On Thursday morning I found myself at St Pancras station at the ludicrously early time of 7am, ready to catch a train to Derby for the GEM Conference 2022. GEM is the Group for Education in Museums and a key source of useful information, jobs in the sector, and occasionally some very bad Friday afternoon jokes (you know who you are!). My lovely colleague Chinami and I were down to present in the graveyard slot on Friday afternoon, when I fully expected there to be about three people left to talk at. Chinami kindly let me do all the talking myself in the end and acted as my cheerleader.
The theme for this year was how museums can think outwards, and there were some amazing presentations from members. Some member presentations that really stood out for us were the Street Museum project from Durham, the Cornwall Museum Partnership’s Culture Card for young people in care and care leavers, how Welsh museums can engage with schools and the new Curriculum for Wales, and Hull Museum and Ferens Art Gallery’s project around expanding relationships with deprived communities. I was also inspired by the workshop I attended on Friday afternoon on making museums more accessible and inclusive with the Yorkshire Accessible Museums Network. We held a minute’s silence for the Queen on Friday morning, acknowledging her patronage over the decades to museums and the arts in general.
It was good to be back in person at a conference, and to see an ex-colleague, to talk about our own museum and to find out about others. Hopefully we’ll be able to go and visit some over the next few months!
Anyway, for once the train was on time and we made it to the utterly wonderful Museum of Making in Derby Silk Mill without reference to a map, thanks to our visit in March with the rest of our team. It’s a lovely walk along a river, past lots of Victorian buildings and geese and, for some reason, some nice bronze sculptures of turtles. I like Derby more every time I see it: the town centre has some amazing old buildings and an enormous number of historic buildings. And a LOT of places of worship. I mean A LOT – even the restaurant where we ate on Thursday night was formerly a chapel. (The restaurant was Annie’s Burger Shack, by the way, where I had the the New York Yankee Brisket burger and Chinami had the Bacon Blues with extra mushrooms.) I even like the baby goths and emos hanging out along the river, listening to the Smiths.
On Thursday afternoon there was time built in for delegates to go and see a range of places, including the Crown Derby factory. We chose to go to the Derby Museum and Art Gallery where we were given a very light touch tour by their head of visitor experience. Derby Museum is one of those wonderful local museums that’s a bit of everything: a natural history gallery that’s been beautifully co-curated and co-created with local families who selected the exhibits and then helped to build the cases in a re-designed space. There had previously been a smaller room, which was much loved by families, so it made sense to involve them in developing the new one. There is a fox by ethical taxidermist Jazmine Miles-Long, which is touchable and at child height, which can be seen in the bandaged tail. There are wooden masks which help you to see in the way an animal does, and the birds are cleverly displayed in a ‘forest’ of wooden trunks. The skeleton of a prehistoric hippo lives in here too, and some wonderfully pickled specimens like an octopus.
We also liked the archaeology gallery and the peek into the atrium above the library. There’s a corridor with a display of busts, which a small child was saying hello to, and a gallery dedicated to local painter Joseph Wright. The museum’s young people’s group had worked on the interpretation in this space, and had created a timeline of his life where they had highlighted his struggles with mental health as well as his successes. I loved the fact that they had called him Joe, and with the number of self-portraits he painted in different costumes he was clearly an early proponent of the selfie!
We had time to pop over to Pickford’s House too – a Georgian house museum about three minutes walk away from the Museum. There are four floors, where you can see recreated rooms and – the reason I wanted to go – the Peacock Revolution exhibition about men’s fashion from 1966-1970. This has some gorgeous clothes and a great soundtrack, and I coveted several of the brocade jackets. There;s a new Toy Theatres room too, taking me back to the first exhibition I worked on at Museum of London Docklands.
The final exhibition we saw was at the Museum of Making itself, called Do It Yourself? which is in partnership with the BBC’s centenary celebrations. Bright, open and cheerful with lots to do for children, it didn’t take long to go round. We liked their charging model, where your ticket is valid for the length of the run and they also have pay-what-you-think days and a monthly free day. Under 16s are free. The rest of the museum is free and well worth a visit.
But how did your presentation go, I know you are all dying to ask. I was talking about the Young Collective project that I have written about previously and I think it went quite well. Well, no one got up and ran away and they laughed in the right places, so I will take that. One nice chap said afterwards that I had the ‘room in the palm of my hand’ which was very sweet – it was only half full at that point, of course. I was very nervous, having never spoken at a conference before, and I will probably hate the recording when they share it, but I enjoyed writing it and there is a lot of interest in the museum in the sector. The next one is at M-Shed in Bristol in October, which will be the Dress and Textile Specialists 2022 Conference. M-Shed is another of my favourite museums, so I am looking forward to going back there too!
We made it back to Derby station in between thunderstorms (just!), the train was on time and I think the children were pleased to see me…
Other things making me happy this week:
- an inspiring morning at the Make First symposium at the Crafts Council
- a visit to the library today
- 2/3 of the children back at school
- the prospect of a couple of trips to Wales in October
- a whole lot of Eddie Izzard albums on Spotify
See you next week!
What I’ve been reading:
Mr Mercedes/End of Watch – Stephen King
Lies Sleeping – Ben Aaronovitch