My name is Amy Cotterill, and I’m a Museum Person.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m the Museum Development Officer for the UK county of Essex. My job is to support all the museums in the county—most of which are volunteer run—with collections care, business sustainability, and audience engagement. I started off studying Ancient History and Archaeology, followed by Cultural Heritage Management, and worked in a variety of learning and engagement roles in different museums before starting my current role last January.
In my spare time, I help run a local branch of the Young Archaeologists Club, volunteer for the Museums Association, the Group for Education in Museums, and the Digital Learning Network. So, you could say I’m a complete museum geek! I do have non-museumy hobbies too: I’m a member of the Women’s Institute, and I love reading, photography, and going to the movies.
You deal with hundreds of museums in your job, whereas most museum professionals deal with just one. Can you share a few insights into how difficult or rewarding that can be?
I cover a pretty big patch, with an astounding variety of museums. The biggest is a Norman castle, which has a team of professional staff and local authority funding. The smallest takes up half a railway carriage. Most of them are local history museums, but I also work with WW1 and WW2 airfields, art collections, a Natural History Museum and even a Pirate Radio Museum! They all have very different needs, including issues with governance and trustee structures, securing funding or even just getting people through the door. I have to know about all different aspects of running a museum (or know who else to ask for advice!) but it’s really rewarding because the role really makes a difference. I’m helping keep museums open and their collections in good condition and available to the public.
Why do museums matter to you?
My previous museum roles have been in community outreach and engagement, so I’ve seen first-hand the difference they can make. I’ve worked with young offenders, teenage asylum seekers, adults with learning disabilities, and children in care—all of whom have lit up when visiting a museum. The collections they hold inspire creativity as well as teaching us about our past and the world around us. Families come together to explore the contents of our glass cases. Museums aren’t just a place for learning; they are a place for fun!
What is your favorite museum memory?
My favourite childhood museum memory is of the Museum of London’s Great Fire exhibit. You stood in a room with a model of London in front of you, listening to Samuel Pepys’ diary describe what happened. A spark started in the model and slowly the flames spread across the model and onto the walls around you. I was completely enthralled!
My favourite memory as a museum professional is from a project I co-created with a group of young people, developing workshops for younger children. About a year later, one of the participants came to a public workshop I was running and told me he’d applied to study childcare at college because he’d enjoyed working on the project so much.
What museum would you love to visit that you haven’t been to yet?
Can I only pick one? There are so many! The Rijksmuseum, the Louvre, the Smithsonian…but the one that tops the list is The Crime Museum (also known as The Black Museum). It’s the collection of Scotland Yard and is made up of items connected to some of the most chilling crimes in British history. It’s not that I’m ghoulish, it’s just that it’s only open to police officers and even then only by appointment. Not being allowed to see it makes me want to even more.
What is your favorite museum that you have visited so far?
Ruling out all the museums I work with in Essex (you can’t ask me to choose between them!) my favourite is probably the Natural History Museum in Tring. I used to visit on rainy afternoons while I was growing up so it holds a lot of fond memories. It houses some amazing examples of Victorian taxidermy, including Mexican fleas dressed in full sets of clothes—someone actually sewed clothes for fleas!
When you think of the perfect exhibition, what is in it?
It’s not the subject, but how you present it. My favourite exhibitions have all had clear themes with text panels which presented the information in an understandable way without being patronising—usually with different levels of information so you can either take away the gist or read deeper if you wish. For example, I hate gardening, but really enjoyed my visit to the Garden Museum because they present things so well. However, I’ve seen archaeology exhibitions that I’ve expected to love and found disappointing because there was nothing to connect with non-academic audiences.
What is the most random item you’ve bought in a museum gift shop?
When I was a child, it seemed like all of my friends had wooden rulers that listed the kings and queens of England in chronological order on the back. I really wanted one, but could never convince my parents. Two years ago, I was working for English Heritage as Education Manager for their London properties and spotted these rulers in the gift shop of Wellington’s House and couldn’t resist.
What museum would you move into for a month if you could?
Eltham Palace in Greenwich. It was given to Edward II in 1305 and was a royal residence through to the 16th Century. Henry VIII spent much of his childhood there and the Tudor courts often used it for their Christmas celebrations. However, it fell into disuse and ruin. In the 1930s a new house was built incorporating much of the original building including the Great Hall. It has the most beautiful Art Deco interiors. It’s just fabulous!
What’s the most bizarre museum you’ve ever visited?
Lumina Domestica (The Lamp Museum) in Bruges. My husband and I visited last year while we were on holiday because we could get a joint ticket with the Chocolate Museum and the Frites Museum. It was actually really interesting, telling the story of man-made lighting through the centuries. I would definitely recommend a visit if you get the chance!
There seem to be a million books and movies set in museums. Do you have a favorite?
I could try and come up with a really intellectual answer for this, but if I’m honest it’s Ghostbusters 2. We’ve all seen portraits that look like they’ve got an evil being trapped inside waiting to escape. Plus, it has the Statue of Liberty dancing through the streets of New York—what’s not to love?
What angers/upsets/frustrates you about the way museums operate today? On the flip side, what pleases/amuses/gives you hope for the future about the way museums operate today?
People have donated objects to public museums in the belief that they’ll be looked after by professionals and enjoyed by future generations, so it upsets me when funding is cut to the point where museums aren’t able to properly care for their collections or stay open. When councils sell off museum objects to plug gaps in other parts of their budget, they’re betraying not only the original donor but everyone who’s invested in that museum through their taxes or donations.
However, there is much to give us hope for UK museums. Every week, I meet museum staff and volunteers who love what they do and have so much passion for their collections. The Museums Association’s publication Museums Change Lives illustrates the hard work museums of all sizes are doing to make a difference in their local communities.
Any lover of music should appreciate Kandinsky, the abstract artist who once said: “Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.” Consider a print of his work or maybe a notecard set.
If you have a jazz aficionado on your list, consider a comprehensive box set from the Smithsonian—Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology—which explores the genre over six CDs and a 200-page companion book.
The touring exhibition David Bowie Is was a smash when it launched at the V&A, and it is currently enjoying great success at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Why not share the wonderful world of this music icon with your friends and family by gifting the official exhibition catalog (V&A hardcover or MCA softcover)?
Perhaps you’re in the market for a less bulky David Bowie offering? Consider these rather awesome lightning bolt earrings.
Having worked in a museum gift shop, t-shirts are a common request (along with the absurd and impossible request for a small, lightweight catalog of the museum’s entire collection, but I digress…) Try this comfortable-looking offering from the Grammy Museum.
If your gift recipient is a little more classical in their musical leanings, the catalog from the Ashmolean’s relatively recent Stradivarius exhibition might catch their fancy.
Let’s say someone’s response to the question “What do you want for Christmas this year?” was “Sing me a song of the saddle,” then I have the perfect gift idea for you. Cowboy Songs, a 62-song collection sold at the Gene Autry Museum, will be a perfect addition to any cowboy crooner lover’s playlist.
Another gem from the Lower East Side Tenement Museum: winner of the 2010 National Book Award for Nonfiction, Just Kids is a memoir of singer-songwriter Patti Smith’s relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe in 1960s New York.
The Neue Gallerie in New York is wonderful for coffee lovers because of its Viennese-inspired cafes, and art lovers get to enjoy glittering Klimt’s in the galleries, but music lovers can find their spot in the gift shop where books delve into operatic maestro Richard Wagner or a visual look at Mahler.
Taking Punk to the Masses: From Nowhere to Nevermind, a publication exclusively made for Seattle’s Experience Music Project, is an essential guide to the punk rock scene.
Wisconsin’s Mustard Museum is a regular member of the “Can you believe there is a museum about this?” club. But, if you’re a mustard lover like me, you think it makes total sense. Plus, their store has plenty on offer. Try giving a Gourmet Mustard Gift Set or some mustard making supplies.
Food: Our Global Kitchen, the tasty exhibition at the National Geographic Museum in D.C., will whet your appetite. So, it’s a good thing that they have a Test Kitchen serving up tasty treats through late February.
The Barnes Foundation has six teas whose flavor profiles reflect a particular artwork or artist in the foundation’s collection. Think Renoir Rooibos, Gauguin Mango, and Cezanne Citrus.
Do you know someone who complains about how there aren’t enough food museums out there? Well, help them get New York’s first food museum with exhibits you can eat up and running by donating to the Museum of Food and Drink.
The American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis celebrates all things Swedish, including its yummy Scandinavian cuisine. So, it’s no surprise to see that they have renowned Swedish-Ethiopian chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Yes, Chef for sale in their gift shop. You can buy it online, but if you buy it at the museum you can give yourself a present by eating lunch at their delicious Fika restaurant.
What do you buy someone with a large collection of cookbooks? How about another cookbook, but this one is a beautifully illustrated take on 14th and 15th century dishes and dining.
Instead of traditional pine-scented candles, gift the tummy-rumbling scents of fig, basil, or rosemary instead. Good Candle makes hand-poured soy wax candles in Brooklyn and you can buy online or at the following museums: Museum of Arts and Design, Brooklyn Museum, and Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.
Because Christmas isn’t Christmas without a Mondrian cake. Modern Art Desserts.
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum’s gift shop is full of amazing books, and more than a few cover food related topics. For instance, The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread sounds like an interesting read.
Museum gift stores can actually be great places to pick up amazing kitchen gadgets and home goods, like this Stainless Steel French Press at SFMOMA.
Yes, I know that the post promised you 10 gifts, but here’s a bonus gift, and guess what? It’s free. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a world leader in promoting sustainable seafood consumption, and their free Seafood Watch App will help you buy and eat your fruits from the sea responsibly.
Museums devoted to medical history, techniques and tools are not for the faint of heart, and Philadelphia’s famous Mutter Museum is no exception. But, if you have a budding doctor or someone into morbid medical oddities on your gift list this year, Dr. Mutter’s Marvels might be a book worth looking into.
London’s Natural History Museum is so much more than just an architectural gem, and its varied assets come alive in Dry Store Room No. 1, an enjoyable behind-the-scenes look at the institution and its collections.
Basic enough for kids, beautiful enough for adults, Bird Bingo satisfies all ages of nature lovers.
For a slightly wacky gift, look no further than the slightly wacky Museum of Jurassic Technology. Perhaps an old-school View-Master box set complete with six reels of items in the museum’s collection–I particularly like the one about the Dogs of the Soviet Space Program–is just what you need.
Know a rock hound in need of a gift? Classroom style mineral kits, ranging from a few to a hundred samples, are a beautiful, tactile, and educational present choice.
Keep topographic time with a Terra Watch in sandblasted stainless steel.
A notebook or journal is always a good stocking stuffer. Try one with an eye-catching selection from AMNH’s Rare Book Selections.
If you’re interested in more of a non-material gift, pick up some tickets for a National Geographic Live event near you. This international program of lectures, films, and concerts brings the natural world to you. Explore aboriginal Australia in Kansas City, chase rivers in Calgary, or journey to Untamed Antarctica in sunny L.A.
Museums occasionally come out with cute and interesting ways for supporters to donate, and the Field Museum has found a winner with its Adopt a Dino offer. Donate in your dinosaur-crazed nephew’s name this holiday season and present him with his very own adopted T-Rex or Brachiosaurus.
1. After a while, I learned to choose the names of my fellow characters more carefully. Having looked up the symptoms for dysentery, it wasn’t something I would wish on most people. This was just one of many life-changing facts I learned while playing Oregon Trail as a child. Writer Emily Grosvenor decided to take her Oregon Trail education one step further: participating in a life-action, role-playing version of the beloved computer game. “I found myself pushing a 200 pound man on an ancient kiddie wagon with two missing wheels up a hill with about a 40 percent incline while he shouted out facts about how to preserve meat…”
2. While on the topic of childhood memories, I was initially saddened to discover that the Rosenbach Museum—a personal favorite—was losing its Maurice Sendak collection. The sadness was eventually replaced by excitement for two reasons: 1) There’s going to be an entire Sendak museum in the future; and 2) This means that instead of always featuring a Sendak exhibit, the Rosenbach now has more room to create exciting displays features other items in their extensive collection.
3. Lonesome George. That’s one hell of a moniker. But, if you happen to be the last of your kind, your nickname is bound to be a little depressing. This look at the afterlife of a famous extinct tortoise has some great bits, like the line “What posture should a tortoise have?” or the imagery evoked by the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing for Mammals and Their Extinct Relatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
4. Turns out Lonesome George has plenty of friend’s at New York’s Museum of Natural History if Hiroshi Sugimoto’s new book Dioramas is anything to go by. This short essay from the New York Review of Books not only marvels at the beauty of Sugimoto’s photography, but also captures the love of an old-fashioned museum experience when describing the darkened diorama halls: “That hushed public place is the private secret of every child in New York.”
5. If the opposite of an old-fashioned museum diorama is a completely immersive and interactive display, where the heck does Shia LaBoeuf’s latest performance piece fall on the spectrum? On September 25, the actor ran his own MetaMarathon around Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, adding to his growing portfolio of performance art.
6. Speaking of Dutch museums, turns out famous footballer Arjen Robben has plans to open one of his own one day. The future museum’s focus? Why Arjen Robben of course! I hope it has exhibits where you can attempt to duplicate his incredible crosses, or one where you can try the most dramatic flop you can come up with before sitting down at a fake press conference and saying “sorry-not-sorry” for flopping. I really want to go to this museum one day.
1. Many people squealed with delight over recent pop-up cat cafes, but the London Dungeon has put a spin on the concept with hopes of eliciting squeals of a different type. On June 24, the major tourist draw launched its very own pop-up Rat Cafe, featuring such menu items as Black Forest Rateau and Rattuccino. When the food is finished, the rats come out to play. Handwashing cumpulsory.
2. If rats don’t scare you, perhaps ventriloquism does? If so, you probably don’t want to add the Vent Haven Museum to your list of must-see cultural attractions. However, this Kentucky institution, which proudly states that it is the “only museum in the world dedicated to the art of ventriloquism,” might just be the weird and wonderful activity you’ve been waiting for.
3. One thing I haven’t been waiting for: Google Glass. And yesterday’s announcement that Google Glass Guides may soon be coming to a museum near you did little to change my opinion. Sure, sometimes you want to know more about a painting you’re seeing in a gallery or you would like to dig deeper into the history of a culture whose artifacts are on display before you, but those can be done later as part of continuing the museum experience long after you’ve left its walls. Or, while there may be an advantage to having a map directly attached to your eyeball, isn’t getting lost in a museum sometimes the point?
4. For those more interested in the external architecture of a museum than the collections within, Jersey City has just the thing. The Richard Meier Model Museum houses 400 works, including scale models of the renowned minimalist architect’s Getty Museum and the Arp Museum, that will please any museum architecture buff.
5. Have you ever looked at a painting and thought: “That looks beautiful, but I wonder how it tastes?” Well, 60 diners recently got a chance to sink their teeth into a Kandinsky, and they thought it was pretty tasty. Thankfully, no actually paintings were harmed as part of this University of Oxford study, which attempted to see whether the same ingredients would taste better if presented plainly or as a composition based on Kandinsky’s “Painting no. 201.”
6. And, finally, a more natural way of looking at the origins of World War One. Berlin-based Ian Orti tackles a botanical reenactment of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you are probably aware that tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. If you’re still wondering where to take your long-time love or new romantic interest, might we suggest skipping the fancy restaurant and heading to your local museum instead? Even if you’re single, museums around the world are offering up unique and fun ways to couple up this Valentine’s Day. Here are five examples…
1) Find Your Fish in the Sea at the London AquariumWhat goes better than a free glass of prosecco and some cute penguins? Well, perhaps a free bottle of prosecco, but that’s just being greedy. Anyway, fly solo or grab a friend and head to the London Aquarium tomorrow night for some food, drinks, and sea life. While the marine blue lighting from the habitats may not be as soft as candlelight, you might still find love alongside the jellyfish.
2) Getting Naked at the Getty
Watson Adventures is a company that provides fun and challenging scavenger hunts at museums across the country—I know because I’ve hosted a few of them myself. This weekend, build a team of up to six people—call it a triple date if you want—and head to the Getty Museum for a Nude Scavenger Hunt. Don’t worry, you can keep your clothes on, only the paintings will be naked. Not in L.A.? No worries, Nude Scavenger Hunts are also happening at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Met in New York, San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and at the American Art Museum and National Gallery in Washington D.C.
3) Meet Your Missed Connections at the Museum of Transport
There you are on the New York Subway, biding your time on your morning commute, when suddenly your soul mate appears. Too bad they exit at the next stop and you are just another missed connection in the big city. Well, the Museum of Transport is making an effort to reconnect you this Valentine’s Day at their Missed Connections Party in Brooklyn.
4) Let Your iPhone Be Your Guide
Want to keep things simple between you and your sweetheart? Why not download the Art Institute of Chicago’s free iPhone app and let custom theme tours like “Loves Me/Loves Me Not” or “First Date” guide you through the museum’s more romantic paintings?
5) Study the Science of Attraction at the California Academy of Sciences
Valentine’s Day just happens to coincide with San Francisco Beer Week this year, so some of the best Bay Area microbreweries will be providing the refreshments at the California Academy of Sciences’ Valentine’s event tonight. Also on tap? The museum will be exploring the science of cravings, so between crafts and cups of beer you can learn about animal or celestial attraction, try out some beer and chocolate pairings, and even hear some scientific love stories.
Ah, your first job at a museum. It can be overwhelming, exhilarating, confusing, and rewarding. For Kristin Hussey and Terri Dendy, their first jobs at London’s Science Museum led to the blossoming of a beautiful friendship based on a mutual love of hazmat suits and an abiding interest in the quirky world of museum workers to which they now belonged. Though Kristin and Terri now work in different museums, their partnership lives on in the form of the Ministry of Curiosity, an entertaining blog—and informative resource—that shines a spotlight on the lively and innovative London museum community. Now, the Ministry ladies have stopped by Museumist to discuss perceptions of museum employees, tricks for staying on top of the London museum scene, and even the power of a pub visit.
To start things off, how did you two meet? How did you decide to start the Ministry of Curiosity?
Kristin: Terri and I met working together in the stores of the Science Museum. She was probably wearing a full hazmat suit, I was probably wheeling a trolley full of Victorian chemicals—it was love at first sight. There was a group of us that started around the same time so we all become quite close—for most of us it was our first paid museum job. You form a really strong bond with other young people struggling to get into the sector.
It was actually Terri that came up with the idea for the Ministry, or as we were first called, the Curiosity Collective. We were always so busy meeting up with our museum friends for exhibitions or events, and then heading for a drink to discuss all the crazy things our jobs involved. It seemed like there was a lack of a forum for museum people that was more about socializing and having fun. Terri had a great idea for a blog that was reviews, but from an insider’s perspective, combined with comment pieces about cake, fashion and whatever else we were interested in. I had some blogging experience and she asked me to join her as a partner! We both agreed that we wanted to do something that was fun and irreverent, basically just not what people were expecting from a museum blog.
Terri: We decided to start The Ministry of Curiosity as a resource for ourselves and our close network. We found that sites like Time Out and Londonist were not providing as much information about London’s museums as we craved. To find out about events we were trawling through each institution’s event pages, rummaging through old emails, and hopefully trying to get a spot on sold out events. So, we decided to make our own listings focusing on adult-friendly evening events and blogging about our museum-centric life.
In your Ministry Manifesto, you note that you hope to change current perceptions about those working in museums. What sort of perceptions do you think negatively influence an outsider’s view of the museum world? What ones positively influence them?
Terri: The usual negative perception that we encounter, and our favorite one to rebuff, is that all museum workers are barmy male curators. In fact, the London museum industry is really a strong workforce of young creative women, and working with museum collections no longer means that you are a curator. With larger collections, stricter rules, and long-term preservation plans, a range of roles now replace what was once the job of a curator, which leaves curators more time to research collections and publish material. Documenting, moving, and storing the collection are now the cogs of the larger museum’s machine.
Museumist: As for the barmy bit?
Terri: We can’t deny that being a bit barmy is a stereotype of museum professionals, but I think that this is really a positive perception and hopefully one that is starting to work in our favour. We are all a bit quirky and creativity is something that museums need to indulge in to encourage different ways of interpreting and accessing collections.
Kristin: Films are probably the biggest culprit in giving people the wrong idea about museum people. We are not all crazy old men with frizzy hair covetously stroking our objects and hiding from the public. Well, most of us aren’t anyway. The unfortunate thing is that a lot of what we do for work we aren’t aloud to talk about with the general public, which perpetuates this idea that museum staff are superior and insular. I wish we could get it out there that museum people are fun, enthusiastic and love talking about their work. My experience in the museum world has been one of openness and a desire to share, even if some things have to stay secret for security reasons.
In terms of positive influence, right now museums are enjoying an enormous change in how there are viewed as social space as a result of things like Lates. It’s so fantastic that museums are starting to be seen as places with cool events for young professionals since it starts to change the associations people have with art or history. When I introduce myself as a curator most people’s response is positive, even if they don’t necessarily understand what I do. I used to find saying ‘I work at the Science Museum’ to be a great pick-up line.
What do you think the London museum community is doing particularly well? Where is there room for improvement?
Kristin: I think what the London museum community does so well is exactly that—it’s a very strong community of people. If you go to any of the events you will often see the same people, particularly social media-keen people who have become friends. I think London’s museum staff are really supportive of each other—we do our best to try and go along to our friends’ events and promote for them. Museum people work incredibly hard for little reward, so it’s fantastic that everyone is always there for everyone else.
Terri: I think the London museum community is leading a cultural change in how museum spaces are used. By attending Lates or adult-focused lectures, we are moving away from institutions [being seen as only] child-friendly or research-based. Museums are now places where adults can drink, play, and learn in a sort of post-university Student Union. Young adults are becoming an essential target audience.
Kristin: If there is room for improvement I would say it’s in being more open about criticism. I don’t think loving museums and having something critical to say about an exhibition or an event are mutually exclusive. Perhaps it’s exactly because you know how hard someone worked on something that the community in general tends to be overly nice about things. I think well-meaning criticism can make for even better events in the future. I just wish we could have a more open dialogue about what museums are doing both right and wrong, without worrying about offending funders or seeming to be unsupportive of institutions who are doing their best in tough times.
Your blog strives to keep its finger on the pulse of the London museum scene, have any tricks for how you personally keep on top all that’s on offer?
Kristin: Probably best to let Terri answer this one—she is the events genius! Clearly Twitter is helpful and we’ve built up such a great community now that people tend to come to us with events they’d like included. We also look the normal places you might expect—Time Out, newsletters. Personally I’ve found it’s just that we are always on the look out for things that we’d like to do with our friends and we put those up.
Terri: Ha, I’m no events genius! But, I do strive to keep our finger on the pulse and regularly update the calendar of events with interesting activities across the capital. Following our blog and reading our daily updates on Twitter will probably keep you pretty involved in the community. Our calendar is not completely comprehensive, but it is one of the most focused listings for London museums that I’m aware of.
What is your favorite space or room in a London museum, and what is the best time of day/time of year to be in that place?
Terri: There is so much to choose from but I suppose I find the Tanks and the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern the most evocative space. I love spending a late evening after a walk along the Southbank just sitting in the Turbine Hall. Its industrial history makes it a really intimidating space and I love to feel so surrounded by emptiness in one of the leading tourist destinations. I’m really looking forward to the re-opening of the Tanks, Tate 2 and the Hyundai series in the Turbine Hall next year—although I disagree with corporate sponsorship in Museums!
Kristin: The Cast Courts in the V&A and whenever they open them again! I remember one of my first ever trips to London visiting them and being so inspired I actually wrote a paper on them for my MA. There’s something so amazing about the enormous vaulted rooms full of replicas of the world’s most famous monuments. It’s what I love about the Victorians—the audacity of thinking they could just collect the entire world for themselves. Now everything is jumbled together—different periods and nationalities pushed up against each other. It feels like the garage of a great museum—the stuff they don’t want anymore. That’s not true, of course, since now there is a renewed interest in the plaster casts and replicas in museums, but certainly in the past they were unloved. The Cast Courts are closed at the moment for redevelopment, but they are reopening sometime soon, the site says Winter 2014. I’ll be back there as soon as I can! I imagine they’d be lovely and cool in the summer.
You might say that London is a museum in and of itself, where is your favorite place to go and experience the history and culture of the city that is not in a museum?
Kristin: I would definitely agree that London is a museum in itself, and sometimes it’s the walk to the exhibition or the drink after that’s more interesting from a historic perspective. For example, if we are going to an exhibition at the Museum of London I like to walk via St Paul’s, Bart’s and the Barbican, maybe stop off for a chat at one of the great pubs! Personally my favourite spot in London is Highgate Cemetery. I love to take people there and talk their ear off about industrial London, body snatching, the Magnificent Seven Cemeteries and Victorian mourning customs while strolling through the beautiful gravesites. When the weather is warmer the park is a great place to lounge in the grass and feel like you are out of the city.
Terri: A pub! Any London pub tells you so much about the social history of the city; each one chain or independent has its own story to tell, and to find it out, all you have to do is walk in, buy a drink, and have a chat. They are little pockets of social history, culture, and community situated on the corner of every street in London. Crystal Palace is another great place to go and experience the history and culture of the city. The Great Exhibition of 1851 was a such a pivotal point in the history of museums and consumerism. When the Crystal Palace moved to the Sydenham Hill, it further inspired collectors like Frederick John Horniman. Standing on the spot where it once stood and seeing the remnants of something so vital to our cultural history is both sad and inspiring.
What exhibition are you most looking forward to in 2014?
Terri: London has a lot of blockbusters coming up this year. But, I’m really looking forward to the wedding dresses exhibition at the V&A. Their fashion exhibitions can be a bit predictable, but I expect this one will be a really interesting look at the history of a cultural norm. And, hopefully, I can get some inspiration for myself!
I’m also excited to see Matisse at Tate Modern. It’s going to be interesting to have Nicholas Serota—the Director of Tate—curating an exhibition. His reputation for curating and his ability to guess the exact measurements between works precede him. It will be remarkable to finally see his vision for such a prolific artist.
Kristin: I’m excited to see the Sensing Spaces exhibition at the Royal Academy. I think it’s a pretty bold move to do a blockbuster style architecture exhibition. I’ve been to architectural shows in the past and I get really easily bored with all the intricate drawings—maybe I have a short attention span! The RA is doing away with that idea completely and instead they have made a very physical exhibition. It’s great to see such a generally austere institution doing something really innovative.
Kristin: I wish I could say there was some sort of really interesting reason for this, but honestly it’s because of how much work running the Ministry is. I don’t think either of us could possibly do it alone—divide and conquer is our motto. We both work full-time museum jobs and do our blogging at night or at the weekends, so it helps to share the work. We’ll usually meet up on a weekend to visit an exhibition, write and scheme.
We decided to make an exception for the Cheapside Hoard because there was just so much to say about it. When we were discussing it afterwards, our ideas were wandering pretty broadly between content and design, so we decided we would each pick one aspect to write about. It was quite fun to do actually because Terri has a background as a technician and I’m a curator so it was good to break the mould of what we normally look for in exhibitions. Plus, we thought it would be interesting to see if people can normally tell who is writing what since we don’t credit the pieces we write alone.
Terri: The Ministry is something that we do in our spare time. Although we do spend most of our lives working in museums, reading about museums or nattering to anyone who is interested about museums, producing content can sometimes be a daunting task. We aim to at least post one article a week, and to share the load we take it in turns to write up our opinion on a current exhibition. However, the Cheapside Hoard left us with so much to say, the content and design of the show was staggering and we both felt so passionately about it that we decided to combine our thoughts into one post.
Anything else you’d like to share about the Ministry of Curiosity, working in museums, or the London museum scene?
Kristin: There are two reasons why I am particularly proud of the Ministry. Firstly, it’s the people we have met that have made the blog so fantastic. We have lots of guest contributors who share their experiences in the sector and their talents to make the blog more diverse. Conservators, archivists, curators, and academics—we are always up for collaboration and giving people a place to have their say. As well as our contributors, we also have an amazing circle of friends like the Museums Showoff team, the Horniman crew and so many others that support us. It feels really special to be a part of.
Secondly, I feel really lucky that Terri and I are still such good friends and that we have been able to continue making the blog what we want it to be. We started the blog to be fun and I think we still manage to achieve that even as it’s become more successful and put a greater stain on our time. It would have been very easy to let the Ministry become something that’s stressful or something we felt we were expected to do. It’s amazing to have that sort of collaboration between us so we stay true to ourselves and what we want the blog to be. As we say in the Manifesto, the overly serious need not apply.
Yesterday, Sunday, February 2nd, I went to work at a museum. It was a free day, and the museum was humming with new visitors, musical performances, and that giddy buzz that comes with an unexpectedly warm day in an otherwise cold winter. In spite of all of that excitement, I felt kind of alone: isn’t anyone else here excited for the Super Bowl?
I suppose I should preface my next statement with a disclaimer, so here goes—**WARNING: Blanket Generalization to Follow**—but, when it comes to museums and cultural institutions, this is generally not a community overflowing with ardent sports fans. However, even if a fair few museum employees remain uninterested in the difference between first downs and field goals, an increasing number of museums are happy to embrace the spirit of competition that comes with one of America’s greatest sporting events. What began in 2010 as a friendly wager between the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art—whose respective teams were facing off in that year’s Super Bowl—has now become a four-year-old tradition: when it comes to the Super Bowl, not only is one team going home with a trophy, but their hometown museum is too.
This year, the Super Bowl Art Swap participants were the Seattle Art Museum and the Denver Art Museum. The collection items up for exchange? A Japanese painted screen with a soaring eagle versus a Frederick Remington bronze sculpture of a bucking bronco. Since the Seattle Seahawks demolished the Denver Broncos in last night’s Super Bowl, visitors to SAM should stop by and say hello to the cowboy and his steed in the very near future. But, as lovely as these two pieces of art are, why is it that only the art museums are getting in the Super Bowl betting action?
Here are three Seattle-Denver museum matchups that could have laid an artifact on the line:
1) Flight Fight: The Museum of Flight and the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum
Between Seattle’s Boeing history and Colorado’s affiliation with the U.S. Air Force, these cities’ respective flight museums would have been perfect Super Bowl Swap contenders. Obviously swapping large aircraft would be difficult, but both museums possess smaller items of great significance to the story of the skies. For instance, the Museum of Flight could have offered up the mail bag from the first U.S. Air Mail flight.
2) What’s Mine is Yours: Klondike Gold Rush Museum and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science
Seattle was the launch point for thousands of prospectors heading north to find riches in the Klondike Gold Rush and Colorado is rich in mining history and lore. So, why not put the pickaxes on the line? I’m sure visitors to the Klondike Gold Rush Museum would be thrilled with a temporary loan of Tom’s Baby, an eight-pound gold nugget from Colorado’s mining heyday that is part of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science’s permanent collection.
3) A Historic Wager: Museum of History and Industry and the History Colorado Center
Both towns share a Wild West history, so surely their history museums would be ideal betting partners. Perhaps the History Colorado Center would have wagered their sculpture of Denver’s famous “Barrel Man” so closely associated with the city’s sports-loving ways? And MOHAI has a few artifacts in their collection pertaining to the city’s beleaguered sports teams that could have been offered up for exchange.
What art or artifacts would you have offered up for the Super Bowl Swap?