Guest post by Ros Westwood
I’ve just attended the Museums Association annual conference which was held this year in Liverpool. Have you been there recently? It is a fabulous city. The conference centre is right alongside the Mersey, and really near some of their iconic museums. I was so busy talking that I’m afraid photographs did not take priority.
I took time out to go to see the Museum of Liverpool. It’s a new building, very bright white, rather than the mellow tones of the Three Graces on the Liverpool waterfront, but internally feels like a Tardis. The staircase loops beautifully around in the centre, drawing your eye upwards.
I didn’t have time to do the whole museum, so the Beatles will have to wait. On the top floor is a gallery called The People’s Republic. It covers the recent history of Liverpool, in the words and artefacts of the people themselves. As always, I landed up going backwards through the gallery, I think.
It is an object rich gallery, so that you hardly know what to look at, there is so much choice. I wanted one of those devises that maps where your eye is looking, because there was so much to see and it would have been interesting to see the journey across any one of the cases. Actually, for our project, this is an important lesson: we need to make sure that we don’t put in so much that the visitor doesn’t see anything – an interesting thought when CITL is committed to putting 10% more artefacts on show!
There were several talking head videos. I thought these would irritate me, but they didn’t. What the people had to say was interesting and moving, and in the quiet of the gallery, you felt the place had people in it. Perhaps if these soundtracks were all restricted under sound hoods, they would not have had the same impact.
The breath-taking view up the waterfront and all the way to America rather steals the show, particularly on a sunny day.
However, I had only nipped out from the conference, and wanted to see Liverpool’s version of the History Detectives on the first floor, covering the arrival of people in the area, again to the present day. Rather than talking heads, here there were quotes instead – and this common interpretation appealed to me. Short extracts supported by succinct interpretation. The objects ranged from stone tools, through to beautiful porcelain, archaeological potsherds form all periods of the city’s history, ephemera and social history. Object labelling was really important to the curators, but often it got in the way of some of the displays. Also, the maps were not as precise as I might like, with assumptions that the visitor knows where every place is. But this is one of the areas that I know we want to do better in the new gallery.
Back at the conference, I went around the trade stands looking at display cases and lighting systems, environmental monitoring and the range of digital interpretation currently on offer. With loads of people to talk to and lots of good practice, the ideas and lessons need to be fed into Collections in the Landscape.