Soane at the Showoff!
Earlier this month, Cynthia Adobea-Aidoo and Fran Sands from the Soane took to the stage as part of the hugely popular ‘Museums Showoff’, the open-mic night “for everyone who works in or loves museums”. Here they discuss their experience of the variety show of the museum world.
On Tuesday 15 October Dr Frances Sands, our Catalogue Editor (Adam drawings project) and I, Cynthia Adobea-Aidoo, the Schools and Families Officer, represented Sir John Soane’s Museum at the bi-monthly ‘Museums Showoff’ event.
Run this month as part of the Bloomsbury Festival, ‘Museums Showoff’ is an open mic night for museum professionals to get together and talk about their research and projects in a fun and informal way. What sounds so daunting about that you may ask? Well, maybe the fact that each presenter is only given nine minutes on stage and previous performers have taken the word “informal” to dizzying new heights and delivered their presentations in song, proffered interpretive dances and produced entire theatrical plays. Our chosen topic was how Sir John Soane’s Museum is communicating its collection to the world so we thought that a clear, yet humorous, presentation was most fitting. The ten presenters on the night were all selected from Bloomsbury’s Museum Mile. With Fran and me scheduled early on in the billing we barely had time to settle in before taking to the stage.
Fran and Cynthia on stage. Courtesy of Jay Stone / Museums Showoff
Fran began by giving a short introduction to the Soane Museum. Considering we are the smallest national museum in the country our vast collection is of an extraordinarily high calibre. At present we welcome around 110,000 visitors each year, and we help them to engage with the collection through curatorial tours, temporary exhibitions, our comprehensive education programme and the ‘Description’ – our guide to the museum. All this is done with the help of our dedicated warding and volunteer team. Furthermore, there are various behind the scenes projects to catalogue the collection for online publication. Our catalogue encompasses books, drawings, archival material, paintings and museum objects. Fran is working to catalogue the 9,000-strong drawings collection from the office of the eighteenth-century architects Robert and James Adam. The Soane Museum’s increasingly popular online catalogue is attached to the Museum’s website, allowing us to explain our collection to the public in greater depth than has ever been possible before, and providing access to all, free of charge, from anywhere in the world.
Cynthia presenting. Courtesy of Jay Stone / Museums Showoff
I then outlined the ways in which the Education Department is attempting to bring the collection to a wider audience. Focusing on the fact that we can only accommodate 70 people in the Museum at any one time I highlighted how offering bespoke projects has enabled us to extend our remit. I focused on three projects that have helped us to open up the collection up to a younger, more diverse audience. I began by talking about our after school club, ‘Building Explorers’, now in its fourth successful year. Originally funded by Children in Need, it is a weekly club for children in Years 4 and 5 from our three closest primary schools and we run fun activities linked to art and architecture. This then segued nicely into talking about a project we previously ran with one of these schools, inspired by the Soane Museum’s Cawdor Vase. The Vase depicts the myth of the origins of the Olympic Games and so we asked the children to develop their own myths about the origins of various games before making and decorating their own Grecian style vases. Wanting to leave on a high, I then explained our latest secondary school workshop, ‘Concrete Crushathon’, in which students get the chance to make and break concrete using only the force of their bodies.
We were very pleased to take part in such a diverse and enjoyable evening. Among other presentations we heard about the Grant Museum’s ‘underwhelming fossilised fish of the week’ blog, and the joys and complexities of designing ranges for museum shops. Fran and I would heartily recommend that anyone interested in the weird and wonderful world of museums should think about attending the next event.
Museums Showoff is a bi-monthly open mic night featuring curators, conservators, librarians, collectors, Museum Studies students, archaeologists, social historians, educators, multimedia developers, explainers, visitors, theorists and everyone else associated with museums and library special collections. Visit museumsshowoff.wordpress.com to find out more or follow them on Twitter @MuseumsShowoff.