The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Oh dear, my brain melted...

Alright, I'm playing on the internet, and alright, I've been on the computer too long, but I was just playing on The Surrealist's 'Sloganizor' and came up with this

'Every Bubble's Passed It's PhD'

Now I have to get T-shirts with that on it...

On Writing

And, I suppose, on PhD life in general, A. L. Kennedy's recent blog on the Guardian makes some very familiar points. Here is an excerpt for you...

"Yes, the Dark Night Of The Soul had arrived. Well, Dark Night Number One – there are usually several. This one involved page 153 – all the other pages weren't helping, but 153 was especially off-putting – plus unwise accommodation, a hideously nervous stomach which was preventing me from eating and sleeping (two things I enjoy), a number of oncoming onerous tasks for 2011, a marked inability to focus when trying to read illuminated signs and the complete failure of EVERYONE to email or call as and when expected. No sleep, no food, novel-wrestling and radio silence from all manner of previously lovely, useful and important folk, left me surveying the ruins of my career within minutes, envisaging a sad and unremarked death up an alleyway in Streatham, my withered corpse later consumed by feral badgers. Before the day was out I was chewing my own ankles for relief."

And more can be found here

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Museum Secrets

From this week's PostSecret, further to our ongoing discussion about museums and dating...

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Funding of the Arts and Heritage

28 July 2010

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee has launched a new inquiry and call for evidence into The Funding of the Arts and Heritage.

The Committee is inviting written submissions and requesting views on the following issues:

  • What impact recent, and future, spending cuts from central and local Government will have on the arts and heritage at a national and local level;
  • What arts organisations can do to work more closely together in order to reduce duplication of effort and to make economies of scale;
  • What level of public subsidy for the arts and heritage is necessary and sustainable;
  • Whether the current system, and structure, of funding distribution is the right one;
  • What impact recent changes to the distribution of National Lottery funds will have on arts and heritage organisations;
  • Whether the policy guidelines for National Lottery funding need to be reviewed;
  • The impact of recent changes to DCMS arm’s-length bodies - in particular the abolition of the UK Film Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council;
  • Whether businesses and philanthropists can play a long-term role in funding arts at a national and local level;
  • Whether there need to be more Government incentives to encourage private donations.
More info HERE

OPen Plaques

I thought that you might like to know about, and perhaps join, this project, which aims to locate, photograph, and possibly geotag, as many of the blue heritage plaques in the UK (and across the world) as possible. I've checked, and those of you of the Leicester variety will be pleased to know that Top Hat Terrace is indeed on their map!

Another interesting plaque project, for those of you of a more esoteric disposition, can be found here

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Museum of London's New Galleries

Via Ellie at the Museum of London, our own private copy of the flyer, inviting us to a day of discussion of the museum's new galleries:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Image Collections and Paywalls

Nothing is free, as we know. Well, comment is - hence this blog. Today's discussion point is the increasing use of paywalls by museums in access to their collection images. This morning, I received the official announcement in my inbox of the opening of the Berg Fashion Library. It's a subscription service that brings access to Berg's publications on the topic, but also includes images from the V&A's collection and that of the Costume Institute at the Met in New York; images, I might point out, which are currently available for free on the museums' own websites. No doubt, it makes sense to collate all these things together, but it makes me wonder how long the free version will stay up, and whether there are images as part of the Fashion Library which are no longer available to the general public because of this paywall? Given that the V&A is a public museum, this would be unethical to say the least.

The V&A is not the only one to have signed such an agreement for distributing its collection. Jstor, my go-to resource for full-text, now includes an image bank, called ARTstor, which distributes the collection images for many museums in the US and UK. It might be described as a "nonprofit digital image library for education and scholarship," but access is by subscription only. If you are not a member of an institution that subscribes (and to my knowledge, the University of Leicester, for example, is not), then you are out of luck and out of pocket. I haven't done the legwork necessary to check, but I simply do not know whether all the collections include their images freely online, or rely solely on ARTstor for access; also, I have no way of knowing whether there are images not available to the general public that are part of ARTstor. This would make sense - what else, apart from the amassing of images, would be ARTstor's value-added contribution?

Don't get me wrong - I am not fear-mongering here. I understand why museums do this. Although access to collections is part of their public responsibility, it costs money. Good images, and a good searchable database, are expensive to produce and maintain; it is, no doubt, tempting to stop reinventing the wheel and to go with a provider who promises an infrastructure and a built-in audience, and will pay you for it, to boot! But does this compromise the ideal of access? Or, is the ideal of access unrealistic in a world that expects digital access to everything? What do you think?

Museum Music

I don't know about you guys, but I really enjoy music in the museum. I'm not talking about the chest-thumping bas that reverberates worryingly through the V&A on its late nights. I'm referring to the use of music in exhibition galleries. I'm not going to say that it brings the period to life for me, as I tend to think that gesamtkunstwerk in the museum is little more than a misleading theatrical illusion, but I do like how the use of piped sound breaks down the usual hushed funereal silence and reverent atmosphere museums often have.

Of course, it can be done badly. I recall with shudders of distaste the tacky use of the Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian" in the entrance of the King Tut exhibit at LACMA in 2005. More recently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art showed its ignorance when it misinterpreted the Canadian band The Guess Who's vitriolic "American Woman" as a paean to American female pulchritude in its "American Woman" show; I doubt that this was a subtle use of anti-establishment irony, and more a case of the curator not having listened to the lyrics.

Still, I loved the use of Jazz Age music throughout the V&A's Art Deco show, and the compilation "soundtrack" is still one of my favourites to listen to. In fact, I have quite the collection of 1920s/30s music thanks to a string of Deco-related exhibitions held around that time. I also have French museums to thank for my many compilations of early/medieval/Renaissance music, which have introduced me to new genres, composers, and artists, not to mention providing me with a rather wonderful ambient soundscape.

So, as a tip to my fellow museum music lovers out there, I bring you a link I have just discovered: MuseumMusic, which appears to be the distributor for CDs commissioned by New York museums. I have the fashion one, of course, but if anyone wants to get me "Music to Spy By," I will squeal with glee. Just throwing it out there... Christmas is only a few months away!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tales from the Road 2: Museum Mirroring

Taking yet another touristy break from my archival research, I went to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) on Friday. I had never been before, and to my surprise, I quite enjoyed it (surprise because I am not a big fan of contemporary art, but there was enough good modern stuff that I could engage with). It was an eerie experience, though - I can't count the number of times I exclaimed to my cousin (who was filling in for my sick boyfriend as my visiting companion that day) that we had seen that same piece in a different museum that week. Several of the pieces in the photography exhibitions were the same as those we saw at the Guggenheim earlier in the week, and MOMA had mounted a show of Picasso prints, not to be outdone by the Met's special exhibition of Picassos in their collection. It was a strange and surreal feeling of deja vu to encounter the same works in a different context. I had to remind myself where I was.
In some ways, this is merely a natural outcome of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Photographs and prints are made to be reproduced, and so lose the unique sense of encounter that one gets when one sees the "original". Certainly, I love that frisson of seeing a famous painting in person. The other side of the coin, though, is the disappointment of seeing it in person. For example, I am always repulsed by how grey and dirty Mondrians and Malevichs look in real life, compared to the crisp whites in postcard and textbook lithographs. However, I suspect that is a reaction cultivated by the crispness of the inauthentic copy with which we are surrounded - no doubt, those who have only experienced Venice in Las Vegas are also repulsed by the patina of age and dirt on the real thing!
But back to the museum mirroring: after some thought, I realised that this was quite a cunning thing to do in order to placate tourists. Most visitors to New York will not, I suspect, do the sort of blitzkrieg tour of all the museums and galleries, as I do. Due in large part to high admission fees, and a lack of time, they will choose one or two to visit, and be satisfied with that. By providing them with the ability to see the Picasso they missed at the Met, MOMA gives tourists a chance to brag that they have ticked that box; alternatively, by mounting a show of objects associated with King Tut, the Met can bring in interested visitors who have come to NY to see the blockbuster King Tut show, as well as satisfy those who cannot cough up the ridiculous admission fees for that.
It's a clever marketing scheme, and it probably works. It does, however, raise a red flag for me in terms of how art is commodified. If it becomes a checklist of big names one goes to visit, where is the accident of the unexpected discovery of the new?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bridging Ages Conference 2010: How telling the past at historic sites benefits society (Sweden, 17-19 November 2010)

Bridging Ages Conference 2010: How telling the past at historic sites benefits society (Sweden, 17-19 November 2010)

Kalmar, Sweden, 17-19 November 2010

Contemporary society is in a process of transformation to adapt to new environmental, social and political challenges of global significance. We need to find new ways to address ever larger issues. In this situation we wish to reconsider the role of cultural heritage. Since the 19th century, nation states have drawn on the national heritage in order to construct exclusive cultural identities based on the paradigm of shared roots.
As the world has been changing dramatically over t

The past two hundred years, we need to ask how cultural heritage and stories about the past benefit society today.

– Which historic sites and stories about the past are important in creating meaning for people today?

– How should the past be told and whose stories should we tell in multi-cultural societies?

– In what way can historic sites promote social cohesion, human rights, peace and democracy?

– What contribution is made by recalling traumatic memories of violence and oppression?

– Which new ways are emerging in which cultural heritage benefits society today?

The purpose of the conference is to generate discussion across a broad spectrum of possible answers to these and related questions. We will bring together researchers and professionals from a variety of academic disciplines and occupations in several countries. The conference will also feature a unique “Time Travel” experience applying a widely practiced method of historic environment education. The resulting dynamic of the conference will result in new ideas and provide practical inspiration for all participants.

Please send your paper proposal containing paper title, a few words about yourself and an abstract of approx 200 words (in English) no later than 15 August 2010 to . You will hear by 6 September about acceptance of your paper.

The conference is jointly organised by Linnaeus University Kalmar-Växjö (www., Kalmar läns museum/Centre for Historic Environment Education and Bridging Ages,
International Organization in Historic Environment Education and Time Travels .

The conference is supported by the Swedish Science Council (Vetenskapsrådet).

Organization Committee: Birgitta E. Gustafsson and Cornelius Holtorf, Linnaeus University; Ebbe Westergren, Bridging Ages, Kalmar läns museum.

For further information contact and pre-registration (to ensure receipt of full program and registration form): Ebbe Westergren, +46 (0)480 451345, +46 (0)70 6729406 or Birgitta E. Gustafsson, +46 70 5477953

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tales from the Road: Museum Merch

I'm in New York for fieldwork and a little tourism; thankfully, I love museums as a researcher and a visitor. However, the combination sometimes leads me to some uncomfortable uncertainty about best practice. This week's dilemma: how to make your museum profitable.

The first thing I would like to report is how expensive museums are in NY. We are very lucky in the UK that many museums are free - Leicester's museums certainly are, and so are the major national museums. Yes, the Metropolitan Museum of Art technically has a suggested admission price, so you could just pay a dollar and walk inside, but how many of us have the balls to do that? If, like me, you are a museum fiend, and like to visit every one you can, you can expect to shell out at least $15 on average, though it might be slightly less with a student discount (these are often only availably to NY state students, though...). Sure, there are combined ticket discounts and museum passes you can buy - the New York Pass offers way more attractions than you could possibly visit in the time spans available, and the CityPass includes Met admission though it is, as I said above, recommended. You will still pay $70, at the least.

Then, once you have gone through your overpriced museum (and perhaps sampled the overprice and terrible quality food on offer in the caff - I paid $20 for lunch yesterday), you can browse through the overpriced gift shop. This, frankly, is my favourite part of any museum visit, as I am a big fan of museum swag.

The Guggenheim takes an amusingly kitsch approach to its gift shop. Apart from the great art books and fun arty toys (Alexander Calder mobiles for your home!) the Guggenheim has also perfected the art of selling itself. As you cannot take photos inside Frank Lloyd Wright's famous white spiral building, you have to buy postcards. You can also buy a Lego set, coffee service, salt-and-pepper shakers, a table lamp, and Christmas ornaments shaped like it. They also have chunks of the building, broken off during renovation, encased in Lucite and set into jewelry, available for sale. You can wear a modern architectural classic!

The Met, by contrast, is a little bit less fun nowadays. I still love their shop, but am disturbed by how much space is given over in the museum to its commercial activity. I remember the big shop to the right of the main stairs, with its poster-shop mezzanine having been there for 15 or so years, at least. There may always have been a clearance shop in the basement of the Egyptian wing, though I only discovered it a decade ago. Many museums set up temporary shops at the exits of special exhibitions, and the Met is no exception; however, there is also a proliferation of small kiosks selling magnets, bookmarks and books related to nearby galleries at major intersections throughout the sprawling space. They have also recently added a "boutique" with the bigger ticket items like jewelry (reproductions of museum pieces commissioned by the Met, so unique) to the left of the entrance, and there is a new sale shop above the main shop on the second floor. I can't remember what was in those spaces before, and have no way of checking as I recently threw out my "vintage" museum floor plans from all my visits, but I am concerned that gallery space, always a hot commodity in even the biggest museums, is being wasted on a shop that merely sells the same thing at every location. Is it really necessary?

I understand the need to keep a museum afloat financially by taking admission and gift shop receipts. The larger museums stay ahead of the game by at least making their merch more appealing for its uniqueness (why would I buy a postcard of art that isn't even at that museum?). But if even enthusiasts like me balk at stepping through the doors because there is a $20 admission fee and I am constantly bombarded by offers to purchase (and spend) more, how long can this keep going on until museums are not only places for the intellectual elite, but also for the economic elite, too? I wondered at the families of French tourists with two or three children - how can they afford it? How much are they enjoying their experience if the content is watered down, the food is mediocre, and everything is overpriced?

CFP: New Zealand Tourism & Hospitality Research Conference, 2010

New Zealand Tourism & Hospitality Research Conference
24 to 26 November 2010
Auckland, New Zealand
The conference theme “Adding Value Through Research” focuses on linking industry and academia through research related activities and aims to prompt involvement and engagement from both those who conduct and those who commission and use it. They seek papers and presentations which inform the wider tourism community regarding how research adds value. This conference will focus on celebrating and advancing research not for its own sake, but for the value it can bring to others.
See more here.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Deutsches Museum Scholarships

Scholar in Residence

The Deutsches Museum in Munich has several attractive scholarships to offer research scholars interested in working for six or 12 months on projects involving the museum`s vast and heterogeneous collections. The scholarship programme is international and interdisciplinary in scope.

More here

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Federation of International Human Rights Museums

Apparently, there is such a thing as The Federation of International Human Rights Museums; not only that, but they have a list of resources for interested parties here.

CFP: Museum Engagement and Applied Anthropology

Call for Papers: Society for Applied Anthropology Annual Meeting Seattle, Washington (March 30 – April 2, 2011)

Session Title: Museum Engagement and Applied Anthropology

Session Organizer: Robert P. Connolly (University of Memphis)

The session
is conceptually framed around The Participatory Museum by Nina Simon and the contribution that applied anthropologists bring to the discussion. Simon (2010:ii-iii) defines a participatory institution as:

a place where visitors can create, share, and connect with each other around content. Create means that visitors contribute their own ideas, objects, and creative expression to the institution and to each other. Share means that people discuss, take home, remix, and redistribute both what they see and what they make during their visit. Connect means that visitors socialize with other people—staff and visitors—who share their particular interests. Around content means that visitors’ conversations and creations focus on the evidence, objects, and ideas most important to the institution in question.

The session aims to discuss participation in the building of sustained and engaged relationships and the methodological and theoretic contributions of applied anthropology to the process.
Relevant questions session papers may address include:

  • As cultural institutions how can museums demonstrate their value and relevance in the 21stCentury?
  • Can museums serve as “third places” for social engagement?
  • What is the relevancy between shifting demographics and museum inclusivity in community engagement?
  • How do theoretic orientations, such as the constructivist approach and free-choice learning inform on the Participatory Museum.
  • How does the Participatory Museum influence the authority of voice in both content and function of cultural institutions?
  • What can applied anthropologists add to the discussion of Participatory Museums?
  • How can museums function as dynamic venues for sustained and engaged relationships with a diversity of communities.

Although papers are not required to remain within the parameters of Simon’s discourse, for reference, her book is available at:

If you are interested in participating, please send a brief summary of your proposed contribution to Robert Connolly at by September 1, or before.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Things That Go "BUMP!" In The Night

GHost is an organisation - well, project more than organisation - aimed at exploring the relevance of ghosts in contemporary culture through various disciplinary routes. They've already done a couple of exhibitions in St John's Church, Bethnal Green. And, well, you know me, I like my esoterica. I think that sometimes you do too, so I thought that some of you might be interested in this Call for...well, artists. And some of you might even think of entering!

Oh, and while looking at this, I also found this...

I have to get out more.

GHost III - Call for Artist Films

A project by Sarah Sparkes and Ricarda Vidal
17th December 2010, 6 - 10pm at St Johns Church on Bethnal Green
200 Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9PA

We are inviting submissions of artist films on the theme of ‘Ghost hunters’. We welcome short films, but will consider films of up to 20 minutes in duration. Films should be suitable for screening as part of a show reel, rather than for installation. The works will be screened on a big screen in the nave of the church of St John Bethnal Green as part of “GHost III”, an annual weekend-long exhibition with performances and screenings.

We are interested in moving image works which explore the various angles and aspects of ghost-hunting.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Folly Fellowship

I've just discovered this website, and I'm rather fascinated. I love follies and so this was like manna to my tired brain! Here's the blurb and the link...

Welcome to the home of the Folly Fellowship.

The Folly Fellowship was founded in 1988 as a pressure group to protect, preserve, and promote follies, grottoes & garden buildings. Initially a group of enthusiasts keen to record what was at first seen as a peculiarly British aspect of architecture, it has grown into a serious conservation and consultative architectural heritage charity, while not losing sight of the basic idea that these buildings are fun - they were built for pleasure before purpose. Some make us laugh, some provoke contemplative thoughts, some can frighten. Some are mere whims, others demand to be taken seriously.

People take their pleasures seriously - why should buildings be any different? An early realisation was the international flavour of the genre although the British Isles can count more follies per square mile than any other region, there are examples to be found all over the world.

In recent years, there has been an increased awareness of the importance of these buildings to our landscapes. Many have been restored and several have been completely rebuilt with local support. Better still, some individuals with imagination and the tenacity to fight the planning process, have begun to build new follies...

Irish Heritage Rights Survey Launch to Coincide with Tara UNESCO Nomination

Just a link for you, updating you with the latest news from the threatened site of Tara in Ireland and it's UNESCO nomination.