Citizen Curators

The Citizen Curators programme is an introductory work-based curatorial training and museum awareness course aimed at volunteers from our community. It comprises a six-month experiential learning course on the fundamentals of curating and museums, and project-based volunteering supported by host museums. The programme was first piloted as part of our ACE-supported Change Makers programme in 2017/18. Our collective commitments to the three-year programme are:

  1. To diversify and democratise the voices that interpret our museum collections 
  2. To be the start of a credible alternative pathway into museum work in a region where time and cost of travel is one of the most significant barriers to participation.

Citizen Curators is provided by Cornwall Museums Partnership and led by Tehmina Goskar of the Curatorial Research Centre, in a collaboration with seven museums in Cornwall (Wheal Martyn Clay Works, near St Austell, Cornwall’s Regimental Museum, Bodmin, Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro, Falmouth Art Gallery, Museum of Cornish Life, Helston, Penlee House Gallery and Museum, Penzance and Telegraph Museum Porthcurno). The three-year programme is funded by the Museums Association’s Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund 2018-21.

Film by Cornwall Museums Partnership on the Citizen Curators pathway.

Programme design

Citizen Curators was the first programme we developed based on our unique competency model that develop’s an individual’s abilities and confidence in five key areas.

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
Five competencies of a curator (c) Curatorial Research Centre 2018-20.

Using this competency model we are able to measure the impact on individuals by collecting entry and exit data based on levels of confidence reported in a personal evaluation. The questions correspond to each area of the competency model. This helps us to accurately identify areas of the programme which need to be adapted as well as evidence change in individuals.

Measuring the impact of the pilot group of 2018. The blue ring shows confidence levels at the start of the course. The pink ring shows confidence levels at the end of the course, determined by 11 questions in a personal evaluation.

How it works

We deliver six half-day core sessions on: collections, communities, research, interpretation, communication and curating the Cornish National Collection. These take place on a monthly basis from October to March in one of the participating museums. We teach the programme twice over, once for the cluster of museums in the west, once for the east. Afternoon sessions comprised group tasks and mini-challenges in Year 1 to encourage group dynamics and team making. In Year 2 these sessions were replaced by ‘how to’, ‘expert view’ and discussion workshops on specific themes and techniques ranging from how to organise exhibitions to ethics. These are led by a range of staff from participating museums, the Museums Association and CMP as well as Tehmina at the CRC.

Citizen Curators undertaking a mini-challenge at Falmouth Art Gallery, 2018.

In between the core days, we provide optional opportunities such as field trips, discussion events and masterclasses such as in object handling, packing and condition checking. In year 1 these included trips to a subject specialist museum at Camborne School of Mines and in year 2 Citizen Curators were hosted at Kresen Kernow, Cornwall’s new combined archive and Cornish studies centre in Redruth, for a behind the scenes tour. In addition, participants, averaging four per museum, work on researching and creating content about the collections at their host museum. This might be according to a brief set by the museum or it might be on something they or the group thinks is important. Participants can expect to commit to between 4 hours to 1 day per fortnight on this, increasing as projects reach their delivery stage.

If you are interested in taking part in 2020/21, please read the FAQs, then feel free to contact us or a participating museum.

Outcomes

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, we pledged to open the opportunity up to 20 members of staff, interns and apprentices.

As a result of our Year 1 evaluation we made several adaptations to the programme and refocused our attention to supporting the quality of the process rather than forcing and counting outcomes. At a time when pressure on time, space and resources is increasing in our museums, together with the impulse to produce more and more, it was important for us to be able to adjust our collective goals so we ensure we met our two over-arching aims. At the end of the programme successful participants receive a Statement of Accomplishment endorsed by all of the programme’s supporters.

Read more about how Year 1 went in our article, Museum-ID, An Experiment in Cultural Democracy, 2019.

Citizen Curators taking part in a core session activity on planning research at Porthcurno.

Feedback and legacy

As an active research programme we evaluate throughout the programme as well as formally at the start and end. This includes feedback from mentors and museum leads at host museums. Feedback from the pilot group gave us a sense of what we could achieve through programmes like this, making real long term difference to people–not necessarily headline grabbing but perhaps more socially valuable.

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 pilot Citizen Curators whose creativity and dedication enabled this whole programme to happen. Here, leading a Cornish identity project Hireth with Royal Cornwall Museum’s fine art collection.

“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.
Citizen Curators pioneered the museum’s engagement on Instagram.
Citizen Curators from the pilot group created a ‘show and tell’ collections event to talk about their research into museum’s Chinese collections. They delivered this to local visitors, including those from Chinese communities, as well as to HRH The Duke of Cornwall during a royal visit in March 2018 (image courtesy: Clarence House).

I’m now employed and it’s thanks to Citizen Curators! 

Stephen, Citizen Curator 2018/19. January 2020

Participants from Year 1 of the full programme have gone in many different directions. Some continue to volunteer at their museum, several others have begun to apply for jobs or further formal study such as Masters degrees. One participant from the Museum of Cornish Life, Helston said taking part in Citizen Curators gave her the confidence she need to persevere in the museum field. Two participants from Falmouth Art Gallery wanted to take their project, Falmouth Gut Reaction, further and won a bursary to continue their research and work with the Margaret Whitford Bequest. Read the interview with Katie and Becki.

Jenny and Hazel with a signposting display in a disused Penzance shop in their project to try and reconnect the town with Penlee House.

Stephen, a volunteer at Hayle Heritage Centre joined the Year 1 Penlee House cohort and is now employed in a curatorial lead role at Geevor Tin Mine. Carol from Wheal Martyn took on an artist-in-residence position at the Clay Works following her participation in the programme, bringing together her curatorial skills with her artistic practice which specialises in paper. One participant in Cornwall’s Regimental Museum’s group has gone on to do a PhD in military museums while another is training to become an archivist, partly also to the interest he gained in archival research during the programme.

Active research

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. We collect information through formal and informal feedback from participants and participating museums, through reactions from the sector, how news of Citizen Curators’ outcomes is reported, the content and mood of discussions during sessions.

Specifically, our research themes are:

  • 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
  • an opportunity for diverse minds and voices to interpret collections to new audiences.

Read more

Research articles

Citizen Curators is featured in the Cultural Democracy report by 64 Million Artists commissioned by Arts Council England (2018).

Citizen Curators. An Experiment in Cultural Democracy, Museum-ID, 24 (2019).

Articles for and by Citizen Curators

Evidencing your journey. Top tips in ensuring you capture your reflections and achievements.

The diary of a Citizen Curator at Cornwall’s Regimental Museum. Lesley-Anne Harris, 2019/20.

Telling the story of Rebecca: a curatorial experience. Julia Webb-Harvey, Citizen Curator, Museum of Cornish Life, 2019/20.

Suzie Curator, Citizen Curator’s blog 2019/20. Suzie Inman, Museum of Cornish Life, Helston, 2019/20.

You can change your life. Citizen Curator’s blog 2019/20. Susan Kersley, Telegraph Museum Porthcurno, 2019/20.

Penzance Selects exhibition co-curation. Penlee House Citizen Curators, 2019/20.

Reviews of Blah, Citizen Curator’s blog 2018/19. Stephen Murley, Citizen Curator, Penlee House, 2018/19.

“Playing detective” and a minor question of ethics. Simon Dunham, Citizen Curator, Wheal Martyn, 2018/19.

PODCAST: Bodmin Keep War Stories: Music Military and Morale. Citizen Curators, Cornwall’s Regimental Museum, 2018/19.

A song for “Bonny Lads from Cornish Dads”. Discovery of a First World War patriotic song for Cornwall. Janet Brinsley, Citizen Curator, Cornwall’s Regimental Museum, 2018/19.

Carol Weir, artist-in-residence at Wheal Martyn and co-curator of Engineering the earth, 2019.

Object and art handling masterclass for Citizen Curators. Linda Collins, Citizen Curator, Penlee House, 2018/19.

Engineering the earth. Citizen Curators, Wheal Martyn, 2018/19.