Tuesday, 7 May 2013

First World War Centenary | A Great Opportunity for Museums

The First World War Centenary | A Great Opportunity for Museums

Since November 2012, when I started my role (which is funded by Arts Council England), I have visited every region of the country to explain why IWM (Imperial War Museums) and the Arts Council think that the First World War Centenary (2014-2018) is a great opportunity for museums.  There are many reasons for this including the length of the anniversary, allowing museums to experiment with programmes, the opportunities to partner with other organisations with the hope that these partnerships will last beyond the Centenary and the huge interest that the public have in this subject and therefore the potential to develop audiences. Through my work, to encourage museums in England to take part in the commemorations [see picture below], I have come across a considerable number of networks and organisations that are keen to do something to mark this important anniversary. If I went into detail on all of the projects that I have come across, this blog would run into a book rather than being a snappy update. This goes to show how little encouraging I have had to do!

Me at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in December 2012

There are probably a variety of reasons as to why everyone is so eager to take part, but I think it has a lot to do with the wide reaching effect of the war – it touched everyone’s lives -  and even if you do not have an ancestor who fought, you live in a world which was radically changed as a result.

IWM is the cultural lead for the Centenary and, in order to help other organisations, created the Partnership Programme. The aim of the Partnership is to create a high quality programme for the public through organisations working together and sharing knowledge with each other. IWM is sharing some of its own collections (which are free to download for members) and expertise through our ‘Useful Guides’. The latter have been created specifically to advise on areas such as teaching the First World War. IWM is encouraging others to share their expertise and to communicate with other organisations to make sure that the public get a coherent and varied offer during the Centenary years.

Organisations, ranging from museums, libraries, archives, schools, universities, arts groups and others, have come together to coordinate varied projects in their regions. In Wiltshire, for instance, key representatives from relevant organisations across the county have come together to form a steering group, which will coordinate their county-wide programme and advise on whether and when events should take place.

Kent and Medway have also formed a steering group after a large meeting of organisations identified the need for coordination. They will shortly be forming sub groups to advise on projects relating to education, research and more. They are going to have a shared blog and calendar for their activities in order that they can compare and avoid duplication of work and type of project – something that is key to the success of the Programme. Furthermore, they want to be able to do joint marketing for events in their region and while this will no doubt be dependent on funding, it is a great ambition to have.

In order to support these new and existing networks, I have been putting together an overview of museum-led activity in England. However, I am now turning my focus to supporting museum projects more practically – be that by bringing more organisations together to work on their ideas, or by helping identify additional support (other than funding) that we can give to certain projects.

Speaking of funding, this is obviously one of the key challenges facing us all. Fortunately, both the Arts Council and Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) have been extremely supportive of the Centenary and have already provided funding to projects. Additionally, HLF are about to launch a small grants programme specifically for Centenary projects that look at involving young people and communities. At the time of writing, the information was not available on their website, but keep checking back to www.hlf.org.uk for further information. Applications are welcome from the end of May.

The First World War Centenary is a great opportunity for museums and other arts organisations to bring together groups of people from a wide variety of backgrounds. As it is a long anniversary, there is plenty of time to try out new ideas and new plans. It is exciting to see how it is already helping organisations to work together, which will undoubtedly have long-term benefits for all.

London has already had a good take up when it comes to the Centenary. However, there have not been any large-scale meetings purely for London organisations, which is why IWM, the London Museum Development Team, HLF and others are coming together to organise one. Speakers will be sharing information and advice but the rest of the session will be for networking. The meeting is planned for the afternoon of Tuesday 25 June at the Churchill War Rooms in Westminster. The details are still being finalised but for more information and if you would like to sign up, please go to: http://www.eventbrite.com/event/6461076253. Alternatively, please feel free to e-mail me to find out more or to ask me anything about the Centenary: jgale@iwm.org.uk. I look forward to hearing from you.

Author | Josie Gale Centenary Programme Museum Liaison Officer for English Regions, Imperial War Museums and LMG Member.

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