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Museums in Wartime

Venue: Online

Picturing Crisis: Historic England’s crowdsourced photographic collections
Tamsin Silvey, Cultural Programme Curator at Historic England

In response to the Covid-19 lockdown, for the first time since the Second World War Historic England asked the public to capture a moment in time for the Historic England Archive, the nation’s archive for records of England’s historic buildings, archaeology and social history. The Picturing Lockdown project created a visual record of this extraordinary moment. It was inspired by the National Buildings Record (NBR), a Second World War public call out for voluntary help in contributing records of the nation’s heritage under threat. NBR photographs created the nation’s archive for buildings that were lost during the Blitz and featured in IWM’s 2019 Culture under Attack season. As Historic England explores opportunities to share the Picturing Lockdown collection, its curator Tamsin Silvey will discuss why public engagement is at the frontline of protecting heritage during times of crisis.


Choosing what to Protect: The V&A during World War I and World War II
Ella Ravilious, curator in the Word and Image Department at the V&A

It is sometimes thought that when an object enters a museum, it enters stasis and its narrative ends. However, some of our objects have led surprisingly exciting lives within the Museum. During both World Wars the V&A selected a range of its most precious treasures and hid them for safety in a bewildering array of places. Curator Ella Ravilious will explain some of the decision-making behind which objects got protected, where and why, and what happened to them during that time and directly afterwards – in particular, how post-war museum practices led to a dramatic object theft. She will also explore the surviving contemporary narratives from staff about what the museum experience was like during wartime.


Keeping Culture Alive: the National Gallery during World War II
Susanna Avery-Quash, Senior Research Curator (History of Collecting) at the National Gallery, London

The National Gallery is currently unable to give visitors access to the pictures physically due to the Corona pandemic, however, through digital technology people are still getting the chance to treasure great art. History shows that the Gallery has weathered other national emergencies, the most dramatic of which was the Second World War. During that conflict the Gallery, despite many of its galleries being bomb-damaged, was one in fact of the few places in London where the public could enjoy a programme of cultural activity. Drawing on visual and written records from the Gallery’s archives, this talk will discuss the range of events put on at Trafalgar Square, the motivations behind these activities, the impact they had at the time, and lessons we may learn from them today. The first form of cultural entertainment were the lunchtime concerts organised by Myra Hess which made classical music accessible; exhibitions followed ranging from contemporary war art and one-off shows like ‘Design at Home’ to the much-loved ‘Picture of the Month’ that brought back a series of paintings from the Gallery’s permanent collection from storage in a Welsh mine.


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