As 2018 draws to an end, we are also coming to the end of the ‘New Approaches’ project. At last year’s AGM we were still slightly bowled over by the tremendous changes brought about by this transformative project, the museum had a stunning street level entrance and shop; amalgamated with the TIC; a beautiful and busy newcafé; new auditorium equipment; had delivered a raft of community engagement activities and had two new displays relating to the history of the Coliseum.
Now, twelve months on, I realise that in some ways this is where the hard work began because the challenge now is to make sure that these changes support delivery of the project aims and objectives, put simply: more visitors and more income. We are doing well on both counts, doubling our visitor figures and on course to meet income targets, but both these things have taken a great deal of focus and diligence by the Front of House and Marketing staff.
As ever our lively and varied exhibitions and events programme is always a big draw for attracting visitors. We started the year with Seren Morgan Jones - It's About Time, curated by Alice Briggs (Assistant Curator), which brought together portraits from two bodies of Aberystwyth artist Seren Morgan Jones’s previous work; ‘History’s Eyes’ documenting Welsh women from the 19th century and ‘Portraits of Protesters’ looking at welsh suffragists at the beginning of the twentieth century. Pieces from the Museum’s welsh costume collection, which Seren drew inspiration from, were also displayed. This exhibition formed our commemoration of the centenary of women’s suffrage and Alice gave a fascinating gallery talk as part of our event to mark International Women’s Day, which was a stimulating evening of talks and discussion concluding with music and dancing.
Another centenary marked by the museum is, of course, the conclusion of the First World War. Our next exhibition was ‘Hope in the Great War’, a travelling RNLI exhibition that told the wartime story of six heroic lifeboat rescues from around the coast of Britain, through family friendly, interactive displays. The First World War commemorations have extended throughout the year, particularly through our events programme, which has featured classic films such as ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’, still considered to be one of the most powerful war movies of all time, to rarely seen films such as ‘Mrs John Bull Prepared’; a rarely seen silent film (accompanied on piano by the talented Dr Stephen Briggs) which tells the partly fictionalised account of the contribution of women to the British war effort. Today you can visit the 1914-18 U-Boat Project, Commemorating the War at Sea exhibition in the auditorium, curated by the Ceredigion Heritage Youth Panel (CHYPs), with support by Anna Evans (Learning Officer), in partnership with the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments Wales.
Our summer exhibition, ‘Making a Splash’, curated by Andrea de’Rome (Collections Access Officer), was our contribution to the Visit Wales initiative ‘Year of the Sea’, taking a nostalgic look at the customs and eccentricities that characterise the nation's relationship with the seaside. The exhibition featured puppet shows, donkey rides, deck chairs, swim wear, seagulls and photographs to help visitors rediscover how we spent our private leisure time at the beach, whatever the weather. Visitors had the chance to dress up, take family snaps and create their own postcards as a souvenir of their visit. To publicise the exhibition the staff and volunteers met with the Cambrian News photographer in the early morning to paddle in the surf, dressed in our best summer dresses, hats and (the brave ones) swim suits. Stuart Evans (Designer/Technician) did us proud in his Edwardian style swimsuit, with life belt, captain’s hat and snorkel, as did Hannah Englekamp (Social Media Consultant) who bared her baby bump to the chilly morning – both Hannah and Stuart even went for a swim!
After this fun publicity stunt I almost immediately jetted off for my much needed extended summer break, travelling the world with my family to recharge my batteries, ready for the next stage of the museum’s long term ‘Transformations’ project. I want to acknowledge our Head of Service, Russell Hughes-Pickering, the museum staff and all the volunteers for their support in enabling me to do this, especially at such a busy time of year. I returned to find that they’d done a fantastic job without me!
To end the year, our exhibition ‘Margaret Jones: Celebrating 100’, curated by Alice Briggs, marks the 100thbirthday of award winning illustrator Margaret Jones. The exhibition features the most comprehensively amassed original illustrations and preparatory drawings, owned by the Jones family, to ever have been exhibited. Also on display are archive photo albums and unpublished books giving a previously unseen private view of the artist and her life. Margaret Jones gave an eloquent speech at the opening event, which was very well attended. To make this exhibition especially touching, Margaret Jones is the grandmother of Seren Morgan Jones, whose exhibition was the first of 2018. It’s been wonderful to celebrate two such talented welsh artists from the same family with work spanning nearly a century.
Throughout the year we have hosted a vibrant and diverse range of events, often in partnership with other organisations, thereby accessing new audiences and sharing the workload. The events programme has spanned a huge range of genres, art forms and audiences: from avant garde experimental electronic music to traditional family entertainment, such as puppet shows and storytelling.
One of my favourite events this year was a concert by Gwenno, an up-and-coming star of welsh pop, not only did it fill the museum with Welsh (and Cornish!) music and song; it also formed the basis of our participation in the nationwide ‘Kids in Museums’ initiative. The CHYPs were mentored by Sarah Morton (Sustainability Officer) to plan, manage and market the event, which included a ministerial visit by Sir Dafydd Elis-Thomas, Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport. It was a wonderful afternoon and the Minister left very impressed by our activities. Offering the CHYPs opportunities to build transferrable skills such as event management to add to their CVs, is one of the many activities that led to the museum being nominated for, and winning, the UK wide Creative and Cultural Skills award for Museums and Heritage 2018.
2018 has left me immensely proud of how the museum is developing and the people who are supporting it to thrive: the staff, our volunteers and, of course, the Friends. We are by no means on solid ground yet; we have high income targets to meet through the shop, café, events programme and donations box; we need to continue to increase our visitor numbers; we need to improve our understanding and management of our precious collections; we need to adapt and change as challenges arise, just as the Friends have adapted to the changing needs of the museum. Without the Friends we would not be looking back on a year (and more) of transformation, growth and success. Without the Friends we would not be looking forward to the next stage of our transformation – my sincerest thanks go to every member of the Friends who have contributed to the success of our fundraising endeavours to raise money for a feasibility study for our next big project: ‘A Collection for a Nation, which will ultimately result in better understood, better cared for and better utilised collections and vastly improved public access to them, plus new education facilities. From simply buying raffle tickets to sitting on the Council, every act of support consolidates the future of the museum and is very much appreciated.