Making It: Heritage
Over the last few years there’s been a significant increase in the number of creative businesses working in partnership with the heritage sector. There is a wealth of projects taking place across the country from large-scale installations to special ranges of retail products. For the heritage sector, working with designer-makers enables fresh interpretation, bringing the history of sites and their collections alive to visitors. For the maker this is a fantastic opportunity to develop their practice and create work directly inspired by museums.
So how do you get involved in these types of projects? On 3 March 2011 we teamed up with museumaker and The Women’s Library to deliver Making It: Heritage an evening of presentations from designer-makers working in the heritage sector and from one museum who is currently working with creatives.
The event was chaired by museumaker’s Co-Project Director Brigid Howarth with speakers: ceramicist Nicola Malkin (below centre) who talked about her commission at The Women’s Library; product designer Rebecca Chitty (below right) who focused on developing retail products for heritage sites; textile designer Eleanor Pritchard (below left)and Arts and Heritage Development Co-ordinator at Orleans House and Gallery, Miranda Stearn who talked about their experiences of working together on a major commission.
Here are some of the key themes that came through as part of the presentations:
All the speakers raised the importance of research. This was especially the case at the early stages of the application process where a thorough understanding of the project, the museum, and its collection, helped develop clear and accurately costed proposals. Also, as Mirand Stearn commented, demonstrating knowledge of both the project and museum helped to reassure museums who are very protective of their collections and who may not have a huge experience of working with makers.
2. Management skills
Brigid commented that the museumaker commissions ranged from around £18,000 to £28,000 so having poject management skills were crucial for makers both in terms of managing timelines but also with regards to handling a budget.
3. Being challenged
All the presentations covered the challenges that came hand-in-hand with working on commissions for heritage sites. Nicola talked about how you deal with working in a non-exhibition space where you have to be highly aware of the environement where the work is being placed. Rebecca Chitty spoke about retail products for Woodhorn mining Museum where the average customer spend was 38p! Eleanor talked of the exceedingly tight time frame that she had to work with how having the right team in place was key to bringing the project in on time and on budget.
4. Skills diversification
Nicola spoke of how the museumaker experience, of working on this type of commission, had changed her perception of their practice. She had always seen herself as a ceramicist however through this process Nicola was able to take risks and explore materials and scale in a way she had never had chance to. This was also the case for Eleanor and Rebecca. Eleanor saw the experience as a chance to experience new techniques and learnt quilling on YouTube and Rebecca fold leafed her range of coal minding fruit bowls to keep the in the right price point.
5. Investment of time
It was clear as part of the presentations just how much time all the makers had invested in the process both at application stage and throughout the commission itself. Miranda commented on how museums are open to working in new ways with makers however many are still feeling their way and it’s important for makers to reassur them by having as much down on paper as possible.
5. Pulling the right team together:
Each of the museumaker commissions included the delivery of a community engagement programme to help audiences engage with the commission and the museum’s collection. Some of these were working with challenging groups and both Nicola and Eleanor commented on the importance of being aware of your capabilities, and bringing in other makers/support to help deliver that you are not confident in. This was also key in terms of subcontracting elements of the build of the commission (such as constuction of the Eleanor’s six metro long banquetting table, Nicola’s giant knitting needles and Rebecca’s blue plaque plates).
For further information, and to find out the inspiration about each of the commissions visit the museumaker website.
The museumaker programme is now coming towards a close however it is looking at developing future partnership initiatives to support makers working in the heritage sector. Watch this space for details.
Have you worked on a project with a museum? Let us know your experiences.
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Tags: commisioning, heritage, makers, Seminars