South Western Federation of Museums and Art Galleries

Case Study 5 - Training New-Style Curators

CS5-training-new-style-curators-150The challenge

When trying to recruit a new Maritime Curator after the post fell vacant, it proved impossible to find just the right blend of specialist knowledge and collections care enthusiasm and expertise that the organisation needed.  My experience as an AMA mentor, and a member of the Museums Association Professional Development Committee, persuaded me that a person with this blend of skills was rare if not non-existent.  So it was decided that ss Great Britain Trust would train our own, made-to-measure curator.

What we did

The Trust successfully applied to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to fund a trainee maritime curator for five years.  The grant included a salary for the trainee as well as the funding for all training over the five-year period. The Trust has since been actively involved with us, interested in our approach as a possible pilot across the cultural sector, particularly with our strong emphasis on reflective learning.

CS5-training-new-style-curatorsThe advertisement for a Trainee Maritime Curator attracted 350 applications. Our priorities were for some specialist knowledge in marine archaeology or history, with a breadth of other interests and a strong practical streak.  An essential element was a real excitement about objects and a willingness to learn from the ground up. A museum studies qualification was not necessary, as the trainee would be taught collections management from scratch. The successful applicant has an MA in Maritime History and a strong interest in museums.

The Trainee Maritime Curator’s training programme is a blend of theoretical and practical training. Theoretical training in museum studies is provided through Leicester University’s distance learning MA in Museum Studies, supplemented by short courses in management and other relevant topics. Also part of the training programme is the attendance at museum conferences, such as the AIM conference, and maritime ones, such as the International Conference of Maritime Museums. The trainee is also now registered for the AMA.  She learns collection management skills here on-site, and is now, a year after her appointment, in charge of our Integrated Pest Management system.

Further training happens on the job with extensive reflection to enhance learning, enabled during one-to-ones with me.  Examples include: spending time with another curator; writing a report on another museum; and working with the rest of the Museum and Educational Services team to deliver the Brunel Institute for conservation and learning, which opened in autumn 2010. Training is ongoing, and continues to be a blend of formally-delivered courses as well as more informal training and mentoring.

Resourcing and management

The management of such a trainee requires significant time and effort as well as  a line-manager who feels comfortable with a reflective learning approach and who is senior enough to have a breadth of relevant experience, and therefore perspective on the specifics of museums as well a wider picture and an awareness of external agendas.  Funding is also a major issue – ss Great Britain Trust was fortunate in gaining Esmée Fairbairn Foundation support.

High points/ successes

Although our Trainee Maritime Curator is not yet fully trained, I am very excited by the depth of learning and blend of skills she has already achieved.  As an organisation, ss Great Britain Trust is keen to encourage young entrants through non-traditional routes, and play a part in developing the curatorial skills that the sector needs.  A ‘spin-off’ has been the development of training materials for our volunteers based on aspects of the Trainee Maritime Curator’s training.

Low points/ concerns

As this is their first job, there is a need for us to remember how this transition period can feel.

How can I find out more

Contact Rhian Tritton, Director of Museum and Educational Services, email: Telephone: 0117 926 0680

Date of activity described in case study: March 2010 – March 2015
Case study review date: Q2 2012 (as things keep developing within the programme!)