The Silk Mill was Derby's Industrial Museum, and it's undergoing a massive change into a Museum of Making. And as it does so, it is showing other institutions how the modern museum can nail it when it comes to community engagement and buy in from day one, and how splendidly collaborative and open the process can be.
There is a lot I could say about this, but their most recent tumblr post (British museums, more of you should be on there please, it's a great social platform for you) bought up something I really want to highlight.
The post is here. It discusses how: "unlike the traditional approach to a museum revamp, led and directed solely by curators, management teams and Board members, we have taken a wholly different approach."
“The Silk Mill’s approach also stands out in the engagement of exhibition designers at the outset, before the architects have even begun their plans as both companies working collaboratively from the start of the project will make a real difference to the final design.”
Having worked in a couple of different frustrating venues, where either the building was historic and we were forced to plan around it, or the building was brand new, but the exhibition designers came in after the architectural plans were agreed over their heads - this integrated approach can only be a good thing.
Architects and exhibition designers both understand and use similar concepts such as space, visitor flow, light etc to impact on how an area functions and feels. There can be divergent concerns though; as an architect may place doors to draw visitors through clear open paths, but then the exhibition designer later goes “if only the doors had been offset, it would have encouraged visitors to move around the displays more rather than just walk right through the room”.
The Project Director, Hannah Fox, comments that "Leach has already made some fantastic progress working with local people, and I know they’re constantly feeding in to our architects, Bauman Lyons". This means that the exhibitions designers have been talking to the public, and then talking to the architects. How many projects are there were the public's thoughts and feelings are factored in at such an early stage, rather than once a set of plans are already underway and there's 'consultation' on them?
An ability, a willingness, to work together from the very start, should create spaces suited not only to the initial exhibitions and large artifacts which will require specially considered spaces, but also to the future development and “it’s a good idea but not yet” concepts always bobbing around the back of a designer’s mind.
I am really looking forward to seeing how the project continues, and given the Silk Mill’s excellent openness and communication, I expect to enjoy seeing each stage, as well as the finished article.