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Experiences as a Transformer

Shona Elliott, Lead Curator, Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums


Hello. I’m Shona and I am a Lead Curator at Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums (AAGM). From July 2015 to March 2016, I participated in the Museum Association’s Transformers scheme, an initiative that was part-funded by Museums Galleries Scotland. The scheme is targeted at mid-career museum professionals and it’s a personal development programme that is designed to help participants consider and put into practice innovative ideas, and explore the advantages of taking on risk and change.

Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums has a brand new museum centre for storing collections. I joined the Transformers scheme as I was keen to develop ways to support the transition to and establishment of this new site, called Aberdeen Treasure Hub, because it is radically different to our previous stores. The Hub is our first ever ‘open-access’ store, and once the store is ready, members of the public will begin to visit for guided tours, hands-on experiences, volunteering, group use, craft activities and more.


Aberdeen Treasure Hub


Many people miss out on the benefits that museums can offer, sometimes because they think it's not for them, or sometimes because they go but struggle to connect with the collections, people and/ or place. We’d love to help overcome these barriers by making the place inviting, fascinating and fun, and by working with the local communities. The Transformers scheme has helped towards this aim in many ways. For instance, I successfully pitched for its micro-funding that enabled us to commission an object handling trolley with attached computer and stylus. The interactive screen on the tablet will allow visitors to draw or write about the object that they handle, and this will help folk share reactions and enable us to capture and use handy insights. Transformers also led to me undertaking brainstorming sessions with several teams within AAGM where we explored ideas for creating a storage centre that’s stimulating and a feast for eyes and minds. Lots of fantastic ideas were produced and we’re now working to turn them into reality.

Many handy tips were passed on during the Transformers residential, such as how to create effective pitches for funding, and the scheme enabled me to visit and be inspired by other publicly accessible collection centres. I also took part in MGS’ workshop on community engagement and co-led a session with fellow transformers at the Museums Association’s annual conference. We heard many inspiring talks from people leading innovative risk-taking schemes; all of which were very useful.

Transformers as really inspired me to work hard on making our new collections centre accessible. I was heavily involved in running the naming competition that we had for the centre, where local school children suggested names and we put out a shortlist for voting by the public. I've spoken to headteachers, chatted in school assemblies, presented to community partners and jointly run stalls about the Hub at local sites. I’m really looking forward to giving tours.

Transformers is a brilliant scheme which has significantly aided my own professional development. I now have greater awareness of the benefits that risk taking can bring and I’m very keen to explore new ideas. I feel much better equipped for the future, and I’m very grateful to MGS for providing funding.