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Arts & heritage: working with museums for exhibitions and research

Guest post by Ruth Singer, a professional artist and maker with a background working in the museum sector. Through her artist practice, she has continued to work with museums, archives and heritage sites to research and exhibit. Read Ruth's introduction to her upcoming webinar on 18th May.


Most of us would agree that museums, heritage sites and archives are really inspiring places. It can be very rewarding and creatively challenging to work with heritage in our creative practice. I’ve been working with, in and for museums for over 25 years and still find them endlessly fascinating and inspiring. Way back in the last century I spent my university holidays volunteering in museums to build up experience before my Masters Degree in Museum Studies. I helped out with Anglo-Saxon archaeology and goats, I sorted clothing at Nottingham Costume Museum, I cleaned books at Calke Abbey, I ran kids workshops on Ancient Egypt at Manchester Museum, I did guided tours for the National Trust, I sorted more clothing at Brighton Museums and eventually I started getting paid jobs doing curatorial and education work with a variety of collections from buses to medieval paintings (but no more goats).

After a decade or so working in curatorial & learning jobs, I decided to quit and set up my own creative practice, but maintaining my museum experience through working in partnership with heritage, archive and museum sites as an artist. Over the last 16 years, I think I’ve done (almost) every possible role for an artist working with heritage: I’ve run countless creative workshops, done talks and guided tours focussing on textile history, exhibited in group and solo exhibitions, been commissioned by museums to make work inspired by their collections, run my own research projects in archives and sold work to museum collections.

Museums and heritage collections are full of amazing things, both what you can see on display and more collections in store. There are temporary exhibitions to inspire and collaborate with, there are reserve collections, documents and other resources for you to explore in your own time and draw upon for your creative practice. There are displays of ceramics, plant specimens, clothing, tools, archaeology and human stories for you to delve into and fire your imagination. The majority of local museums in the UK are run by either trusts, charities or local authorities (councils and government) and most of them are set up with the aim of supporting learning which includes your creative inspirational development as an artist. Collections are there for you to learn from. In England, museums are due to reopen on 17th May and for a while will have time-ticketing and very spacious galleries. In normal times, museums are usually happy for creative people to turn up and draw in their galleries, for hours at a time. Some sites and temporary shows may have limits to access times and ticketing so it’s worth checking first if they are happy for you to spend hours in there.

If you want to focus on one particular theme, object or subject, many museums have arrangements (in normal times) for research visits when you can ask to see particular items. Archives or Record Offices are really even better set up for this with reading rooms where you can order up documents and get them within an hour to read and explore. Many collections have online databases now so you can find out what they have and ask for what you want to see.

My upcoming webinar for WebinArt members will explore the ways you can work with museums from selling in their shop to exhibiting in their galleries and much more besides. I hope you will understand better how museums work, what they can and can’t do with and for artists, what you can access and how you can connect and collaborate to create amazing projects.

WebinArt members can register for this event via the link in their calendar invitation. We hope you can join us!

See more of Ruth's work here -


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