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.



Be Our Guest

Today we looked at events planning in line with the aims and expectations of BMT. For the exercise the group had to come up with an event to be held at Aston Hall, which would appeal to two of the audience groups set out in the Arts Audiences: Insights guidebook. For this exercise, we chose the groups Fun, Friends and Fashion, and Time Poor Dreamers.

The first step was to come up with an idea for an event that would appeal to both groups. ideas we thought suitable included food festival and gin festival. We decided to go with a historic themed food festival, as we thought it would prove popular with both groups and we could tie it in to the history of the house. We also thought it might be possible to tie in popular trends, such as the Great British Bake off or a period drama, which both groups would find appealing.

The next step was to think of how we would run our event. Would it be indoors or outdoors? What things would the day involve? We decided the event would be held with outdoor food stalls which would be free, and an indoor kitchen demonstration which would be charged entry. The day would include food tasting and a gin tavern, and the food would span from the 17th to the 19th century. The event would take place in July to coincide with the school holidays, and would be a one day event held from 11-4 (the hall’s normal opening times). We hoped this would attract families looking for a day out. For children, there would be a Horrible Histories style stall featuring disgusting foods from the period, inviting them to take part and taste the foods.

Thirdly, we had to think of a name for our event. We came up with A Taste of History: 200 Years of Food.

Finally, we went through ideas of how the event could be marketed. Online, through the museums websites and social media websites Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We also thought we could utilise outdoor advertising such as on buses or trains. There were also food magazines, supermarkets, local papers, the radio. We also thought the event could be advertised at Digbeth Dining Club, to attract those with a specific interest in local food events.

Things we did not consider for this event were the cost and logistical difficulties in hosting an outdoor food even at an historic house. There would be a massive cost in preparing food for consumption by visitors, ensuring all members of staff were safe and qualified to do so. We were also told that historically food related events do not attract many people, and as this would not be a ticketed event it would not be viable to go forward at Aston Hall. There was also the question of history – the event did not tie in too well with the history of the hall.










TASK: Event proposal


We have identified the audience segments of Fun, Fashion and Friends and Time Poor Dreamers. Both are interested in more fun or entertainment based activities rather than educational.

This Victorian themed party experience will coincide with the anniversary and menu of Queen Victoria’s visit to Aston Hall in 1845. This fulfils the historical link of the event to the location, and will utilise the collections. It will also tie in with the recent ITV1 costume drama The Young Victoria, which was a success – we therefore think that the Victorian theme will attract many more visitors than it usually would. The audience will be adults but not families. Guests will be encouraged to dress in costume.

This will be a ticketed event. Visitors must book online or by phone, in advance. The event will take place over a weekend: Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. The event will start at 6pm and go on until 10 pm. The event will take place in May. The price of regular entry will be £15.00.

Guests to the party will have the option to buy dinner for an extra cost. A ticket with dinner will cost £35.00. Dinner will involve a three-course meal and will correspond (as far as possible) to the actual menu of Victoria’s visit.

There will be entertainment provided – a string quartet will play in the house. There is potential to involve the conservatoire. There will be a best costume prize for those who choose to come in fancy dress. There will be the opportunity to watch and learn a Victorian dance. There will be a bar at which alcoholic beverages can be purchased, for an additional cost. the gardens could also be opened to the party guests to increase the capacity of the event. Victorian garden party games could be held outside.

The house will be open for visitors to explore but there will be enablers stationed around dressed in costume to give more information on the house, the collections, and the historical context of the night.


How to advertise?

  • BMT sites
  • BMT Websites and social media.
  • Outdoor advertising in city centre
  • Local newspaper

These forms of advertising are most likely to reach our chosen audience. Both Time poor Dreamers and Fun, Fashion and Friends use the internet daily. Magazines and newspapers are very important for Time Poor Dreamers. Outdoor advertising will reach both groups during their daily commute.

Read all about it

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.

Before I discovered the miracles of science, magic ruled the world –

image1 image2gemmaWilliam Kamkwamba


Changing Materials Workshop at Thinktank.

Today we entered a science lab at the Thinktank and discovered a world of changing materials and substances with a class of KS2 children from a local school.
The school class were fully kitted out in lab coats, in a real lab environment and using exciting science equipment they are likely to have not used before at primary school level- they sure were excited! The students were interacting with science equipment that you can mostly get to use in high school; (cylinders and beakers). Although a classroom environment, the experience of being in a different setting with an ‘expert’ is likely to have made the session more interesting.
The session featured both hands on experiments for the students, and demonstrations from the learning officer of higher difficulty, all exploring the science around solids/liquids/gases. The demonstration from the learning officer which involved melting a solid metal into a liquid by using the heat of boiling water got responses from the students “woah thats MAGIC” to which the learning officer replied “it’s not magic, it’s science!”. The wow factor from the experiments is something BMT aims to achieve to catch the attention and engagement of the students.
The session also caught their attention by using relatable materials which kids this age enjoy- things like lego, bubbles, and slime. This makes the session age appropriate.
The students had the opportunity to demonstrate skills such as following instructions and accurately measuring their ingredients. Their knowledge was also tested through regular questions and answers with the learning officer. Debate was also bought up by questioning the students whether toothpaste was a solid or liquid?
Through observing the workshop we were able to clearly see how the students enjoyed the interactive element of the session and felt involved with the experiments.

Sitting in this workshop was quite pleasant, to see the education programmer at hand. In Thinktank, the teacher who was teaching the class was not just there to explain the materials to the group, but also letting the children interact with the materials. They seem to be having fun and learning at the same time.
It’s just not ThinkTank that offers these education programmes; all the Museums in Birmingham have an education programme that offers a wide range of on-site taught workshops, to engage and inspire young children in the world of museums, galleries and libraries. More museums around the UK are starting to have education leaning that is offered to school outside the class room, where the schools can learn and take the experience back to the class room.

Laser Gun

M83’s song ‘Laser Gun’ features the bridge “got it all / got everything / got all I need”. The modern conservator has to instead battle to preserve a collection for indefinitely long periods of time with slashed funding and minimal resources, much like building sandcastles against an oncoming tide. But they do have laser guns.
As impressive as a tour around Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s subterranean conservation studios is, it is important to remember that this is one of just two conservation spaces in a West Midlands region boasting around 200 museums. In order to complete the work they do, the conservation team’s reduced workforce is very reliant on volunteers who give their time to help clean objects or polish silverware.
To add some power to the great responsibility they bear, the conservationists do have some pretty impressive technology to assist them with analysis as well as interventive and preventive conservation. The studio’s various microscopes outnumber the people who work there, and a microwave-sized XRF machine in the corner uses radiation to discern what objects are made of. In another room, a larger digital X-Ray cabinet records the insides of taxidermy onto reusable plates. It is also leased out for private work completed by archaeological trusts. An FTIR gun completes a similar job to the XRF machine but uses infrared light instead of microwaves and can be fire at paintings and textiles to analyse different pigments. The Laser Gun is not an analytical tool but is used to clean the surface of certain objects.
As well as wielding these powerful weapons of science, the conservator also has to make very difficult ethical decisions as part of their everyday job. This could concern whether it is right to change the substance an object is made of in order to extend its lifetime. Conservators are also expected to grapple with the riddle of Theseus’ Ship, a paradox which asks how many component pieces must be replaced before an object can be considered to have fundamentally changed.
On top of all of this, conservationists are also taking their expertise into public-facing areas of the museum, enriching the visitor experience by demonstrating different techniques in public workshops. Birmingham Museum has recently run these kind of projects centred on their collection of mummies and the Staffordshire Hoard.
On top of all of this the conservationist has to weather inevitable indignation and outrage when they make decisions like adding a handle to a pot, or changing the colour of an object so that it doesn’t rust away completely. It can’t be an easy job. But they do have Laser Guns.
https://youtu.be/Ju3K1dJjZ3Mimg_1615 img_1614 img_1593 img_1591luke

Magical Mystery Tour

bethgemmae0d41680-b09f-48ab-98ec-f8f9f5217c02 3a66ec77-9979-4638-9043-27f2d4deb321 a27032d3-1ee9-4bf6-8567-a9086258d407 72b1fbc4-4f1e-4c5b-a05b-e7065aa13f85 5064c5e6-3214-40a4-8c32-3706c4436e1bCollections management.

We studied how the collections are managed and saw this in practice at the Museums Collections Centre.  Lucy Blakeman, the collections team leader, gave us a tour of the stores.

The warehouse is open to the public- a way of using the unseen collections in an innovative way- through open days. These are quite regular, happening the last Friday of every month. Because of this, even in the collections store there are still some interpretive text panels for the public to see, although it is not a formally curated space. The objects in the store are mixed for a sense of discovery, making the collections more exciting for the public. As opposed to having all items categorised which feels more like a shopping experience. The Museums Collection Centre also keep up a presence on social media, through Facebook and twitter. On here the public are able to gain a further insight into the goings on at the centre. We feel this is also quite an innovative idea- as collections centres are typically not available to the public in this way.

Seeing the size and scale of the store puts into perspective the importance of documentation/management of the collections. The collection is huge with around 800,000 objects. Birmingham Museums Trust handle this with the KE Emu system as an online database which records all information about the collections. This system abides to the museum standards of Spectrum, and goes beyond these towards the BMT Ideal standards which aims to record 30 different criteria for each object, ranging from object number and name to condition and material and narrative or themes.

The collections centre are aiming for a new store within the next 5 years as the conditions in the store aren’t ideal. Being in a warehouse environment, the store was not built to specific needs, therefore the shell of the building is not well insulated and is difficult to control temperature and humidity.

Beth and Gemma

‘Now’s the time to find out why, I think you’re the same as me….’ Cataloging and identification

Cataloging activity

We were presented with 10 similar pots and given three different descriptions of a particular pot. The task was to see if we could identify the right pot from the descriptions:

Subjective: We found that the subjective description was the least useful, it was very vague! Specialist: The specialist description included information which we thought to be too expert. Because we didn’t know what a middle period Nasca vessel looked like, this description was of no help to us. However it could be useful if we had access to the book which would help identify the object successfully. For this reason, it is more useful than the first description. But doing this would often be too time-consuming and would be more useful for preparing research for the object rather than identifying it. Descriptive: We found the descriptive text to be much more detailed and therefore of an accurate description. We all managed to identify the right vase from this description so therefore it demonstrates it was the most useful technique! Information such as colour, shape and particular features such as ‘foxes’ helped us distinguish the vase from others. We suggested this description could be improved by including the size and measurements but then discussed how the measurements would be noted.

We learnt that the descriptive approach to cataloging is the most useful because it is a fast and precise method; it is not always specialists who are moving the objects so it is important that the cataloging method is useful to as many staff as possible.

Finally we discussed how these lines of texts may be useful for other reasons, and also how they would function interpretive text panels in the museum alongside the object. Subjective, although very vague and subjective, could be interesting for a curator. The information ‘visitors to the museum really like this object’ might mean that they are more likely to include that object in an exhibition over other objects. Specialist, although too expert, would be useful for research. The fact it has a reference to time period and in particular a book would be useful for finding more information about the object. We thought this would not be useful as an interpretive text panel as it is too specialist and dry for visitors. Descriptive, although useful for cataloging and identifying, would not be used as interpretive text. We discussed that it is too descriptive and states the obvious for visitors; viewers will be able to see from looking at the object that it has a red base and orange interior and do not need to be told this. They are not learning anything from the text. Also Adam discussed that there is often a word limit to the interpretive text panels and this would be seen as wasting valuable characters. Therefore, none of the texts would be thrown away as they are all useful in their own different ways.

Identification activity: Insects, led by Luanne Meehitiya

Utilising resources given to us by Luanne, in two groups we had to take a methodical approach to identifying various species of moths. Even with no expertise in this area, by using appropriate guides, we had to identify each of the species by its physical characteristics and comparison to the guide provided. Both groups managed to complete the task successfully, noting the differences in sizes despite being within the same species, as well as differences between the sex of the species.

Luanne went onto to discuss with the group how the Hawk moth is preserved and that the particular collection we were looking at were over 100 years old. The process and continuing challenges faced when trying preserve the insects gave us a fascinating insight also into the preservation of BMT’s collections. For example, how the pins had to not contain copper, as one had started to disintegrate one of the moths, turning part of the moth green and needed to be changed. An issue with the collection being so old, meant that attempting to compare their colours was difficult as over time they’ve discoloured and faded.

Once we had completed the exercise, Luanne revealed the categorised labels underneath each of the aligned species of Hawk moth. Similarly, underneath each of the moths there were tiny labels, that may have not been noticed until it was pointed out; where each moth is individually labelled with their collectors’ information, as well as where and when they had been collected. These small labels are vital for the collections team in determining each exact specie as well as its history and background.

The task clearly demonstrated the ways in which people, not particularly with an expertise in collections, could go about identifying objects within a collection. The activity was interesting, with a beautiful collection giving us all an opportunity to partake in an interesting comparative situation. We particularly loved having the opportunity to look at the Hawk moths in closer detail than you would normally get the chance to have in a museum- taking time to identify its characteristics and differences to just the Hawk moth species of insect.

 Museum collection stores:

This week we also went into the stores at the MCC. It was fascinating to see how objects are stored and organised by the museum.  It was also highlighted to us the difficulty in categorising the storage of the objects, and how the purpose of the stores can change depending on who is using them. As the museum stores are often open for public tours, some of the cages are organised to be more visually appealing. This can make it difficult to find objects for those using the stores for academic or research purposes.

We also looked at this mummified animal, which demonstrates the importance of technological research in museums. This object was thought to be a mummified hawk, but after being x-rayed at the University of Manchester, it was discovered that the remains inside are that of a monkey. This was of great significance not only to the museum and its visitors, but also to the wider Egyptological community. It will now be used in researching the practice of mummifying animals. Without technological research it would have been impossible to know this without opening the mummy up.


Gemma Ford, Amelia Rochelle-Bates, and Elizabeth Parkes

Edge of 17

The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) is an imposing structure. The architecture itself is a good representation of the issues the museum faces in its attempts to appeal to and represent a modern, diverse and changing city.

Architecture and the use of space is currently at the forefront of BMAG’s vision for change. Built in 1885, the Grade II listed building presents serious issues in terms of accessibility. Those unable to walk have to use a lift in a side-street rather than enter through the front door. Inside, the art gallery section of the building has gone largely unaltered since the Victorian era. A Heritage Lottery funded project intends to completely reshape the interior of the building, enabling a more varied range of exhibits in two and three dimensions, as well as digital format. It is hoped that this will result in a less intimidating environment, with more layered exhibits focused on key themes, and an emphasis on storytelling.

This issue of accessibility runs deeper than simply the physical building. Along with vaulted ceilings and marble pillars, the Victorians installed an Imperial, colonialist vision of what a museum should be, resulting in not only impressive classical architecture, but a collection shaped by the myths of the British Empire.

Over 130 years later, the Imperial project has failed and Birmingham is a diverse and modern city consisting in large parts of the descendants of people colonised by Britain, who no longer believe the myths fashionable at the time BMAG was built. The result is a no doubt impressive museum building that strikes a discordant note with the city to which is belongs and intends to educate and represent. The art gallery is pleasant but incredibly dry, featuring biblical scenes, European landscapes and portraits of white people. Similarly, the gallery of ‘world cultures’ is filled with the trinkets and trophies of antiquaries and missionaries from the 18th and 19th Centuries. One of the placards genuinely recommended Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as further reading on the history of the Congo Free State.

The blame for this cannot be laid at the feet of an ambitious, driven, incredibly passionate and ultimately reduced staff doing the best they can with the limited resources available. There are reasons to be excited about BMAG. The 2012 History of Birmingham exhibit is bright, engaging and attractive to a range of ages and backgrounds. The new room on Faith in Birmingham has done well to involve lots of different community leaders in a project which is again bright and colourful as well as being incredibly reverent. The curators’ attempt to involve religious communities in returning many of the exhibited items to their religious context is an excellent idea, and the project has been recognised with a volunteer award because of the community involvement it inspired.

Most of the pre-20th Century art and history looks well-established and comfortable in BMAG, which is to be expected given that they are the kind of works the museum was built to house. Apart from the two examples above, most of the exhibits representing themes outside the Victorian Imperial sphere, such as the black history month exhibition, look out of place or temporary (usually because they are). Apparently Handsworth DJ Wassifa once played a reggae set in the famous Industrial Hall. This is exactly the sort of unexpected reclaiming of a stuffy old space that I think would make BMAG incredibly appealing, so it was a disappointment to learn that Wassifa only played to a conference rather than to a public audience.

BMAG’s vision for the future looks promising in freeing it from the weight of its Imperial beginnings. The desire to secure some of Barbara Walker’s work is an excellent example of this, as the gallery seeks to be more representative of local artists. Walker’s work 17 (goo.gl/0zYFYH) intentionally pokes fun at the white, sterile Ladybird books of the 1950s and aims to reclaim these to represent the history of the Caribbean community to which she belongs. This painting does well to sum up the process required to adapt BMAG to serve the young, super-diverse, post-colonial city that is 21st Century Birmingham.

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.