Museum Curators Scotland – A Facebook Group

Elinor Clark, Treasurer of the Scottish Museums Federation, writes about her experience being a member of Museum Curators Scotland.

A few curators in Scotland who knew each other (as they do) got together on Facebook.  There were vague ideas of getting out more and working together. And so, Museum Curators Scotland was born, with four founder members (admins) led by Michael McGinnes, then of Stirling Smith Museum, recently retired. We invited other curators we knew and so it grew.  Today there are 128 members.

Our strapline is “…for Scottish museum curators and associated staff to organise events for social and business meetings, work groups, holidays, fun”.  This is a group for museum curators in Scotland and others who would like to be. Its aim is to get curators to talk among themselves and pass on their knowledge to new curators in the profession by means of meetings, events and working holidays. The group is very informal, but we also share common aims and ground with the Scottish Museums Federation – to link up museum professionals, support and learn from each other.  There’s also the fun part.  For now, both share me.

Members also share information on their museums, what they’re doing, jobs going and basically share experience: there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.  An easy forum to do what museum people do anyway, share and help, but also an opportunity to build new connections.

One of the key aims of the group, as well as keeping curators in touch, is for them to get out in a museum context and use and share their skills.  So far, we have had three such events.

Members of the Museum Curators Scotland Group at the Engine Shed in Stirling.

In August 2017, as Michael McGinnes reported on the group, there was “A very successful if smallish first event at Stirling with the Engine Shed followed by the Smith Museum and an Italian meal. Lots of stories told. Some problems solved.”  This set the tone for future events, with guest of honour Oswald Clingan-Smith (the Stirling Smith Museum resident cat) available to share his insights into Twitter stardom.

The Stirling Smith Museum resident cat, Oswald Clingan-Smith.

The second event, in March 2018, was built around a tour of the new Dunfermline Museum by Interpretation Team Leader, Lesley Botten. Lesley and her small team were responsible for the exhibitions and main displays as well as working on the overall design of the building. The group also visited the Fire Station Collective art studios and exhibition space, then enjoyed dinner in the Nepalese Restaurant across the road.  

Museum Curators Scotland group members reading interpretation panels at Dunfermline Museum.

The third event was a working weekend. The Glencoe Folk Museum was in the middle of a large collections cataloguing project, and a work party was gathered.  Two key targets were some large objects stored in a garage to be assessed for possible disposal, and a costume store full of items to be catalogued. A team of four seasoned curators joined curator Catriona for what was to be a cold, wet weekend in April 2019, making a trip of it.

The garage filled with large objects at The Glencoe Folk Museum.

To cut a long story short, the garage was cleared with some fascinating artefacts and stories emerging. Environmental conditions were bad to appalling. There was mould. Many items couldn’t be saved, others were cleaned. It was an interesting exercise in curatorship. This took all of Saturday and part of Sunday.  There was time for a tour of the much drier stores inside, but the costume would have to wait for another time.  Otherwise, we had a lovely meal at Clachaig, the sun went down at Corran ferry.

The objects at Glencoe Folk Museum being cleaned and assessed for disposal.

The Glencoe Weekend was a great success with 5 curators working a total of approximately 50 hours. The store was completely cleared and objects to remain were cleaned for storage, checked against catalogues and put away. Other stuff was binned as it was beyond saving and had no data to identify it. The museum garage was then back in use so they can store their death boat inside (this took bodies across to the graveyard). It was a great weekend. We learned a lot, identified a lot, had nice lunches…thank you Morag and museum, and a lovely dinner in the Clachaig inn in Glencoe.

The five curators involved in the cleanup project at Glencoe Folk Museum standing outside the Clachaig Inn.

So, Glencoe was 18 months ago.  Since then, Covid 19 has come to the world.  It may be some time before the next such project takes place.  However, it is up to you curators and other museum people to identify those niggles that could become projects, where other curators can meet up, make a difference and moan about everything in a supportive environment.  You need a project, plus space, somewhere to stay and food and drink.  A restaurant or pub in the evening goes down well, of course.

Day to day this group is a place where information can be shared, questions can be asked and maybe even friends can be made.  It might even help some of us to stay sane.

Join up – you know you want to! Has anybody got any plans / ideas? Need a curatorial hit squad at your museum? Michael McGinnes, who is now retired, has photography skills to offer.  There is a huge pool of skills and enthusiasm out there.  Hope to see you on Museum Curators Scotland and in the real world soon.

Head over to Facebook to find out more about Museum Curators Scotland: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ScotMuseumCurators

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