The British Museum works in partnership with more than 250 cultural organisations based all over the UK as part of its National Programmes scheme. We collaborate with partners to share collections through touring exhibitions and loans. Because of this, more than 10.5 million people had the chance to see objects from our collection outside of London. National Programmes also share training and skills development for sector professionals through our Knowledge Share Programme, for the public through the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and for young people through our Youth Collective and our paid traineeships.
The Museum Futures programme will provide year-long paid training placements for 27 young people (primarily 18–24 year olds) at over 21 partner organisations and at the British Museum. Through on-the-job training in digital skills related to museum collections, we aim to equip trainees with the necessary knowledge and experience to pursue a career in museums, or in the wider cultural sector. Trainees are recruited locally by each host partner, and digital projects vary from photography and 3D scanning of objects to online engagement through social media to data management and preservation. All roles are aimed at new entrants to the sector, and we encourage applicants without undergraduate degrees and with little or no museum experience to apply.
The image above shows the nine current Museum Futures trainees at the start of their placements in January 2020. Of course, no one expected that by the end of March, they would all be forced to work from home because of a global pandemic.
In this post, each trainee has shared some insights into the work that they and their museums have been doing to engage audiences and preserve collections online while museums are physically closed.
Roisin Daly, Trainee at Bristol Culture and South West Museum Development
At Bristol Culture and South West Museum Development, we have a multidisciplinary collection across five venues including the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery and M Shed, with around 1.75 million objects and over a million visitors per year. Bristol Culture has worked in partnership with the British Museum through the Portable Antiquities Scheme, was the lead partner for the hugely popular joint touring exhibition Roman Empire, and have hosted numerous other British Museum touring exhibitions.
During the closure period we have had to re-assess our digital engagement strategy to cater to our online audience, inviting our digital visitors to delve into Bristol’s stories, go behind the scenes with our blog and explore our collections and exhibitions from home.
Part of my work has been creating reports from the Collections Management System to be used for various projects, including the online publication of the British Empire and Commonwealth Collection and Archives Online. Another part of my role in the digital team is to promote digital engagement.
During lockdown Bristol Culture has been responding to emerging events in Bristol’s social history, including COVID-19 lockdown and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, through being active on social media and by sharing stories relating to museum collections. I have been coordinating the content contributed by Bristol’s communities, to develop an interactive timeline to display important events in Bristol’s history using open source technology.
To delve into Bristol’s stories please visit our website.
Alexis Milinkovic, Trainee at Birmingham Museums Trust
The main site I work from is the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery – officially founded in 1885, with origins going back to 1829. BMT (Birmingham Museums Trust) is the largest independent museums charitable trust in the United Kingdom, comprising of nine museums and historic sites. BMT and the British Museum have long worked together, and one example being the Faith in Birmingham gallery, which was developed in partnership.
BMT has continued sharing content to entertain and educate people stuck indoors. The digital team has made the most of social media to share stories and images from the Digital Asset Management website. Before lockdown, my main project was to digitise our collection of Pre-Raphaelite artworks, including private sketchbooks of Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and I felt incredibly privileged to share access to this collection. DAM’s website enables access to high-quality, out of copyright images, free of charge. Given that people can’t currently visit the museums, it is a great way to share and experience the collection.
Another project I am involved in is artist research alongside volunteers. Working with volunteers from different backgrounds and ages is a joy and reminds me why museums are such important places.
BMT has acknowledged that this pandemic is a matter of extreme importance, on a local and global level. The community shop at Sarehole Mill has remained open throughout, converting from gift shop to food shop. This was so helpful, especially at the start of the lockdown period when panic buying led to shortages in many large supermarkets.
We have also launched the project Life on Lockdown in order to capture, share and preserve just how our communities dealt with and came together in this unique moment of history.
Please check out the album of photos and videos submitted by the public on Flickr.
You can also experience Birmimgham Museum and Art Gallery at home on a virtual tour.
Caroline Ingram, Trainee at Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum
Situated in the heart of Lisburn, Northern Ireland, Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum is surrounded by a rich industrial heritage founded on the linen trade. The museum works with the community to celebrate local heritage, make personal connections, and create immersive experiences. Visitors can try their hand at weaving and spinning linen, and chat to our expert weavers and see them operate traditional Jacquard looms.
After closing to the public, the team immediately went into action, launching the Virtual Museum to offer online resources, exhibitions, and activities for all ages. I have produced lots of content for the Virtual Museum, including an online tutorial for Augmented Reality, showing how to use a smartphone to bring 3D models from the Museum’s collections into your own home.
The museum has also launched a contemporary collecting project, COVID-19 and Me, asking the public to share their stories on how they are adapting to ‘life under lockdown’. The response to this has been great and we hope it has brought the community closer to the museum during this time. Our curators have been collecting items in response, including face masks, art, newspapers, NHS badges, photographs and personal accounts, all of these everyday items that now tell an important story that can be shared in later years.
The museum is continuing to develop future exhibitions such as Centenary of the Swanzy Riots (due to open in August 2020). The current circumstance requires the museum to look at new ways to present content to ensure it is showcased appropriately and displays multiple perspectives.
This experience has been rather surreal, and I look forward to seeing the ‘new normal’ that the museum re-opening brings. However, I am very grateful of the support received through National Programmes, Museum Futures Team and all the Staff at The Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum.
Jaz Curzon, Derby Museums
Derby Museums has three sites in Derbyshire (the Museum & Art Gallery, Pickford’s House and the Silk Mill). Highlights of our collections include the Joseph Wright of Derby art collection and the Collections of Making which tell the story of Derby’s manufacturing history and those who were involved in these industries. This collection will form the basis of the redeveloped Silk Mill as it becomes Derby’s Museum of Making. Derby Museum has hosted several British Museum touring exhibitions including Music of Courtly India in 2017, and we are part of the upcoming spotlight tour of the British Museum’s Lampedusa Cross.
Derby Museums is for the thinker and maker in all of us. Together we make museums for the head, heart and hands. We do this by being independent, fostering a spirit of experimentation, pursuing mutual relationships, creating the conditions for wellbeing (helping people connect with others, keep learning, take notice of the world and give back to the community) and proving that we are doing it.
Since lockdown, we have created a Derby Museums From Home site to allow online audiences to explore and discover our collections. I was also involved in the development and installation of the Florence Nightingale exhibition, which now has an online presence. Derby Museums wouldn’t be the same without the incredible volunteers, and their contribution has continued during lockdown with the Interlace Project which will form a woven art installation.
When the museum was open, I did a lot of hands-on work such as helping set up exhibitions, making 3D scans, and illustrating objects. That has changed drastically as now all my work is done on a laptop at home. The positive side of this is it has given me a chance to dive into the digital world of museums, learning how items are catalogued, and exploring the vast variety of objects in our collections that I wouldn’t have seen before.
Kyle Muir, Trainee at Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery
Tullie House is located in Carlisle, Cumbria and was established in 1893 with major redevelopment and expansion in 2001. Our collections tell the story of the people who lived, loved, worked and died here, from Roman soldiers patrolling Hadrian’s wall, to the Border Reivers and Jacobite rebels, to modern day farmers and factory workers.
Tullie House is home to the Roman Frontiers Gallery, a British Museum Partnership Gallery, which opened in 2011. My supervisor and Curatorial Manager Dr Gabrielle Heffernan started her career as a British Museum trainee.
During the COVID-19 closure, Tullie House has been asking our audiences to send in photos that will help tell the story of Cumbria during the current pandemic. In particular, we have been collecting signs and symbols of support, such as NHS rainbows, teddies in people’s windows (for children out on walks), signs on local buildings and other photos of Carlisle life and nature in lockdown. I have contributed by sending photos of what my village has been doing to support the NHS and to keep morale up.
Lindsey Atkinson, our Community and Young People Co-ordinator, has been continuing to work with young people on the Hope Streets project, which is a partnership with Curious Minds and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. They are researching local stories and finding imaginative ways to engage more young people with their heritage.
Rowan Law, Hastings Museum & Art Gallery
Hastings Museum and Art Gallery is a local authority Museum under Hastings Borough Council with collections from prehistory to the present day and from every continent. Established in 1892, the museum moved to its current residence in 1927.
Our goal as a museum is to be a hub for the community and a museum for everyone in Hastings. We aim for engagement with local people and to provide representation for all people within our town. One of our latest projects that best exemplifies this is Hastings Digital Quilt. Based on a painting by Edward Badham (1872–1944) of the town, members of the local community submitted individual patches to make up a patchwork collage recreating the artwork.
We are closed to the public but open online through #HastingsDigitalMuseum. Our content roadmap has evolved as we’ve managed to look at what works and what doesn’t, we’ve tried everything from quizzes and craft competitions to live-streams of Lego dinosaurs. Overall, I’d say that we’ve received very positive feedback from our online presence, and it has been heart-warming to read and respond to all the comments we’ve received.
Mohammed Miah, The British Museum
I am part of the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre at the British Museum. We run digital workshops and activities to entertain, educate and offer new avenues of learning at the Museum. Our weekday audiences are typically school groups, either in-person or ‘virtual visits’ from classrooms, and on weekends we cater to families. One of my favourite workshops teaches kids how to use Minecraft to build Roman Britain. Another uses the Samsung Centre’s green screen and photo manipulation apps to create images placing visitors in various settings with British Museum objects, usually to hilarious effect.
The lockdown has made it impossible to continue teaching digital workshops while not physically being inside the Museum space. And the logistics behind continuing to offer our activities remotely were not immediately feasible.
However, we have created an engaging activity that children can enjoy at home, using things that are easily accessible. We want to encourage children to build structures, inspired by representations of different types of architecture in the British Museum collection – from towers to stadiums, and from palaces to homes. You can create your buildings using digital programmes like Minecraft, building materials like lego, or simply with a pen and paper.
Get inspired with these resources here.
Rebecca Clayton, Trainee at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums
Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM) is a regional museum, art gallery and archives service. Over 1.1 million objects are held across nine venues, hosting a vast variety of collections relating to art, science and technology, social history, fashion, natural sciences, archaeology, and so on.
TWAM has long been a valuable part of the National Programmes. The Great North Museum’s Ancient Egypt Gallery, which opened in 2009, is a partnership with the British Museum. TWAM were the lead partner for the popular touring exhibition Pharaoh: King of Egypt in 2011 and have hosted numerous other BM touring exhibitions. The Great North Museum is currently hosting the touring exhibition Ancient Iraq: new discoveries which opened in March 2020.
In lieu of being able to physically experience our museums and galleries, the public have been enjoying virtual tours of our stores and exhibition spaces. The tours of Great North Museum’s Biology and Ethnographic stores, along with the museum’s Ice Age to Iron Age Gallery have seen a 440% monthly increase in visitors. Digital content has also played a significant role – our Must-See Museums membership scheme now sends free monthly tailored e-newsletters to bring stories and suggestions to our audiences based on their interests.
Our upcoming digital editorial platform, Must-See Stories, is dedicated to telling compelling stories inspired by our collections. One example is Heavier! Faster! Louder! The Story of Tyneside Heavy Metal, which is a six-part audio documentary narrated by renowned hard rock DJ Alan Robson.
Despite the challenging time recently, this period has been a great opportunity to learn and engage with pre-existing content. I personally have been enjoying listening to The Wonder House hosted by British Museum curator Sushma Jansari, a podcast series that holds interview discussions focusing on contemporary approaches to decolonising museums. It is an eye-opening series that raises awareness about the work of museum practitioners who are challenging dominant narratives and systemic racism within the cultural heritage industry. This is an area of work I hope to contribute to more beyond the traineeship.
The Museum Futures programme is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. We are currently recruiting museum partners to host trainees for the 2021 cohort. Once partners are confirmed we will add more information about placements and how to apply here.