Deuchar steps down at Art Fund

Deuchar steps down at Art Fund

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund since 2010, is to stand down next March.

Designing the new Africa Centre: what does ‘Welcome’ feel like?

Designing the new Africa Centre: what does ‘Welcome’ feel like?

The Africa Centre has commissioned the young architectural practice Freehaus to help design its future, and tomorrow evening (Sept 18), as part of the London Design Festival, the centre’s director Kenneth Tharp and Freehaus’s Jonathan Hagos will have an open discussion about their collaboration, and the challenge. Simon Tait spoke to them first

£95m boost for historic high streets

£95m boost for historic high streets

The government is committing £95m into reviving historic high streets in the biggest single cash injection in our built heritage, culture secretary Nicky Morgan announced today.

Bristol’s Arnolfini reborn

Bristol’s Arnolfini reborn

Bristol’s Arnolfini Gallery, forced to wind down its activities after losing its Arts Council England national portfolio status in July 2017, has relaunched with a new exhibitions programme, new ACE funding and a partnership with the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).

TAITMAIL   Saving the De Morgans

TAITMAIL Saving the De Morgans

Evelyn Pickering could have been the leading Pre-Raphaelite painter, at least up there with her uncle R S Stanhope. In 1887 she married the then uber-fashionable ceramicist William De Morgan, and in the Arts and Crafts milieu they were Posh ‘n’ Becks, Harry and Megan, George and Amal rolled together.

Nation gets art worth record £60m in tax breaks

Nation gets art worth record £60m in tax breaks

Works of art by Rubens, Hirst and Peter Lanyon were included in a record year for art and historic artefacts coming into the public domain through the Cultural Gifts (CGS) and Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) Schemes.

Cultural collaboration could transform economies

Cultural collaboration could transform economies

The potential of cultural destinations is being missed because of a lack of collaboration between museum and tourism professionals, according to a trends report being published today.

Fighting to save the ‘rarest spirits’ of the De Morgans

Fighting to save the ‘rarest spirits’ of the De Morgans

AI PROFILE: Sarah Hardy, curator and manager, The De Morgan Foundation

Museum of London staff to strike

Museum of London staff to strike

Staff at the Museum of London are to follow the example of colleagues at the Science Museum and strike over a below-inflation pay rise.

Eva Langret to head up Frieze

Eva Langret to head up Frieze

Frieze announced today that its new artistic director is to be Eva Langret, currently head of exhibitions at London's Tiwani Contemporary Gallery.

Dior breaks V&A records

Dior breaks V&A records

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams closed on Sunday as the most successful V&A exhibition ever, with almost 600,000 visitors.

Green Caroline’s green art

Green Caroline’s green art

Green MP Caroline Lucas is to curate her first art exhibition, and it will have a distinctly green tinge.

£7.1m boost for diversity arts leadership

£7.1m boost for diversity arts leadership

Arts Council England has invested more than £7m in a new leadership development scheme.

THE ART OF PHOTOJOURNALISM Image of the month

THE ART OF PHOTOJOURNALISM Image of the month

Elizabeth Taylor, London, November 1948, by Chris Ware

Alan Sparrow introduces this month’s image

TALK OF THE TOWN HALL   Preston’s pressing problem

TALK OF THE TOWN HALL Preston’s pressing problem

By Patrick Kelly

There’s lots of talk these days about “anchor institutions” - a loaded term, perhaps, and one that might sound like a bit of a drag. But it seems that local economies can’t do without them.

Science Museum staff strike

Science Museum staff strike

Staff at the Science Museum and its branches are to strike today (August 30) after the group failed to improve on a pay rise offer.

Largest post-Conquest coin hoard found

Largest post-Conquest coin hoard found

The largest hoard of coins from the reigns of Harold II and William the Conqueror has been found in a Somerset field.

THE WORD  Festivaland, where small is greener

THE WORD Festivaland, where small is greener

Hannah Jacobs, director of the Tandem Festival in Oxfordshire, on how small festivals are ethical pioneers

Ayckbourn at 80

Ayckbourn at 80

Sir Alan Ayckbourn, one of Britain’s most successful and prolific living playwrights, is to lead the celebrations of his 80thbirthday at the theatre he created in Scarborough.

Arts key to towns’ futures - ACE report

Arts key to towns’ futures - ACE report

Growing numbers of the public believe culture encourages people to move to particular towns, a survey for Arts Council England.

TAITMAIL    So what is a museum?

TAITMAIL So what is a museum?

Museums have apparently reached a new high in popularity. Against expectations, museums and art galleries in England saw a rise of 2% in 2018 - with, crucially, revenue also up 2% on the previous year – according to Visit England this week. It may seem modest, but it comes after three years of decline. 

British Museum partners regionals on new exhibition plan

British Museum partners regionals on new exhibition plan

The British Museum is collaborating with regional museums and galleries on an exhibition of prints and drawings from the BM’s collection.

V&A to get ‘fly on wall’ treatment

V&A to get ‘fly on wall’ treatment

The Victoria & Albert Museum is allowing BBC cameras into its vaults and workshops for a six-part documentary, Secrets of the Museum.

Achates ambassadors scheme to build new funding structure

Achates ambassadors scheme to build new funding structure

Achates Philanthropy, set up to help arts organisations raise funds from private sources, has launched a bursary scheme to train fundraisers.

DEA BIRKETT Who do you think you’re talking to?

Dea Birkett takes the British Museum to task over its object labels, and who it thinks will read them

Last month #AskaCurator happened, the annual day on which anyone can tweet a question to a curator. At 10.16am, the Keeper of Asia at the British Museum started answering tweets about interpretation.

@massmuseum

How do you go about designing exhibition labels and information that are accessible to a wider range of people? #AskaCurator

@britishmuseum

Jane, Keeper of Asia: Curators write the labels based on their specialist knowledge and they are edited by our Interpretation departments...

@britishmuseum

...We aim to be understandable by 16 year olds. Sometimes Asian names can be confusing, so we have to be careful about using too many.

Within moments I’d had texts asking if I’d seen these tweets. #AskaCurator is designed to open that tantalising door and take us behind the decision-making scenes
in a museum. This British Museum tweet did just that. We’d been allowed to peek through the keyhole into
the assumptions of our great museums and, rather than finding knowledge and wonder, discovered prejudice and misunderstanding. The response on Twitter was immediate and furious. How could a great cultural institution say this?

How? It’s unimaginable that an Asian person, or someone of Asian descent, would have called Asian names “confusing”. A name isn’t confusing if it’s yours, your parents’, your cousin’s, your uncle’s. So, confusing to whom exactly? Who is the imagined 16-year-old visitor? Not Asian.

I have long argued that language is an access issue.
If you riddle your labels with unnecessarily obscure language, it’s equivalent to removing your ramp. It means many people won’t be able to access your collection.

But language is also a diversity issue. You always write from a viewpoint. And if that viewpoint is always the same – a white, non-disabled, middle-class museum sector – then the museum won’t be accepting of diverse staff or welcome diverse visitors.

Let’s look at some really confusing names. Luciano Pavarotti – would the museum have a problem with that? And as for length, how would they abbreviate Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Robert Baden-Powell or Camilla Parker- Bowles? As the Twitter spat went on, even the title of the Tweeter began to be questioned. Keeper of Asia? Did that come from a Victorian novel?

But how did the British Museum respond? At 11.48am they tweeted they were sorry “for any offence caused”
– not for what they said. The museum then explained why they had to take the Asian-names-too-confusing approach. “Label text to any object is necessarily limited and we try to tell the object’s story ... We are not always able to re ect the complexity of different names”. Oh –
I see. They weren’t being offensive at all. It’s just that
we don’t properly understand the challenges of writing museum text. Quite rightly, the vast majority found this explanation unacceptable. The Twitter debate continued and became a “Moment” – that’s a highlight of the day due to the large number of comments on it. It was the only #AskaCurator thread that did so.

So did the British Museum finally say that it was wrong and it’d look at how a national institution was able to say something like that? That it would learn? No. It issued a second statement. “For any object in the museum we try to make the label as clear as possible, to visitors of all origins, within a tight word limit”. Again, it was our problem. We just don’t understand how museums work.

But we do. And we recognise prejudice when we
see it. We also recognise that when museums refuse to examine their own assumptions, they damage not only themselves but the reputation and standing of the sector as a whole.

The fabulous #AskaCurator may not have intended to reveal this aspect of curatorial work. But in doing so, it has at least given a public platform for response.
We know these attitudes are there – they’re just kept hidden in the stores along with other obsolete and no longer interesting objects. They need to be brought out into the light, dusted down, examined, then dumped. Then we need to employ a rainbow of voices writing museum stories and labels, so none of us are confused at all.

But it’s not only museums. That same September week, a press release went out about “£400K research project launched to help theatres diversify audiences”. There was a picture of the six researchers. They were all white.

Dea Birkett is Co-Director of Text Workshop www.textworkshop.co.uk www.deabirkett.com

 

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