The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tales from the Trenches: Professionalism

We academic museum studies types spend a lot of time picking apart the major issues of museology: how to act ethically, how to be socially responsible, how to educate effectively, etc. However, as anyone who has ever attended a local or regional museum association conference knows, the workers on the ground require more concrete advice and assistance: we're talking more along the lines of how to create an accession register or properly store artefacts. I teach an introductory course in museum studies, and have to balance the practical with the theoretical in every lecture, and I know I don't always get it right. But recently, it occurred to me that this gap is even greater when you factor in the average layperson audience, and I think we are not doing enough talking about professionalism when it comes to working with them.

(Warning: I am going to name and shame in this post.)

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit an exhibit about Faberge (the Russian imperial jeweller most famous for the opulent Easter eggs created for the Romanov Czar and his family) at the Peabody Essex Museum. I love the PEM, and have nothing but love for them, especially their gift shop. The exhibit actually originated with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, who hold a magnificent collection of Faberge pieces. The catalogue, which I could not afford to purchase, looked well-researched and exhaustive. The exhibition, however, failed disastrously because of glaring and repeated errors in the label copy. Several artefacts were mis-labelled in the cases (as in: the label referred to a different artefact nearby), there were spelling errors and typos, and strange omissions (surely the curator could have thought of something to say about one of the star pieces of the exhibition, the 1897 Imperial egg?). I asked the guards whether the museum was aware of these errors, and they said yes; however, although the show had been up for almost a month, nothing had been done to remedy the situation.

It all reminded me of an exhibition I went to years ago at the Tate, on the Gothic Revival in art. I went on the second-last day of the show, and by the time I got there, the public had taken matters into their own hands; errors, typos, and omissions had been corrected in pen on gallery labels by several enterprising visitors. That's what I call the interactive museum! I like to imagine that the guards allowed them to do this, knowing it was the only way the labels would be fixed! I was sorely disappointed in the Tate, although they redeemed themselves later that year with their stunning Holbein exhibit.

All joking aside, however, this sort of carelessness seems to me to be unprofessional. It threatens to undermine the intellectual authority of the museum (the existence of which can be critiqued but not dismissed even by academic types!) as well as the museum profession. I know that label copy is produced long in advance of a show; but especially in the case of a travelling exhibition, surely multiple museum workers at these institutions have walked through the displays to ensure that all is correct? And if they haven't, or if no measures have been taken to remedy mistakes, doesn't that speak badly of their commitment to museum best practice? We're not talking about the lazy parroting of old ideas, as many museums are wont to do (that is not so much unprofessional, as a lack of resources to hire the right professionals with that expertise); this is carelessness.

Professionalism isn't just about the big ideas; it's about attention to detail and considering the audience in everything we do in museums. Consider this a call to arms for meticulous museum studies!

ETA 25/07/13: Just read this hilarious article about why museum professionals are terrible visitors. My sincere apologies to the staff of museums such as the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, the PEM and others, who have had to read my rants in their visitor comment books!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Two New MEG Events!

Researching donors of museum ethnography
Friday 27 September 2013, 11am – 4.00pm
Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum, Millennium Point, Birmingham

Undertaking research on donors of ethnographic objects can shed new light on object history and provenance. This practical session will provide an introduction to using commonly-available local history and genealogical sources to research donor histories. The session will include case studies illustrating the often surprising detail and pointers revealed by basic family history research. It will also provide an overview of the research tools that museum ethnographers may find useful, including information about accessibility and the tools' limitations. Most of the session, however, will be hands-on and participants are asked to bring some donor names and dates to research with the trainer's support. The outcomes cannot be guaranteed but the process is always worth pursuing, often intriguing, and sometimes highly rewarding. The session will be led by Dr Katherine Prior, historical and former advisor to the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton and Hove, and York Museums Trust.

This event costs £70 for non-members and £40 for members. Lunch is not included.Booking is essential.

Please email jenny.walklate@gmail.com for a booking form.

Meet the Reviewer: Chiefs and Governors: Art and Power in Fiji
Friday 8 November 2013, 11am - 3.30pm

Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA), University of CambridgeAn opportunity to critically interrogate the process of curating this landmark exhibition and to evaluate the outcome. The session will be led by a discussion between a reviewer and exhibition curators. Chiefs and Governors: Art and Power in Fiji, co-curated by Anita Herle and Lucie Carreau, presents highlights from the most historically significant collection of Fijian objects in the world outside of Fiji. This collection is special to MAA as it formed the core of the Museum's founding ethnographical collections when it first opened in 1884. The exhibition is one of the outcomes of the collaborative Fijian Art Research project (http://www.fijianart.sru.uea.ac.uk), which aims to catalogue and learn more about collections of Fijian Art held in museums around the world. A review of the exhibition will be posted on the MEG website a week before the event.

This event costs £15 for non-members and £10 for members. Lunch is included.Booking is essential.

Please email jenny.walklate@gmail.com for a booking form.

Also note that we (MEG) are planning a December 2013 trip to the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg (Världskulturmuseet). Details to follow (or check the website: http://www.museumethnographersgroup.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=33&Itemid=49)

Sunday, July 07, 2013

CfP for our Spanish and Portuguese followers

MIDAS – Museum Interdisciplinary Studies is launching a new call for papers for issue 3. This issue includes a thematic dossier under the theme “Museums and biographic participation: introducing a personal approach as an alternative to the hegemonic one” with Maria Acaso and Andrea De Pascual as guest editors. Deadline: September 6th, 2013.

MIDAS also accepts proposals to the usual sections of the journal:
- Articles (several areas) (ca. 6000 words)
– Notações – short articles, experiences, news about museum projects, short reports, etc. (ca. 3000 words)
– Reviews (books or exhibitions) (ca. 1500 words)
All accepted articles will undergo a double peer-review. The issue is scheduled for publication in 2014.
Send your text to: revistamidas@gmail.com
For more information: http://midas.revues.org/361

Museums and biographic participation: introducing a personal approach as an alternative to the hegemonic one
“Art can be a tool to understand the world and the museum can become a place where experiences through which the public can generate connections with life are made possible. In order to achieve this, biographical aspects of the public must be part of the construction of the contents of the museum.By means of this call for papers we intend to make visible the experiences that are being carried out in this field, which, although incipient, we consider very valuable for the museum of the future. Experiences among which the museum includes new participation systems through different pedagogical and political methods based on the adoption of a personal approach as an alternative to a hegemonic one”. (Maria Acaso and Andrea de Pascual)
Themes may include the following areas:

BIOGRAPHICAL CONTENTS OF CIVIL CURATORSHIP
The public’s biographies as content
The educators’ biographies as content
Any personal story as content
METHODOLOGIES OF BIOGRAPHICAL PARTICIPATION
Critical pedagogies
Regenerative pedagogies
Disruptive pedagogies
Feminist pedagogies
Pedagogies based on the transformative discourse
Other pedagogies still to be formulated
EXPERIENCES FOR THE BIOGRAPHICAL PARTICIPATION
Considering the public as cultural producer. Theories
Examples of the inclusion of the public as constructor of the museum content
Biographic formats for guided tours
Formats based on intergenerational learning starting from a biographical approach
EDUCATION DEPARTMENTS AS AGENTS OF THE BIOGRAPHICAL PARTICIPATION
The educator as the person who makes possible a change from the hegemonic to the biographic approach

Brief CVs of guest editors:
María Acaso (mariaacaso.es) is an Art Education professor and is the Head of the Museum Education in Visual Arts research team at the Fine Arts School of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. As an expert in the field she was invited to be a guest researcher at the Getty Museum, she has implemented projects for various cultural institutions such as Matadero Madrid and she has designed programs for educator’s training for Manifesta 8 and Fundación Telefónica España. As a lecturer she has been invited by different institutions in Colombia, Norway and Portugal and has coordinated the book Perspectives. Current situation of visual art museums in Spain (Ariel, 2011).
Andrea De Pascual has a university degree in Education, specializing in Art Education. She has worked as an educator at the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum (Madrid) and as a coordinator of the education department at the Círculo de Bellas Artes de Madrid. She collaborates with various educational projects for different cultural institutions such as Centro Cultural Matadero Madrid and the Brooklyn Museum (NYC). She has published articles in the field of art education and is an active member of the research and action-based collective Invisible Pedagogies (pedagogiasinvisibles.com). Andrea is currently a Fulbright grantee in the MA program in Art Education at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and is writing her dissertation entitled The rhizomatic museum; strategies for the assignation of a new role to the public as culture producer.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Life Is a Wild River

Life Is a Wild River

Cultural Institutions Threatened

I always joke that when I am old the pension scheme will have broken down and I will not get one penny back. To be honest: this is only half meant as a joke. I can really imagine that systems are able to change suddenly in a fundamental way. Perhaps this is due to being grown up in Berlin and making the mind-blowing experience that the wall came down literally in one night (what was of course a good thing to happen). This stony entity which was so much a self-evident part of my life like Barbie dolls, winter and summer or school. Since then I have been deeply convinced that the wild river called life has the power to sweep away everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything.

Source: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
So, why then I was so surprised and deeply shocked when I read yesterday in the newspaper that the public reading belonging to the most important literature competition of the German speaking world, the Ingeborg-Bachmann-Competition in Austria, is in danger? The Austrian broadcaster ORF thinks about withdrawing its financial support as its budget was cut. One reason for being shocked is that a pattern begins to show. Last week I did hardly believe my eyes when I read that the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam should be closed* and only two weeks ago I listened aghast to the news that the Greek state broadcasting ERT had been shut down overnight. Cutbacks in the cultural sector are not novel but that even institutions which seem to be such a matter of course and almost sacrosant are in danger diverts the development in a new direction.

Of course, if I would be in charge of the budgets and would have to decide if to, for example, build a new hospital or a new museum, sorry, but I would probably build the hospital. If you have to justify to invest in saving people’s life or to show interesting and pretty things and to educate, which choice do you have? I am sure that there exist already studies about how the immune system can be strengthened by museum visits and without any doubt doctors have been children being taught. But the point is: how to explain the necessity of beauty?
Radio – if not the Greek one –, the Tropenmuseum and the Austrian Literature Competition are important landmarks on my individual life’s landscape. Listening to Deutschlandradio frames my everyday life. The public reading of the competition marks the horizon for my friends’ and mine literary ambitions. And the Tropenmuseum influenced my decision to work in the museum field as its reconstructions of local environments like an Indian kiosk was a revelation for me. It is difficult to define the common denominator of all these cultural institutions but if I would try I would name inspiration as their biggest impact on my life and life course.
As a student I worked for the Iwalewa-Haus, a museum for African art in Bayreuth. The director had created one very special room, the “blue room”. Its walls were covered completely by Indigo textiles and besides one stool the room was empty. I sat often in this room enjoying the sheer beauty and calm atmosphere and I know one musician who came there to compose. When the new director assumed office he removed the cloth, renovated the room and used it for special exhibitions. I could comprehend this totally and perhaps I would have done the same. But how could I explain to him that he destroyed a space – let’s become pathetic – where my soul could rest and I gathered inspiration and strength.
No cultural institution, I think, is as a last consequence necessary. But it is needed.
 *Due to a petition the biggest danger is averted. http://www.coinsweekly.com/en/News/4?&id=2083