@MarDixon

Passionate about culture internationally. Run remixing events, workshops, create solutions, and an international speaker. Over sharer and Mom who loses arguments to a teen. Projects created: @CultureThemes @lovetheatreday @AskaCurator @MuseumSelfieDay @TeensInMuseums @52museums
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    July 8th, 2021mardixonCulture

    This week, I went to Tate Britain to check out the new Paula Rego exhibition. I’d never heard of this artist which is surprising as she was the first Associate Artist at the National Gallery – a place where I once worked! Still, I was intrigued to see what it was all about and what an artist with over 70 years’ experience had to offer. To be clear, I’m neither artist, art historian or art critic. Any chance of that was beaten out of me in my school years when I was made to stop art in favour of ‘proper subjects’ that would get me a ‘proper job’! These are just the thoughts of a random guy so feel free to disagree!


    So anyway, it was a lovely day to visit the Tate and lovely to be back by the Thames in the sunshine for the first time in a year. For those of you who aren’t Londoners, that’s a long time to be separated from our beloved river!

    The show is largely chronological and the first room was of early works from the 1950s. This room for me was the most challenging and I found it a bit of a struggle. One of the first things we learn is that the artist who was born in Lisbon, Portugal, was sent to a finishing school in Kent at age 16. This stirred up the inverted snob in me and made me expect yet another exhibition by some privileged person who went to a fancy art school. That’s my own prejudice to get over though and I thought I’d need to separate the art and the artist. Maybe if I had been to art school, I would have ‘got’ that first room more too. Some of the works were very much on the abstract side and I just couldn’t see what the wall captions were telling me I was looking at.
    I’m glad the captions were there though. For one, they reveal that the art and the artist are very much intertwined and can’t be separated. It also explained why I couldn’t see what was going on – I probably wasn’t supposed to. You see, these paintings were all painted at a time of dictatorship in Portugal where political freedoms and women’s rights were suppressed. These paintings criticised the regime and those who led it and exposed women’s stories including her own. This is not something you could do openly and shows what a brave and determined woman she was and is. Though a difficult start, this room was essential to set me on track for the rest of the exhibition. My one piece of advice for anyone visiting would be to read the labels in this room!


    From there on, the exhibition becomes more accessible for the average punter like me. No less impactful though. Room after room, you’re belted round the chops with powerful artwork after powerful artwork. The variety of media is phenomenal too – collage drawing paints, pastels… Is there nothing this artist cannot master? There are works that are grotesque, beautiful, uncomfortable and full of humour. There’s a lot to take in but it’s all portioned up into manageable themes while keeping to the chronology so it never feels like too much.


    In terms of simply beautiful artwork, my favourites had to be the series of prints of nursery rhymes, including Little Miss MuffettThree Blind Mice and Baa Baa Black Sheep. All beautiful in their creepiness!
    One room is dedicated to subverting the male dominance of art in The National Gallery by re-interpreting works to include female representation. Another room contains a delightful 3m long diptych inspired by Disney’s Show White and the Seven Dwarfs’.
    There’s an entire room dedicated to a series of paintings of a woman in a series of poses expressing sexuality but are inspired by the similarity of the depiction of female saints in Catholic paintings and 19th-century images of women ‘diagnosed with hysteria’. There’s a lot going on here so I’d recommend checking it out yourself rather than have me trying to explain here!

    There’s a lot more to see but the last room for me was the most important. My only criticism of it was that the room itself was beyond the exit so you could avoid it if you so choose. As I write the word ‘criticism’, it already feels like the wrong word. You see, in this room there are some horrific depictions of different forms of female abuse including trafficking and female genital mutilation. It’s quite right that these images are horrific as the acts they show are unspeakable. And that’s the point. We should be speaking about these things and putting an end to them. This final collection of works has been placed as a ‘provocation for action’ and is a fitting endpoint for a retrospective of someone whose entire life has been about fighting injustice for women.


    This is an outstanding show by an outstanding artist. One I cannot hesitate in recommending.


    Paula Rego runs from 7 July – 24 October 2021 at Tate Britain. £18 / Free with ticket for Members. Concessions available. £5 for Tate Collective.

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    May 29th, 2021mardixonCulture

    Hair today, gone tomorrow.
    Nero: the man behind the myth The British Museum’s first exhibition in its mahoosive Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery since emerging from lockdown is an exhibition that seek to answer one question. Does Nero deserve his reputation for cruelty and excess?

    Wall text: Nero is one of the most infamous Roman emperors. Does he deserve his reputation for cruelty and excess?
    Before you even get into the exhibition, you are greeted with a bust of Nero that gives you an idea of what is to come. It’s a bust of Nero but only a bit of it by his right eye is original – the rest has been made later on to resemble some kind of cross between a bond villain and a badly taxidermied Gordon Brown. It seems both in his life and after, peers and academics have been on a mission to trash-talk him out of history. The exhibition takes every aspect of the Nero we know of today and bit by bit, section by section tears down this – as the exhibition declares – ‘myth’.

    Bust of Nero

    It’s all very convincing and we start with a statue of Nero as a young boy which seems to beg the question “how could you be so cruel about this innocent young chap?”. There’s a giant purple velvet curtain behind him which simultaneously makes him look important and insignificant.

    Statue of Nero as a young boy

    The argument is comprehensive across nine different sections but doesn’t stray far from its central question. There were mentions of different aspects of Roman life that I’d love to have learnt more about. For instance, there was a terrifying display of the chains from a chain gang used for slaves. I wanted to find out more about what life was like for these people but the exhibition doesn’t try to offer this. Perhaps that’s the right thing to do though – no exhibition can be big enough to cover everything. The exhibition sticks to its guns and follows its story without deviation. No side quests here. With one exception. Nero’s hair. Throughout the exhibition, there were constant mentions of Nero’s hairstyle and how everyone wanted to copy it. If you’re thinking of getting a ‘Nero’ to replace your lockdown mullet haircut then maybe this is the exhibition for you.

    Ankle chains from a chain gang
    Exhibition panel describing Nero’s dashing yet refined hairstyle

    The exhibition to me felt quite academic which I know the museum’s first returning audiences will love. Design-wise, it is very grand in a subdued kind of way. The section on ‘spectacle and splendour’ didn’t feel very spectacular or splendid to me but whether that would have been appropriate given there are human remains on display is another matter.
    The section on the great fire of Rome also felt underplayed given Nero’s ‘fiddling while Rome burrned’ is what many of us know him for. I’ve seen amazing displays on the fire of London so maybe my expectations were too high but if the idea was to downplay the relationship between Nero and fire, it did its job well.

    Wall caption: Nero dies aged 30. One writer said that the powerful were pleased, the people were sad and the army had mixed feelings. How do you feel?
    The exhibition was also peppered with various provocations on the wall which ask your thoughts on various aspects of the exhibition. Some were curiously worded, asking me how I ‘feel’ about Nero’s death but they did serve to lighten what was a quite heavy exhibition.
    All in all, it is a show of great heft and authority, done very well in a way that only somewhere such as the British Museum can. It’s definitely one for the intellectual senators and knights rather than provincials such as I but what it does, it does very well. I had an enjoyable visit which was only helped by the centurion rubber ducks in the gift shop.
    Nero: The man behind the myth runs at the British Museum from 27 May 24 October 2021. Tickets from £20.

    Wall caption: Nero dies aged 30. One writer said that the powerful were pleased, the people were sad and the army had mixed feelings. How do you feel?

    Large, open space in the exhibition. Perfect for social distancing.

    To book tickets for Nero the man behind the myth, see British Museum’s website. Exhibition / 27 May 2021 – 24 Oct 2021

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    May 23rd, 2021mardixonCulture

    Huge thank you to Matt White (@soupdragon2000 on Twitter) for attending and sharing this exhibition! I personally can’t wait to get back to review and seeing more exhibitions.

    I was lucky enough to be one of the first to visit a museum in 2021 on the morning of May 17. It was also my first time travelling by tube in over a year and the first time in central London this year so it felt like a BIG day. The tube was quiet. Very quiet. Gone was the smorgasbord of theatre and exhibition posters you usually see and in their place was a drab selection of generic TfL safety information. Still, it was nice not to have your face pressed against someone’s armpit for the journey.

    My destination was the British Museum and after an eerily empty walk through Holborn, I was delighted to see a queue of eager visitors waiting to get in. Though the queue was long, it was fast and well managed and I was through the gates in no time at all.

    I was there to see Thomas Beckett: Murder and the making of a saint and I have to say, walking up those steps to Room 35 for the first time in such a long time stirred up the emotions a bit!


    I didn’t know much (if anything) about Thomas Beckett before going but fortunately, you get sent the overall wall text and exhibition map in an email the day before. For me, this was great, as I was able to spend more time appreciating the objects I was looking at and less time gawking at text on a wall. Nobody wants to read too much text in an exhibition – that’s what books are for! It also seemed to help with visitor flow with fewer people crowding around panels.


    So – quick tldr; version of Beckett. *spoiler alert* – he gets killed. Beckett was this merchant dude from Cheapside in London who somehow manages to become besties with King Henry II. He somehow manages to get himself promoted from pen pusher to Chancellor and Archbishop of Canturbury. A bit Like Michael J Fox in ‘The Secret of my Success’. As quickly as he rises, he is fallen, as he falls out with Henry who thinks he’s taking a bit of a liberty with all the power. He scarpers to Canterbury to get away from Henry, only someone must have dobbed him in as four knight rock up and shank him at the alter. Henry gets the blame for this, natch, but he’s king so he just has to say sorry and suck up to the pope. Meanwhile, Thomas, who has become quite popular, gets lots of visitors to his tomb. Miracles were documented such as the curing of nosebleeds and funny tummies [srsly? I could do that] and he gets made a saint and Henry has to suck up to him too, even though he’s dead.


    That’s my take on it anyway.


    The exhibition itself only deals with the actual Beckett part in the first half and then goes on to show us the legacy of the events through the ages. Beckett certainly had his ups and downs. He got a massive cult following in Norway but Henry VIII really didn’t like him and smashed up his tomb and scratched out all references to him in the literature, turning everything into some kind of messed up Mean Girls Burn Book.

    You’d think the exhibition would be all dark and gloomy given the subject matter but it was actually quite light and airy which is quite refreshing. Nice use of fabric gave a cathedral-like atmosphere without being stuffy.

    The ‘murder bit’ was about halfway through and was tastefully done with AV. The star of the show came just after that where you could see the stained glass windows from Canterbury Cathedral, depicting lots of miracles such as the curing of the bloody nose. No, really – it’s a thing.

    They quite clearly recognise the beauty of the windows too as its image is slapped on basically EVERYTHING in the gift shop.

    Bishop-themed rubber ducks are also available if that’s more your thing. Thank-you BM. You do not disappoint. 

    All in all, it was a most enjoyable exhibition covering a massive timescale and which doesn’t try to cast judgement on whether Beckett was a goodie or a baddie. For me, he came across as a bit of a chancer crony who blagged his way through life and death. Your take may be different. Whatever you take away from the exhibition, it is a thoroughly enjoyable first step back into the museum world so many of us miss so much. I’d thoroughly recommend a visit.
    Thomas Beckett: murder and the making of a saint opened 20 May, Adults from £17, Members and under 16s free.

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    February 6th, 2021mardixonCulture

    Clubhouse is an app that is like a podcast but anyone can talk. It’s currently just for iPhone and invite-only.

    The easiest way to describe it is that it’s a conference with a person speaking and you can raise your hand to speak.

    I’m seeing more brands joining and can see the potential for museums and art galleries to being part of this platform for Q&A’s and talks. However, this is name-based app and currently brand names are discouraged. You can set up a club as a brand but it will always be tied to the person who started it and their phone number.

    Some things I’ve learned in the last 2 days from being on there

    Invitation

    • To send an invite, click on the envelope. This will open a new screen with your phone contacts. Find the name of the person you want to send an invite to and click Invite.
    • The invite is sent via iMessage so the person has to be in your phone contacts
    • If your nominated invitee gets blocked or reported, they can also kick you off so be cautious with who you share invite with

    Main Screen: This is the first screen you see when you enter Clubhouse. This is also referred to as the hallway or entrance hall.

    • Magnifying glass: search for people, rooms, or clubs.
    • Calendar: Rooms/Clubs that you requested to be reminded of and other ones you might be interested in
    • Bell: Notifications of talks, people who joined you might know, etc
    • Profile: Your profile can be taken from Twitter or Instagram
    • From the hallway swipe left to hide a room – so it does’t clutter the hallway. From hallway slide right to see where your friends (followers) are if they are online or in a room.

    Rooms/Club: Anyone can start a room by clicking Start A Room.

    • Open: Starts a Room open to everyone – regardless if they follow you or not
    • Social: Starts a Room with people you follow (eg they can see the room but general public can’t get in)
    • Closed: Starts a Room with only people you choose

    Clubs:

    You have to have run a few rooms in order to apply for a club. You can apply for a club via this link.

    • They limit each user to creating 2 clubs
    • Prioritizing clubs for people who have already hosted a weekly show 3 times.

    Room/Club Screen:

    • When you enter a room or a club, you’re automatically muted.
    • If you want to join in a conversation, you have to raise your hand (bottom right-hand corner in a room/club). This notifies the moderator and they can let you choose to let you speak. If you have raised your hand and been brought to the “stage” your microphone is NOT automatically muted.
    • The + is to ping or nudge people you follow to join the room/club.
    • Leave quietly exits the room/club

    Other things learned

    • You do not have to stay on the app to listen, it will play in the background
    • “PTR” is pull to refresh. People change their profile photo often – it is one way of sending a message without speaking.
    • The room chat seems to last as long as needed and clubs seem to be for a time period, usually, an hour but some have been 15 minutes.
    • Every room/club is recorded
    • You can not send a private message
    • Unsure of the ethics behind this app but like every free app, there will be issues.

    So far I’m really enjoying listening and taking part. It’s much better than zoom no video which with my internet helps.

    Thanks to Dr Lucy Rogers for helping with this blog!

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    September 3rd, 2020mardixonCulture

    This year #AskaCurator is celebrating its 10th anniversary and so pleased that Jim Richardson from MuseumNext who originally created the hashtag is back on the team to help support it.  I’m copying from his website as there are resources and more information you can find there. 

    Ask a Curator is back on 16th September 2020. As a previous participant in the event, we’d love you to join in on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or wherever your museum is active.

    You can find out more about this years event here.

    As with previous years it is open to any museum, gallery, library, archive, zoo or independent curator. It’s free to participate and sure to attract lots of attention across social media.

    You might want to prepare some content before 16th Sept, for example you could ask a curator to film answers to some of the questions on the previous page. You can download a design pack with graphics to use both on the day and to promote your participation here.

    If you’ve not yet told us that you wish to take part, you can let us know using this form. This just makes it easier for us to give people updates and communicate the scale of the project to press. We look forward to having you be part of what promises to be another very successful Ask a Curator.

    We look forward to seeing everyone sharing questions and answers but most importantly, having fun!  

    And thanks Jim Richardson and everyone else helping this year!

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    May 4th, 2020mardixonCulture

    With some countries starting to ‘open’ again I have some questions. I’m sure it’ll be different depending on the size of the museum/gallery and indeed the procedures and policies will be different country to country but thought it would be good to have a conversation around them.

    • What does a re-open look like?
    • Will staff (and eventually visitors) have their temperature monitored?
    • Will the museum have a deep clean and what does that involve?
    • Will you keep the interactives and touch screens or change the policy around them (eg will visitors need to wear gloves)?
    • Will all staff be coming back?
    • What changes can we expect in cafes and shops?
    • What difference will be made to Front of House if any?

    I’m sure I’ll have more questions but just wanted to say how amazing all staff have been throughout this ordeal. Furlough staff still volunteering, other staff keeping content online going, others just checking in and making sure anxiety levels stayed low. It’s a great sector to be involved with!

    Stay safe!

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    March 23rd, 2020mardixonCulture

    I haven’t updated my site in a while as been busy doing things (MuseumSelfie was brilliant, WhyILoveMuseums was at the right time and now there will be continuous hashtags to sink our teeth into).

    However, now that everyone is using social media again I felt it was important to share something. I’m really struggling not to be smug and remind people of all the times I reminded you to use social to be social so that when you need the community they would support you! I see many brands struggling because they always just scheduled and push out information and never responded or cared.

    Ok, I feel better.

    Museums are Closed (not sure who to credit)

    How are museums, art galleries, libraries and others surviving? We’ll we’re all pulling together. There are lots of list going around but these are the key ones for Virtual tours, resources, e-learning and kids resources. I will also add that MuseumNext has been adding A LOT of great and useful content!

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    October 25th, 2019mardixonCulture

    I was privileged to be Keynote Speaker at the Visitor Experience Group conference near my home town in Philadelphia recently and one of the things I mentioned was museum signage. My statement was around why they were always negative – DO NOT TOUCH or DO NOT SIT when the same statement could be said in a fun positive way.

    New visitors are always nervous about doing the wrong thing or feel judged for not staring at the art for the right time etc and if we changed our signage to a more positive approach that could really help ease the tension and break some barriers. The only example I could think of was one that said ‘You can touch, but it’ll break’ but I know there are so many clever ones out there so I ask the museum community to share.

    Credit Twitter: Froschauer_AF

    And share they did!

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    September 26th, 2019mardixonCulture

    First, a huge thank you to everyone who took part and kept the spirit of #AskaCurator going for another year. I truly hope everyone had as much fun on #AskACurator Day as I did – it was really positive and active for 36 hours (thanks to New Zealand and Australia for always kicking things off and setting the fun, active tone for the day!).

    I didn’t care much about the signups or countries because lets face it, they are just numbers that mean nothing. The real stats that matter is if people were happy and overall I received only one or two negative responses next to the 1000s of positives. (And yes, once again the tired conversation of ‘A curator isn’t the most important and this day doesn’t represent people who work in a museum’ was brought up again which my reply is – start your own hashtag. The @Askacurator name has been going for 9 years and everyone pretty much knows that they can talk to any staff and they do. I have worked the people behind @AskAnArchivst and @AskAnArcheologist to help build their days up as I would help anyone doing things for free.

    Before I share a selection of topics and quotes, a friendly reminder that next year AskACurator will be on September 16 2020 and it’ll be the 10th anniversary! Also one last big thank you to Jim Richardson for trusting me with this campaign after he created it in 2010 and Jamie (@okayjamie) for creating the new logo and banner for the social media channels.

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    August 4th, 2019mardixonCulture

    Recently, I ran a quick survey on Twitter related to museums and social media. I think it’s good that we look at these questions on a regular basis as social media, like all technologies is fast pace.

    There was a bit of an issue with the survey (I did it as a thread but for some reason, the first try only tweet 1/2 the questions) but I managed to find out the results.

    https://twitter.com/MarDixon/status/1155014534337302529
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