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Make an Aria

Sioned Williams, 27 October 2014

What is an aria? That was the question posed by Music Theatre Wales Director, Michael McCarthy to kick-off this very exciting collaborative project. The Make an Aria scheme is a partnership between Music Theatre Wales (MTW) and the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) giving young composers an opportunity to have-a-go at opera. This time, they are using St Fagans Castle and the Museum’s collections as their inspiration. A group of composers from RWCMD teamed with creative writers will ‘make an aria’ from scratch.

So where do you start? A speed-dating session was a good way to establish the best creative match for composer and writer. When everyone was paired-up, curator Elen Phillips gave an introduction to the material for the arias – the story of St Fagans Castle during the Great War.

The Windsor-Clive family of St Fagans Castle were at the centre of events during these turbulent years; Lord Windsor as chairman of the Welsh Army Corps and Lady Windsor as President of the Red Cross Society in Glamorgan. Grief-stricken by the loss of their youngest son, Archer, who was killed in action, they opened the Castle grounds to set-up a hospital run by volunteer nurses or VADs.

The stories were brought alive by looking at objects from the Museum’s collections; a nurses’ uniform from the hospital, a delicate necklace made by one of the wounded soldiers and a field-communion set used on the battlefield. At this point we were joined by members of the Armed Forces community, the 203 Welsh Field Hospital Medics who gave us a completely new take on some of these objects and stories. It just proves that working collaboratively can bring some unexpected and rewarding results. We will continue to work with the Armed Forces in co-curating some of the exhibits in the new galleries at St Fagans but that’s another blog for another day.

We then led the composers and writers on a tour of the Castle and grounds; the old site of the WW1 hospital, the Italian garden where the soldiers recuperated and the greenhouses where the land girls may have worked. Any of these locations could be the setting to perform the arias in the summer of 2015. I think that everyone left with their heads bubbling with ideas. All we can do now is wait.

Speed-dating session with composers and writers
Speed-dating session with composers and writers
Looking at objects from Museum’s collection
Looking at objects from Museum’s collection
Necklace made at St Fagans by convalescing soldier, Walter Stinson
Necklace made at St Fagans by convalescing soldier, Walter Stinson
The Italian garden, a possible location for an aria?
The Italian garden, a possible location for an aria?
Soldiers and nurses in the Italian garden, St Fagans, during First World War
Soldiers and nurses in the Italian garden, St Fagans, during First World War

#popupmuseum - How did it all go?

Sioned Hughes, 27 October 2014

The pop-up museum was created over two days at the Wales Millennium Centre as part of the Welsh Museums Festival and the Museums Association conference between 9-10 October 2014.

We set up the cases, table, boxes, screen and various cardboard structures on the Thursday before the conference. 

It looked great, but we were all quite nervous.  Would anyone turn up? Would people bring an object in response to our call outs on social media? Would people participate and share their Cardiff stories and memories? Would the huge table at its centre attract visitors or put them off? 

Would Billy the Seal arrive safely?

We were about to find out if our experiment would work…….and thankfully it did!

What worked?

  • 1. The stuff we had already collected.

We were all really glad that we already had some material for the pop-up that provided hooks to show people how they could contribute. The story cards collected at previous workshops kicked things off. They gave people an idea of how they could contribute, and made the Cardiff theme obvious. The voxpops also provided people with another focus and showed that people had already shared their Cardiff story. This encouraged participants to be filmed sharing their story at the pop-up. 

  • 2. Taking photographs of participants

We took a photograph of all participants with an instant camera and pinned them to their story cards. This emphasised the personal aspect and made stories easier to find

  • 3. The big table in the middle with plenty of chairs.

This space really worked. It became a social space where people came together and shared their Cardiff story and a space where strangers started talking to each other. We piled Perspex boxes on top of each other along the middle and gradually filled them with objects over the two days. We encouraged people to write their comments about other people’s stories on post-its and stick them on the boxes. This added another layer to the interpretation. 

  • 4. Using iPads to show social media content 

We had built up interest around the pop-up on social media in the lead up to the pop-up itself, so it was good to continue this momentum. We used two iPads on the table as live labels that showed all tweets with the #popupmuseum #fflachamgueddfa hashtag. We used this as a way of highlighting interesting stories and providing information about what was happening at the pop-up over the 2 days.  We also experimented with iBeacons and placed content about some of the objects on that so that people could access it using their hand held devices. 

  • 5. We invited the Media and the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism! 

To keep the buzz around the pop-up museum going, we managed to generate press interest in the pop-up. The experience was filmed by s4C for Heno and by Cardiff TV. Deputy Minister Ken Skates also came to the pop-up and contributed his Cardiff story. He was really interested in the fact that we had created a museum in 48 hours that anyone could contributed to.

  • 6. Billy the Seal made it! 

Thanks to the huge effort of conservation staff across Amgueddfa Cymru, Billy made it to the pop-up. Billy generated lots of interest and was definitely a big pull to the pop-up. It was useful to have one star object that attracted the curious. Those who knew about Billy’s story couldn’t believe that she was actually there and that it was part of the museum’s collections. And those who didn’t know the story were…confused but intrigued. 

  • 7. Working with Cardiff Story, HLF, and Youth Forum members

You can’t set up a pop-up museum without a team. The input from our Youth Forum members was invaluable, making sure that the processes of the pop-up ran smoothly and making sure that participants knew what to do. Staff members form the Heritage Lottery Fund provided guidance and support throughout the pop-up process. Working with Arran Rees and Lucy Connors from the Cardiff Story and was a great experience and we are already planning to create a pop-up together again in the future. 

Loading the van with the team
Loading the van with the team
The pop-up museum ready and set up waiting for its first participant.
The pop-up museum ready and set up waiting for its first participant.
Story cards with photographs at the #popupmuseum
Story cards with photographs at the #popupmuseum
The table with iPads and post-its
The table with iPads and post-its
Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism Ken Skates contributing his story to the #popupmusem
Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism Ken Skates contributing his story to the #popupmusem
Ken Skates’ Cardiff Story and Cardiff half marathon medal
Ken Skates’ Cardiff Story and Cardiff half marathon medal
Annette Townsend, Senior Conservator Natural Sciences securing Billy’s head at the #popupmusuem
Annette Townsend, Senior Conservator Natural Sciences securing Billy’s head at the #popupmusuem
Lydia and Rachel – Amgueddfa Cymru Youth Forum members helping at the #popupmuseum
Lydia and Rachel – Amgueddfa Cymru Youth Forum members helping at the #popupmuseum

More I Spy Competition Winners

Katie Mortimer-Jones, 14 October 2014

We were joined this Saturday by two more of our I Spy…Nature drawing competition winners and their families. The winners were shown around the mollusc (shell), marine invertebrate and vertebrate collections as part of their special behind the scenes tour by museum curators Katie Mortimer-Jones and Jennifer Gallichan. The visitors were able to select draws from the mollusc collections to look in and saw a Giant Clam and a cone shell known as Glory of the Seas (Conus gloriamaris), a once sort after shell found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, to name but a few. Next onto the fluid store, where we keep our fluid preserved specimens such as marine bristleworms, starfish, crabs, lobsters and fish specimens. Lastly the tour finished up in the Vertebrate store where we keep some of the Museum’s taxidermy and skeleton specimens. After the tour, the winners were given their prizes of natural history goodies from the Museum Shop.

Winner in the under 6 age category receiving her prize

Winner in the 10-13 age category receiving her prize

The winners and their families after the special behind the scenes tour of the Natural Science Collections

Behind the scenes in the shell (mollusc) collections

I Spy...Nature Drawing Competition

Katie Mortimer-Jones, 6 October 2014

Visitors to our I Spy….Nature pop-up museum at the Capitol Shopping center over the summer were given the opportunity to enter a drawing competition, using our museum specimens as inspiration for their artwork. Nine winners were chosen in three age groups, winning Natural History prizes from the museum shop. As part of the prize, all winners were offered the opportunity to have a special tour behind the scenes at the museum. Several of the prizewinners have already been to visit us and the rest will be visiting us over the next few weeks. All of the winning entries can be viewed here

Winner in our I Spy...Nature drawing competition

Runner-up in our I Spy...Nature Drawing Competition

#popupmuseum

Heledd Fychan, 6 October 2014

Well, the week has finally arrived. After months of planning and discussing, later this week the #popupmuseum will become a reality. Whilst we already have some stories ready to share as part of the #popupmuseum and some museum objects to showcase, such as Billy the Seal, the truth is, we have no idea what it will become as it relies completely on people coming to the Wales Millennium Centre on Thursday and Friday (9th and 10th October) with their stories and/or objects that relate to or remind them of Cardiff.

This is how it will work. The #popupmuseum will be in the foyer of the Wales Millennium Centre, and manned from 9am to 5:30pm on both days. You can either donate an object and leave it with us, with a written or audio description of what it is, or you can have your picture taken with the object. If you choose to leave anything with us, it will be returned to you after the #popupmuseum comes to an end! Alternatively, if you have a story, you can either write it down or be filmed telling us the story, and it will be displayed as part of the #popupmuseum.

Still with me? Good...

All will be well if people turn up. Hence why we need your help. Please spread the word, by talking about the projects to friends and family and helping us promote via social media. Objects don’t have to be valuable or typical museum objects. They can be funny, quirky, strange, serious, surprising – in fact, anything goes as long as they have a Cardiff story. They can mean something to you personally or can be part of the story of a Cardiff institution or organisation. This really is your opportunity to create a different kind of museum.

For further information, please email heledd.fychan@museumwales.ac.uk or @heleddfychan