbeing work. The Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance website is a good place to start.

Kids in Museums has held wellbeing training for museums staff in the past and hopes to do so again in future. We are really keen to hear from museums in what other support and resources they would find useful.

Public Attitudes Survey – Summary

A summary report of research into the attitudes of the public to the reopening of museums in Cornwall.

29th June 2020

 

Cornwall is home to more accredited museums than any other region. Culture and heritage matter to people in Cornwall; they are at the heart of its distinctive identity and sense of place.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, all museums in Cornwall, and indeed nationwide, have been closed to the public since 21st March 2020. The current government position, as published in the ‘roadmap’ is that museums may re-open to the public from the 4th July onwards.

Museums across Cornwall are currently assessing the viability of reopening. This is not purely an economic matter; they have a responsibility to their communities and wanted to understand more about public opinion. To inform their planning we commissioned research to understand better what public attitudes in Cornwall are.
The survey was designed to be a short and focused piece of independent research which could quickly capture the current ‘mood’ of the public in Cornwall and their views about the possible re-opening of museums.

We wanted to find out:

• What people miss about not being able to visit museums;
• What people go to museums for;
• How people would feel if museums in Cornwall were to re-open;
• How likely they would be to visit;
• What factors would encourage them to visit;
• What factors would put them off visiting.

Read the full report here; Public Attitudes Survey Summary Report

 

Written evidence to the DCMS Select Committee on the impact of Covid-19

Advocating for museums in Cornwall is an important part of our role. Read our submission to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s inquiry, Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors.

May 22nd 2020

Cornwall Museums Partnership is an independent charitable incorporated organisation, formed in 2015 to provide leadership for Cornwall’s museums; to support them, represent them and give them a voice. Our purpose is to create positive social change with museums.
There are over 70 museums in Cornwall, 34 of which are Accredited, more than any comparable region in the country. Most are independently run and have little or no public subsidy.

Our submission has been compiled in consultation with museum directors, staff and volunteers from across Cornwall.

What has been the immediate impact of Covid-19 on the sector?

All museums in Cornwall were closed to the public from 21st March onwards, some had already closed during that week. Some, which are not entirely reliant on trading income, continue to operate remotely offering a range of online activities and support for local communities, for instance Falmouth Art Gallery is delivering art packs to families identified as ‘at risk’ in their community. Whilst there has been an increase in digital activity, museums in Cornwall have, by and large, ceased all regular public facing activity. Staff and volunteers are continuing to complete essential checks of their buildings and collections. At the time of writing, only a very small number of staff are working on site. Staff working from home have quickly developed systems to work remotely, although poor IT equipment is hampering some. Remote access to collections’ information is impossible for most museums here due to a lack of IT infrastructure; this undermines museums’ ability to share their collections online.

Lockdown came at the start of the tourist season for Cornwall. Winter is a quieter time for museums here, most of the small volunteer led museums close and the larger ones are reliant on the income earned during spring and summer to see them through the year. The prospect of closure from March into the summer is being described as the equivalent of ‘3 winters in a row’. Some museums in Cornwall earn 80% of their income in the summer months. The cumulative losses of spring and summer trading will be profound. Perversely, those museums who had successfully diversified their income streams (e.g. through shops and cafes) and were less reliant on public funding, are those which are most at risk from the loss of income incurred by closure. Many museums’ biggest concern is whether they will be able to generate sufficient funds to see them through the winter of 2020/21. The costs of caring for collections and museum buildings have not diminished. Museum directors have described feeling ‘overwhelmed’ and there has been a tangible impact on the health and wellbeing of staff, both those who are continuing to work and those who have been furloughed. Over 2000 volunteers were active in museums prior to COVID-19. In large part, museum volunteering, and the benefits this brings to wellbeing for many (mainly older) people in Cornwall, has come to a halt.

The museums sector is supported by a range of freelancers, from film makers to artists, evaluators and project managers. We have been contacted by people who have lost all their work as a result of COVID-19. The cultural and commercial creative sectors in Cornwall, like elsewhere, are closely interlinked. The ceasing of museum activity is already having a detrimental effect on small and micro businesses who are part of the cultural sector supply chain.

Several museums and freelancers were planning to submit projects for funding to Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The closure of project grants and diversion of funds to emergency funding streams is also having an impact on museums who cannot progress initiatives designed to improve their longer-term sustainability and in which they have already invested significant time and money.

How effectively has the support provided by DCMS, other Government departments and arms-length bodies addressed the sector’s needs?

The museums sector in Cornwall is diverse; it is made up of over 70 independent organisations with a range of governance and business models. Eligibility for government and arms-length bodies’ support is mixed. Cornwall Museums Partnership has been playing a vital role in supporting museums to navigate the multiple options, some of which have not been straightforward to access:

• Job retention scheme – larger and smaller independent museums, have accessed this scheme. Some have furloughed the majority of their staff for example Geevor Tin Mine and National Maritime Museum Cornwall.

• Grants for hospitality and leisure businesses – we are aware of a handful of museums including Geevor Tin Mine, Museum of Cornish Life and Wheal Martyn, which have received £25,000 each via this scheme.

• Small business grants – eligibility is mixed, with museums who have received charity rate relief or which occupy certain types of property, e.g. MOD land, being told they are ineligible.

• Government backed bounce back loans – we have not come across any museums who have an appetite to take on debt at this time.

• Arts Council England emergency funding – we are aware of 3 museums in Cornwall who have accessed this. Others have not applied because they feel the scheme is only for those who cannot survive until September, they are concerned that support is not available for the critical period beyond September.

• We know of 2 museums who have applied to the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s emergency funding and who have been successful.

For the vast majority of Cornwall’s 70+ museums there has been limited or no financial support available. We know of one museum which has made a successful claim to its insurers.

Cornwall Museums Partnership is facilitating a Museums Reopening Forum comprising museum directors from across the sector who are starting to explore the feasibility of reopening following government guidance that museums may be able to open to the public on the 4 July.

 

In summary:

• It looks unlikely that any museums in Cornwall will reopen to the public on the 4 July.

• A limited number are currently exploring a form of reduced opening from the second half of July onwards. There are significant practical challenges involved in designing systems to keep staff and the public safe and comply with social distancing in museum buildings; many are small, ‘quirky’, historic buildings with physical limitations. Social distancing in an underground tin mine, for example, is impossible. The infrastructure for timed ticketing is limited or non-existent in most museums.

• Some museums are exploring a cap on visitor numbers, one-way systems, limited access, Perspex screens for staff, take away food options only, no retail, reduced numbers of staff etc.

• Managing social distancing is likely to require more staffing than normal for museums; yet operating at reduced capacity means that they can afford fewer. For example, timed tickets will only work effectively if museums have additional staff at busy times to have staff outside their buildings turning away those that turn up on spec.

• The absence of the volunteer workforce who often fill customer facing roles e.g. room stewards and are now shielding, is a particular challenge which means that some museums may not be able to reopen at all this summer.

• Others have concluded that a ‘socially distanced’ museum experience is so far removed from their values that it is not something they want to offer and they will remain closed, seeking to deliver their charitable purpose in other ways.

• Most museums in Cornwall have strong relationships with their communities. They are concerned to avoid taking any steps which alienate local people, by re-opening too soon and being seen to be actively attracting tourists when communities here are fearful of an influx of holiday makers and a resultant spike in COVID-19 cases.

• Museums are taking a collective approach to reopening and are keen to issue a consistent message to the public. They are however very wary of any ‘kitemark’ schemes, as a ‘one size fits all’ approach may be impossible to achieve given the very individualised nature of each site. The unintended consequence of such a scheme risks labelling smaller cultural venues as ‘unsafe’ when they have been able to put appropriate measures in place to protect staff and the public, albeit those which are adapted to their specific sites.

 

What will the likely long-term impacts of Covid-19 be on the sector, and what support is needed to deal with those?

The museums sector in Cornwall was financially vulnerable before COVID-19. Many years of underinvestment have resulted in buildings in poor repair, low wages and stretched staff teams. These museums are practiced in doing a lot with a little.

Longer term, we are concerned about the following impacts:

• Reduced ability of museums to fundraise: the fundraising environment for museums was tough prior to COVID-19; now we expect things to get much worse. The usual sources of support are already affected through the reallocation of grant funding to emergency support; we expect other sources of income such as donations and legacies to be severely reduced and charitable giving to focus heavily on health-related causes. This will have a significant impact on the ability of museums to operate.

• We are concerned that local authorities will be faced with very difficult funding choices in the coming months and that they will look to significantly cut their investment in culture. This will have a potentially devastating effect on local authority funded museums who already exist on low levels of investment (and who have not been eligible for any emergency support). Years of budget reductions mean that there is no ‘fat’ in the system. Cuts will mean reduced opening or closures.

• Museums in Cornwall are reliant on over 2000 volunteers, most of whom are over 65. We are concerned that this critical element of the workforce may not return this year (or ever). A lack of volunteers will make re-opening impossible for some museums. The loss of skills and knowledge will take time to rebuild.

• Depending on the financial position of museums at the end of the summer, we expect that with the removal of the furlough scheme some museums may be pushed to insolvency. If this happens their collections and historic sites could be lost for ever.

• Without additional support those that continue to operate look likely to be forced to make redundancies from already small and over stretched teams resulting in lost skills and knowledge, decreased standards, less ability to recover and further decline.

• Culture and heritage will play a critical role in the recovery of communities post-COVID, both in terms of health and wellbeing, and economic activity. Museums help communities understand themselves, they boost local pride and community cohesion – they are amongst the most trusted of civic institutions. They help people understand their place’s distinctiveness; a valuable commodity on which commercial businesses, not just those in the tourism sector, trade. Without museums a whole host of community programmes serving some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in society, from young people who are leaving care to residents of care homes, will stop.

We are asking for the following:

• Investment in museums in Cornwall which supports them through the winter of 2020/21.

• Continued support for employment costs.

• A review of the 2 metre rule to conform with WHO guidelines and/or international practice (e.g. museums in Germany who are operating a 1.5m distancing policy) which would facilitate more practical social distancing measures in museums.

• Protection of the proposed MEND fund. Many regional museum buildings were already in serious disrepair prior to COVID-19. Both Royal Cornwall Museum and the Isles of Scilly Museum had already closed before coronavirus because their buildings required urgent repairs.

• Enabling staff from charities who have been furloughed to volunteer for their own museum where it is a charity.

• Dedicated support to promote museums to the public during the autumn/winter ‘shoulder’ season.

• Avoidance of any safety ‘kitemark’ schemes.

• Support to encourage new volunteers for museums.

 

What lessons can be learnt from how DCMS, arms-length bodies and the sector have dealt with Covid-19?

Emergency support from lottery distributors has been welcomed. However better coordination between them to avoid additional work for applicants would be helpful. Some organisations have had to apply to two funders knowing they can only accept an offer from one.

A flexible approach which enables regional decision making is critical. There are several distinctive factors at play in Cornwall which are not necessarily replicated in cities or London, for example the extreme seasonality of tourism, a more elderly and vulnerable resident population than the national average, a reliance on older volunteers and local communities who are fearful of a resumption of tourism.

Systems or approaches which are designed for large organisations, with large buildings and big staff teams, will not work here. Support from DCMS should enable equitable access to museums for those across the country, not just those who reside in big cities.

We have welcomed the opportunity to explain these distinctive regional conditions to funders like Arts Council England and the Heritage Fund. This information is hard to convey in standardised surveys. One museum director said: ‘I can’t fault the support we have had at Officer level from NLHF’. Museums have particularly valued the efforts staff at both Arts Council England and NLHF have made to support them.

How might the sector evolve after Covid-19, and how can DCMS support such innovation to deal with future challenges?

1.  Lockdown and the restrictions on public movement give us cause to reflect on what is available to us locally. The vast majority of museums in Cornwall are community museums. Their concern for and service to their communities is what is driving much of the decision making about their future operation. Yet in our sector these museums are often seen as the ‘poor relations’. It is time to review the policy and strategy towards local museums and rebalance the hyper-concentration of investment in metropolitan centres which undermines regional efforts to create sustainable communities. COVID-19 must be the moment we prioritise museums who serve their communities and rebalance investment against the things that matter: people, communities and the planet. COVID-19 must not be the moment where we throw already impoverished regional museums to the dogs. It must be the trigger for new policy which re-balances investment and recognises the critical role that regional museums can play in the recovery of their communities.

2.  Since lockdown museums across the UK have rushed to put content online. This has been mixed in quality and not necessarily informed by audience needs. At CMP we have been supporting museums in the smart use of tech for the last 5 years. We believe that online experiences should be designed specifically with the ‘online space’ in mind. There is an opportunity for DCMS to incentivise innovation here, particularly working with smaller organisations who may be able to work in more agile ways than larger institutions. Existing innovation funding needs to be made accessible to museums of all sizes.

At CMP we are exploring the applications of immersive technology and AI for museums and will be launching the Museums and Immersive Network in June 2020.

3.  We have known for years that like other aspects of the creative industries the museums sector is not diverse. The reliance on older volunteers is a structural weakness which has been thrown into sharp focus by COVID-19. At CMP we have been delivering a range of schemes to provide opportunities for a wider range of people to enter the sector. By 2022 museums in Cornwall will have provided 25 apprenticeships and 15 paid trainee curator roles. It is now more crucial than ever that inclusive routes into the profession are delivered and that all museums are supported to provide these.

#RDNetwork: Homelessness in Rural Communities

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 February, St. Petrocs kindly took over our Twitter page to discuss homelessness within rural communities. Please continue reading to hear all about their experience of our #RDNetwork Twitter Takeover…

We were invited to take part in the Rural Diversity Network Twitter Takeover on 24th February. What a different place the world was then! We were staggered by the level of engagement in the event which opened links from the length and breadth of the country. Those links and the interactions which took place are as relevant now though as they were then. In fact, never has there been a time in which collaboration has been so important.

We are incredibly grateful to be asked to take part and hope that we can continue to engage in such supportive relationships. We also hope that communicating some of our own experiences may be of some use to others.

The questions we asked were: –

  1. What do you think the arts & culture can offer people experiencing homelessness?
  2. Are there any local examples of museums working with people who have experienced homelessness, or any other out of County examples that could be applied in Cornwall?
  3. We really want to know what role should museums and galleries play in tackling homelessness?
  4. What kinds of activities would you like to see museums engaged in to tackle homelessness?

As an organisation which gives support to homeless people throughout Cornwall, museums have proved to be an asset to the work we do. Support for those sleeping rough, and for residents in our supported accommodation has been forthcoming both from an organisational perspective, and on a client by client basis, which assists individuals to progress in their interests and their progression towards a stable and settled life. It is only when people have ambition to pursue personal or professional interests that they can start to focus positively on their future. Museums can do this for many of our clients, and we are fascinated by the way that looking at the past can help people develop their futures. CMP makes that relationship stronger.

Jess Rawlings from St Petrocs took over the Cornwall Museums Partnership Twitter profile for St Petrocs.

‘’We had an incredible response on the night of our takeover, it was a fierce hour of tweets, at points I was struggling to keep up with the notifications! The whole thread was absolutely bursting with positivity, kindness, knowledge, and fantastic examples of things that have been happening both in the past and planned for the future across the Country. It was a really fast way of discovering relevant information, new opportunities and making connections and I am so grateful that we were invited to be a part of it’’

 

On the night we had organisations such as the Museum of Homelessness, who offered great insights and suggestions.

Other organisations were taking part, such as the Falmouth Art Gallery, Penlee House Gallery and Museum and the Curator of the Workhouse, Courthouse & Prison & Police Museums also joined the conversations across the hour.

Not only were great suggestions shared but also offers of support for future work.

We would like to thank everyone who joined the conversation and made it a truly informative evening, and most importantly thank you to the Cornwall Museums Partnership for inviting us to host the hour.

-St. Petrocs

St. Petrocs’ ambition is to end street homelessness in Cornwall. They provide accommodation, support, advice, training and resettlement services to single homeless people in Cornwall and strive to provide the best quality of service possible to those people, aged 16–65, who find themselves homeless and for whom no provision is made within the community, either statutory or otherwise.

#RDNetwork: Tackling Health and Wellbeing in Isolated Communities

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 April, Nerys Watts, Director of External Affairs for Brunel’s SS Great Britain, kindly took over our Twitter page to discuss health, wellbeing and rural isolation. Please continue reading to hear all about Nerys’ experience of our #RDNetwork Twitter Takeover…

It was a great privilege to host such a rich and thoughtful discussion for Cornwall Museums Partnerships’ #RDNetwork on wellbeing and rural isolation, and the role that museums and galleries can play in addressing these issues. Always extremely important, it felt particularly significant to look at them during a time when we are experiencing a global pandemic and lockdown, with the different physical and mental effects the situation is having on us all.

This is first and foremost a crisis about people’s health, but it is having a widespread and significant impact on museums and galleries, who are currently facing unprecedented and profound challenges. For most, the vast majority of their income has ceased and they are now working particularly hard and creatively at various ways in which to carry out their mission, whilst continuing to serve and support their communities.

The questions we asked during the #RDNetwork were;

1. Has your health and wellbeing been impacted in isolation? If so, how?
2. What have we learnt from lockdown regarding the needs of isolated people and communities?
3. What impact can museums and galleries have on wellbeing?
4. How could museums and galleries help tackle isolation during or after COVID-19.

On a personal level it is clear that people are trying hard to adapt to a very changed way of life, but that it can feel very different for each person. We have gone through significant change in a very short space of time; tiredness, snacking, lack of concentration, uncertainty, and mourning missed opportunities and cancelled plans are all common.

However, what is also clear is how people are finding ways to alter routines, sourcing different means to stay connected, appreciating details that busy lives often meant were overlooked, and allowing themselves to become more flexible. Although people are finding different ways to cope this can still remain an extremely stressful time for most.

When we looked at what lockdown meant particularly for isolated people and communities, an interesting perspective was shared about the impact of the current measures leading to these people suffering ‘double isolation’ – services that were already challenging to access at normal times are now impacted further. With obtaining provisions for basic needs being even more difficult, this also has a knock-on effect on time or energy to then engage with other activities.

Recognizing how important it is to find ways to connect and reach out to people, especially at this time, is at the heart of how museums and galleries are supporting wellbeing now. Although challenging, this period of lockdown is also seen as an opportunity to try new things and experiment. Penlee House Gallery & Museum has launched ‘Penlee Inspired Online 2020’ to produce an online exhibition created by people inspired by their collections, and Museum of Cornish Life is ensuring they are having conversations with their audiences to be guided by their needs. Similarly, Wheal Martyn has been keeping in touch with all of their volunteers, and particularly looking out for their most vulnerable volunteers, including shopping for them. It is evident that museums are there to support their communities when they are most needed.

Whilst we need to deal with the now, and continue to do what we can to engage and connect with our communities and audiences at the moment, we also need to look ahead and position ourselves as a sector for the longer term challenges ahead. Everything points to us heading towards an economic recession, and a recession which many countries will be entering in the worst possible shape, with traditional levers already exhausted. As with other recessions, it will again be necessary for us to make the case for why culture and heritage is important to our lives when things move forward. Our heritage, our museums and galleries provide a vital role within our society on many levels. We will need to make the case again for the significant economic impact culture has of course, but also how it adds richness, builds curiosity and connections, self-esteem and confidence, and brings enjoyment to people’s lives. The benefits we can provide to support people’s wellbeing are a critical part of our value, and particularly now.

This crisis will also have a long-term impact on society. It is unlikely that we will be ‘going back to normal’. Behaviours are likely to have changed. Many people will have faced loss; family or friends, or loss of income. They may feel anxious about visiting public spaces or have lost confidence in doing things they haven’t done in a while. It is likely to prompt a reappraisal of what we – individually and collectively – value. To support wellbeing we need to ensure that we are relevant in a different environment, to build on our connections with communities and look at this area as a long term and genuine priority. Collaborating, listening and understanding what it is we can do to continue to make a difference.

We should be ambitious. Going forward we should exploit the power of digital – a key area where there will be new opportunities, with the current crisis accelerating digital engagement – but it’s more than this. To meaningfully impact wellbeing we need to think beyond ad hoc outreach interventions. These are far less impactful than a long-term and consistent approach done in partnership with others, co-creating what we do with communities and other organisations. It’s less about interventions and more about collaborations, and models which empower and build engagement. This may sound daunting, but NEF Five ways to wellbeing provides useful framework to plan how this could look, and working with the right people will develop thinking further.

We need to think carefully about which communities to target, and how we can meaningfully connect them to the physical space of the museum where engagement has most benefit for health and wellbeing, and what barriers may prevent this. Honest and reflective and ongoing review about the impact and effectiveness of what we’re doing is important, and also that we share that learning. UCL Museum Wellbeing Measures Toolkit is an excellent way to evaluate the impact of work to improve wellbeing – it’s flexible and free to use for non-commercial purposes. It’s work which needs to be properly embedded to be most effective.

A lot of fantastic work is already underway, and there are lots of great examples of how museums and heritage can impact health and wellbeing, including ‘Mind, Body, Spirit’ by Jocelyn Dodd/Ceri Jones; Museums as Spaces for Wellbeing National Alliance for Museums, Health and Wellbeing; The Happy Museum Project and the Wellbeing Guidance from National Lottery Heritage Fund. The support that’s being given to communities now is valued, and it will be remembered. Building on that for whatever comes next will be a challenge, but it’s one we will meet together.

I want to particularly thank my colleague at SS Great Britain Trust, Lexi Burrows, who is both passionate and knowledgeable in the area of museums and wellbeing. The resources she shared with me and our discussions on this topic have been invaluable.

-Nerys Watts

Newfound Connections – Part Five

The Trainee Curators programme was set up to diversify the cultural workforce in Cornish museums and historical sites by offering more accessible opportunities to young people. In turn, diversifying the museums audiences and using their collections more widely.

In our new mini-blog-series, we share with you a behind the scenes look at what our Trainee Curators are getting up to now they are having to work from home, due to COVID-19. You can also keep up to date with them on their Twitter Page where they share regular updates and posts.

Next up is Lizzy Broughton of Falmouth Art Gallery…

With most of the world at a standstill due to COVID-19, my fellow Trainee Curators and I have been working from home for some time. I guess I should be used to it by now, but there are days when I don’t feel used to it at all. Mostly I feel I’m not doing enough and my productivity is questionable. I’m seeing so many people running marathons from their homes, learning new languages, taking up a new hobby, and I’m here mostly keeping myself sane with Animal Crossing and baking cookies.

Unlike the other Trainee Curators, I have not been as strict with keeping up a regular 9-5 Monday to Friday; with my mental health being pretty strained at the moment, managing my mental health has become my new full-time job. I do miss walking up to the gallery every morning and being in an environment where I am constantly surrounded by wonderful artworks and inspiration. I also miss popping into the pub after work and having a laugh with friends, you don’t realise how great it is to actually see people in person and have a chat until you’re forced to do it through screens and phone calls.

The work I have been doing from home has been interesting though. Before the lockdown I was taking regular trips up to Kresen Kernow to make scans of letters to and from various artists with links to Cornwall. When the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro closed its doors earlier this year, we at Falmouth Art Gallery took on the management of the Cornwall Schools Art Collection, and the letters I scanned were all correspondence to go with this art collection. At home I have been cropping and organising around 900 of these letters – including many from Barbara Hepworth! I had an interesting time reading how different artists expressed themselves and responded to the collection. These artworks were donated to, or bought at a reduced price, for Cornwall Council to send out to schools in the county for children to view and enhance their education in art.

We were planning to have an exhibition at Falmouth Art Gallery for this collection in September to raise awareness of it, so schools might make use of it more often, as it is an incredible resource to be offered to the schools in our county. This exhibition is still set to happen and has not been scrapped, so watch this space! I am helping to plan this exhibition and doing tonnes of research for it in my time spent working at home, so it would be wonderful to see it all up on display post-lockdown.

Art has become more than just a hobby for many people during lockdown – it has become a way to vent their emotions and struggle with this turbulent time, and one thing I hope remains once lockdown is lifted, is peoples newfound connections with art and their new interaction with it.

Art is more important now than ever for helping to keep the country sane and motivated for the future.

 

-Lizzy Broughton

Falmouth Art Gallery

 

More about the fascinating School Art Collection can be found here https://www.poolschoolgallery.org/schools-art-collection/

CMP is proud to support the ongoing work by Pool School Gallery, which puts art at the centre of everyday life for the communities of Camborne, Pool, Illogan, Redruth & the Mining Villages. Young people from Pool Academy are supported to design and deliver a programme of workshops and exhibitions. This experimental, ground-breaking and ambitious gallery has been working with the Schools Art Collection and its students since it opened in 2017.