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No matter what their size, AIM members always enjoy learning from each other and like discovering tips that can be easily applied at their own organisations. So, it’s no surprise that the Museum Fizzers strand was one of the most popular aspects of our national conference last week!
With just three minutes each – and the countdown clock ticking against them – six brave museum and gallery representatives each took their place under the spotlight in front of a packed auditorium to share projects and ideas from their organisations that they hoped would be voted the best Museum Fizzer by the audience.
We heard about how donation boxes have made a real difference at one gallery, about how tattoos have been used for community engagement, youth projects that use ancient Egypt to engage young volunteers, how bottles of bubbles got a whole town talking, how ‘edutainment’ wins new audiences and how one museum is encouraging families through their doors…
But there can only be one winner… so Museum Fizzers host, Marilyn Scott, Director The Lightbox, asked the audience to vote by clapping the loudest for their favourite. The winner was The Egypt Centre: Museum of Egyptian Antiquities: Presented by Lauren Wale, Front of House & Gift Shop Manager, who wowed the audience with her tips on getting young people engaged at the museum – as well as her own personal, emotive account of how the same project set her on a career in the museum sector. Well done Lauren and thanks to all the entrants this year for being such good sports! Read on for more information about each Museum Fizzer entry this year.
Fry Art Gallery: Presented by Gordon Cummings, Hon Secretary
I had attended a fundraising event delivered by Judy Niner of Development Partners who works closely with AIM and who had written the AIM Quick Guide To Donation Boxes. So, I downloaded the guide when I got home and we began to use it. Now, if there had been a competition for ‘The UK’s worst donation box’ our old one would have won. We had been using a replica Austrian pillar-box which had a slide slot that trapped people’s hands faster than Arkwright’s till in ‘Open all Hours’. A local charity gave us a small grant and we purchased a new donation box which increased our average donation from 14p to 22p and combined with an emotive public appeal to help buy the gallery, we saw the average donation increase to 44p. It really is important to tell the public why you are fundraising! We always leave £50 in notes in the new box so that the first visitors of the day can see that others are giving and are encouraged to give themselves. My top tip is to always remove small coins from your donation boxes to encourage visitors to donate notes!
National Maritime Museum Cornwall: Presented by Amy Richards, Fundraising and Development Manager
When developing our 2017 exhibition Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed, we wanted to engage with as many people as possible – creating a platform for their perceptions and stories, but also helping to shape the exhibition itself. Tattoos were the perfect medium for this. Tattoo Tales started by asking people to share the moving, funny and truly surprising stories behind their tattoos. These conversations led naturally to questions about tattooing as a form of art, and whether it should be taken more seriously by museums. The project has brought people who would’ve never crossed the museum’s threshold into its very heart.
The Egypt Centre: Museum of Egyptian Antiquities: Presented by Lauren Wale, Front of House & Gift Shop Manager
The Egypt Centre’s award winning Young Volunteering program allows young people from the ages of 9-18 to run the museum every Saturday and during school holidays, as young professionals without their parents. This program provides a unique environment for visitors to interact with the collection through the enthusiastic interpretation of young people. This has proven especially popular with family groups and young visitors. The young volunteers provide tours, facilitate activities, work in the museum gift shop and help run events. No other museum in the country is run by young people so completely!
Fizzing Fizzics with Doc yard!: Presented by Chris Chedzey, Lifelong Learning Manager, Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust
I was delighted to be able to unleash my alter ego, the mad scientist Doc Yard on an unsuspecting conference! The idea of family science was CEO Bill Ferris’s idea after a trip to a science museum in America, but the bad pun in the name and the continuing adventures of the character are my fault. We have been ‘edutaining’ family groups for the last 4 years in the summer holidays with Doc Yard’s Techsplorers and for the last three spring holidays in the Secret lab where the Doc’s assistant takes over while Doc is away. Numbers have steadily increased during that time to over 6000 in the summer and 8000 in the spring and topics have included; Bubbles, Low temperature, Static electricity and Georgian Science. We take part in local science fairs and we’re at the point we can take the Lab out to schools. This summer we’re tackling the mathematics of circles. By combining colourful characters, humour and science together we are reaching multigenerational groups who are encountering the fizzes and whizzes for the first time or who are rediscovering the school days that they forgot and understanding the science that left them baffled years ago.
Bubbles – and how Melton Carnegie Museum painted the town red: Presented by Zara Matthews, Market Town Museums Manager, Leicestershire County Council
In June this year, Melton Carnegie Museum took part in a town centre event on the theme of painting the town red. In 1837 the Marquess of Waterford and friends got themselves very very drunk at the races and then made their way to Melton Mowbray where they abused the tollgate keeper, stole some red paint and vandalised the town including daubing the red paint on a number of buildings, hence the phrase painting the town red. The town event in 2017 was the perfect fit for the museum reflecting a renowned local story, the museum displays and coinciding with the Museum’s 40th anniversary to the day. With Arts Council England funding that came via Museum Development East Midlands, we decided this was our moment and we went REDTASTIC. We went to all the supermarkets and discount stores we could and acquired everything red we could find (paint, table cloths, bunting), had red shirts printed for the team to wear, with the Friends of Melton Carnegie Museum we acquired red balloons and little bottles of bubbles, and had a banner and flyers printed promoting the museum and its activities. Whilst out hunting all things red I found some battery-operated ladybird shaped bubble blowers in my local supermarket and thought they would be quite cute. Local history interpreter Jed Jaggard dressed as the Marquess and in return for the loan of a hunting pink he actively promoted the museum to everyone he spoke to as he led tours around the town. We opened the Museum (usually closed that day) and had free craft activities on offer (red collage – having saved up odd bits of red paper, fabric and tinsel). We got a slot on the local community radio (103 The Eye) and they played me out with 99 red balloons. The sun was shining and we were very excited. We thought we’d have a good day and it went even better. The bubbles were genius and really made our stall stand out, as the bubbles floated down the street people came to find out what we were doing. We could have sold those ladybird bubble blowers a hundred times over. We engaged with an approximate 800 people (so busy we didn’t have time to count properly, or take photos). I had to contact the supermarket to explain why they were inundated with requests for ladybird bubble blowers! We had new people sign up for volunteering, new Friends, the Museum had more than twice the number of visits we would expect on a busy day, got offered a stall at the next event half price, one of the front of house team got to go on Radio Leicester promoting the history fayre she has developed (taking place the next Saturday), that history fayre at the museum went really well with lots of interest, and we are looking forward to a busy summer if the enquiries are anything to go by. We even remembered to say thank you to everyone via our Facebook page. It was a great event to take part in and well worth going all out to join in and be seen to be taking part, and in the end, it was the bubbles that did it. Bubbles bubbles bubbles everyone loved the bubbles!
The Weald and Downland Living Museum: Presented by Martin Purslow – Chief Executive Officer
The Weald and Downland Museum located in West Sussex has been working within a broad engagement concept entitled, ‘Through The Door,’ aimed at attracting new audiences, particularly families, and exposing existing audiences to new ways of thinking about our site. The approach coincides with our rebranding as a ‘Living’ not merely an open-air Museum, and the launch of the Weald and Downland Living Museum’s new £6m gateway building development. It received further impetus from our top ten placement in the Family Friendly Museum Awards 2016. The investment including £4m Heritage Lottery and £2m community partnership funding was the culmination of eight years of team effort and has delivered impacts across the museum. Seven new linked buildings have been constructed to house facilities including a café, retail, education and community spaces, along with three new galleries, new accessible car parking, interpretation and passive educational play facilities. Activities undertaken include a series of events. A tree dressing and lantern festival at the height of winter launched the museum into the new year, and the launch of our new buildings at Easter was marked by our first ever Living history Festival with over 200 costumed reenactors, plus staff and volunteers welcoming visitors through the doors of many of our 52 historic buildings unlocking their stories and our history in innovative ways. Our winter festival saw over 600 adults, children and even our Morris dancers, holding hands and dancing around the centre of our museum, lit only by lantern light with a genuine show of community happiness and oneness that museums everywhere are well placed to facilitate in these difficult times. The Through the Door concept of imagination, learning through play, fun and exploration has encouraged engagement at every step, setting the scene for our relaunch as a living family friendly destination. It culminates in the Museum’s first ever children and families, ‘Through the Door’ festival on July 29th / 30th ushering in the summer holidays with the theme ‘Imagine, play, create, explore – come and uncover what’s through the door!’ The events have already led one mother to write in with thanks and the following testimonial: “My seven year old said to me this isn’t a museum, it’s too much fun.” We can’t ask for more than that.