Working with an Artist in Residence

Summary

As part of a major project to extend Derbyshire Record Office and merge with the county Local Studies Library, the Record Office commissioned an Artist in Residence, Paula Moss.

The Artist in Residence worked with staff and a focus group to inform the look and feel of the new service, including the layout, colours and furniture. She also used the collections to design signage and other special touches, such as window blinds, wallpaper, window vinyls and a timeline.

In the process of creating a bright, welcoming, and inspirational space for customers, she helped to bring the archives and local studies teams together, and enabled them to work more creatively, developing their skills and confidence. As a result, staff developed a new visual aesthetic and creative approach to their work.

The project was delivered in partnership with the County Council's Arts Team, who provided part of the funding and who commissioned Derbyshire's Poet Laureate to write a poem for the Record Office.

The project was funded by Derbyshire County Council's Arts Team with an Arts Council grant of £10,000 and  funded the Artist in Residence and bespoke items for the building.

Challenges

  • This was the first building project that any of the staff had been involved in which meant staff were learning as they went along
  • The new public areas of the Record Office were in a Victorian building with a challenging layout that couldn't be changed
  • There had been no interior design concepts or user consultation on the building interior before building work started
  • The Artist in Residence project started a month after building work commenced and the timescales dictated by the building programme meant decisions made quickly
  • Finalising the furniture and fittings with the supplier took longer than expected 
  • Departmental and corporate rules on signage and publicity materials were very rigid, making it difficult to bring some of the ideas to fruition
  • Staff had very little previous experience of community engagement

Opportunities

  • The Artist in Residence was well established within the local arts networks, which meant that the Record Office had access to her extensive knowledge and contacts
  • Working together for the first time, staff in both local studies and archives services were open to change and prepared to embrace the artist's ideas
  • The artist and the staff co-designed the interior using space-planning techniques and colour theory paying great attention to detail
  • Flexibility within the overall building project budget allowed allocation of increased funding for furniture and fittings, to align the building with the overall vision of the Record Office
  • Working with an Artist in Residence enabled the staff at Derbyshire Record Office to address some of their service challenges. For instance, the artist brought a wealth of experience in community engagement and worked to develop and deliver new types of outreach event. By imparting her design skills, she gave staff the confidence to challenge some of the corporate rules on publicity materials
  • Staff were closely involved in all decisions about the building and users were involved in the decisions which would closely affect them for example testing the comfort of the searchroom chairs

Outcomes

  • Positive feedback from readers
'A wonderful environment for study and research. The displays around the building really add an extra ingredient visually. I love the colour scheme too!'

'It feels more inclusive and welcoming. Well done to all the staff for keeping our history vibrant and relevant for the next generations of local historians.'

'Definitely the nicest county archive I've been to… wonderful!'
  • The archivists' perception of the archives changed - archives are also now recognised for their visual appeal rather than just a source of information. This has led to a change in cataloguing to allow visual or 'quirky' aspects to be recorded so that such documents can be more easily identified

Learning from the project

  • Treating the Artist in Residence as one of the team, with full staff privileges, including access to the repositories was key to the success of the project. This trusted relationship was described by an artist who participated in a tour of the Record Office as 'a marriage made in heaven'
  • Including every member of the staff in all the stages of the project, from the layout of the public areas to the tiles in the toilets, meant everyone felt a sense of ownership and pride in the building. This was an excellent way to build one team from two
  • While working with an Artist in Residence staff developed the confidence to challenge some of the corporate guidelines within which they normally work, for example, by developing a  new approach to notices and posters
  • Due to the timescales, there was limited opportunity to involve the local community with the project on this occasion although this will be redressed during a future project

Developing the work in the future

  • Staff skills and confidence have been embedded as part of the project, and a new culture of creativity within the Record Office means future work will build on the momentum generated by the project  
  • With established links with Arts team within the County Council and the local artistic community, the Record Office intend to continue to run events based on art and to encourage more artists to use the Record Office as inspiration for their creative work 
  • Although the Residency has now ended, the Record Office maintains a strong relationship with Paula Moss and are working with her on other projects

For further information about this case study contact Derbyshire Record Office.