Welcome to PRAM – the Practitioner Research in the Art Museum blog – that explores what it means to be a practitioner researcher in the art museum. It looks at how research is undertaken in art museums today and by whom and explores 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.
In this blog I worry away at questions relating to knowledge, expertise, rigour and authority and look at models of collaborative and practice based research being employed in art schools, universities and schools to see how these can be applied in the art museum. I 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. And I draw attention to writers and thinkers whose ideas are helpful and relevant in reconceptualising how research functions in art museums currently.
This blog began life as part of an AHRC funded fellowship I undertook from September 2017 to July 2018 to research and develop a framework for practitioner-led co-produced research for the art museum of the twenty-first century. This fellowship allowed me to step away from my role as Head of Learning Practice and Research at Tate to read, research and write. I visited museums and art organisations, interviewed and spoke with colleagues in the UK and internationally, facilitated seminars and talks and wrote this blog and a book – ‘Rethinking Research in the Art Museum’ – that is due to be published by Routledge in 2019. The experience challenged and broadened my thinking about my own practice and art museum research in its entirety.
In August 2018 I returned to Tate and am curious to keep exploring what it means to be a museum-based practitioner researcher from within the organisation. In my current role I work alongside others to develop research projects and embed research-led reflective practice in Tate’s Learning department, whilst continuing to research and write. I learn a great deal and benefit from working with extraordinarily dynamic and thoughtful people across different departments and disciplines in a creative and ambitious organisation. And I connect with a wide range of brilliant colleagues from across the arts and academia. I can witness at first hand how the museum is attempting to shift from being the exclusive holder and dispenser of expert knowledge to becoming a more discursive space. Yet I am aware of the challenges the institution faces in sharing and generating ideas with, as opposed to for, a more diverse public. I will bring all of this experience to my writing in this blog going forward. And I hope to include the voices of fellow practitioner researchers as guest contributors.
As I wrote when I began the blog, the title ‘Practitioner Research in the Art Museum’ is a little too wordy for my liking. However 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’. I still think, even though it is a bit cheesy, that this blog functions as a means to transport ideas, as a place where ‘young’ and emerging thoughts can be communicated and carried forward. As I enter the next phase of my professional journey I look forward to sharing more of the cargo.