A busy month!

IMG_1401Photo: some of The Welcoming group at the People’s Story

In the last few weeks I’ve been busy working with different groups from around Edinburgh.

I ran two sessions with The Welcoming, a charity that supports people who are new to Edinburgh. They took part in tours around the People’s Story and the Museum Collections Centre. We also looked at some museum objects to instigate discussions about Edinburgh and how things differ in other countries. The group now intends to create a ‘Newcomers box’ of objects that tell stories of the participants’ journeys to Edinburgh. 

Our partnership with Children in Scotland on their Heritage Hunters project continues and we’re working together with the Citadel Youth Centre’s young mums group. We held two sessions with a group of young mums and their babies exploring what it’s like to be a young mum today and how parenting might have changed. We looked at objects from our baby reminiscence box, which tied in well to the current exhibition at the Museum of Childhood, Bringing up Baby. The exhibition explores the dilemmas of parenthood and is well worth a visit to see how things have changed! The young mums then worked with writer Mike Nicholson to create a storybook about being a mum, for their children to read when they are older.

I’ve also run some reminiscence sessions with the Scottish War Blinded centre and Ratho over 50s group. It’s always interesting to hear about people’s memories and I learned some new terms including a ‘pouring out’ which was when wedding parties distributed small change for children!

If you’d like to find out more about booking one of our loan or reminiscence boxes, please have a look at the website. 

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Young Carers in Charge


Our latest exhibition, Young Carers in Charge, is now open at the People’s Story. It’s the culmination of a partnership project with national charity, Children in Scotland and Edinburgh Young Carers.

Young Carers in Charge is part of a nationwide project led by Children in Scotland which aims to broaden the participation of children and young people in heritage settings across Scotland.  Children in Scotland approached us to be their Edinburgh-based heritage partner and we’ve been delighted to work with them.

During October and November we ran workshops with a group of young carers aged 9 – 16. We explored the young people’s understandings of heritage and discussed different options for the project. The group decided that they would like to hold their own exhibition and so they heard from curators Anna and Lyn who talked to the group about how to plan and organise an exhibition. We then spent three sessions at the Museum Collections Centre where Collections Care Officer, Gwen gave the young people an insight into the collections and showed them how we care for museum objects.

The young people then selected items from the museum collections to display in their exhibition, and they were invited to include significant items from their own lives. The objects represent subjects that are important to the young people, including family, sports, hobbies and sweets! The exhibition also gives an insight into some of the issues that young carers face.

Young Carers in Charge is on at the People’s Story until 31 March 2019.

Some of the objects chosen by the young people. 

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New Art in the City dates

Art in the City provides an opportunity for people whose lives are affected by dementia and their friends, families and carers to share a gallery visit and discuss art (and other things) in a friendly and supportive environment.


Image: Robert Blomfield

The next sessions will be:

10 January at the Robert Blomfield exhibition at the City Art Centre.

14 February at Surgeon’s Hall Museums

All sessions are 10:30-12 and are free.

If you are interested in attending, please contact Diana Morton: diana.morton@edinburgh.gov.uk or 0131 529 6365 to be added to the mailing list to receive the most up to date information.

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A letter to Santa

This letter to Santa comes from the Museum of Childhood collections.  It dates from 1984 and (very much on trend) asks for Castle Greyskull, He-Man, Battle Cat, Skeletor, Panthor, Skeletor and the Knight Rider car! What is on your list this year?

Wishing you all the best for Christmas and New Year!


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Some of my 2018 highlights

At this time of year our thoughts often turn back to the events of the last 12 months. So I wanted to write a blog to celebrate some of my key events of 2018.

One of the big events for me was welcoming Ria as my jobshare. It has been wonderful working with her and we have some joint projects planned for 2019- watch this space! You can find out more about her work on her blogs about Herstory Woven and the Edinburgh glass exhibition tour.

One of my big pieces of work was the redevelopment of the Wee Museum of Newhaven at Victoria Primary. You can now visit the new exhibition ‘Newhaven Stories’ at the school.


In the summer it was wonderful to be a part of the development of Their Work is Not Forgotten- the exhibition celebrating 100 years of women’s suffrage. The museums also hosted workshops for Processions and took part in the event to celebrate the centenary.

Adi also joined our team and I hope you have been enjoying his blog posts. You will also have seen some of his posts if you follow our social media channels.

2018 also saw the continuation of some projects. The small touring version of Proud City has continued pop-up in local libraries and high schools across the city. Our loan and reminiscence box service has continued to be popular and provide resources for groups across the city and further afield.

Also the Art in the City group has continued to offer visits to venues for people with a diagnosis of dementia and their friends, families and carers. Our January 2019 visit will be to the Robert Blomfield exhibition at the City Art Centre. If you would like to join the group please email diana.morton@edinburgh.gov.uk to be added to our mailing list.

More recently I have been very lucky to take part in the speed networking at the Eurocities conference. I have also spoken to a range of student groups- including the museum studies courses at St Andrews and Aberdeen Universities. I am also currently hosting Catherine who is on placement from St Andrews and is helping with developing new loan boxes.

Still ongoing is the work taking place around developing British Sign Language interpretation for our buildings. This year we have offered a range of BSL and descriptive tours for people with visual impairments. Next year we will launch new BSL films about our venues and we are hoping to develop our first digital BSL tour! Staff will also take part in Deaf awareness training. All of this work has been funded by See Hear.

Thank you for your support in 2018 and here’s to a successful 2019!

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A visit from Art UK: Photographing the sculpture collections

In his latest blog Adi talks about helping with a recent visit from Art UK. Adi is working with the museums on a year long internship with the Next Step Initiative.artukArt UK boasts a staggering collection of 200,000 artworks on its website; works that belong to museums across all corners of…*Sigh* Do I even have to say it?…The UK! Where else? As a matter of fact, Art U.K’s collection goes beyond obvious cultural venues; having photographed artifacts in universities, town halls, hospitals and even a lighthouse! So, it was only a matter of time until Art UK contacted the City Art Centre about expanding its online catalogue even further, with hopes of achieving their greatest feat yet: amassing a nationwide collection of sculptures, from all British museums, over the past one thousand years!

Art UK had an initial target of 170,000 pieces, which would be updated consistently from this year onwards. The City Art Centre was eager to chip in a few stones here and there, but not all 170,000, of course. A modest 60, rather. Nonetheless, it was an absolute trek and a half for our brave technicians, Denny Hunter and Paul Carnie, as they carefully carted and carried many of our sculptures -either one by one or in groups- up and down from the City Art Centre’s Picture Store.

A few tables and benches were carefully set up in Gallery 4 to accommodate the sculptures. However, heavier items, such as the marble busts, had to be mounted on plinths: strong, sturdy white platforms.

Helen Scott, a curator on the project, explained to me that the weight of these busts may be too much for the tables and that, by putting them on the plinths, we could ensure that they were immediately presentable for photography, without having to move them around all the time.

As mentioned before, I myself, unlike the technicians, did not possess the brute strength and training needed to carry these sculptures. However, I still managed to contribute to the care and conservation of these items in a way that already suited my delicate sensibilities.

For starters, I had to carefully dust off the sculptures one by one; essentially, a basic beauty treatment but a scientific one at that. Dust particles are known to be very sharp. Therefore, if left on an item for too long, they can become ingrained onto the surface and cause a significant amount of discoloring. I was also taught by Helen to replace old string labels with cotton tape ones and then tie them around the sculptures. This was to prevent the string from cutting into and chafing their surfaces. I was really glad to have done this as it not only opened me up to a variety of different conservation techniques but also raised my awareness of the many environmental threats that museum objects encounter on a daily basis.

Once Art U.K’s photographer, Jessie Maucor, and coordinator, Rhona Taylor, stepped onto the scene, our collection of busts, bronzes and abstract figures were ready for their close-ups. A large table was set up in the middle of the room for principal photography.

A long paper backdrop had been laid out onto the table and was hung up on a stand. I understood this creative decision immediately, as I knew that this neutral white background would perfectly concentrate all of the intrigue and focus onto the beauty of the objects themselves.

Rhona, with gloved hands, would carefully position the objects as Jessie took photos of them from several different angles, on and off of her tripod. Watching her process as a photographer was truly captivating and the experience of doing so endowed me with a whole new respect for the craft. Throughout the entire shoot, each item was processed with the utmost patience and care. I watched Jessie constantly adjust the lights, switch lenses and carefully consider frame rate and composition. As creative an art as photography may be, there are several technical aspects that one has to keep in mind on top of simply ‘getting the right shot’. It doesn’t matter what you’re taking a photo of, who you’re taking a photo of or how fancy your equipment is. A photo of a damp park bench taken on a Huawei smart phone could turn out much better than a photo of Brad Pitt hiding under a park bench from an oncoming hoard of UFOs, taken on Panasonic Lumia GH5S, if the photographer can make the most of the features available on their equipment- regardless of how many there may be.

I hoped to achieve this myself when I was taking pictures of the photographic process for social media. This was to let Joe Public know that our very own collection making history or, at the very least, accounting for the last 1000 years of it.

Looking back on my coverage of the event now, I can’t help but comment on how Meta the whole process was. Photos of a photographer taking photos. That’s like making a short film about the behind the scenes documentary of a film.

All that aside, I’m proud to have had a role in fleshing out the history of great British art. Furthermore, as a proud British citizen, I hope, with the best of intentions, that this growing catalogue of artifacts will entice art enthusiasts from all around the world to come and experience these items, first hand, in the best galleries that the UK has to offer.

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Adi’s adventures with the Travelling Gallery

Adi has been spending some time with the Travelling Gallery for his Internship. You can read his newest blog below.

Adi blog (002)

A whimsical medieval minstrel, Mike, looks up with a loving gaze in his twinkly eyes at the Go-pro carefully mounted onto the back of the bus. He walks towards it, guitar in both hands, strumming out an acoustic serenade as the bus slowly pulls away at a safe and steady distance.

“Happy Birthday to the big beautiful bus!”

He cheers.

“You’re 40 years old and we all agree.”

He continues.

“Though some newspapers called you art in a bus…”

They did.

“You’ll always be the Travelling Galleryyyyy!”

Just a few more strums.

“Happy Birthday, Travelling Galleryyyyy!”

This song ran on a loop from a flat screen T.V on the back wall of the Travelling Gallery bus for 6 hours straight. As it did, I, your beloved writer, stood inside the bus, volunteering alongside the Travelling Gallery’s driver, Andy Menzies, and one of its administrators, Sheila Capewell. Over the past two days, with the bus firmly parked in the middle of Grassmarket square, we welcomed over 200 curious locals and tourists. What they saw was not only an exhibition from the Travelling Gallery but also a celebration of the Travelling Gallery.

The Travelling Gallery, as per the name, is a literal travelling gallery. For the past 40 years, with funding from Creative Scotland, it has burnt rubber across all parts of the country. To encapsulate all of that in a song is a strange yet thoughtful decision to make. Whose decision, you may ask? Let’s take a second to go back to the film. To our minstrel’s side stands an unassuming boom operator. Despite wearing a bright yellow high-vis vest, the young man is nearly invisible, as he stands next to this living, breathing, singing telegram. In a way, he shouldn’t be, for he is none other than Gordon Douglas, the performance artist responsible for organising the Travelling Gallery’s 40th anniversary exhibition. By staying behind the scenes, Gordon seems to have undermined his own role as a performance artist. However, as best put by Andy;

“Gordon is part of the art, but he is not the art.”

Believe it or not, that’s barely even the peak of the weird, the wonderful and the wonderful weirdness of this exhibition. A set of drawers installed into the gallery walls are lined -stuffed to the brim, rather- with a colourful cavalcade of felts, fabrics and other sewing materials. In one corner, next to the T.V, I saw an explosion of court jester’s apparel. Further up towards the entrance of the bus, a tattered, 1930s-style crooner. Going up just a little bit further, a full-sized chicken suit and, lastly, the piece de la resistance: a four-person suit and hat, aptly designed for a one-man barbershop quartet. What better way to deliver a singing telegram when you’re the only one of your four mates that can actually sing?

Looking over this entire scene, I felt like I was backstage on a live episode of Monty Python. However, over time, I had realised that this seemingly random display was a lot more intricately designed than I had given it credit for. There was connection I hadn’t thought to notice before. The costumes themselves represented initial costume concepts that Gordon and Mike had developed whilst preparing their singing telegram. So, in a way, these prototype costumes do have some relevance to the Travelling Gallery’s 40th anniversary celebration. Think about it. You enter the bus itself, pass all of these initial costume concepts and come all the way down to the flat screen T.V, where you are greeted by the final product. It’s like Gordon Douglas wanted to celebrate the growth and evolution of the Travelling Gallery by taking us through the growth and evolution of the project used to celebrate the Travelling Gallery in the first place.

The bus that I had volunteered in was the third bus to host the Travelling Gallery and was built in 2007. There was the second bus back in 1983 and, of course, the original from 1978. Despite going through three different buses in the past 40 years, the Travelling Gallery has always persisted in delivering ground-breaking contemporary Scottish art to all sorts of communities; care homes, prisons, schools, libraries, big cities, small cities, everywhere! As Andy himself says;

“A person’s appreciation for art should never be determined by their postcode.”

Although the Travelling Gallery seldom leaves the country, Andy has found that when working in the gallery;

“The whole word comes to you!”

Over the years, people from all walks of life have passed through the Travelling Gallery’s doors. In turn, Andy has been taken aback by both the collective and individual responses from its steady stream of visitors. For example, when visiting a smaller town in the country, Andy was met by a security guard from a shopping centre near where the Gallery was parked. Upon entering the gallery, this stoic and hard-shouldered security guard spoke passionately about the exhibition and regaled Andy with tales of his own exploits as an amateur artist. On the other hand, during an exhibition in Glasgow, the Travelling Gallery was visited -ever so briefly- by a rather prudish art professor. In a move reminiscent of an archetypal snooty professor from a rowdy 1980s college movie, he took no more than one step into the gallery and scoffed; “rubbish” before immediately walking back out. This, Andy said, didn’t so much as upset him but, rather, it surprised him. As mentioned before, the man was an art professor. Andy expected him to have known better. Then again, it hasn’t been all sour grapes and bad apples. Amongst the smorgasbord of characters encountered by Andy have been some of the kindest, interesting and most open-minded people to ever set foot in the gallery. Just today visitors included a mayor from a small town in Finland, a PHD student doing her thesis on artistic outreach and a local seamstress- who admired the handiwork of the costumes created by Gordon Douglas. In fact, I myself even encountered a man who went to art school with Gordon Douglas himself!

It seems to me that the people who visit the Travelling Gallery are almost as interesting as the exhibits themselves. They see the art, they interact with the art, they relate their own life experiences to it and are able to offer a wealth of knowledge which add even more intrigue to the overall exhibition itself. It is for this reason that the Travelling Gallery has been so successful. It brings art to all and it brings all together.

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