Deborah Fox, senior curator at Museums Worcestershire

'Our strength is definitely in relationships and partnerships during these odd times'

Yosola Olorunshola, 18.05.2020
Q&A with Deborah Fox, senior curator at Museums Worcestershire 
Part of our series of conversations with Museums Association (MA) members about how they are coping with the Covid-19 lockdown

How has your work been affected by the impact of Covid-19?  

The rapidity at which Museums Worcestershire locked down our buildings and collections and the speed at which our workforce has adapted to home working has been breathtaking. Our means of delivery changed overnight but the commitment to care for our buildings, collections, communities and audience did not.

The focus of our work has been on ensuring the safety of staff, buildings and collections and tackling isolation during lockdown, especially for our older audiences and families who are home schooling.

We’ve had to close, rearrange or cancel wonderful exhibitions. Our Mayflower 400 and Georgians: The Pride and The Prejudice exhibitions have gone online while elements of our Skyscape exhibition have been released every ‘Skyscape Sunday’ in partnership with the Ashmolean.

How are you staying connected to the museum community?  

Our strength is definitely in relationships, partnerships, and in numbers during these odd times. The Museums Worcestershire teams and volunteers are in close communication by telephone and video calling. There’s no doubt that all of our staff are taking more time to stay in touch and check in with each other and we’ve become far more familiar with each other’s cats, dogs and kids who inhabit our new work spaces.

We’re keeping in contact with our arts and heritage community in Worcestershire and discussing the impact of Covid-19 on the local sector. Museums Worcestershire has been awarded funding by ACE to support our county arts organisations and we’re working on a project with Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service to put funding in place to support the workforce in the county’s historic environment and heritage sector. We’re also working with county organisations on plans to collect objects, art and ephemera to ensure Worcestershire’s experience is recorded and remembered. 

National subject specialist networks like the Society for Museum Archaeology and CIfA Archaeological Archives Group are taking to platforms like Zoom and Twitter for meetings, AGMs, and conferences. I hadn’t heard of Zoom two months ago!

How has being an MA member helped you and/or your staff?  

The Museums Association, as always, has acted as a voice for the sector and provided much needed information and support. As an Esmée Fairbairn grant holder, we’ve received very rapid advice and support in changing the focus and delivery of our project A Glove Affair. The project focuses on Worcester’s international gloving industry, working with volunteers and community groups to preserve and record the collections and stories relating to the gloving trade.

How are you engaging with your audiences and communities?  

Connecting with our audience and communities to combat isolation has become one of our most important priorities. Curatorial, digital marketing and learning teams are collaborating more closely than ever before to deliver a common outreach plan. Teams are working on collections outreach, blogs, online exhibitions, filmed store tours and make-a-thons aimed at those facing isolation and supporting families who are home-schooling. Week by week, all of our teams are working to a common theme and purpose. 

What are your hopes or expectations for museums after the pandemic?  

Museums Worcestershire is already planning for a considered reopening of our own sites which puts the safety of our staff and visitors at its heart. Our thoughts are turning to recovery across our buildings, exhibitions and projects. We hope our communities will come back to our galleries as soon as we reopen but I think there’s concern across the sector. We can’t take our audiences for granted and we’ll have to work hard to gain their trust.

My hope is that the projects we’re working on to understand and support the local sector are funded and successful. I hope the relationships and partnerships that have become deeper and more purposeful during this period flourish. I’d be happy if, when we look back on the experience of Worcestershire’s heritage and arts sector in a couple of years, no one has been left behind.

I hope that the sector as a whole can be supported well. Museums are vital to our community’s connection to their local place, to their wellbeing and our economies. I expect that there will be renewed strength in retaining and developing the partnerships we’ve forged and the new models we‘ve developed in these oddest of times.

Deborah leads the curatorial and exhibitions team who work across the Worcester City and Worcestershire County Council collections and deliver exhibitions and interpretation at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum, the Commandery, and Worcestershire County Museum at Hartlebury Castle. She is a committee member of CIfA Archaeological Archives Group, the Society for Museum Archaeology and Honorary Curator of Worcestershire Archaeological Society.