Monday, 3 August 2015

The National Bird of Britain

After a poll of nearly a quarter of a million votes, the robin is now officially Britain’s national bird. 

The National Bird Vote saw the robin take 34% of the votes, followed by the barn owl and the blackbird, at 12% and 11% respectively.

Birder and organiser of the poll, David Lindo, claimed the robin’s bullish and territorial, yet chirpy nature is why Britain has voted for the robin as the country’s national bird. Our familiarity with the robin could also be why it was so popular, Grahame Madge, RSPB spokesman, says that wherever you are in Britain the robin “is only a flutter away from our footsteps, [it’s] a worthy winner”.

Another obvious factor at play is the robin’s presence in British culture. Christmas and robins seem to go hand-in-hand as they feature on cards, in carols and even gave their name to the red-coated Victorian postmen that delivered Christmas cards. The robin also has religious associations; legend suggests that the robin flew to Jesus at his crucifixion and is forever marked with Christ’s blood on its chest. It’s distinctive red breast has obviously endeared itself to the nation.

Although the robin deserves its place as the national bird due to its distinctive characteristics and historical significance, some critics of the robin’s new title say that the position of national bird should be used to spearhead a conservation movement for the species or national wildlife. The robin’s position as national bird of Britain deprives other lesser known, more endangered birds of recognition and aid. Furthermore, robins and their nests are already fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

However, the nature of the poll, leaving the British public to decide, would possibly increase the chances of well-known birds winning the title. In a separate poll at Knowsley Safari Park, 500 children under 15 were asked to identify the shortlist by their photographs. The results show that only a third of the children believed that all were actually British. One notable member of the shortlist was the Hen Harrier, which came ninth out of the shortlist. It is regarded as the most heavily persecuted bird in Britain and is targeted by gamekeepers and a raised platform would certainly be a step towards a Defra act to end its persecution.

In other countries, the Philippine eagle was declared a national bird to highlight its difficulties, the scarlet macaw was declared the national bird of Honduras in 1993 in a bid to raise awareness of the varied wildlife in the country and the ‘Near Threatened’ resplendent quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala was considered sacred both in Mayan culture and by the conquistadors.

Therefore, although the robin has a rich history within British culture, more could be done to conserve British wildlife. One way in which this could be done is through the nomination of birds of the year. Since 1995, The Estonian Ornithological society selects birds of the year to encourage interest and conservation activities. Estonia’s bird of the year for 2015 is the buzzard, which means the population is monitored, live webcams focus on breeding pairs and constant updates go up on their website, which helps to raise awareness of the species. All of this is done whilst also retaining their national bird, the Barn Swallow. Annual projects such as this would provide extensive information for a wide range of birds that would benefit from conservation.

Maintaining Britain’s national bird as the robin would capture the British spirit and confirm its historical cultural significance, however, the bird of the year would help raise the profile of the less familiar species and help bring in legislation to protect them.  

This post was written by Andrew Taylor, an NTU Masters student in Museum and Heritage Management and a Culture Syndicates Heritage Assistant.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Joseph Cornell and Appropriated Images of Astronomy- A Surrealist Gateway for Desire

Wanderlust, an exhibition at the RA dedicated to the works and worlds of Joseph Cornell, explores his fascination with travel. Yet, they also mention that he hardly ever travelled outside of New York State, preferring instead, to imagine the worlds of the Romantic ballet and Renaissance Italy in his home in Manhattan. This exhibition brings together a vast collection of his remarkable boxes, assemblages, collages and films, which ‘transform everyday objects into spellbinding treasures’ and runs from 7th July- 27th September 2015.

Figure 1: Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Celestial Fantasy with Tamara Toumanova), c.1941, Collage with sprayed and spattered paint on paperboard, 14.5 x 9.25 in. Smithsonian American Art Museum

Cornell created art during the time of the Surrealists. Though he did not partake in the entirety of the political motivations of André Breton’s (1896-1966) circle, which was often associated with the Communist Party, he is often defined as a Surrealist by academics and critics due to similar practices of production and a shared overarching aesthetic.[1] Indeed, in modern literature he is almost always identified as a Surrealist practitioner and is often spoken of in relation to other pioneers of the movement such as Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) and Max Ernst (1891-1976) due to their influence on his work. An example of these shared processes is that they appropriated and adopted scientific approaches for their work. Cornell’s chief interest was astronomy, a subject that he had been fascinated by throughout his life. He collected over 100 books dedicated to the subject in his library, ranging from 19th century novels, children’s books and modern literature.[2] He also collected celestial maps, which included constellation charts and atlases from Johann Bayer’s Uranometria of 1603, as well as diagrams made using modern technology.[3] This collection contained numerous copies of the same books so he could appropriate the images directly for his own work.[4] 

Figure 2: Joseph Cornell, Untitled, c.1934, collage,
9 x 7 in., estate of Joseph Cornell

These maps influenced Cornell’s work throughout his career, from an untitled work of 1934 (figure 2) which directly appropriates a celestial map, to his later work, which develops the theme in a much more idiosyncratic way, such as the scenario entitled Nebula, The Powdered Sugar Princess of 1941. As the art historian, James Elkins, argues in ‘Art History and Images That Are Not Art’, images ignored by Art History can often act as coded symbols.[5] Cornell and many other Surrealists used these coded objects as markers representing themes, such as eggs that were used to represent alchemy and metamorphosis.[6] However, Cornell also used the trope of the astronomical image as a means of symbolising metamorphosis and the infinite.[7] The history of science, particularly astronomy, was important to his artistic process, as he often looked back to the myths behind the constellations, indeed for some artworks this formed the basis of the work. For Untitled, created around 1934 (figure 2), he used an astrological map published in Bayer’s Uranometria, which charts the constellation of Boötes also known as the Ploughman or the Herdsman. In this reworking, the image has extra motifs included within it, such as a loaf of bread in a box and a box in which the character stands. This simple manipulation of the appropriated image brings to the fore the dedication with which he studied the stories of the constellations, for by adding these elements he highlights their history through artistic terms. One interpretation of the constellation’s narrative is that the Ploughman was placed there by Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, for his invention of the plough. Another interpretation places him as the Herdsman who is the guardian of Ursa Major, the Great Bear and Taurus.[8] This artwork by Cornell places Boötes in these roles and emphasises their importance in the image by adding further reference through the bread in the box.[9] The bread is the compound creation of the wheat element and can therefore be read as an unusual symbol of metamorphosis, which is activated only through relation to the narrative. Though he is not using the traditional framework of objects the Surrealists utilised, the artwork still uses the trope of metamorphosis. It is also important to note that the heavens were the setting of this metamorphosis and the myths of the constellations made this trope possible in this work.

This suggests that his early work is the starting point of further development which uses the heavens as a backdrop of romanticised fantasy, for his work is based upon the importance of the narratives displayed in astronomical maps from his collection. This association between fantasy and the heavens could have been his inspiration to create various collages within this setting, which incorporate figures and a narrative of his own making. An example of this is his story of Nebula, The Powdered Sugar Princess, which is an unrealised sketch for a film that was not possible to make at the time as there was not the technology to create such fantastical settings. His notes on the work consist of three reimaginings of the same scene which feature a ballerina. He describes the scene in his notes as thus:

‘The ballerina is floating like has become
a constellation
the stars in her
 dress tutu, one or two in her chevelure
& one in her forehead have transformed
into a constellation. Clouds of fantastic
 shape resembling horses, swans, fish
 ballerinas float by. Meteors flash by.’ [10]

This narrative demonstrates not only that the ballerina is placed in the setting of the heavens but specifically transforms her into a constellation.  By defining this status, Cornell appropriates the history of astronomy, particularly the narratives of the constellations. This acts to simultaneously solidify her importance by placing her amongst the myths of scientific history, as well as draw upon his association of the heavens as a symbol of metamorphosis. As well as this, he mixes transitory beauty with the infinite, as, according to John Bernard Myers in his monograph, Joseph Cornell and the Outside World, Cornell associated physical aspects of nature with different lengths of time. For example, the world of beauty, such as jewels, romantic personalities and ballerinas, were immediate, however, the heavens were infinite. [11] By mixing these together he raises the ballerina’s status as a transitory being into the romantic infinity of the heavens.

Figure 3: Joseph Cornell, Hommage to Tamara Toumanova, 1940, Commercially printed papers and gouache on blue wove paper, 15.4 x 9 in. Lindy and Edwin Bergman Joseph Cornell Collection

Cornell had developed a passion for ballerinas as well as other female icons, at this point it was particularly aimed at the ballet dancer, Tamara Toumanova, whom he had met in November 1940 at the introduction of a mutual friend. By December, Cornell had sent Toumanova a collage, featuring her in an underwater realm dotted with stars (figure 3). He also made a number of other collages that comply with the narrative of Nebula, The Powdered Sugar Princess, such as Untitled (Celestial Fantasy with Tamara Toumanova) also from 1941 (figure 1). This suggests that she was the character he had in mind when setting out the narrative of the film. Andrew Brink in Desire and Avoidance in Art, uses attachment theory to argue that Cornell created gifts for women he admired as this was the relationship he learnt from his mother who gave him gifts to show affection when he was growing up.[12] It is proposed that this gift giving in his years of development was carried through into his later years, suggesting that to show affection he gave these women gifts; his artwork. His lack of any actual romantic connection with any of the movie stars or ballet dancers he paid homage to in his artworks points towards a removal between the physicality of the person and sexual gratification. Indeed, it could suggest that the object itself and the act of giving the gift was akin to and substituted this gratification. According to Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007) in Le Système Des Objets collecting objects is a way for children to understand and master the world, which can then be carried on in later life when a link is created between collecting and sexuality, leading to satisfaction.[13] As Cornell’s process of art making involved extensive collecting, which was then manifested into an object dedicated to a specific person for whom he was obsessed with at the time, it could be argued that this action constituted passing on that sexualised action to the object of his desires. Therefore, the act of collecting and the act of giving gifts act simultaneously to create this new behaviour in Cornell. This brings a new meaning into the scenes described in Nebula, The Powdered Sugar Princess, particularly her placement in the infinite of the cosmos, for by placing her within the objects of his collection, she, or her image, becomes a part of his collection, from which he drew pleasure, as well as becoming a part of the infinite.

This means that there was the real woman, in this case Tamara Toumanova, as well as Cornell’s created semblance, which takes the image of the original but acts according to the whim of Cornell in the narrative he creates. This is evidenced in the description of the Princess’s action within the scene:

‘At the end the princess stands
on a balcony like the illust
in Gs. “Les Etoiles” & looking
straight into the camera
blows a kiss at the
solemnly blows a kiss
to the audience & then presses
her hands over her heart.’[14]

This romanticised dramatization of her actions suggests that the affection he felt for the woman could, in his artworks, be requited, though like Cornell, in an indirect manner. The use of the semblance in the setting provided by the astronomical maps that he appropriated from his collection of books and charts, act as a method of distancing between the desired female star and Cornell. The association he made between the heavens, metamorphosis and the infinite makes the semblance even more unreal, and therefore unattainable, as it is raised to a level out of the plane on which we stand.

Cornell used appropriated images of the heavens early on in his career. From simply changing some elements of the depiction of a constellation he moved on to create his own constellations and his own narratives. Though he always refused to explain his artworks, by using biographical information as well as psychoanalysis to explain certain behaviours, the motivations behind his appropriation of the scientific image can be deduced. He may have used the Surrealist associations of the heavens to metamorphosis and the infinite to allow for his appreciation of movie stars and ballet dancers whilst also distancing himself from them. The action of collecting images and making artwork from these, which he then gave to the object of his desires, took the place of actual interaction between himself and the women whom he obsessed over. Therefore, the image of the heavens was not just about scientific interest but became a setting of metamorphosis through which his romantic associations with the objects of his desires could be played out. 

Emma is currently a marketing intern at Culture Syndicates, having graduated with a First Class BA in History of Art from The University of Nottingham, where she will be completing her Master's from September 2015.  


Baudrillard, Jean. Le Systeme Des Objets. London, Verso, 2005
Bate, David. Photography and Surrealism: Sexuality, Colonialism and Social Dissent. London, I.B. Tauris, 2004
Bernard Myers, John. ‘Joseph Cornell and the Outside World’. Art Journal, Vol, 35. No.2. 1975-6. 115-117
Brink, Andrew. Desire and Avoidance in Art: Pablo Picasso, Hans Bellmer, Balthus and Joseph Cornell: Psychobiographical Studies with Attachment Theory. New York, Peter Lang Publishing, 2007
Cornell, Joseph. ‘Nebula, The Powdered Sugar Princess’. October, vol 15. 1980. 40-48
Heyd, Milly. ‘Dali's "Metamorphosis of Narcissus" Reconsidered’. Arbitus et Historiae. Vol 5, No 10. 1984. 121-131
Hoving, Kirsten. Joseph Cornell and Astronomy: A Case for the Stars. Princeton and Oxford, Princeton University Press, 2009

[1] David Bate. Photography and Surrealism: Sexuality, Colonialism and Social Dissent. (London, I.B. Tauris, 2004) 230
[2] Kirsten Hoving. Joseph Cornell and Astronomy: A Case for the Stars. (Princeton and Oxford, Princeton University Press, 2009). 2
[3] Hoving. Joseph Cornell and Astronomy. 3
[4] Hoving. Joseph Cornell and Astronomy. 15
[5] James Elkins. 'Art History and Images That Are Not Art', The Art Bulletin, Vol.77, No.4 (1995), 553-571. 553
[6] Milly Heyd. ‘Dali's "Metamorphosis of Narcissus" Reconsidered’. Arbitus et Historiae. Vol 5, No 10. (1984). 121-131, 122
[7] John Bernard Myers. ‘Joseph Cornell and the Outside World’. Art Journal, Vol, 35. No.2. (1975-6). 115-117. 116
[8] Hoving. Joseph Cornell and Astronomy. 12
[9] Hoving. Joseph Cornell and Astronomy. 14
[10] Joseph Cornell. ‘Nebula, The Powdered Sugar Princess’. October, vol 15. (1980). 40-48. 47
[11] Myers. ‘Joseph Cornell and the Outside World’. 117
[12] Andrew Brink. Desire and Avoidance in Art: Pablo Picasso, Hans Bellmer, Balthus and Joseph Cornell- Psychobiographical Studies with Attachment Theory. (New York, Peter Lang Publishing, 2007) 139-140
[13] Jean Baudrillard. Le Systeme Des Objets. (London, Verso, 2005) 93
[14] Cornell. ‘Nebula, The Powdered Sugar Princess’. 44
G’s “Les Etoiles” refers to J.J. Grandville’s illustration L’Etoile du Soir, published in Joseph Méry’s Les Etoiles in 1849 (figure 4) 

Figure 4: J.J. Grandville, L’Etoile du Soir, in Joseph Méry’s Les Etoiles, 1849, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Monday, 13 July 2015

Representing World War One: Heroes and Villains

When we consider how World War One is represented we conjure up images of those who fought on the battlefields who either died or survived while fighting for their country. However, we also picture those who remained at home and this is emphasised by The Galleries of Justice recent exhibition that ‘explores the impact that the Great War had on crime, policing, and imprisonment’. This exhibition focuses on the home front bringing the war much closer to home and in doing so it localises Nottingham’s wartime involvement by identifying what crimes were committed from ‘1914-1916’. Some of these crimes include ‘escapee prisoners of war, Anti-German riots and absentees’. The presence of the war at home is explored through ‘the changing role of the police’ as they had to deal with growing public anxieties towards ‘enemy aliens and prisoners of war’. Britain, during the First World War, was suspicious of those who posed a threat to society but how were these people classified as either Heroes or Villains? Enemy aliens were pictured as fulfilling the character of the Villain but how true is this portrayal? The museum reflects upon these issues through its exhibition design because parts of the exhibition are targeted towards the audience’s senses. In some rooms the visitor is made to feel imprisoned but they are left to question whether this is because they are following the path of a Hero or a Villain. Therefore, it is intended here to argue that the Galleries of Justice exhibition is challenging the British narrative of the First World War by focusing on the negative affects of the conflict at home. Although the British narrative remembers the horrors of the trenches the negative coverage of crime is not as widely reflected upon, as the home front is typically characterised by communities coming together to support the war effort.

As the visitor first steps into the exhibition they are presented with a conventional narrative of WWI because the characteristics of the war are all there such as the sand bags, the barbed wire, the medals, the Flanders Fields poem, and the image of the poppy. There are also lists of names of those who perished from the local area. But when one moves closer to the individual sections within the first gallery another narrative comes into the frame that of crime. The background of the exhibition that the individual panels are placed onto reveal a conventional rather national narrative but the panels then describe the lives and deaths of those who were connected to Nottingham’s law society and county police force. We are told that a Lieutenant Williams ‘was killed by a bursting shell’ south of Ypres detailing the horrors of war and how they affected the local community. But this story also offers an indication of where the narration will lead us next as it presents the German as the ‘Other’. 

The second gallery portrays the outbreak of the war at home and again the typical scenes are illustrated through the conscription posters. However, the narrative is soon made complex as the visitor is shown how the affects of war impact upon those who stayed behind. This is first depicted through the panel that shows ‘The Sinking of the Lusitania – The Rise of Anti-German Riots’. Here British identities are contrasted to German identities, which are recurrent tropes within the historiography but this story is then linked to the feelings of hostility at home and those who posed a threat to society. This is emphasised through ‘The Wagner Family’ board, which details the attack on their butcher’s shop ‘due to the anti German feelings of the time’. Although the family had lived in Nottingham since ‘1873’ their German heritage had consequently now classified them as ‘Enemy Aliens’ who were not to be trusted. 

Evidently the impact of war had many consequences at home. This complex narrative invites the visitor to question the British narrative of WWI and in doing so reflect upon how British people reacted to those who prior to the war had just been a fellow neighbour within society but now they were regarded as the enemy. 

The police force prior to the war were used to dealing with theft, missing people, and lost property but as the war progressed their jobs too adapted. They now had to deal with a different kind of ‘villain’ within society – the foreigner – the enemy – the escapee prisoner. This is the most stimulating part of the exhibition because it calls into question who is a villain and who is a hero? However, it also evokes the audience to question whether they would have reacted in the same way and whether they agree with these verdicts. The ‘Friend or Foe?’ section is split into three passages and all of them are sealed at one end so that the visitor enters with one idea and could potentially leave with a different idea about the narration. This is exactly what happened when we visited the exhibition because the first passage about ‘Prisoners of War’ opens with a poster that announces that some inmates had escaped from an internment camp called Sutton Bonnington. We are told that these men are ‘German’ and that should they be found they will be ‘arrested’. Evidently, a picture was created in your minds that these characters were suspicious and suspect. Then we ventured into another passage, which described the accommodation and living conditions that the prisoners experienced such as overcrowding. Here however we started to feel empathy towards those who were imprisoned but soon this is challenged again as we discovered the individual stories of the escapees. The visitor’s view on who is a villain is already clearly mixed but as you double back and enter section two this is made even more complex. Passage two tells you about the story of ‘Conscientious Objectors’ and their names cover the walls as you enter the space. The names in passage one are Muller, Stoffa and Pluschaw but the names in section two are Williams, Smith, Taylor, Goldenberg, Cullen, Watson, Peel and Cook to name but a few. The identities of these individuals are that of local people whereas the identities of the previous group were German. However, both could be classified as ‘Villains’ although typically the German is depicted as the ‘Villain’, the British subject is now also classified as the ‘Villain’ too because some refused to go to war. This is reiterated through the scene of the wooden bed and jail cell bars as you are first led to believe that these people were in fact criminals. Only when you read the individual stories do you question whether they are in fact a ‘friend’ of the nation. For example, Stephen Henry Hobhouse was a Quaker who refused to be sent to war and was therefore imprisoned for objecting to serve his country. During his lifetime he was unmistakably seen as a ‘foe’ but this story questions the British collective memory of the WWI because he can also be seen as a ‘friend’ or rather a ‘hero’ because he fought for what he believed in, he refused to use violence, and he refused to be silent while in prison. This is taken further in the final section as the question ‘Did enemy aliens deserve to be interned during the war?’ is posed. One individual’s story is especially poignant because she blurs the lines between enemy alien and British national. Mrs Schonewald was a widower who was arrested for not registering as an enemy alien but she was born in Britain to a British family. But she had married a German man and had had three children with him and all three of her sons were enlisted and serving in the British army. She was made to register otherwise charges would have been brought against her. Today we picture Mrs. Schonewald as a ‘Friend’, which suggests that this exhibition is challenging our assumptions of wartime roles and whether today we would still classify people into these pigeonholes. 

With the recent centenary of WWI many narratives have been called into question, revitalized, and remembered in a variety of ways. This exhibition is a part of this research and remembrance and has shown how today there are still many questions still to ask about this war. One final concluding remark to make is that the exhibition recently won the Wendy Golland Award for Quality of Research at the East Midlands Heritage Conference and Awards 2015, which highlights that these questions that the exhibition asks are still relevant today and are keeping these memories alive for future generations. Moreover, the fact that The Galleries of Justice have presented an unconventional narrative of WWI also suggests that they are leading the field with regards to museums taking research further than straightforward narrations of history.

This post was written by Amy Williams. Amy is currently undertaking an internship at Culture Syndicates and studying for her MA in Holocaust and Related Studies at Nottingham Trent University. She is blogging about her experiences with Culture Syndicates on their Linked In page:

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Moving On Up

Moving on Up, a one day conference for early career professionals, was held at the School of Museum Studies at Leicester University on 24th February. The event was sold out, with people travelling from all over the country to attend. The day has been about a year in the planning, so it was gratifying for the organising committee that it was so well supported!

There was a range of speakers from across the sector, all addressing the issues that face us all in the early stages of our career. NTU’s own Neville Stankley gave a masterclass of quick fire interview tips. Mine was the only raised hand in the room when he asked if anyone never got nervous in interviews, which shocked me (even Neville called me a weirdo). I can’t be the only one?

There followed a very interesting question and answer session with three experienced and respected leaders in the sector: Tony Butler of Derby Museums Trust, Maggie Appleton of the RAF Museum and Iain Watson of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums. They were all eloquent on the challenges that they have faced in their careers and were generous with their advice. The best advice centred on staying true to your own values and being brave when making career decisions, particularly if that means a more divergent path than you were expecting!

The day was full of great advice from respected people in the sector, and there was plenty of space for delegates to discuss their own views on what was said. The room was perpetually abuzz with conversation, it was a great atmosphere to be a part of.

The standout moment of the day though was the opening keynote speech from Kathryn Perera of Movement for Change. Disillusioned with a career in the law (in which she was compelled to put moral beliefs aside), she took the brave decision to resign in order to found Movement for Change, a social enterprise that, in her words, “uses the power of community organising to make change happen”. Since their inception in 2010 they have campaigned on issues such as access to fair credit, the Living Wage and poor conditions in the private rented sector. She was inspiring in her eloquence.

The day was a great success, and renewed my faith that the people currently coming into our museums share a passion, dedication and creative spirit that can only serve the sector well in the future.

Edited abstract of Kathryn Perera’s speech:

This post was written by Simon Brown, Artefact Loans Officer at Nottingham City Museums and Galleries and the East Midlands member representative for the Museums Association. He manages the 11,000 strong Access Artefacts handling collection, based at Wollaton Park.

He graduated from NTU in 2004 with a BA in Heritage Studies with Human Geography, and has since gone on to work in various roles for Nottingham City Museums and Galleries and Nottingham Contemporary, including as a museum assistant, curator and documentation assistant. He is currently studying for the AMA.

Monday, 11 May 2015

The Election 2015 – A Challenge for Museums?

As one of the most unpredictable election campaigns in recent history unexpectedly lead to a single party majority Conservative government. Those of us working in the cultural sector might be worried, but would we have been better off with Labour or a centre-left coalition?

The Labour Party – What would they have done? 
For one thing they would have continued to fund free entry to national museums. However, their regional agenda also gets a mention. Their manifesto offered a vague commitment to universal free access to great art and national heritage 'in all parts of the country'. Nothing concrete or tangible is added to this promise. It leaves us to speculate what might have been. Interestingly for those of us who went through ‘Renaissance in the Regions’ years they would have required all organisations that receive arts funding to open their doors to young people. I note they were not going to encourage, or enable, but require. Would it have been the stereotypical Labour ‘money with straitjacket’ approach that hampered Renaissance funding – we will never know.

I have issues with the ‘free museums’ policy, but I will discuss that more fully later. But I can appreciate Labour’s regional agenda

The Liberal Democrat Party – After an election where the Liberal Democrats disappeared into the political wilderness, it seems laughable to examine their manifesto in relation to museums. The fact that they didn’t have a policy beyond the continued free entry to national museums means that they should not remain long in our thoughts.

Scottish National Party – The big winners on election night continue to ignore the existence of museums entirely as they did during the referendum campaign. At least Plaid Cymru pledged free entry to the National Museum of Wales.

What of the emerging fringe parties in England?

The Green Party – Their manifesto statement on museums needs noting, 

"Increase government arts funding by £500 million a year to restore the cuts made since 2010 and reinstate proper levels of funding for local authorities, helping to keep local museums, theatres, libraries and art galleries open."

On the surface it appears too good to be true. Ignoring the fact that the Green Party will have no influence at all in Parliament in cultural matters, it is too good to be true. As with much Green Party policy the question that is always in the back of your mind is ‘how are they going to pay for it?’ It is wonderfully aspirational, optimistic and naïve.

UKIP – It seems museums don’t fit into the UKIP’s idealised version England’s 'green and pleasant land' (they actually use that phrase in their manifesto). Their priorities are ‘heritage’ and ‘tourism’ but without acknowledging museums’ contribution to both concepts. A Minister of Heritage and Tourism in the cabinet is a policy aim and they will prioritise conservation over development without being too precise on how they will alter planning policy and legislation to achieve this. However, they have pledged something that has been a Historic Houses Association campaign for years. They promised to remove VAT on repairs to listed buildings. The Earl of Leicester, (former President of the HHA) came out in support of UKIP just before he died. So if you add country house heritage support to the specific UKIP policy support for pubs and ‘the great British seaside’ you have what amounts to an actual attempt to create a post-war fantasy Britain that got the short shrift it deserved from the electorate.

In the end we have ended up with a Conservative government  - what will they offer museums in the next 5 years?

The Conservative Party – The Conservative Party manifesto is very specific, but brief. In a whole paragraph related to heritage and museums they pledge to continue the road improvements around Stonehenge and continue free entry to the national museums. They see fit to mention the creation of an India gallery in Manchester through a partnership with The Manchester Museum (a University museum) and the British Museum and also a Great Exhibition for in the ‘North’.

All this adds up to a slightly surprising set of pledges. Honey pot tourist attractions and northern ‘outreach’ developments are a priority. Regional museums, independent museums, Arts Council England aren’t mentioned - worrying.

I have a problem with free museums. They establish the idea in the public’s head that you can pay to visit Stonehenge or a country house, but a museum should be free (the visitor profile to national museums is dominated by inbound tourism so a domestic audience doesn’t take that much advantage of the policy anyway.) The damage this conceptual threat does to independent and regional museums that have to charge undermines ACE’s resilience and sustainability agenda. Museums will close.

Local authorities will continue to suffer. The manifesto pledges to limit Council Tax increases, but gives no mention to improving the Revenue Support Grant. I can only foresee more cuts. Museums will close.

I could be optimistic, but unfettered conservatism has seen the attraction of ‘heritage and tourism in terms of economics and national identity, but has always had a problem with museums. I think we are in for 5 years of great challenge when we need to fight for the concept of the museum harder than ever before to ensure survival. By which I don’t just mean improved business acumen, but to actually redefine what a museum is in the first part of the Twenty-First Century.

This post is by Neville Stankley, Principal Lecturer in Heritage Management at Nottingham Trent University, Partnership Liaison Officer for EMMS and key practitioner for the region. 

Friday, 1 May 2015

Museums during war and peace: Places of protection and destruction

There are many museum exhibitions now that focus on war - depicting how nations, groups and individuals are affected by conflict, how they have remembered the devastation and how they have commemorated these events. However, over the past few weeks while one heritage site has been attacked another has reopened after 12 years - both during the current conflict in Iraq. It is intended here to examine how museums have been affected and how they have reacted to wartime circumstances by concentrating on WWI, WWII and current struggles. It can be argued that museums have played four roles during wartime conditions; they have been subjected to lootings and damage, they have been forced to close to safeguard their collections, but museums have also produced ‘patriotic exhibitions’ to inspire the nation and consequently exhibited works that have alienated other people.
With the outbreak of WWI ‘the very purpose and worth of museums in society [was] tested and met a response as diverse as the institutions themselves’. Gaynor Kavanagh has suggested that ‘some museums [in Britain] were able to adapt and support the war effort through ‘‘patriotic exhibitions’ and educational work’. These exhibitions were created to inspire men to enlist while encouraging those left at home to work towards victory. However, national museums closed during this period, which is highlighted by Kavanagh who expresses that ‘this was not done through concern for the safety of collections, but as a political gesture, a public example of economy during wartime’. Therefore, museums during WWI were to some extent connected to the war effort because their exhibitions encouraged the nation to believe in itself and closures symbolised how museums helped support the troubled economy at the time.
If we consider WWII with particular focus on museums in Nazi Germany the story of how museums are affected and react during war takes a different route. The Nazis created exhibitions that were only open to visits by ‘high-ranking SS officials’, which displayed the ideology that the Aryan race was superior to the Jewish race. These exhibitions were ‘arranged by the staff and presenting a selection of exquisite material objects owned by those murdered in the camps at that very time’. Sabine Offe, continues to state that ‘the staff – the Jewish archivists, librarians, architects, and art-historians were themselves deported one by one’. Similar to the examples of the WWI exhibitions they were designed to evoke nationalism however they did this by force by expelling or deporting Jewish people, who had up until the rise of the Nazis, considered themselves and were considered by others to be German nationals. Also as well as creating exhibitions that were influenced by the party’s beliefs the Nazis were ‘systematic campaign[s] to loot and plunder art from Jews and others in the occupied countries’. As previously stated museums are places of ‘salvage’ but during conflicts they also become places of conflict where the protection of their collections are threatened.
Debates were raised a few weeks ago at the British Museum which was ‘turned into a temporary court’ that discussed ‘the alleged illegal trading of an ancient Libyan statue valued at £1.5m’. As current conflicts in Iraq and Syria continue there is a growing necessity to protect museum’s collections. This has been emphasised by the need for an international conference at the V&A on the 14th April entitled ‘Culture in Conflict’. The main questions that have been asked are ‘what is the role of museums? Can we support people from these countries, whilst ensuring our own protection?’ Peter Stone, the chairman of the UK National Committee of the Blue Shield, has also raised the issue that advocates for the protection of cultural heritage in conflict zones. Evidently museums that are currently facing conflict are struggling to protect their cultural heritage. However, the museums as well as an international audience have concluded that they have a responsibility to act – lessons have been learnt after WWI and WWII but it has proved difficult to create a complete plan to protect museum objects during conflicts. On the other hand, there has been greater attention given to the looting of museums through heightened media coverage.
This post was written by Amy Williams. Amy is currently undertaking an internship at Culture Syndicates and studying for her MA in Holocaust and Related Studies at Nottingham Trent University. She is blogging about her experiences with Culture Syndicates on their Linked In page:

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Managed Wilderness: Reintroducing Extinct Species into Britain

Reintroduction is defined as ‘restoring a species to parts of its natural range from which it has been lost.’ There is currently a large body of thought that suggests that species extinct in Britain for many years should be reintroduced. There is currently a push towards reintroducing species such as Bear, Lynx, Wolves, Wild Boar and Beavers back into Britain. It can certainly be argued that these species are largely extinct in Britain as a result of human intervention and meddling.

The way in which these species are planned to be restored in Britain is through rigorous land management and tight, procedural conditions to be made by people.  If we intend to reintroduce these species into Britain’s wilderness, the first serious question to ask is what we mean by ‘wilderness’. As a result of National Parks, Special Sites of Scientific Interest and many more, there is a distinct absence of any land that is unmanaged.  There could therefore be a case for being against reintroduction of species into Britain because we would be putting species under the supervision of environmental managers, heritage consultants etc. after human intervention was what led to their demise in the first place.

There is, however a body of thought that completely vindicates the work of environmental managers and heritage consultants; the wild and all its contents can be seen as internally valuable sources of intangible heritage which desperately need preserving and managing.  Reintroducing species would mean a huge advance in tourism and a boost to the heritage and environmental industry. Species being reinstated in the UK could nurture one’s own cultural heritage and sense of British identity, species seen as alien and feared by the UK can once again become part of its custom.

Managing wilderness is important, although it may be managed, the nature and intangible meaning within it is unmanaged and important to everyone who belongs to Britain. 

This is the first of hopefully more pieces in which I communicate the importance of natural heritage management and human-environment interactions and how relevant managing landscapes and wildlife is within the heritage industry. I am currently studying for an MA in Museum and Heritage Management at Nottingham Trent University. I am also a Heritage Assistant with Culture Syndicates. During my studies and experience with Culture Syndicates I have started to learn that natural heritage is a subject that people within the industry rarely address. The following set of blogs aim to show just how important and applicable natural heritage management is to all those who work within the heritage industry and indeed anyone who feels a part of Britain.  

Further resources:

This post was written by Andrew Taylor, an NTU Masters student in Museum and Heritage Management and a Culture Syndicates Heritage Assistant.