Boasting an extensive collection of art, archaeology, social, industrial and maritime history, Tees Valley Museums is a consortium of museums based in the North East of England. The consortium is comprised of Preston Park Museum and Grounds, Head of Steam Darlington Railway Museum, Hartlepool Art Gallery, Museum of Hartlepool, Captain Cook Birthplace Museum, Dorman Museum, and Kirkleatham Museum, and offers incredible experiences for history enthusiasts and art aficionados alike. We're very pleased that this year, the museums are bringing The Big Draw to their venues with an exciting programme of family workshops and activities. We spoke to Children & Young Person Officer Heather Minto, about Tees Valley's Big Draw, the joy of museum learning and their exciting new Young Producers project.
Interview: Lucia Vinti in conversation with Heather Minto
We’re really happy to have Tees Valley Museums as a part of The Big Draw Festival this year! There’s such an array of objects on display and so many themes explored within the different museums in the group. What would your dream day out at Tees Valley Museums look like?Every day is a dream day at our Tees Valley Museum sites for me! But, if I had a full day and could get round all seven museums then I would probably start the day in Hartlepool Art Gallery where the morning light would be pouring in through the beautiful stained-glass windows of the old church and I could be inspired by the wonderful art exhibitions, then head along to the Museum of Hartlepool to clamber aboard their boat and make some noisy engines whirr. Next stop would be the Dorman Museum in Middlesbrough, which has an exciting Lego exhibition on at the moment, followed by Captain Cook’s Birthplace Museum to imagine life as an adventurer on the high seas. I’d stop for a picnic in the amazing grounds of Kirkleatham Museum and have a play in the huge playpark with my daughter before visiting the Saxon Princess treasure inside the museum. Hopping over to Darlington’s Head of Steam, I would be amazed by their new VR interactive experience and enjoy exploring the old steam engines housed on the 1825 route of the Stockton and Darlington Railway (currently closed for a refurbishment but opening next year in time for exciting bicentenary celebrations of the line). The cherry on top would be a visit to Preston Park Museum and Grounds, exploring the Victorian Street and enjoying a bag of traditional sweets as we play Victorian children’s games. Of course, I’d definitely plan to visit on a day when there were workshops going on by our fabulous learning teams too.
Could you tell us a bit about your role at the museum group and what it entails?
I work at Tees Valley Museums, which is a consortium of all of the museums I have mentioned above. My role is to support the development of programmes and engagement with children and young people across all of our sites. I’ve only been in this new role for around 8 weeks, so it’s still very early days and I’m enjoying being able to shape the role around new projects and opportunities that arise. Some of the things I am working on include Togetherfest which is encouraging children, young people and families to come together to celebrate togetherness after the pandemic. We also run a programme called Museum by Me, all about seeking the views of the public about what they would put in a museum if they were curating it themselves. I’m also looking at pathways for young people into heritage, including for young people from diverse backgrounds and promoting opportunities to accredit young people through the Arts Award. I’m really keen to enhance the youth voice in our museums, so developing Young Producers groups has been a key early project.Sometimes I also have to do some less fun things, like writing funding bids and develop policy frameworks, but it’s all worth it for the fun times.
In October the museums are hosting a programme of fab Big Draw events called Togetherfest, which includes lino printing, drawing comics and even creating a drawing robot. What can visitors expect from the workshops and events?
Yes, we are so excited by the range of workshops we’ve put together for our Big Draw Togetherfest and I’m looking forward to taking my own daughter along to them too. At the Dorman in Middlesbrough we have a workshop run by JuniorSTEM. Aimed at young people aged 10 and over, you will build a robot which can be controlled by sensors and which will draw patterns in the style of the old-fashioned Spirographs. A cool mix of art and STEM!At Kirkleatham Museum we have a live painting competition where participants will be given five hours to complete a painting which will be judged by a professional artist from a local Gallery. Participants have an opportunity to win £100 of art shop vouchers and have their paintings exhibited in the museum for our visitors to admire.Darlington’s Head of Steam are having outreach workshops at Firthmoor Community Centre. One will be for younger children up to the age of 8 and will involve printing with Styrofoam and the other will be linocut printing for children aged over 8. At Preston Park we’re keeping the museum open late to deliver painting with light photography workshops. Children aged 8+ will be able to learn how to use their cameras to capture long exposure drawings with a professional photographer tutor.
Finally, Hartlepool welcome a local university tutor to deliver comic drawing workshops for young people aged 13+.
Our Big Draw Festival theme this year is Drawing with Senses which is all about looking inward and tuning into our five senses - how do your events this year fit in with that theme? All of our events have been well thought-out by our teams and we’ve tried to incorporate a wide range of senses.
Our drawing with light workshop at Preston Park will allow participants to work outside in the dark but using neon light sources and sparklers, a feast for all of the senses.
For our Paint Off competition at Kirkleatham, participants will have one hour before painting begins to use their senses, look around the site and choose an inspiration for their painting.
At Darlington, we’ve selected print making as it heavily involves the sense of touch as you carve meaningful lines in to your material. It’s also a slow and mindful process.
Comic book drawing involves lots of superheros. Participants will be thinking about what special senses or characteristics their characters will have, will their spidey senses be tingling?
We’ve cheated a bit with our robot workshop at the Dorman, as it is the robot that has to use its senses, but the young people will have to programme the sensors!
What in the museum makes you feel the most joyful?
The most joyful things for me in museums are seeing children and young people learning through play – exploring the museum, getting hands on, interacting, imagining and inventing. Museums are fun!
Do you have any other exciting events coming up that you’d like to share?
There’s always lots going on at all of our museum sites, so do check in with their individual websites.
However, an exciting project that I’m recruiting young people for at the moment is called Young Producers. It’s a programme that will allow young people to plan and hold their own events in our museum spaces, get access to professionals, training and advice and meet other young people, all with expenses paid and an Access Fund to allow them to take part if funding is a barrier. The programme is aimed at 16-25 year olds and will give them amazing experience of the creative industries to add to their CV.
We’re also developing a new project of pop-up museum exhibits in unexpected locations, such as empty shops or shopping centres. We want to display children and young people’s own collections in these, as part of our Museum by Me programme. We’d love any collection to display, from gemstones, to football cards or even Prime bottles. Do get in touch with me if you’re in the Tees Valley and would like to take part.Also, keep an eye out for our Eco Month, planned for February next year. We’re planning a lot of exciting projects and partnerships for that.
How do you think drawing can help people engage with what they see in museums and add to people’s experiences?
I think drawing is an amazing medium to help us connect with and understand the world around us. Whenever I go to a museum or gallery with my daughter, we always take a sketchbook and a pencil case and draw something that inspires us. It helps us to look closer at an object, to see things we didn’t notice before and to ask questions as well as to understand how the original creator might have made the piece. Drawing can also be a therapeutic medium – it helps us to focus and concentrate and gives us space to relax which I think also has synergy with the missions of museums; we have a role to ensure we are spaces which are welcoming and inclusive. Everyone can give drawing a go!
Do you have a top tip for getting people engaged in the collection and exhibitions at smaller museums and galleries?
I’m a true believer in any buzz words that begin in ‘co’ – collaboration, consultation and co-curation to name but a few. I do believe that only by being truly reflective of the opinions of your audience and working with them, not for them, will you be able to engage in a truly meaningful and successful way. Sometimes this takes bravery and a step out of your comfort zone which can be hard but will be worth it. Start a youth board, give the young people a real opportunity to suggest changes and let them see their suggestions happening!
And finally, we’re asking all our sponsor-partner organisations to tell us their favourite…
Taste? A forkful of Yorkshire pudding, mash potato and gravy.
Smell? I can’t smell very well at all, I have had anosmia since I was born. About the only thing I can smell is Mint Source shower gel!
Sight? Too tough to choose one, but it would be a combination of seeing my wee girl when she’s proud of herself about something, reaching the top of a Scottish mountain and checking out the amazing view, or seeing a brilliant exhibition (Grayson Perry at the National Galleries of Scotland last weekend for example).
Feeling? Being cosy in bed on a weekend when it’s freezing outside. Or swimming in the sea on a hot day.
Sound? I’m a big music fan and love a good live gig – I’m big into North-eastern band Pit Pony and OSees at the moment, but when I’m travelling to work on Teesside I also love a bit of Maximo Park or Prefab Sprout!
Thank you Heather!
Big Draw events are taking place at Tees Valley Museums from 14th October - 3rd November. Find out about how you can get involved here.
Photo Credit: Preston Park Museum/Dave Charnley, Togetherfest poster by Carl Wilson
Interested in taking part in The Big Draw? Registrations for our 2023 festival 'Drawing with Senses' are still open! Find out the benefits of becoming an organiser here and about this years sense-sational theme here.