I’ll be hanging pictures- Collections Storage Review

I’ll be hanging pictures- Collections Storage Review

I have had the wonderful opportunity to work in the Picture Stores here at BM&AG. At Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery there are a number of fine art picture stores, all of which are deemed to be at relatively full capacity. The picture stores are a vital resource for the daily runnings of the museum and managing the collections; it is here the art collection is stored in between exhibitions, before and after loans. Like many museums in the UK, Birmingham Museums Trust has found that the rate of collection expansion has outstripped the storage capacity of the institution.

My live project has involved auditing the picture stores, considering the current storage facilities in the store, the current level of collections use, and outline options for storage improvement in the short and long term including improving physical storage, and options for improving environmental conditions.
Key aims are:
– Improving management and storage of fine art collections for both short and long term
– Raising standards of collections documentation and storage
– Developing proposals for longer term strategic improvements to collections storage
– Creating efficiencies in storage of collections

This week I have concluded the audit, and have begun to identify how we can improve the current storage. This has included condensing objects on the racks to make more efficient use of space. The audit has helped to identify areas in the storage where there is potential to fit more objects on racks.

I suggested that this object- which was previously not able to be hung on a rack- could be now be moved because we have now been able to find a suitable space for it. It makes best use of the available space and improves the practice of the store. It also means that all objects are now hung on racks.

I have gained skills in object handling, collections management, and now understand how museum store functions in reality. BM&AG picture stores have a lot of activity and are constantly in flux; this is especially due to its wide ranging, vibrant exhibitions programme and loans.


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Microsoft Word - Gemma Blog Entry.docxWorking on this project has subsequently informed my current research which is concerned with the development of the collections. I am interested in finding out how a museum such as Birmingham Museums Trust is able to develop its fine art collection, with the acquisition of contemporary art. One of the questions I have in relation to this is how does the museum respond to challenges of storage, funding, and representation, to develop its collections?

Don’t tell them what needs to be told

This week gave Anastasia and I the opportunity to engage with the public during an emergency services day at Soho House. On the Friday of the half-term holidays, a variety of emergency service vehicles, accompanied by Fireman Sam, roll up to the historic home of Matthew Boulton. Several different community groups from Handsworth were also present. Upstairs in the Collecting Birmingham exhibition space, myself, Anastasia and Charlotte were on hand to discuss the existing exhibition of stories and objects related to Mrs. McGhie-Belgrave. We were also working with a face-painter, whose work was incredibly effective in encouraging families to venture beyond the downstairs café space.
The day also provided the opportunity to discuss some of the potential acquisitions as part of the Knights of the Raj project. We were able to obtain some fascinating insight from local residents into their experiences both in Birmingham’s historic curry houses and cooking curry at home. Among the stories shared were of a man who remembered his first Balti experience, at a curry house on Ladypool Road in the 1970s which served its dishes without cutlery. The restaurant was apparently also a popular haunt of Robert Plant, and housed a jukebox loaded with Punjabi records.
Another visitor, who had lived in Birmingham since the 1960s, first moved to Britain from Kolkata in 1961. Upon arriving in Britain, he moved in with his brother, who owned the Lucknow Restaurant in London, located behind the famous Windmill Theatre. Many people also shared their experiences of eating curry (in both its Jamaican and Bengali forms) at home, be it home-cooked or from a takeaway. We were told that the cooking vessels and implements we had seen at the Koh-i-noor restaurant were very different from those used in Bengali homes, which are often ceramic rather than metal.
The 999 Day saw almost 500 people visit Soho House, and we were able to have conversations about the museum collection with over 25. It is very encouraging to see people excited about museum collections and about how they can contribute their personal stories to the city’s heritage.

Community Engagement on my Live Project

For my live project, I have been working with the Community Engagement Team at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Over the duration of the last 9 weeks, I have worked on various hands-on projects and consultations that are informed and are for the benefit of the public. Working towards wellbeing, accessibility and community exhibitions; the engagement team have enabled me to work with the community to achieve these aims and put Birmingham communities at the heart of all their decision-making.

The voluntary involvement in such meetings, consultations and research for BMT has similarly enabled me to inform my own research and get stuck into the museum environment. Networking with these community groups has been great to gain insight directly from Birmingham communities and audience segments. Working alongside those with disabilities to achieve accessibility in the museum has been a rewarding and successful job to be working on.





Aspects of each of the roles has meant that although I have worked on many projects rather than just one, I have gained a breadth of experience and understanding of how community engagement works. I have particularly loved the fact that I have been able to work on several things at once, to inform my own research and create an extensive list of research methodologies. I have found that a lot of the evaluative work I have been creating, similarly helps the museum- as staff time is limited and is an area BMT hope to improve on. Demonstrating my evaluative research means that I am working to BMT guidelines and informative sources that BMT hope to work to in the future. I feel that the knowledge obtained during my live project has most definitely directed my dissertation plans as well as career choice, as I have enjoyed that much.

BMT Income Generation.

Funding cuts from the local council over the last five years have made it more important for Birmingham Museums Trust (BMT) to generate income from other sources. The City Council still provides 44% of the Trust’s income as they own most of the buildings as well as the museum collection.

BMT currently generates income in four different ways; through fundraising, commercial activity, earnings and partnerships. All of this is incredibly led by a team of just five people, although the Trust stresses that fundraising is a responsibility for every staff member. Whatever role someone works within the Trust, everyone is required to spend time working one of the sites’ shops or Cafés.

BMT raises £45,000 every year through donations on-site, which is fairly impressive. The move from being an arm of the local authority to an independent educational charity has made local people more willing to donate money to Birmingham Museums as it is no longer assumed that the service is paid for through council tax.

BMT offers a range of options when it comes to donating money. Patronage schemes, like the ThinkTank’s ‘Spitfire Club’ is aimed at making people feel special and providing them with exclusive experiences, but at a low cost to the museum. Sponsors will often be given a certificate and priority viewing of an event they have donated to. Corporate organisations can also sponsor aspects of the museum. Although this does not bring in much money, it is good for both the company and the museum’s image. Corporate sponsorship is not given as much time by museum staff as donations and grants.

Retail is becoming an increasingly important part of museum income. The different museum shops aim to offer products representing their collections. These will often have an educational aim. These products come in a broad range of prices, but the Trust aims to prioritise ‘high quality’ and ‘distinctive’ products. BMT aims to achieve a 56% profit margin, which they reached in the last year.

Increasingly, BMT is developing custom-made products relating to parts of the collection distinctive to individual sites. For example, Sarehole Mill has recently stocked its own range of honey, which has sold very well. BMAG is in the process of offering a preserve linked to the ‘Silver and Gold’ painting on display in the gallery. The Museum of the Jewellery Quarter (MJQ) is planning to release a notebook with a clasp detail from the factory’s collection and the BMAG website offers a print-on-demand service for a range of posters, after an on-site printer proved unsuccessful.

It is exciting to see how each site develops distinctive products and brand identities which enable to visitor to feel like they are taking part of the collection home with them. Similarly, the rebranding of the Edwardian Tearooms and the upcoming MJQ Café helps reflect the heritage of the sites and enhance the visitor experience. More importantly, each site’s ability to develop an income helps sustain the Trust in the future and gives them greater financial independence.

Placements at BMAG, Week 2-3

IMG_3978anastasiaAs a part our MA Leadership and Innovation we undertook a placement at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Myself and my co-worker Luke are carrying out various tasks helping with Collecting Birmingham project. Currently, we are assigned to engagement, research and acquisition aspects of the project. Working closely with curators of the project, we follow them to the meetings with possible object donors, engagement events and consultations with specialists. 

Last week we participated in conversation with Muhammed Ali, one of the Collecting Birmingham donors and the organiser of Knights of the Raj exhibition, focusing on alternative narratives the project will record, document, preserve and promote the heritage of those restaurants. It will be the culmination of an HLF funded project run by Soul City Arts incorporating budget for the exhibition.

We discussed possible collaboration and donation of a number of objects rescued from Koh-i-noor restaurant that recently closed in Birmingham. Koh-i-noor was a great example of 1980s decor and interior, the golden years of the curry house. Most of these restaurants get closed or refurbished when passed on to the next generation of owners. The economical climate pushes young owners to modernise and change the restaurants’ images and therefore it is a rare find among the streets of Birmingham.

At the moment, I am writing an acquisition proposals for a booth previously used in  Koh-i-noor restaurant and some objects from Birmingham Central Mosque. This is a complex and interesting task that involves a deep research and understanding of the objects, as well as their roles in Collecting Birmingham project and overall BMT collection. 

This week we’ve had a cataloguing induction at MCC, where Rebecca Bridgman the Curator of Islamic and South Asian Arts, on the example of a set of Air Raid Precaution badges from WW2 introduced us to EMu cataloguing system. The next day, we’ve been left to develop our cataloguing skills on the objects from Freda Cock’s exhibition that just closed at MJQ. We were handling the objects and filling out a check list that later will be uploaded on to museum’s cataloguing database. It involved measuring, describing and researching the objects. It’s been a new museum practice and enabled a better understanding of accessioning process. 

And here is a picture of Luke being excited to open a box of stuff. 

An Architect’s Dream

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During the second term as part of my MA IN Innovation and Leadership in Museum Practice I will be working on a live project for twelve weeks in one of the nine museums sites that exist across Birmingham. I am working with the conservation team on the fine art collection at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

So far, working on the project I have found to be challenging but enjoyable. I have been looking at the fine art collection of Birmingham Museums Trust, as well meeting staff at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. One of the project’s challenges is to match the description in the database to the object in the store, as well remembering the basic maths of the measuring units.

Part of the project involves learning about the technologies that Birmingham Museums Trust uses to monitor the environment and the measurements of lux (light). We will also be updating the information on the collection by measuring the frames. My activities also involve making a note of any damaged frames, measuring objects and adding labels next to objects. At end of this process we will be working out the percentage of how much space that the collection is currently occupying. I will produce an evaluation report which includes proposals to improve long-term storage facilities for the collection Working on the live projects gives us the opportunity to work alongside the staff at the museums whist developing new skills for our future careers.

21st Century Life



It is best to move with the times then getting left behind, then sometimes when life feels so comfortable it seems that everything is handed over, like a silver platter. When something unexpected happens, it can be a shock to the system. There are different behaviour responses when a sudden change occurs; we can be fearful or learn to adapt and could to better opportunities or change earlier and appreciate the changes.

Before the practical session, we all to read a book called, ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ By Spencer Johnson. The book is about four characters; Sniff, Scurry, Hem and Haw; and how they response to sudden of change when the ‘Cheese’ is moved or gone. The reading reflections on the changes of a business, an individual or a group of people. On a side note, I would recommend reading this book it is very interesting and when reading the text there are different viewpoints that can be reflected about yourself or different organisations.

In the practical session, we learned about the organisational and cultural change of Birmingham Museum Trust; when it was formed and the changes when two different organisations merged, this including a redesign of the organisational culture and the different responses of the changes that happen after the merged. In a reference to the reading. Also during the session, we looked at the vision of Birmingham Museums Trust and the five strategic aims, how they incorporate with Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s collection, displays and to engage with the public; including to come up different plans for possible scenarios that could affect the museums future.

In the last past years, there has be a big shift of how the museums and galleries how they are running them, that can be the changes of culture or politics. Sometimes the changes of an organisation for example a merging two different museums, could happen and it could turnout for the best.



Lookin’ Through the Windows

A BBC Inside Out piece which aired last night featured the School of Art and the Archives. The package was about stained glass window artist Margaret Rope who studied with us at the turn of the 20th Century. The piece focuses on her life as a whole and includes filming at the School of Art as well as in the Archives, and has some really nice shots of our buildings.


The whole package starts around 18:10 into this and ends at around 28:18, and the School of Art/BCU specific segments run from around 20:30 until 23:01.

PARKLIFE All the people… So many people…

One of the most brilliant and effective aspects of Thinktank is the Science Garden. It was the only one of its kind in the UK at time of planning, providing a place for children to get hands on with their learning. It not only represents one more fantastic interactive space for visitors of the museum, but it also functions as a community space. It is immensely popular and attracted 16,000 additional visitors to the museum in the first year of its opening – a real success story!
It is set within the city’s Eastside Park, and has really become an integral part of the landscape. The museum lets the public in to use this space for free after 3pm– another way in which it is endeavouring to be as accessible as possible to local people, and audiences who wouldn’t necessarily usually be able to visit the museum. We were told that this garden can have up to 200 people enjoying the space on a really busy day! This is just one of the many ways in which Thinktank tries to care for and give back to the local community. I thought it was a really great example of the application of the principles of public engagement and public benefit, as set out in the MA’s Code of Ethics. In reaching out to new and diverse audiences, it also fits seamlessly within the mission set out by the Birmingham Museums Trust.
Other schemes the museum has started to this end includes their yearly open days, which give local residents a voucher to enter the museum and 50% off a yearly family pass. They also operate an extensive schools outreach programme.

The Times They Are A’Changin’ Friday 23rd September- Museum of the Jewellery Quarter

The Museum of the Jewellery Quarter is a perfectly preserved time capsule providing a snapshot of working life in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter and of it’s metal working heritage. Birmingham City Council acquired the site after the company, Smith and Pepper, ceased trading in 1981. When Smith and Pepper closed its doors, they simply down tooled and locked the doors, unaware they would be leaving a time capsule for future generations. The main focus of this museum is the guided tours, which they won the award for Best Told Story in the 2015 VAQAs assessment. Guided tours work best for a museum of this nature as they are able to tell a story in a much more narrative way as opposed to being behind glass panels with text. Also on a practical level, it helps to control visitor safety. It is too dangerous to have visitors wondering around free flow as there is dangerous machinery and lots of pieces on display within reaching distance that can’t be touched for conservation reasons. The anecdotal stories from the tour guides make each tour individual, conversational, informal and interactive. One of the team’s volunteer tour guides used to work in the office and was able to pass on personal recollections. The photograph shows a workbench in the factory- you can see how quite literally the workers down tooled with tools and scraps of metal left on the bench. The tour guide shared an anecdotal story about the shelf in the middle of the workbench which was installed by the workers because the two workers opposite fell out and didn’t want to see each other. Small stories like this made the tour much more personal and engaging.Gemma.