Collecting Cultures – Creative Wiltshire and Swindon

on Friday, 21 November 2014. Posted in Archives, Art, Museums

We are used to looking at a wonderfully rich source of materials in our Local Studies Libraries, Archives and Museums, but how many of you have ever wondered  how those books, photographs, newspapers, archive collections and museum objects got there? Some material of course has been collected over many years, some of it gifted and others purchased; while for Archive services material is often deposited but still owned by the depositor. When material comes up for sale, usually at auction, a decision whether to attempt to buy an object or an archive collection is made on case by case basis (with the help of grants from various bodies raised at short notice). Now this can work well, but as you might imagine this is a reactive process rather than proactive; consequently gaps in our collections can emerge. This means that the heritage for future generations is incomplete and does not tell the full story of our communities past and present.

In Wiltshire and Swindon we have been thinking about this problem and looking at how libraries, archives , museums and art galleries can work together to identify and fill significant gaps in our collections; thinking about what we should collect, what do local  communities think is important to their heritage, what would we leave for future generations? In particular we have been looking at the heritage of our local creative industries, something that is part of our everyday lives now and has been for past generations, but not always given the full attention it deserves. Now, with the aid of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we are able to take a strategic approach to collecting materials for our creative industry and, importantly, we have a significant fund to purchase items.

A partnership led by Wiltshire Local Studies and including Wiltshire and Swindon Archives, Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, Swindon Central Library Local Studies and Wiltshire Conservation and Museum Advisory Service, has received £178,000 HLF Collecting Cultures grant towards a project totalling £213,550. We have been the only applicant in the South West region to receive a grant from the latest round of the national scheme (the first and previous round was in 2008, so it does not come around that often), so this is a great boost for the county and borough. The project is called Creative Wiltshire and Swindon and will run for 5 years.

Wiltshire and Swindon has a long history of nurturing and inspiring creative industries and individuals, whether through our historic towns and villages and their communities, or amazing countryside and its rich heritage. These might include artists, photographers, film-makers, writers, composers and musicians, architects, designers (e.g. furniture designers, engineering design etc.) and crafts people, amongst others. Although heritage collections in Wiltshire and Swindon already include some local artists (mainly paintings) and writers, the broader creative industry is not well represented and therefore remains a largely hidden part of our county and borough’s heritage. Yet sometimes their work forms or reflects part of our daily life, such as our home furnishings or gardens, the music we listen to and the art that responds to familiar landscapes, past and present.

Key to the success of the programme will be the opportunity for librarians, archivists and curators to actively seek new additions to their collections rather than wait for items to come to auction. Items we may acquire will include published and manuscript materials generated by or about the creative industries, including biographical works, letters, diaries, notes, plans, sheet music, catalogues, ephemera and other such materials; photographs, prints and engravings; fine art and objects such as ceramics and textiles; furniture, models and everyday objects that are representative of the creativity community. It will cover materials that are about creative individuals and organisations that are either rooted in local communities and their history and or inspired by Wiltshire and Swindon communities, its history and landscape. So, for example, our collecting might range from ceramics from an established pottery in your town or village; sketches and paintings from notable local artists, such as Ken White and Walter Poole; traditional textile and lace making; records and posters from the local music scene in the 1970s and 1980s, such as XTC in Swindon; to an Alex Moulton bicycle or a James Dyson vacuum cleaner!

Materials will be acquired by accredited museums in the county of Wiltshire and Borough of Swindon, including Swindon Museum and Art Gallery and the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre (Wiltshire and Swindon Archives and Wiltshire Local Studies Library), with accessible copies or surrogates, where relevant, for Swindon Central Library (Local  Studies collection) and non-accredited museums.

In addition to a purchase fund, we will now be able to develop a cohesive strategic collection policy for creative collections across the heritage sector in Wiltshire and Swindon; provide training and develop skills for staff and volunteers in areas such as collecting, conservation, and interpretation.

Officers will be employed to identify and catalogue local studies and archival material, help provide training and support for local museum staff and volunteers to develop their collections and create exciting participation and learning activities for schools and local communities, inspiring new audiences to get involved with and enjoy their local heritage.

Two members of the Wiltshire Local Studies Team, Julie Davis and Joy Rutter, will be working for the project one day each a week for two years with Michael Marshman. Initially they will be drafting guidelines, researching local creative people, and identifying suitable material to collect. They will be contacting a wide range of organisations, individuals and businesses throughout the county. Please contact Joy or Julie – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. – if you have information about creative people working in Wiltshire recently or at any time in the past.

To find out more or look out for updates as this exciting project progresses, please visit

Terry Bracher Archives & Local Studies Manager

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