Bexhill Museum is a classically curated traditional Edwardian town museum with modern aspirations in a changing world. Founded in 1914 by a woman botanist-explorer and a local clergyman-geologist it built its early collection on the cultural traffic of Empire and in some physical ways has not changed at all in over 100 years.

Yet in other ways it is strikingly modern. Its costume collection is firmly grounded in social history as well as textile and design studies. Its educational programmes deploy performance, storytelling and carefully designed replica artefacts. Its digital archives were curated specifically for the purpose of community historical research from the outset, from 2009, when simply ‘getting a website’ was enough for most museums of its size and style.

It has embraced digital mapping and LIDAR representations of local archaeological sites in its care. It has a popular social media presence. And at a time when traditional curation is being required to ‘explain itself’ in the era of #RhodesMustFall, the Museum increasingly hopes to use the digital to bridge the gap between traditionally collected artefacts and the contextualised meanings that accessible archiving brings to them.

A museum also has the ideal skill-sets needed to bring provenance, authenticity and authority to today’s complex public debates around matters of history, culture and society. But it needs to apply these skills in an intensely digitally mediated public space.

The Journey

In the wake of these transformations, South East Creatives is helping the team reframe the digital functionality of Bexhill Museum: trustee, artist & PhD candidate Leah Fusco, currently working on digital representations of a ‘lost’ village along the local coast; Alex Markwick, from the Museum’s Local History Group, founder of a digital workshop producing historically-bound representations of town spaces from open source maps new and old; and project manager Rohan Jayasekera, a journalist, technologist, and recent MA graduate with distinction from Goldsmiths College in Digital Media, Technology & Cultural Form.

Rohan says:

“Bexhill Museum’s curator, Julian Porter MA, is developing exciting new project concepts for digitally rendered 3D maps of archaeological sites around Bexhill, made possible by the new equipment and  training supported in part by SE Creatives. This support allows us to make credible offers to contribute to new digital projects on equal terms with bigger heritage organisations such as the Queens University centre at Herstmonceux Castle.

It better prepares us to adapt to change and contribute to an emerging digital cultural sector in Rother. It will enable the museum to develop products & services designed to tap into a growing market interest in local & family history, and to better assist a local community of digital art and AR/VR event programmers seeking partners for new creative projects. It will also allow us to expand our existing educational services into a new area of vocational training for young people, with training in audiovisual technology skills, interview techniques, podcast and online marketing skills. And in the short term, the new equipment & we have been given a head start in developing digital solutions to the problems of access caused by the COVID-19 crisis.”

Our creative ambition is to use the affordances of digital technology to tell stories about people and places, mapped in space and  time; making their historic & cultural presence ineradicable from public record; to do so with the professional rigour of traditional curatorial and archival best practice.”

The partnership with South East Creatives

Rohan continues:

” The immediate objective in seeking South East Creatives support was to secure additional funds for training and investment in new technology planned under our existing development programme. This is essential foundation building work for the future of the wider project. South East Creatives support was additionally helpful as 35% matched funding, as it made the use of Museum reserves more productive at a difficult time for a cash-strapped sector.

It can be hard to find this kind of investment from the public sector; so, it is useful for the museum to get ‘acclimatised’ to the idea of private sector investment. In more creative contexts, it was also important to the museum to make the connection with partners outside the traditional museum community, essential if we are to successfully actualise all our ‘data’ in new formats and sets that will enable researchers, artists and creative entrepreneurs to find exciting new uses for it.”

Read this and more South East Creative success stories here

Posted by sally on Monday 26 October 2020