In this first episode, Sophie joins Early Years Learning Officer Michael Olden and the skin of a Siberian Tiger named ‘Boris’ on an outing to Moulsecoomb Primary School, in the north east of Brighton.
By following Michael on a day trip to one of the UK’s most socially deprived suburbs we explore how, even if children are unable to visit the museum itself, the museum can still come to them.
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Narrator: From Brighton on the English South Coast. These are the voices of the Royal Pavilion & Museums with Dr. Sophie Frost.
Sophie: Hello, I’m Sophie and I’ve spent the past nine months wandering the corridors of the Royal Pavilion & Museums in Brighton and Hove, otherwise known as RPM, uncovering the stories of the museum people – or walking encyclopaedias as I have come to affectionately term them – who keep Brighton’s historic buildings and collections relevant, vibrant and accessible for the world we’re living in. Back in 1873 the Mayor of Brighton described the founding ideals of their museums service as to ‘inspire the minds and morals of the people, forget the busy world and afford pleasure and consolation from illness or depression. Join me in these rich and varied encounters with museum staff and volunteers, all of whom recognise the organisation’s collections and buildings as intrinsic to their own identity as citizens of Brighton and Hove.
Sophie: Here in Brighton, the Royal Pavilion & Museums is made up of five hugely significant and wildly eclectic museum sites. You’ve got the iconic Royal Pavilion in the heart of the city, Brighton Museum, the Booth Museum of Natural History, Hove Museum and Preston Manor, a historic house situated in Preston Park. I’m an academic researcher of cultural organizations and the way they work internally with a special focus on the role of digital in these spaces. My time in Brighton began with considering how museum people could feel more empowered through digital storytelling, using the microphone as a means of enabling everyone to speak regardless of their job title or salary band. Now it’s a time of transition for the Royal Pavilion & Museums as they will shortly be moving to independent trust, having previously been run by the local council. Money is tight, the future is uncertain and there are vivid debates on going across the sector about the symbolic role of museums as sites of trust. So what began as an exercise in considering the digital skills of a workforce became at the same time a meditation on the ebb and flow of change in a regional museum service.
Sophie: So it is Wednesday the 23rd of October 2019. Right now I’m standing outside Brighton Museum and Art Gallery and waiting for Michael Olden who works in the education and outreach team here at Brighton and we’re going on a trip to Moulsecoomb Primary School where I believe he’s going to bring some kind of objects with him. It’s a little bit windy here. I’m in the garden watching life unfold and Autumn has struck and oh there’s a fox in the garden as well there, just bold as brass. It’s the Brighton fox. I’m going to switch off now and wait for Michael.
Michael: Well, we’ve just left Brighton Museum and I’ve got a suitcase, inside which there’s a Siberian tiger or what’s left of a Siberian tiger. It’s his skin. He was he’s called Boris and he was born in captivity in Marwell Zoo and he lived there all his life and when he died the zoo donated his body to the Booth Museum, so we collected it and we kept the bones and we kept the skin and today I’m taking the skin out to show some children at Moulsecoomb Primary School in the nursery. They’ve been doing a project about nocturnal animals and Siberian tigers are mostly nocturnal.
Sophie: Are they really?
Michael: Sometimes crepuscule but mostly nocturnal.
Sophie: That’s a good word. It looks very heavy. How heavy would you estimate it is?
Michael: Oh crikey. If it was any heavier, I couldn’t carry it. It’s quite heavy. I should get a trolley really.
Sophie: When you bring these things along to schools normally, what kind of reaction do you normally get?
Michael: It’s a strange thing to bring the skin of a tiger out somewhere because you know, you have to be really respectful because it was a live creature that lived – albeit this one lived in a zoo all its life – it’s still a live creature. Yeah, but that generally they’re fascinated every now and again one of them gets a bit freaked out by it, which I’m not, you know, I’m not surprised but not too badly and generally by the end, because everyone else is so fascinated, they’ve come around to it. So we’ll see. It’s generally a really good reaction. Sometimes the best is when some people gasp because it is quite a big thing when you unroll it it’s quite amazing to think this was once a creature that roamed around and was alive.
Sophie: Did you say how old the tiger was when it died?
Michael: Well Boris was about 26 when he died, 27, which is quite old for a tiger. In the wild they probably live until their early 20s. I guess, I mean he was captive so he didn’t face a lot of the dangers that tigers in the wild face, but having said that, he probably didn’t have such fun I would imagine as a tiger in the wild sometimes. I don’t know.
Sophie: Was he with any friends in there?
Michael: Well tigers are solitary creatures so they don’t really like friends really, they’re fairly solitary things. Having said that he did father quite a lot of cubs. Most big cats that are in captivity they’re part of a big programme so that their the genome is preserved and so, not that he’d know it, but he would probably have cubs all over Europe where other zoos-
Michael: Yeah. So other zoos would have –
Sophie: I don’t know why I keep staring at his its case.
Michael: Yeah, he’s just in a black case at the moment. He’s not very possessing. He used to be in a big sack – well he still is in a big sack – and I used to just carry the sack around but that made me look like some weird Father Christmas so I put him in a suitcase, which is even slightly weirder. Going back to the children, one of the things I always do at the end is I always bring it back to their experience so we will talk either, it comes up a lot, cats or my grandmother is dead. We’re going to get this bus.
Sophie: We’re now getting on the 25.
Michael: We’ll read a story and today we’re going to read the Tiger that Came to Tea.
Sophie: By Judith Kerr.
Michael: By Judith Kerr.
Sophie: That’s appropriate. Okay we’re just getting on the bus now.
Michael: Have you got your ticket?
Sophie: Great. Thank you, thanks. Where would Boris like to go?
Michael: We might need a bit more space.
Sophie: I never thought about this precious cargo. So we’re sitting. Boris is in the priority space which feels nice too. So Michael, now we talked a little bit about Boris and also it might be good just to talk through a bit about your role.
Michael: Well, I am the Early Years – and recently – Early Years and Families Officer and I’ve been doing this particular role for, the Early Years role for about 15 years or so. 2006 I started I think it was and I’ve worked for the museum longer than that, I probably started working on and off at the museum in about ’96 or ’97. So maybe 20 years I’ve been in the museum. So my job is to engage young children and families with the museum’s collections. I do that in the museum by running workshops and running special free days. I help curators put on exhibitions, making sure that the exhibition will be a good fit for children and families, but the bulk of my work is going out to schools and reception classes, nursery classes, nursery schools, children centres, bilingual family groups, anywhere where adults and young children are so I can introduce them to the idea of visiting a museum and I do that by taking out an object from the museum and today it’s Boris the tiger but it could be some dinosaur bones or it could be stuffed owls or it could be snake skins or could be anything from our collection that might fire an interest and generally in consultation with the teacher or whoever is in charge of the group, they’ll say we’re doing a project on the night-time, have you got anything nocturnal you can bring out? So today we’ve got Boris the tiger. What we’re trying to do is develop a culture of being familiar with museums and museum objects, so for example going to Moulsecoomb School today, which is in one of the most deprived boroughs in Brighton. In fact, it’s in one of the most deprived boroughs in the United Kingdom if you look at the league tables. So we’re trying, what we’re trying to do is encourage children from that school to be actively involved in the cultural life of the city and so one way I can do that is by introducing them to museums.
Sophie: What do you like most about it?
Michael: I think I like most the interactions with the children through the working with objects. Before I worked in a museum, I was a primary school teacher. For various reasons I began to find it too much work. It’s one of those jobs that seeps into your every living moment. So I wanted to step back from that bit, but I really enjoyed working with a group of children for a long period and seeing them develop over time and seeing their potential developing so working with the museum and doing this sort of job gives still gives me a sort of a flavour of that and I can work on a project with a nursery school for maybe once a week for six weeks so over that time I sort of, the children will get to know me and I’ll get to know them and will maybe get them to do stuff that they normally wouldn’t have done or maybe they wouldn’t have been introduced to and with Moulsecoomb School I go there once a month throughout the year, so by the end of the year I’ll built up quite a relationship with the children.
Sophie: Oh, that’s great!
Michael: I’ve been doing it for several years now so there’s children higher up the school that we recognise me and know me from the work I’ve been doing with them and hopefully that’s encouraged them to be more involved in the museum and anecdotally, I mean, quite often I’ll be in – in fact, I was in Sainsbury’s the other day and one of the women at the checkout said “you must be, are you Michael the museum man?” And I said “oh yeah, I think I am” she said “you’ve really inspired my daughter when you brought in those dinosaur bones and now she wants to be a palaeontologist” and she’s only five so I thought oh that’s good, you know for five year old to say I want to be, use the word ‘palaeontologist’. That’s quite great I think.
Sophie: Well I guess a bigger philosophical question then, and you’re an artist as well which I think is an important point, and this sort of obvious so it’s silly to ask but what’s the point of the museum then for you for future generations because it is obviously still such an important part of your work.
Michael: I guess the museums are the repositories of stories and particularly stories about where we’ve come from and where we might be going to so, for example, we’ve got an archaeology gallery that I’ve been quite involved in putting together over last year or so and it’s now open. We used skeletons in our collection that were found in Brighton, so a skeleton found in Whitehawk Hillfort which is about 6000 years old, a skeleton from Patcham which was an Anglo-Saxon I think and a Roman skeleton, so quite a few skeletons and we had all the DNA done and did all the isotope of their teeth so we could figure out which part of the world they came from, we can figure out their eye colour, hair colour, we got a forensic archaeologist to reconstruct the faces so you can actually go to Brighton Museum now and see people that were Brightonians 6,000 years ago so you can sort of look someone in the eye that was here 6,000 years ago. And I think that’s quite powerful for a lot of people.
Sophie: then we’ve sort of got a responsibility as the custodians, current custodians of the museum to share those stories.
Michael: Yeah and that’s where my work comes in as I take out these objects and I generally work with very young children so I generally work with sort of preschool children up to maybe reception introducing them to the idea of a museum and the importance that objects have, that all objects have a story about them, whatever you’ve got. You know, you pick any object out of your pocket, you could probably tell a little story about that object and all museums really do is like gather those and sort those and represent them and make connections between people and I think it helps us understand where we’ve come from and it helps us understand where we are and it helps us hopefully understand when we might be heading for so I think that they are really powerful places and I think for me growing up, museums were really important to me as a child. My dad worked for the local authority. His office was connected to the town hall, which inside had a museum, an art gallery in fact, Southampton Art Gallery, so I’d quite often after school I’d walk to his office and say “can I have a lift home Dad?” And he’d always say, “Michael is only half past three, I’ve got to work until 5:30, why don’t you just go wait in the museum for me?” So I spent a lot of my childhood hanging around in museums, not particularly because initially I was interested in museums, just because it was somewhere to wait for my dad, but actually that’s sort of, I got really interested in what was on the walls in museum and the art gallery, so I slowly absorbed this love of museums and particularly I think because it was an art gallery, I’ve ended up working in a museum and in my other life being a painter, so it’s interesting how that has worked out for me. I know from other colleagues stories that they found museums are sort of either a sanctuary or somewhere that was important to them or have had some key moment in their lives, which has set them on this path of being interested in museums and material culture.
Sophie: It’s amazing how subconsciously our early experiences so inform what we go on to spend most of our life doing or struggling not to do. What do you think are the bigger challenges facing museums? Because you’ve obviously seen it go through quite a lot, the city changing and the priorities of the council changing. Are there things that you fear for the museum or do you feel like it’s just evolving and that’s the way it is?
Michael: Well, it is evolving and it is, the museum sector has suffered a lot in recent years through cuts in funding for museums, so in my team we used to have, we used to have six members of the team and now there’s only really three of us I think, maybe two of us actually, one is part-time and there’s two of us full-time, so materially the those cuts have had an effect on our team, and also we’ve been hit by the cuts in other sectors like schools, for example. Ten years ago we would have to Brighton Museum maybe 30,000 – 35,000 school visits a year. The figures for last year we think we had 20,000 school visitors so there’s been a reduction in about 10,000 school visits and that comes out of schools not being able to afford trips anymore and partly because of the their precarious finances, but also because of the things like transport costs have gone up and not many schools are going to be spending that sort of money on a regular basis, maybe once a year for a treat. Brighton and Hove City Council used to have a family learning team and they would do they would work with parents and children that were struggling for whatever reason with things like literacy or numeracy, so they would do a ten week course with the children and adults separately and together with two specialists teachers to try and develop their literacy and numeracy skills. As part of that I would go along to visit them in their setting for one of the sessions and I would bring something along, either something that would stimulate some literacy aspect or numeracy aspect and then for another week, they would come make a visit to the museum but because of the cuts in public funding, those family learning teams now are pretty much defunct. I think there’s two teachers left in the whole of Brighton now that do that that scheme and when I started there were eight teams doing that, the cuts in public funding have a larger effect than just in that particular, in your own sector. There actually is a policy at the moment of not collecting any more things for the museum and partly it’s a funding thing, partly it’s a space thing, we haven’t got the space and we actually haven’t got the staff to resource that because when you accept something you have to accession it, you have to find somewhere to keep it, you have to work out a plan on how it’s going to be conserved, you’d probably need a conservator involved so it’s an expense just to, it’s not just like you someone gives you something and you put it behind the counter. Brighton Museum holds about a million objects. We’re a bit bursting at the seams really, we really need a purpose-built storage facility, which we haven’t got. So it’s counterproductive us for us to keep accepting things without thinking really carefully about what we’re collecting and how we’re going to look after those things when we collect them.
Sophie: I guess the silver lining here is we’re still sitting on the bus with Boris.
Michael: Yeah, I’m sitting on the bus going to school with a Siberian tiger in a box. I’m constantly finding something in the museum I didn’t know we had and I think ‘that’s the best thing in the world!’ I’ve actually like taking Boris out because it’s a really interesting thing and one of the things that I take quite often are mini beasts like insects and spiders, that’s always a really interesting reaction and you’re sort of like breaking lots of boundaries there. So yeah, we’re going to get off now.
Sophie: Getting off, okay. And then the school itself is lovely. That’s all the school is it?
Sophie: It’s a lovely big school.
Michael: It is a nice school.
Sophie: And this is primary and nursery?
Michael: Yeah. Hello, how are you?
Teacher: Alright, a bit cold but other than that.
Sophie: It is actually, you’re right by the window so I’m not surprised you’re chilly.
Teacher: You do get a bit of a draft.
Sophie: It is cold.
Teacher: What have you got in your box today?
Michael: The tiger, Boris the tiger.
Sophie: See you later.
Teacher: I hope it’s a bit warmer out there.
Child: Michael, Miss [inaudible] wants to see you with our group.
Teacher: Hello, Michael, hello! Where are you off to? Nursery?
Michael: I’m going to go see the nursery children.
Teacher: When are you going to come and see us?
Michael: When do you want me to come and see you?
Teacher 2: Well –
Teacher 2: We need to book him up. I did want to contact you because we’re doing superheroes.
Michael: Oh, well you’ve contacted the right fella.
Teacher 2: I know you’ll do something amazing with them.
Michael: I’ll have a think. Before Christmas or after Christmas?
Teacher 2: Before Christmas.
Michael: Before Christmas, okay. Send me an email and then I’ll remember. Alright.
Teacher 2: Have a nice time in nursery.
Michael: Thank you.
Sophie: I love the way they all knew you Michael, everyone must be rushing up all the time.
Michael: Well yeah, I’m quite often in Brighton and someone, a child would say “look Mum, it’s the dinosaur man!” Because I probably would have taken some dinosaur bones to their school and that’s what sticks in their head.
Sophie: We’re going through the Labyrinth of – wow, what a nice room!
Michael: Hello, nice to see you.
Ms Hodge: I was just seeing that you were coming to record a podcast.
Sophie: Yes, do you mind?
Ms Hodge: No, not at all.
Sophie: Are you Mandy? I’m Sophie, nice to meet you.
Ms Hodge: We’ve just got back from P.E and we’ve gone outside. Are you in a rush?
Michael: No, we’re not in a rush. Boris is nocturnal.
Sophie: Have you seen Boris before?
Ms Hodge: Yes. They know Michael throughout the school.
Sophie: We’ve gone through and everyone’s popped out the classroom.
Ms Hodge: Michael is a bit of a celebrity.
Sophie: Yeah, we were just saying that.
Ms Hodge: Yeah, they do talk about Michael a lot, and if I get the suitcases out, they’ll say it’s Michael’s case.
Ms Hodge: Can everybody come make a big circle? Let’s pretend we’re sitting around the pond.
Michael: Hello everybody, can you make a circle? Can you? How do you do it? How is this circle working, is it a big circle or a small circle?
Children: Big circle.
Michael: Shall we make a big circle. Maybe you could shuffle over there a bit.
Ms Hodge: We sit around the edge of the pond don’t we.
Michael: Hello everybody, my name is…
Michael: Michael, and where do I come from? Do you know remember?
Child: The museum!
Michael: I’ve come from the museum and I’ve brought something from the museum to show you. I hear you’ve been thinking about creatures that come out at night. Is that right? What sort of creatures only come out at night?
Child: Sometimes bats.
Michael: Sometimes bats. What else? What about owls, do they come out at night? What about cats? Well cats like to come out at night. And now there is a special word, if you only come out at night-time, there is a really special word that you can use you.
Michael: It is nocturnal, you’re right. Well, I have brought a creature from the Booth Museum that used to be a real live creature but, do you know what, sadly it died. But I brought its skin. This creature has got claws, anyone here got claws? Show me your claws. No, you’ve got fingers haven’t you. Has anyone here got fur? Because this is a very furry creature. No, has anyone here got a tail? No. No one? You’ve got a tail, haven’t you? Well, this creature has got a tail. So it’s furry, it’s got claws, a tail. This creature did have very sharp teeth and whiskers and stripes. What could it be? An owl? No, an owl would be too small, look.
Child: A tiger!
Michael: A tiger! Who said a tiger? Do you know, you are right. It is a tiger. Would you like to see a tiger? This used to be a real live tiger, but when it died all the keepers in the zoo where it lived, it lived in Marwell Zoo, they said “I know what we can do, we will give Boris’s body to the Booth Museum” and we saved the bones and if you go to the Booth Museum, you can see Boris’s bones and we saved his furry stripy skin. Would you like to see the furry stripy skin? Tigers are really just very big cats and cats mostly like to go out at night-time. My cat sleeps nearly all day and then when I get home it scratches on the door and wants to go out. It’s a nocturnal creature, they like to go out at night and tigers similarly mostly like to go at night. I’m going to put Boris’s head over by Ms Hodge. Is that okay? And then I’m going to unroll it. Is everyone feeling brave? You’re not feeling quite so brave, so you sit next to Ms Hodge. Now, I’m going to roll him out. You sit back a bit and I’ll put the tail just here, there’s his tail. And I’m going to put some of his feet over here. He’s got four legs so one goes there, one goes here, I’m going to put this one here, is that okay? I’m going to put one over there. Another’s going to go about there. Are you ready? And there’s his last leg is going to go here. Boris does not mind being stroked, so if you are brave enough, you could stroke him but he doesn’t like being trodden on. Who would like to give Boris a stroke? You could tell me how he feels. How does it feel? You can touch it. Is it fluffy, he is quite fluffy, isn’t he? Is he stripy? If you look at his paws, you can see he’s got claws. Boris can do a trick where you put his claws out put your claws out or put them away scrunch them up like that. Put them out and scrunch them up. And if you look at his paws, his back ones, his claws are out, his front ones, his claws are hidden away. Who’s got ears here? Anyone?
Michael: Yeah, oh you all have. Boris’s ears are here, look there’s one there. Who’s got eyes? Anyone here? Yeah, two eyes and Boris’s eyes. Who has got a nose?
Michael: Yeah, everyone’s got a nose. Have you got a nose? Yes, you have. Here is Boris’s nose. Who’s got a mouth? Here is Boris’s mouth. No teeth because I’ve left all the bones at the museum and who’s got whiskers? Anyone, anyone got whiskers? No, not yet? Not yet. Who has got a tail?
Child: We use our arms to balance.
Michael: My goodness that is a good thing to say. We do use our arms to balance. But Boris can’t use his arms to balance because he hasn’t got any arms. He’s got four legs.
Child: He balances with his tail.
Michael: He balances with his tail, you’re right. There’s one special thing about a tiger, it’s got stripes. Now, why has it got stripes?
Child: Because that’s what he looks like.
Michael: That is what he looks like but how did he get them? And why does he need them? It’s really hard to see a tiger in a forest because of all the stripes. Have you got any questions about tigers you would like to ask me and you need to remember about a question, it begins with what or where…
Michael: Who would like to help me roll Boris up? Shall I show you because one day you might need to roll a tiger up, shall I show you how you do it. Then I need someone – very good – to put his tail down here -well done – take it in, then can you help me roll up Boris? You have to start from this end. Would anyone else like to help? Then roll, are you ready? Push and keep rolling, that’s good. It has to roll from this end so you can come down this end if you want to help. Someone mentioned the Tiger that Came to Tea. I don’t expect you know this story, do you?
Children: I do.
Michael: Have you? No way! Would you like to come a bit closer then so you can hear the story? Come a bit closer and we shall tell the story of the Tiger that Came to Tea… I’ve got to say goodbye as well.
Ms Hodge: Can we say a big ‘thank you’ to Michael because we love having Michael come, don’t we? So after 3. 1, 2, 3…
Children: Thank you Michael!
Michael: It’s always lovely to come and see you all.
Ms Hodge: And we love having Michael. And will you be around at half term in the Booth Museum?
Michael: I’m definitely around in Brighton Museum in half term so I’ll be at Brigton Museum some of the days.
Ms Hodge: Do you want to ask your grown-ups to go to the museum?
Michael: And I’ll be at the Booth Museum a bit as well. Now if you want to help, what you’ve got to do is grab. Who is going to hold some of the bag? Hold the bag and then you have to pull it up. It is difficult, isn’t it? But you’re very good at this, it goes higher, keep pulling. Well done! There, phew! Boris is back in the bag. There we go.
Michael: It’s a strange thing to do.
Sophie: I think it’s a great thing to do.
Michael: It would be interesting to hear what happens over the next few days. For example, Aubrey was horrified wasn’t she but after initial horror, she was really interested by the end. She was asking the most interesting questions.
Sophie: Yeah. See you later, thank you. Oh, what am I doing wrong?
Michael: You have to press the button.
Sophie: Sorry, I’m being impatient. Thanks. It was really good to see it.
Michael: Yeah, it’s interesting because I don’t think many people at the museum understand, they probably know what I do. I think it’s quite important, I think it’s in some ways, it’s really crucial because it’s like it’s like entry point museum work, I think it’s really important.
Sophie: It’s like you’re front line.
Michael: It is a bit.
Sophie: It might take a few days and then suddenly that tiger becomes –
Sophie: It’s very gentle dissemination or slow realisation about that’s where all those objects are.
Speaker 1: Yeah. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle or mosaic, all these things touch each other. They don’t really realise they do until one of the pieces falls out. And then you realise there’s a big gap. A lot of my job initially is building relationships with the teachers and that’s really crucial because, so Mandy is my sort of point of contact for that school really. Oh, here’s the bus.
Sophie: Oh, here’s the bus again. Are you happy with this role, with what you do?
Michael: Yeah, I think it’s, there’s lots of answers to that isn’t there.
Sophie: Yeah, well go on.
Michael: Yeah, I really enjoy my job. There’s always something interesting to do. There’s always some interesting, either curator to work with or school to go out to, so there’s always interesting people to interact with. I was working with another member of staff we put on an exhibition to do with portraits and we had, a couple of weeks ago we had the Chief Exec of the Arts Council came down to the museum because it was the Labour Party conference, some MPs came along. We showed them around the gallery and the MPs are really interested in the impact that austerity had had on the museum. So we talked about that a bit and talk about the reduction in school visits and how the staff size at the museum wasn’t as big as it had been and how we’ve all, like I’m now the Families and Early Years Officer, we used to have a Families Officer who work full-time but that post was deleted. So now I do in effect two jobs, well I do both jobs half time. I do that, however you cut it up, but she was saying ‘what thing -’ and she wasn’t really particularly interested in the education side of the museum and I think in some ways education is still seen as slightly not central. I think a lot of people say is central but actually I guess I would like in some ways the see that museums flips their ideas about how to put on exhibitions and rather than being curator-lead which quite often they are, although that’s changing, but to being more in response to what our community would like and looking and engaging communities in developing ideas for museums, which we sort of do in some cases, but we don’t – I just remember earlier when I was developing this archaeology gallery. We had a really great team there were like five or so me as the Early Years Officer, there was the Schools Officer, the museum designer who translates all our ideas into actual physical things and we had two of the curators from Brighton Museum, which who are really supportive and really got behind the project. But we also had we had archaeologists from outside of the museum working with us, and I remember going to meeting with some of these archaeologists and setting saying talking about the impact that we want and we hope that the gallery would have on children and talking about how we wanted up the visitor figures and one of the archaeologists said “Michael how many visitors do you have every year to your Museum?” And I said, “I don’t know the exact figures but our Schools Officer said “we have thirty thousand schoolchildren visit the museum every year” and without a beat dropping a beat the archaeologist said “but how many proper visitors do we have?” So, it’s like still children are not seen as proper visitors to a museum in some people’s eyes. And that’s the thing that needs to be flipped on its head, I think.
Michael: Maybe 20 years ago, a new exhibition would be mooted, and it would be under way and then maybe a couple of weeks before the exhibition opened, one of the curators would say “what are we going to do for the education side of it?” Actually, it’s too late now because there’s only, it has to be embedded in the actual exhibition. Whereas now in the last couple of exhibitions, especially I’m thinking now the archaeology gallery the education side of it like the Schools Officer and me were involved from the very initial meetings about it and we had quite a lot of say in how the gallery looks. This Is Us.
Sophie: Well, that’s really good.
Michael: Yes, I think that the museum does a really good job, but it would be great to push the envelope on –
Sophie: Sorry! I thought we were about to get run over.
Michael: We’ll wait for the green man, it’s always the safest way. I’ve got to get back to my office, put Boris away, I’ve got a workshop I’m running at the Booth Museum on Friday, so I have to make sure everything’s in place for that. And I think this theme this week is dinosaurs. I can’t remember, I must look that up.
Sophie: Well, thanks so much for your time today.
Michael: You’re welcome.
Sophie: I really appreciate it.
Michael: I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the visit to Moulsecoomb.
Sophie: I did! You know, I feel a bit pathos about it really. I can’t really explain it because I thought it was amazing to see the kids, I just think it’s so important the work that you do and I think, I think this question of value is a really good one.
Michael: There are so many threads of stories and people do so many different things. You could go to Preston Manor and record the children pretending to be Victorians or you could go to the Booth Museum when they have a teacher training session and teachers are learning about the Booth Museum and what resources it has to offer schools or you could work with the LGBT group that are putting up the next exhibition and the temporary gallery, so there are so many threads to a museum. It’s not just putting objects in boxes then cataloguing them.
Sophie: And what a lovely statement from Michael with which to end this first episode and what follows in this series some of the other museum threads that Michael mentioned will also be pursued and investigated. What struck me most about this interview that took place that morning with Michael and obviously with Boris was not just the pure joy and the interest and curiosity and humour and hilarity of those children, but also for me there was this niggling realisation that young people’s experiences of museums don’t just rely on well-funded and well-resourced cultural organizations, but also on well-funded and well-resourced schools what most impacts our future generation’s ability to experience their heritage, to understand the significance of the past on the present and indeed on all of our futures, is the collective dissembling of public resources. This must be stopped. In their support with this episode, I’d like to once again thank Michael Olden aka ‘The Dinosaur Man’ as well as Mandy Hodge and all of the nursery class at Moulsecoomb Primary School, please join me next time on Voices of the Royal Pavilion & Museums where I’ll be speaking to perhaps two of the most senior people at RPM: Janita Bagshaw, Head of Royal Pavilion & Museums and David Beevers, Keeper of the Royal Pavilion, who will be reflecting on their work at the service over the past four decades. Thank you for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, hit like and subscribe and please leave us a very nice five-star review. Find out more about the Royal Pavilion & Museums at brightonmuseums.org.uk and more about this project at onebyone.uk, on Twitter I’m @soph_frosty and RPM is @brightonmuseums. I really hope you can join me next time. ‘Til soon, goodbye.
Narrator: The Voices of the Royal Pavilion & Museums are supported by the One by One research project, the School of Museum studies at the University of Leicester, The Keep, Arts Council England and produced by Lo-Fi Arts.