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Jul 17th 2020

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