In a modern world filled with seemingly unlimited technology, available to all of us; is there really a place for kids activities based solely on pritt stick, scissors, colouring in and a splash of creativity? In the current climate of budget cuts and increased competition for the attention of our younger audiences, is there really any hope for local authority museums with little to no budget and an expectant audience.
Once again my bank holiday weekend was spent in one such museum in Ilkeston. As is the norm, money is sparse. However imagination and enthusiasm are in abundance. The craft room is full of kids from 2 to 82 engaging in activities such as creating Easter baskets, masks and more. Visitor numbers climb dramatically during this period and ‘the Hayloft’ has gained quite the reputation amongst the kids in town
This is far from an isolated occurrence and all over the country museum staff are proving that in a world of I Pads and X Boxes there is still a place for the simple pleasures of craft activities.
A few months ago the Culture Syndicate undertook a project at the awards winning Nottingham Industrial Museum at Wollaton Hall. Charged with increasing visitor flow in an underperforming gallery, we trialled kids’ activities using the themes present in the gallery. Not only did dwell time increase but numbers (especially young families) increased exponentially.
The budget for the activities was less than £10. As the activities grow so too will expense, but sites tend to notice an increase in donations from families feeling the museum has attempted to engage not only the adults but also their children.
In our recession affected times museums offering free or affordable activities are not only increasing attendance figures necessary for short term survival, but are highlighting the fun, intrigue and provenance of museums to the next generation, and that surely is vital to the long term stability of our museums.
Having decided to redesign the website for the Culture Syndicates each of us decided to focus on areas of the website and its content which needed an overhaul. For those of you familiar with the website that meant scrutinising every section with wholesale changes required.
This led to discussions of what we wanted to keep, what we wanted to change and of course the obligatory mission statement. These discussions, in regards to the mission statement and what images were to be used, sparked a lively and passionate debate. In doing so memories of visitor survey work outside Greens Mill Windmill in the heart of winter; the evaluation of Nottinghamshire County Council’s collection stores; and judging museums for the Nottinghamshire Heritage Awards, all came flooding back.
Alongside it thoughts and reasons for first wanting to join the sector were discussed. Foolhardy dreams such as becoming Curator of the Louvre by our 30th birthday; the excitement of unearthing the provenance of previously mundane objects and the thrill of caring for or displaying an object alongside its story led us to believe that this was to be a career worth pursuing.
However with jobs, QANGOS and the hopes of an entire generation of graduates going the way of the DCMS we like many were wondering would that dream job ever come along? This led to a review of interview ‘war stories’ and a look back at a truly remarkable year with the Culture Syndicates. What was to be a vehicle to help land that first job has now become an incredible opportunity in its own right. The Culture Syndicates has enabled us to engage in so many different facets within the sector that within a year a CV, previously limited to volunteer experience, is now growing into an enhanced CV of interest to many within the sector.
Although jobs remain scarce opportunities continue to present themselves. With further projects and increased membership for the Culture Syndicates 2013 will be a truly exciting time.
One of the first projects Culture Syndicates undertook was to experiment with QR codes as part of a wider digital initiative undertaken by the Galleries of Justice Museum. This was funded by the Digital Ambassador Network. The project is just coming to an end now and the results will be shared in due course. However, the project commenced with a pre-evaluation survey in the autumn of 2011. We looked to target a younger age group for the survey and successfully got 81% of respondents that were aged between 18 and 30.
Could QR codes be a way to attract this great lost audience to museums?
What did Culture Syndicates find out?
- 88% of the target audience knew what QR codes were.
- The most knowledgeable being in the 22-25 age range.
- Most lack the confidence to use them without assistance (76%). Therefore at this stage of development any interpretation needs clear explanation.
- The anecdotal evidence from respondents suggested a mix of content which should be different from the museum website offerings.
So we quickly got an indication that it was very early in the world of QR code use, but we had some guidance to set about piloting the codes in one of the Galleries of Justice Museum exhibitions.
Next – what is the best content for QR codes?
The museum world was in upheaval in 2010. The public sector funding landscape was changing quickly and dramatically, and not for the better. Concerns over the need to charge or even closure became hot topics of discussion between museum professionals. How to make the most limited resources?
In a feedback session that same year between students and staff at Nottingham Trent University’s MA in Museum and Heritage Management, the students expressed their concern over the job market and their ability to use their new skills and develop their chosen career. They felt they needed more guidance on how to operate as a self-employed professional rather than to expect to walk into a secure position. I recognised that there was a severe danger of a whole generation of graduates being lost to the sector as the opportunities for employment dried up.
Being a professional practitioner and university lecturer I knew something needed to be done to support both the sector and the students. Thus the germ of an idea was born that has culminated in the creation of Culture Syndicates.
The name has shamelessly taken its inspiration from an initiative by the Chief Executive of the Egalitarian Trust, Tim Desmond. He was working on his ‘Education Syndicates’ idea, whereby structured education is delivered across a number of sites thus creating economies of scale and consistent quality. It had the genius of being such a simple yet achievable idea. He was very supportive of my idea of graduate support for the sector as he viewed it as a more general syndicate.
My idea is just as simple, an annually refreshing cohort of professionally trained postgraduates ready and able to support project work in museums and heritage sites. The only proviso is that there must be some payment, however small, so it can show on their CVs as paid work – not voluntary work. I could use my network of contacts to find the work. Thus the graduates are kept in the sector, given more chance of permanent employment, and at the same time helping cash strapped heritage organisations to undertake sustainable projects.
I had no idea whether it would work, but I thought I would give it a go. This blog will be a record of this initiative. I hope to get professionals and graduates contributing to the blog as we will all be learning as we go. I hope we can establish a halfway house into the sector for the generations to come. What is the worst that can happen? The graduates go back to voluntary work