Talking Objects


Developing skills and expertise
in partner museums.

1. Introduction
2. The object
3. The group
4. Practitioners
5. Museum staff
6. The methodology

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Creative practitioners

Integral to any Talking Objects project is the creative practitioner(s) who will enable your group to create their own response to the object and its history, bringing the object's stories to life.

Alongside the object specialist they are the essential component in re-visiting your collections and sparking new conversations.

Talking Objects Toolkit

Creative inspiration

Finding a creative practice appropriate to the length of your project and the themes and history of your selected object is essential in delivering a successful programme. Practical considerations will also be an important factor in this decision.

All the Talking Objects National partners have benefitted from involving creative practitioners either known to the museum or recommended through arts organisations/agents. If you have a good relationship with the freelance artist/arts organisation you’re likely to have greater peace of mind and free up your time for other areas of planning such as recruiting a group. However, it is important to consider the potential of experimenting with a new creative discipline if you think it is right for the object.

Most Talking Objects projects have benefitted from choosing artists with previous experience of working with your target audience. Taking a multi-disciplinary approach has also proved a success for partners who have identified practices with wide appeal that offer numerous routes to uncovering an objects histories and stories.


Talking Objects Toolkit

Deciding on the creative output

Exploring everyday objects

Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums (TWAM), Segedunum Museum wanted to explore an object that didn’t have a perceived ‘wow’ factor, but had an everyday story that could be interpreted. The object chosen was a Roman tile with an ancient footprint. There was also a replica of the object which could be handed around and examined. The museum decided to work with a potter and a visual artist; both had worked with young people and the museum before and were able to bring the objects to life and give them contemporary relevance.

Multi-disciplinary approach

At Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery Trust, Learning Officer Anna Smalley decided that a multi-disciplinary approach would work best with art, music and drama being offered. An arts organisation were invited to cover the three creative strands of the project as they had worked at Tullie House before and met the multi-disciplinary nature of the project. Anna worked with a group of students to interpret a Roman statue. This un-prescriptive approach gave participants the freedom to explore the objects in more depth and ultimately " take a greater ownership of the project if they chose which route to go down themselves" (Anna Smalley). At Colchester and Ipswich working with an arts organisation had the added benefit of additional resources and space which wasn’t always available at the museum.

You may decide on the creative output before you’ve thought of whom you want to work with, or your starting place may be an artist you feel confident will be able to conceive and deliver something imaginative, exciting and feasible. An artist’s brief can guide the tendering and selection process and construct a clear picture of the background to the project including the artist’s role, timescale and budget; this should prove valuable as a point of reference not just at the start of your project but for its entirety.

Find out more about writing an artist brief 


Useful resource

Engaging the Artist’s Voice conference, June 2012

Organised by Arts Council England and the British Museum in order to begin a debate about the dialogue between objects and art and how artists can engage with museum collections; the ingredients for a successful collaboration; and how to balance the creative autonomy of the artist with the expectations of the museum and the audience.

The subsequent report Animating Museums (Anne Murch and Gaby Porter for Arts Council England and the British Museum, April 2013) raises awareness of the symbiotic relationship between artists and museums and the value of stronger collaboration for both sides. You may find referring to these themes a useful way of considering how artists will work with an object and group in innovative and inspiring ways.

 Animating Museums

Find out more about Arts Council England and future funding opportunities 


The original Talking Objects methodology has included a filmmaker to capture the project and produce a five-minute film, which all participants receive a copy of at the end of the project. It is a tangible legacy of your project and one that will have a draw for participants. Whether you will be able to involve a filmmaker will depend largely on your budget. However, having participants co-film and co-edit the films has many benefits. Giving participants the opportunity to learn about the equipment and editing software is an appealing draw for participants eager to build new skill sets.

Colchester and Ipswich Museum took a resourceful approach by including film as one of the mediums the in which the young people worked. If you’re unable to cover the costs of a filmmaker you can invest in cost effective equipment to create your own film and/or take photographs as documentation. Many inexpensive cameras now come with video recording features that are simple to use. Additionally, you could film a sequence of still photographs and record sound to play over them to tell the story of your project. Furthermore, you could focus on the audio element and make a podcast to be uploaded online.

If you are able to include filmmaking and/or a filmmaker it works well to include a short filming familiarisation session. Invite everyone to sit in a circle and while one person holds the camera and films the person next to them telling them the beginning of a story. The person then pushes the pause button and hands the camera to the next person in the circle. This will help the group feel more comfortable being in front of the camera and familiarise them with the basic mechanisms of the camera.

In order to recruit a filmmaker for their project, staff at TWAM implemented an open recruitment process, sending a brief out to several filmmakers and basing their selection on submitted proposals. Alternatively, there may be a film maker you’ve previously worked with and know has experience of engaging with your target audience. Either way it’s wise to send the filmmaker a brief. This should include basic information about the length of the film, content, location, main point of contact and importantly, what you hope to achieve by filming the project. You’ll also need signed consent from everyone being filmed and/or photographed.


Talking Objects Toolkit

Budget and contracts

You can expect the largest part of your budget to be spent on creative practitioners and filmmakers. This will impact how many artists you work with as well as what medium they work with. It’s advisable to consider whether you will be providing materials or whether your artist will be responsible for sourcing these and arranging their delivery to your organisation. If your budget is small, think about contacting facilitators who can utilize existing materials or require minimal resources.

For useful advice on working with artists visit the Best Practice area of the The Artists Information Company website, which includes information on artists sample day rates, Codes of Conduct and Quality on a budget.

Contracts for freelance practitioners

Your agreement with any freelance practitioner should be stated in a legally binding contract, which covers details of their employment and is designed to protect both the organisation and the practitioner.

 Download information on contracts for freelance practitioners

You may also find it useful to refer to independent contractor guidance on HMRC’s website to help determine whether an individual is self-employed.


Talking Objects Toolkit