Tacit Knowledge: we know more than we know we know

I have always been interested in the difference between the veneer of the conscious self – the things we think we know and can articulate – and then all the other stuff that lurks beneath that – the memories, biases, aptitudes, drives and desires that exert an enormous influence over our thoughts and actions. What fascinates me most about the latter is that you can never fully look it in the eye, by its very nature it lies beyond conscious engagement. A whole family of trolls lives under the bridge you’re standing on – you can’t see them, but you can sense them. And when you visit a museum, your troll family comes along too (hiding behind pillars, under ticket desks and inside vases). You leave the museum having had two experiences – the one you’re aware of and the one you’re not aware of, but it’s there nonetheless. How can we engage more deliberately with both? How can we encourage your troll family to want to come back too?

A useful way of thinking about non-declarative knowledge is Michael Polanyi’s concept of tacit awareness or tacit knowledge. I once had it described to me as ‘everything you know minus everything you can say about what you know’. Classic examples of tacit knowledge are riding a bike or playing a piano – the more attention you pay to what you’re actually doing, the more likely you are to stuff it up. Polanyi presents knowledge as a construction that is social (for example, both language and tradition come from a shared, collective understanding) and deeply personal (we can only understand the world through our individual experiences). Without ever being able to touch an entirely objective reality – because we assimilate everything through our subjective experiences – Polanyi argues that all knowledge is either tacit or rooted in tacit knowledge.

An important dimension of tacit knowledge is the difference between focal and subsidiary awareness. Polanyi describes hitting a nail with a hammer as an example. The nail has our focal awareness (or it should have, to avoid an injury) and the hammer has our subsidiary awareness:

“When we use a hammer to drive a nail, we attend to both nail and hammer, but in a different way… The difference may be stated by saying that the latter (hammer) are not, like the nail, objects of our attention, but instruments of it. They are not watched in themselves; we watch something else while keeping intensely aware of them. I have a subsidiary awareness of the feeling in my palm of my hand which is merged into my focal awareness of my driving the nail.”

Polanyi also uses the example of reading a letter as another way of illustrating the difference; our focal awareness is on deciphering the meaning of the letter, our subsidiary awareness is on the words, grammar and syntax, enabling us to decode the content. In both instances, if you move your focal awareness to that of the subsidiary, it all goes a bit awry: attending to the hammer rather than the nail is asking for trouble; and attending to the shape and length of every word in a sentence loses the meaning. We can flip our focal attention between the two states but we can’t focus on both simultaneously.

Now consider the focal and subsidiary awareness required to engage with an artwork. Like reading a letter, our attention can move between the content and the ‘grammar’ of the object – the ideas themselves or how those ideas have been manifest. When I look at art, I’m aware of a rolodex whirring around at the back of my brain, making connections with other artworks, styles and movements that I’ve seen over the years. I like it when I get the little art historical in-jokes and references. This subsidiary awareness provides me with a set of rules to understand and decode artworks and it’s not something I do consciously. I think we are, as museum professionals, sometimes guilty of assuming everyone has a similar rolodex to frame their understanding. I’ve always been suspicious of the anti-interpretation argument that ‘the artwork should speak for itself’. This is fine for an art-savvy audience with a whopping image bank to draw on – in which case, the artwork isn’t speaking for itself, but lounging around on a pile of the audience’s previous gallery experiences. Without a knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet, the Russian language is just a beautiful collection of curves and corners; without a knowledge of Minimalism, Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII (1966) is just a tidy arrangement of bricks.

Everyone brings their prior knowledge, be it art-based or otherwise, to the experience of visiting a museum. Not all of this knowledge is declarative or conscious, but it does all have an impact on the quality of the visit. As an habitual museum-goer, I don’t think about how I orientate myself on arrival or plan a visit, it just happens. In comparison, if I was doing something brand new, like go to a monster truck rally, I would be attending closely to every step of the process required to get in and seated, and I’d feel like I was on the back foot most of the way. Our museums send out a lot of subtle signals to first-time visitors and their accompanying troll families: some of these indirect messages are welcoming, such as clear signage and relaxed staff; and some of them are off-putting, like hiding the front door and offering scant interpretation. Whether we are aware of these signals or not, our troll families are taking detailed notes. We will leave either feeling good about the place and keen to return, or wanting to never darken its door again, and it won’t always be possible to explain why.

The concept of implicit learning is closely linked to tacit knowledge. As the name suggests, learning is implicit when we are not aware that it is happening (check out Michael Eraut’s work on non-formal learning in the workplace for more information on implicit learning). Alex Elwick’s interesting article, ‘Understanding implicit learning in museums and galleries’ (Museum & Society, Nov 2015) highlights some of the challenges inherent to researching tacit knowledge. Elwick interviewed ‘Friends’ of two galleries and looked for contradictions in their observations of their own gallery-going experiences, arguing that their implicit learning is revealed through these conflicting views. I don’t know if these findings were fruitful, but I did find the introduction fascinating and the references offer plenty of material for further reading.

Tacit knowledge is also frequently discussed in relation to the act of making in art, craft and design, as the skills are often developed over years and can’t easily be described. British writer, Peter Dormer took inspiration from Polanyi’s theories for his book, ‘The Art of the Maker’ (1994). Dormer wrote about ‘craft knowledge’ and its practical/tacit qualities. Through his own attempts to learn figurative clay modelling and calligraphy, he tried to better understand the implicit learning that was taking place.

For another angle on tacit knowledge that considers the workplace, I’d recommend the article, ‘Narrative and Social Tacit Knowledge’ (Journal of Knowledge Management, 5 (2), 2001). Its author, Charlotte Linde, researched an insurance company, looking at how social tacit knowledge was demonstrated and learned through narrative. Her observations are not particular to insurance companies and speak more generally to the experience of working in a team and how one becomes familiar with, and adapts to, the culture of an organisation: “…part of becoming a member of an institution involves learning the stories about that institution which everyone must know, the appropriate times and reasons to tell them, and the ways in which one’s own stories are shaped to fit a new institutional context.”  So it looks like we bring our troll families along to the office as well. They hide in filing cabinets, behind doors and under conference room tables, quietly learning the particularities of working for that specific place.

I love the way tacit knowledge makes itself known; it’s infuriatingly present and absent at the same time and it defies any direct engagement. You can sense it and know it ‘in your bones’ but still struggle to pin down exactly what it is or where it’s located. Declarative knowledge is just one small aspect of museum-going; visitors are picking up so many more micro-messages about our organisations, both good and bad, that contribute to the overall experience – an influence we shouldn’t underestimate.

Image: Outside Weta Workshop in Wellington, NZ.

Bodysnatchers: getting physical in museums

When I saw Frederick Wiseman’s film, The National Gallery (2014), I was shocked to discover that when many people look at paintings, they don’t look like they’re having a good time. They are stock still and staring, then shuffling a bit, then still and staring again. No wonder people who don’t go to galleries assume it’s all a bit dull and boring. How it looks from the outside is absolutely no measure of how it feels. When I’m wandering around a gallery, I am really, genuinely, properly happy. It’s thrilling to discover an artwork that I’ve only previously seen in reproduction; I love works that make me laugh out loud or shed a tear; my skin creeps and I feel a bit unwell when I see grisly or gruesome subject matter; and some artworks are so beautiful it pains me to leave them. Galleries evoke (and provoke) a whole gamut of emotions and sensations, the experience is not just one of mental stimulation and knowledge acquisition, it’s physical too.

The ol’ mind vs body argument goes back a long way (Plato’s Phaedo) and there are plenty of fabulous words – such as ‘somatic’ (relating to the body rather than the mind) and ‘corporeal’ (relating to the body rather than the spirit) – that reinforce the distinction. Dualism also exerts an influence over how we engage audiences with museums and galleries. I can think of plenty of examples of programming that feed the mind – talks, tours, lectures, courses, discussions and film-screenings – and there are plenty more that are tactile/kinaesthetic and improve fine-motor skills and dexterity – practical workshops, handling sessions and drop-in making activities to name a few. Programmes involving the whole body are thinner on the ground and tend to be dominated by cross-disciplinary practice, where dance and theatre practitioners are responding to the museum context. This is an observation rather than a complaint – there’s a lot to be learnt from other artforms that are more attuned to the body, movement and temporality. I’d love to see more programming that heightens visitors’ awareness of the physical experience of looking at art and moving through a museum – it exerts such a quiet but powerful influence over our engagement.

When I think back on artworks that have been memorable as physical experiences, only a handful come to mind. Carsten Holler’s slides at Tate Modern in 2007 (‘Test Site’) proved to be so popular that the experience was as much about queuing as it was about sliding. Because I’m a lily-livered wuss, I only managed the little slide in the Turbine Hall and that was plenty; it definitely raised my pulse. In 2000 and again in 2006, Ikon Gallery in Birmingham displayed ‘Observation Deck’ by Patrick Killoran. To experience the artwork, viewers were required, one at a time, to lie on their backs on a sliding shelf and get gently rolled out of a window, head-first, on the horizontal and at a right angle to the building. I can’t remember how much of me was poking outside, it felt like from the waist up, but was probably more like head and shoulders. It was the most thrilling experience to just stare up at passing clouds and the architectural detail and ponder my possibly imminent demise as the window was a couple of storeys above street level. These two examples probably say quite a bit about me; as someone who gets vertigo, anything involving heights is more likely to stick in my memory than experiences played out closer to the ground.

Thinking about museum learning programming that prioritises the physical, there are some interesting examples (and I’d love to hear more please). Yoga in museums is a growing trend, and the Dancing Museums project is a wonderful European partnership (enjoy those while they last, thanks again Brexit!) that explores new forms of engagement with artworks through movement. While I was researching the Dallas Museum of Art for my Churchill Fellowship, I stumbled across a blogpost about their ‘sensory sacks’, also known as ‘spatial socks’. As the name suggests, the sack/sock is a stretchy fabric tube – a gigantic pillowcase that’s large enough to fit a person. The sensory sack was created to improve spatial awareness and for use in therapy, supporting those with a sensory processing disorder and/or autism. In the museum, participants re-create the form of sculptures in the collection by posing inside the sensory sack. I love the idea of understanding sculpture from the inside out – through the use of the sensory sack, participants transition from being outside the sculpture, understanding the form visually, to being inside the sculpture, pushing up under its skin and understanding the form physically. It’s so simple and elegant, and the experience must generate such different memories from the standard looky-talky model.

While I was noodling around the web looking for examples of museum learning programming that are more physical, I skimmed across all sorts of theories, ideas and approaches that span visual and performing arts, such as somatic theory, affect theory, performative and participatory practice, and the sensory museum. A useful review, in the Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies, of Helen Rees Leahy’s book, Museum Bodies: The Politics and Practices of Visiting and Viewing (2012), shares lots of interesting concepts and provides links for further reading. If you know of any other great examples, please drop me a line.

May The Audience Be With You

If you were richer than God and looking for ways to spend $1 billion, what would you do? I’d build a rocket-launching lair under a volcano in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and surround myself with disposable henchmen.  Not so George Lucas, who has chosen to use his powers for good and to build a new museum to house his enormous art collection. The website for his project raises all sorts of questions – more on that shortly – but what I find most striking is that, more than once, it promotes the future site as a place for “visitors who might be less inclined to visit a traditional fine art museum”. Interesting. Does this mean people who are inclined to visit such museums won’t like it? If the audience he is after doesn’t really fancy museums, why make one? I’m fascinated by this project, and the controversy that surrounds it, because it brings into question what constitutes a 21st century art museum.

Surprisingly, Lucas has struggled to find a city willing to host this venture. Back in 2009, negotiations started with The Presidio Trust for a site in San Francisco, but that fell through and an opportunity came up to build in Chicago. Lucas’ wife, Melody Hobson, is a Chicagoan, and there was an appetite for the project from the mayor’s office, but its location proved tricky. They had decided on a prime spot, shoreside on Lake Michigan, but hadn’t counted on strong local (and wealthy) opposition. Cue three years of legal wrangling and lawsuits filed by Friends of the Park, who were having none of it. An interesting article in the Chicago Tribune, ‘Lucas Museum Drops Plans to Build in Chicago’, summarises the sorry saga. Eventually, a new home was found in Los Angeles at Exposition Park. This site is near Lucas’ alma mater, the University of Southern California, so it retains a personal connection, and it’s a good fit given the city’s strong links with cinema and movie-making. They are due to break ground this year and the project is scheduled for completion in 2021. The 275,000 sqft building, designed by Ma Yansong of MAD Architects, looks like the spaceship of super-stylish modernist aliens. When it finally ‘lands’, it’ll be hard to miss.

Even though the site issue is now resolved, the controversy doesn’t end there. The title of a recent LA Weekly article says it all: ‘Is George Lucas Museum a Vanity Project That Will Leave LA’s Cultural Worse Off?’ Critics feel that $1 billion would be better spent supporting existing arts infrastructure and worry that such a self-contained, self-financed project won’t fully integrate with its peers: “Nothing about the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art’s self-presentation suggests overarching concerns with collaboration or shared cultural concerns.” Even the subject of the collection is scorned; the same LA Weekly article states, “narrative art isn’t exactly a real thing”, and then goes on to quote LA Times critic, Christopher Knight, who wrote, “narrative art is a made-up category”.

I’m afraid the Lucas Museum website doesn’t do itself any favours either in how it describes its collections.  More than once it makes a distinction between ‘traditional paintings’ (whatever those are) and the working drawings and designs of film-making and illustration. I don’t really think the distinction is necessary – surely art and design is a broad enough church to encompass the scope of Lucas’s collection. Compared with the eclectic and extensive collections of the V&A, it’s positively laser-like in its focus. But what the LA critics are implying, and Lucas’s own PR machine is reinforcing, is the distinction between high and low art forms – ‘proper’ art, like the sort you would find in a “traditional fine art museum”, and then all the other stuff that appeals to the man on the street. This dichotomy is so old it creaks. It’s also not helpful to perpetuate the outdated myth that museums are for a certain type of person (all cognac and cravats) and that the rest of us prefer blockbuster movies (all popcorn and trackpants). Lucas claims to be creating a new kind of museum – “One visit may change not only the way you think about museums but what you think art is”. Unfortunately, in order to identify his museum as something different, Lucas is trotting out some very old-fashioned ideas about what a museum is, and who it’s for.

What about the learning programmes? According to the website, “We will make education and access a priority; our programming and education will make pioneering [my emphasis] use of our one-of-a-kind collection”. Well that’s exciting – and it makes sense too. If one is going to revolutionise museums, one may as well pioneer innovations in programming as well. As you can imagine, I read on with great anticipation, looking forward to learning more about the novel approaches they have planned. Brace yourselves, this is the headline list for ‘Collection and Education Programming’: collection presentations; temporary exhibitions; daily film-screenings; film premieres, public lectures; hands-on workshops; school tours and programmes; classes for all ages; and campus-wide festivals. Hmm. Has your mind been blown? No, me neither. There is more detail further down the page on the proposed offer for each audience, but it’s nothing I haven’t seen before and could be considered fairly standard programming.

I’m being harsh; I appreciate that a bit of PR puff about a theoretical programme that is still at least four years away is not necessarily going to reflect the quality of the final product. It just grinds my gears that this is a phenomenal opportunity to actually do something pioneering and it would be a shame to squander it. I really want their ‘docent-led tours’ and ‘hands-on art-making workshops’ to change the game, but their aspirations to do something spectacular are currently sitting within a very well-established template.

What the team will have to their advantage is the facilities: state-of-the-art cinemas; production-quality editing; digital and analogue classrooms; lecture halls; library; and practical studios. That lot could be the envy of any learning department. Such high-tech rooms could enable amazing programming that promoted skills development and career-focussed training. And with so many film-making practitioners and creatives in close proximity, there will be plenty of opportunities for setting ‘real world’ design briefs.

It’s not unusual for a rich man to create a museum and have it named in his honour – J. Paul Getty, Solomon R. Guggenheim, Henry Tate, and Charles Saatchi have all made their mark on the art museum world – and rich women have also made an enormous cultural impact, especially Peggy Guggenheim and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. It must be frustrating for Lucas that this gesture of creating a new museum – which he probably perceives as an act of generosity – has been met with so much suspicion and, in some case, open hostility. Perhaps we’ll all end up eating humble pie when it’s a massive success. To date, the project has been a lightning rod for debates around elitism and the patronage of museums. It would be amazing if their learning programmes have the same impact on museums as Star Wars had on cinema. Why aim for less?

HEADER IMAGE: https://www.dezeen.com/2017/01/11/mad-george-lucas-museum-narrative-art-los-angeles-exposition-park-ma-yansong/


Design Ventura Summit Adventures

Last week, the Design Museum hosted a one-day event as part of their Design Ventura (DV) programme, a ‘design and enterprise challenge for students in years 9, 10 and 11, supported by industry professionals’. The museum invited ‘DV stakeholders’ to participate in a series of talks and workshops exploring the following topic: ‘Design: the problem and the solution (and the imperative for 21C design education)’. It was a fascinating day, not least because a large majority of the audience didn’t work in museums or galleries. The delegates were predominantly teachers and designers, and we talked a lot about how their worlds intersect. The subjects we covered included: improving the relationship between education and industry; access to tech training for teachers;  the rising trend of ‘design entrepreneurship’; and the skills that young people need for future employment. For this post, I’ve compiled some of my favourite interesting bits from the day – not an easy task as the whole day was made up of interesting bits – if the Design Ventura Summit had been a chocolate-chip cookie, it would have been made entirely of chocolate.

The Summit was particularly timely too. The day before, the new Chair of Arts Council England, Nick Serota, announced a new commission that will identify how young people benefit from an arts education and strategies for improving current provision. Hopefully, they will build on the myriad of existing reports on the subject, not least ImagiNation: the value of cultural learning, commissioned by the Cultural Learning Alliance and published only a few months ago. The Summit also coincided with the day that the UK Government triggered Article 50, marking the official beginning of divorce proceedings from the European Union. This particular cloud cast quite a long shadow over the event, and the potential negative impact of Brexit on the creative industries was raised a few times. And finally, as I was eating my breakfast earlier that morning and listening to the radio, I heard the news that UK schools are working with ever-diminishing budgets which will result in £3 billion cuts by 2019/20. My first thoughts were with teachers and how grim the work of head teachers will be to balance the books. My second thoughts were, naturally, concerned with museum and gallery education. I suspect school trips will be the first item cut from school budgets (who can blame them?) and this will leave our current model of schools’ provision, focussed on site visits, high and dry. It doesn’t matter how great our museum learning programmes are, they ain’t worth much if schools can’t afford to get to us.

With all of these issues swirling around in the background, it was useful to take a design perspective on the confluence of education, policy, and the creative industries. NESTA have been very active in this area and have produced a number of useful reports, including:

  • The Fusion Effect (2016): this is NESTA’s take on the STEAM agenda, looking at how the arts and sciences can work together more effectively;
  • Creativity Vs Robots (2015): how can anyone resist a title like that? This report looks at the future of jobs and what aspects of work are likely to become automated. A recent Guardian article, ‘Science classes won’t future-proof our children. But dance might’, made reference to PricewaterhouseCooper’s prediction that 30% of British jobs will be lost to automation by the 2030s. Fortunately, artificial intelligence still can’t compete with our human creative capacity, so we’ll remain one step ahead of C3PO for a bit longer.
  • Solved! Making the Case for Collaborative Problem-Solving (2017): another title that speaks for itself. ‘Problem-solving’ was definitely one of the day’s key words: it was used as a shorthand definition of design; and it was also name-checked as a 21st century core competency, an attribute valued by employers across a range of industries.


Brexit and the EBacc – a pairing that sounds more like a novelty music act from the 1970s than a confluence of misfortunes – were subjects that couldn’t be avoided. The Government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper came up in discussion a few times. Published in January, it sets out planning for the UK’s economic future once we have left the EU. Organised around 10 pillars, the ‘developing skills’ priority was considered pertinent to design education and its value to the economy. One speaker also mentioned Brexit Design Manifesto, produced by Dezeen magazine, which is worth a look.

The sharp decline in pupils studying Design and Technology at GCSE level was a particular cause for concern during discussions. The Design and Technology Association (DATA) spearheaded a campaign last year to raise the profile of the subject. Their short film What is Design & Technology – and why do we need it?, made a connection between the investment in D&T in the 1990s and the pay-off over the following decades as those pupils then thrived and built careers in the creative industries. We risk cutting off the pipeline of new talent when design (either through D&T or Art & Design) is cut from a child’s education.

So far, so sadly familiar – the drop in D&T has been a topic of discussion for some time now. What I found more interesting was hearing another perspective on the issue. Holly Donagh from A New Direction framed the EBacc discussion in relation to inclusion agendas. Pupils who graduate with at least five GCSEs will go on to have greater social mobility and more career opportunities than those who don’t. The aim of the EBacc is to get 90% of pupils achieving five GCSEs; whereas the current figure is closer to 35-40%. Living in my leftie echo-chamber, I only ever hear about how awful the EBacc is. Of course it makes sense that those on the other side of the fence also want a high quality education for the next generation – we just have very different views on the role of art and design in achieving that (I should add that Holly was presenting another perspective for the purposes of a group discussion, rather than arguing against design education). Both sides in this debate are deeply entrenched and Holly’s comments made me realise that a greater insight into each other’s rationale would surely help find some middle ground.

And finally, there was plenty of discussion around career pathways for young people. It’s one thing to be at school, and it’s another thing to be established in a career – but getting from A to B is incredibly daunting when you’re 16 and don’t know what you want to do with your life. A huge range of jobs rely on creative skills, and the creative industries are stuffed with a variety of careers, but these opportunities are not well-known. If young people (and their parents) were better informed about what was possible and available, the value of design education would be better understood. The Sorrell Foundation has created the online resource, Creative Journeys, to meet just that purpose. And I should also mention Creative Quarter and Making It are two large careers’ festivals for young people that the V&A’s Learning department run each year.

Another of NESTA’s projects involves sifting through a mountain of online job advertisements to identify the careers that require creative skills. They have sifted through 33 million online ads (promoting UK jobs, dating from 2011-16) and identified 12,000 unique skills. From this data, they have arranged creative skills into five broad categories –  Tech, Support, Selling, Creating & Designing, and Teaching. The final resource is still being tested, but it will ultimately provide an online facility whereby a young person can identify their skills and interests and match them to a range of possible career options.

The jobs-market isn’t what it used to be. My own career pathway – from administrator to assistant education officer to education officer to management – feels very old-fashioned when I read the CVs of twenty-somethings, dominated by internships, volunteering, placements and short-term contracts. A patchwork of experience now seems to be the norm. Perhaps not surprisingly, initiative and drive are key attributes in this working climate, and the top buzzword of the day – entrepreneurship – is becoming increasingly important.

Julio Terra from Kickstarter gave one of the keynotes and offered great insights into this new world of work. He recommended designer Craighton Berman and his interest in ‘design entrepreneurship’, championing how designers can work more independently and sustainably. Julio also mentioned ‘D2C’, the designer-to-consumer model, made possible through digital technologies that cut out the middlemen of distribution. And of course Kickstarter itself is changing the game for how new products are backed and launched. I can’t quite believe the company was founded as recently as 2009 – it feels like it’s always been there. In this model, storytelling and narrative have usurped conventional marketing. Young designers are attracting backers through engaging and personal short films to promote their work, made using readily available software.

This brave new world of employment has a rich assortment of pitfalls and opportunities, many of which  – for good and bad – are the result of new technologies and a splintered job market. While we need new thinking around education and training to keep abreast of these rapid changes, the path to success remains the same – find something you’re passionate about, word hard, network, and be good at what you do.

Engage at Tate Exchange: a taster menu

Last week, I participated in a three-day course organised by engage, the National Association for Gallery Education in the UK. For the first two days, we were hosted by Tate Exchange in the new Switch House building. We enjoyed a backdrop of stunning views over the Thames and across East London as we shared practice through talks, workshops, demonstrations and discussions. On the final day, we went on a tour of South London arts venues to see their exhibitions and hear about their learning programmes. We went to 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning, South London & Maudsley (SLaM) NHS Foundation Trust, Peckham Platform and South London Gallery. I learnt a huge amount from my peers, spanning a diverse range of topics, and since then I’ve been happily following up on recommended reports and websites. For this post, I’ve compiled a taster menu of interesting reading collected over the three days; it falls into three broad categories: Reports (economic/education); Reports (museum and gallery learning); and Projects & Initiatives. Enjoy!


Reports (economic/education)

The Future of Jobs (World Economic Forum)


  • This report summarises the ‘direction of travel’ for work in different industries from 2015-2020. It takes a global perspective and highlights inequalities in employment for women. To get your attention, the home page sets a vaguely apocalyptic tone: ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution is interacting with other socio-economic and demographic factors to create a perfect storm of business model change in all industries, resulting in major disruptions to labour markets’. Despite this alarmist introduction, the bulk of the information is presented more calmly, using plenty of infographics that are easy to read at a glance and perfect for browsing.


  • The ‘shareable infographics’ section compares the top 10 skills required in 2015 and projected for 2020. It’s worth noting that all of them are key to museum education practice and reflect the benefits of arts education.
  • Top four skills in 2015: Complex Problem Solving, Coordinating with Others, People Management, and Critical Thinking.
  • Top four skills in 2020: Complex Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, Creativity, and People Management.


Creative Learning Plan (Education Scotland)


  • While schools in England are struggling with the lack of support for the arts in the national curriculum, it’s a different story in Scotland where creativity is promoted as an essential component of a balanced education. Education Scotland’s ‘3-18 Curriculum Impact Report on Creativity’  identifies four key creative skills – curiosity, open-mindedness, imagination and problem-solving. This report, as well as a selection of bright and engaging infographics on creativity, are available to download from the link above.
Shard from Tate Mar17
View of the Shard from the top of the Switch House

Reports (museum and gallery learning)

Creative Families (South London Gallery)


  • This intergenerational artist-led project worked with both parents (who are experiencing mental health difficulties) and their children. It aimed to explore the relationship between parenting and well-being, and was designed as an early-intervention programme in partnership between South London Gallery, Southwark’s Parental Mental Health Team and three local Children’s Centres: Grove, Crawford and Ann Bernadt.
  • The final report, Making It Together, is a thorough evaluative study of the project (download via link above). It goes into detail about the methodology and impacts, and places the work in a broader social context.


Step by Step: Arts Policy and Young People 1944-2014 (King’s College London)


  • While I was noodling around looking for Making It Together, I found this report from a few years ago. It was commissioned to mark the 50th anniversary in 2015 of the first-ever UK government arts policy, authored by Jennie Lee. It pretty much does what it says on the tin, charting the history of post-war arts initiatives for young people in the UK over a 70-year period. This may sound a bit dry, but it’s fascinating to see how attitudes towards art education have shifted over time. The authors also make the point that new policy is often devised without an understanding of what has come before, resulting in the proverbial wheel being invented over and over again, a problem that I think we can relate to in museum and gallery education/learning.
St Pauls from Tate Mar17
View of St Paul’s Cathedral from the top of the Switch House

Projects and Initiatives

Youth Enterprise (198 Contemporary Arts and Learning)


  • 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning, previously known as 198 Gallery, is located on Railton Road, which was the epicentre of the Brixton rising/riots in 1981. The gallery was founded in 1988 and has always taken an active interest in supporting young people and their creativity. Staunch supporters of new talent, 198 can take credit for giving five of the 12 artists showing at the Diaspora Pavilion (Venice Biennale 2017) their first exhibition. Exciting youth-led social enterprises have also been fostered by 198, and look set to expand as the organisation extends its links with business and the creative industries.


  • Formed in 2010, Hustlebucks is a youth design agency. They predominantly work in fashion design and have recently collaborated with band, The xx, on a range of t-shirts.


  • The Factory is a new venture for 198. It will provide studio space for creative start-ups and social enterprises that will work with local young people, offering training, mentoring and employment.


  • The Factory was inspired in part by Artists For Humanity (AFH), an amazing Boston-based initiative set up in the 1990s. AFH grew out of frustration at the lack of art experiences available in the Boston Public School System, and their aim is, ‘to bridge economic, racial, and social divisions by providing under-resourced urban youth with the keys to self-sufficiency through paid employment in art and design.’ They go on to say, ‘our mission is built on twin philosophies: engagement in the creative process is a powerful force for social change, and creative entrepreneurship is a productive and life-changing opportunity for young people and their communities.’


Generation Art: Young Artists on Tour (engage)


  • A selection of 40 artworks by children and young people was selected for a national tour (2015-16) that went to Turner Contemporary, Margate, New Walk Museum and Gallery and Soft Touch Arts, Leicester, and Quay Arts, Isle of Wight. The project aimed to celebrate the creativity of young artists, raise the aspirations of adults about what young artists are capable of, and campaign for quality art, craft and design education. The attendance target – 90,000 – was smashed and an impressive 203,000 people saw the show, of which 42% were first time visitors to the host venues.


Cultural Education Challenge (A New Direction)


  • A New Direction works to ensure that all children and young people get the most out of London’s creative and cultural offer. One of their current programmes, the London Cultural Education Challenge, runs from 2015-18 and aims to improve cultural provision for young audiences, as well as creating sustainable partnership models that can continue beyond the lifespan of the funding.
  • There are six overarching themes for the Cultural Education Challenge, each of which has been presented as a handy infographic identifying specific needs. For example, ‘Equity and Geography’ provides data on the division between cultural provision in central London, the large percentage of pupils in outer London, and the gulf between the two – 40% of 11-25 year olds in London have not been to an art exhibition or music event in the past year.

I wish I could include everything we talked about over those three days; my selection is only a small indication of what was discussed. If you’d like to see more, check out #engagejourneys on Twitter for more links, tips and photos.

Dunedin Public Art Gallery

After a lovely week in Wellington visiting one half of the family, I headed to the South Island to visit the other half in Dunedin. I haven’t lived in this part of New Zealand, but know it pretty well from visiting over the years. The city’s layout was designed in Britain in the 19th century and based on Edinburgh, so the street names are familiar – George, Hanover, Frederick, Castle – but they were slapped down without much regard for the existing terrain. As a result, you’ll find here some of the steepest streets in the world. In Dunedin, the road doesn’t just rising up to meet your feet, but your nose too. The advantage of all this uppage is plenty of fabulous views over the harbour and surrounding hills. It’s a bustling university town and has long held a strong reputation for its music scene. And, like all New Zealand cities now, it is also home to fantastic coffee.

There are a range of cultural offers available in Dunedin, including the Dunedin Chinese Garden, Toitu Otago Settlers’ Museum, and the Otago Museum (Dunedin is the main city in the Otago provincial district). In my limited time here, I focussed on Dunedin Public Art Gallery and met with Lynda Cullen, Visitor Programmes Coordinator, and Robyn Notman, Public Programmes and Collections Manager (who will soon be leaving the gallery for a role at the Hocken Collection). Lynda generously talked me through their programmes and gave me a tour of their learning spaces, including a practical making space, an auditorium, and a welcoming ‘Playspace’ gallery for families, located opposite the main entrance. But before I talk about the programme, I want to give a bit more context about the gallery and its history.

Playspace, located on the ground floor of the gallery, facing the main entrance.

Dunedin Public Art Gallery (DPAG), founded in 1884, is the oldest gallery in New Zealand. By European standards this will sound relatively recent, but it’s worth keeping in mind that the founding document of New Zealand, the Treaty of Waitangi, was only signed a few decades earlier in 1840, and the city of Dunedin itself only dates back to 1848. When the gallery was founded, the population of Dunedin was a mere 24,000, so this was a major undertaking. The gallery grew out of the Otago Art Society, established in 1875, and it’s ambition, right from the outset, was to collect both European and New Zealand masterpieces.

Today, the collection holds about 8,000 objects across a range of disciplines, including painting, drawing, photography, printmaking, sculpture, new media and design (ceramics, glass, furniture, textiles and costume). In the 1930s, The UK’s National Art Collection Fund (NACF, now known as The Art Fund) – set up to secure national art treasures for public collections – acquired artworks for galleries in the Dominion (ie. part of the British Commonwealth). Consequently, there are some amazing works by British artists in the DPAG collection, including: Professor William Richardson (c.1780s) by Henry Raeburn; Spes [Hope] (1871) by Edward Burne-Jones; and First Portrait of Mrs Betty Joel (1928), by Jacob Epstein. The gallery also showcases work by New Zealand artist Frances Hodgkins, and holds an impressive collection of Japanese prints and netsuke, as well as European paintings and prints from the 14th century onwards.

The gallery has been at The Octagon, in the heart of the city centre, since 1996. The building was previously a department store; I don’t know how many of its original features remain, but the entrance is spectacular – a large, light-filled atrium gives a sense of the scale of building, and the surrounding mezzanine and balcony levels offer a range of viewpoints to enjoy the central spaces. The atrium also has a huge installation area, known as the ‘Big Wall’ for good reason. When I visited, the installation on display was by artist Tiffany Singh. The work is a screen of pastel-coloured ribbons, falling the full length of the wall; on each ribbon is written the Buddhist mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ (the title of the work) in gold lettering that shimmers as you walk past it. There can’t be many gallery walls in the country that are large enough to hold such a striking piece and the effect is stunning. Should you find yourself at the gallery on Sunday 2 April, you’ll be able to join a Buddhist Meditation class, programmed to complement Singh’s installation.

Tiffany Singh’s installation, Om Mani Padme Hum, on the ‘Big Wall’.

Lynda’s public programmes are as varied and rich as the collections and exhibitions themselves. Her colleague, John Neumegen, is the LEOTC (Learning Experiences Outside the Classroom) artist educator who delivers all of the primary and secondary school tours and workshops. Judging by the immaculate arrangement of his materials and resources in the practical making workshop, he runs a pretty tight ship. Lynda does some work with formal education groups, giving tours to tertiary students and early years classes (as LEOTC doesn’t include funding for these audiences), and is otherwise responsible for the rest of the learning programme.

The art studio, ready for a school workshop.

Lynda is well-networked and thinks laterally about her offer, which makes for fantastic interdisciplinary programming. I was surprised to discover how many city-wide festivals Dunedin has throughout the year – for example, Wild Dunedin (festival of nature), the Fringe Festival (performing arts), and iD Dunedin Fashion Week, to name a few – Lynda works with all of them, and hosts all sorts of related events at the gallery:

  • for Wild Dunedin in April, she has programmed an aviary curator from the Botanic Gardens and a gallery guide to co-deliver a tour of the collections, focussing on art and the environment;
  • for the Fringe Festival in March, the gallery is having an eclectic range of performances, including throat singing, jazz, Indian dance, and the creation of a ‘pulsing sonic soundscape designed for thinking and dancing’; and
  • an upcoming DPAG exhibition, When Dreams Turn to Gold: The Benson and Hedges and Smokefree Fashion Design Awards 1964-1998, is timed to correspond with Fashion Week, and related programming includes, ‘Be a Fashion Designer’ drop-in workshops for families, ‘In Conversations’ with designers, and fashion-related film screenings.

The University of Otago and Dunedin Teachers’ College run fellowship and residency schemes, offering further opportunities for collaboration and public programming with the gallery.  The Teachers’ College supports writers-in-residence and the University awards six-month Fellowships for several disciplines, including writing (Burns Fellowship), art (Frances Hodgkins Fellowship), music (Mozart Fellowship), and community dance (Caroline Plummer Fellowship). Lynda creates networking opportunities for the fellows and residents to get together, as well as public programming opportunities for them to share their work with a broader audience. For example, Caroline Sutton Clark is the current Caroline Plummer Community Dance Fellow, and she will be running a Butoh dance workshop and then performing solo as part of the International Day of Dance in April. Lynda did her MA in Visual Culture and Gender at the University of Otago, and has sustained great links with the local academic community. Where possible, she programmes talks and events that respond to new thinking and trends coming out of the world of academia and research.

I have highlighted examples from Lynda’s programme that champion partnership working and interdisciplinary practice, which are both areas of particular interest to me. However, I don’t want to give the impression that her programme only runs in parallel to, and doesn’t intersect with, the collections and exhibitions. She offers a huge range of inspiring talks and workshops by guest curators and exhibiting artists, directly engaging with the artworks. The variety of the DPAG public programme is what makes it so interesting, and it’s even more impressive when you consider it is the work of a one-woman learning department!

Te Papa & the Lean Canvas Model

Te Papa Tongarewa is the national museum and gallery of New Zealand; the literal translation of its Maori name is ‘container of treasures’. When I was a kid, the national museum and gallery was in a different part of Wellington, on a hillside in a 1930s building that looked out over the city. It was great fun to run around the older museum, and I have very fond memories of the ‘under the sea’ diorama, but I appreciate that for the adults who had to work there, by the 1980s it was no longer fit for purpose. It’s replacement, Te Papa, opened in 1998. It’s an enormous post-modern structure located on the Wellington waterfront, a much better spot for raising its profile and luring passing foot-traffic. The interior feels incredibly spacious with high ceilings and open foyers, showcasing the diverse collections and inspiring a sense of awe and wonder. The museum really lives up to its name and feels like a gigantic treasure box. When I was in town, I met with Miri Young, Te Papa’s Head of Learning Innovation, and a member of her team, Museum Educator, Laura Jones, and got a sneak peek at their new Learning Lab, Hinatore (trans: ‘phosphorescence or luminescence – a glow or glimmering in the dark’).

Miri has only been at Te Papa for 14 months – which is about 10 minutes in museum years – and yet within that time she has initiated and completed a total redevelopment of the Learning Lab. Previously, the room had a solid wooden door so activity couldn’t be viewed from the gallery spaces, and there was a display of handling objects behind glass. Miri was keen to create an active, hands-on, experimental space that was flexible (ie. plenty of modular furniture that can be reconfigured) and able to support a wide variety of digital programmes (ie. plenty of new whizzy kit). The entrance to the room is now a glass door and window, opening up the space to visitors in the main galleries, and a large, colourful commissioned illustration by Gwilym Devey brightens up the facing wall. The room has a long rectangular floorplan, with a large window on the shorter wall, looking out over the yacht club and harbour, and a glass partition at the other end of the room, separating a smaller area for ‘messy’ making (judging by the durable flooring) from the larger carpeted space.

Hinatore: the modular furniture along the right-hand wall can be reconfigured.
Hinatore: note the 3D printers on the right.

I’m afraid my knowledge of the latest digital toys is limited, but I spied four 3-D printers, two large ‘touch tables’ that reminded me of the ones used at Cooper-Hewitt in New York, and a couple of large flat screen monitors. Their website also reliably informs me that Hinatore provides a purpose-built virtual reality (VR) studio and “telepresence technology that connects learners in remote locations”. Sensibly, there are also staff members with a foot in both digital and learning camps who are able to wield all of this amazing new media potential. As well as promoting direct engagement with the collections and exhibitions through working with original objects, Te Papa has also made 60,000+ images freely available online, offering  a combination of works with no known copyright and those for use under the terms of the Creative Commons copyright licence. Having both the digital tools of Hinatore and the online resource of the collections at their disposal, the Learning team are well placed to support the development of 21st century core competencies (which they have identified as programming priorities): creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication and curiosity.

Hinatore: detail of the commissioned illustration by Gwilym Devey, depicting aspects of the collection (the natural world, technology, engineering, and Aotearoa New Zealand’s history). The large building with the three flags in front of it is Te Papa.

As well getting a tour of the Learning Lab, Miri also told me about their approach to programme development – an adaptation of the ‘Lean Canvas’ model, which was adapted in turn from the ‘Business Model Canvas’ to better support entrepreneurs and start-ups. Because I am a massive systems geek, I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to find out about a new strategic planning tool, ideally one devised for a non-arts sector and then modified for museums. Miri explained that they use ‘Lean Canvas’ for all strands of programming to focus and clarify the aims of each offer and for setting clear targets. Because it was designed for business, the language is one of ‘customers/users’ and ‘products’, although I think there is a correlation with ‘audience’ and ‘programmes’. A strength of the model is that it puts the audience first – the aim is to identify the ‘problems’ (ie. needs) of the customer and keeps those front and centre when working out possible solutions. This reminds me of the design process, which advocates for the same thing – keep the end user at the forefront of your thinking to ensure the final product will achieve what you set out to do.

The Lean Canvas Model, as used by Te Papa, is a one-page table consisting of nine boxes:

  1. What is the problem? (ie. what is the audience need?)
  2. What customer segments are you solving the problem for? (an important step for clarifying and defining the target audience)
  3. What is your Unique Value Proposition (UVP)? (this question keeps the focus on audiences; the aim is to identify the marketing offer that would capture their attention)
  4. The solution (what top features or capabilities will address the problems?)
  5. Channels (how will you reach your audiences?)
  6. Neighbours (who are the key partners or people you’ll need help from?)
  7. Cost Structure (what resources will you need?)
  8. Value/Success Metrics (how is value created and what metrics will you use to measure that value?)
  9. Unfair Advantage (what is special or unique about this idea that will make it difficult for the competition to copy?)

Ash Maurya, who devised Lean Canvas in 2009, has written a useful blogpost on its creation that also clarifies some of the finer points around its use and terminology. If you want to find out more about this approach, there are plenty of examples of the Lean Canvas Model online (Canvanizer and Lean Stack both offer templates), as well as further adaptations, such as the Social Lean Canvas for social enterprises. I’m not proposing that Lean Canvas is taken on wholesale, as some adaptation is required to map to the specific context of devising learning programmes in museums, but I can see that there would be tangible benefits to such a systematic approach, especially by putting the audience needs at the centre of the process.

City Gallery Wellington

I’m back home in Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ), visiting family and enjoying some much-needed sunshine. On previous trips I haven’t made contact with museum education peers, but having had such a positive experience of interviewing practitioners in the US, I felt this was too good an opportunity to miss. I moved to the UK 17 years ago and have never worked in the NZ cultural sector, so I can’t claim any homeground advantage. It’s been fascinating – and a bit strange – to be in a part of the world that is so deeply familiar to me, yet learning about a whole other museum and gallery education context. I lined up a few meetings before coming home and I’m looking forward to sharing my learning over my next few blog posts. First up, the City Gallery Wellington.

The City Gallery was established in 1980. It changed venue twice before taking root in the old public library on Civic Square in 1993. It doesn’t have a permanent collection so the focus is on a rolling, ambitious programme of temporary exhibitions. I can still vividly recall the Robert Mapplethorpe show I saw there in 1995/96 when I was an art history undergraduate. It was thrilling to brush up against the New York art world and see ‘the real thing’, not something you can take for granted when living in a far-flung corner of the Pacific. The City Gallery has always punched above its weight and has presented solo exhibitions by artists such as William Kentridge, Yayoi Kusama, Keith Haring, and Cerith Wyn Evans. This outward-facing interest in international practice is complemented by programming that looks closer to home, showcasing Maori, Pasifika and Pakeha (of European descent) talent.

It was pure luck that my visit to Wellington coincided with the City Gallery’s current show, Cindy Sherman (19 Nov 2016 – 19 Mar 2017), who I’ve admired since I was a teenager. The exhibition focuses on work made since 2000 and includes 52 large-format photographic prints, grouped by theme. The richly-saturate colour and crisply-defined imagery, achieved through the use of digital photography, give the eye so much to explore. It’s possible to examine every strand of hair, every artfully-applied shadow and every prosthetic addition that dramatically alter the artist’s appearance. Not surprisingly, the ‘Clowns’ room is the most creepy, but ‘Society Portraits’ are also pretty unnerving. The main exhibition is accompanied by a display of archive material from Sherman’s own collection of found albums; it includes “over 200 photographs taken by and for guests to Casa Susanna, a 1960s upstate New York retreat for cross-dressing men”. These images of stereotypical femininity, constructed through the use of bouffant wigs, glamorous ballgowns, heavy makeup, and playful poses, are in fantastic juxtaposition with Sherman’s own construction of female types.


One of the large ground floor galleries, showing work from Sherman’s Clowns series

A show like Cindy Sherman is an absolute gift to gallery educators. The work is immediate enough to grab the most reluctant of gallery-goers, yet complex enough to hold those who want to go deeper and explore meaty topics such as identity, gender and feminism. I met with gallery educators, Claire Hopkins and Helen Lloyd – half of the Learning team at the City Gallery – to find out about their programming. Claire and Helen devise and deliver the primary and secondary schools’ offer at the gallery. Their posts and programme are funded by a Ministry of Education scheme called Learning Experiences Outside the Classroom (LEOTC).

This funding is awarded on a three-year cycle, and it supports a huge range of activity across the country, including sites such as museums, zoos, performing arts venues, science and outdoor centres, and historic parks. I was gob-smacked at this level of government support for the arts and it’s amazing that the scheme has weathered the post-2008 economic downturn. Such commitment to getting kids out of school and learning in alternative contexts is impressive. The emphasis of the funding is on broadening access, and attendance targets are an important measure of success. This isn’t the whole story however, and evidence of impact is also valued; every visit is evaluated by the teachers, and their feedback informs the reflective practice of refining and developing programmes. The schools’ offer is also tailored to meet specific learning outcomes for teachers. Interestingly, there is no funding for early years’ provision – hopefully something that can be amended in future planning cycles.

In New Zealand, every primary school selects a theme each term that will be used to scaffold all subject delivery. Claire and Helen clearly have a good relationship with many schools and work closely with teachers to structure their programming and tap into whatever themes schools are using. Cross-curricular programming, especially at primary school level, is common practice so there are opportunities to make connections between Art (as a subject) and English, Science or Maths. Claire and Helen also promote interdisciplinary programming and have worked with a dance educator to run dance/art workshops. Their teachers’ resources, known as ‘resource cards’ are available online. The print version is an attractive A3 exhibition poster on one side, with key exhibition notes on the reverse, including pre- and post-visit activities, information on the artist, terminology, and some headline concepts.

Claire and Helen have the use of an Education Studio, currently set-up for photography workshops responding to the Sherman exhibition. It’s a good-sized room with plenty of natural light. Claire explained that they place the emphasis of their practical workshops on process, critical thinking and ideas. When the kids are creating their own characters to photograph, they are encouraged to slow down and really think about what will make a successful image – the use of colour and layering textures in clothing, how the pose, expression, costume and makeup all have to come together, and how to generate psychological depth, and not just a funny face. Concepts and ideas drive contemporary art practice, so it stands to reason that the talks, tours and workshops that Claire and Helen programme are also looking to get under the surface of the work; one of the key learning intentions of their programmes is to stimulate and facilitate critical and creative thinking.

City Gallery Education Studio

In addition to the education programme for schools, there is also a public programme for general audiences. I didn’t get the chance to meet Tracey and Meredith who run this offer, but the concept-driven, interdisciplinary ethos of the education programme appears to run across the whole organisation and shape the public programmes too. The current events brochure promotes a huge range of activities including: monthly ‘Lates’, evening openings that celebrate all my favourite things, “art, music, film, books, beer, wine, food”; a film series selected by Sherman and City Gallery curator Aaron Lister; a talks programme that explores topics such as celebrity culture, transgender rights, photography, costume, and mise-en-scene; and a panel series on contemporary feminism, with evocative titles such as ‘Feminism: The Morning After’ and ‘Ageing and Agency’. There are also monthly exhibition tours, titled ‘Gallery Babes’, for parents and carers who are welcome to bring their babies along too.

And finally – if that wasn’t enough! – there are some really wonderful interpretation offers also available. A large resource area, located outside the Education Studio and adjacent to the archive displays, has plenty of comfortable seating and tables for further study. There is a film of Sherman talking about her practice, a ‘magazine rack’ presenting copies of Harper’s Bazaar alongside the gallery’s print material about Sherman’s show, and an ‘art cart’ with free drawing materials. One of the large tables has a set of ring binders and cards; each card has a large thumbnail image from the exhibition and the invitation to ‘create a story with these characters, then add it to our collection to share’. I loved flicking through what others had written; it was so interesting to see how much humour and pathos Sherman’s work inspired.


Resource Area (the archive display is through the two doorways on the right)

I also picked up a gorgeous piece of print (which I assumed was for me to take…) of a poem written by Hera Lindsay Bird, responding to her favourite work in the exhibition, ‘Untitled 404’. It was commissioned by the gallery and read at the opening. I felt this was a really generous act by the gallery, to want to give a poem to audiences to supplement their viewing of the exhibition. The whole place has a thoughtful and positive energy about it – open to a variety of artforms and ideas, and actively looking to provide many routes into the work. A capital city should have cultural offers of this calibre and it’s great to have something so wonderful in my home town.


The Hundred Acre Wood Theory of Change

When I met with Ethan Angelica to discuss his work at Museum Hack, our conversation focussed on creativity and innovation, and also included change management and the importance of ‘bringing people with you’ when introducing new ideas. It turns out that both of our dads are management gurus – his is a management consultant specialising in non-profit organisations, and mine is a recently retired business management academic. Ethan told me about the fantastic ‘theory of change’ model developed by his Dad, Emil Angelica. It’s based on four of A.A. Milne’s characters who live in Hundred Acre Wood – Tigger, Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, and Eeyore. Ethan tells it brilliantly, so the following is a verbatim quote from our interview:

My Dad is one of my greatest role models. He has what he calls his ‘Hundred Acre Wood Theory of Change’… When something changes, you have the Tiggers, who are bouncing – they’re way out in front of everybody, they’re just like, can’t wait to change it. You’ve only got a couple of those, and you need to let them Tigger away. Keep an eye on them, make sure they don’t jump off a cliff or something, but let them Tigger. Then you have the Poohs, who will follow the honey pot. You give them their honey pot, and they’re like, ‘okay, cool, this is where we’re going, I got it, I got it, this is cool, I like what we’re doing here, it looks delicious, let’s just keep going’. So the Tiggers are bouncing and as long as Pooh has its honey pot, it’s going to be okay, Tigger doesn’t really bother him.

Piglet gets really scared of Tigger. The Piglets are like, ‘ohh, I don’t know, man, he’s crazy and that honey pot is not very interesting to me, what are we going to do?’ and so you have to gently guide Piglet there. And then you have Eeyores. And Eeyores are just like, ‘well, I don’t know, like I guess…’ and you’re just never going to win over the Eeyores. Eeyores are always going to be there, and you just have to be like, ‘you’re going to be fine, yes I know this is rough’. I find that distinctly in all of these organisations. Every time I go in and do a workshop, I always see a Tigger, I always see the person who I hand the Five Elements [of a Hack] to and they’re like, ‘ooh, this is pretty’, the Piglets who are like, ‘but, but I can’t say fuck’, and then Eeyores who are like, ‘everything you’re doing is horrible’.

When I asked Ethan if I could share this model, he kindly put me in contact with Emil via Skype so I could find out more. The Hundred Acre Wood theory came about when Emil was working with refugee and migrant communities in Minneapolis in the 1980s. Many in these communities were watching TV to help develop their English language skills, and the Disney cartoon of Winnie-the-Pooh was well known. Emil had been looking for a narrative framework to convey change management ideas, and Hundred Acre Wood was the perfect fit. He has used it regularly with many different groups since then, and it elicits an interesting range of responses. The majority get it very quickly, and then enjoy identifying which character they most relate to, or start attributing characters to their colleagues. And of course there are some who find it juvenile, because there will always be some who take their own adulthood very, very seriously.

In any group, the Tiggers and the Eeyores are the outliers at either end of the positive-negative spectrum. Emil makes the point that leaders often spend too much time focussing on these extremes – they like the Tiggers because they agree with them, and they fixate on the Eeyores as a challenge to be conquered. Time could be better spent, however, supporting the majority that fall in the middle – the Poohs and the Piglets.

Winnie-the-Pooh is motivated by his honey pot – something that is tangible and within his reach. When going through periods of change, the Poohs need short-term goals and quick successes to stay motivated – a long-term vision with positive results in five years’ time just isn’t going to cut it. Piglets, bless them, wants to know ‘will this hurt me?’ so they have to feel safe and protected through the change process. Tiggers need to be kept occupied so they don’t scare the daylights out of Piglets – delegating parts of a project to Tiggers is a great way to channel their enthusiasm. Eeyores can negatively influence both Poohs and Piglets so they need to be managed closely.

Emil also told me about two related change management models that support his own:

Michael Beer’s formula for change = (D*V*1st) < C

  • D = dissatisfaction with the present situation
  • V = vision of how things could be different
  • 1st = First step to bring about change
  • C = perceived cost of going through change must be seen as less than the cost of staying with the current situation, in order for change to happen.

William Bridges’s Transition Model

  • This model maps the transition that people go through over time as they come to accept change.
  • At first, there is a sense of loss, letting go and relinquishing the old way when something comes to an end.
  • A ‘neutral zone’ in the middle is characterised by confusion, direction finding and re-patterning.
  • New beginnings generate commitment and a new sense of purpose and energy.

Beer’s formula is particularly pertinent for the Piglets, who worry about the personal cost of any change and need to be very dissatisfied with their present situation to be open to doing things differently. Bridges’s transition model demonstrates that people’s points of view can change and the Hundred Acre Wood characters are not fixed positions – someone can be a Piglet on one project and a Tigger on another, or can even change characters over the course of a single project.

Emil boiled all of this down to two key headlines: when leaders want change, they need to ensure there is enough dissatisfaction to motivate the team (too much dissatisfaction = Eeyores; too little dissatisfaction = Piglets) and personal barriers to change need to be acknowledged and overcome – the pain of change needs to not be so great that change is too hard. This is such useful guidance for anyone wanting to do innovative work – museums are notoriously glacial in their pace of change and the more strategies that we have to chivvy the process along, the better.

Ethan’s work at Museum Hack is driven by a love of stories and storytelling. It was lovely to see that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, as Emil has exactly the same love of storytelling in his work. Stories are so essential to what it is to be human, and I love that this simple truth can be applied to areas as disparate as museum tours for millennials and change management for non-profit organisations. … So have you decided which character you are yet?

Image source: http://bibliodyssey.blogspot.co.uk/2008/11/original-winnie-pooh-drawings.html

Sizing Up the Competition

Last month, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published Sponsored Museums Performance Indicators 2015/16’. It reported that visits to the 15 DCMS-funded museums, mostly London-based with some located in other parts of the country, have dropped for the first time in a decade. There were 1.4 million fewer visits this year compared with last year – 47.6 million, down from 49 million –  and it was tourists who were staying away. Surprisingly, overseas visitors made up about 47% of audiences to these museums, which Arts Professional reports as down from 49% in 2014/15. Arts Professional also makes the point that visits to the UK by overseas residents actually went up and were 5.1% higher in 2015 than the previous year. What all this adds up to is more people visiting the UK, and fewer of them visiting UK museums. So if they aren’t coming to us, where are they going?

It seems museums are facing some stiff competition for audiences. This would be consistent with anecdotal evidence I heard in the US. Museum staff in both Indianapolis and Denver spoke about the sector having to look beyond just other museums. We have to better understand how people choose to spend their leisure time and take into consideration the broad range of other available options. And it’s not just us having to do this; the power of social media has strong-armed many public-facing organisations into raising their customer experience game. A bad review on TripAdvisor or a pointed complaint on Twitter are seen by the world, making them far more effective tools for change than a letter to the director. Similarly, a glowing review on facebook or a positive photo on Instagram are marketing gold-dust. We have all become little emperors with mobile phones, giving the thumbs up or thumbs down as the mood takes us. In this climate, museums are looking to other types of venue for inspiration, and they are looking right back at us and doing the same.

For example, there is a great cafe in Cambridge called Stir. It has excellent coffee, lots of varied and comfortable seating, tasty food, friendly staff, lovely tiled walls, and large windows to watch the world go by. All of these elements come together to create a relaxed and welcoming ambience. On the back wall in the main room is a large blackboard; it’s covered with a calendar of activities, including weekly, morning, drop-in art workshops for young children. Now, if I had a toddler and was looking for a low-fi bit of creative entertainment that would suit the needs of both my child and me, I could potentially chose between a kids’ workshop at a local museum or a local cafe. The former has the advantage of original artworks, the latter has coffee and sofas. Museum staff might presume the lure of original artworks would trump all alternatives, but if I’d only had four hours’ sleep the night before and had been watching Igglepiggle on a loop since 5.30am, my money would be on coffee and sofas.

Places like Stir are the competition for museums looking to broaden the scope of their audiences. Increasingly, cafes are picking up museum tricks (like kids’ workshops) and museums are picking up cafe tricks (like coffee and sofas – although not near the artworks). Museums are also borrowing from cinemas, gardens, theatres, and bars to create new museum experiences and attract audiences who like those kinds of social offers. As the line between different forms of leisure activity blurs, it can be harder to distinguish the USP (unique selling point) of museums. Libraries have already gone through this process of reinvention. Books are now just one aspect of the library offer, which can include cafes, creches, job centres, and ubiquitous yoga classes. At Biggin Hill, the library was knocked down and replaced by a library and swimming pool on the same site. If such things are possible, I look forward to the first museum-jacuzzi experience.

With so much change in the air, I suspect museums are going through a bit of an identity crisis. We haven’t fully shaken off the ‘dry n dusty’ reputation of our past, and we haven’t fully embraced the ‘down with the kids’ potential of our venues either. Instead, we seem to be going through that awkward teenage phase, sometimes reverting back to what we were and sometimes reaching forward to what we might become. I see examples of incredible, innovative museum practice and think ‘at last!’, but then it only takes a couple of retrograde meetings to realise, ‘ah, maybe not quite yet’.

All of this competition also affects learning programming. Museums are just one of many places that an adult audiences can go for an interesting talk and a glass of wine, or that families can bring their children for an afternoon outing. How can we continue to set ourselves apart from the crowd and convince audiences that we are the best use of their free time? An obvious strength is our collections, exhibitions, and venues. Well, ‘obvious’ only if we make these assets relevant to audiences. Nina Simon’s latest book The Art of Relevance argues that this is a fundamental aspect of audience development.

Personally, I’m a fan of immersive experiences (taking a leaf out of theatre’s book) and anything multisensory or cross-disciplinary that draws on music, dance and performance – Punchdrunk’s work with the National Maritime Museum set the bar pretty high with their installation, Against Captain’s Orders in 2015. Having said that, I’m also keen on quiet, stripped-back experiences where visitors are encouraged to stop, be still and ponder. For example, the National Gallery runs programmes that invite participants to sit in silence and look at a single painting for five minutes. Called ‘Looking without Talking’, the sessions originated in 2013 to support the Vermeer and Music exhibition. The structure of these sessions has also been repeated under different titles, such as ‘Drawing Mindfully’ and ‘Draw Breath’. Similarly, The Photographers’ Gallery has a small gallery space devoted to just one image and encourages visitors to spend time with it and share their responses. I like these different approaches because they are creating experiences that feel special. Those who participate get to do something outside of the everyday and enjoy a sense of wonder – surely that is a competitive advantage.

Image: All About Eve (1950) https://mubi.com/films/all-about-eve