What's been my goal in 2022?
It’s to help people tell stories to new and bigger audiences through inspiring writing.
I’m incredibly grateful to the people with whom I’ve collaborated to do this: curators, researchers, audience experts, horticulturalists, historians, scientists, archaeologists, visitor experience experts, film-makers, architects and designers.
It’s always a privilege helping create museum text that communicates the big ideas in someone’s work. 2022 saw the continuation of a long-running writing project with the Edelman Fossil Park (below), the brainchild of dinosaur expert Professor Ken Lacovara. Based around a quarry in New Jersey, the new $73 million museum will interpret the site’s fossil remains. They reveal events on the day the dinosaurs died, 66 million years ago – and show what we need to do to stop another extinction, caused by climate change.
Closer to home, I collaborated with placemaker Ida Ballerini at the Royal Shakespeare Company to write the text for a show called Everything to Everybody, staged at Birmingham Library for the launch of the Commonwealth Games. The exhibition, created with Birmingham University, told the story of the world’s first Shakespeare library, a feather in the cap of the early city of Birmingham and a reflection of its commitment to equity and culture. I always enjoy working with the RSC and hope to continue the relationship.
I’m currently also working with Ad Gefrin, an Anglo Saxon palace in Northumbria that is being interpreted for the very first time, as part of a visionary project to build a whisky distillery, bistro and visitor attraction. Chris Ferguson is leading the curatorial work and Duncan Melville of Studio MB the interpretive design. This project has had me reading Beowulf – fortunately in the translation by Seamus Heaney – and talking vocabulary tactics with Chris.
Heritage and culture are transformative forces, helping us understand ourselves, the places we live, and the many ways we are connected.
Earlier in the year it was wonderful to see a new kind of exhibition at Banbury Museum & Gallery, where I am chair of trustees. Your Amazing Brain was a collaboration with the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging at Oxford University, and the museum’s first home-grown interactive science exhibition. It drew on the Brain Diaries exhibition previously created at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, but the Banbury team recast it entirely, with the help of my former Science Museum colleague Stephen Foulger. The design was contemporary and beautiful, and the content all about understanding your brain and its abilities. To the team’s credit, the exhibition has had a second lease of life at a local museum in Buckinghamshire.
Two projects took me into the great outdoors this year. I worked with Belsay Hall in Northumberland, an English Heritage site with fantastic landscaping including famous quarry gardens. My brief was to flesh out ideas for their Wild Man interpretation trail – helping families reconnect with the sights and senses of being in nature. It’s all part of their £3.4 million Belsay Awakes project. Here’s a Tiktok video I made of my visit, including a trip down the slide.
I also did a fascinating piece of development with the Horniman Museum, recent Art Fund prize-winners, who are midway through their Nature+Love project with designers Studio MB and landscape architects J&L Gibbons. Always inspirational, the museum aims to interpret several outdoor spaces to widen audiences and encourage a sense of wellbeing and engagement. On my briefing day with the team (see photo below), I loved exploring the nature trail – part of the ancient Great North Wood – and the new garden zones under development. Stories relating to the soil, the rain, the species of fungi, plant and wildlife, and our relationship with them, came to light and into focus.
Visiting finished projects
It was wonderful to be able to hear the audioguide I voiced for Whitby Abbey – along with music by Scott Billings – and see the museum I’d worked on for this historic site. After three years’ covid-related gap, I was also able to get to Singapore and see the Children’s Museum I helped envision and wrote text for. It will be interesting to see how this museum develops as the young visitors get to grips with it. To open the doors of a museum or gallery is only really the first step.
It’s been lovely this year to do new work with old friends, in the Science Museum Group, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, English Heritage, Newcastle Centre for Life, Al-Ula in Saudi Arabia and with researcher Theano Moussouri. Some of these projects are still ongoing, and I look forward to seeing them fly in 2023.
Below, see my video of the fabulous late night event at Banbury Museum & Gallery associated with the exhibition Your Amazing Brain – with congratulations to the team that put it together.