This ambitious project will see six new museums and tourist attractions open in Bishop Auckland over the next few years. But should the ways in which they communicate with visitors through written interpretation be unified too?
I convened a series of workshops with staff where we discussed what each project had in common, but also what set them apart. We constructed a suite of interpretative ‘tones of voice’, related to one another, but each with their own distinct flavour. I articulated these voices, created a suite of tools for writers to use when constructing their text and delivered training about how the written voices are articulated in practice. The staff are now writing their own copy with confidence, including for the new Mining Art Gallery which opened to visitors in 2018.
The Portico Library
As part of a project to catalogue the library’s extensive archive I am coaching a member of staff who has not undertaken public engagement work before. The aim is to take what he has found in the archive and to help him turn it to public-facing content. We are exploring social media outlets, writing an online guide to the collections and hosting a conference for librarians, archivists and the public about the gems that are being uncovered in the archive. We’ll even make an exhibition.
The project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Sharing Heritage programme.
The Photographic Collections Network
I acted as the Critical Friend and evaluator for this Arts Council-funded project. The new Subject Specialist Network seeks to create a place where those working with photographic collections can come together – online and in person – to network and to share best practice.
I created an evaluation framework, attended their meetings, undertook evaluation with the membership and gave formal and informal feedback to the staff as the project developed. Part of being a Critical Friend involves pointing out where things are going really well, but also some constructive criticism, where necessary.
The National Archives, London
The National Archives has grand ambitions of how it would like to engage with the public in the future, with an ever-expanding programme of events and exhibitions. I was invited to help TNA think about some of the principles (and challenges) of public programming and making exhibitions.
I convened three workshops with staff from across the organisation, reviewing the successes of current practice and identifying what the next steps towards a fully developed public programme might be. I put together an action plan for TNA and helped them with some recruitment of key personnel to help embellish their team.
TNA is one to watch in the coming years. I predict they will soon be surprising the heritage sector and visitors alike with their programming.
Buxton Museum & Art Gallery
I was asked to provide some coaching for the museum team, to help and inspire them to produce interpretative text for their Wonders of the Peak gallery, which opened to the public in 2017. We held workshops at the museum where we explored the nature of museum text and had a go at writing example panels, labels and social media content in the safe space of a training setting.
An independent review of the project, by Innovate Educate, said staff learned to challenge their instinctive writing styles, were more aware of good practice, understood different ways of writing and knew what words to avoid.
The writing team went on to produce some superb text in the final gallery. I was particularly impressed with this recipe for a prehistoric dinner.
The person responsible for creating public content in a heritage organisation is often not an interpretation specialist. I lead training sessions for those working in museums, libraries, galleries and other heritage sites who may be new to interpretation and text writing best practice. These workshops have some taught elements, but are also very involved, inviting participants to have a go at writing museum copy and interpretation plans in a safe place.
I’ve delivered plenty of training for the Arts Council England-Regional Museum Development Programme including the teams in London, the South East and the East Midlands.