Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (BMAG) is part of a new six-part audio series, The Caretakers, which is offering the public a rare glimpse into life for UK museum and gallery security staff and those maintaining buildings and collections during lockdown.
Delivered by contemporary artist Eloise Moody and supported by arts organisation Metal – episodes have started to be broadcast daily by the partner organisations and Metal via social media.
Behind-the-scenes recordings at BMAG, created by Museum Manager Gurminder Kenth, will be available from Saturday 18 July via the museum’s social media channels.
Eloise Moody conceived the idea for The Caretakers as a way to give voice to workers whose knowledge of museum collections and cultural buildings often goes unheard. Six museums and galleries across England are participating:
• Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
• Kettle’s Yard
• Museum of London
• Royal Museums Greenwich
• Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford
• Southend Museums
The Caretakers will offer listeners a sneak peek of their beloved collections, ahead of the gradual reopening of the sector following lockdown. Each episode centres on one object, chosen and narrated by a member of a security or maintenance team, offering a reimagined take on the traditional curator-led tour format.
In the BMAG recording, Gurminder reflects on a very different experience of being in the museum while it’s closed to the public. Particularly focusing on the Round Room where a sculpture of Lucifer by Sir Jacob Epstein dominates the centre of the space surrounded by portraits and landscapes that adorn the walls. This solitary experience gives listeners a unique insight into the museum during lockdown.
The whole series offers rare access into the hidden worlds of museums and galleries and the people that have been looking after them during the Covid-19 pandemic with diligence, passion and deep commitment to our heritage.
The provenance of objects in the series will be revealed the day after the audio recording is released to encourage an alternative and more contemplative approach to engaging with culture. Listeners are encouraged to create and submit their own creative responses to the collections featured, to generate an online gallery of reimagined treasures, created by the public - @caretakertales.
Gurminder Kenth, Museum Manager at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, said: “It was a brilliant experience to be part of this project and give listeners an insight into how my role has changed during this unique time. Working in the museum without colleagues and visitors has given me a completely different perspective of the collection and the building. And while we can’t wait to see the museum buzzing with people once again in the future, I’m so pleased we can share this rare glimpse of the museum with listeners.”
Eloise Moody, Project Curator, said: “With the closure of museums and arts organisations throughout the country, the people with access to the nation’s cultural treasures are security and caretaking teams. At a time when previously overlooked workers are recognised as essential, The Caretakers extends this re-framing of importance and reliance to the cultural sector.
"While security and caretaking staff are the only people allowed inside our national museums and galleries, ‘The Caretakers’ allow us to perch invisibly on their shoulders, seeing what takes their interest and noticing what they stop to consider. We are granted a personal tour offering fresh perspectives on suspended collections.”
Andrea Cunningham, Assistant Director at Metal Southend, said: “One of Metal’s chief aims is to support artists in strengthening their practice and amplifying their voices. The Caretakers project, conceived by artist Eloise Moody, is a powerful opportunity to amplify those marginalised voices working in the cultural sector in a beautiful and intriguing way at a moment in history that is reframing all our thinking.”
Hear the recording from Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery via @BM_AG and @caretakertales on Twitter, @birmingham_mag on Instagram and on Facebook from Saturday 18 July.