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 first of our Culture Swap blogs members from the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and The National Theatre (NT) tell us about their experience of swapping working environments for a day. 

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The RSC exhibitions team exploring the ‘Costume at the National Theatre’ exhibition.

Q. Who was involved in the Culture Swap?

Perri Blakelock (PB), Exhibitions Manager, part of the Talks and Exhibitions team of the Learning department of the NT. The team creates free exhibitions in the public spaces within the NT building on the South Bank, with the aim of enhancing visitors understanding of the work of the NT and theatre-making processes.

Erin Lee (EL), Head of Archive, part of the wider Learning team, focusing on documenting, preserving and making available everything related to the history of the NT and its ongoing activities.

Emma Gibbons (EG), Engagement Officer (Job share) for the National Lottery Heritage Fund Costume Workshop project at the RSC. Part of the Events and Exhibitions team, which is delivering a two year plan of engagement work to new and varied local audiences, focusing on Costume Heritage at the RSC. 

Robyn Greenwood (RG), Exhibitions and Collections Officer, part of the Events and Exhibitions team at the RSC. Responsible for the care of and access to the RSC’s museum collection. Their exhibitions remit focuses on bringing to life the history of the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon. 

Q. What was the most enjoyable thing about the Culture Swap visits?

(PB) Sharing knowledge and experience with people who work in a similar professional setting was a real balm for the work soul. Discovering mutual points of connection and common experience, trading strategies and useful past lessons learned was both reassuring and energizing.

(EG) Getting the space and time together as a team to reflect on what we do well and what we can improve, whilst being inspired by new ways of approaching similar challenges. 

Q. What is the one takeaway you’ll be bringing back to your organisation after the Culture Swap?

(EL) The strength of cross-organisational working groups to effect real change in a building by bringing together a mix of skill-sets and personalities.

(RG) How continued advocacy for the archive and specialist knowledge at a high level can strengthen and imbed the collection and the heritage of the company across the organisation. 

Q. What surprised you on the Culture Swap?

(PB) Being so used to working in my own organisational bubble, I was genuinely surprised that there was so much common ground with the team from the RSC, and then I was surprised at myself for being so blinkered hitherto…its so easy to get lost in your own practice if you don’t have mechanisms for making external connections and sharing.

(EG) I was surprised and reassured by the similarities in the challenges faced both inside and outside our organisations.

Q. What do you now want your organisation to have better awareness of following the Culture Swap?

(EL) That a focus on the public realm is important for engaging audiences with the heritage of a building and company. 

(RG) There is a clear link between education and the archive at the NT. There is more scope to work together with education colleagues to use the RSC museum collection in this way. 

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Installations that speak to the history of the company in the public realm of the RSC. 

Q. What are the benefits of the way the archive is used in exhibitions?

(PB) The enthusiastic involvement of the archive team in the creation of our exhibitions is one of the loveliest collaborations for us. They are so generous with their expertise, and the items from the collections we use are fundamental to why our exhibitions are authentic and valuable experiences for our visitors.

(RG) As the collection is part of the exhibitions team at the RSC, and with the opening of our permanent exhibition space dedicated to the heritage of the company, the collection is now firmly at the heart of our exhibition strategy to connect and reach out to our audiences. We have learnt that the RSC archive and museum collection are not only a fabulous resource to connect with our loyal audiences but also new audiences we are trying to attract and be inspired by Shakespeare.  

Q. Would you recommend doing a Culture Swap to other APAC members or colleagues in the wider sector?

(PB) Wholeheartedly, I’m grateful to Erin Lee for inviting me to participate this time.

(EL) Absolutely, it was a really valuable way to meet like-minded individuals, learn about a fascinating organisation and think outside of the box for a few days!

(EG) Definitely, wonderful to meet others and share knowledge.

(RG) Totally, this was a wonderful opportunity to share ideas and connect with such a passionate team at the NT doing great work.

Thanks to Robyn Greenwood for compiling this blog and to the Royal Shakespeare company and National Theatre for taking part in Culture Swap.

If you or your organisation would be interested in taking part in another Culture Swap initiative please get in contact with us at info@performingartscollections.org.