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Cornwall's Museum Sector

Museum & Heritage Sector
Much like the theatre industry, there were few jobs posted online for the museum sector in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly for 2021. Building up a network of people in your chosen industry is essential to being successful. This highlights the importance of soft skills as well as potential required qualifications.

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Creative Sector Case Study – Museum 

 

Meet Daisy, the Curator at Hayle Heritage Centre, a social and industrial history museum in West Cornwall.

Daisy making an archive box

Daisy’s accolades include a Postgraduate Certificate in Archival Studies, Degree in English Literature from the University of Winchester, Associate of the Museums Association and graduate of Norfolk Museums Service Teaching Museum Programme.

Daisy is also a local artist, taking inspiration from the unique culture and landscape of the far-reaches of the county. Daisy exhibits regularly at Studio Nine Totnes, and sells her artwork through Instagram (@daisy.culmer.art)

Hi Daisy, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what your career has looked like so far for your creative and museum work.

Hi, thank you for inviting me to talk about my work. After graduating in 2011, I was unsure where I wanted to go. All around me, it seemed as though my peers had a plan but it wasn’t until two years later, when I was completing a year-long internship at the British Library, that I realised I wanted to pursue a career in the heritage sector. Those interim years felt scary, (though, they needn’t have been) and so I entirely empathise with people feeling the pressure to figure out their futures.

My internship at the British Library was based in the training department but I was encouraged to pursue CPD (continuing professional development) opportunities and so spent time shadowing colleagues in other departments: publishing; learning and outreach; conservation etc. One day, a Curator gave me a tour of one of the strong rooms and I was allowed to handle the manuscript of Jane Eyre. I felt quite emotional and knew in that moment that this is what I wanted to do. However, it soon became clear that the standard entry-route into a museum career was to have a Masters degree in Museum Studies – not accessible to most. I persevered, and spent the next eighteen months applying for administrative vacancies in museums and galleries across the country, after moving back home to Cornwall and finding work in retail. I was over the moon to secure a place of the Heritage Lottery Funded Teaching Museum Programme, delivered by Norfolk Museums Service. I owe so much to the programme, which is intended to provide an alternative entry route into the museum profession.

After my training programme finished, in 2016, I had quite a few interviews but hadn’t yet secured anything and knew that I’d have to move back to my parents’, in Cornwall, whilst I continued to look for work. I then called Hayle Heritage Centre to enquire about volunteering and was told that a job was going to be advertised later that week! I was thrilled to be offered the position of Curator and have been working there since where I really enjoy the varied nature of work in a small museum.

I am responsible for all collections management activities, managing our collections database and maintaining formal entry, accession, loan and exit procedures. My role is also concerned with collections development, collections access and with enhancing the Centre’s exhibition offer; I’ve curated three major permanent exhibitions, several temporary exhibitions and displays, and am currently working on a major museum redevelopment. I also manage a team of fifteen volunteers, deliver a varied learning and outreach programme: designing collections-focused craft workshops; delivering talks and tours; creating object lesson boxes; building partnerships with community groups etc.

As for my art, I have been making work with intention and consistency for three years now. It’s fairly early days but I have had a few very exciting opportunities to exhibit and to share my work in the publications Horizon Magazine and Not Selected at this Time. I also recently accepted my first commission via Instagram and would now love to have my work represented within a local gallery.

Artwork by Daisy
Between two lights/ From Smeaton’s to Godrevy 2021 Mixed-media on paper

What has been the most valuable thing you’ve learnt from your formal qualifications?

Though not a qualification as such and more a professional development award, my Associateship of the Museums Association was an invaluable learning opportunity. The programme is completed remotely and there was a fantastic AMA support group here in Cornwall. The programme “provides a flexible way to become an up-to-date and well-rounded museum professional”. It is open to existing museum volunteers as well as paid staff so perfect for anyone at any stage of their career. One thing I value most about the museum sector is that I have always been met with a resounding “of course!” from peers in museums far and wide when I have asked to come behind-the-scenes, explore their collections stores, and find out about their working practices. There is such a warm, collaborative attitude.

What do you love about the creative and cultural sectors of Cornwall?

I really appreciate the organisations which support the museum sector and other creative industries within the county. We are incredibly fortunate to have Cornwall Museums Partnership, for example, which supports Cornish (often very rural) museums through the provision of training, mentorship, cross promotion, and networking events. I’ve formed strong working relationships with many other museum professionals throughout the county this way and feel I have a strong network of peers to reach out to if ever I need. Cultivator, too, offer funding and support for creative industries and artists in Cornwall.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in breaking into the museum/cultural sector but has no prior experience?

The museum sector has come on leaps and bounds when it comes to breaking down barriers to access for future museum professionals. The Trainee Curator programme is designed to be accessible to entry-level applicants. Cornwall now has five Trainee Curators Programmes that run annually across Cornwall by Cornwall Museums Partnerships, Recruitment is now closed for 2022. However will open later in the year for January 2023.

Similar question for artists and creatives in Cornwall, what would be your advice for them trying to make a name for themselves?

Instagram. There are definitely cons as well as pros to this platform, but I feel it’s absolutely vital, that emerging artists immerse themselves within the local artists’ community and Instagram is a fantastic way to network. Consistent uploading and engaging with others’ content is very important. Social media can absolutely impact your mental health negatively and so, as far as possible, I’d recommend tailoring your feed to only accounts and friends that make you feel inspired and positive about yourself. Communication and mutual support via Instagram has led to my being asked to take part in a couple of exciting art projects and I’ve been lucky to make a few friends this way too.

Artwork by Daisy
Crates and crab pots 2021 Mixed-media collage on paper

What has been the biggest challenge for you with Covid-19 at the museum?

Definitely making sure that we continued to engage with the community throughout the period despite the physical closure of the building. I ran a social media campaign called #HayleIn20Objects to provide continued access to our collections; this was a huge success with so much engagement, both local and from further afield. I shared images and stories of twenty objects within our permanent collections to build a picture of Hayle: from a beautiful 19th century Harvey & Co. apprentice’s marquetry box to the aluminium letters that comprised the shop sign for Biggleston’s, Hayle’s longstanding general merchants.

What are the important things to consider when thinking about getting into the industry?

The museum and heritage sector is highly competitive. However, it truly is no exaggeration to say that the sector is full of people who are genuinely passionate about their work and keen to share knowledge with others. People do this job because they love it – because it is creative, varied, and inspiring – not because they expect to earn the big bucks.

Day in the life: what’s a normal day for you? What are the main tasks? Fave thing to do? Least fave thing to do? What weren’t you expecting you’d have to do?

I would usually start my day checking emails. These often include donation enquiries. For example, we were recently offered the entire archive of (the no longer running) Hayle Male Voice Choir. I might also have enquiries from researchers. Next, I might spend some time updating our collections management system (a database with information about everything we hold, both objects and archival material).

By mid-morning, the volunteers will have arrived. Tasks might include object photography or paper conservation. I will help out where needed throughout the day and make sure everyone’s happy with the task at hand.

We’re closed to the public over winter but if we were open, we’d spend time setting up interactives (such as children’s dressing up activities or digital displays); arranging shop stock etc. Some visitors are happy to explore the displays independently whilst others might have lots of questions; this is often the case for those on genealogy trips, often here from Australia and other parts of the world (where Cousin Jacks dispersed) to trace their Cornish ancestors.

I might spend some time in the afternoon policy writing. I am currently working on revising our Collections Development Policy, which stipulates our objectives for future collecting. We do, for example, have a “gap” in Hayle’s story during Medieval Times and may wish to acquire material from this period. The Heritage Centre then closes at 4pm and volunteers leave for the day. I might then have a meeting with a local artist as a potential workshop facilitator or with my colleagues to address wider Trust issues: building maintenance work etc.

What I love most about my job is that it’s so varied. Some projects span years whilst other tasks might crop up unexpectedly one afternoon, and so no two days are the same.

Daisy working on a deep clean of object
Deep clean of a train