Welcome to PRAM – the Practitioner Research in the Art Museum blog. I am delighted to be writing what will be the first of a series of entries that looks at what it means to be a practitioner researcher in the art museum. I am planning to write about how research is undertaken in art museums today and by whom and explore how we might expand on current models to re-shape and broaden our understandings. My background is in gallery education and research and I have a longstanding interest in widening access to art through supporting visitors and curators to engage in processes of shared enquiry. I see value in framing the gallery as a space for research-led practice where museum professionals can operate as practitioner researchers, working with audiences and colleagues to co-produce new knowledge. As a result, I want to worry away at questions relating to knowledge, expertise, rigour and authority and look at models of practice based research that are being employed in art schools, universities and schools to see how these can be applied in the art museum. I also want to ground my ideas by learning at first hand from art institutions that are developing innovative cross-disciplinary and collaborative research-led practice, both in the UK and internationally. My ambition is to come up with a framework for practitioner-led co-produced research that is relevant and useful in the art museum of the twenty-first century.
Let me start by giving some background. For the last seven years I have worked as the Head of Learning Practice and Research at Tate. In my role I have been engaged alongside others in embedding research-led reflective practice within Tate’s Learning department, whilst researching and writing on what it means to be a gallery-based practitioner researcher. I have learnt a great deal and benefitted from working with extraordinarily dynamic and thoughtful people within a creative and ambitious organisation, as well as with a wide range of brilliant colleagues from across the arts and academia. I have experienced for myself how the museum is attempting to shift from being the exclusive holder and dispenser of expert knowledge to becoming a more discursive space where ideas are shared and generated with, as opposed to for, a more diverse public. And what I have been trying to examine, in the spare moments and in-between spaces afforded by my job, is the role research can play in supporting these processes and practices.
In April of this year I was fortunate to be awarded an AHRC Leadership Fellowship which has allowed me to take a ten-month sabbatical from Tate starting on October 2nd to focus exclusively on interrogating how museum professionals undertake research as practitioners with others. During this period, I will be reading up, speaking with art museum practitioners, visiting a number of museums, researching in depth some key case studies and testing my ideas with colleagues. By the end of the ten months I plan to have a workable framework that I hope will be useful to gallery professionals, researchers, students and others who are interested in art and the institutions that house and support it. This blog is an essential element of my research. I hope it will be a place where I can put forward ideas, test out some theories, report on the exciting practices I witness and gather feedback.
Although the title ‘Practitioner Research in the Art Museum’ is a little too wordy for my liking, the acronym PRAM is very appealing. As well as the familiar definition of a carriage for young children, the Oxford English Dictionary also describes a pram as a ‘flat-bottomed boat for shipping cargo’. At the risk of sounding a bit cheesy, I am drawn to the idea that this blog will function as a means to transport ideas, as a place where ‘young’ and emerging thoughts can be communicated and carried forward. I look forward to going on the journey and sharing the cargo.