Tag Archives: museums

A funny old year.

A year ago tomorrow, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a shocking and frightening diagnosis but I was lucky in the respect that although aggressive, mine was a common cancer which meant I was swept up by the NHS and taken through a well-rehearsed routine of chemotherapy, operation, radiotherapy and follow-up treatment. The last 12 months have been unpleasant, stressful and not something you’d want to do twice but I’ve never had any sense it wasn’t the best the people treating my illness could do for me. I wasn’t brave, I didn’t battle, I’m not a survivor. I sat back and let the amazing hospital staff do their stuff.

My boyfriend, Richard, looked after me as well as working full time and it was very hard for him. I was asleep for getting on for 7 months and when I was awake I was grumpy and nauseous and frankly rough looking! One weekend I got an infection and ended up in Casualty until 4am. I went back to sleep once I got onto the ward but he had to go to work. , Despite being the noticeable part of treatment, my hair falling out wasn’t the worst bit (although shaving my head on Christmas Day was not the kind of present I wanted) rather, the many side effects which could only be described as disgusting. I’ll spare you the details. Worse was feeling old and ugly and depressed. I had no energy and found it difficult to walk the shortest distances. On one trip to friends in Brighton, I burst into tears in the street and screamed at Richard because I just felt so frustrated at being unable to walk up a hill to their house.









Post-op.                                                                                                      Now

On the plus side, everyone I knew was so kind and supportive. My family rang me daily, I spoke more to people than I had for years. Friends on Twitter kept me entertained, in touch and even sent gifts and cards. It made a huge difference to my morale.

A year ago, I couldn’t imagine that I’d be spending the anniversary running a seminar day for Museum Studies students at Bath Spa Uni but that’s where I’ll be tomorrow, doing what I love – getting excited about museums. Twelve months on I’ve started a exciting new job and am off on a glamorous holiday. It’s been an interesting year but you’ll excuse me if I get on with living now.


Rodents discovered in Rome Art Gallery

I met these two little darlings at the Galleria Doria Pamphilj in Rome. Actually, they appear in Breughel’s “Allegory of the Earth”. It was painted in 1618 and, since Guinea Pigs come from South America, I was slightly surprised to see them in such an early painting. However, I looked it up and apparently (well according to Wikipedia!)  Queen Elizabeth I had a pet Guinea Pig so these two are early immigrants. I like to think they might have been the Breughel family pets. My own Guinea Pigs, Prudence and Isabella, were unimpressed when I told them but they’re hard to please

The Galleria Doria Pamphilj is a fantastic gallery I visited for the first time recently. It’s housed in a Palazzo right on the Via del Corso in Rome and is a perfect antidote to the madness of Rome’s main shopping street. Step inside and the first thing you see is a beautiful courtyard garden which reminds you why these big houses face inwards away from the dirt and noise of the street and makes you want one of the apartments which still house smart Romans today.

The Palazzo is primarily an Art Gallery these days with an amazing private collection which includes works by Caravaggio, Titian and the aforementioned Breughel as well as sculpture, furniture and even family nick-nacks! The Doria Pamhilj family still exist and own the collection (and have issues to face over its future thanks to Italian law  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/family/6348571/Who-will-inherit-the-Doria-Pamphilj-familys-legacy.html ) and still live in the Palazzo at least some of the time. The paintings are numbered rather than labelled so do buy the £1 guide unless you’re an Art History expert. Galleria Doria Pamphilj may not be the slickest or the best interpreted gallery in Europe but it’s got buckets of charm and really is, to use a horrible cliché, a hidden gem.

A big box of beautiful.

The Museo Ara Pacis Augustae is controversial. It is the first modern building in the centre of Rome for 50 years and the current Mayor of the city, Gianni Alemanno, has declared his desire to see it demolished. Thankfully for the rest of us he has also said it’s not a priority. Mr Alemanno is, frankly, wrong! The Ara Pacis Museum is not some blot on the landscape but a very beautiful and sympathetic addition to the banks of the Tiber.

From the outside the building is a statement and stands out against the other buildings around it, none of which are in themselves particularly exciting while at the same time reflecting them in its glass facade. You might even argue it does a sterling job of hiding the shabby monstrosity of the Mausoleum of Augustus next door. It’s cool and sleek and, hey, it’s got a fountain outside! How Roman do you want?

However, it’s inside that this museum hits you. There is just one artefact in the main gallery – the Ara Pacis  (or Altar of Peace) itself. When I stepped through the door from reception it took a fairly large dose of self-restraint to stop me running squealing toward it. When I say altar, of course I don’t mean the cloth draped table we associate with Christianity. This is pagan pomp at its most pomp-y! It was commissioned by the Roman Emperor Augustus to commemorate pacification of western provinces (that’s France and Spain to us!) We won’t go into whose idea of peace at this stage and let the victor write the history. The gallery is glass and stone and while it’s beautiful in its own right, it also serves as a perfect backdrop for the creamy marble of the altar.

Downstairs are education areas and a temporary exhibition gallery and a small gallery telling the story of the Altar’s  discovery and restoration. If I have one criticism of the museum it is that the interpretation is separated from the Altar. If you didn’t go downstairs, you’d never learn anything about the Altar and its history. You would also miss the fantastic interactive which shows the likely colour scheme of the original. As much as I love the upstairs gallery and the beautiful altar sitting proud in the centre, I do worry that most visitors will miss this important feature.

In short, the Museo Ara Pacis Augustae is a stunning piece of architecture, inside a stunning piece of architecture. Get there before the bulldozers move in!

Who and why?

Over the coming months I’ll rambling away here about a variety of stuff but mostly my life in museums, exhibitions I’ve been to and my take on issues that affect the heritage and museums sector. The great world of the internet means I can chunter away here to my heart’s content. However, it seems polite to give you a bit more detail about who I am and what I do instead of expecting anyone to read this cold.

As you might expect, seeing as this isn’t a blog about cricket or cupcakes, museums have been my career for 17 years and my passion for even longer. I started early, doing my school work experience at Tunbridge Wells Museum. It was there in the mid-80s that I saw an exhibition of Matisse drawings which made me realise the big museums in London weren’t the only place to see cool stuff.

After doing a Classics degree in Liverpool (and enjoying a city with so much to offer) I knew that I hadn’t been wrong at 16 and that museums were where I wanted to be. After Leicester I found myself living in Nottinghamshire in the small town of Mansfield. Frankly, I didn’t like Mansfield, but it had the saving grace of a great museum run by a young and inspirational Curator called Liz Weston. Liz taught me huge amounts about museums and the real world which no training course ever could and she let me make mistakes (and no, enough time has not passed to own up to most of them!)


Mansfield Museum

Jobs followed in Watford and the London Borough of Brent where we took the museum from the Grange in the middle of a three lane roundabout to Willesden Library Centre. You don’t get to be part of a brand new museum many times in a career and the Brent Museum was the best, most fun, most terrifying and worst time of my life! After 4 years of hard but great teamwork we created a museum I am still very proud of (even if the display case in Politics was rather traditional in the end).

brent mus

The entrance gallery, Brent Museum

After a spell as Collections Manager at the magnificent Historic Dockyard at Chatham in Kent, I came to Wiltshire 2 years ago to become Conservation and Heritage Manager looking after the Museums Advisory Service, three teams of Conservators and the County Archaeology team. Here we work very much with small, independent museums, many of which are volunteer run. This has been a new experience for me and both challenging for someone used to taking certain shared norms in professional museums but also very good for challenging my assumptions and learning new ideas .

Wherever I am, my passion has always been for sharing histories. Our museums, large and small are uniquely placed to share experiences, objects and knowledge in a way that no other organisation can. They are unique and special and, in case I get too pompous, they’re also great fun. New media are giving us new ways of spreading that fun on what seems like a daily basis so who knows where we’ll be in a few years. New opportunities meeting a recession of the like I’ve never seen in my career means we live in interesting times.

There you go. That’s me. So, please, come with me. Feel free to comment and especially if you agree with every word! If you want daily utterances I’m on Twitter http://twitter.com/vickybarlo Back soon…