When an email came through asking if I could host a contingent of Bulgarian Museum Specialists, little did I know the adventure that would unfold....
In went my application to go to Bulgaria ahead of their visit but i didn’t know what to expect. Id never thought about visiting Bulgaria and had little knowledge of what it had to offer.
The programme is promoted by the Innovation in Cultural Heritage Interpretation Project (ICHI) managed by Archaeology Network and funded within the framework of the ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ programme of the European Commission.
I work as an Archaeology Inventory Assistant for Glasgow Museums, part of Glasgow Life, reorganising our Archaeological holdings. I also work with various community groups helping them to access and interpret the archaeology we hold in relation to their own history and interests. I also look at the long term storage and interpretation of our Scottish History.
My particular interest in this exchange was to look at the various methods of preservation, interpretation and delivery of the various institutions we would visit. They covered a wide range of areas from Archaeological Sites, to Museums and Monasteries and Cultural Heritage Reserves.
The Ancient Temple of St. Martyr George The Victor
After landing in Sofia we settled into our hotel then embarked on a tour of the city. This included a visit to St. Martyr George The Victor, thought to be a Roman bath but more likely had a religious or ceremonial function and is the oldest building still in use in Sofia.
Targeting Various Audiences
The National Polytechnical Museum in Sofia was our first official visit. The museum is 54 years old but the current building was given to the museum in 1992 and was formerly used as a museum to celebrate the leader of the Communist Party. There was no funding provided by the Government to renovate the new museum so they have done their best with the various exhibitions and collections they now hold. They can only display around 7-8% of the 25,000 objects they curate, which have been mainly donated by the public. They would like to be able to display about 20% of the collection but need money to purchase more suitable display cabinets. After a physics demonstration which teaches children various experiments they can conduct from household objects we met with the museum manager Ekaterina Tsekova. She explained how they get the local students and various other members of the community to provide knowledge surrounding the collection and help with the education of school groups. This includes work with the older people to encourage them to interact with the younger generations and pass on their first hand knowledge of the collections. They also encourage Grandparents to bring in their Grandchildren and give them the confidence and knowledge the need to prevent difficult situations where they feel they may not have the skill to pass on their knowledge in a museum environment. The entrance to the National Polytechnical Museum in Sofia
Another good example of this community interaction was demonstrated at the History Museum of Gorna Oryahovitsa. Head museum curator, Plamen Mademov, explained how they encourage the local community to lend or donate various objects or memorabilia in line with diverse exhibition themes. They cover a diverse range, from subjects to do with technology like devises for playing music, for example gramophones, to traditional Bulgarian crafts such as icon painting. They gather the knowledge that comes in with the objects to develop the interpretation of the theme. The current display is themed around natural remedies and herbal medicines which can be found in the surrounding landscape. Plamen Mademov pointing out the various themes for exhibitions in the History Museum of Gorna Oryahovitsa
They rely heavily on local business sponsorship as the money provided by the Municipality is not enough to sustain the museum. Their temporary exhibitions also pull in the local population who like to see their own objects given a new lease of life in the displays. This encourages repeat visitors as their main catchment area is the local population.
In Glasgow Museums we create various themed workshops aimed at different community groups. One which I am heavily involved in is the ‘Archaeology Uncovered’ children’s workshop aimed at 7-14 year olds. We work with the collections then try out experimental archaeology to teach the children ancient technologies.
I think these two museums have great ideas around asking the local community to donate or lend objects around specific themes. We mainly rely on people just deciding to offer objects, rather than asking for specific items. I think it is also effective to get people to share their knowledge first hand; this gives them respect, a feeling of worth and builds on their confidence.