Saturday, 14 November 2015

What does a theatre archivist do?

A couple of months ago I was approached by a member of the Broadcast and Digital team asking me to be interviewed for one of their Careers films.  I knew about these films as I had watched all of the ones available on the website in a bid to understand my colleagues better and to help my understanding of the material that comes my way in the Archive.

I was secretly hoping that the Archive would be respected enough at the NT for me to be asked to do one but I was, somewhat less secretly, absolutely petrified of being filmed.  (Those on the Clore course with me last month know only too well my opinions on being filmed...)

I was sent the questions in advance and prepared what I wanted to say to make sure that I got across the right message about the Archive and what I do within it.  2 minutes isn’t a long time to explain your career and what your service does as well as give people an idea of what archiving is and how widespread archives are!  I think I’ve succeeded and I’m happy I had the guts to do this for anyone out there who might be thinking about libraries or archives but aren’t sure how to get into it or what their day to day job might entail.

Take a look at the finished video here!

Having breathed a sigh of relief that that was over, I was asked to be interviewed by the University of Arts Communications team about the Jocelyn Herbert Collection we hold.  The interview will be used in various ways such as trailers for the Jocelyn Herbert Annual Lecture and for advertising the Collection and surrounding events.  I got just as nervous as the first time and had to ad lib a lot more, which was really tricky as I didn't want to get anything wrong.  I think it turned out ok and I just hope that I get more used to having to do this!

Monday, 9 November 2015

Clore Emerging Leaders - Top Picks

There are a few other things that I felt should be mentioned and they are punchy enough to warrant a list!  In no particular order:
  1. Always presume positive intent
  2. Have an exit strategy when you start a job - your organisation is not your parent, it is much healthier to know that you will leave and consider what you want to contribute in your time
  3. Spend more time listening to people with your ears, your eyes and your heart
  4. You can still feed entrepreneurial thinking into multi-disciplinary institutions
  5. Have a story to tell, this is your elevator pitch - know your values and your project
  6. Leadership is, among other things, creating a culture in which people and projects can grow and flourish
  7. Make friends with your chimp
  8. It's ok to be in stretch
  9. Leaders cannot choose their followers, followers choose their leader - be someone people want to follow
  10. Silence is to be cherished
Thank you to everyone

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Clore Emerging Leaders - Self-Awareness

Self-awareness was one of the buzz terms from the Clore week.  I thought that I was generally quite aware of myself - I don't invade people's personal space, I can generally tell if I've upset someone - but doing exercises to show how we make decisions and how we naturally act were very enlightening.

We were asked to consider what people in our institution, whom we have never met, thought of us.  This was really tricky.  I realised that I have no idea what sort of impression of me is out there nor do I necessarily want to find out!  I have previously considered my personal brand when I was doing my Masters and that's why I try to have the same photograph of myself on professional platforms and use the same name on Twitter and on my blog for consistency.  But I hadn't really considered how others perceive me at work.  It's probably a good thing that I am not too caught up in what others think of me but it would be useful to consider my reputation and which characteristics I have that come across predominantly.

Although I am now more aware of how I am perceived and how I may come across in meetings, I am not sure that I yet have the capacity to change it.  I feel like I have taken the first step, by acknowledging that I will be perceived in certain ways and I am trying not to be too hard on myself for not having the energy at the moment to change it.  I think I'd like to take a step back, consider how I come across and then rationally decide if and how I want to change it.  This will take some time and I suspect I'll need quite a thick skin for it.  One thing that has happened independently at work since Clore is that those undertaking archive work placements now fill in feedback forms about their time in the Archive and I did find myself embracing the opportunity to improve as a manager rather than feeling personally aggrieved by their comments.  A promising start!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Clore Emerging Leaders - Be Kind, Be Balanced and Be Alive

There were many recurring themes throughout the week, which related to how you approach your own well being.  It isn't very common in life, well in mine anyway, to be given a week to think about yourself and what you want to do.  As someone said over breakfast one day, 'This is such luxury' and I'm sure she was referring to more than the honey and lemon tea.  To be able to take some time out of the daily cycle of life to question what you are doing and how you would like to change it was a luxury and something I want to make sure I do justice to.

Be Kind

A really important take away from the course for me was the notion of being kind to yourself.  We can all too often forget that we are putting ourselves through a lot of hard work, commuting and stress every day and that we are achieving, we just need to cut ourselves some slack.  It was liberating hearing our facilitators telling us to be kind to ourselves and others.

Be Balanced

This fitted in well with the idea of creating balance in your life, between work and home, between characters in groups at work, between pushing yourself and realising how much you have already achieved.  We worked through positive feedback we had received prior to the course and realised that there is a lot of value in appreciating your strengths as well as your weaknesses and looking at your performance as a blend of the two.  Life can seem like a balancing act most of the time but this week has let me see that I can identify that balance, work out how to change it and even use it to my advantage.

Be Alive

I agree that it is important to realise that we cannot control everything, which can be hard for someone as ordered and logical as me.  Gaylene Gould, a writer, presenter, coach and Clore fellow advised us to be resilient, responsive, adaptive and opportunistic.  To take those opportunities with both hands and make things happen.

Gaylene opened her talk with a quote, which resonated with the group long after she had finished:

'Don't ask yourself what the world needs.  Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that.  Because what the world needs is people that have come alive.'
Harold Thurman Whitman

For the people in the room, this really hit home and made us question what we are doing and why we are doing it.  Gaylene explained that trying to achieve what makes you feel alive can be an iterative process, it will ultimately lead you to a position where you can fulfil your ambitions and live out your values.  For me, as with many questions and comments throughout the week, I understood the importance of it but couldn't speak to it straightaway.  My job does make me feel alive but I have yet to pinpoint why and which of my values it meets (a theme that you'll notice in these posts).

Stay balanced

To be kind, balanced and alive may seem like three simple points but I really needed reminded of them and I'm probably not the only one.  Putting them into practice may be a different matter but I am already making sure that I am kind to myself and those I touch.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Clore Emerging Leaders - The Starting Blocks

I reckon the best way to start this cluster of posts would be with the start of the course, my expectations and subsequent relief at being in a room with like-minded people.

I really didn't know what to expect from the Clore experience.  I was thinking of it as being a bit like being part of Santander's '1-2-3 World' only without the customer service issues and misplaced suspicion of my desire for contactless payment.  The 'Clore world' is something I knew a bit about as I have come across a couple of Clore fellows in my work and a colleague had just taken part in the Short Course.  I now know that there is a network of over 1,500 Clore alumni in the arts, which is a pretty nifty network!

All the advice I was given was to prepare for a great week and to expect to cry.  Both of those happened and, in retrospect, I think it was a good idea to go in to it without many expectations or preparations.

On the first day, our wonderful facilitators, Amanda and Fearghus, got us all to write down our hopes for the course and our fears on post-it notes and add them to flip-charts.  The result is below:

You'll note that there are far fewer fears (on the left) than hopes.  We were all really excited to be there and very hopeful for what the week might bring.  We had some time to read all of the post-its and people spent a lot longer reading the fears than the hopes - were we satisfying ourselves that we were 'normal'?  At the end of the week we looked at these again and, while some of our fears had come true, they weren't that bad and all of our hopes had come true, with more besides.

What this exercise showed us was that we were all in the same boat and, although we all came from very different backgrounds, locations, jobs and sectors, we were fundamentally very similar.  The next exercise showed this again.  We were asked to do some connections speed dating where we had a minute to find out what we had in common with each person.  This resulted in this map:

There was more but it was giant.  This very simple exercise showed that we are all linked in some way and more and more connections became clear during the week.  Two of the participants had been in my building in the last month - it really is a very small world and that is a valuable thing to remember when you feel alone or at sea with your career.

A really important point on the first day was learning about 'stretch.'  We were told that we should try to be in 'stretch' during the week and that if we slid into 'panic' it was ok but try not to conduct the whole week from your 'comfort zone'.  I was foolishly concerned that I would be in my 'comfort zone' most of the time and would struggle to push myself into 'stretch' - how wrong could I be?!  I can happily say that I was in 'stretch' most of the time with only one slip into 'panic'.  'Stretch' is a good place to be and where I suspect my problem solving and creativity comes to the fore.  A huge positive of the week for me was the openness with which people embraced stretch and alerting others to the fact.  If we declared that we were in stretch then we could support each other and recognise that what we were doing might be ok for you but was really pushing someone else to deal with an uncomfortable experience.  This is something I wish we were all a bit more open about at work.

The lessons and exercises on the first day really started the week off on a very open footing and demonstrated to us that there are like-minded people out there, you just have to be open enough to communicate with them.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Clore Emerging Leaders - Introduction

Last week I embarked on what is called a ‘life changing’ experience, the Clore Emerging Leaders course.  This was a residential week in the beautiful Eynsham Hall in Oxfordshire where 26 people from the world of culture were cocooned in the comfort of a stately home with regular tea breaks and pastries.  But this was not a week of relaxation.

We had beautiful sunshine all week

I have been toying with how to blog about this week as we covered so much material on quite a variety of topics.  I will never be able to do the learning justice here and I’m not going to bore everyone by recounting each session.  So what I’ve decided to do, over several posts, is to pick out my highlights and the facts and feelings that I am taking away with me to ponder and then how I intend to put all of this into practice in the short, medium and long term.

The grounds were perfect for perfecting the 'walk and talk'

I’m hoping that this will be a form of relection for me and perhaps bring to light some things that might help others who are at a point in their career where they are enjoying their job but are finding it tough to see where their next step might take them and, indeed, how to find that step.

Monday, 21 September 2015

'One plus One Equals Three'

This evening I attended my first LSE public lecture, given by Dave Trott, author of Creative Mischief and Predatory Thinking with a career in advertising.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect of the lecture, entitled One plus One Equals Three: A Masterclass in Creative Thinking. 

It was more advertising related than I was hoping but also more applicable to my work than one would think from such a topic.  I would say that what I do in the Archive at the National Theatre is fairly removed from the Marketing department and yet many of the issues and much of the thinking behind advertising (a slightly different thing to marketing as Dave clarified) are similar to things that I need to consider in my current role or to projects that I have sight of.

Dave was very quick to state that creativity is declining due to us being bamboozled by complexity, technology and jargon.  He wants us to free our minds and get back to the task in hand, getting a message out there to our audience.  Creativity is not styling an existing thing to match your purpose but it is being unpredictable and creating something that no-one could have guessed - this is relevant to all jobs, not just advertising.  Creativity happens relatively little as people are becoming more and more submerged in digital and social media.  He drew an incredibly simple diagram demonstrating that TV, digital, social media and newspapers are all platforms for a message, the true media is the consumer.  The consumer has never changed and will never change so we need to understand how the brain works to ensure that people talk to one another and spread the word - that is the true definition of 'viral'.

There are times when the newest technology does bamboozle us and does temporarily cloud our judgement sometimes resulting in resources and material that is not practical or suited to the audience we are aiming at.  We create apps, virtual reality experiences and digital exhibitions in the hope that we will be seen to be keeping up with the Joneses but, really, we should be focusing on the most practical way of communicating with our audiences and persuading them to use our service - that may well be Twitter, or it might be a good old fashioned leaflet.

As I work with the various departments the Archive collaborates with, I notice a desire to be at the cutting edge of technology and make sure that we are leading the way for digital content and learning materials.  An admirable aim for a national institution.  We are currently working hard on our Lyttelton Lounge, providing physical and digital access to our Archive front of house at the theatre and this project has thrown up many considerations including interpretation, audience, interface and message.

One of Dave's diagrams particularly hit home for me:

                                                                                 creative ->
relevant                                            relevant                                   irrelevant
invisible                                            visible                                      visible
             <- account manager/client

This diagram shows how a brief to create something relevant and visible can get pulled in one direction by a creative person or graphic designer, while an account manager or client can pull it in another.  I found this particularly interesting since I have been involved in marketing for a couple of Archive projects and have witnessed the brief being pulled in both the right and left directions as the deadline loomed.  I need to try to keep the teams as close to the centre as I can to ensure that my project is visible and understood by our audiences.  That is a lot easier said than done but I can see how and why it can get pulled in other directions and I am hoping that this will help me in the long run.

I really enjoyed hearing about a different profession and seeing the plethora of links that there are between jobs out there and how cross-disciplinary an archive position can be.  There is so much to learn about other departments, colleagues, ways of thinking and learning and what drives people but I'm open to the challenge and hope that this can help me to advocate the Archive and push its reach further.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Royal Albert Hall Archives

I have just spent a very enjoyable afternoon at the Royal Albert Hall, being shown round by their two lovely archivists.  As a 'holding house', the Hall has slightly different archives to the National Theatre but there are more similarities than differences.  

We both use the CALM database as well as CALMView and it has been really helpful to compare experiences with the software and to see how they have re-branded the front end to make a user friendly and attractive interface.  They also have a some really great interactive features on their new website (like this and especially this), which I heartily encourage you to try out!

The Archive has recently been coming to the fore in Hall projects such as Learning events, merchandise and tours.  They have a specific tour focused on the secret history of the Hall, which has content drawn directly from the Archive.  There is great enthusiasm at the Hall to include the Archive in projects and this is a really healthy and encouraging sight.

A shot from the Hall the last time I visited

As an archive of a 'holding house' they do not hold material on the process of creating performances like we do.  They have the booking plans, programme, poster, photographs and then reports from the evening for front of house and on stage activities.  In this way they have the whole story of a performance, of which they obviously have many more than the NT (they have 14,000 programmes alone!).  A lot of the other work of the Hall, such as the set-up of shows, is done by external companies and so it not represented in the Archive, nor is it sought after so the focus is on programmes, press and reports from the production itself.

I was delighted to see that they have a Souvenir book of a fundraising event for the National Theatre back when it was a mere idea and supported by the Shakespeare Memorial National Theatre Committee.  This fundraising event welcomed in the great and the good of the 1910s all of whom were given Shakespearean characters to dress up as and the souvenir book is a beautiful collection of paintings, drawings and prints of the lords and ladies in their costumes.  There were also several heads of state present as it was held a few days before the Coronation.  Really quite something!

Shot of the acoustic mushrooms

I was struck by the sheer diversity of what happens at the Hall.  Currently the Proms are on, which are well known, but they also have a dining week where a false floor is erected and the Hall transforms into a giant dining room.  They have tennis tournaments, wrestling, circus acts and rock bands with many requirements not catered for when the building was built!  This Christmas they will be installing an ice rink to perform The Nutcracker on ice.  It is truly a fascinating building and the archivists are still coming across gems in their Archive.  They are working on cataloguing their material and digitising it so that more is accessible and I can only see this service going from strength to strength with its combination of historically fascinating subjects and institution-wide enthusiasm to engage with the material.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Performing the Archive, NUI Galway 2015

Performing the Archives conference has completely surpassed my expectations in terms of audience, disciplines, discussion and exhaustion.  As it was my first three-day conference, I wasn’t sure what to expect but it has been an inspirational few days with some of the most interesting and innovative archivists and researchers in the performing arts fields.

I’m not really sure how best to go about describing the conference but there were a few sessions that really stood out for me and some interesting questions that were raised.  I think it will be beneficial for me and for you if I talk about the main issues that were discussed round the dinner table, on the snatched coffee breaks and in the long meanderings back to the student village.

The concept of audience and spectator was raised quite a few times and I have recently become much more aware of audience through the interpretation work we have been doing on our exhibitions and so this really interested me.  It was raised in terms of documenting the experience of the spectator at a show.  Aside from press reviews, which are a particular kind of spectator feedback, how else do we record what people thought?  Spectators’ reactions are a specific kind of archive of a show and offer a different interpretation to any of the other materials collected around a production.

The act of recording this is pretty tricky.  One talk, by Lisa Peschel of the University of York concerning the ‘Performing the Jewish Archive’ project, touched on this.  They will be interviewing audience members after the show and will be comparing their reactions with footage of them taken during the production.  This footage tracks their facial reactions and interprets this as emotions.  Peschel will then interview these audience members and show them the footage and ask why they had these emotional reactions.  I can’t quite see us doing that any time soon but it is interesting to know that such technology is out there and can be used in this way. 

NUI Galway's quad

Almost every speaker had a different definition of what an archive meant to them and (after putting aside defensive statements of my own) I realised that ‘archivist' and ‘archives’ will mean different things to different people and we need to find some common ground.  I’m not talking about people who don’t know what an archivist is, although there are plenty of them and I know I’m not the only one that gets annoyed with the lack of drop down menu options for archivists, librarian and information professionals as a whole, but these are people who frequently use archives and consult archivists.

The concept of managing researchers’ expectations came up a couple of times in the context of specific projects as well as in general.  There are the archivists, who guard the collections, make them accessible, preserve them and carry out a plethora of other services for archive materials on the one side and then researchers who use the collections for a variety of means on the other.  We need to find a way of bridging this gap, increasing awareness of what archives do and show that occasionally needing to restrict access is not meant to be obstructive.  Then there is work to be done to improve communication with researchers so that archivists know how they can help.

Near the harbour in the city centre

Several of the projects we heard about, which were creative projects born from the archive, showed how much access researchers can gain to collections but there was a feeling that this is not the case for all researchers.  So how does a researcher get that exclusive access, a researcher asked me over lunch, and why do some get preferential treatment?  I and some other archive colleagues could only answer that it must be a result of building a rapport and trust with that archivist.  This is not how it should be, we should be offering equal access to all but how can we feasibly do that when we are curating exhibitions, cataloguing, accessioning, running outreach programmes and digitisation projects?  The divide between archive service professionals and researchers needs to narrow but the feasibility of this is still in question.

Aletia Badenhorst from Leeds Beckett University put it perfectly when she commented that:

Archives exist for two reasons: to document and to inspire.
Archivists are most concerned with the former and practitioners with the latter.

The British Library added another facet by commenting that creatives can make something new from archive, which researchers cannot, fitting in with something else that Badenhorst discussed.  She believes that the best way to keep an archive alive is to create new work inspired by it, not just a restaging.  This means that the archive is kept relevant and her statement that ‘Archives are boxes full of ideas’ was a really simple but dramatic way of showing the power of the material that we hold.  It is through this creativity that we can lift the archives out of the research room and put them in the public realm, as Kate Wheeler of The National Archive, put it.

Galway's cathedral

Paula McFetridge of Kabosh Productions, hit the nail on the head when she said that museums and archives hold objects but it is creatives who can give these objects a voice and bring them to life for a new audience.  I know well that archives exist to make material accessible and that if we don’t make it accessible, there isn’t much point in us keeping it.  But McFetridge’s comment takes this a step further and calls us to make our material the inspiration for new work, which will speak to new audiences and encourage engagement and appreciation of the subject matter.  I found this really interesting and I hope that we can use the National Theatre’s archive to inspire future generations of theatre makers.

For now, I am satisfactorily inspired and exhausted, next is to try to take these discussions and transform them into action…I have a funny feeling that this is just the beginning.  Thanks to all who worked to make 'Performing the Archive' conference such a wonderful experience!

A house in Galway city centre

Monday, 13 July 2015

Spirit of Place

Last week I attended a workshop on Spirit of Place for the Southbank Centre.  I attended as a representative from a neighbouring national performing arts institution alongside members of their staff and I wanted to note down some points that I found particularly interesting from the day.  I won't go into details on the workshop as it is a work in progress by the Southbank Centre but the principles of Spirit of Place were really interesting.

The National Trust uses Spirit of Place as a means to identify what is unique, distinctive and cherished about a site.  All of the National Trust sites are to write one in the next year as this will form the basis of strategies and projects.  If the Spirit of Place is set then all work that comes from that will be consistent and fit with the brand and thinking of that site.

Queen Elizabeth Hall 
It was really tough coming up with what was unique about the non-Royal Festival Hall section of the Southbank Centre.  Everyone knows that their site is unique and distinctive but actually putting your finger on the specific qualities that make them this way is pretty hard but we came up with a fair number of qualities from architecture to exhibits.

The Spirit of Place can then be used in decision making, held up as the standard to which everything must conform and it means that everyone is signed up to the same objective.  It isn't always something that you create but the Spirit of Place can be influenced by outside factors, those things that make you unique.  It can then be used to spark oral history projects or inspire artists to create new work.

A view of the NT I have never seen before
I began thinking about how useful it would be to have a Spirit of Place document for the NT.  It is something that is very helpful to have in place before a funding bid is made to ensure that all projects are coming from the same direction and appealing to the correct audiences.  A Spirit of Place statement would really help with the interpretation strategy for exhibitions, for example, and help inform the selection of exhibition topics going forward.  It sounds like a good multi-purpose statement and is a great way to get everyone thinking in a similar way about your institution.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

A Trip to the London Library

Today, reminiscent of my Cambridge trainee librarian days, I went on a trip to visit the London Library.  I have always wanted to visit and was intrigued about how large the building is, who uses it, how many books there are etc.  Amanda, Head of Member Services very kindly took our team round and answered all of my questions.

Entrance in Saint James' Sqaure

A blurry shot but you get the picture!
There over 1 million books in over 50 languages with an annual accrual of about 8,000 books with nothing going out of circulation.  Around 97% of the books are available to browse on open stacks and, my, aren't their stacks impressive!  To aid the circulation of air the floor is made up of very holy steel and there are rooms upon rooms of books to discover.  There are now several buildings housing the Library that sprawls back from St James' Square to meet Duke Street.

It was interesting to hear how the Library deals with incoming books and plans ahead for subject areas that they think will be popular in academic research.  The Library has its own classification scheme, which makes browsing very serendipitous with butterflies being shelved next to camels and houses next to human sacrifice.  Apparently members often come away with a whole load of books that they never expected to.  Occasionally they will need to create new classifications for modern subjects but they are slow and careful about this to ensure that no unnecessary disruption is caused to the shelving of the books.

They are planning another phase of their refurbishment, carried out by Haworth Tompkins, who are incidentally the NT architects for NT Future.  I could definitely see touches of HT throughout the London Library with their respect for original features and the need for light and functionality.  The Library has won RIBA National and London Region awards and Amanda was very proud that the building is being appreciated as an entity on its own.  The light well reading room in particular was a stunning space - I just wish I had had such a space when I was revising!

Some beautifully bound volumes of The Times

The most interesting space for me was...the toilets.  The Library, during its refurbishment, wished to bring in an artist to create a new work related to the Library, as many cultural institutions are wont to do.  Martin Creed took up the job and designed the toilets.  Each toilet has different fixtures and fittings eg. sink, toilet roll holder, taps etc. and the floors are mosaics of marble.  The colours in the marble are inspired by the different coloured book bindings and the layout reflects the serendipitous nature of browsing the shelves.

Lovely toilets
Finally, Amanda showed us their online catalogue, Catalyst, which allows you to search for a book and then view what is next to it on the shelf.  This is something that I remember discussing when I was on my traineeship and then on my Masters and it was great to see it in practice.  Members can browse these shelves from home and decide quickly and easily what it is they want to see as well as what else might be of interest without having to come to the Library.  They can then order the books to be ready on their arrival or, I discovered, be posted to them if they live more than 20 miles from London.  What a great service and a huge thanks to Amanda for taking us round and showing us snippets of the National Theatre in the Library.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Museums and Heritage Show Part 2

It's the end of day two at the Museums and Heritage Show and I have to say that I have come out feeling quite reassured that the NT is considering everything it should be!

The first talk of the day was a Q&A session on tech for newbies.  A rather broad topic, which quickly focused on Twitter and Instagram.  There was nothing particularly new to learn here but it was nice to know that I am doing it right.  At the NT the social media is the remit of a member of the Marketing team so I don't feel like I need to know for my working life but I do use it professionally and am always careful of that distinction.  What was interesting though was the level of engagement that you need to have in order to get the most out of it - it is a social platform and so you need to be sociable.  If you schedule tweets then who is there to manage replies and engage in that socialising with users?

There was a sector update on HLF, which was jolly interesting as someone from an institution currently coming to the end of an HLF grant and as someone who was not involved in the application process.  The Head of the Museums, Libraries and Archives department took away some of the fear that has been instilled in me about grant applications.

Another interesting programme animal

The talk from Historic Royal Palaces' Digital Producer was really refreshing.  I was expecting him to champion all kinds of fancy and expensive technology but it was quite to the contrary.  Very sensibly he spoke about identifying your audience and matching your technology to your content and audience.  Most of the HRP visitors are against having screens in their visit as they visit palaces to take a trip back in time and suspend their contemporary baggage.  Another really fascinating point was that you should consider who your competition is on the platform in question eg. if you create a game for your museum, you will be in competition for downloads from the likes of Angry Birds - can you really compete?  He asked, have you ever seen someone playing on a museum app on their commute?  Nope, so perhaps you should focus your efforts elsewhere.  Another great takeaway point was that you should be giving your visitors the best museum experience they have ever had, not the worst iPad one they have ever had.  Very valid point and refreshing to see someone in his position being honest about where digital does and does not work.

I was genuinely flummoxed by cyclists' parking decisions...

I also went to talks on entrepreneurship in independent museums as well as how to 'do' retail, which were not terribly on topic for the National but interestingly talked about the same ideas that have been recurring over the two days:

  • know your aims and objectives
  • identify your audience
  • identify your learning objectives
  • use tools that suit the above

I am glad to say that the NT has these bases covered and the past six months of working on a couple of exhibitions, a new physical exhibition space and digital exhibition platform have taught us their importance.  You could say that I've had a baptism of fire into the world of exhibitions but I am encouraged and enthused that I, together with our Learning, Digital, Marketing and Commercial departments, am on track and thinking through the same issues, challenges and solutions as the rest of the heritage professions!

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Museums and Heritage Show Part 1

It is the end of day one of the Museums and Heritage Show and I am exhausted.  There is a jam packed schedule of talks and stalls to keep you stimulated all day long.

I thought I'd take this opportunity to reflect on some of the talks that I attended and flesh out some of the ideas that started to formulate as I sat predominantly on the floor of the lecture theatres.  I should preface this by saying that the National Theatre has just opened its first dedicated archive exhibition space front of house, the Lyttelton Lounge, and I have unexpectedly found myself deep in exhibition territory.

The first talk was on the choice between high tech and low tech exhibitions.  Although this was the topic of the talk, the focus was really on your interpretation of the subject area and how that should lead you to the decision of whether you need a high or low tech solution for your exhibition.  It hadn't occurred to me that I am an interpreter in that I help people to appreciate and explore theatre history - there is an Association of Heritage Interpretation, which I am sorry to say I hadn't heard of before.  A couple of the trustees were speaking and it was very interesting to hear the work they are doing to advocate interpretation as a profession in and of itself.  They are encouraging everyone to think about their exhibitions so that they are thematic (rather than fact based), organised (so that they are easy to follow for people who will be in 'leisure-mode'), relevant (personal and meaningful) and enjoyable.  Having just worked on two exhibitions, one purely digital and one both physical and digital, it is very helpful now to reflect on some of the questions that we should perhaps have asked ourselves before the whole process started.

One of the adorable programme animals

The second talk was on transforming thresholds.  I wasn't entirely sure what this meant before the talk but any ideas about how to improve visitor experience in terms of space and signage are always welcome.  The main thrust was that AHRC funded research has been carried out to look at how thresholds are used in museums and in what ways they can be made more effective.  In order to carry out this research, the team looked to three sectors, which are more used to considering threshold use: retail; gaming; and performance.

In retail there is a lot of focus on the threshold of a shop and trying to engage users from their first entry through the doors.  Gaming also considers thresholds in terms of the start of a game and how users can be educated in the rules, goals and size of the game.  The one that really stood out to me was the use of performance in the research.

Directors and actors need to consider the theatre space and where and when a performance is deemed to have started.  The research team decided to use 'invisible' performance, which is where a performance or rehearsals take place in public without those around being aware.  This took the form of actors embedding themselves in a threshold space and asking for information, going up stairs, reading signage and engaging with the space as a visitor is expected to do.  The research team had studied visitor flow prior to the 'performance' and visitors tended to get their heads down and walk through the space completely ignorant of the signage and features.  Once the visitors were mixed with actors they were far more likely to engage with material.  This suggests that people feel the need to be given permission, in a sense, to stop and engage.  I have spotted this in our Lyttelton Lounge where, if one person stops to read text, more people will be likely to.  This is particularly true of AV material or listening posts.  The next step is figuring out how to take this forward.  We are already considering how else we can advertise the digital aspect of our Lounge so that people are encouraged to hire an iPad or use their own device and perhaps the sense of permission and encouragement needs to be integrated into those plans.

The third talk I want to mention was on designing successful temporary exhibitions on a tight budget.  The budget of the exhibition being presented was actually fairly large in my opinion but the points were very valuable all the same!  I was pleasantly surprised to hear that we have approached the Lyttelton Lounge with many of the ideas expressed in this talk.  We have used large graphics to engage visitors instantly and in a cost effective way.  We have also made sure that the capital expenditure on shelving has resulted in a reusable and adaptable solution.  There was a big focus again on identifying the audiences and desired outcomes of an exhibition and this was repeated in several of the talks I attended, whether they be geared towards interpretation strategies, marketing or visitor engagement.

All in all, it was a very interesting day and I am looking forward to tomorrow, which promises to be more techy, starting with a feature on 'Tech for newbies'!

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Curating and Collecting Jocelyn Herbert

Tonight I attended the exhibition launch of the MA Curating and Collecting, UAL, 'Work from the Collections Number #3', which focused on Jocelyn Herbert's working relationship with Samuel Beckett.  The exhibition features material curated by each and every student on the course selected from the National Theatre's Jocelyn Herbert Archive.

The exhibition is at Wimbledon Space

The exhibition is a culmination of a term's work on the subject matter involving much original research by the students into the NT's Jocelyn Herbert Collection as well as into theatre design, Beckett and British theatre history in general.

Q&A session with Jenny West, David Gothard and Matthew McFrederick
Today's event opened with a Q&A session with three experts in Jocelyn Herbert and Samuel Beckett, chaired by one of the students on the course who had also acted as registrar and coordinated all of the archive loans (she must have had a very busy last month!).

Wimbledon Space

One of the things that I was really excited about seeing was how each of the students had used the archive material that they had found.  Coming from a vast variety of backgrounds and countries, each student approached the collection with different ideas and each has selected a different aspect of Jocelyn's work whether that be her drawings of trees, correspondence with politicians, her costume drawings or the spattering of her daily life that is portrayed throughout her work.  Some of the loans that were requested were so unusual that my team and I were at times baffled as to how the students could use them to meet the requirements of the course but it was fascinating this evening to see how and what they used to provide a commentary on Jocelyn's work with Beckett.

Costume drawings from Jocelyn Herbert's collection
The archive has also been very involved in offering mounting advice for many of the items, which are delicate and need to be carefully handled.  Where possible the students used facsimiles but there is a good number of originals throughout to offer authenticity.  The students also made excellent use of the digitised drawings, which they projected onto the wall so that the costumed figures were around life size.  This really brought the Collection to life and animated what could otherwise have been a dense pile of 2D sketches.

Another challenge was how to show a whole sketchbook in the exhibition.  One of the students filmed each page and the video is a very accessible alternative to displaying a sketchbook in what would have had to have been a static manner.

A sketchbook flicked through by page and page orientation changed when required
An extra bonus of this collection is that the students have produced 'The Work Book' to compliment their exhibition.  This work book contains essays on why the students have selected what they have along with images and catalogue references.  This will provide a valuable resource in coming years of the course to give an idea of how to approach what can be considered a large and potentially daunting archive collection.  It is also really useful for us as we are getting to know this collection and it will show the variety of ways in which this material can be accessed and interpreted for different audiences.  I am very grateful to the students and the course convenors for all of their hard work and I am very proud of this collaborative venture and look forward to continuing the relationship in the years to come.

The exhibition runs from the 25th March to the 10th April 2015 at Wimbledon Space and is open from 10am to 5pm each day.  The Jocelyn Herbert Collection is housed at the National Theatre Archive and the catalogue is online here  

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Archiving the Arts and me

On Tuesday of this week I attended the Archives and Society seminar dedicated to Archiving the Arts, a National Archives initiative to raise awareness of arts archives and encourage networking and knowledge sharing in the sector.  I had been asked to present on my own collections and discuss how the National Theatre values its Archive and what we are doing to promote its use.

I was presenting alongside representatives from the National Archives as well as the National Gallery and Rambert so I was in very good company!  There was an excellent turnout for a very small room at the Institute for Historical Research and it is the first time I have been at an archive event where people had to sit on the floor for want of space!

Senate House

To be perfectly honest, I have not been involved in the Archiving the Arts initiative so I was as interested as the next person to find out what TNA have discovered from their year focusing on arts archives and where the project will go next.  I think that the focus has been more on developing archives for those who have perhaps not realised the value of their collections or have needed support and advice in drawing the collections into a recognisable archive or gaining buy-in from senior management.  The National Theatre has had an archive since the early 1990s and it is well established, as is Rambert’s, which was founded in the 1980s.  We were, rather dauntingly, being held up as success stories.

IHR, apologies for not have any more interesting photos
I found it really interesting to listen to the ladies from TNA, Fleur, Louise and Kate, who all spoke on the importance of archiving the arts and really valuing our collections.  Arts archives are the cornerstone of our cultural history and provide researchers with a new way to view the creative process.  Arts archives are also perfect places for further creativity and, through research, creativity and exhibiting we can breathe new life into these archives and prove that they are not static: we can bring them to life and explore them afresh.  Sometimes I can get too bogged down in the nitty gritty of running an archive to consider the wider picture of what it is that we are preserving for future generations and why so this was a refreshing opportunity to take a step back.

An unrelated Gormley statue at the Wellcome,
excellent Forensics exhibition!

This evening really made me question the role of the Archive in the many National Theatre projects that have happened over my time here and are in the pipeline.  We are very fortunate that the National views its Archive as a living thing, and not as the end of the line or a production.  We help to paint the picture of a show from the very start of its existence right through to the end.  It is one of my aims in my still relatively new role to ensure that we plug any gaps we have in the documentation of creative practice to ensure that it is preserved.  This ties in with the current aim of the National, which is to open up the whole process of theatre, with its beginnings being laid bare to the public on the Sherling High-Level walkway to seeing a production on stage to being able to delve into the Archive front of house in the new Lyttelton Lounge, which will open in a matter of weeks. 

So, we are fortunate that the NT Archive is so well used but that is just testament to the amazing material that is held in it and the many, many directors, actors and creatives who have made history on our stages.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Presenting and Performance

I have had an eventful couple of days traveling what feels like the length and breadth of the country to meet archivists!  In fact I have just been to Birmingham and Canterbury but, two days on the trot, it certainly feels like further.

Yesterday I attended and was lucky enough to present at the APAC annual symposium focused on performance collections and their users located at the Muirhead Tower at the University of Birmingham.
Muirhead Tower

There were several presentations throughout the day along with a performance from a group of MA students studying Shakespeare and Creativity, which really hit it home to the whole group that our collections are for inspiration as well as historical research.  The Bristol Theatre Collections again proved that they are leaping and bounding ahead in inter-disciplinary projects, which now span creative technologies and an interactive exhibition case.  They really are doing great work, which, as Jo Ellsworth admitted, challenges the archivists and staff to think outside the box and, indeed, outside of their profession and comfort zone to come up with new ways of engaging with their collections.  This is very admirable and something that we could all be doing with embracing if we want to see our material reaching further afield.

The NT Archive is currently working with students on the MA Curating and Collecting at the University of the Arts London, to create an exhibition piece each (there are around 25 students) on Jocelyn Herbert's working relationship with Samuel Beckett.  These students are approaching the material from a curatorial background, not a theatre or design one so it is really brilliant to hear the questions they are raising and the comments they are making on this relatively new addition to the NT external collections.  It is certainly challenging the archive staff and I can't wait to see their installed exhibitions in Wimbledon Space at the end of March.

A beautiful sunset on the train home made up for a very early start!

I and Myfanwy, presented on the NT's Learning and Archive activities, many of which are HLF funded and coming to fruition this year.  We focused on the Archive Teacher Placements.  This is an HLF funded project, which invited teachers, primary and secondary, English and Drama, into the archive to see what we have and come up with new ways of engaging with it for the benefit of students.  We have had 9 such placements so far and they have worked on subjects as far reaching as the history and architecture of the NT building to children's adaptations to Greek Drama.  As long as they created something vaguely heritage related they could work to quite a broad remit.  They have created resources for their own classrooms as well as for wider dissemination via the NT website and have contributed to Archive Learning Days in the newly opened Clore Learning Centre.  It was great to hear from Myfanwy yesterday as this gave a school perspective on archives which can easily become the domain of university education or higher.

The whole day was a great opportunity to get to know others in APAC as well as those who had attended as users of archives.  This sort of event is quite rare and it was invaluable in considering how we can open up our collections further and, almost more importantly, who else is doing it and from whom I can gain advice!
Canterbury Cathedral with a strategically placed motorbike
Today, I have been on a jolly to Canterbury Cathedral with the ARA South East Region to present at their training day for lone archivists.  I was asked to talk about the NT's records management schedule and how this fits in with my day-to-day archive work and projects.  The answer, of course, is that it doesn't but that we have to make it so!  The other few speakers were talking about other aspects of lone working such as internal advocacy at Transport for London Corporate Archives and the new WWI website at Winchester College.  Both of which were really interesting to listen to and I hope that I contributed to the day as much as they did.

Probably the most beautiful room in which I will ever give a presentation!
I think that, sometimes, it is just good to hear that there are others in the same position as you.  It was a lovely group and everyone was really keen to discuss their work and problems they might be facing.  I have felt over the last few days that my networking skills are getting better and I am glad because it is always a dread of mine!  No-one teaches you networking skills and they are so crucial, especially in this profession, which can be rather lonesome at times.  After a busy few days I am spending the weekend in Canterbury to see the sights and take more pictures like the one below!

Canterbury Cathedral cloisters

Monday, 9 February 2015

Copyright conference and beginning the long road to registration

I am currently working on getting to grips with the copyright issues in the NT Archive and how these are affecting the usage of our materials.  I'm working with several departments to clarify existing information and considering in which directions we could go in the future depending on what sort of licensing model we wish to have.

As part of this, I attended a copyright conference in Edinburgh, 'Copyright and Cultural Heritage 2.0: Protecting creators, sharing content' sponsored by Shepherd and Wedderburn and run by The Scotsman.

This event had speakers from a surprising range of backgrounds including writers, politicians, archivists and lawyers.  This is the first copyright conference I have attended outside of the usual 'archive' events.  It was particularly helpful to hear from those in different professions, especially the lawyers, and to see how wide-reaching this issue is.

It was reassuring to hear that others also worry about how we can ensure fairness in getting as many people to access our materials while respecting the copyright holders and maintaining their income so that they can continue to create.

One important point was that it is integral to educate the users of digitised material.  If you offer any digitised material online then every image should be accompanied by a copyright line about how it can be used legally and what users should do to pursue other lines of use.  It would be wonderful if we could get to the stage at the NT where images all had individual copyright statements to guide staff about their use.

A key element to this conference was respect for collections and creators and a wish to collaborate to allow collections to be positively exploited for the greater good of all concerned.

The conference was in a cold but beautiful Edinburgh
In other news, I have enrolled in the ARA registration scheme.  I have written up one credit thus far and I was surprised at how hard it was to 'reflect'.  I have never been very good at reflecting, from school onwards.  I think the difficulty is separating out what I do for work and what I do for my own development.  The registration scheme is based on personal development and so there is a tricky slant to the write-ups.  The vast majority of training I attend etc. is geared towards projects I am undertaking but there are obviously personal development points in these.  I have started on my second credit and have several to write up from previous projects but will soon get into unchartered territory and that is where it will get exciting!