Monday, 23 March 2015

Whose meaning is it anyway?

One of the things I’ve been thinking about recently is how meaning/s at heritage sites can become fixed as chosen stories/histories are told over and over. I see this in the anxieties and resistance to changes that I encounter. It’s entirely understandable of course, but if the past is to be relevant to people’s lives today and we genuinely want to work with a range of different creative practitioners, then we have to be open to other perspectives, other meanings being attributed to what is already considered ‘known’.

When Robert Adam designed Croome’s Long Gallery, he had a particular idea and aesthetic in mind, and it would have been the most modern of ideas and aesthetics in the late C18th. And the room would have been used in a particular way by his client. But what will 10 artists make of it and how will their work alter the way the room, its aesthetic and purpose are perceived over the next two years? Some see it as a threat, but I think it will open things up at Croome in a new way and I’m curious and slightly impatient to see what new meanings might be exposed through their work.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Preserving Heritage/Preserving Beauty

Last Saturday I went to the opening of Jack's gallery and dark room space in Heath Town, Wolverhampton. It's impressive how far his Redeveloped and Redefined project has developed in nearly a year, with strong links now to Black Country Make and Re-Entry. The gallery got a good review in the local paper, as well as a post on Facebook.

Part of the project is about Jack developing his own photography, and the part of it is about
working with the local community to capture Heath Town with photography, before it is 'regenerated'. It struck me that when all these flats are knocked down in two years time, another slice of that part of British post-war heritage will be gone. Optimistic buildings for an optimistic time - space-age living. This version of community living didn't quite work out, but once it's gone, who will remember it in 100 years time? The photographs that will be taken over the next two years may be more important than those who take them realise. Keep an eye on how it develops on Jack's blog.

Friday, 27 February 2015


Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been making studio visits with Anneka French to artists we are going to be working with in the Long Gallery. Although they were not all at studios, the conversations were all equally inspiring, albeit very different.

On the 18th, we started off in Birmingham, at All Bar One, then Urban Coffee (by way of the New Art West Midlands show at BMAG), and finishing the day in the Centre for Fine Art Research at the Birmingham School of Art. This week, we were in London, initially at an artist’s home studio in Mile End, followed by the Chocolate Factory in Dalston.

Today we were back in Birmingham, going from two artists working in the studios in Great Tindall Street out to Edgbaston, (by way of the Ikon). It's such diverse group of artists that I'm starting to get a sense of how radically their work is going to alter the space it's going into.

We've two more artists to visit, in London, in a couple of weeks time. Who are they all? Well, once they're all confirmed, we'll be releasing more information.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Everything Speaks…

...but what's it saying?

I was at the NT conference on visitor experience (called Everything Speaks) a couple of weeks ago, and inevitably it has given me cause to reflect, both on what we’re doing, and what others are doing (both within and without the NT).

There was a mixture of keynote talks and smaller sessions (called, I suppose, ‘breakout sessions’.) The external keynotes were done by Lloyd Grossman, Bernard Donoghue (AVLA) Sarah Roots, (Warner Studio Tour - i.e. Harry Potter tour), Sarah Goodfellow, (14-18 Now), Tracy Borman, (HRP), and Sarah Lockwood (National Maritime Museum). We also had Molly Oldfield (QI Elf) as our guest speaker on the Thursday (awards) evening. All interesting to hear for different reasons, the most innovative project was probably the one at the 

NMM, which is a game/immersive theatre experience for children devised with Punchdrunk.

I find the relationship between the NT and other organisations a fascinating one. On the one hand, we’re all working in the same, heritage visitor attraction industry, but on the other, we’re competitors. Are we learning from one another, or stealing ideas? (If ‘stealing’ is the right word.) And although companies like Warner are way ahead of us with their digital interpretation (and always will/should be), and we do have things to learn from other organisations, the NT does have a number of centres of innovation.

In terms of NT speakers, James Grasby was by far the most entertaining, and of the sessions I went to, LouiseGovier (Mottisfont) had a very level-headed appraisal of simple things done very well. Overall, it was a reassuring couple of days, both in terms of making me feel like we’re not alone at Croome in trying to do things differently, and because in many ways we’re ahead of the curve (as we should be.) We’re still finding our voice, perhaps, but we do have plenty to say, and will become more articulate over 2015, both through our Croome identity work with Polimekanos, but also our two main projects of the year, the story of the Lost Tapestries of Croome, and the sculptures in the Long Gallery.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

You talkin' to me?

I’ve been thinking a lot about audiences/visitors/public/s recently, and trying to answer the question: ‘Who are we talking to?’ Of course, it’s not a simple question to answer as we’re talking to all sorts of audiences/visitors etc. Perhaps I should be asking: ‘Who do I want us to be talking to?’ But then that begs the question: ‘What do I want us to be saying?’

And then there’s the question: ‘How many audiences/visitors etc. can you talk to at once?’ The obvious answer might be: ‘One’, but even at the cinema there are different types of audience viewing a single film, let alone the different films that a cinema shows. I suppose those audiences etc. are varied because they want to get different things out of going to the cinema, and that’s the trick: to offer a single thing that appeals to, and satisfies, a range of audiences. But it’s not that straightforward. Cinemas just show films, theatres just plays and galleries just art. We're trying to 'show' lots of things.

We often talk about engaging ‘new audiences’, but do they exist? And what of existing audiences? A ‘new audience’ means a new audience to us – they’re not new new - but they probably already exist, it’s just that they’re going somewhere else for their enjoyment/engagement.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

A sense of fun

Just before Christmas I was discussing our work at Croome with our regional head of conservation, and I asked what she thought was particularly good about what we're up to. Her response was that our projects all had a sense of fun about them. And it's true. They are all grounded firmly in Croome's stories, characters and genii loci, but our aim is to make everything easily accessible by not being too serious about them. It's become one of our guiding principles, and in his own way, I think this is why Grayson Perry has such appeal.

Potentially this is going to be difficult to maintain, but should be possible as long as we keep asking ourselves whether we're being too serious about things. One thing that is really going to challenge this is as we start doing things in the main rooms in the house because they have their own serious architectural designs.

Monday, 8 December 2014


I went to the Holbourne Museum in Bath on Saturday to see the Paul Scott exhibition of his Cumbrian Blue(s) ceramics work. It's both striking and playful in the way it modernises antique ceramics, making the antique relevant in an unexpected way. It prompted me to think further about the work we'll be doing with Croome's ceramics collection.

All the work was displayed on a table with a long cloth on it, on which were lightly printed the names of British ceramics makers. The large glass case around the display had a minimal amount of text, and that was high up, so as not to obscure the view. There were also small ceramics tablets with titles of each piece of work on them. This approach to labelling was very refreshing, with added info in an accompanying booklet.

I can start to envisage an installation of our French Sèvres porcelain which is a collaboration between an 'emerging' artist, a ceramicist and a curator, and possibly use Twitter hashtags to label the work.

Also at the Holbourne was a gentle installation by Holly Davey, reflecting on the life of Barbara Holbourne