Turns out the Tower of London is literally one of the most inaccessible cultural highlights on the planet. That’s because it’s the Tower of London: Fortress, Palace, Prison.
This presents the Community Engagement Team with a particular challenge: how can they help people understand what a visit might be like? Particularly those who are local? Obviously, the Tower is a huge tourism hotspot, but there are also Londoners nearby who have never visited, and are unlikely to because it’s difficult to access, physically, financially, and culturally. Enter our new Collection, developed in partnership with the Community Engagement team at the Tower, and in particular, Jatinder Kailey. We have created a Collection that explores the three historical themes of the Tower, exploring its existence as a fortress, a palace and a prison. We were also able to repurpose quite a bit of audio that the Tower had produced previously for other contexts, which was good.
This is what the postcards look like:
Being an Aussie, I particularly enjoyed contributing research and copywriting for the 18 postcards in the collection, studying a bunch of the stories and characters from within the walls, either living there by choice, duty, or force. As I researched, I learned how many people have had been beheaded there, which gave me an idea for the custom container we built to hold the Box and the Collection. What if the Box looked about the size of a head? Grey on the outside, blood red on the inside!
We enlisted the considerable talents of our Maker of Special Things, Takako, who made a beautiful container fit for a King’s head. We supplemented the Collection postcards with some replica objects, like a giant diamond and a coronation anointing spoon, and wrapped everything in red velvet, which usually makes anything way more fun.
Now, Jatinder is reaching out to local groups in the community to visit them, and share the treasures of the Tower with folks for whom a visit is difficult, and we can’t wait to see the results!
It was also a pleasure to drop it off in person at the Tower. What a thrill.
We’re thrilled to announce that Abira Hussein has joined the Museum in a Box Advisory Board.
We first worked with Abira back in 2016, when we assisted in developing the “Healing Through Archives” Collection, which she took around to lots of different community spaces and educational settings. It was a brilliant and fun project, gathering and presenting stories told by older women in London Somali communities, and combining them with photographic, sound and music archives from the British Museum and British Library. It was also really our first foray into the development of a Collection where objects were described by people who had used or experienced them, and described in the ‘mother tongue’ (instead of a Professional Expert). Since then, this work has blossomed into her award-winning NOMAD project, developed in collaboration with Mnemoscene.
Abira is a seasoned public speaker and seasoned academic, now undertaking a PhD at UCL entitled The Archive and The Community: using digital technologies and participatory approaches to co-create new archival spaces and knowledge within Somali communities in Britain. She’s also an Associate Producer at All Change and a Research Associate at Culture&andKing’s Digital Lab!
She’ll bring a new dimension to our Advisory Board, thanks to her wide-ranging network, expertise in developing social impact projects, deep familiarity with the UK/EU funding landscape, and her reputation and ability to speak truth to power.
It’s been a while in the works, but things are looking very good to build out our biggest run yet: 100 Boxes!
It was our goal this year to figure out how to make 1,000 Boxes, and, well, even though we’ll probably only build 100, that work has allowed us to understand and have a way forward to making Boxes much, much more quickly.
Charlie has done the lion’s share of the work associated with making the “skull” or exterior casing of the Box even better. The shape itself has been simplified and optimised so it’s much quicker to assemble. We were lucky enough to have a hardy bunch of volunteers from Verizon Media help us build 100 skulls in a day a few weeks ago. The first time we made skulls, it took about a day to make three.
The Brain is what we’ve always called what’s inside the Box… the electronics. Here is where we’ve done a ton of optimising… and revealing the tech. Before, we would have gathered all the various electronic components from all over the place, from wires to resistors to washers to everything. We assembled them by hand here at HQ.
But now, we have our very own PCB design, largely laid out by Adrian with a few design touches from me, and it’s a thing of beauty, and, importantly, not made by us, but by trained professionals at European Circuits.
And here’s Charlie turning it on, mere moments ago.
The very best part is that we’re still on our production schedule track to make the 100 Boxes next week, and then SELL THEM ON THE INTERNET.
We have our shop online now, at shop.museuminabox.org, so if you’ve been wanting to buy a Make Your Own kit, or a Museum in a Box tote bag, or even our Greek Gods & Goddesses collection (although you’ll need a Box to play that), now’s your chance!
When we formed the company back in October 2015 – four years ago! – we opened up as a stock-standard company limited by shares. It’s something I had done before – in 1998, in Australia – and a system of governance I am much more familiar with than, say, a charity.
Part of our raison d’être was to do good and make money, and we’ve always had a commercial bent, as our few years of successful commissions with our partners attest. We had also – somewhat naïvely in hindsight, I think – presumed that we could join the ranks of those working towards venture capital investment, but that never felt like a good spiritual fit, and I was always discomfited by conversations with finance folk who were pressing us for the now-conventional strategy to scale, scale, scale.
I think this fetishisation of scale is really destructive and actually antithetical to building a real, profitable bricks-and-mortar business. The ease with which one can scale up a software service cannot be mapped on to a business that makes things. But, that’s another blog post for another time.
The thing we wanted to tell you is that we’ve become a Community Interest Company. We got the certificate from Companies House this morning.
If you squint at it, it’s basically the same as a company limited by shares, except there’s an asset lock in place (so if we go under, our assets are passed along to another CIC), and our social purpose (getting cultural education into hard-to-reach places) are now enmeshed in the company’s articles of association. Our purpose is also no longer individual shareholder profit (and frankly, it never really has been, actually), but to state that overtly feels good.
We’re very happy to re-emerge as one of about 14,000 Community Interest Companies in the UK. It’s fun to watch the list of last month’s new registrations… feels like the right crowd to mingle with. And let’s just say we’re eating lots of Celebrations at HQ, and a special thank you to Bee Kelly, who’s volunteering with us at the moment, and helped push through the paperwork.
Yes, that’s right! We’re busily preparing ourselves to sell our new Make Your Own kits online! We hope to open up the shop before the end of the year so we can send out early sales before Christmas. It’s exciting to know that some of the kits are already spoken for – headed for a teachers’ association in Spain, and a museum at Harvard, and more places!
THANK YOU FOR YOUR INTEREST IN BECOMING OUR ROCKSTAR WOLF. THE POSITION HAS BEEN FILLED.
Location: Anywhere in the world, collaborating with a UK team (GMT)
Contract: We are on a tight deadline to deliver our online shop in early/mid November so will consider any working patterns which help us deliver this. Your work to build our online shop will provide the income we need to keep you on!
Deadline: 4 Nov 2019 12:00 GMT
What’s the job? We are an educational technology social enterprise called Museum in a Box. We bring museum objects and their stories directly into classrooms and into students’ hands anywhere in the world. From Egyptian archeology, transatlantic slavery, to explaining how the justice system works, we work with major insitutions such as the V&A and Smithsonian Institution to bring the curriculum to life. We’re also working on a Make Your Own kit version, too – a method for students (or families or organisations) to create their own collections, learning all sorts of cross-curricular skills as they go, and we’re launching a Shopify presence as soon as we can.
The Box itself is powered by Raspberry Pi, running a Node.js app to manage interactions, media and simple usage data, and we have a working Django web application that already manages users, collections, boxes, and other bits and bobs. We already have users who are making their own collections remotely too.
We are looking for someone who can primarily integrate Shopify with our Django web app.
We are a team of designers and programmers, and a growing crew of freelance creatives. The big gap that this position would fill is bringing two separate services together so Box and Kit sales can be easily managed by staff, and also easily configured by folks buying kits. We expect to do this work manually to begin with, but you can definitely help with that, and hopefully, you’re the type of person who loves throwing great software solutions at tedious manual workflows!
In the role you will:
Lead on ensuring Shopify is fully integrated with our existing Django web platform.
Add a Django-based user forum to our web platform.
Add a short list of new features to our web platform to accommodate group operations and group Box ownership
The ideal candidate will:
Have at least three years professional engineering experience.
Have programmed a Shopify integration previously, demonstrably.
Have worked on a demonstrable web application used by more than 1,000 people.
Have an active Github presence.
Enjoy UX filigree, both conception and execution.
Likes showing rough working software in progress.
About Museum in a Box Ltd. We’re a small company based in Hoxton, London. Our mission is to help museums increase access to their collections and help put culture into hard-to-reach places.
We are updating the idea of museum handling collections with 21st Century tools like 3D printing, Raspberry Pi, and great stories combined with multisensory interaction design.
How to apply Please send us a one-page cover letter explaining how you meet the role requirements and your resume via email to email@example.com with the subject ‘Django+Shopify Rockstar Wolf’. Links to online projects/code are expected. We are a small team and cultural fit is very important for us so use your application to help us learn more about your interests, passions and ways of working.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR INTEREST IN BECOMING OUR ROCKSTAR WOLF. THE POSITION HAS BEEN FILLED.
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!