Observer column: 08 February 2019
Hastings Museum and Art Gallery (HMAG) has been open to the public for around 120 years. It has a collection of 97,000 objects, and attracts around 45,000 visitors a year. It's a popular wedding venue, using the Durbar Hall, relocated form the Colonial and Indian Exhibition held in London in 1886. It houses significant collections of ceramics, local history exhibits, exhibitions on prominent Hastings people including John Logi Baird, Robert Tressell and Grey Owl, a substantial art collection and of course, dinosaurs. It's owned and managed directly by Hastings Council, with the help of an advisory Museum Committee. There's also a continuing programme of temporary exhibitions.
With any service that's been around as long as this, it's necessary from time to time to review what it does, and how it does it - which is what we're doing now, to get more visitors, and hold more activities there, especially for children.
There's a new schools programme, as well as free children's sessions on dinosaurs, fossils, 'Museum Detectives', and the Romans. We're also working with Historic England and the Arts Council on their Museum & Schools programme.
We're also offering week-long work experience placements to secondary school pupils in May and July. These 'taster weeks' will offer chances to work with collections, on exhibitions and planning events, as well as work with visitor services and learning teams.
Since November, the museum has been working with the Supported Education Team at East Sussex College Hastings to offer work experience for 16-25 year olds with learning disabilities, and has expanded work with universities to support students develop their skills through specialist work placements.
We're also re-launching the volunteering programme in March. Volunteers help support projects linked to the work of the museum, for example, 'digitising' a collection, helping with events or invigilating in galleries. People who have never volunteered before will be welcome, as well as those who have specialist skills or knowledge.
The programme of HMAG events is also being expanded, particularly for the coming summer, and during the school holidays, as these proved to be very popular last year, with a range of free and low-cost activities for all ages. There will also be weekly artist-led themed sessions around exhibitions or events in the town - for example, family drumming sessions to coincide with Hastings Bonfire procession in October! There will be a summer LEGO Makers' Club for 10-16 year olds too.
Increased accessibility is also important, so we're working with specialist groups such as Autism Train, VocalEyes, Age UK and the Alzheimer's Society, with special sessions for children with additional needs who find it easier to enjoy the museum in a calmer environment.
And there's much more, including 'Ask the Experts' days, mental health and wellbeing sessions, 'Introduction to Museum Skills' sessions, as well as the usual programme of expert talks.
Information on all these new and enhanced events and programmes will be added to the HMAG website soon.
But this is just a start. We know the museum needs better facilities - a café in particular. In the longer term, the redevelopment of the White Rock and Bohemia area will open up new opportunities for HMAG to develop and grow. But for now, watch out for the new programme of events and activities, and enjoy everything HMAG has to offer.
Council Leader's column