Tuesday, 10 January 2012

A Projectionist's Tale

Christmas was approaching, Christmas songs played on the radio and I was reading The Nutcracker in preparation for the yearly visit to the ballet.  This seasonal tale of a weird and magical world where toy objects come to life made me think fondly of the magical world of the cinema and the passion Ronald Grant of The Cinema Museum has for it.  I was introduced to Ronald at the beginning of November 2011 when the London Museums Group held a ‘Future Funding Event’ at The Cinema Museum.

An introduction to the day, apart from the scrumptious homemade cakes and warm cups of tea and coffee, was a tour of the Museum and talk by co-founder Ronald Grant, whose career as a projectionist and passion for the medium helped create the Museum’s eclectic collection of cinema objects: carpet, posters, publications, images, display boards, bottles of spraying fragrance, etc….. 

At the age of 15 Ronald started work as an apprentice projectionist with Aberdeen Picture Palaces Ltd.. Ronald moved to London in the 1960s and worked at the British Film Institute and the Brixton Ritzy, but a fortuitous trip back to his home city just as a number of cinemas were closing led to him saving   from destruction a significant quantity of artefacts, . This memorabilia from Aberdeen remains at the heart of The Cinema Museum collection.
Ronald at work as an apprentice c 1953 copyright The Cinema Museum
Source: http://www.cinemamuseum.org.uk/topics/about/history/

Ronald told us about discovering the objects: ‘When the owner of the cinemas closed them he took everything he could, carpets, screens etc. and stored them in an old church.  I needn’t tell you it was an Aladdin’s cave.  I nearly had an heart attack when I saw all of these treasures.’

We were then taken on a journey through some of these objects.  He showed us price boards and explained that there used to be an entertainment tax and a campaign to get it abolished.  He told us that a ticket allowed for unlimited viewing: ‘you could buy a ticket and stand at the back and an usherette/usher would look for a seat for you, up and down the passageways shining their torch.  You could enter in the middle or at the end of a film and watch the film round again, or just go home because you needed your supper. There was a constant churn of seats.  The doorman played a central role to the experience, he needed to be in control of what was going on around him as people were coming and going all the time.’

Ronald kindly shared many stories about the objects in the museum. He told us how ‘people didn’t have the opportunity to bathe as we do now, so perfume was used to hide bad smells.’ He told us that many different uniforms were made for the ushers and how the design of pricing boards and posters changed.  All of these and many more amazing social history stories can be heard in Ronald’s museum tour and I wholeheartedly recommend a trip to this gem of a museum to hear them for yourself.. Ronald has such passion and love for the objects he really brings them to life.  When I asked him what his favourite objects were he chose these:
Ronald with colleague Katharine Ford, proudly holding his
favourite examples of rescued cinema carpet.
Ronald today with an artwork  a wall of lenses made by long standing   volunteer Anna Odrich with the assistance of friend volunteer George  Parnell.

Sadly, Ronald’s talk had to end, but the human stories did not stop there. Martin Humphries (who runs The Cinema Museum) introduced us to a Community Curating project that was due to start at the end of November. This project is discussed at greater length later on in this blog.  Judy Lindsay, Chair of LMG then introduced the Happy Museum Project, which had funded the project: 'One of the things that we’re talking about this afternoon is the Happy Museum Project, headed up by Tony Butler.  I don’t know how he’s managing to run the Happy Museum Project  as well as doing his day job, so hat’s off to him It’s an incredibly  worthwhile venture.'

Tony Butler is the Director of the Museum of East Anglian Life and the passionate leader of the Happy Museum Project: The Happy Museum Project looks at how the UK museum sector can respond to the challenges presented by the need for creating a more sustainable future. Our proposition is that museums are well placed to play an active part, but that grasping the opportunity will require reimagining some key aspects of their role, both in terms of the kinds of experience they provide to their visitors and the way they relate to their collections, to their communities and to the pressing issues of the day.  
[Source: http://www.happymuseumproject.org/]

Talking about the project Tony explains how The Happy Museum Project, funded through the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Fund is ‘seeking to create a community of practice in UK museums committed to supporting transition to a high well-being, sustainable society.’ 
[Source: http://www.happymuseumproject.org/?page_id=47]
'We redefined the purpose of running the Museum of East Anglian Life as a social enterprise because we felt that its strength lay not just in collections or in its buildings, but in the social networks that were built between visitors, volunteers, and the people that work there. […] In a world that seems saturated by advertising a trip to the museum is an opportunity to find a sanctuary from commercial messages.  It is really significant that museums function as social spaces, particularly with recent trends of cityscapes being privatized, or transferred to public ownership. We believe that museums can play an important part in challenging or reversing the erosion of the public realm. For many people a museum is not a solitary activity, but an opportunity to spend time with family and friend, so we asked the New Economics Foundation and other thinkers to write a publication called the Happy Museum to suggest how museums might use cultural heritage to influence people to live sustainable, meaningful and happy lives.'
The Happy Museum report recommended that museums embrace the following eight principles:
  1. Make people happy
  2. Pursue mutual relationships
  3. Value the environment, the past, the present and the future
  4. Measure what matters
  5. Lead on innovation towards transition
  6. Think global and be networked
  7. Support learning for resilience
  8. Find your niche
To test road these principles, The Happy Museum Project has funded six projects:
  1. Manchester Museum is developing a project called The Playful Museum, which will help staff promote and explore playful behavior in a museum and enhance the wellbeing of children and families.
  2. The Light Box in Woking is exploring the museum as a healing environment. A group of mental health service users will take control, over a 15-month period, of a project working with a collection of 20th century landscapes from the England collection. 
  3. The Cinema MuseumThe Cinema Museum is opening up its doors to the local community and asking them to curate its collections. 
  4. The London Transport Museum, in partnership with the homeless charity St. Mungo’s, is being funded to explore ways of bridging the divide between one of the most popular tourist attractions of the capital and the homeless and vulnerable adults on their doorstep and develop a social enterprise to engage individuals and volunteers delivering museum community projects.
  5. Goldalming Museum will develop a local initiative in the field of sustainability and community building.  This initiative will look at the way alternative energy and sustainable ways of living have been developed in the locality. This project will engage with allotment holders, a motorcycle club, a Women’s Institute and local schools to interpret the value of hydroelectricity.
  6. The principles of the Happy Museum will be test driven by programmers, designers, and architects involved in the development of The Story Museum in Oxford. 
    [Source:  Tony Butler]
After speaking about the passion and commitment of staff and volunteers working in museums and the importance of their engagement with communities and visitors Tony summarized by saying:
‘What we are trying to do with the Happy Museum Projects is to show that the context we are working in now is different – we face climate change, pressure on the planet’s finite resources and an awareness that a good and happy society need not regard economic growth as its most meaningful measure. This offers us a chance to re-imagine the purpose of museums, and museums can realize their role as connector, viewing people not as audiences, but as collaborators, not as beneficiaries but citizens and stewards who can pass on knowledge to their families, their friends and their neighbours. And that’s the Happy Museum project.’

Wow - this project is a happy one and one that we will be following in further LMG blogs, capturing stories of good practice and innovation that would not happen without people’s passion, commitment, and belief in the principles of a happy museum.

A presentation from Kirsten Gibbs, Relationship Manager for museums in the London office of Arts Council England followed.  Kirsten reported on recent developments including: 
  • There are four strands to the new Renaissance programme: major grants, strategic support fund, museum development and a group of national programmes.
  • Renaissance will build on success to date, re-orientated within the Arts Council’s five strategic goals for museums relating to excellence, audience, organisational resilience, workforce development, and children and young people.
  • Renaissance Major Grants Programme applications were currently being assessed and successful museums will be announced at the end of January.  Arts Council will then work with applicants on funding agreements and work plans.  The new Renaissance museums will be funded from 1 April 2012.
  • The Renaissance Strategic Development Fund in 2012/2013 will be used to support transition out of Renaissance for ex-hub museums which are not awarded further funding.  This will include:
    • Redundancies for which Renaissance has accepted liability;
    • Conclusion of Stories of the World activity;
    • Continuation of Museum Development provision up to 31 July 2012;
    • Other activities agreed with the Arts Council to help adapt business models or to explore alternative sources of support;
    • Arts Council relationship managers will discuss the detail of transition funding with relevant museums.
  • Following Renaissance transition, the strategic support fund will provide a complementary funding stream to Renaissance major grants, targeting development gaps in the sector. Further details for museum strategic funds will be announced later in 2012.
  • Catalyst is the new £100m culture sector wide private giving investment programme aimed at helping cultural organisations diversify income streams and access more funding from private sources. The new programme is made up of investment from Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Museums should apply via Heritage Lottery Fund. For full information on all the Catalyst programmes visit www.catalyst-artsandheritage.org.uk.
  • The Strategic touring programme is designed to encourage collaboration between organisations, so that more people across England experience and are inspired by the arts, particularly in places which rely on touring for much of their provision. Applications for the first round are now open, and must be submitted online by 2 March 2012.  Museums are eligible to apply as organisers or venues.
  • Grants for the arts is an open-application funding programme, which funds arts activities that engage people in England, or that help artists and arts organisations carry out their work. Museums are eligible to apply for stand-alone arts projects or projects which make links between collections and practitioners.  The minimum grant is £1,000.
  • For further information on museum eligibility for Arts Council funding visit: http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/funding/museums-galleries-and-libraries-eligibility-funding/ .
(Author note: The Museums Association has since reported on arrangements for the funding of Museum Development Officers and LMG will be reporting on this further in February 2012.)

Sue Bowers of the London Region Heritage Lottery Fund was introduced and we heard the good news that the HLF now has more funding for the heritage sector.  The UK budget for awards for 2012 will be at least £350million  - a 37% increase on the previous year. However, with current funding cuts in the sector competition is high in the London region.  Sue thanked the sector for its feedback on the Strategic Plan consultation exercise.  The consultation highlighted that stakeholders:
  • Wanted the application and assessment process to be made simpler
  • Asked HLF to help build the capacity of organisations working in the heritage sector, for them to be more sustainable and resilient
  • Strongly supported the Young Roots programme Supported the Skills for the Future and Collecting Cultures initiatives
  • [95 %] supported the idea introducing a new grants programme of £3,000 - £10,000
  • Supported proposals to increase grant programme funds: Your Heritage increase to £100,000 and Young Roots increase to £50,000
  • Would like the process for urgent acquisitions to be simplified
All of these points are being looked at and will hopefully be addressed in the HLF’s next Strategic Review to be published April 2012 and take effect in April 2013.  Advice on HLF’s priorities and hints on creating a strong application were then provided by Norma Pearson, London Development Officer and Young Person’s Champion for the London Region:
  • Read the guidance documents on the website and strongly meet the HLF priorities.
  • London is a highly competitive region.
  • You can get additional support from HLF if you are working in one of the Geographical Priority Boroughs which are:  Merton, Bromley, Harrow and Kingston.
  • HLF do not fund ongoing activities or repeat projects.
  • They want to see that organisations have addressed the lessons learnt in previous projects.
  • All projects need to meet the learning priority by enabling people to learn about their heritage.
  • Activity projects are welcome. These address the learning and participation priorities. Think about how people are involved in the project: volunteering, widening access, enabling people to make decisions throughout the project.
  • Partnerships are welcome - museums working with other heritage organisations or community groups.  The Museum does not have to be the lead applicant.  A Museum might be offering professional services, access to collections, a venue for community activities or hosting an exhibition, or a Museum might be working with community groups to develop their application. 
  • HLF welcomes and values the support that is offered by the Museum sector to the community.
  • If you would like further information contact Norma Pearson by email at normap@hlf.org.uk

To conclude the afternoon, Katharine Ford, who heads up London’s Gateway to Finance programme for charities, social enterprises and ethical businesses explained how the programme may be able to help museums to raise funds: the programme offers 1:1 support and is open to any organization based in London – but if you want to register then you need to contact Katharine (kford@gkpartners.co.uk) soon because registration on to the programme closes at the end of January.

As Judy and I put together a blog for the Guardian on LMG’s Share London scheme and reflect on the additional commitment creative museum professionals put into their practice, we look forward to 2012 and reporting on the fight sector’s fight for survival and its continued running of excellent projects even in a light of funding cuts.  No Scrooge came to rescue the museum sector this Christmas, but the continued passion of museum professionals like Ronald will keep the sector alive and enable museums to continue to be part of people’s lives as they and provide services to communities, visitors, schools, and the economy.

Author:  Julie Reynolds
Editor: Judy Lindsay, Chair, LMG

With thanks to:
  • Tony Butler, Happy Museum
  • Katharine Ford, Gateway Finance
  • Ronald Grant, The Cinema Museum
  • Martin Humphries, The Cinema Museum
  • Sue Bowers and Norma Pearson, Heritage Lottery Fund
  • Kirsten Gibbs, Arts Council England