Hove Museum, a Tuesday in May 2014
What is a museum for? Who needs them? Why do we pay taxes for them? Who cares?
There are probably dozens of academic dissertations, Government white papers and museum conferences analysing all those questions which is even more relevant in a time when resources are stretched and the internet can provide us with so much artistic and historical information.
I’ve carried out my own research and discovered some real stories, with real people all going on during a quiet Tuesday morning in Hove.
Who goes to Hove Museum on a Tuesday morning?
The weather was changeable, racing from glorious sunshine to monsoon-style downpours. Most people are at work or school on a Tuesday morning at 11.30am. But in a big house on New Church Road, people were creating, thinking, laughing.
I’ll be honest. I thought it would be empty. After all, who goes to museums on Tuesday mornings? Probably just a few wardens and someone in the gift shop buying a nice card.
I was wrong though. There’s the Year 1’s from Windlesham School in their distinctive brown and yellow uniforms, listening avidly in the toy museum about toys and children gone by. One little boy passes a big teddy bear and proudly points him out to me, “He’s called Big Ted. I’m called Ted,” he beams. They’ve all just made an old-fashioned cup and ball game in the workshop. Teacher Miss Higgs says they’re having a lovely time.
Will it rain? Where can we go?
Victoria Meek from Hove and her friend Nicole Harrison had bought their three year olds along for a mooch around. “We thought it might be raining,” confessed Nicole, so it seemed like a good place to come. “I’ve not been here for about four years. Nice and quiet, the kids liked the old cinema. And of course, the old toys. We’ve not finished yet, there’s more to see.”
In the café, Janet and Sheila sit by the window, deep in conversation. Sheila’s husband has recently gone into residential care locally, so they’re having a cup of tea before visiting him.
“I’m going to bring my grandchildren here,” says Janet. “It’s good to see things through the children’s eyes and there have been a lot of changes here.”
The children aren’t to everyone’s taste though. Artist David and photographer Lynn Patrick are from York but are spending the week in the city catching up with Lynn’s family. They admit some of the children are a little noisy. Nevertheless they say the craft collection is fascinating. “For me, it’s a good mix with the old pieces of work such as the old earthenware pots in the archaeology section alongside the modern craft work. There is an interesting link,” explains David.
Others haven’t travelled so far. Astrella Chapman, a children’s centre teacher was in the café after taking a group of young mums and their toddlers from North Portslade Children’s Centre around the museum and running an arts workshop with them.
“Some of them have never been here, even though it’s only a few miles away. That’s why we run courses like these to introduce families to things they can do with their children which are free. The children love running around.”
Hazel Alcock from Patcham is also aiming to use the museum as an educational resource for foreign students she teaches. She was busy taking notes so she can produce an educational questionnaire for them. They come from all over the world, Russia, France, Japan. There’s much more here than I remember from when I bought my children. I’m going to have to put some more money in the meter for my car, so I can stay longer.”
Support worker Ross was visiting Hove Museum for the first time on a morning off work. “I’ve jogged past here before, “he said.” But didn’t realise it was Hove museum until I came along today. I’m going to a few things from the festival and thought I’d have a look.
“I’ve discovered two fantastic things in the Blue collection. One that scorpions glow blue in the dark and how animals see colour.”
Just a snapshot of an hour at Hove Museum shows how the museum is not just about the storage of artefacts or even a nice café. There are people being educated, children being entertained, time being whiled away, families looking after each other and friendships being refreshed. They were looking at the art, discovering the treasures but also re-connecting with other people too, as well as hiding from the rain. Those things are hard to quantify but they’re valuable.
It’s nice to be in a space whose main reason is not to sell something. The art and the history provides a place where people can slow down, switch off the screens and spend time alone or with a companion surrounded by beautiful, interesting things. I think that’s probably what museums are for.
What do you think museums are for? I’d love to know your thoughts. Leave a comment or contact me on Twitter @cazza3.
Caroline Sutton, Blogger in Residence