Trainee Curators Programme – Diversifying the Cultural Workforce in Cornish Museums
Claire English is an imaginative curator and collaborator with experience in exhibition production, workshops, events and management. Working with five Trainee Curators hosted at 4 museums across Cornwall, Claire has designed a Trainee Curators programme alongside Cornwall Museums Partnership, and is delivering a series of study visits to museums and historical sites in Cornwall and London, specialist talks from curators and museum professionals, peer network meetings, curatorial tasks and 121’s.
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.
Coming into the project with the funding in place, Claire designed a programme to equip the Trainee Curators with an understanding of the cultural terrain, locally and globally. With study trips to museums in Cornwall and London, the trainees will introduce themselves to museum and heritage professionals, working locally and on an international level.
Each host has very generously explained their specialisms and research and contextualised their approach to curating through their collection, historical site and exhibitions. They all took the trainees behind the scenes and explained conservation considerations and now connect the trainees to their specialist networks. Every museum has a different structure with challenges and opportunities and these trips will have given the trainees a fantastic grounding for their future careers.
Claire said, ‘what has been wonderful to watch is the peer support the trainees offer each other through individual challenges – I couldn’t be prouder to be part of the project!’
Celine Elliott, Engagement Lead of Cornwall Museums Partnership said; ‘the trip to London was inspiring on many levels: from the generous input of the museum staff we spent time with to the intelligent and thought-provoking responses of the trainee curators. Everyone learnt new things and I think will all be reflecting on the exhibits we saw and the strategies that were shared for a long time to come. Personal highlights include an incomparable black history tour of the Natural History Museum led by Miranda Lowe at as well as a look around the museum’s Spirit Store with Patrick Campbell which I doubt anyone will forget! It’s exciting to think of how this visit will undoubtedly continue to influence the development of the trainee curators and I am looking forward to seeing what they produce.’
Read on to hear from 4 of our Trainee Curators on their current experiences within their museum, and what they took from their most recent study trip to London.
‘My first month as a Trainee Curator has been great so far; there seems to be a feeling of genuine excitement about the programme from each of our host museums and Cornwall Museums Partnership which fosters a strong sense of support, which is really useful to someone at the start of their career. I also enjoy encouragement and focus on training as it feels like such an excellent opportunity to develop skills, expertise and interests. I look forward to the next 8 months!
The London trip was very interesting; it highlighted the stark contrast between regional and national museums in terms of training opportunities, project times and infrastructure. The takeaway was that Cornwall museums actually seem to be ahead of the game in terms of training their staff and encouraging us to be the best we can be. I loved getting to look behind the scenes at the bigger museums though, and the wealth and sheer number of collections was astonishing. Overall, it was a trip that was fun but informative and gave us a good idea about what we can expect from the industry in larger organisations, perhaps later in our careers – but it also strengthened my feeling of being lucky and grateful to have this opportunity to start my career in a regional Cornish museum and to get as much training and support at the start of my career that I can.’ Siân Powell, Wheal Martyn Clay Works
‘Only a month into my Traineeship at Bodmin Keep and I’ve already gotten involved with so many different aspects of curatorial work. I have been undertaking research for future displays, arranging artwork loans for an upcoming temporary exhibition, giving public talks and tours, collaborating on digital projects, and getting hands-on with the collections. It has been fascinating getting to know the organisational structure here at the museum and what the forward plans are to improve the building and develop our audiences. I have been given so many opportunities to pursue my personal interests and tailor my internship to suit my own professional development. It has also been wonderful getting to know the other interns on the programme and supporting each other’s progress at our peer network meetings.
Our trip to London, organised by Cornwall Museums Partnership, was such a fun experience. It was brilliant to be given ‘behind the scenes’ tours of some of London’s national museums. I particularly enjoyed the black history tour of the Natural History Museum, given by Miranda Lowe. It was interesting to hear how she is uncovering hidden histories and challenging the ‘neutrality’ of museums. I also enjoyed the presentations given to us by the curators of the new Second World War and Holocaust galleries, and the curator of the upcoming Refugees exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. Hearing how they curate traumatic histories in a sensitive and empathetic way was enlightening. Their insight will be invaluable as I develop my own displays at Bodmin Keep which confront difficult issues which have arisen from war and conflict.’ Sarah Waite, Bodmin Keep
‘During my first month as a trainee curator at the Museum of Cornish Life, I have learnt a huge amount about the heritage sector. From giving tours to handling collections, I have completed a range of tasks and gained an invaluable insight into daily museum operations. My favourite task so far involved giving a virtual tour of our exhibition “Fictitious Cornwall” to residents of a care home. As many people are unable to access museums physically, it felt very important to be able to take our collection digitally to the care home residents.
Last week the Trainee Curators visited the V&A, the Natural History Museum, the Museum of London and the Imperial War Museum. We spoke to several curators about their work and it was interesting to hear about the differences between operations in regional and national institutions. The highlight of the trip was looking behind the scenes at the Natural History Museum. We were given a tour of the laboratories where I found a barracuda which had washed up 6 miles off the Lizard Peninsula. It made me feel very much at home!’ Rachel Haddy, Museum of Cornish Life
‘My internship so far has been great – Bodmin Keep has such a welcoming staff and environment and there’s always plenty to learn. I’ve done weapons handling and object talks, assisted with reorganising the collections store, gently cleaned artefacts and improved museum catalogue records. This is one of my favourite jobs, as I enjoy leaving the database better than we found it – it’s satisfying detective work! In London we visited four museums in two days, which was a whirlwind of information. It was so interesting to hear about the extensive planning involved in national museum exhibitions, sometimes as much as 10 years in the making. They seemed envious of our flexibility in smaller museums! Seeing the spirit collections at the Natural History Museum was incredible, as they have to be preserved in such different ways to our shelf stable objects. The star object for me was the giant squid, nearly 9m long, in an enormous case that spanned the storeroom.’ Katie Sawyer, Bodmin Keep