£5m for new children’s arts programme

£5m for new children’s arts programme

A new £5m DCMS/Arts Council Youth Performance Partnership will benefit 10,000 young people, culture secretary Jeremy Wright has announced.

Tate latest to turn away from Sackler

Tate latest to turn away from Sackler

Tate has announced that it will accept no more gifts from the Sackler family charities, following the National Portrait Gallery’s decision this week to refuse a £1m gift.

Red House to merge with Snape

Red House to merge with Snape

The Britten-Pears Foundation created at the Red House, Aldeburgh, by the composer Benjamin Britten and the singer Peter Pears is to merge with Snape Maltings, the concert hall they founded in Suffolk.

TAITMAIL   Twinkling under the Stratford gloss

TAITMAIL Twinkling under the Stratford gloss

Post-Olympic Stratford is booming. The V&A, Sadler’s Wells, University College London and even the London College of Fashion are all settling in at the Olympic Park, or what Boris Johnson called Olympicopolis. It’s getting a £2.3bn international quarter for global corporations, the 34-storey Sky View Tower and the 14-storey City West Tower. Even the multi-storey car park by the station is to turn its top level over to a roof garden.

Dancing in the streets

Dancing in the streets

Behind the gloss of post-Olympic prosperity, the communities of Newham are still seriously challenged. For 30 years East London Dance has been lifting their hearts and aspirations and now, as it prepares for its third Ideas Summit, it is contemplating its own biggest step forward. Simon Tait talks to its director, Polly Risbridger

New team at Birmingham Rep

New team at Birmingham Rep

And a change at Sheffield’s industrial museums

Birmingham Repertory Theatre has chosen Sean Foley as its new artistic director.

MPs call for arts subjects on Ebacc

MPs call for arts subjects on Ebacc

Music education damaging talent pipeline, says committee

THE WORD    Art breaking the gender gap

THE WORD Art breaking the gender gap

Anita Choudhrie on why it is time for the gender imbalance in art to be evened up

NPG rejects £1m Sackler sponsorship

NPG rejects £1m Sackler sponsorship

The National Portrait Gallery has turned down £1m in sponsorship from the Sackler Trust because of the controversy over the drug OxyContin produced by the Sackler pharmaceutical company.

London puts culture on the map

London puts culture on the map

The capital’s cultural infrastructure from pubs to recording studios to libraries is being made on a free interactive online map https://www.london.gov.uk/cultural-infrastructure-map.

What's up in...   Norwich

What's up in... Norwich

AI looks at what's coming up around the country – this week, the arts in Norwich

London borough to give every under 11 free theatre trip

London borough to give every under 11 free theatre trip

Southwark scheme pledges £500,000.

2m teenagers to get new creative careers chance

2m teenagers to get new creative careers chance

A new programme devised by creative industries leaders is aimed at giving career chances to 2m youngsters.

Lost words carved in stone for posterity

Lost words carved in stone for posterity

Words from nature deleted from the Oxford Children’s Junior Dictionary are being immortalised by artists in an exhibition opening on Friday (March 15) at Snape Maltings Lettering Centre in Suffolk.

Wordsworth’s £6m birthday present

Wordsworth’s £6m birthday present

William Wordsworth’s 250th birthday in 2020 will see a £6.2m expansion of the museum devoted to him at his home village of Grasmere in Cumbria, the Wordsworth Trust has announced.

Central cleared of racism

Central cleared of racism

The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama – graded gold standard for its teaching, the highest achievable level - has been cleared of racism by rejecting quotas for black and mixed ethnic applicants.

All Leicester museums' curators to go in council cuts

All Leicester museums' curators to go in council cuts

All four posts go in cost-cutting review

Industry warning on school music

Industry warning on school music

Survey shows growing gap between state and private schools

Huckle’s new 1st City contemporary music role

Huckle’s new 1st City contemporary music role

Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) has appointed Seb Huckle to the new post of executive director.

£20.5m concert venue for Liverpool

£20.5m concert venue for Liverpool

The University of Liverpool is to build a new 400-seat concert hall, for students and public.

Maestra! Covent Garden boost for women conductors

Maestra! Covent Garden boost for women conductors

The Royal Opera has chosen International Women’s Day today to announce two new women conductors' courses.

Saving the curator – charity takes responsibility

Saving the curator – charity takes responsibility

A charity is stepping into new territory – funding core cultural activities. Simon Tait reports

Leicester’s Phoenix in £7 million expansion

Leicester’s Phoenix in £7 million expansion

Leicester's Phoenix Cinema and Arts Centre has been given the go ahead for a £7m expansion.

V&A’s Dundee effect is working

V&A’s Dundee effect is working

Figures show major boost for culture venues

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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