Listen to yourself and your ideas

In our final interview with participants on the pioneering Curating for Change programme, we caught up with Jack Guy, Hastings Museum and Art Gallery and Claudia Davies, Black Country Living Museum.

Can you tell us a little about your placement and the work you have been doing at the museum?

Jack Guy – Fellow – Hastings Museum and Art Gallery

My placement was at Hastings Museum and Art Gallery. I undertook a variety of roles, including repacking objects and creating custom boxes for them, redeveloping a gallery, creating sensory packs and trails, being involved in outreach work, helping at the front desk, and being involved in a project called Concepts have Teeth that saw virtual visits from the Blackfoot Nation.

Alongside this, my placement was focused on finding and researching objects related to disability history and creating a co-production to produce an exhibition.

Claudia Davies – Fellow – Black Country Living Museum

I am the Fellow at the Black Country Living Museum and started the role back in September 2022. I am based in the Collections Team and balance my time between collections management work and Curating for Change responsibilities. This includes cataloguing and installing for our Forging Ahead development where we are expanding the museum into the 1940s, 50s and 60s. There are also responsibilities like pest management, dealing with public enquiries and working with a co-production group who have lived experience of disability to create and develop a new historic character. The character will interact with members of the public and tell untold stories of disability, focusing on the social model of disability.

What has been the most positive aspect of your placement, to date?

Jack: I’ve been really lucky and had many positive moments throughout my placement, from handling First Nation material and learning more about it, to finding objects that have never been out of the store. But I think the most positive aspect of my placement would have to be the support the museum has given me, as I would not have had the confidence or freedom to have done this work without it.

Claudia: I have really enjoyed my collections management responsibilities, as well as having the opportunity to seek out disability stories. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work with a fantastic group of co-producers and hear their stories and experiences. I feel that my placement has raised a new awareness of accessibility, and the need to include disability stories into museum programmes.

What learning do you feel you will take into the future?

Jack: My 18 months at the museum has seen me learn a lot from quite a lot of mistakes. The key knowledge I’ll take from my placement is to always talk to people. Often conversation can inspire an idea that will benefit the museum and its visitors or highlight an area that you missed.

Claudia: This placement has given me the opportunity to gain the skills I need for a career in the sector. I have really enjoyed working in the Collections Team and closely with other teams across the museum including Programming, Interpretation and Research. This has enabled me to gain a deeper understanding of the different aspects of museum work, as well as providing me with a diverse range of skills that will support me in future roles in the sector. I feel very fortunate and privileged to have been given this experience.

What advice would you give any future Fellow (or what advice would you have given yourself!) when embarking on a placement like this?

Claudia: Do not feel pressured into feeling like it is solely your responsibility to seek out disability stories or make exhibitions accessible. It is the collective responsibility of all of those who work in a museum to ensure this, rather than one individual.

Jack: My first piece of advice would be to learn a bit about the area and the museum. Take time to do this; it’s valuable and will settle you into the area. Also, if possible, work on the reception for some time, as the feedback you will hear on what visitors like, and dislike, will help you with your project and see other issues that might affect later ideas/projects. The second would be to give yourself time, go to conferences, research other exhibitions in person/online and take inspiration from them. Your ideas will grow from them and affect how you create. The final piece of advice I would give is to listen to yourself and your ideas. If you feel something is needed or there is a better way of doing something, say it. Nobody will laugh at you or ridicule your ideas, and if an idea doesn’t work out, it’s probably down to a lack of money – keep the idea for another time or see if there’s a grant available that might allow it to come to life.

What’s your favourite object in your host museum, and why?

Jack: There are so many fantastic objects, but the one that resonates with me the most is the Muisca figure from the Chibcha period (Columbia). I love his design with his coffee-shaped eyes and that you can see some colour pigments on him and imagine how he once looked. I also really enjoyed researching him and finding out that the curved shells on his cotton hat are from prized snails and denote that he is a chief.

Claudia: It is hard to pick a favourite but I think it might be a collection of hearing aid equipment we received from a local donor. It was particularly exciting for me as I am deaf, and it was a great opportunity to diversify our permanent collection.

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