Dr Abigail Harrison-Moore, Head of the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds
Jen Kaines, Registrar and Collections Manager, Leeds Museums and Galleries
Laura Walsh, Registrar and Display Technicians Manager, Royal Armourie
The second talk of Friday’s ERC programme was given by Dr Abigail Harrison-Moore, Jen Kaines (Leeds Museums and Galleries) and Laura Walsh (Royal Armouries), who delivered an informative and inspiring talk about a programme that they set up over 5 years ago to provide more training opportunities for Registrars. The fully funded and salaried position offers an individual professional training at both National and local authority museums, whilst studying for a PGCert in Art Gallery and Museum Studies at the University of Leeds. At present, there is no other professional training for people hoping to pursue a career in the museum sector, or as a registrar, and this traineeship is particularly unique because it is tailored to meet the professional needs of the selected individual. 

The traineeship was created through a collaborative partnership between Leeds Museums, Royal Armouries and the University of Leeds, to help the chosen trainee develop the skills required to be a registrar: combining theory with practice. The programme is mutually beneficial to the trainee and the museum sector as it offers professional training in many different fields. When the trainee eventually enters full time employment, they will arrive with a breadth of experience that they can apply to the museum. 

The talk kicked off with a discussion about the profile of the registrar: an overview of what a registrar does and the skills that a registrar needs. The speakers addressed the challenges that they faced when setting up the programme, with the initial problem being the accessibility of the role of a registrar. Abigail explained that whilst most people know what educators and curators do her students and even museum professionals aren’t sure what the role of the registrar is. The lack of knowledge about registrar work is problematic in terms of training. One of the aims of the training for the future programme is to develop the profile of the registrar in the context of the museum, both on a national and international level.

Each speaker discussed the different strands of the programme that they oversee, and how they bring their area of expertise to the training. Over the course of the year, the trainee works at a national and local authority museum, and they learn about the different museum models, their needs and the constraints. Abigail discussed the challenges she had faced when coordinating the university programme, and that she needed to be responsive and continually reassess the content so that it was relevant to what is going on in the museum world. This is also essential so that that the trainee can apply the theory to their museum practice. The tension arises because typically universities don’t offer flexible learning, so this is part of the programme that will need to be reviewed. 

We were shown a video which included interviews with past trainees, all of which have since secured full time positions in museums and galleries.
Abigail, Jen and Laura agreed that recruiting for the position has been challenging. At present, there aren’t a diverse range of applicants for the post, and 80% of those that applied last year were white British. This again reiterates the problem surrounding the profile of the registrar. The present educational system in the UK doesn’t teach young people about museums, and in turn, they don’t know that registrar posts exist.  The only way to challenge this is to start educating children from a diverse range of backgrounds about museum work at an early age. Going forward, Abigail, Jen and Laura will continue to reach out to younger people who are still at school with the hope that they can build a child’s knowledge about museum practice, recruit them to the programme and diversify the type of applications that they receive.

Because the existing partnership is between three organisations, the funding model is complex and diverse, and there is a need to generate more money in order to make the programme sustainable. When the panel opened to questions at the end of the talk, it was evident from comments and feedback that there aren’t any other salaried training programmes available throughout Europe. Everyone agreed that it’s imperative that this specific training programme is maintained and continues to operate, with the hope that one day it can expand. The reception from this talk was extremely positive, and it was very encouraging to hear that three individuals are working so hard to provide such a valuable training opportunity and that they are trying to raise the profile of the registrar in the museum profession.

By Phoebe Newman, Exhibitions and Displays Coordinator, Dulwich Picture Gallery