University of Cambridge Museums

Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums

Curious Collections: University of Cambridge Museums family day

On Wednesday 29 October 2014 the Fitzwilliam Museum‘s Family Programme was taken over by seven Cambridgeshire museums as part of Curating Cambridge.

The event had fantastic support from local museums including Kettle’s Yard, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, The Polar Museum, Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, Whipple Museum of the History of Science, Museum of Zoology and Denny Abbey and Farmland Museum and the University of Cambridge Museum’s conservation team.

At the heart of the day was an exploration of the nature of curating: the selecting, organising and care of objects. Looking at the amazing collections we have access to in Cambridge and discovering stories and connections with objects and the relationships we have with them and how they inform our lives and history.

With so many participating museums we had a great opportunity to showcase the diversity of our collections but also to tell stories and make links between objects across disciplines, cultures and history.

To foster these links, the invited museums were asked to choose areas within the Fitzwilliam Museum’s permanent collection they would like to work with and explore, through their own collections or specialties.

The connections were many and varied:

The Polar Museum embedded in our collection of Dutch 17th and 18th Century art asked families to take on the role of Dutch explorers visiting the mysterious north, discovering curious creatures and adding their very own fantastical discoveries to their new map of the north.

CC Family Day 2014 (Kettles Yard)Kettle’s Yard artist Jo Miller chose our Applied Arts collection of objects from China. Families created a collaborative artwork exploring the museum spaces using natural objects, inspired by Jim Ede’s unique placement of objects at Kettle’s Yard.

Museum of Zoology chose our Manuscript and Italian renaissance paintings. Allowing families to handle specimens from the Museum of Zoology and find out more about the animals seen in and even used to make some of the paintings and illuminated manuscripts on display.

“The different activities were all excellent – varied and equally engaging, even for my energetic 4 year old. I particularly enjoyed the zoology table!”

Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences chose the Fitzwilliam Museum itself and our beautiful mosaic specimen tables. Allowing families to match rocks and minerals from the Sedgwick Museum’s handling collection to the Fitzwilliam Museum’s architecture and objects.

Denny Farmland Museum was based in our French 19th and 20th century gallery. Allowing you to investigate real farming tools and compare the reality of the countryside in the past with the image presented by artists.

The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and Whipple Museum of the History of Science worked together in our Egyptian collection exploring Pharaohs and the importance of the Sun and Moon in Egyptian society.

“I liked my treasure box and I liked making a sun and a moon and a Earth” Kate, age 5

CC Family Day 2014 (lab)The conservation team provided a hands-on taster of some of the work which goes on behind the scenes in conservation. Using a microscope to examine artefacts and specimens, the cleaning and packing of objects and looking through magnifiers to explore objects and find pests.

“Good variety of events/topics. Extended well to include older children. Interesting to see ‘behind the scenes’ i.e. Conservation Lab. Friendly, helpful staff, helped to motivate +interest the children. Thank you!”

CC Family Day 2014 (Boxes)In addition to all these activities and mini stops within the Museum, we encouraged all families to create their own collection and mini museum.  Families could collect their own box covered with Drawing and Thinking activities to use and could gather more activities as they explored the event.

“We had a lovely time drawing objects and imagining Kate was creating her own museum!”

The day was a great success with over 420 children and parents taking part in handling and creative making sessions.

We evaluated the day by asking families to rate their experience of the session, out of five, against the aims of the family programme. We gathered evaluations from a third of participating families.

Over a sixth of the participating families returned fully completed evaluations and we recorded results of very good and excellent of 77.2% on average across the four aims.

  • A way of making the museum objects interesting for children – 84.4%
  • An opportunity for adults and children to work together – 84.4%
  • A fun activity for the children – 84.0%
  • A social activity with friends/peers – 55.6%

A key aim of the day was to raise awareness of Cambridgeshire Museums and encourage family visitors to visit other collections. Through our evaluation we found that  67% of visitors to the Family Day had previously visited the Fitzwilliam but we also examined which other Cambridge Museums they had attended.

53% Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences

28% The Polar Museum

28% Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

25% Museum of Zoology

23% Kettle’s Yard

18% Cambridge University Botanic Garden

15% Museum of Classical Archaeology

13% Whipple Museum of the History of Science

After the event participating Museums said the day had been a great way for them to engage with new audiences. This is emphasised in the visitor feedback as 100% of families that said that they would visit another of the Museums following the event.

What was particularly successful wasn’t simply the increased number of family visitors engaging with our collection at the Fitzwilliam Museum but how the event cultivated an appreciation in everything that the museums of Cambridge have to offer. By making links through curating and between collections we have shown families how they can continue to enjoy their favourite museums whilst at the same time appreciate, connect with and visit others locally that they otherwise wouldn’t have considered.

It was a wonderful day of activities thanks to the hard work and enthusiasm of the various Museum Education teams, conservation staff, our fantastic volunteers as well all our Fitzwilliam colleagues who helped facilitate the day.

Check out the Fitzwilliam Museum family pages to find out about family resources, drop-in sessions and workshops.

Ian Crighton, Assistant Education Officer, Fitzwilliam Museum

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