My name is Gemma Ashby and I have just completed a work placement at the Discovery Museum. I am currently a postgraduate student at Newcastle University, working towards my MA in Museum Studies, which I will graduate from in December this year.
I’ve been working at Discovery Museum for the last seven weeks and it’s fair to say I’ve had an amazing experience whilst I’ve been here, and the time seems to have flown by. I have learnt an incredible amount and thought it would be good to share some of those things, as well as some of the often understated work Discovery Museum is undertaking at the moment.
I have been working predominantly with the Keeper of Contemporary Collecting and it’s been so interesting to see what kind of things the museum is collecting in order to represent our current time, in the future. It’s great to think about what museum staff in the future will make of things that we take for granted as being commonplace now. That’s why you’ll find everything from Dominos pizza boxes to Elsa dolls from Frozen, as well as items like protest placards used in marches across Newcastle, within the collections now.
Right now, it’s a very exciting time for the future of Discovery Museum. While I’ve been here on placement, it was announced that the museum has received Esmee Fairbairn funding, allowing it to create a women’s collection and festival of events, exploring issues of gender inequality and revealing women within the largely industrial and technological collections. Part of my placement has involved me finding and researching objects pertaining to women within Discovery’s collections that otherwise may not have been brought out of the stores. Keep your eyes peeled for further information on the exhibition and events that will come from the project in the next year – it’s set to be great!
Some of the objects I’ve been looking at:
From January onwards, Discovery Museum has been creating a temporary display, the ‘intervention’ wall, based in the main Turbinia Hall on the ground floor. The initial display focused on the topic of the Newcastle Protest in response to Donald Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ and asked visitors who was welcome in Newcastle. During my time here I’ve been able to work on the production of some evaluative material on the display, addressing all of the responses left by visitors. It’s been great to see just how many people engaged with the museum on this topic (both in person and online) and to think about how many conversations may have potentially been started by one simple question.
Discovery followed this up with an display regarding International Women’s Day and the topic of gender equality. Again, visitors were encouraged to answer questions about what the world would be like if men and women were completely equal. Currently, the intervention wall features a display based on the global issue of displacement, which tied into the If You Lived Here… events programme at Discovery which involved a UNHCR shelter being placed on Discovery Plaza. The installation asks visitors what they would pack into a bag to survive should they need to flee their home. If you’re planning on visiting Discovery anytime soon, definitely make sure to visit the installation and leave your thoughts.
I think it’s very interesting to see how Discovery Museum is interpreting its place within current society and ensuring it continues to be relevant by representing its diverse audiences. I’d love to know if anyone had any opinions on what they believe museums should be displaying and what kind of work they should carry out?
Overall, I’ve learnt a lot in the last seven weeks: from accessioning placards from the Newcastle Protest into the collection, to researching some of the most incredible female scientists and engineers from across the UK for upcoming learning programmes. I’ve learnt how easy it is to get lost in the basement and attic stores of the museum and how many weird and wonderful things there are in them. I’ve got to see how hard staff work to continue to be able to deliver their projects and events, and how much planning it takes to make these successful.
Above all, I’ve learnt why it’s important that Discovery Museum keeps on doing what it’s doing, because it has so many incredible things happening and is pioneering big ideas right here in the North East.