The British Museum and Its Audiences: A Day in the Life of Jane Findlay

Have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes of world-famous galleries and museums? How do they connect with their audiences? What are their routines and how do they arrange the content that we experience as visitors? I’ve reached out to Jane Findlay, Head of Schools and Young Audiences at The British Museum, and asked her to shed light on a role that, although we might not be aware of it, definitely shapes our experience of these places as soon as we walk in.

to Jane Findlay, Head of Schools and Young Audience at The British Museum

Hi Jane, thank you for sharing some insights on the position you fulfil at the British Museum. Can you introduce your role to someone who is not familiar with it?

My role is to engage schools, families and young people with our collections and temporary exhibitions. We do this through programming, interpretation, digital content… The whole visitor experience really.

It looks like it’s a job that requires a varied background and very specific skills at the same time… How did you build your expertise in this field?

I’ve worked in museums and heritage for just over 8 years now following completing an MA in Museum Studies at UCL. My positions have been in institutions of many different shapes with varied collections. I started out a Community Curator at London Transport Museum, then became a Digital Participation Officer at the National Maritime Museum before becoming an Audience Development Manager at Kenwood House in Hampstead Heath. One constant however is that I’ve always worked with audiences. My passion is in connecting collections and people. I often find myself as the intermediary between the institution and the audiences.

Can you give us an idea of your day-to-day work?

It’s a busy and varied role. In a day I might be working with teachers, contributing to exhibition interpretation, feeding into marketing campaigns, meeting with sponsors and juggling event logistics. I manage a team of 9 so all that goes with that too!

What are the different audiences the British Museum is addressing and how do you liaise with your colleagues working with different demographics?

The people coming through our doors and engaging with us online have increased and changed over time. We need to keep in tune with this changing profile. As well as schools and young audiences, the Museum’s learning programmes covers adults, community partnerships and access audiences too. Good communication and understanding each others’ goals make sure our work supports one another and we can make the most of any overlap between our audiences. We also work closely with colleagues in the marketing and digital teams too.

The British Museum, Great Court

What is the main difference you experience when working with national and international audiences?

The Museum’s collection spans over two million years of human history and culture. We have a local, regional, national and international remit. Families make up a quarter of our visitors and 70% of these are international. By contrast the vast majority of schools are from the UK. For me it’s key that we tailor our offer to meet each different audiences’ needs. It’s about thinking what people’s points of reference are and finding ways in for them to the stories we tell.

What is the aspect of your job that you love the most?

I love finding ways to tell stories about our objects that resonate and relate to young people. Nothing beats seeing young people being inspired by our collections. And I’m always learning things from them too through the many ways in which they respond to our programmes.

Talking about engagement, do you have any preferred tool/channel/platform, something that suits your needs better than others? Any resources that you’d like to recommend?

I think it depends on the audience and what you’re trying to do. We’re experimenting with different types of family interpretation at the moment including tactile guides for exhibitions and apps in permanent galleries. We’ve found augmented reality to be a great way to layer interpretation and help families to look closer at objects. In terms of social we’ve found Tumblr an effective way of curating content for teachers so are looking to use this platform more too. Taking part in international initiatives such as #askacurator day and #museumweek also have proved effective ways of engaging with a spectrum of different audiences. I’m interested in experimenting with cross platform approaches and long form storytelling and how this could shape the way we communicate with audiences.

If you want to know more about Jane you can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Dressed to Kill: If The Devil Wears Prada, Hit Man John Wick Opts for Luca Mosca

I recently watched John Wick, Chad Stahelski’s directorial debut and Keanu Reeves’ most convincing action flick since The Matrix. In it, the actor portrays a retired hit man who goes back into action to recover his stolen car and avenge a pet dog, the last gift from his deceased wife. Despite being sucked into the highly choreographed kill count the film is known for (as this graphic “supercut” clearly shows), I couldn’t help noticing how stylishly dressed Reeves’ character was while performing the carnage.

Keanu Reeves as John Wick. Costume design by Luca Mosca.

Costume design here mixes practicality and elegance, highlighting Wick’s darker side mainly through black or grey suits with ties, which reminded me of the professional thieves, undercover cops and killers with a passion for fashion portrayed in Michael Mann’s Heat, Collateral and Miami Vice.

The costume designer behind John Wick’s look is the Italian Luca Mosca, a former graduate student in pharmacy who pursued his true vocation after completing his medical education. Currently working on Breck Eisner’s The Last Witch Hunter, he was previously involved on films such as Vantage Point, Girlfight and 21.

Keanu Reeves as John Wick. Costume design by Luca Mosca.

Raised in the Italian fashion capital of Milan, as he explains on his website, Mosca started to work in Italy at Zamasport and stepped into the film industry after moving to New York in 1994, where he initially founded his fashion brand LUCA+MARCO, along with designer Marco Cattoretti. His career as a costume designer took off thanks to a small feature film that gave him the chance to explore the connotations clothes could add to a character.

According to the production notes for John Wick, Reeves praised Mosca’s costume design as “He gave the clothing so much subtle meaning. All the different shades of black that Luca used gave it a lot of overtones. It’s funereal and it’s priestly. It’s also very chic, but it doesn’t call attention to itself. When I put the suit on, it definitely affects me.”

Keanu Reeves as John Wick. Costume design by Luca Mosca.

While recalling his approach to Wick’s wardrobe, Mosca added: “People in this movie dress extraordinarily well. It’s a little bit of a fantasy world, visually speaking, with beautiful homes, extreme money, sophisticated objects and fine art. I had to make a statement with every character. For John Wick, we needed to find him a sort of uniform to be worn almost throughout the entire movie. Then we had to tailor it perfectly and make it sleek and timeless enough to fit into this perfect world.”

It might sound not such a good idea to get into a fight wearing a nice suit and a tie, especially if you’re getting involved in close combat against armed professionals, as they might choke you with that same tie. Unless you are the deadliest killer out there…

How an iPhone App Helped to Save Academy Award Winner “Searching for Sugar Man”

I was admittedly late in catching up with the touching 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man, which I watched long after its director, Malik Bendjelloul, committed suicide in May 2014 after a battle with depression. I knew the documentary’s topic – the quest for the elusive American folk musician Sixto Rodriguez who was virtually unknown in the US but a legend in South Africa – but I wasn’t aware of some interesting details about its production.

Poster for Malik Bendjelloul's documentary "Searching for Sugar Man".

This post is actually a follow-up to my previous article on recent films shot with iPhones, because to me, the most interesting aspect of this documentary is that an iPhone app was crucial to its completion. Searching for Sugar Man became one of the most acclaimed documentaries of 2013 thanks to its story, but also thanks to its look and feel. Contributing to this success was an app called 8mm Vintage Camera.

Bendjelloul himself recalled in this interview with CNN that the basic feature of this app, which works more or less like filters on Instagram, is its ability to recreate the “flavour” of Super 8 mm films. This is the expensive film format that the director has started to use before running out of money.

American folk singer Sixto Rodriguez as featured in the photo for the cover of "Coming from Reality", his second and final studio album.

When Bendjelloul realised that he needed extra shots to complete the documentary, but did not have the budget to buy more proper film stock, he came across the app, which is now sold on the App Store for £1.49, and went for it as for him it perfectly matched the style of the main footage.

Needless to say, after discovering that Searching for Sugar Man was completed thanks to its product, the developer started to publicise 8mm Vintage Camera as “an Oscar worthy app”.