I wouldn't describe myself as a natural showoff. Like many museum people, I'm far happier organising in the wings than hogging the spotlight. But when I heard that the brilliant Museums Showoff event was coming to Yorkshire I had to think again.
Museums Showoff is an open mic night for people who love museums. It's produced by museum academic Rachel Souhami and hosted by self-titled 'geek comedian' Steve Cross. The event happens bimonthly in London but sometimes the team ventures out of the capital and it was great to see them bring their brand of joyful museum-based anarchy to The Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield.
The format is simple: each 'act' has nine minutes to show off about anything they want, in any format they want, as long as it's related to museums. The producers don't know any of the performers and don't see their acts in advance so nobody really knows what's going to happen. It makes for a brilliantly entertaining mix of the thoughtful, silly, reflective, profound and just plain rude, celebrating the diversity, quirkiness and wonder of museums.
There were two highlights of last night's event for me. Angela Clare, collections manager at Calderdale Museums, gave a lively and impassioned talk about the stories behind the objects in museums, taking in swords, teddy bears, Henry VIII's armoured codpiece and why she gets paid to cry at work. Local poet and Hepworth creative practitioner Matt Abbott headlined with an energetic mix of Wakefield-inspired poetry and musings on the relationship between heritage, identity and creativity. Matt's a co-founder of the Firm of Poets spoken word collective and heading off on a national tour with them this autumn.
And me? I got over my stage fright and did a nine-minute presentation on 'How to Survive in the EU' with my friend and co-conspirator Tracy Craggs. Tracy and I have been working together on EU partnership projects for six years and shared some of our tips for international working together with some of our behind-the-scenes holiday snaps. Here we are after our set - I think you can see the relief in our faces! The project we're currently working on is at www.kc-mem.eu, I've written about it here and the blog post that inspired our set is here.
If you weren't at Museums Showoff, here's what else you missed:
- Imran Ali talked about Yarn, a new approach to open access community storytelling
- Stephen Foster gave us a visitor's insight into what makes a good museum
- Anisha Christison, Sally-Ann Burley and their colleagues from the National Coal Mining Museum gave a lovely presentation about their Wacky Wednesdays under-5s activities with a comic take on income generation and tenuous collection links
- Emma Manners and her Fountains Abbey team acted out scenes from the Abbey's past featuring wounded monks, a lecherous monarch, urine tasting and a rapid succession of hats
- Eleanor Clayton from the Hepworth Gallery gave an insight into how and why the gallery reconstructed Barbara Hepworth's 1968 exhibition designs, with musings on the beauty of breezeblocks
- Stuart Tulloch, recently appointed CEO of The Art House in Wakefield, mused about the future including ideas for dog-racing and a pigeon loft in the gallery.
It's a shame the bar closed before the event ended - and I hate it when people come, do their bit then leave without supporting the other performers. But those are tiny gripes. I hope we don't have to wait too long before Museums Showoff makes a return visit to Yorkshire. I'll look forward to being in the audience next time!
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