Special of the week; Issue 9-71 "Children and the Educators: The complaints of a curator"
NDE are the national educational radio network presents special of the week from Yale University from its series called Yale reports. Most of us enter museums with a reverent attitude. It has been with us since childhood when we were hushed by whatever adult was doing his cultural duty via us to this day. You can watch a mother finger on lips guide her impressionable children through gallery after gallery of ancient pot after ancient painting. But in this decade when so many things are taking on a new look. Museums too are changing. Britain's National Portrait Gallery for instance is planning the addition of a movie theater which will show news rails and television interviews with people as a means of portraiture. One of the men encouraging the winds of change to sweep through the dusty halls of museums is Roy strong director of Britain's National Portrait Gallery. We hear him in conversation with Jules problem the director of the Paul Nelson center for British art in British study at Yale an associate professor of the history of art. Mr. Prout. Everybody seems to feel a certain amount of discontent with museums and their standard role and want something to be something else or change their image.
I was many years ago my earliest concerts I went to which is about 1960 where said bet on Arctic paper began by saying Is your museum or severe and I just meant he said Yes yes a thousand times a years and then I remember some years after the other thing the impressment became to the portico it was a sort of more to it there was a mother with a little girl and the little girl talk to mothers even said mommy is this a church and I was so horrified because I do think we house the nation's collection of portraits and that's a terribly difficult thing to display because it's just miles miles pairs of eyes beaming down on people and it can be so turgid. And one just had to make a tremendous sort of revolutionary move and pull that whole place out of 1890 bang into 1970 which means reconstituting the whole method of display producing furniture characters on weapons turning making everything into kind of gay witted but informative and pleasurable scrapbook history of England. But we know that what one tries to do they are just sort of without loosing I
think which is a central theme to any museum cause nowadays were so bad. Into making the whole thing a kind of rave. I think that is a very delicate and intangible balance between maintaining the scholarship maintaining the collection. I mean these are central things but also making the exterior part relate to the public make make them feel a bit warm and welcoming and a happy place an environment to be in. You try to get away from reliance just on painted portraits oil on canvas and use other kinds of materials. You think there is more possibility for this in the coming decade for your purpose. For our purpose I think that obviously the photography comes into it that is strongly and we're just back in service in the market where in fact we will use a news reel television interview with People and eventually sort of the videotape will be a means of portraiture I mean we are connected with recording what great men and women lie let's face it what we give a videotaped interview with Charles verse on the gravel.
That is far more than anything then died a little of that horrible war. You seem to been shocked by somebody saying that the museum was like a church in an article that's in the current issue of e-com which is the periodical thing and I think our audience itself to London of the right. Well it's maybe getting to be worth reading now Mr. Cameron says the church and the museum have more in common than the museum and the school. What you think about that goal isn't boring tripe. Well let's go through it again and it's just one of those small things which is it is a smart thing to relay so yeah I mean when I was in grad school one of the things that the that the really wise graduate students I said was that the museums or the churches of the future. So they said this analogue between museums and churches is here to sort of worship this transfer of the worship of God to worship a sort of men's Artifex and he's saying that the museum and the church are more in common than the school in the museum and what he's saying is the museum is a place in which to to
go and have a kind of personal spiritual relationship with objects rather than a place to go to be educated. Yes I think the balance between the two things I mean I find that you know that's also where putting it front the crude rolled past. I mean I think in England at any rate you've had education to museums say Randall's relentlessly I'm slightly bewildered that I think it is a video that important aspect to the museum. But I don't think Museum absolutely has to be subservient to education I find it killing sometimes and I go around America museums not be able to see the pictures except through 60 beastie children sitting on cushions. In my own ghetto we're starting the education department I laid an embargoed out I said two or three days a week I said I don't see a child being taught anything. And also the other thing I mean it had a killing effect on display. I mean I think the most important effect is one of beauty a sort of unexpected one and information comes second in so many museums it's rare that you're getting a kind of educational Stoke cultural soup ticket every time you go in you got to learn something the whole time. I mean we're tarred of
it I mean it should always be there ever did this to me is not the prime purpose I mean the prime purpose is to give people a kind of sense of wonder an appreciation is a very intangible thing as I suppose it is almost a kind of spiritual thing although I don't think it really necessarily has anything to do with coming to church. Let's see if we can get clear on what your priorities are. What do you think is the is the most important function responsible in a museum. The most important function the most basic things in museum is to conserve the collection. Well this is a there are a number of people who don't say that but I find it. Sort of the most solid museum people I mean look how they are that sort of as a basic article of faith that is the basic arc that concert the collection and the scholarship and the knowledge that must relate to the formation of the maintenance of their collection. But right I mean that doesn't exclude the fact that one wants a museum to be all sorts of other things within the context of the changing society and I think that this is I deplore
this whole trend toward a sort of rather than what I call Vogue attitude of loosing that charmingly of course is one of the most respected of American museum directors and clearances and museums primary responsibility is the proper preservation of an artistic heritage for posterity. We've been given the stuff in the past and our first responsibility is to at least ensure that it goes on intact you know to the future and then well it's in our trust Actually we do certain things with it. I absolutely agree with you yours I mean the guy was horrified at museums conference in England this year with it where they literally they did that the most important thing most important first news it was education. It's not going to be educated in any other way I mean we don't necessarily have to get a museum done delighted to air that and get your clear statement on that issue because it seems to me there's a great deal of confusion over it and education is important it is not. No question that the museum plays an important educational function but it's not primary and if it becomes primary there's a museum stopping museums. Yes I mean any one of those difficult things we always have to cope with it's just so terrible
though Kemp can hit it isn't it I mean museum and gallery and all that. All those words a lot I mean in England there's a lot of terrible connotations I mean look at me I'm stuck with not only national but portrayed in Ghana it three words which just conjure up instant calm with the person who's clever enough to sort of think up a new word for that whole bit. Yeah that's something you know you anyway in museums and galleries are different. I think here we use them almost interchangeably. Yes that's quite true. I mean really incapable to go to really is a port museum and more museum and gallery. It's quite clearly differentiating you know what gallery as a place for the display of art objects pictures pictures and museum can be right down to Bart law and laws from all of the right there are there hours and you're welcome to then given this primary responsibility for preservation. When he was just the next priorities for responsibilities what should a museum be
doing with these collections while there I mean I put scholarship things. And I put the research on the collection in the publication of that information. I put their things and it without those two things without knowledge. How can the whole thing ever go forward and everything else stems. I think it's what I want to get your statement on the importance of scholarship. Well I mean when the chips are down I mean that is the most important thing. It's very nice having the folderol. It's very nice doing exciting exhibition. You know I suppose being sort of young trendy director and then somebody else will be in five years time as I enter the plateau of middle age or whatever that bit is I mean all that's ephemeral and the most important things are the solid things are solid lasting things. But I mean this isn't to say that they aren't fun. And that they should be communicated in such a way I tried to deliver beef an exhibition in London which had available deck on it had music along gallery musicians
gallery and every room had a particular theme and I had everything the beautiful and there was a period painting which people wouldn't cross the road to look at. Five years ago and they literally queued loop six times around the Tate Gallery. And I remember standing that exhibition. Being moved to tears because suddenly one realized that although these people don't know what these are who these wretched artists were they were Serbs go. They were so enjoying being that they were so they were suddenly looked at they felt such a sense of wonder and excitement about these things one realized what had managed to go that whole bridge from touching the original documents in the pictures and everything that I hope deep scholarship and love of learning to manifesting it to a broader audience who never thought of ever looking at this sort of thing and feeling excited about it. And that's what everything's about right. But one tries to do what you what you try to do what everyone is trying to do now in an exhibition such as that one which was built on important scholarship in a new area an area that had been neglected by scholars for a long period of time much of the impact of the
exhibition although the the objects were stunning when they were cleaned and presented still was from the installation. Do you think that that exhibition should be installed by professional designers or do you think that they should be installed by the curators who are after one of the most about them. Of course I never saw theatrical design among in the way and I was you know I think I should have gone state at some stage but I would work with the designer and I mean I understand their problems and except what they want to do one thing I can't stand is the sort of museum designer people will have in the design department began having somebody sort of maintains things but I love the bringing in people from outside because suddenly they see it with a fresh and different art and in the book Gary has different design of every exhibition. I'm very lucky in that I do have this great sympathy for designers but I think I can't there's this awful sort of museum ologies thing and these are the standard museum cases and he's
on one of the boxes with fill the pot sitting on top. Drive me Maire. Yeah well this is this is what's happening I mean end users pictures all hung at the same level so many inches apart I mean I could name practically every get so boring there's no wait there's no way the next site mint. But your way of resolving this is to bring in new designers separate designers for each individual show make them so you can craft it as it were it goes to having a house design department. But most museums are moving in a different direction and what's happening is that the the curatorial component of museums which is traditionally been the power like sort of the university faculties is now becoming smaller atrophying and there's a tremendous growth in design departments and education departments and membership departments as well as a rattle as all of this that is the direction in which museums at the moment are going in the 70s we know where time goes where they should be going but that is really what's happening. Yes we see one of the things which is also worrying and I know less about position states one of things I would fight tooth and nail against is an increasing tendency to regard curators as
caretakers of this industry of towards this and people who know about the optics of the professors Well just in the universities and the curators just sit there look at the optics will this is so wrong and so misguided. Something I feel very strongly about. I'm afraid that's an infection that's spreading from the side because the curator in this country has not been able to achieve the kind of scholarly status that the curator in European museums has he simply said I'm well aware of this I think is one of the great I don't it must be some do with pay or something or something to do at harm. Yes times in England some of the best and most famous all scholars I museum as Martin Davis director National Gallery produced probably the world's finest catalogs for anybody else did all the pictures and then Mr. John Pope in the secret of Victoria I will use him as an international events going on there in the souls and you can name every museum has a galaxy of people who write We have a number of strong scholars and Museum life but not enough. And there and sort of the average curator does not get enough time for a
scholarship in order to be to make a name for himself and to be taken as a scholar he simply has too much pressure dealing with the public putting on exhibitions answering inquiries and marketing that I think one of the drawbacks as museum people tend to get terribly alive retard it is like there's a very strong dislike I would say in some museums the public the tall and even the scholarly ones don't teach or don't try to communicate their knowledge and at the moment I mean the feel of the Dictabelt to ditch very serious because there's nobody coming into dictabelt learning about it and that's a situation which I think Victorian Opposition is trying to solve at the moment with having various fellowships where people go and work in various departments and learn about dictabelt. You said a little earlier struck me as a little odd this business about keeping children out of the museum on certain days now is this is this is a serious thing. No not by out I mean I don't mind coming in with their parents on their own and having absolutely lovely time know what I mean. Art is the Education Department functioning on that particular day taking a group of children on
particular subjects. The should be days when the music is not also functioning. I mean mines a tiny gallery I mean this was a British Museum because you go on you know all day every day because the place is large enough. Mine is one of the smaller national collections in London occupied quite a limited area and every time you say get three school parties you know district hates the whole place. So your solution be to to to set aside certain times what year that was for me to that type of thing you know that perfectly reasonable right one of the implications of this question about whether the museum is more like a church or more like. The school has to do with the quantities of people that come to museums churches as a kind of individual personal spiritual kind of thing what were the implication there is the museum is a place where one goes and is left alone to have one's personal relationship with with the object whereas education and you graphically describe these this sort of hoards of children that descend on you is it a mass kind of thing now that the import toward education I
think reflects the greater feeling that more and more people should be using the museum coming to the museum more and more of the children should be converted into adults who want to go to the museum which means more and more people piling into the places. Is this is this good is it does it make sense for museums to try to get more and more people why are they doing that. Well I think it does make sense but I think one has to be front careful I think there's an awful tendency to register the success of a museum on the box office. I think it's really nice to know one's attendance figures going up and it's gratifying successful that's not something by which I would ever measure the success of the poor. It's nice as we call it a million people will go through this year and four years ago it was 250000. I think this is quite quite a complicated thing this is not an easy thing. And in the other sense one does get desperately wired because museums just aren't large enough to take enormous numbers of people that mill through them. It just becomes very dissatisfied. I mean there's
also that aspect of people saying oh it's love in the book are in the past moment there are only six people. And they enjoyed themselves now it's actually justing people. So there's that sort of side which is what I call the negative side but on the positive side I think one of the things that museums very much have to do is really to what I was not feeling at any rate as they saw it in the past I mean the reality you went to a museum once when I was a charmed one was taken to the museums full stop and that was it. I was taken once abundant regard as an integral part of one's life that anything and also museums were static as things always happening. You go again and again and something new is on a new exhibition a new rearrangement or lectures going on a concert or something happening in the evening and this is all very good because I see at the packed museum Don't be what I call sort of cultural happening center so you don't think I'm just as isolated place where you can see objects but there are other things happening there so that the objects aren't entirely alienated from what else goes on.
Also Ning and one has this rather sort of class structure thing with museums tend to be patronized as it were by the upper middle class and by the sort of what I call the sort of art school trendy brigade. I think one has to think much more again this is something new for museums to think that they don't just sit there but they have some sort of role in going out and thinking about those people and I think desperately for instance in London about those vast suburban areas which stretch out for miles and miles where there is nowhere to go and nothing to see him I would love to see a branch museum opened there so they had something. I mean this again I don't feel one wants to sort of take off and read it at them but I feel that somehow they've got to they've got to feel the museum belongs there after all we are maintained by the taxes they pay. And somehow one's got to bridge that gulf over there. What would you expect the branch museum to do that couldn't be done by having the people come to you.
Well I mean everything is in the center of London and everything is very congested and also most of the museums have this substantial reserve collections and there's a great deal of pressure being put on the national museums in fact which I think is a dangerous I mean there is such a strong feeling in the regions that London has hawked it that there's a very strong feeling that some of the national collections almost will be dismantled and distributed around the country. Well I'm against sex I think the great national treasure should be in the center of London with where everybody has access tourist car all the transportation meet up in London. But I mean there are considerable reserve collections I mean my own case I have 4000 things in store out of a collection of 7000 exhibits. Well that could quite easily furnish a brawl to music. Yeah but would it be worth it. I mean if they're in it or a serious rock music it wouldn't be worth it you know I mean I mean some of these things are in storage for a reason and I don't get out very oh I don't know if I get my bass international get out of the beautiful things. I'm sure you know you go in the stores of British music on the big oil but I mean ravishing sort of ceramics need to curtail things like that I'm sure there's plenty of good material but the but the but the point
is that you know what would you do with these things once you got them out into this thing like get out of it would you would create a. It would create another musician I'd like to expand on your ideas but I have another ball of multiple things that can take place in a museum. It happens much more in America than it does in England I mean England there's a very strong feeling that museum shouldn't be anything but rather state institutions and I think for instance one ought to encourage say commercial firms to hold receptions or things of that sort in museums so to try and get say the city of London interested the museum patronizing and giving the money one book to say ballet to happen there or concerts or lectures or recitals which very rarely ever happens in any of the lawn the museums want to do various sort of jolly things that shorten the school holidays and kind of hunt the boar trade. Which we haven't had a mob responsible to rule nearing the end of the day and the kids got
a couple of records at the end of it and also the other thing is this person is working out in London our museums open at 10 in the morning and they close at 5:00 or 5:30. Well I mean their opening hours relate to a Victorian leisure class they don't relate to any of it any life anybody lives any more so consequently with the big exhibitions people are queuing to get into them at weekends any time they can get out there with no idea of opening hours I think needs radically rethinking and moving on into the evening which as financial applications and financial start indication as you know I mean do the English music pop to stick and I was going to have to shut the portico one day a week last year because the Treasury wouldn't even give me the start to keep it open. Then all the other galleries sane faced crises I mean the case being that I think nearly everybody has lots of ideas but what about what they won't do but they're actually hamstrung by no money no staff and very antiquated buildings of course the financial problem as it is it has required serious here. Particularly with the with the large municipal museums which are having a great of difficulty can
expand their staff can stay open and that I think I suspect is one of the reasons why there's been so much of a push toward education because the last several decades education has been the magic touchstone anyway to say they were doing something for the children and then the funds come out of the government. Exactly what it is this is just great and there's an eagerness that you know we had the last socialist government was a creation of Department of Education Science with a minister for office Jenny Lee immediately overnight everything one wanted suddenly once it only got to have this for educational purposes. And you know the funds began to flow and it was of it was a very good period. This really means that the museums have failed to project to society a sense of what they really are you know what a school is we know what it does but I think it went to museums but a museum do that justify a society putting funds into it can have any thoughts on that as to how the museums might improve their image might use and improve their image I mean I think that the society in England at any rate must recognise it increasingly is what this whole business about involvement and the destruction of one's heritage left right and
center. In fact you know the museums all all their heritage I think it's very clear in America where in most American cities and towns I mean the museum represents the only old thing that they have got at all. There's a more difficult message to get across in the in the museum to see again I stated they never link up with what else is happening I mean they want to link up with this whole crisis about the preservation of historical buildings and all the other happenings in the All as I have for instance a very good relationship with the Sadler's Wells up at the Coliseum and I sometimes put expressions of their state aside on I'll go and do something but there is just a minor thing but there's no link up. I mean we have an X say if there's a great exhibition on the near classical period where you won't get called on God to put on an air tasking opera in the National Theatre but on the classical play there's no sort of link up with the Arts in London. I mean all this again is taking the museum out and making it part of everything else that is happening in the arts. I mean museums in the dark terribly tight. They don't relate to what goes on in the church. Journalists and opera all the other
had artistic happenings. OK well the question here is how the museum relates to the place in which it said to the people to the society and. The kind of function that the museum plays for these people that makes it meaningful in their lives. Museum has a different row and searched in the case of the English. Well sure the History Museum is a different often the Art Museum in this sort of thing but whether the art museums for example you know they have to I think this is one of those difficult things to come out of the sort of old time definition it isn't possible it isn't possible that's why it's so hard to deal with it here but they I mean the question of how do you how do you articulate what a museum should mean to an individual it's a very personal kind of thing and it does vary enormously from Year person to person with ridiculous like sort of saying that every move you want to appeal to everybody it was a single reason but somehow there must be some touchdown whereby one can make clear what the role of the museum is in the way that the role of us of a school system is clear. Well you know Rose what we discussed to begin with I mean the
conservation of the pulse of the country and that's going to raise much money from the government or from any you know the way that it does it will make a difference for the fans now but needs a little more open more of the conversion of the public museums all things of interest and they've just a lot of leverage do you think in the in the years to come there will be any switch in who makes the decisions affecting the future of the museum where do you think the decision making should lie with the staff and the director with the trustees with the public. Cook says writers are difficult given his ass got at least three minutes that he's a little wrong in the case of England one feels very much that there are too many things holding his never being rationalized and I would very much hope that we eventually have something like a royal commission on us and a perfectly ruthless minister of all us who will shut some amalgamate Arthur's Seat of the national collection of absolutely tip top and see the dark five to eight great
regional museums and that one doesn't get the sort of minor regional museums who are now trying to be many British museums mean that many National Galleries I mean one of our difficulties in that is some of the regional museums instead of really looking after their regional culture and giving a marvelous display of what the local industries on their history in the local families and products in the rest of it. They're all rushing out to buy some piece to 70 percent from the minor Italian paintings they won't be on the Smart Art wagon and it's a big ball right. Do you think that there should be more feedback from the public as to what the public wants music. Yes but this is again I think it's something which I don't know how one dances sort of have question or kind of census movement in England which is just beginning. Just got the title national heritage which wants to be a kind of museum's Action Group which is entirely of laypeople. You see at the moment one of the things in England is that all the moans and groans coming from within the music is what one wants now is the public which is gone up by 80 percent
in attendance figures in the last decade become coordinated not to kill itself and I don't want it to be another one of these societies giving money to all the acquisitions I want to sort of society which will say we will give to the museum but don't care stuff a hundred pounds or 500 pounds toward having a restaurant or a place where the games are where we can leave our children. If the council in that city produces the rest of the money I think this will be a pressure group of facilities in museums in Britain which is my hat all lamb out of all the problem is in there in those regional areas if you're trying to raise funds or read local interest. It's that second rate third rate Italian thing of the 17th century is liable to be make more of a smash than a first rate English 19th century thing as far as the as the general public is concerned. The fact of it being from far away and have an out of of artists or love struck. Around it. Well it's easier to sell it online but I've heard it I think one of the great tragedies of England is that it's at this sort of so-called Renee souls of the regions has just shown the appalling
lack of faith they have in their own culture I mean in the 19th century liveable in Manchester the great centers of earning and the arts and the rest of it. But I mean it now seems to express itself in that sort of grab the good is in the capital the changing role of museums in today's world with Roy strong director of Britain's National Portrait Gallery and author of the English icon published by Yale University Press in conversation with Jules proud director of the Paul Allen center for British art and British study at Yale and associate professor of the history of art groups where these programs are available for 25 cents and coin each or two dollars and fifty cents for a 26 week subscription right to Yale reports 1773 Yale station New Haven Connecticut 0 6 5 2 0. Any RS special of the week Thanks Yale University for the recording of this program. This is an easy are the national educational radio network.
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