We’re chuffed to share the work from our latest commission with The Scouts! In this post, we’ll share not only the brilliant collections we produced together but also talk a little about the steps involved in the commissioning process.
The project included running workshops integrating objects, stories, creative writing and art to help children explore the topic of refugees and displaced people. These workshops were run in schools and in collaboration with author Jane Ray and charity EmpathyLab and proved a great success.
Following the workshops, the Scouts’ Heritage Collections Officer, Caroline Hamson, approached us with the idea of commissioning collections that can be borrowed by Scout groups, allowing them to run a condensed version of the workshops. The Box could act as the perfect way to facilitate these outreach workshops, and we couldn’t wait to get started!
Following our initial communications, Caroline visited our Hoxton HQ to try out a Box, explore some existing collections and — with neither of us having any Scouting experience — tell us a little more about The Scout Association and its archive. We learned about all the different work Scouts did on the Home Front during the war as well as The Scout International Relief Service and discussed a little about the kinds of objects in the collection.
Following this meeting we kicked off the commission and arranged a visit for George and Charlie to visit the home of Scouting, the beautiful Gilwell Park.
Visit and Object Selection
It’s certainly one of our favourite aspects of a commission to visit the site of the commissioner and rummage about in the collection with the education or curatorial teams to figure out a good story for the collection.
We ultimately decided to create two collections: ‘On the Home Front‘ which tells of what life was like during wartime and how Scouts contributed to the war effort at home, and ‘Moving Connections: The Scout International Relief Service‘ which documents the work of Scouts in Europe after the war had ended.
Each collection we made includes one 3D print and eight or nine postcards. As with most collections, much of the Scouts’ archival materials are 2D: photos, documents. but along with Caroline we were able to pick out two really nice objects that we knew would digitise well. The first was an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) warden’s helmet: a great symbol of the roles played during the war and was no doubt a comforting sight to see during a wartime bombing raid.
The second 3D object from the The Scout International Relief Service collection was a Prisoner of War camp logbook. This is a particularly special object because it belonged to scouts who were interned at Miranda de Ebro, a Spanish concentration camp. The book is made up of three intricately carved wooden panels.
Replica ‘Point It Out’ Book
As well as the postcards and 3D prints we wanted to create a replica of the ‘Point It Out’ book. Scouts would have used this book a means of communicating as they worked throughout post-way Europe; it features pages and pages of beautifully illustrated images that the user could point at in order to overcome any language barriers they may come up against.
We worked with printmaker Takako Copeland (who made the beautiful container for our Bata box back in May) to create the replica of the book. Each page was scanned-in, cleaned up and printed out before being wrapped in a nice thick cover featuring all of the original artwork. The book also has one of our metal stickers on it so it can be booped along with the other items in the collections.
The finished article…
The collections have already been used at an event, the Gilwell Reunion at Gilwell Park, and we’ve already had a note from Simon, a Scout leader in London, who’s interested to help his charges attain their Digital Maker badge by making a Box! We’re excited about visiting with him, and hearing more about the recent Scouts & Raspberry Pi partnership, which we’d love to be involved with somehow.
We had a visit from Laura Gibson to our office in Bloomsbury back in May 2017. We’d been introduced by a mutual friend, Rosalind Parker, who was in the same PhD program as Laura, at King’s College London.
Laura was then working on her PhD, entitled Decolonising South African Museums in a Digital Age: Re-imagining the Iziko Museums’ Natal Nguni Catalogue and Collection. This was the culmination of many years of interest and work in the South African cultural sector, which began in 2009, when Laura was Assistant Curator at Iziko Museums in Cape Town. Since then, Laura has been back and forth and around KwaZulu-Natal building community, bringing together a team of Zulu community experts around the work of decolonising museum collections. She also recently submitted her thesis over the summer – Yay! – and Dr. Laura Gibson has already won a prestigious award for it, from Universities Antwerpen – double Yay!
Fast forward to this year, and we find that Laura and Hannah secured funding from the Wenner Gren Foundation, and the University of Leicester Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) to bring together a group of nineteen Zulu community experts, anthropologists, scholars, entrepreneurs and museum professionals for a three-day workshop at Iziko Museums in Cape Town, the oldest museum in sub-Saharan Africa.
We were in the group, thrilled beyond measure that Laura and Hannah had designed that a Museum in a Box would be one of their project outputs, ideally to be returned from London (where we made it) to KwaZulu-Natal, so Zulu kids could learn about objects held in colonial museums – not from the museum’s perspective, but the Zulu community experts who selected and described them.
We assembled from various cities in KwaZulu-Natal, London, Cape Town, and Leicester to descend on Iziko and other venues for a three-day workshop.
Ostensibly, Charlie and I were there to document everything, taking photographs constantly, and recording audio of the whole event. We were keen that it wasn’t too orchestrated, but that the free-flowing fun conversation and activities were captured live and unfettered. Here’s the outline of the workshop:
We met in the morning at the Iziko Social History Centre, and said our hellos and introduced ourselves to each other. I was paired with Mama Nini, who got my measure within about 10 seconds, as we worked through the preset getting-to-know-you questions. “George doesn’t like talking about intimate relationships,” she said. On point. Haha.
Then, the group was able to do one of my very favourite things, which was exploring the museums historical registers, catalogues, and storerooms. Assisted by Iziko staff, Dr. Gerald Klinghardt, Curator of Anthropology, and Lailah Hisham, Collections Manager, we were able to see all sorts of items, with a view to each of the experts selecting one to describe.
In the afternoon, we were able to demonstrate Museum in a Box to the group, and were excited that everyone agreed a Box would be a good thing to produce.
The morning began with a tour from Fatima February, Conservator, who explained for the group what happens when an object is acquired by the museum. She had also gathered the objects chosen by participants so we could begin photography.
Next, we visited Lailah’s lair in the Collections Department, surrounded by old card catalogues and accession registers. It was so illuminating at this point to really see first hand how objects collected in colonial times were described. Laura shared a story from her research about a “Zulu” sweat scraper that is sparsely documented on the official catalogue card; however exploring the South African Museum’s archives more thoroughly reveals its disturbing provenance—stolen from the body of a Zulu man killed by the collector’s friend—that is absent from the official record.
In the afternoon, the group worked with ceramicist, Gary Frier, to create visual responses to belongings found in the collection and elsewhere in their lives, and Gary fired the pieces to return to the group once they were ready. The conversation around the making noted that many of the skills needed to make the objects seen the day before in the collection were disappearing, and how great it would be to facilitate makers who still hold those skills to teach and share that knowledge.
Towards the end of the day, the whole group took a trip to Table Mountain, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. That title is not given lightly, and the mountain was truly shining for our visit.
We moved venues for the morning, to Rust en Vreugd. The group was facilitated by Mbongeni Nomkonwana and Antonia Porter, and after some fun warm-up exercises, got down to business describing the objects from Iziko the group had selected. Antonia also encouraged everyone to look inwards, and reflect on what the workshop had brought forward for them.
Here’s how Laura described it in her summary of the workshop: “Dr Skhumbuzo Miya shared his concerns about the many powerful belongings held in the Iziko collections, items so powerful they could burn down a house without fire and that are, he believes, stored and treated incorrectly. He asked what reparation process is the museum following to cleanse these items? Later that evening, he stated that he had seen spirits living in hell in the storerooms. Thuli Mtshali likewise expressed regret that many of the stories behind the objects had been lost because apartheid and colonialism allowed people to collect, or steal, things form people without knowing this information that has since been lost. Thulani Thusi and Wilfred Mchunu spoke about the possibilities for collaboration that arose for them during the workshop, a sentiment captured for them by a leaf and feather. Nini Xulu’s plant choice also allowed her to reiterate how important it is that we work together and how beautiful it can be when we do.”
Then it was back to Iziko to do final photography and audio recordings, and we were delighted when Dr Miya played some of his songs for us on guitar!
Bringing it together
We left Cape Town with smiles, three days of audio, and thousands of photographs. It was lovely to revisit the event through these materials. We wanted the collection we developed to represent three things:
The objects selected from the Iziko stores, their catalogue cards (if they existed), and the audio descriptions of each object, as given by one or more of the Zulu community experts
The event itself, because so often this “contextual colour” is completely missing or hard to find in the works and background of events, and the workshop, its participants and its design generated the information and content, and finally
The participants, through their portraits, their voices, and their own introductions (or songs!), since this is almost entirely absent from the official record of colonial museums.
We created three “types” of postcards to represent these three ideas, which were also all translated from English into isiZulu. Look and listen to their audio, too:
Last week, Charlie and I were sitting in our office in Hoxton, and photos started coming through on our project WhatsApp, showing the launch party that was going on at Luthuli Museum in Groutville, just north of Durban in KZN. The whole South African crew had gathered to celebrate, and Laura was there too, to hand-deliver the box. It was exciting and brilliant! We are very proud.
We were also thrilled to see two messages from Thulani and Nini…
I want to thank each one of you for another effort on Amagugu Ethu, our meeting after the launch was a productive one. The people were so amazed about the work of Amagugu and to see the Museum in a Box. The Prince Zulu express his heartfelt gratitude for the work toward conservation of the Zulu objects and he requested that Amagugu should also do awareness programs. All the best to all of us towards what we have discussed today. Dr Gibson and the team in UK indeed we thank you for all you hard work. – Thulani Thusi
Thanks so much for the Charlie/George Magical Museum in a Box. God bless you with more intellectual technological invocation to share with Africa. – Nini Xulu
Best wishes from Team KZN received via WhatsApp
If the box wasn’t involved at all in the project, the results would still have been amazing. Power would have moved, would have changed hands. But, we like to think that one thing the Box has helped do is contain it, and perhaps present it more easily.
Thank you to our new friends, Nini, Thandi, Thuli, Wilfred, Dr Miya, Thulani and Boyzie for being fabulous, and we hope to see you again!
We’ve also made boxes out of transparent acrylic so you can see exactly how it works. I was chuffed when I handed one of our transparent boxes to my nephew, Alex, and he was able to identify, describe, and connect each of the hardware components into the whole. And I’m not just saying that because he’s family. I was genuinely impressed.
In one of our recent commissions, with Monroe County History Center, we loved hearing that they thought a transparent Box in particular would be of interest to their community. The commission was about developing reminiscence collections for folks suffering from dementia and their carers, and quite a few of the men in the programme had an engineering background, so we hoped there’d be interest in the device itself, as well as the 1960s.
We also want to make our design available in an open format so students can literally make their own boxes too. I suspect we’ll end up doing this with one of our early designs which maker spaces or classrooms may have the components to hand to fabricate their own Box. As we’re marching towards higher production volumes, that’s meant developing internals that are much quicker to assemble, and can be made in large volumes. We are developing a Make Your Own kit version this year, so far focussed on the content side of things – like choosing and digitising objects, writing and recording their stories – but we’ve always hoped to extend Make Your Own to include the hardware piece too.
That brings me to our newest design innovation, which relates to our new and improved printed circuit board (PCB). Instead of us hand-crafting the internals – because I should never be making wiring looms! – we’ve now got a super-slick, all-encompassing PCB which incorporates and unifies the amplifier, digital-to-analog audio conversion, power for the Box, our physical progress bar, and allows us to add a real-time clock to help us manage and record when objects are booped.
As Adrian and I chipped away on the PCB layout, I found myself unable to recognise or interpret what all the wiring bits actually were, and needed Adrian to label them for me. Then it dawned on me. Why not label them for everyone? Why not explain transparently exactly what each bit does? So, I designed cheeky labels for each of the main components, so you can familiarise yourself with it all.
We’ve also redesigned how the Box opens up, to make it easier to pull the guts out and have a look. People – often men, interestingly – tell us “but you could just do this with a phone”, and we nod politely and say yes, you could. But, a) that’s just another screen in your life, b) you can’t just pull your phone apart to understand how it works, c) we want the Box itself to be part of the experience, and d) it is also an educational element of the whole idea.
I’m still not sure if we’ll patent the hardware design, but I at least wanted to establish a state of the art on the annotation-on-the-thing idea with this blog post. That might mean we get totally stiffed by some giant megacorp, which would obviously SUCK, but, I prefer to radiate generous intent.
We’ve been busy working on many exciting commissions recently and plan to share a few more detailed insights into these over the coming weeks.
One such commission is with the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, a collection we produced along with staff at the museum that explores transatlantic slavery, and its contemporary significance.
The collection consists of two 3D models and seven postcards and encompasses a range of artefacts from the museum’s collection. These include objects that would have been touched by African slaves, street signs connecting Liverpool to the slave trade, and contemporary art pieces.
After settling on an object list, Charlie travelled up to the museum to 3D scan the two objects that were to be 3D printed. These were the Olaudah Equiano sculpture – a brilliant sculpture of writer, abolitionist and a former enslaved African, Olaudah Equiano by sculptor Christy Symington, and a Bamana mask – a type of mask used in Bamana culture used in traditional initiation societies in order to pass into adulthood. We printed them out in some brilliant bright yellow PLA, and were glad that so much detail of the original, including the shape of Africa on Olaudah’s back, broken shackles, and an enslaved female figure from the Brookes slave ship diagram were all visible on the print!
The audio in the collection incorporates narration from staff members including education demonstrators, curators, volunteers, and youth ambassadors. It’s great to hear such a variety of expert voices talk about the objects in such depth. Here’s a sample of one object in the collection, a ‘Talking Drum’, described by Yaz, one of the museum’s education demonstrators:
An important distinction the collection highlights is the range of material held at the museum. This includes not only original objects but contemporary artworks too such as the Olaudah Equiano sculpture and The Cockle Pickers’ Tea Service.
‘Made in 2007 to commemorate 200 years since Britain enacted a law to outlaw the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The artwork references the original African victims, whilst also remembering twenty-one Chinese cockle pickers drowned in Morecambe Bay Lancashire in 2004. These people were contemporary slaves. A reminder that the slave trade is still alive in the twenty first century.’
We’re chuffed with how the set neatly encapsulate the museum’s broad collection, and that the box will be used to help increase awareness and understanding of the important stories it has to tell.
We can’t wait to hear how they get on with the box in the coming months!
We have SO MUCH to tell you. We’re very busy! It’s great! I’ll try to write more to tell you what we’re up to over the summer… Short version:
Our Make Your Own pilot is going strong – it’s taken a little longer than we’d first planned on, but that’s been useful information to take on; that a) it’s not easy or quick to curate a great collection, and b) fitting that in to already busy lives is challenging. But, we have had some brilliant collections come in, like Freakishly Frightening Fungi from Heather in Tasmania (a personal fave), and look at this amazing Ahora hablamos nosotrasexhibition built by the pilots at Salnés Campus in Spain! (Read their great blog post about it.)
We’re finishing up four new commissions:
Amagugu Ethu (Our Treasures): Charlie and I visited Cape Town with academics, Laura Gibson (King’s College) and Hannah Turner (University of Leicester). Laura, in particular, has been studying the effects of colonisation on communities and museum collections in South Africa, and we were there to participate in a brilliant workshop with KwaZulu-Natal folks Laura had invited into the Iziko Museums to provide new descriptions of objects there.
There’ll be a Museum in a Box made to represent the workshop travelling back to KZN over the summer.
Transatlantic Slavery & Its Contemporary Significance, with the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool (UK): Working with the education team, we’ve developed a Collection to represent key elements of the gallery space, showcasing objects made by African slaves, Liverpool’s history, and contemporary artistic responses to slavery.
Life & Work at the British Bata Shoe Company, with the Bata Heritage Centre (UK): We’ve had great fun working with writer, Samuel Bailey, and actors Jessica Carroll and Jamie Hinde to bring the East Tilbury Bata factory estate to life. The BHC will use their Box and Collections at local heritage events, and with local school children to help share their local history.
#livingwithhistory, A Helper for Dementia Sufferers and their Carers, with Monroe County History Center (USA): The MCHC engaged us to help design a pilot Collection to aid conversation in domestic and community spaces amongst folks suffering from dementia and the people who care for them. In a lovely, collaborative commission, we’ve combined original objects from their collections with photography from the 60s (from open cultural collections, including Flickr Commons, and from institutions like the US National Archives and Library of Congress) into a multi-dimensional set of cards and things to touch and listen to, hopefully stimulating conversation and reminiscence. This type of use of Museum in a Box is regularly suggested by people who try it, so we’re especially interested to see if this sort of collection is useful…
Here’s a quick video I made of the Monroe County Collection before we post it over to them:
All that, and we’re trying to figure out how to make 1,000 boxes. There are about 120 out and about all over the world now, which we’ve largely made by hand. But, we’re happy and a bit daunted that demand is well and truly exceeding supply (700 pre-orders?!?), so now working to meet that demand, including a visit to the amazing Protolabs, where we got to see their amazing injection moulding operation… they could make our boxes much stronger and more quickly, so we’re hoping that comes together! We’ve also entered their “Cool Ideas” competition, and hoping that might result in a subsidy for our first few batches… Wish us luck on that one!
The last few months have been nuts, frankly. We’ve made 80 Boxes, and are sending about 40 of them to our Make Your Own Museum in a Box pilots, all over the world (every continent except Antartica!?!). We’ve upgraded the Box to V1.2 to incorporate a new amp/sound design, and a much less expensive RFID reader. That’s good.
I really liked what our amp-soldering helper, Thomas Butler, said back in November:
80 boxes is a lot. The most we’ve ever made or had. Now we even have inventory (but even that’s disappearing!). It’s great. Next step is to figure out how to make them even more quickly, and even more cost-effectively.
The magnificent and thorough Thibaut Evrard, who did the lion’s share of construction
Irfan & Noufal at Hamon, who have coded up the web app our pilots will need to configure their collections & boxes
Aged 16-25? Gain creative skills by signing up to our FREE 6-week ‘Museum in a Box’ programme. Running from 24 January, help create a miniature interactive exhibition with 3D scanning, printing, audio capture and coding techniques. Find out more at https://t.co/MrWjXTvCeGpic.twitter.com/RUhhHizsun
We’re doing an international user research pilot to trial our new version of Museum in a Box we’re calling “Make Your Own”. Our plan is to work towards having these kits for sale in time for Christmas 2019.
We have gathered 40 hardy groups from around the world to participate with us, and our first step was to interview all of them. We were lucky enough to meet some in person, and Skyped with everyone else. Here’s a map of where they all are:
It’s been exciting and informative to meet everyone. We’ve gathered all kinds of tidbits about their lives and work, and have particularly enjoyed hearing about how they would like to use Make Your Own to extend their own missions and work. We were particularly pleased that this group of 40 probably represents a pretty good cross-section of folks we hope will become customers (although anyone is welcome to buy one!).
We’ve used the same set of interview questions for everyone, and I’ve been most interested in the response to this one: If the pilot was wildly successful, what might this look like for you? I thought you might like to see what people say to that…
The Pilots’ Responses
If I have more students come and ask me about it, and come and ask me to participate. They’ll ask me about it. Initiating a conversation with me is a winner. If I speak to new students, that’s huge win. I’m 5 feet, most of them are taller than me.
Well, if we’re successful, that means like you’re successful… we’d make more connections with other pilots… we could get more resources from all over the world, we’d be pilots… You’d get more funding so everyone would benefit. It just hopefully opens up the program so more people and schools can participate, so more schools and kids can benefit. “You’ll need to appreciate art and music and the past and why you shouldn’t knock everything down.”
Seeing Museum in a Box in campuses and students create collections by themselves and spread them out
It will be a success, maybe if a student thinks we can do something bigger. Maybe we can make a big Museum in a Box! We can also present this to other schools around – there are about 20 small schools near us.
Anything successful would be being able to demonstrate learning, this is part of why I want to make a study to prove it. There are also a lot engagement for the students for culture and everything. But the main reason for me is proving that it works.
It’s not just about if it works but more to show me that it demonstrably increases learning. If you do this then schools want it. Teachers listen to teachers and listen to research.
We would like to create something that would be able to see scale sustainably. Every single time we have a new museum collection, what could we put on Museum in a Box? I would love to see and understand the business model. Really about what we scale and what the students are going to create at the end.
People engaging with it during the market. Asking more questions, trying more cards. Having Laura (market master) want to take it and use it outside the market. Inspiring envy, obvs. If nobody is interested I will have failed.
That the box can create that kind of ongoing engagement (with young adults) that goes beyond the interaction with the box. We would like to see that after interacting with the box, there is some kind of ongoing engagement with the subject. Don’t know how to measure it yet. Maybe it’s an ongoing affiliation with the project. 40% of the visitors are repeat visitors. Develop engagement/affiliation with MB and stay active and develop their own collection or pursue direct action with the artists. Can MB trigger that kind of interaction? Enable a deeper connection at large.
That I have played a role in this successful project. It’s a privilege to have helped. It would be a good reflection for me, and for my school.
I talked with the local museum, and they might be interested in purchasing it, and they’re really exciting about reproductions. I don’t want to jump the gun, but I love this open access tech, and helping people encounter the world in this way.
Success for MB would be repeatable programs/lessons.
People wanting the box everywhere! I know a lot of art teachers around Portland. Would be good if our box could travel around the city, and have other teachers interested. Giving the students some pride at their collection. Sharing it will be the best.
It would be something I can present as a new way to experience sound and to interact with it. A new medium for sound. Knowing how it works and can be used in different context, could it be something people can have in their homes? Could it help people?
I don’t know! Just people enjoying the fungi collection all over the place. Getting excited about fungi.
I think that I don’t have to touch the box too much. It just wanders around, without me, and it doesn’t sit in my house… there’s demand to see it and use it. Potentially, a proliferation of Boxes or Collections.
The children would be able to find a way to learn and create their own experience that they can then share with their families.
I need to figure out how to put it in front of people. We frequently do prototype testing… I can imagine setting it up in one of the halls – see what the response is. For me, I’m interested in seeing the ease of using the Box, the variety and richness of using it, how visitors respond to it. Would we do pop-ups or offer for sale in our gift shop. Can we offer to visitors to create their own? We’ve tried various citizen science projects… esp for the collections, it’s not just a bunch of stuff. They tell you things.
Success would be kids getting knowledge or study drive from Museum in a Box. if they can be inspired by the role models, it is already a win! Get them willing to stay involved and do more.
Would be around outcomes for the Young People’s Programme. They feel they’ve had ownership, developed understanding of collections and exhibition-making and digital side of things. Practical skills and comprehension of how galleries and museums work. Internal conversation continuing about what we’d do around our collection.
We would want to find a way to keep the Box at the end, and send it out ourselves. I would want to be in a position where we can send it. Could be used by locals, or make connections all over the world. Maybe with other composers or other forms of music.
Success would be getting a lot of people interacting with the project and increasing the audience of the museum. being able to expand. getting more people involved in the creation and engagement with content. Getting the kids to want to be part of the project.
I don’t know how it will be successful, but it would be nice to build upon it, maybe a Katakana version (simplified). It’s quite a commercial, ready idea. Could be arty; more ambitious.
A tool that the audience would find useful. Also all the team of the museum to get ideas of how to use this box. How can we help people that collect stamps?
To make the pilot successful the pilot would need multiple people involved, as well as information sharing, to interest other programs to implement the box more widely in the system. I would love to see a Museum in a Box project every semester in the class.
Get other teachers involved with my department. Like the art classes upstairs.
If people engage with the collection and find way to interact with it then it would be successful. Then, I can try to push the concept and pitch it to local indigenous libraries in order to try to help them experiment with Museum in a Box.
It’s about making sure the children realise why they’re doing something, and give them the opportunity to showcase what they’ve done. It’s key for children to share, too… it’s not just “Miss” at the front telling things, but the kids are making the stories…
It would give us a sense of pride, for working it, and it taking off. A sense of connection and achievement for being involved. The excitement of contributing to something that’s worked.
First of all, awesome. If it works, I wouldn’t mind using this tool in different museums, and have the tool in different museums to allow people to interact with it. Can we use it inside our projects/exhibitions? That would be a success, actually. Let’s see how this will be useful for us. I think it will. Maybe in the next year, if this works, let’s see how we can expand.
We’d like to make many more pilots, and disseminate music to as many spaces as we can.
It will be really interesting to see how kids react, and develop something around that. It will also be interesting to teach the kids to figure out what to make. Maybe the kids could start making their own thing, about their places.
If it’s successful we would have a permanent display in each of the museums, and they would run programs and create new collections that would be on display.
This morning over coffee at home, I wrote a personal tweet: “I wonder what will happen today.” I didn’t post it.
I got to work a bit before 10am. Our office hours are 10-6. Our first thing to do was an interview with Pat, a design/construction teacher at a high school in Liverpool. He’s one of our Make Your Own pilots, and it was a joy. We’re planning to talk with all 40 of them.
We have a script for these interviews, which Pat promptly diverted from. He explained his love of teaching, and that every child is a maker, and that when kids are able to teach other kids what’s going on you know they’ve really got it. He spun his phone around his classroom, and showed us what basically looked like his shed. In the best way. There’s a welder, 3D printers, workshop timetables… all manner of bits and bobs designed to help kids think and touch and make. One of our questions is ‘what sort of collection are you thinking to make?’ and Pat’s desk is covered with widgets, that people mostly just want to touch and pick up, so he explained he wanted to make a Collection using those widgets, to help people learn what all the things are. Brilliant.
Then, we finalised an agreement for a new bunch of 3D scanning and digital model making we’re going to do for a big London museum. We’re going to their store tomorrow to check it out.
Next, our two new team members, Thibaut and Amy, and I went through our sketch of what the Make Your Own kit we’ll be sending to all our pilots consists of, discussed each element, and started to flesh out a content plan for the thing. It’s an interesting line to tread, between instructional, educational, proscriptive, and suggestive. Our pilots are all sorts: primary school classes all the way to world-leading sound artists. Our challenge will be to make a kit that experienced adults can skim for the key elements and that teachers can use to guide and stimulate their students. It’s a first pass representing our own production process so others can use it, with a view to making a kit that anyone can use.
By then we were hungry, so got shish, falafel and noodles and sat in the park, in the warm October sun. (What?)
We had guests coming to tea, so I went to Sainsburys to get some angel cake, Tunnocks caramel wafers, and digestives.
Around 2pm, I joined a Skype call with Sara and Liz in Washington, at the Smithsonian. Our calls, while always focussing on next steps and progress, are always filled with laughter and lots of jokes. It was funny introducing Thibaut and Amy to the style of “business meeting” we’ve had with the Smithsonian folks for almost two years now, every week. They are true partners, and real friends. Schemes continue.
Next I talked to an insurance broker who I’d never met and knew nothing about us, who asked me the sort of new and neutral questions I generally enjoy, probing for the edges of our operation in the hope of describing it adequately for potential providers. It turns out we’ve built a small but international business with a growing network of collaborators and other service providers so that’ll probably be complicated and expensive. Ho hum.
Sara and I had been interviewed the week before by a video press blog in Los Angeles who liked what Museum in a Box is and was going to make an article about us. I wrote to them to ask how it was going, and they told me the video piece was already online. I watched it, and so have 116,000 other people by now. WTF. Great! (That explains the influx of hello emails we got on Monday from teachers in the USA who would all like boxes please.)
Then our afternoon guests arrived, Lucia and Martin, both part of our pilot. It’s lovely that we can meet the London pilots in person, and, over cake, we followed more or less the same script we asked Pat about in the morning. The three stories are each so different, but all united by our simple thing. It’s fascinating how each person has taken the idea and is running with it.
What is a Museum? How might this change it? How could this create a new way to enjoy sound? Could this encourage new collaborations within our museum? Is a Box better than the laptops we have in our Learning Centre? What if the kids pull it apart? We visit museums 2–3 times a year and the kids have to pay a bit of money for that. Wouldn’t it be great to get a sponsor to help with the pilot?
It’s such a thrill to be engaging with our pilots like this. Having thought and dreamt about Museum in a Box in relative isolation for a while now, this user research and conversations we’re having are enlightening and exciting, especially for me, because they’re making me see what we’re making from new points of view. It’s refreshing and inspiring, and there’s another 36 or so to go.
Oh, and, got a note from a chap in Singapore who wants to tinker with a Box to make a series of talking artefacts about Sikh Heritage.
The thing is, when you’re trying to make something new, every day is different, and this was a good one.
Well, our first crowdfunding campaign is over, and, it was a success! The campaign was shaped around kickstarting our co-design pilot for a new version of Museum in a Box called Make Your Own.
Now that we’ve been building bespoke commissions for institutions like Smithsonian Libraries, British Museum, and the V&A, our technology concept is proven. Our hardware design for the Box is now at Version 1, and the software platform we’ve developed to configure Collections and Boxes works. So, the Make Your Own product can build on these resources, and we can send kits out that connect the Box, some NFC stickers, instructions on how to make a great Collection, and the software platform. While we intend to continue making commissions for people, we want Make Your Own to be our path to scaling Museum in a Box, letting a thousand museums bloom in classrooms, libraries, museums and homes around the world.
So, we must take a moment to thank all our Crowdfunder supporters. We simply couldn’t have kicked off this ambitious pilot without this injection of capital, so thank you. You’ve really made a huge difference to our capacity to bring this thing to life!
Naomi Alderman, Cristóbal Álvarez, Nicky Birch, Alex Blood, Julie Bottrell, Stewart Butterfield, Sara Rouse Cardello, Daniel Catt, Daniel Cohen, Rachel Coldicutt, Blaine Cook, Henry Cooke, Eric Costello, russell davies, Taryn Davies, Katie Day, Martin Devereux, Molly Ditmore, Imwen Eke, Joanna Ellis, Rebekah Ford, Anne and Forbes Fowlie, Belinda and James Fowlie, David C Frazer, Rachel L Frick, Katharine Handel, Claire Hansford, Chris Heathcote, James Jefferies, Courtney Johnston, D Jones, Greta Lake, Claire Lanyon, Mai Le, Annette Mees, Fiona Miller, Evelyn Neufeld, Nick O’Leary, Margaret and Jeff Oates, Daniel Pett, Jacqueline Pease, Jennifer Phillips-Bacher, Anna Pickard, Kim Plowright, Annelynn Pyck, Clare Reddington, Jo Roach, Frankie Roberto, Cassie Robinson, Sophie Sampson, Dinah Sanders, Nick Stanhope, Jo Stichbury, ben terrett, Jennifer Tharp, Ben Vershbow, Matt Webb, Gill Wildman, Simon Wistow… and several folks who wish to remain anonymous. You shall forever be enshrined on our About Us page.
On a personal note, even though I’ve had a ton of fun developing this business over the last three years or so, and I think we’re heading in a great direction, it’s also been bloody hard, and it’s been so lovely to have friends and family support and endorse what I’m trying to do here. Really, it’s such a boost. Thank you.