They’re quite aware of what they’re goin’ through , Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.

During this week’s lectures, we have focused on the changing role of museums in society; exploring the ways in which the museum is seen by the public and how influential the museum can be within communities. Once seen as a container of knowledge, BMT has adapted to remove connotations of authority over the public, in favour for a dedication to the public to preserve collections, and both politically and culturally reflect their interests. Engaging with the public has enabled a shift for BMT. Ensuring their audiences’ ideas for exhibitions are valued, as well as to portray their responsibility to the public, the trust on all sites, aims to achieve accessibility. An example of this is by their involvement with well-being groups, ensuring accessibility through both physical and intellectual means. In conjunction to Duncan Cameron’s ideas of re-imagining the museum in his 1971 article – all sites perceive their museum as a platform for engagement and not as a temple intended for only the academics amongst us.

Visiting Blakesley Hall in this weeks practical session, with Site Manager and former Curator Steven, we discussed their changing paradigms. As a heritage site based in Yardley, the museum itself is quite a recluse in comparison to some of the other sites within BMT. Working on the importance of community engagement, the site focuses on family segmentations as its main driver for commercial income. As part of the changing shift in museum practice, the 21st century has bought with it cuts and challenges that effect income and audience attendance. Blakesley Hall has actively tried to maintain a free entrance fee, but have unfortunately recently had to add admission fees when visiting the Hall.  However, when looking at BMT’s demographic percentages, Blakesley Hall has the highest percentage of return visitors- particularly in the summer months. This is because their experience aims to emphasise the need for education in museums and changing lives through well-being techniques. As the grounds to the Hall are free, there is a high interest for families and all visitors to reside in the gardens and take part in interactive games.

Contributing to the community and environment enables Blakesley Hall to perceive itself as a place owned by the public and wholly for their benefit. Working alongside mental health groups, is just one example where they aim to benefit the public. By attending a communally-based site, their audiences can spend as long as they wish within the grounds and retire from thoughts of the everyday. This in turn benefits the income and number of visitors to the site, as commercial hire for the space generates income, as well as the use of the tea room through the day.

Becoming commercially driven is an aspect that Blakesley Hall has to adapt to in order to generate income, despite cuts to their staff workforce. However, their passion and enthusiasm to create events that are both income generated and above all educational, is clearly displayed. Blakesley Hall’s impact on learning is key to contextualising the Tudor period to their audience, be that through aligning with the educational curriculum or portraying key aspects of the period through innovative ways. Guided tours and objectively driven events have proven to achieve this through Tudor Christmas events to planned trails through the Hall’s herb garden. These events particularly articulate the heritage of the site- which is important, but there are also events not so history based to attract wider ranges of audiences, such as the ‘Yardley Arts Weekend’. Within this event the entire site is free and allows entrance into the Hall, therefore enticing secondary visits.

With plans to create more digitally driven interpretation in a family resource room, Blakesley Hall provides an authentic depiction of the Tudor period through interactive and innovative means. Whilst on a tour of the Hall itself, as a group we found that the lack of interpretation in the rooms took away from the historic contexts associated to the Hall. Without a guided a tour, the Hall became a shell containing beautiful articulations of the period but with no way to decipher the artefacts or spaces themselves. We felt that to improve there needed to be small interpretation boards on artefacts or within rooms, with basic and interesting facts on to entice the significance of its heritage.

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In today’s lecture at Bmag, we discussed the roles of the Exhibition Officer, Katie Hall, and how she looks over many members of staff within the Birmingham Museums Trust. The most important of her roles being organisation and communication, as over each of the sites, staff and external bodies are needed to be kept in check. Working alongside designers in both small and large exhibitions, Katie ensures that interpretation within the museums is accessible to all; following both the graphic interpretation guidelines and the interpretation standards. The learning team ensure the average reading age of 12 years is demonstrated in the literary of labels. The visual and physical means of interpretation are exemplar to Katie’s articulation of the collections to the general public, such as the use of timelines, video, maps, images and interactive games and dressing up.

This led to the practical part of the session that involved discovering the possibilities of interpretation. Our group of objects were from the display on Birmingham and the Slave Trade. As a group we needed to decipher our target audience, families and adults, and how we would arrange and interpret the objects. Using the empathy mapping system we explored the possible emotive reactions to the artefacts as well as how they could be arranged in a manner that would tell a chronological story. We decided that the terminology used to describe these items would need to be carefully evaluated in order to suit its sensitive subject, yet still depict an accurate history of the slave trade in Birmingham.

Once we had finished this discussion, as a group we attended the History Galleries displays to view its interpretation and reflect on what decisions we thought were appropriate. We felt that the display was easy to navigate around, including quotes, imagery and digital interaction, that made the display interesting and approachable to a wide age range. However, it was discussed that the present tense jargon felt inappropriate to the subject area, and was confusing to read. Although the display referenced Birmingham’s history with Slave Trade- we thought that interesting historical icons like Olauda Equino could have been expanded on in further detail. Overall, it did what it says on the tin and gave a good insight into the history of Birmingham and the Slave Trade through simplistic, intriguing means.