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museumaker - Cathy Miles at Guildhall Museum, Rochester

  • Date: 16 January 2012
  • Artform: Museums, Visual arts
  • Area: South East
wire models of a variety of tools The Toolshed by Cathy Miles at The Guildhall Museum, Rochester, part of museumaker , Matthew Andrews

museumaker was a prestigious national project involving 16 museums across the country. The programme encouraged museums and makers to collaborate by providing financial support and expert advice, which enabled them to draw on each other's rich resources, take creative risks and trial new ideas.

Guildhall Museum, Rochester

Guildhall Museum was strongly attracted to museumaker because of the potential to strengthen engagement with existing visitor groups and reach new groups. The Museum also wanted to raise its profile.

The installation: The Toolshed

The project was designed to explore the late 18th Century Seaton Tool Chest, once owned by Benjamin Seaton of Chatham, which houses a complete set of furniture making tools - many of them unused and in their original wrappings.

This was chosen because it is unique and of worldwide interest, and would benefit from being animated. The installation was an architect designed 'toolshed' installed in the museum's special exhibition room, which brought together tools created by the maker Cathy Miles, alongside a special re-display of the Seaton Tool Chest and wire tools created during the community engagement workshops. In her original proposal Cathy explained that: 'The project allows the audiences to make a connection between their personal objects and their local museum, in an immediate way and gives them an opportunity to participate in hands on making with support in a new space.'

The Museum thought the piece would stimulate a critical debate, but there were no critical comments at all. There was no vandalism or theft. Cathy was highly sensitive to the setting, and produced work of evident quality. Visitors were excited with, and inspired by it. They recognised the tools and enjoyed talking to Cathy.

The process

The Museum only had limited experience of working with makers. The project was different because the maker was delivering her craft in front of people, not just in her studios.The programme opened the museum's eyes to the diversity of the crafts sector at a national level and also provided learning on commissioning.

The community engagement workshops went well. Cathy worked alongside the education officer in an equal partnership. Working with existing groups made the recruitment simpler and faster. One adult session had to be cancelled because of lack of interest, and, in the future, the Museum would spend more time identifying messages to market workshops to adults.


The amount of administration would put the Museum off engaging on a similar project in the future. The project took twice the staff time they expected, just because of the administration.

Peter Boreham, curator of the Rochester Museum, said: 'Projects should be aware of the lead in time to work with community partners. For example, schools work at least a term ahead.'

There can be extra costs of working with inaccessible populations. For example one group said they couldn't get to the Museum, but luckily the Museum was able to source transport.

Organisational impact

The legacy from the museumaker project was:

  • the Museum had plans to continue working with artists after museumaker, but the Council restructuring is moving the Museum from Tourism to Green Spaces so development plans are on hold until review in the new structure
  • the project encouraged the Museum to look at its collections in new ways
  • the project gave the Museum the confidence to allow a maker to do their own thing: 'It is like jumping out of a plane knowing someone has a parachute, not sure who has the parachute.'
  • key councillors attended some of the museumaker events locally and were visibly encouraged by the success of the project: 'It showed councillors we can deliver a national project and achieve a high profile.'
  • all officers in the museum got involved in delivery of the project so there was complete ownership of the project across the museum. The project reinforced the Museum's team approach
  • the project was the first time the Museum had worked with the Arts Development Team
  • the visual arts officer was heavily involved in commissioning, discussion and publicity
  • the Council funded the publication of an arts and crafts trail in Rochester as a result of museumaker
  • museumaker encouraged councillors to think about arts and crafts in a more joined up way. For example, arts and crafts are now seen as an important part of the Council's tourism product
  • these projects have created a critical mass that has led to other actions. Local makers have set up a cooperative shop in the same street as the Museum
  • Cathy got contacts for possible new work from an educational establishment

You can download the full case study by Annabel Jackson Associates Ltd, which includes feedback from participants here.

Copyright Annabel Jackson Associates Ltd and museumaker, June 2011. Not to be reproduced in part or whole without prior permission. Website: