CULTUREHIVE: Tell us about your museum: where are you based? What do you do?
Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery Trust in Carlisle is one of the country’s leading independent museums, welcoming over 200,000 visitors through our doors every year. We are the lead organisation of the Cumbria Museum Consortium, an Arts Council England funded National Portfolio Organisation.
As the largest museum in Cumbria, we care for a stunning collection of over half a million objects covering Fine & Decorative Art, Natural Science, Social History and Archaeology. Highlights include one of the largest collections of pre-Raphaelite artwork in the north of England, Roman material of international importance that centres on Hadrian’s Wall (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and a recently Designated natural science collection of specimens that represent the flora and fauna of Cumbria, the most bio-diverse county in England.
The award-winning Tullie House Learning Team engages with over 30,000 school pupils, families, young people and vulnerable adults through a dedicated programme of workshops, projects, events and outreach.
Our Manifesto puts learning and community at the heart of everything we do. The key pillars of the Manifesto are to create a museum fit for the 21st century, a museum that has something to say about Carlisle, Cumbria and the world in which we live; a museum that unleashes creativity and invites co-creation; a museum which is collections based, curatorially informed and audience focussed; a museum with a human face providing a third space anchoring community life.
CULTUREHIVE: How did you learn about OF/BY/FOR/ALL?
Nina Simon’s visionary book ‘The Participatory Museum’ was one of the key influences behind our Manifesto, so we tend to closely follow whatever she gets up to!
CULTUREHIVE: What lead you to sign up to OF/BY/FOR/ALL?
It was perfect timing! In 2016 a new Director took over the Museum and, with the support of the Leadership Team, created a new Manifesto based on six ‘pillars’ of co-curation and community.
The key focus of the Manifesto is positioning Tullie as a ‘third space’ for our community: we want to develop active participants, be inclusive, inspire learning and be a catalyst for thinking differently – a museum fit for the 21st century that is for 21st century people and 21st century life. The Manifesto has been widely praised as a forward thinking and dynamic vision within the UK museum sector by organisations including Arts Council England the Museums Association.
Since 2016 we have been embedding the Manifesto into all facets of the organisation, and we felt that OF/BY/FOR/ALL would be a catalyst for pushing us further, faster. Our business plan is based on the twin priorities of financial sustainability and community engagement and we felt that OF/BY/FOR/ALL would help us knit these two themes together for the long-term resilience of the Museum.
CULTUREHIVE: What challenges do you anticipate experiencing during this process as an individual/ team, and / or more broadly as an organisation?
My biggest challenge for this process will be time – my role is fairly broad (I have strategic responsibility for collections, learning, visitor experience, retail and volunteering) and find it difficult to get deeply involved in the delivery of specific events or initiatives.
Capacity will also be a concern for the team more generally, but I think the collaborative, cross-cutting nature of the OBFA framework will ensure that we can distribute tasks effectively across teams. That inter-team approach to working is an ongoing challenge for our organisation – like a lot of Museums we tend to fall into the bad habit of ‘silo working’. Traditionally, community engagement was seen as the concern of the learning team but since the adoption of our Manifesto and signing up to initiatives like OBFA, it has become much more of a cross-organisational focus – but we still have a long way to go!
CULTUREHIVE: What transformations do you anticipate taking place within your museum?
I hope that OBFA will take us to the next level of community engagement – we’re already good at ‘for’ (we’ve been delivering activities and events for community groups for many years at Tullie), but with this project we want to raise our game in ‘by’ and embrace ‘of’ in a way we’ve never done before.
In terms of ‘by’, co-creation is a central pillar of our Manifesto and we have hugely stepped up our activity in this area, particularly in the development of new gallery spaces in partnership with community groups, but OBFA will help cement this approach as standard practice for us.
We also need to embed our communities into decision making processes and governance to truly make us ‘of’ our community and the diversity that it represents: I want OBFA to help drive this transformation through being the catalyst to creating our first ever Community Board.
CULTUREHIVE: What are you most excited about?
I’m most excited about the long-term impact this initiative could have on Tullie: the work we’re doing over the next few months will shape the direction of travel for our 125-year-old institution forever.
Complied by Anna Smalley, Head of Collections and Engagement.
Image: Stuart Walker Photography 2018
Culturehive will be following Tullie House on their journey towards creating their first community board. Watch this space!