Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Gulbenkian Prize

Weston Park Museum, Sheffield is one of four museums shortlisted for the Gulbenkian prize which will be announced tomorrow. The prize of £100,000 is awarded to a museum that has demonstrated "imagination, innovation and excellence".
A piece in the Education Guardian yesterday describes the hands-on, multi-sensory education programme that is run in the museum by Anne Clayton (no relation) head of learning programmes. She says "A lot of the less academically able children don't necessarily learn by reading. The museum is all about objects, so is far more open to them for getting information,".
I wish Weston Park Museum the best of luck tomorrow and even if they don't walk off with the prize, being short listed is recognition for what they have achieved. I was a bit critical of the museum in my 16th April posting when I lamented the lack of detailed contextual information. I totally agree with Anne's sentiments about less academically able children not learning by reading but there are also more academically able adults who need to be catered for as well.
In the Times Joanna Moorhead, one of the Gulbenkian judges, also looks at the issue of "dumbing down" i.e. is it OK to give visitors pointers as to what they might think and feel about a picture or an exhibit – or should they simply be presented with objects and paintings and left to make up their own minds about what they feel about them?
She concludes
"The commonsense truth is that, if you know little about a subject, you need some basic information: if you’re an aficionado, you need less. But the aficionados can’t expect to hold back appreciation of their art by denying the rest of us mere mortals a bit of a peep into their world: that’s elitism, and the arts world could do with a lot less of it."
However, my point was that if you are interested in or inspired by an object in a museum you may want to learn more about it and that museums are not always very good at providing the signposting that would lead you to other resources. If you are lucky there will be a good bookshop but can you get a reading list? I fully support the education programme for children but I would like to think that adults can be engaged too in an appropriate way.

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