Familiar patterns



IMG_5707The final weeks of my live project have involved writing a report recommending how BMT are able to improve their storage. My main conclusion is that there is opportunity to condense works which are currently stored within picture store 1, as a short term solution. It was originally thought that the stores are at full capacity, however the audit has shown that there is 35% rack space not currently being used. The report has identified that there is potential rack space which can be maximised through reorganising the objects in store. I have proposed that a rack plan system can be used to achieve this. By arranging works in similar sizes it means that objects will be able to fit in suitable available gaps, therefore minimising wasted space. Using museum standard paperwork, MoMP (Management of Museum Projects) I have developed a project proposal to plan how these recommendations can be put into action. This required proposing a budget, team structure, time line, risk, project aims and targets, as well as also thinking how this will impact BMT’s future developments in line with the overarching strategic aims.

I also attended the private view of the new exhibition, I Want, I want! which is part of the Arts Council Partner exhibitions. The exhibition is a temporary contemporary art exhibition exploring the relationship between art and technology- a theme which I have explored in my own practice as a fine artist. Works featured in this exhibition are drawn from the Arts Council Collection, public and private collections, along with Birmingham’s own permanent collection. It was great to see some of the objects I recognised from the store during the audit project out on display. For example, one of the works I recognised was Fiona Rae, Dark Star, which was previously in Picture Store 2. This work was acquired in 2001 by the Contemporary Art Society Special Collection Scheme, which worked to develop Birmingham’s collection of contemporary art painting.

I have enjoyed my time working in the collections department, alongside the conservation team. I have gained a real insight into how museum collection and storage function. I will use this knowledge to shape the rest of my research throughout the final term of my MA course, and I am sure that these professional skills will be invaluable.

Time Files

For about twelve weeks my co-worker and myself have been working the Picture Stores Review at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG). The project involves working alongside the staff of Birmingham Museums Trust to learn about documentation of the collection, object handling, collections conservation and to develop an understanding of how the picture stores are run.
During the twelve weeks, I have been auditing the picture stores at the museums and updating data on the computer systems, KE Emu and as well as compiling a report that recommends improvements on one of the stores. Whilst writing my report I have learned that to an extent, all the Picture Stores at BMAG are used as transit stores for paintings awaiting packing or unpacking when they are moved in or out of the museum on loan. It is important to have sufficient storage space to allow artworks that have arrived to slowly acclimatise to the environmental conditions at the museum for at least 24 hours before being unpacked.

This week I have been writing up my report which recommends alternative storage space for long term and short term solutions and includes designating the environmental conditions within the picture store. The ideal temperature range for storing objects is 16 – 24 degrees Celsius. The Relative Humidity (RH) for storing objects is an average of 55% in humidity. I will also be investigating the cost of packaging for moving objects.
Working alongside different staff members to learn how the museum runs from behind the scenes to the front of house is a wonderful opportunity and part of the course.

I have learned so much about the fine art collection within BMAG observing how the museum runs its stores. The lectures at the University run alongside the live projects that we the students work on

The lectures, throughout second the term, are an extension and a recap of what we learned in term one, this week’s lecture was about Marketing and Communication. We learned the importance of creating different identities for the nine that make up Birmingham Museums Trust and the different types of marketing materials Birmingham Museums Trust uses to communicate and connect to diverse audiences across the city of Birmingham. Overall this work experience has been very enjoyable and I am sure what I have learnt from this experience will help me with possible future career choices.
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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.

Me At the Museum, (You in the Winter Gardens)

(BMT placement, Week 1 (12-13/1/2017)

A new term has begun, and everyone on the ILMP course has begun a three-month placement with Birmingham Museums Trust. I’m working alongside my colleague Anastasia (who prefers the term ‘co-worker’) fulfilling different roles within BMT’s Collecting Birmingham project, collecting objects for the museum representing everyday life in the Birmingham wards of Nechells, Soho, Ladywood, Lozells and Aston.

Whilst Anastasia is focusing on the project’s objects and the process of acquiring and curating them (which I’m sure there will be ample opportunity to read about later), I have been paired with Charlotte Holmes, BMT’s Community Engagement Officer. My role focuses on community consultation, with the aim of understanding how objects relate to people’s individual stories, and how these stories can be recorded and presented by the project.

Our first week has taken us into the bowels of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery building, where we share cosy, labyrinthine office space with the museum’s varied and friendly curatorial staff. We have visited both of the existing Collecting Birmingham exhibition spaces at Soho House and the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, which tell stories of migration and working life respectively.

We also had the tremendous privilege of paying a visit to the famed Mr. Chishti, an elder at Birmingham Central Mosque who we had heard of earlier in the course in relation to the advice he offered curators during the development of the Faith in Birmingham gallery. At the time it was built, the mosque, located in Highgate, was the largest purpose-built building of its kind in Europe. They have recently taken the decision to replace the original speakers which have been installed in the prayer room since the mosque’s founding in 1975. Birmingham Central Mosque is also significant in that it was the first British mosque to obtain permission to broadcast the call to prayer, in 1986.

Mr Chishti gave us a tour of the building and referred to many interesting stories and important local people connected to the mosque. The same imam has taught at Highgate since 1975, and at least one member of the community has consistently performed the call to prayer over the same time. Mr Chishti himself has also headed up the Birmingham-based Pakistani Sports Association for a number of years, and showed us a poster from a Kabbadi Tournament he organised at Alexander Stadium in 1990. Ben Corcoran, a conservator at BMT, measured the speakers and other objects Mr Chishti had offered the museum, and I was given the task of individually photographing them. This enables the team to fill out an official, more detailed acquisition statement at a later stage.

Later, at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Anastasia, Charlotte and I conducted interviews with museum visitors in an attempt to gauge the effectiveness of the Collecting Birmingham exhibition at the site. Questions included whether the stories had proved informative, and whether visitors felt inspired to share their stories and the objects related to them with the museum.

All in all, it has been a very exciting week, and with a new exhibition on popular protest in the works and the need to record new stories and meet new audiences in order to deliver this, the next couple of months should prove fascinating.

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.