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  • Date: 24 August 2011
  • Artform: Museums, Visual arts
  • Area: National
fine golden thread woven many times around collumns in a museum hall Promenade by Susie MacMurray at Kedleston Hall, part of museumaker, photo by Matthew Andrews

museumaker was a prestigious national project involving 16 museums across the country. The vision of the project was to 'unlock the creative potential of museum collections'. It worked to achieve long-term sustainable change in the way the historical is brought to life by the contemporary.

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. Each museum commissioned one or more outstanding makers to create intriguing new work in response to the venue, its associations and collections. As well as offering new experiences for existing museum visitors, museumaker established innovative ways of developing audiences, including young people.

Some of the many highlights of museumaker included: three thousand black butterflies by Clare Twomey taking over Brighton's Royal Pavilion; Susie MacMurray installing a maze of golden thread in the Marble Hall at Kedleston; and Bompas & Parr creating a culinary and film extravaganza in the underground ballroom in Welbeck Abbey.

museumaker was initiated by Arts Council England, Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and Renaissance in the East Midlands, with match funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, and was piloted in the region in 2005-7. During 2008-9 events were run across the country to develop and stretch the knowledge and skills of museums and makers to help them to understand the programme and to stimulate ambitious ideas.

The national museumaker programme built on the learning of the pilot and took place between April 2009 and June 2011. It involved leading and emerging makers from across the UK working in collaboration with museums from four regions and participation from the National Trust.

Key statistics for the national museumaker programme:

  • 16 museum partnerships were supported in four regions
  • 700,000 people visited the 16 museum sites between May 2010 and March 2011
  • 3.25 million virtual visits were made to the websites of museumaker, its partners and their commissioned makers
  • 7,000 opportunities for hands-on activity were organised
  • £30,000 was invested in the media campaign achieving editorial coverage worth £500,000 which reached 17 million people
  • 14 museums benefited from 21 specialist retail consultancies; 11 museums created new craft-led products for sale in their shops
  • 143 economic and creative opportunities were offered to makers to: research and pitch proposals; create installations and retail products; lead engagement projects and contribute to the capacity building programme

Download the museumaker summary document to browse the full list of participating artists and museums.

What difference did museumaker make?

It created a blueprint for joining together the historic and contemporary by:

  • supporting the two sectors to work together confidently to open up museum collections in a range of ways
  • extending skills and building mutual understanding
  • providing inspiring and stretching creative and economic opportunities for makers
  • market testing different ways of invigorating museum retail
  • attracting new audiences to museums and introducing 'traditional' museum audiences to high quality contemporary craft
  • delivering exciting projects that engaged individuals from different communities and hard-to-reach groups


museumaker has created a toolkit to share the good practice it has pioneered and distill lessons learnt through hands-on experience. This kit is a compendium offering a generous mix of inspirational ideas to stimulate ambitious joint working and pragmatic information to guide and support delivery. It is intended to provide a springboard to inspire museums and makers to:

  • take creative risks together
  • plan and manage innovative projects from start to finish
  • enrich visitor experience
  • attract new audiences and encourage repeat visits
  • invigorate museum shops
  • gather robust evidence to win further investment

Case studies

Cathy Miles at Guildhall Museum, Rochester

Eleanor Pritchard at Orleans House and Gallery

Laura Thomas at Beaney House of Art and Knowledge

Richard Jackson at The Lightbox, Woking

We will be continuing to add individual project case studies to this section to share the learnings from museumaker.