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Mindful Museum

Coronavirus Bluebird Project

When everything stops

On the 23 March 2020 the world sort of stopped. In the UK we entered into a total lockdown of the country. As I sat at my studio workbench my creative world came to a shuddering stop. All the galleries I supply shut, studio mosaic workshops were cancelled for the foreseeable future and my work as a part-time museum educator evaporated as schools cancelled their workshops. Wow. It was a lot to take onboard, especially following on from the studio being flooded, twice, only a few weeks before.

However, I am a great believer in good things coming out of unplanned and often negative experiences. As we all sat in stunned silence there were the beginnings of 'how do we work around all of this'. Fortunately I work with an amazingly resourceful and creative team at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery (SMAG). A call came in to talk about a project that I had posited earlier in the year. The idea was to create a series of short mindful sessions at the museum, open to people working in town on their lunchbreaks and visitors alike. We would take one painting or object and focus on that one thing whilst relaxing and entering a state of mindfulness.

The idea had been kick-started by joining in a mindful session at Manchester Art Gallery the previous year. With the museum now closed during lockdown the initiative required a re-think.

The question was, could I record a series of short audio clips to accompany still images of a variety of items from SMAG's collection. Trawling through the collection remotely, I looked for items that I thought might resonate with people personally. Each audio would focus on a different thought and relaxation of the body. To stop and take time out, even more challenging with so much turmoil and anxiety close by.

This was quite a steep learning curve as I had never used recording technology before. When we develop education workshops there is much work done on research and script-writing to get all the important information across in a given time frame. This was more like writing a story, looking to strike the right tone, accessible to whoever was listening. There was a balance to be struck between inviting people into the audio in a friendly way, sharing some background information about the artwork or object and also encouraging the creation of links to personal lives and experiences.

So armed with my scripts and my smartphone, and sat in my little home office I set about recording the ten audios. With much trepidation I sent the first one off to poll opinion and feedback from the museum team. Was it too pretentious, stuffy, inaccessible, patronising or plain boring? With huge relief the response was go ahead, record the rest of them.The museum has some clever graphic and technical designers who could then match my spoken pieces to some photographs. I'm sure they were sick of hearing my voice, I know that I was! Here is one of those audios on one of the teapots in the Caughley collection.

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Now the project has snow-balled into being filmed to create short videos for both the mindful museum project and for the education programme for schools. It's one thing to record at home without an audience, quite another to stand and speak in front of a camera. Another set of skills to quickly acquire.

Curators and educators at SMAG have helped to create a whole suite of informative and creative videos to share the collection with virtual visitors.

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And the biggest thrill has been to see the project publicised by the British Museum on their UK Showcase website. They partner with over 250 museums across the UK and wanted to show what even the smaller museums were able to achieve in the quest to keep their audiences engaged in unprecedented times.