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The first day at the Museums + Heritage Show 2023

Image: A exhibitor demonstrates their dinosaur suit for visitors

A glimpse into some of the sessions taking place at today’s packed Museums + Heritage Show.

Visitors have today been welcomed to the first day of the Museums + Heritage Show 2023. A packed out the first day of talks, networking sessions, and demonstrations as expertise were shared at Olympia in London.

A response to historic definitions of beauty

Among the sessions which took place today was an exploration of the ‘Permissible Beauty’ project, created in response to a collection of portraits known as ‘The Windsor Beauties’, which were last year on display at Hampton Court Palace.

The original collection depicts ladies of the court of King Charles II, some of which were thought to be his mistresses. The response, ‘Permissible Beauty’, was a project which is described as “a bold Black Queer British reimagining of our nation’s story – that set out to engage audiences in reflections around this timely and pressing question.”

Matthew Storey, collections curator at Historic Royal Palaces

Matthew Storey was part of the project as collections curator at Historic Royal Palaces, and was one of two speakers for the session.

Storey explained that the original collection “[holds] up the standard of beauty at the time, a very narrow standard”, and “central to the whole project was an ethical framework,” which he shared with attendees.

The Permissible Beauty project included an installation at Hampton Court Palace, one of six palaces operated by Historic Royal Palaces. It describes how the project “explores how beauty has been defined in the past and how it has been shaped by our nation’s heritage.”

Storey said that the project aligned with Historic Royal Palaces’ vision to “stir every spirit to inspire and provoke change”.

Speaking more personally, Storey said he realised during the project that it “wasn’t about me and my experience,” but about the professional expertise which could be brought in service of the project.

The project’s photographic portraits were taken by photographer Robert Taylor, the second speaker at the session.

Taylor has previously worked with the V&A, the National Portrait Gallery and several other permanent collections including The Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering, Oxford University and Aston University.

Photographer Robert Taylor

Photographing portraits of six black queer artists as subjects for the project, Taylor told the audience of his three main areas of research; exploring prevailing contemporary notions of human beauty, exploring who the 17th Century Windsor Beauties were, and extended engagement with the portrait subjects.

Taylor described how the subjects, which included drag and cabaret performer Le Gateau Chocolat were not just sitting for portraits but were “properly collaborators”. The photographer said the resulting project created a conversation about the definitions of beauty which were “essentially universal” and that visitors had “got the message”.

In another session, Art Fund and The Postal Museum explored strategies for improving brand credibility and the benefit of working with Art Fund as a relatively new museum.

Annie Duffield, Head of Marketing & Communications at The Postal Museum explained how the museum, which opened in 2017, began working with Art Fund a year later, as part of its strategy to improve brand recognition.

Duffield said alongside becoming one of the 850 locations in Art Fund’s National Art Pass network, the decision was made to apply for Art Fund Museum of the Year in 2018, resulting in it being named a finalist.

The recognition from Art Fund had “fast-tracked” the museum’s credibility with visitors, said Duffield, and “brought sector recognition for those who wanted to see what we were doing”.

“People started answering our emails a little bit more,” Duffield said, and the museum gained credibility in its funding applications.

“Take the time to get involved with partnership opportunities” Duffield encouraged in light of the museum’s success, adding that partnerships are at risk of being “put on the backburner” but were worthwhile.

Art Fund’s Museum Marketing Relationship Manager Jennie Jiricny and Marketing Manager Rebecca Passmore also spoke at the session, and outlined Art Fund’s operations above and beyond grant giving.

Passmore described the creation of the “culture seeker persona”, the core target audience of the National Art Pass, a group which represents 52% of the Great British population pre-pandemic, and its work to promote its partner organisations.

As an example, Passmore detailed its on-going partnership with Amaliah, a media platform dedicated to the voices of Muslim women, and its work with independent influencers.

The second day of the Museums + Heritage Show takes place tomorrow, Thursday 11th May 2023. Those wanting to attend the second day can still book a free pass.

All sessions have been filmed and will be available to access via the Museums + Heritage Show website after it has concluded. Those not attending the show can purchase access to the entire archive of this year’s talks via the Museum + Heritage Show website.