Museums + Heritage Awards for Excellence 2014 – Project on a Limited Budget

Today’s shortlisted projects are all vying for the “Project on a Limited Budget” award, sponsored by Sweett Group, at this year’s Museum + Heritage Awards for Excellence. This award “recognises excellence in the creation of a successful project or exhibition, achieved on 
a budget of less than £10,000.” Particular attention should be paid to the cost-effectiveness of the project and the use of creativity to overcome issues of funding - it is not merely about the sums involved. And here they are:

The Grant Museum of Zoology at UCL Museums opened The Micrarium, a place for tiny things, in February 2013. It is, in their words “a beautiful back-lit cave displaying over 2,300 zoological microscope slides and 250 magic lantern slides”.

The Micrarium was conceived to overcome two problems in museums with natural science collections. First that 95% of all known animal species are tiny and yet nearly all the specimens on display in natural history museums are large animals. Secondly, that most natural history museums have extensive microscope slide collections yet no-one has yet developed a way of successfully using them in displays. They are even obsolete as reference tools.

The Micrarium has solved both of these issues. Improving access to the collections as part of a bid to the DCMS Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund, a former storeroom was converted to house some of the 20,000 slides that the Grant Museum alone holds. Described as “a beautifully aesthetic immersive space” it is intended to immediately communicate the breadth of global diversity of tiny animals through its 2323 slides.

The two weeks following the Micrarium’s opening were in the top three weeks in the year for visitor numbers to the Museum. It is contributing to income through merchandising (giftwrap and cards) and its beautiful images may even end up as a high-end wallpaper.

Derby Museums, The Dinosaur Museum
Derby Museums, The Dinosaur Museum

Derby Museums’ The Dinosaur Museum was a whole school project where 189 children created their own Dinosaur Museum, transforming their school for two days, and achieving their Arts Award in the process. The project was led by the children – they chose the theme, set the parameters, made creative decisions and presented the finished work.

The Leys School has an above average number of children with special educational needs and an above average number of children in receipt of free school meals. In this context the overall objective was to enable children to lead their own project, to equip and support them to take ownership and shape the project. It offered pupils and parents, most of whom may not otherwise have done so, to engage with cultural heritage.

The Arts Award grant received to support the project enabled the project to be developed and incorporated visits to Derby Museums, creative workshops, experience of working with professional curators, object handling, researching the culture, heritage, museums and dinosaurs amongst other things.

Feedback has been that the children gained a rich cultural experience becoming confident, well-informed leaders and problem solvers. Two teachers were trained as Arts Award Advisors. The project was chosen as an exemplar of best practice and presented at the Arts Award Regional Conference where pupils made their own presentation to delegates.

Jewish Museum London, Objects in Focus: Teachers' Resources
Jewish Museum London, Objects in Focus: Teachers’ Resources

The Jewish Museum London’s entry is Objects in Focus: Teachers’ Resources. As part of the ACE England Museums and School partnership programme, the brief was to design a digital pre/post visit resource for teachers. The idea was to produce an intuitive site which would enhance students’ interest in the Museum’s collection. The site can be used independently by students as a homework resource as well as by those too geographically distant to visit the museum.

The digital resource designed has been a new departure for the learning team at the Jewish Museum. The ACE funding enabled the team to be experimental yet keep to the ethos of using the collection and specific objects as learning resources. Users can focus in on one small area to inspire students’ curiosity, stimulate them to ask questions and develop critical thinking skills.

Objects in Focus extends the breadth and depth of engagement with the Museum’s collection and makes use of existing resources, whilst also building the museum’s digital archive. It is easy to manage and update on a regular basis at no extra cost and can easily reflect temporary exhibitions and educational calendars.

Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, In Our Own Words: Soldiers' Thoughts from Afghanistan
Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, In Our Own Words: Soldiers’ Thoughts from Afghanistan

Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum in Bournemouth has entered In Our Own Words: Soldiers’ Thoughts from Afghanistan. This explored the experience of war artists by juxtaposing the work of a contemporary artist, Derek Eland, with Second World War Artists’ Advisory Committee (WAAC) commissioned artwork. The objective was to examine the practice of a War Artist as well as to work with partners to produce an exhibition that would help to position RCAGM’s programme on the national stage.

The first gallery explained the context for the WAAC commissioned workds and explored the experience of these artists through their artwork and quotes from letters, diaries etc. The second gallery examined Eland’s work, which included the Diary Rooms that he created when in Afghanistan in 2011. Soldiers and civilians were asked to share their thoughts on postcards and these were exhibited in a recreated Diary Room within the gallery.

The exhibition had an extraordinary impact on visitors. 40% were first time visitors, 24% came specifically to see the exhibition and 22% had served themselves or were from the forces. 14% contributed to the feedback wall that formed part of the exhibition. By studying the human impact of war, the exhibition challenged perceptions of museums as institutions that simply display and interpret collections and has produced a step change in RCAGM’s approach to contemporary issues and risk taking.

Haslemere Educational Museum, The 125th Anniversary Campaign
Haslemere Educational Museum, The 125th Anniversary Campaign

The 125thAnniversary Campaign by the Haslemere Educational Museum is the final entry in this category. The overall objective of the project was to deliver an effective public campaign for Haslemere Educational Museum in their 125th anniversary year. The anniversary was an opportunity to increase their profile, secure publicity strengthen the supporter base, engage in fundraising and promote the museum.

The project scheduled at least one significant event every month, supported by one-off or ongoing activities that were museum and supporter-organised. The involvement of supporters and the local community enabled the project to limit outgoings and to be very cost effective. The outcome was a very successful campaign that provided excellent results across a number of target areas.

The multi-layered approach to the project led to creative and original results. A partnership with a local brewery resulted in museum-branded beer and community engagement led to partnerships in activities such as professional bike races and working with bands for the music festival. Volunteer, supporter and community engagement also allowed the museum to access free help and services which required less funding and helped to make this a very cost-effective project, with income far exceeding expenditure.

If you’d like to be there when the winner is announced, why not join us on 14th May at the Awards Ceremony to be held at 8 Northumberland Avenue, London? You can book your table here.