Sunday, April 03, 2005


Renaissance in the Regions: Developing Maritime Heritage


24Hour Museum
By Catherine Rose
April 01, 2005

Time and Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth has been the cultural centre of attention in the East of England recently. Opened in July 2004, it was a £4.7 million project; money well spent considering the success it is enjoying with a high turnout of local visitors and lots from further afield too.

The museum, Norfolk’s third largest, has also been short listed as one of the four finalists for the £100,000 Gulbenkian Museum prize. James Steward, Maritime Development Officer for Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Services, is one of the people behind the museum’s triumphs.

James’ role is funded by Renaissance in the Regions, which aims to develop and support regional museums. Working with museum hub partners, including the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, James is paid for by Objective 2 funds which concentrate on regional social and economic issues. I spoke to James about the Renaissance side of his post, which in itself sounds like a job for more than one person!

Where to begin? James’ two-year post involves many duties. Time and Museum has been earmarked as the ‘gateway museum’ for the region in terms of maritime initiatives. "What we are hoping to do is become a focal centre of excellence for maritime heritage in the region." James explained.

James works closely with other museums in the region helping them to improve and develop their services, seeking opportunities for other funding, acquisitions and dealing with the press. He also ensures that collections are kept in their natural habitat – the best place to be seen and interpreted.

James believes maritime heritage has a strong mythology and background which should be expanded and promoted in museums. "Maritime heritage is about human endeavour and about human achievement. Great Yarmouth is the best place in Norfolk to act as the main resource," he said.

Time and Tide certainly reflects this. The museum hosts a multitude of imaginatively displayed artefacts. There is a 1913 Row containing recreated houses and people. Paintings, video screens and ancient artefacts can be found in the same galleries as hands-on children’s activities. There is something for everyone, mixing old and new. As James puts it, "using the past to speak to the future". There are also audio guides to support the displays.

"I can honestly say I never considered how to do it some other way," he said. "All of those pictures support the narration of the thematic displays. Nothing is out of place. We all have different learning styles and the museum caters for them."

So it is not surprising a visitor left a card on the comments board saying: "Lived here for 27 years. Only now do I really appreciate the history and culture of it."

Time and Tide is also part of Sea Britain 2005, a national maritime project with events throughout the year. The museum will be hosting a series of temporary exhibitions which James is responsible for programming and curating. "It’s almost like an interesting side line to the post. It’s great," he added.

James Dodds is the current artist on display, with future exhibitions taking on a more regional feel. James has contacted artists from different regions, including Lowestoft and King’s Lynn, to present the ideas of maritime communities through art. James hopes this will "foster the notion of a regional identity" which follows the aim of Renaissance in the Regions.

Time and Tide will also be taking part in SeaBritain with an exhibition called Open Sea in the summer. Schools and colleges in the borough, including Norwich School of Art and Design, will produce responses to the sea through fine art. There will also be a literature festival in conjunction with this which will feature a competition.

James’ role involves close work with the local community. The museum is in the middle of a housing estate in one of the most socially deprived areas of the country and James did have some initial fears of people’s reactions. It was therefore important that the community played an active role in the museum’s 10 year planning. There was much public consultation, including viewing before the museum officially opened.

Through this interaction James was confident the museum would be welcomed. "The success is the sense of community being embodied in a building that’s in the heart of the community and in a building which is a focus of pride and heritage."

James sees the opening of the museum as the starting point of the project: "Yarmouth needed a museum which could cater for the hopes and the aspirations of the town. It’s not just about its heritage, it’s about the future." And it seems the locals want to be very much part of that future, with the museum being inundated with offers for volunteers.

James’ obvious passion for his role and the museum stems from his childhood. "I was brought up living by the sea," he said. "I have a tremendous affinity with maritime subjects and have developed expertise in marine painting. It isn’t just an interest I have in maritime issues, but something I feel is part of my own identity."

Through this background he is able to recognise what he describes as a "distinct maritime culture. Coastal communities have a strong sense of identity, and a tremendous sense of place and this links to museums quite naturally." This understanding has undoubtedly benefited James in his role and benefited Time and Tide. “I think most people who work in museums have a vocational drive,” he added.

And that's just a brief outline of what a Maritime Development Officer does! James’ hard work for the museum has certainly paid off for the community and himself.

"It’s better than we could have hoped and being shortlisted for the Gulbenkian Award is a tremendous achievement," James said, "that shortlisting is about the contribution of the community. The only criticism I’ve heard is that people don’t have enough time to see everything. If that’s the only criticism then I’m happy," James said. "And they can always come back again!"

Time and Tide Museum is living proof that Renaissance in the Regions is working.

Time and Tide Museum of Great Yarmouth Life
Time and Tide Museum of Great Yarmouth Life,
Blackfriars Road, Great Yarmouth, NR30 3BX, Norfolk, England
T: 01493 743930
Open: Time and Tide Museum of Great Yarmouth Life opened
in July 2004. 21 March - 30 October 2005 10am - 5pm
Closed: Closed 23-26 December 05 1 Jan 06


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