In our ‘Talking Heritage’ series, we chat with Canterbury Museums and Galleries staff about what they get up to behind the scenes to deliver our brilliant museums service. The series aims to serve as a useful resource for those interested in heritage work as well as hopefully demystifying what us ‘museum folk’ actually do!

This time we catch up with another one of our Collections and Learning Assistants, Murray O’Grady, about his path into heritage work and the important role museums play in connecting us with the past.

So what’s your job role?
I am one of the Collections and Learning Assistants at Canterbury Museums and Galleries. That means I help organise visits for groups visiting the museums and deliver our workshops and tours. I also work with the team to develop learning activities, resources and museum displays. 

What’s your fave exhibition you’ve visited recently? 

Recently I went to Tate Britain with my family for the William Blake and Mark Leckey Exhibitions. The Mark Leckey ‘O’ MAGIC POWER OF BLEAKNESS’ exhibition was a really immersive environment with moving image works and a full scale reconstruction of a motorway bridge. I love his work because he’s great at finding magic and myths in contemporary culture. In the Tate exhibition there were these ‘fairy’ characters that reference folklore, yet they’re dressed in a kind of strange sportswear! Leckey’s work often explores fashion and clothes, which is the reason I first took an interest in his practice.

How did you get into museum work?

When I was little I loved art and making things, so when I found out there was such a thing as art school I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Eventually I studied BA Sculpture at Camberwell College of Art and later studied my postgraduate at The Royal Academy Schools in London. Whilst studying I worked casually in different art galleries in London and worked on projects with curators and galleries in the UK. When we moved to Kent, just before my daughter was born, I took on a Visitor Services Officer role with Canterbury Museums and Galleries. During my time as a VSO, I had the opportunity to work on the museums’ Adopt an Object Project which led to my current role as Collections and Learning Assistant! 

Do you have a favourite project you’ve worked on as a Collections and Learning Assistant? 

A project that took a lot of work, but was really rewarding, was our 2019 Halloween event. We needed to develop a museum trail that provided families with a fun way to explore the museum during the Halloween period and that engaged with the history of witchcraft and persecution. We developed a story around a character called Mother Crawe, a woman who lived in Canterbury hundreds of years ago who had strange relationships with crows and ravens and was thought to have been a witch.

I also designed the trail too, which in hindsight was a lot to take on, but it was really rewarding to see something through from start to finish. The best thing about developing the project was working with so many different people, from volunteers doing amazing research, to fine tuning the trail with my colleagues and searching the stores for birds and bones! The most rewarding part is seeing families enjoy the activities. We received great feedback from visitors this year and I think the experiences that we provide for families will only get better and better. 

Murray and his daughter Una taking part in one of The Beaney’s Confidance workshops

How important are museums when engaging young people with history and cultural heritage?

Halloween, and Christmas too, are good examples of why museums are important. A lot of us carry out these strange traditions like pumpkin carving in October or putting a tree in your house and decorating it in December. But we might not often think about why we do these things and where those ideas come from. Working with young people to explore our shared history is one of the most important things that museums do. The museum is a great place to reflect and to connect with other people: the people that you share the world with today and the people that lived in the world before you. Everything in the museum has some relationship to a person, someone made it, owned it, used it, loved it, maybe thousands of years ago or maybe very recently. So museums are perfect places to connect your story with other peoples’ stories: that’s something really empowering and that’s why I think museums are so important, especially for young people. 

What do you think children could gain from an educational workshop at a museum that they may not be able to get in a classroom?

In the museum, children can not only see but hold and interact with things that are sometimes thousands of years old. They also put those things into context by taking part in really interactive and creative activities. Schools sometimes loan artefacts, which is great, but giving children the opportunity to explore things in a museum means they can put those objects into greater context. It allows pupils to make really interesting connections and contrasts between different people, places and times. It also enforces something really important: that learning takes place everywhere, not just in the classroom, and that we are all learning all the time, regardless of how old we are.

Anything exciting coming up for the Collections and Learning Team?

Recently, the Collections and Learning Team developed a really exciting new schools workshop: Prehistoric People. In this workshop, children get to investigate real stone age artefacts, explore the galleries in search of food, make their own shelter and create their own cave art. The workshop is a really fun way for children to experience and reflect on what life was like for Prehistoric People.

You can find out more about our Learning programme here.

Plus, keep an eye on any vacancies at Canterbury Museums and Galleries on the Canterbury City Council website here.