leeds city museums

Hello everybody, I’m back! Following a very, very extended hiatus due to the fact that tumblr refused to play nicely with my old internet browser, I may begin semi-regular posting once again. Or occasional posting. We’ll see how it goes.

Roman mosaic, A.D. 300-400, from Isurium Brigantum (Aldborough, North Yorkshire), on display in Leeds City Museum. The mosaic depicts the legend of Romulus and Remus.

we are not alone I critical role of space and objects in knowledge exchange

On a sunny day a few weeks back, Paul and I ventured north to Leeds Museum and Galleries to deliver/test Sparknow’s ‘More than Money’ workshop that draws on three years of commissioned [MLA London and London Development Agency] museums, libraries and archives research.

Aimed at organizations wishing to explore the new dimensions that cultural resources can bring to business development the workshop has four objectives:

*     to stimulate new conversations using objects in collections

*     to imagine what study tours might be conducted around buildings

*     to see how the collections might be viewed through others’ lenses

*     to provide ideas on developing a cultural strategy

‘Conversation Picture’, oil on canvas, attributed to Richard Brompton (c.1700-1782) illustrates how conversation is data tagged to an object in the Leeds Collection and this seemed like a nice backdrop to the workshop


We arrived at Leeds City Art Gallery, a place I had visited many times whilst a student at Leeds Metropolitan University and as a child many moons ago.  The Art Gallery was recently renovated in 2006, and where library storage was, has now opened up its beautiful architecture and tiles on display to the public in the form of an airy café, a place hub bubbing when we arrived.


In a series of blogs we are going to talk about the workshop, about how space, people and objects interact and these juxtaposed create avenues for creative knowledge exchange. 

We’d entered a magnificent prominent building in Leeds, situated in the heart of Leeds next to the Town Hall, Henry Moore Institute, St James’ Hospital and Leeds Metropolitan and Leeds University.

Leeds Museums and Galleries consists of nine sites with 1.3 million objects. Its strategic importance can be seen through the events, programmes and exhibitions it runs, the renovation and development of its spaces [Leeds Art Gallery development:  Discovery Centre 2007, and Leeds City Museum 2008]. The space and buildings around the Art Gallery, shouted out to us two visitors the importance of the place and of heritage and culture to Leeds. 

We entered the Art Gallery, eschewing the distraction of a coffee, and went straight into the meeting room, behind Henry Moore’s King and Queen’ 1952-53 and next to the Ziff Gallery.  We began to set up [see picture]

The meeting room is a large generic space, devoid of objects, nothing relating to the objects in the galleries and spaces that surrounded it.  It struck us as being fit for purpose but not reflective of the wonderful displays we’d passed through. The breakout room was a small ‘meeting room’ sterile and functional, a smaller version of the first.  We carried on setting up the materials and the computer, but how could we bring the outside in, so to speak?  How could we bring the atmosphere, the space and objects beyond into the room, after all one of the workshop’s aims was to open up new dialogues around objects? 

Paul went for a walk, and found the bright blue, Ziff Gallery exhibition space that features 1800-1900 art in decorative frames and has the most wonderful glass ceiling ‘Why don’t we have the first exercise in this space? He suggested so yes we did.  

The exercise was a task asking each group (there was 3) to each view the room through the eyes of one of the following:  a thief, a cleaner and an interior designer.  Each group was asked to note what they saw through these lenses and to report this back to the whole group in a way where the whole group had to guess what sort of lenses had viewed the room.


This was a fun exercise punctuated by laughter from groups of schoolchildren viewing the gallery at the same time that broke down the formality of the meeting space environment; it gave an interesting insight into how the objects and spaces at the Gallery can be viewed through different professions/eyes and it was an introduction to the concept of ‘thinking in different ways’.  It brought groups together in an organic way and prepared them for the next exercise.

Moving this first exercise to this gallery space was pivotal, it started the workshop with a ‘study tour’ for the participants and for us.  Taking the group away from the identity and lens each of them had arrived with in the meeting room; a place where coats would hang identifying each person to  their peers; a place where the chairs had been assembled school like and where interestingly incoming males sat (with one exception) on the right and the females on the left.  We whimsically suggested everyone was gearing up for the Royal Wedding sitting on the Bride and the Groom’s side.

By taking them to the Ziff Gallery we had tried to open up the lenses of the outside space and away from the eyes of the Henry Moore sculpture that seemed to guard the meeting room.  

The study tour through the building, the galleries, meeting room, sculptures and paintings and around people was a poignant part of the workshop exercise.  The setting up and preparation are of great value every movement from place to place, object to object, conversation to conversation are the important processes; changing to another room or the atmosphere by moving objects alter the dynamics of the experience and these have to be seen and responded to in an organic fashion.  If there isn’t fluidity, comfortableness, adaptability the experience will not be an open and enjoyable one for the participants or the facilitators; we are not alone and we can listen and learn from our surroundings, colleagues, objects and buildings and takeaway an enjoyable experience, whilst learning along the way.

See the next blog | it’s a true piece of history to hear of the stories of objects we found along the way.

Authored by Julie Reynolds

The Studio (c.1913). Sir William Newenham Montague Orpen (Irish, 1878-1931). Oil on canvas. Leeds Museums-City Art Gallery.

Orpen was especially known for his penetrating sociopsychological portraits. Orpen’s works are marked by realism, rich color, and free brushwork. Here, he deals with a strong light coming through a large window. His handling of the challenging light and shadows is exceptional.