If you don’t use it, you lose it. Thoughts about the National Media Museum

Long before I worked in Bradford, I visited the National Media Museum, then called the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television. I was in Yorkshire for a few days, staying Leeds whilst taking in a gig (ah, those were the days), and wanted to do a bit of sight-seeing. Being an avid photographer and cinema goer, the Museum sounded like the ideal place to spend a few hours.

It was very different of course in those days, but won me over completely. Not as interactive as museums now need to be for the YouTube generation, it still had a great selection of exhibits and things you could play with (using a vision mixer, getting ‘blue-screened’ onto a flying carpet, etc.). I left Yorkshire to head back down South feeling that I had spent my time well and telling everyone about what a gem the Museum was.

Several years later, I’d finished my doctorate and was looking to start an academic career. I had three offers of a job, one in the South, one in the North East, and one from Bradford. Two things made me choose Bradford: the advice of my supervisor, the late Professor Dick Grimsdale, whose opinion in these matters I valued extremely highly, and the fact that I remembered the wonderful Museum.

After working in the Computing Department for a couple of years, I had the opportunity to move to the ‘EIMC Unit’. This innovative department ran courses in digital media (before digital media was a term) jointly with Bradford College and the Museum. The chance to work closely with the experts from the Museum and to have access to their facilities was far too tempting, and I was lucky enough to move across the EIMC shortly afterwards. I’ve been working here ever since.

Besides the professional interest, the Museum was an essential destination when some of ‘my friends from the South’ came to visit. Not only was it a great place to wander round and grab a bite to eat, I was also proud to shatter the preconceived ideas about what people would and wouldn’t find in Bradford. A national museum? In Bradford? You’re kidding?

(Of course this does beg the question “why not?”. Why should nearly all the national museums be in London? Why is it the Northern ones that are under threat rather than the facilities in the London ones? But I’m not going to get political here, I’ll save that for another time.)

All that was a long time ago. It’s no longer the first place that I take people. I don’t go to see films there as often as a I did. I don’t grab a coffee or a bite to eat there very often.

Sure, part of this is because my life has changed. I don’t get to the cinema much at all anymore now I’ve got two small children. I’m much busier than I was as a young(ish), energetic chap enjoying the good life in a Northern town.

But I take it for granted. I forget how lucky I am to have a national museum, especially one on a such an interesting topic, right on my doorstep. I forget how fortunate I am to have the Bradford International Film Festival here every year, how very lucky I am to have the Bradford Animation Festival on my doorstep. How amazing it is to be in the world’s first UNESCO City of Film. Other cities would bite your hand off to have such a great institution in their centre.

So the time has come to use it rather than lose it. Visit it. Use the café. Use the cinema. Take people there. Because even if all the campaigning works and the museum stays open, to be sustainable it needs people to use it more.

And I need to remember why I came to Bradford in the first place, and why I later came to live and work here.

Save the National Media Museum from Simon Lawson on Vimeo.

So what happened to March?

It seemed to fly by and I have no idea where it went. The last time I posted it was all about struggling to pull together the proosal for the new academic calendar (that’s been to ASPC, LTC and Senate and been approved), the impending academic review (we’ve had the panel meetings and are waiting for the report) and the BCS accreditation visit (which went well and we await the written feedback).  And of course the City Park opened, which whatever you think about it has transformed the city centre and it’s a joy to see so many people out there enjoying the recent good weather.

If that’s not enough for one month, we’ve had the opening of the excellent Life Online gallery and TedX Bradford at the NMeM, another BBC RAC meeting, and Spurs have gone from Champions’ League certainties to Europa League hopefuls and back again.

In the middle of all this, we’ve moved offices. As you may know, I was in a shared space with the staff support team in the basement of Horton D (hence the original title of this blog). With the reclading of the building (which has gone very smoothly and looks great), we had to find temporary accomodation for the Student Support Office. This gave us an opportunity to rethink how we use our space. The position of the recruitment office was far from ideal (up some stairs and along a corridor), especially given the amount of traffic on applicant visit days. Given where we were located, i.e. in the ‘basement’ which of course is actually at ground level (don’t ask, it’s one of the challenges of labelling floors in buildings that are built on hillsides) and so had easy access, it made sense to use this forced temporary move to use that space more effectively. Hence the Recruitment Office is now using that, both as office space and to hold receptions and recruitment events. We’ve now moved to the fifth floor. So time to rename the blog. The Student Support Office is temporarily where Recruitment were, and when they move back we’ll continue to use that space for supporting our partnership work (someting that was originally located with us in the basement).

As with all these things, the disruption is substantial, but the move seems to have gone very smoothly with all parties happy with their new space. Which is something that is often tricky to achieve. So thanks to all involved, both in terms of those moving and the tech support team that made it happen, for such a slick operation.

As well as the cladding operation, those of you who used the small entrance door facing the Richmond Building will have seen our new ‘porch’ being constructed. The ‘official’ entrance to Horton D is round the back up the curved steps facing the Chesham Building. No doubt this fitting perfectly in the architect’s vision at the time, but now that we get a lot of traffice to and from the Richmond Building, and in these days of more awareness of access for those with mobility problems, it really didn’t make sense. Now the building work is complete we need to populate that space to make it more interesting, which will hopefully happen over the next few months.

Besides hoping that the warmer weather will drive away any more snow, there’s much to look forward to in April. The Bradford International Film Festival has a superb line up this year, with a wide variety from the obscure masterpieces to classic cartoons. If you’re in Bradford while it’s on, there really is no excuse not to pop along to something. There’s another ACE meeting, which are always interesting and lively. And of course there’s the usual day-to-day expected and unexpected challenges.

I expect come May I’ll be looking back asking ‘what happened to April’?!

From the archives: Internet Gallery Advisory Board, National Media Museum

I also found this in the drafts for this, from2010. And rather than waste all that effort I put into writing it…

Of course, the Internet Gallery is now the soon-to-be-launched ‘Life Online’, and there’s been another advisory board since, so this is mainly of historic interest now! I think given some of the challenges outlined here, they’ve done a fantastic job of representing the story of the internet in a physical space. Of course you’ll have to wait until next year to find out for yourselves.

It was an interesting meeting yesterday [well, over a year ago actually now, ed], both to hear the plans that are currently in place to develop the ‘Internet Gallery‘ at the NMeM and also to hear people’s take on the idea. Whilst we did seem to get side-tracked by the debate around sponsorship and its potential influence on the content, there were some interesting ideas about what a ‘gallery’ of the internet should strive to achieve and how it should be presented.

I’m sure that in future there’ll be the opportunity to put some more meat on these ideas (not in a Lady Ga Ga way you understand), but at least we’ve made a start. Exploring the ideas that float somewhere between the concept of the internet and a physical gallery space is one that could take many different twists and turns, and it may well be that the gallery ends up being as fluid and evolutionary as the internet itself.

I was good to see the demo of the concept linkage work from Peter Cowling and Stephen Remde.  This is a very slick demo now, and whether or not this ends up as an exhibit in the gallery remains to be seen but it’s an interesting piece of work in its own right.

It was also good to catch up with people who I only get to see in person on rare occasions, but follow their digital lives regularly (yes, that means you Rob, Steve and Imran!).