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‘Museums and Artists Working Together’ learning day in Kent

The ‘Museums and Artists Working Together’ learning day, held in January 2016, was a unique opportunity to bring two cultural sectors together for an open discussion about how they interact. The aim of the day was to create a set of rules (or manifesto), based on our shared knowledge, which lists codes of best practise for future museums & artists' projects.

The event took place in the new creative hub space No.34 on Sittingbourne High Street, Swale and was facilitated by the Ideas Test, one of the 20 national Creative People and Places projects. Swale is home to a vibrant network of local museums and heritage sites, full of potential artistic activity. The local community is very proud of its local heritage, and the museums’ staff are keen to develop how they go about engaging their audiences.

The Speakers presenting included people with a range of experiences from artists, to commissioners, to museum staff. Nicole Mollett (artist/Ideas Test) began with an introduction to the day. She reflected on the local context, putting forth the argument that both artists need museums and museums need artists. Thus proposing a symbiotic relationship. She concluded with a film of a recent project she had undertaken at Tunbridge Wells Museum and Gallery working with their Magic Lantern collection.

Joanna Jones and Clare Smith, from Dover Arts Development (http://www.dadonline.eu/) presented an overview of their project ‘DMAG code named Joined Up’. For the last two years DAD has been working with over 10 smaller museums in the Dover area, working together with 10 artists to help them re-interpret their WW1 collections. For many of the museums, it was their first experience of working with an artist. Joanna and Clare were able to share a great depth of knowledge on the struggle and challenges this position brings.

Thomas Goddard, Artist (www.thomas-goddard.com) travelled from Wales to share with us his experience of being both a commissioned artist and a learning officer at a museum in Swansea. He told the story of ‘Lizzie the Elephant’, a bizarre piece of taxidermy which had been destroyed and only existed as part of a photograph in an archive of a museum. He decided to make this forgotten object into the focus of his project. He worked with a group of local school children to re-tale the story, using masks and a parade which engaged a wider audience.

Jeremy Clarke, from the Guildhall Museum (http://www.visitmedway.org/places-of-interest/guildhall-museum) reflected on his 20 years of experience working with artists in museums. He talked about his very first major installation, working with artist Kyoko Kumai to install a 10m by 8m stainless steel sculpture in a listed grand hall. We watched a film about the 2012 Cathy Miles project entitled ‘The Toolshed’ in which the artist created a garden shed inside the museum, complete with individually crafted delicate wire outline tool sculptures, inspired by the . Jeremy also gave insight into working with the artist Adam Chodzko , as part of a project Hoodwink commissioned to be installed inside the museum.

The day concluded with a half hour brain storming workshop, where the attendees worked in smaller groups to articulate what they felt where the most important lessons learnt. These were then shared with the group, and everyone had the choice to vote for their top five. These thoughts where then further digested and simplified into a list of ten carefully worded points which make up the ‘Museums and Artists Working Together Manifesto’. This document has been shared across the wider network of contacts, and is a freely available resource from the Ideas Test website.