Behind the Scenes, 27 September 2017: Engaging communities with creativity

by Fiona Evans, Vital Sparks Producer

It was in September four years ago when Vital Sparks was launched to help communities run their own creative projects.

The scheme is a partnership between Plymouth Culture and Plymouth City Council and is funded by Arts Council England. The idea was to use art to grow confidence and vigour in neighbourhoods that were tired of being told what they wanted. Bringing folk together to get murals painted, community gardens planted and yarn bombs knitted. Creating opportunities for people to get together and be creative.

Photograph of a Vital Sparks funded creative session

The project has always had a bursary scheme at its centre and the average grant is about £2,600. The funding is complemented by the offering of support to new fledgling projects as and when they need it, so some of my time is spent visiting projects, or calling them to see how they’re getting on. Sometimes projects don’t need any help. At other times I have been kept busy writing funding bids, press releases, risk assessments……the list goes on. I’ve also found signposting new community groups to other more established Vital Sparks funded projects to be significant as they can share their learning. This has enabled us to create a network which I think is a great idea.

Photograph of the Barne Barton Rangers Vital Sparks supported project

You’d think that giving money away would be easy but it’s surprising how much work is attached to handing out grants. I’m lucky because being based in the same building as the Plymouth Museums Galleries Archives staff means I have the benefit of working with a Business Support Team who make sure all our grants get paid. Things can get a bit complicated when groups don’t have a bank account! There are instances in the past when I’ve driven my Vital Sparks bursary recipients to the local Credit Union to set one up or had to find other ways to ensure they receive their funding.  

Every day is different with Vital Sparks. At the moment, for example, I’m lending support to a variety of projects including a growing piece of work called Lesbian Voices. Through ‘Pride In Plymouth’ Jo Lewis has recently secured a grant of £46,200 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. I first came across Jo when she was a writer on a previous project of ours called ‘In Other Words’. She is seeking out and recording lesbian voices and histories of Plymouth and will be starting to recruit volunteers in November. Vital Sparks has provided some match funding for this exciting project and I can’t wait to see what is created.

Photograph from an Art, Craft and Laughter Vital Sparks funded workshop

The Plymouth Art Weekender has just taken place and some of our projects ran events during it. On one of the days I popped in on Art, Craft and Laughter to see how they were getting on. Set up by Debbie and Charlie Seldon they use art and craft to help tackle mental health issues…..hence the laughter. They provide a safe, non-judgmental space for people to experiment and learn. They were taking part in the Art Weekender for the first time. Their feedback will be very useful when we think about encouraging more people to take part next year. 

Photograph from a Fijian craft workshop supported by Vital Sparks

I also went to the School of Creative Arts where a free Fijian workshop funded by Vital Sparks was taking place as part of a bigger cultural festival called ‘Bula’ which culminates with Fiji Day in October. It was the first time this community have run a workshop for the wider public and it was great to see so many people there.

Whilst our current projects keep me more than busy, I am also focusing on a new and exciting phase of work for 2018. The biggest news in the world of Vital Sparks is the new Mayflower Community Fund that we will be managing next year. We are finalising the details at the moment and the scheme is set to launch in January. If you’re interested in doing something in your community to mark Mayflower 400 watch this space! 

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Behind The Scenes, 30 August 2017: A trip to the offsite store

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

I went to our offsite store for the first time recently and was given a tour by our Registrar Nicki Thomas. I took a few snaps while she was showing me around which I thought I would share with you in this week’s post.

Our works are stored over two floors. On one floor we have our Cottonian Collection, objects from our world cultures collection and, as shown in the photo below, crated works of art and some items that have recently returned to us from Buckland Abbey where they have been on loan.

We also have some enormous rolled canvases. This one is called ‘The Release of St Peter’. The frame, which as you can imagine is also huge, is stored separately. Storing large-scale items in this way is a much more practical solution.

When we were decanting the Museum last year our curators talked a lot about how the process was enabling them to learn more about the collections, verify and update our documentation and highlight areas that need to be prioritised for research. Nicki echoed this while she was showing me around.

This part of the store also contains some pieces of sculpture………

……….and our costume collection, all of which would have been frozen to minimise the likelihood of any bugs or pests in the fabrics, and then gone through a period of defrosting before being placed into storage.

On the other floor we have more art, some archaeology and more world cultures. We also have other resources and equipment. This floor is warmer and staff monitor the environment at all times to ensure everything is being stored in the most appropriate conditions. There are also workstation areas for staff and prep areas where works of art can be unwrapped or wrapped if needs be.

This wonderful artwork shown in one of the prep areas is ‘Kilchurn Castle’ by JMW Turner. It’s due to go on loan to the Scottish Portrait Gallery soon. They will be touring it and a number of other works by Turner to Japan. It’s likely that we’ll have a small number of additional loans going out to international venues in the near future. We’ll fill you in on these in a future post!

Decant Day, 31 May 2017: Collections Roundup

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

It’s been another busy few weeks for our Collections staff so I thought I’d round up a handful of the things they’ve been working on in this post.

Plymouth – From Destruction to Construction
We recently opened an exhibition at the Council House called ‘Plymouth – From Destruction to Construction’. The exhibition has been coordinated by two of our Learning Development Officers and looks at the impact of the Blitz on Plymouth and the ambitious plan that was devised to rebuild the city afterwards.

Our Curator of Decorative Art has organised some objects from our art collection to be included in the displays including a jug, cup, teapot, bottle and ceremonial trowel. The first four of these were all smoke and heat damaged in the Blitz. The jug even has another object fused to its inside from the impact. You can see them on show in the exhibition throughout the year.

Heat damaged object from Plymouth City Council's Arts and Heritage Service's collection
An image showing the inside of the jug
Photograph of the Blitz exhibition at the Council House Plymouth, May 2017
The objects on display in the exhibition

Ropewalks
Objects from the collections across the History Centre partnership were also recently used in the research and development of a brand new series of theatrical walking tours. Our ‘Ropewalks’ explore the history of the Barbican area and have been developed in partnership with the Barbican Theatre and writer Jon Nash. The team who devised the project and script have drawn on research conducted with the Museum and Art Gallery, the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre and the South West Film and Television Archive.

Members of the team have been blogging regularly about the work they’ve been doing and you can find links to all their posts here. Tickets for performances in June and August are now on sale. Those that have taken place throughout May have had brilliant feedback from audiences.

Photograph of the cast members of Ropewalks, Plymouth - May 2017
Our ‘Ropewalks’ performers have really impressed audiences so far

Staff Away Day
Staff from most of the History Centre partners, including some of our Curators and Archivists, recently took part in an Away Day at Mount Edgcumbe.

Although there are lots of meetings taking place for the History Centre all the time it’s really rare that we all get the chance to spend the day together away from our offices. The event was an opportunity for us to discuss and share ideas about the kind of organisation we will become in the future, as well as work with people we don’t often collaborate with. One exercise where we worked in small groups of six to brainstorm ideas for exhibitions and then feed them back to everyone else was a real highlight and produced some really interesting results.

20170515_144750
Our staff Away Day was a good opportunity for everyone to share ideas

Forward Planning
For the first time ever I officially heard the words ‘Recant Programme’ in a meeting a couple of weeks ago! It only seems like yesterday that we were planning how we were going to empty the Museum and Art Gallery so building and construction work could take place. Now, our Collections staff are already starting to think about what they’ll need to do to move everything back in 2019 – as well as bring the collections from the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office, South West Film and Television Archive and South West Image Bank onto site. More on this in future posts!

……….and finally
One of the most major pieces of work that our Curators and Archivists have been involved in over the last few months is the development of the designs for the new galleries that will feature in the History Centre. As I highlighted in a previous post back in March, it’s a huge piece of work.

More progress has been made on this over the last couple of months and a series of workshops have been held with Event Communications who are leading on the gallery design.

Each workshop has focused on a particular gallery, has lasted for 2-3 hours and involved management and education staff too. The sessions have been fairly intense at times as people challenge each other to ensure we end up with the very best design – but it’s a process which has also strengthened our collective vision for the project.

We should be receiving some updated visuals from Event in the next couple of weeks and we’re really looking forward to sharing them with everyone. Watch this space!