Museums Masterclass with Jo Quinton-Tulloch

masterclassOn the evening of the 31st of January CVAC hosted the Director of the National Media Museum, Jo Quinton-Tulloch to give a talk about the museum, its history and its future. The talk provided an insight into the museum’s intriguing and varied collections of photography, film, television and media producing technologies. As well as highlighting the museum’s aims to strengthen and support the local community through public outreach activities.


The National Media Museum (NMM) in Bradford is relatively new opening in 1983 as the ‘National Museum of Photography, Film and Television’. It was later rebranded as the ‘NMM’ in 2006 and is due to be re-named once again on the 28th of February this year. The museum aims to present the technical applications of the science of light and sound to the public and is therefore a central institution in the Science Museums Group. It is a space which according to Quinton-Tulloch allows the visitor to “explore process and product of these technologies”.  There has also been a renewed focus in recent years to incorporate and accommodate for the increased usage and popularity of digital technology.


The talk began with an overview of the history of the NMM and its collections with specific examples of key objects and their producers as well as the challenges that museums face. The talk was then followed by a workshop on Wednesday morning with museum professionals from Durham along with heritage students and CVAC members in attendance. In the workshop Quinton-Tulloch outlined her own biography and how she was able to achieve such a prestigious position by working her way up through her work with the Science Museum in London. This biography was particularly inspiring for the current heritage masters students who have just started their career paths in the heritage and museums sector.


The main focus of the workshop was how museums can collaborate successfully with universities and according to Quinton-Tulloch there are three main ways this collaboration can be achieved effectively. Firstly, through the collections, knowledge and expertise of a particular museum which can benefit students via training, lectures, placements and teaching opportunities. Secondly, through collaborative research with students that have aligned research interests and lastly, in public engagement. Museums can provide a platform for the dissemination and communication of current information and research to the public. This role in public outreach can facilitate dialogue between academics and the public and was thus viewed as a top priority. Quinton-Tulloch reinforced this point by stressing how being a good communicator is key in the museums profession. Communicating to the public by having a scientist within the museum able to answer visitor questions as a ‘Researcher in Residence’ was also viewed as highly beneficial.


After a long discussion on museum public outreach activities there was an extended exchange about the governance systems and politics within museums. This topic garnered much interest and it is hoped that this may be re-visited at a later stage.


Towards the end of the session the issue of presenting controversial scientific topics within the museum was brought up during open questions. It was interesting to discover that the NMM very rarely takes a particular stance on a controversial topic and tries to remain impartial. The museum achieves this by presenting the arguments from both sides of the scientific community, except for certain occasions when the majority of the scientific community are in favour of a particular stance.


Felicity McDowall February 2017




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