In the first of a series of blog posts by guest contributors, William Tregaskes looks at the importance of Front of House, not only as a department of a museum, but also as a great environment in which to up-skill.
The Value of Front of House in Museums
Getting into the museum sector is hard, there is no other way to describe it, and we have to remain positive throughout. Take opportunities which fit with your personal development, think about the skills you need and focus on building those up! If a museum job comes up and it is not what you want to do in the long run, it may well still be a bridge into the museum career you want so keep your mind open!
One of those positions I feel people are sometimes hesitant of moving into is working Front of House (FoH) in a museum. I admit I once had that view, but my outlook has completely changed. I now see it as an essential part of any emerging museum professional development, providing a unique perspective of museum life and the actual purpose of the museum in society. I increasingly see accessibility to all people as vital to the success of any museum. The work of FoH in communicating the past is a valuable tool for the preservation of the human connection to cultural heritage. FoH opens the museum to the public, explains information in the galleries, and allows people to interact (sometimes even handle) the material on display. This is preserving the human connection, allowing agency to form between the museum visitor and the object.
FoH are a valuable part of the museum. They are the people the majority of visitors will interact with, they are for many the human face of the museum. This experience of front facing for me has become too essential to understand what museums do and offers the chance to make an impact on how every museum visitor sees and experiences our heritage.
Skill Building in Front of House
It is not just my views on what a museum is, its purpose in society and ability to preserve the human connection which has change my views of the importance of FoH. It is the skills I have learnt and training opportunities I have had. Working FoH has given me the confidence to speak in public, through my training to perform guided tours, witnessing other tours guides, spending time researching my route and information, and ultimately performing guided tours. This is new found confidence in public speaking allowed me the confidence to apply to speak at conferences.
I have been trained to lead teaching sessions! This has included running handling sessions and using powerpoints. This is alongside workshops which include making things, and dressing up, really the full range of teaching tools you can see in any museum today. These skills and bits of knowledge are vital to working in museums. I have built up experience in addressing a wide range of audiences, from people of different ages to people of different interest levels. Again, this is all essential to the sector because of the museums need to engage and reach out to young audiences and others they have traditionally failed to attract.
I have had the chance to apply different methods of engagement. For example, through my guided tours I have been able to engage the public with imagery, handling material, replicas, projections and re-enactors. Using these different methods builds your skills of communication and display. All of these are skills required for the development of exhibitions and in the communication of our heritage. I try out methods of communication just as applying access analysis to my tours, taking routes which people in the past would have used, allowing museums to make a closer connection to the heritage on display.
Beyond the engagement work, working FoH has trained me to use tills, inspect the museum, and provide a high standard of visitor service. All of this is vital to museums and in many smaller organisations you may well find yourself doing these tasks as part of your otherwise Back of House job.
Your experience of FoH will be vital in making your museum distinct from others. You will be able define your museum by drawing on your prior experience. FoH is a great place for any emerging museum professional to develop. No matter where you plan to go, the experiences here are a step in the right direction, providing valuable insights into how museums work and the reality of the sector.
Check out the excellent Museum Front of House blog which William co-edits here: