Have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes of world-famous galleries and museums? How do they connect with their audiences? What are their routines and how do they arrange the content that we experience as visitors? I’ve reached out to Jane Findlay, Head of Schools and Young Audiences at The British Museum, and asked her to shed light on a role that, although we might not be aware of it, definitely shapes our experience of these places as soon as we walk in.
Hi Jane, thank you for sharing some insights on the position you fulfil at the British Museum. Can you introduce your role to someone who is not familiar with it?
My role is to engage schools, families and young people with our collections and temporary exhibitions. We do this through programming, interpretation, digital content… The whole visitor experience really.
It looks like it’s a job that requires a varied background and very specific skills at the same time… How did you build your expertise in this field?
I’ve worked in museums and heritage for just over 8 years now following completing an MA in Museum Studies at UCL. My positions have been in institutions of many different shapes with varied collections. I started out a Community Curator at London Transport Museum, then became a Digital Participation Officer at the National Maritime Museum before becoming an Audience Development Manager at Kenwood House in Hampstead Heath. One constant however is that I’ve always worked with audiences. My passion is in connecting collections and people. I often find myself as the intermediary between the institution and the audiences.
Can you give us an idea of your day-to-day work?
It’s a busy and varied role. In a day I might be working with teachers, contributing to exhibition interpretation, feeding into marketing campaigns, meeting with sponsors and juggling event logistics. I manage a team of 9 so all that goes with that too!
What are the different audiences the British Museum is addressing and how do you liaise with your colleagues working with different demographics?
The people coming through our doors and engaging with us online have increased and changed over time. We need to keep in tune with this changing profile. As well as schools and young audiences, the Museum’s learning programmes covers adults, community partnerships and access audiences too. Good communication and understanding each others’ goals make sure our work supports one another and we can make the most of any overlap between our audiences. We also work closely with colleagues in the marketing and digital teams too.
What is the main difference you experience when working with national and international audiences?
The Museum’s collection spans over two million years of human history and culture. We have a local, regional, national and international remit. Families make up a quarter of our visitors and 70% of these are international. By contrast the vast majority of schools are from the UK. For me it’s key that we tailor our offer to meet each different audiences’ needs. It’s about thinking what people’s points of reference are and finding ways in for them to the stories we tell.
What is the aspect of your job that you love the most?
I love finding ways to tell stories about our objects that resonate and relate to young people. Nothing beats seeing young people being inspired by our collections. And I’m always learning things from them too through the many ways in which they respond to our programmes.
Talking about engagement, do you have any preferred tool/channel/platform, something that suits your needs better than others? Any resources that you’d like to recommend?
I think it depends on the audience and what you’re trying to do. We’re experimenting with different types of family interpretation at the moment including tactile guides for exhibitions and apps in permanent galleries. We’ve found augmented reality to be a great way to layer interpretation and help families to look closer at objects. In terms of social we’ve found Tumblr an effective way of curating content for teachers so are looking to use this platform more too. Taking part in international initiatives such as #askacurator day and #museumweek also have proved effective ways of engaging with a spectrum of different audiences. I’m interested in experimenting with cross platform approaches and long form storytelling and how this could shape the way we communicate with audiences.
If you want to know more about Jane you can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.