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Emotionally Rewarding & Intellectually Stimulating: Curation at the National Trust

Chelcey Berryhill - Thursday June 11, 2015 15:27

The National Trust is always innovating and recontextualizing its world-renowned houses and collections, offering fresh takes on their histories and aesthetics. We spoke with Simon Murray, the National Trust’s Senior Director, about the Trust’s curatorial efforts, and how experimentation leads to insightful new exhibitions for visitors to enjoy.

By Simon Murray, Senior Director, National Trust

Simon Murray, NT Senior Director

Simon Murray, NT Senior Director

I am pleased to update our supporters at Royal Oak about the important work we are undertaking to raise the standards of curatorship at the National Trust. Recent media coverage has misrepresented our approach to historic interiors, taking Helen Ghosh’s comments about more focused interpretations out of context. We do not seek to simplify or in any way dumb down presentations of our houses and collections, but we may on occasion choose to draw out a particular aspect, theme or story.

The "Sanctuary from the Trenches" Exhibition at Dunham Massey

The “Sanctuary from the Trenches” Exhibition at Dunham Massey

This approach is nothing new for the Trust, and there are many examples over the last 50 years. In the 1970s, we removed the 18th- and 19th-century furniture from Hardwick Hall to show it as Bess’s house, thereby revealing the majesty of the architectural spaces. This last year we have cleared Dunham Massey to create Sanctuary from the Trenches—a temporary exhibition around the WWI centennial—that has been highly acclaimed and is one of six finalists for the 2015 Art Fund Museum of the Year awards.

As part of our new strategy, Playing Our Part, we are aiming to give our visitors experiences in our houses that are emotionally rewarding, intellectually stimulating and which inspire people to support our cause and take these experiences back into their own lives. I don’t think we can make this claim at the moment. To achieve this we will experiment. Sometimes these experiments will be hugely successful, sometimes not; but we will learn from these experiences and maintain the reputation of the presentation and interpretation of properties as world class.