Thursday 18 February 2016

Volunteering at Clare Museum - a case study

A few years ago, Clare County Council adopted a volunteer policy which provided a framework for members of the community who wished to give some of their free time to the cultural services section of the local authority. Since then, and in partnership with the Clare Volunteer Centre, Clare Museum has been very fortunate to attract high calibre volunteers that make a real contribution to our activities, often in ways not originally envisaged. Volunteer Karen Dunn is a good example of this.

Karen is a graphic designer and she joined the museum as a volunteer in early 2015 to collect visitor statistics which would help us shape our planning and programming. At about the same time the museum was devising - with extremely limited resources - a new temporary exhibition to mark the centenary of Clare winning its first All-Ireland hurling title. Staff member Dr Tomás Mac Conmara was to carry out the scholarly research, but how it would be designed, by whom, and at what cost were issues that were of concern.

It was not long before Karen stepped forward and offered to assist by designing the text panels for the exhibition and she began to work closely with Tomás. For years we had been photographing the collection for our website and so the project benefitted from having excellent photographs available. In addition, the subject matter provided the exhibition team with an opportunity to tie the players and mentors of the All-Ireland hurling champions of 1914 into the events that Ireland is commemorating during this Decade of Centenaries.

As the exhibition space is extremely limited it was the intention from the start to produce a booklet with additional information which would provide the public with an educational resource to take away with them. Karen put a great deal of work into designing the booklet using her own laptop and software. The fact that she was onsite with us meant that ideas could be tried out and changed as new information or photographs came into play. What was intended as a small booklet very quickly turned into a beautifully produced full-fledged book.

For the museum, Karen’s skill and time was central to the success of the current temporary exhibition and provided many benefits, some of them unexpected. Her availability as a volunteer saved the museum from having to use scarce funds to employ a graphic designer who would be offsite and who would have had no feel for the museum. Instead this money went into quality printing of the text panels which made the most of Karen’s artistic eye.

With the book, the quality of its design turned out to be a long way from the simple in-house low quality publication that would have been all we could have managed without her help. She allowed the museum to make the most of its photographic resources, and produced a design that matched the quality and importance of Tomás’ research; that the book has the appearance of being the serious contribution to Clare’s local history that it is, is entirely down to Karen’s talent. This has been appreciated by the public and many make a contribution to the museum’s donation box when collecting their free copy. Its promotion in the media has attracted a new audience to the museum, and has given a fresh boost to the exhibition which had been launched several months previously. For Karen, it is hoped that her contribution to the project will give her a great deal of personal satisfaction, having been central to a successful project. The book in particular is likely to be a useful addition to her portfolio, should increase her profile and hopefully, lead to employment.

Plans for the next exhibition and supporting book are already in the pipe-line and Karen will be at the centre of that project too.

John Rattigan, Curator, Clare Museum.
Image above shows Karen Dunn in Clare Museum.

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