Developing curatorial skills can help you in your professional and personal journeys. 

Our curatorial learning experiences are shaped around building individual and group competencies in key areas. These are based on a unique methodology that combines the art of knowledge with the science of communication. 

We can provide digital and place-based course development for colleges, adult education and universities as well as individual organisations and groups. 

Philosophy-based learning

Our methodology and philosophy underpinned a guest workshop for University of Helsinki Museum Studies students in November 2017. Entitled Finding and Telling Hidden Stories from Our Collections the goal of the session was to encourage students to interpret in new ways an object meaningful to them. Following a grounding in material culture and cultural collections theory, the Museum Studies students were coached to use powerful questions, open in nature (who, what, where etc) to get under the skin of the topic/object and what it represented. This enabled them to think about cultural artefacts in a more human-centred way than might have been possible had they just set about describing it and find out its vital data e.g. materials, ages, maker.

Tehmina Goskar reflected, “the multiplicity of curatorial voices and investigative techniques leads to more inspiring, entertaining and ultimately thought-provoking interpretation.” 

Continue reading Ways of Seeing: Approaches to Curation at Museum Studies, University of Helsinki.

We can also work with you to create user-centred learning events or programmes that include activity, demonstration and a good grounding in theory. We specialise in work-based training and education so that new learning can be quickly absorbed in the working culture of your organisation.

Student choice: A Sega Megadrive cartridge held memories of village life in eastern Europe in the 1990s and the desire to spend time with friends playing old simple games that take them away from the pressures of being online. Photo shows a laptop displaying an emulator of a Sega Megadrive game and a Sega cartridge.
Student choice: A Sega Megadrive cartridge held memories of village life in eastern Europe in the 1990s and the desire to spend time with friends playing old simple games that take them away from the pressures of being online.

Competency models

We believe in end-to-end curating that values equally generating knowledge and communicating that knowledge. We use the 50% model of a curator, part knowledge creator, part communicator. This equation underpins all of our educational work.

50% model of a curator, half knowledge creator + communicator = curator
What is a curator? 50% model of a curator © Tehmina Goskar, 2017.

The balance between these aspects of a curator can be skewed towards one or the other. We create learning experiences that aim to narrow the gap between knowledge creation and communication in a way that is focused on audiences, consumers, users and communities.

Curatorial competencies illustration. A blue triangle with boxes stacked above each other on the right hand side. The boxes have words in them. From top to bottom: Research, Communication, Technical, Theory, Awareness

Curatorial learning is based on our unique competency model that seeks to develop an individual’s abilities and confidence in five key areas. These key areas can be adapted to your particular discipline, profession or area of interest. For example, as a curator of music your Awareness competency in organising festival programmes or playlists will differ from that of an auctioneer curating a sculpture sale aimed at a particular audience.

Our competency model is highly translatable to non-English speaking contexts and we are exploring how we can do this in different curatorial cultures.

Citizen Curators

Citizen Curators is an informal work-based curatorial training and museum awareness course aimed at volunteers from local communities. It comprises six experiential workshops plus mentoring within museums and an opportunity to apply learning to real museum and digital outcomes.

“It’s nice to have our voices included”
“I feel confident now I can go for museum jobs”
“My highlight was talking about opium on the radio”

Citizen Curators pilot feedback, 12 March 2018.

The idea was originally developed by our Director, Tehmina Goskar, while she was still working in higher education. Teaching history and archaeology students material culture theory as well as being called upon to supervise heritage and museum work placement students made her aware of the gap between what is taught at universities and what the realities of museum work are, particularly for smaller organisations.

Exploring a meaningful space between formal vocational/academic course and a one-off participation project is how Citizen Curators came into being.

Citizen Curators had its first opportunity for piloting during Tehmina’s Change Makers Arts Council England-supported leadership programme, in collaboration with Cornwall Museums Partnership and the Royal Institution of Cornwall in 2017/18. This provided the opportunity to test its basic concepts:

  • volunteering as experiential learning (self-led and team-based) as opposed to volunteering by instruction
  • Training methodology focused on developing confidence levels in key areas of curatorial competency
  • a chance for diverse minds and voices to interpret collections to new audiences.
The fantastic participants in the Citizen Curators pilot group at Royal Cornwall Museum. Photo shows five people, three men and two women posing in a gallery at Royal Cornwall Museum.
The fantastic participants in the Citizen Curators pilot group at Royal Cornwall Museum.

The findings from the pilot suggested that Citizen Curators would be an ideal scheme for delivering the aims of Cornwall Museums Partnership’s NPO (National Portfolio Organisation) collaboration of seven Cornish museums. A bid to the Museums Association’s Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund was successful and in June 2018 we joined forces with Cornwall Museums Partnership and participating museums to continue this major initiative into cultural democracy in museums.

The participating museums have recruited a mixture of existing volunteers interested in new opportunities as well as new volunteers an we are currently in the middle of the first year’s intake. By the end of this three-year project c.100 Citizen Curators will have delivered museum-based and digital outcomes based on applying their learning to collections-based projects as well as having the opportunity to curate a uniquely distributed Cornish National Collection. In addition, up to 20 members of staff, interns and apprentices will have benefited from the course.

As a pathways project we are also evaluating how Citizen Curators may provide an alternative entry into museum or work that requires similar skills and awareness.

Citizen Curators is featured in the Cultural Democracy report by 64 Million Artists commissioned by Arts Council England.

Curator for a day

“A lot of the skills are definitely transferable to medical consultation. Being able to portray information in easily digestible chunks. Also able to pick up on people’s body language and gauge how a conversation is going.”

Survey feedback from a medical student taking part. Q: In what ways will you apply your learning to your day job? March 2018.

In 2017/18 we created an unusual opportunity for medical students to experience museum curation. University of Exeter medical students based at Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro had the option of taking a longitudinal module in the humanities. Initiated by the medical library team, an opportunity was sought for the students to immerse in museums as part of their studies.

While Director Tehmina Goskar was Change Maker for Royal Cornwall Museum she developed two training workshops in curatorial research and communication. This was their opportunity interpret a range of artefacts and artworks in the museum from a medic’s perspective. It resulted in a real time show and tell event at the museum for visiting public. From gigantism evident in a portrait to exploring Victorian attitudes to mental health through blood-letting, the students had the opportunity to adapt their own knowledge and expertise to collections research.

Medical students examining Victorian blood letting objects at Royal Cornwall Museum.
Medical students examining Victorian blood letting objects at Royal Cornwall Museum.

As a result the museum gained new insights into some of their objects and visitors got to hear a specialist interpretation of them. The students reported that curatorial communication skills and interrogative techniques were useful outcomes of the training that they could see using in their training as doctors.

Curatorial team projects can be cohesive and our group courses and training will expand the realm of questions people ask of things and situations that are very familiar to them. This raises self-awareness, clarifies purpose and places emphasis on the importance of acquiring the right kind of information and knowledge.

We would be very happy to develop a Curator for a Day workshop for your organisation.