Is museum training enough?

October 21, 2010

 I’ve already written about some projects with prisons, and since then I’ve seen some other examples  which have had remarkable results, but it’s left me wondering whether museum professionals are really qualified to do this work.


We know that  many prisoners – sadly – have complex mental health conditions. Many of the other projects I have seen are created for people with mental illness. Others engage people who may have had traumatic experiences, such as refugees. Museum training doesn’t necessarily give us the skills to provide what these people need.

I’ve talked to a some of the museum outreach people about this, and there are a number of approaches.

  • some staff do have counselling qualifications.
  • others have specific training sessions about what to expect when working with certain groups – this is built into the project plan. This training also ensures the museum staff know where to refer people for assistance if necessary.
  • most projects are run in collaboration with partner organisations, who generally have expertise in this field.

An example of work by Cindy Sherman from the collection of NGS used for the project with women in prison.

This means that projects – like an art-making project run by the National Gallery of Scotland at a women’s prison – can happen without significant risk. This project is based on the work of US artist Cindy Sherman, who creates photographs of herself in different characters. A practicing artist also worked on the project, explaining the work of Sherman to the women, and encouraging them to think about how they could represent themselves. In five sessions over two weeks, the women came up with the concepts, worked with a makeup artist to create the characters and worked with the artist to create the images. The results will be on display later in the year.


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