I’ve just signed up for the Museum Association’s AMA professional development scheme. I’m really excited about the programme, and looking forward to developing new directions and ideas over the three years. I’m also excited to be able to have a framework to support critical reflection and looking beyond the everyday demands and restrictions of the space I work in.
I’m currently working as Exhibition Designer at the National Space Centre. I’m not sure it’s the same for everyone who has a similar role, but it’s one I’ve found my way into, rather than having a defined career goal from the start. I started out after university making visual art and performance before getting excited by web design in the 90’s, and via a wiggly path involving digital arts projects, horror film festivals, motion capture, teaching, and performing as Britney Spears at Glastonbury, I joined the National Space Centre as a web designer in 2011. Through luck and meeting some great colleagues, the role has changed over the years, and these days I’m mainly designing spaces, interactives and graphics, as well as being involved in the Exhibition Leadership Team.
I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to have had such a varied work history. The transferrable skills, approaches and ways of thinking are all valuable things to have, but I’m not sure it’s consistent, and it makes me anxious that I’m missing fundamental experience and understanding of aspects of the Museums and Visitor Centre sector.
I’m also, to be honest, not entirely sure what Exhibition Designer means! Should I be writing and proposing stories and treatments for the galleries and the visitor experience? Should I be walking round with a pencil behind my ear, or heavy rimmed glasses and a turtle neck jumper? Should I be providing detail drawings and material lists to contractors? Should I be writing interactive software, or briefing someone else to do it? Should I be researching audiences, trends and new ways to engage visitors? Instinctively, I think it’s all of these things, but I’m aware that as I look around at jobs with that title, it’s sometimes a tiny, specialised bit of that list that people are looking for, and sometimes all of it and more!
The National Space Centre opened in 2001, and in some places, you can really tell! That’s no criticism, it’s the reality of any museum or exhibition space. Knowledge develops and changes, stories gain or lose relevance, audience expectations change, and parts of the exhibition begin to look dusty and dated. We are lucky to have an exhibition team in-house who can continue to refresh and redevelop the centre, whether replacing a damaged graphic or reimagining a space to communicate an idea better, or to allow our visitors to experience it in a new way. As a team, we are developing new ways to make the exhibition more accessible, inclusive and participatory.
I’m lucky that work is giving me the time and space to work on the AMA, and to be part of a team that values the need for research and reflection. I’m looking forward to asking the tough questions about what my role is and should be, and what the National Space Centre is and can be. I’ll be posting my thoughts and questions here as I go (I’ll tag them as AMA), it would be great to hear from you!