Thursday, September 7, 2017

Curating Spend, Spend, Spend

A new exhibition has opened at Castleford Museum, documenting the life of one of Castleford’s most famous women, Vivian Nicholson. The display was curated by our Front of House staff at Castleford Museum, Danielle and Sarah. 
In this blog Danielle and Sarah share their experiences of curating the exhibition.
Viv Nicholson and her husband with their cheque. With thanks to the Football Pools.
Way back in early August 2016, whilst planning for the following years workshops, Danielle and I were thinking of themes, relating to our collections, that we could turn into activity workshops. Through this discussion we realised that apart from Jack Hulme, there was no collection or mention of other famous people from Castleford. So, out of interest, we googled ‘famous people of Castleford’ and the results returned many, many images of Vivian Nicholson; a lady famous for winning (big time) on the football betting game ‘The Pools’.
A month later, Danielle mentioned that she had been researching  Viv Nicholson and she was a very interesting character. After hearing about her and reading her autobiography, I was hooked. We both really wanted to share the extraordinary life of Viv with the public so we decided ask our managers if we could curate a case on her. We are currently Front of House staff. As a general rule, Front of House staff are there to welcome visitors, encourage discussions through engagement with the public and facilitate activity sessions, so we were a bit nervous to do something outside our comfort zone and actually curate a case.

Fortunately for us, we have a great museums team. They were all really supportive and readily agreed for us to curate, not just one case but two whole cases! We were delighted…then we realised we needed to start some serious work.
The first step was research, research, research. After making copious amounts of notes on Viv’s book, looking at endless newspaper articles, talking with Viv’s family and generally being a nuisance to the local studies staff, we produced a case ‘Data Sheet’. This document outlined what the key message of the exhibition was going to be, what the public were going to learn from it and which objects would be included to tell her story. 
After this we then assigned ourselves roles to make the process easier; Danielle would be ‘the Collector’ and I would be ‘the Writer’. This generally meant that Danielle would be in charge of finding objects, liaising with museums to discuss loans etc and I would be in charge of anything text related such as the case information panels and object descriptions etc, though we did agree and decide everything together.

Over the following months and with help from the museums team, we were able to secure loans from The West Yorkshire playhouse in Leeds, Sheffield Library and some of Viv’s family members. One of the most exciting parts of the research process was conducting an oral history with Viv’s granddaughter, as neither Danielle nor I had done one before. We organised, prepared and recorded an interview with her, which we hope to present to the public in an audio format in the future.
As well as external associates we also worked closely with our in house teams such as the collections team to make good use of our existing collection; the exhibitions team to design information panels, case backgrounds etc; the education team to discuss interactives through which the public could learn and the marketing team to promote the case once it was completed.

Throughout the entire process we have enjoyed gaining many new skills, from how to curate a successful exhibition and write interpretation text to filling in object loan forms; from how best to conduct an oral history to writing a great press release.

We have had a wonderful experience and we hope to do it again soon in the future. If you would like to know more about the Viv Nicholson exhibition and our experience, please visit Castleford Museum.
The ‘Spend Spend Spend’ exhibition runs until end of August 2018.