Culture Swap Blog Series

In this special series of blogs we hear from participants of our maiden Culture Swap initiative. The project matched APAC members across institutions and geographical locations to shadow and learn from each other. Participants met colleagues in the sector, studied how they work and found out more about their institutions and projects, in order to foster networking, better working practices and possible future collaborations within APAC.

For the third blog in this series we hear about from Philippa Vandome of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and Jill Sullivan of the University of Bristol Theatre Collection, who visited each other’s collections and subsequently reflected on their experiences.

Philippa Vandome on the University of Bristol Theatre Collection:

The Theatre Collection encompasses both ‘traditional’ theatre and the Live Art Archive, which particularly interested me. I’d asked about Franko B’s collection before my visit, so Jill arranged for me to meet Sian Williams, Project Archivist. The variety of the materials in Franko B’s archive is intriguing, containing objects created from and used in his performances, personal notes, promotional material and reactions to his work. It was fascinating to see how the collection is being catalogued and digitised. Two things struck me in particular; the contact Sian had with Franko himself and the continued collection of responses to his work. She explained how Franko is very involved with this project, bringing in objects and discussing items in his collection. From my perspective this ability to understand the collection better by engaging with the artist was amazing. It’s not always possible but definitely an asset if you are able to collect materials while an artist is still actively creating work. Sian also showed me some postcards that Franko B had sent out to collect responses to his work. Collecting audience responses is something I know is of interest to researchers I’ve spoken to and has been done infrequently in archives.

Jill Sullivan on the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust:

My role at the Theatre Collection encompasses leading on user services; primarily managing and running archive-based learning activities for academic modules at the University of Bristol. I also run workshops in collaboration with the University’s Widening Participation team and, reactively, for external post-16 education providers. After a tour of the reading rooms and library, Philippa introduced me to Dr Nick Walton, the Shakespeare Courses Development Manager. Dr Walton’s work centres on the creation and running of a range of courses and summer schools. It was a fascinating insight into the extensive education provision at the Birthplace Trust and, although the Theatre Collection doesn’t organise large education events, ideas such as provision for ‘leisure learners’ made me rethink about how we could work with communities. I think that was really the core message that I took away from the swap experience; the opportunity to review one’s own practice and see how ideas can be adapted for our own organisations and users. My conversations with Philippa, about individual volunteer projects, collections chats, the creation of facsimile objects and even the daily arrangement of archive retrievals have already sparked enthusiastic team discussions at the Theatre Collection.

Both visits posed some interesting ongoing conversations about performance collections and the outreach work we do. It was wonderful to be paired with someone who shares an enthusiasm for sharing archival documents and helping people to get excited about using original materials. It’s hoped that conversations will continue across the staff teams at both collections.

Our sincere thanks for Philippa and Jill for taking part and writing-up their experiences. If you’ve enjoyed reading about this swap, please do keep following the blog series for more monthly Culture Swap initiative reports.

NB. All visits were safely undertaken before the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK. For information and support to help deal with the impact of the pandemic on your organisation please follow our COVID-19 Blog Series and stay up-to-date on Twitter.