Behind the Scenes at the London Transport Museum
I met Elizabeth Scott, newly appointed curator at the London Transport Museum during her first week there to aske her a few questions.
Can you describe to us the steps to put together an exhibition?
There are many steps in putting an exhibition together and whenever I work with external partners on an exhibition I always tell them at the start to never underestimate the amount of work that will go into an exhibition. This isn’t to scare them off; rather it’s an honest warning so they are not surprised further down the line. The steps in the process of an exhibition can vary slightly depending what it will contain, and it will involve many people from across the Museum; therefore I will briefly outline the usual process and the Curators’ role in this.
Once the exhibition proposal has been approved the first step is research and development, where you get to think about what will actually go into the exhibition and formulate a draft object list, you explore the collection, read around the subject and think about what you want to communicate with the audience and how.
At the same time colleagues in the Learning department will be writing the Learning Strategy in consultation with the Curator, this outlines the learning outcomes and how they will be achieved in the exhibition. The Curator will write the Design Brief which the designers will then respond to; while they work on the Concept Designs the Curators will be refining the object list and will begin writing the text.
I usually like to write the section introductions first and the captions for objects following this, but sometimes the captions inform the introductions so I will write them at the same time. If the exhibition includes loan objects, this is when you will start to make contact with the individuals or the organisations.
The designs for the exhibition go through four stages: Concept, Scheme, Detail and finally Artwork, each stage is a refinement and progression from the preceding one. At the Scheme design stage Conservators will start to work on the objects, such as mounting them. The Curator would have all the text and images ready for the Artwork stage. Once construction of the setworks is complete, the Curators and Conservators will start to install the objects. Sometimes loaned objects will come in before installation, sometimes they arrive on the day they have been scheduled to be installed. Installing the exhibition is the final stage before lighting is adjusted and the exhibition is ready for opening for press and private views and the public.
Which part do you enjoy the most?
The research and development stage is enjoyable for all the reasons I detailed above. With my meetings and other projects it can often be difficult spending time exploring the collection so this time is always precious to me.
Getting the first concept designs back from the designers is exciting; you are usually presented with 2-3 different designs and I love seeing how a designer has interpreted my ideas. The installation of an exhibition is also enjoyable: it’s a culmination of months and months of work coming together and it is always a joy to see members of the public in the space, enjoying the show.
London’s Transport is a very specific and interesting niche, do you mainly rely on the museum's collection when you plan exhibitions?
I will always try and use the Museum’s Collection where I can, for instance, we are currently looking at design as a central theme for our 2015/16 exhibition and public programme and I will look to feature the Museum’s collection as much as possible.
However there is only so much we can collect and on occasion there are organisations or individuals who have objects which are more fitting to tell the story so we will use loaned objects.
Figure 2: London Transport Museum, Pure Consulting,
Do you collaborate with private collectors at all?
The museum collaborates with private individuals, this collaboration can be in the form of lending objects to the Museum (which can range from small objects to vehicles) or when private collectors choose to donate their objects to us.
There are many private collectors of London’s transport heritage and we like to engage with them, as they also tend to be a source of knowledge.
Also what is your relationship with the transport industry?
The Museum works closely with the transport industry in a number of ways.
London Transport Museum is the hub for transport networking and debate in the capital. Our prestigious Thought Leadership programme brings together transport industry professionals, senior executives and policy-makers to discuss important topical issues affecting transport in the UK.
We have over 50 Corporate Members – many of whom are leaders in the transport industry – and also a range of sponsors from across the sector supporting activities ranging from our Year of the Bus celebrations to our Inspire Engineering programme which ignites young people’s interest in transport engineering.
The Museum also has the Contemporary, Coming Soon, and Futures galleries showcasing innovations and developments in public transport now, in the near future and the distant future. As a result these galleries have to be updated regularly and with the nature of their subject we have to work closely with the transport industry to find out what these developments and changes will be so the galleries can reflect these innovations.
What's your relationship with other transport museums?
We regularly work with other transport museums in the UK and abroad, creating and maintaining these relationships and networks are key to sharing knowledge, experience and the Museum’s Collections.
Getting our Collections out for more people to see is important; we regularly have vehicles in our Collection out on vehicle heritage outings at other transport museums, for example our 1954 prototype Routemaster RM1 has been on display at the London Bus Museum and Rickmansworth Canal Festival. We also tour exhibitions, our Art of the Poster exhibition went to several venues in the UK (some of which were not transport related), Sweden, Denmark and New York.
We also work with other transport museums in the sharing of experience and knowledge and this year we will be hosting two Curators from the New York Transit Museum in a fellowship to learn about our work with Oral History, and we will also host a Curator from the Heritage Transport Museum, India who will be shadowing our work for two weeks.
Can you tell us a bit about your current exhibition?
“Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square”: Frome Home Front to Western Front is the Museum’s major temporary exhibition for 2014, running into early 2015, commemorating the Centenary of the outbreak of the First World War 1914-18.
The exhibition reveals the untold story of London’s Home Front during the First World War, how drivers took their b-type buses to the Front to support the war effort, how women advanced into the transport workforce for the first time and how Londoners came under attack from the air.
Head Curator at the London Transport Museum
Elizabeth has been Head Curator at the London Transport Museum since May 2014.
Following a masters Elizabeth became an Assistant Curator at the Museum of London working on the New Galleries of Modern London. Elizabeth has worked in museums in London her entire career, while at the Museum of London she also became an Exhibitions Project Manager before going to the Imperial War Museum as the Exhibitions Manager for the Churchill War Rooms and HMS Belfast.
Figure 1: London Transport Museum