Interview with Miriam Craik-Horan
Miriam Craik-Horan, Producer of Further and Higher Education Programmes at the Design Museum, gives us insight into her career and her connection to the museum sector.
Describe your career path
I have worked in the cultural sector for about 6-7 years, coordinating a national portfolio of learning programmes at the Crafts Council before I took up my post at the Design Museum in 2012. Before that, I taught Art & Design and (a bit more randomly) A-Level Psychology in an 11-19 Academy for just under three years. Throughout this time, I’ve done a number of freelance projects, as an evaluator or researcher for museums or education projects, and as an artist, plus a few volunteering stints at Tate Etc magazine and October Gallery.
Education-wise, I originally did my undergraduate degree in Fine Art at the Ruskin School of Drawing & Fine Art (Oxford University). I then did my teacher training, and have been a perpetual part-time student, first for my MA in Museum and Gallery Studies at the Institute of Education, now part of University College London (UCL), and currently for my part-time doctorate too.
What have the next 12 months got in store for you
Opening and bedding-in to our new Design Museum home! The grand opening on 24th November 2016 will be a wonderful crescendo to several years of researching, planning and ‘prototyping’ (in the spirit of design) the sorts of programmes our audiences want to experience. Within my role, a lot of work has gone into building communities and networks across the Further Education/ 16-19 and Higher Education sectors to position the museum’s learning programme. Our friends working in colleges and universities face a number of pressures and are always navigating new challenges. It’s our hope that the new museum will offer a hub for them and their learners, to complement formal curricula and fulfil a positive and optimistic role in supporting the kind of design education that the world needs today.
As mentioned, I am also in the wonderfully messy throes of doctoral degree in my ‘spare time’, which relates to my work in museum learning. It looks at recent impulses to ‘co-curate’ across the sector, in the context of the expanded field of curating (i.e. in relation to learning and social practices, not specifically tied to exhibitions and collections). I have had my thesis on a bit of a pause. However, once activity surrounding the Design Museum’s move has settled, I want to tame it over the next 12 months for submission sometime during 2017. This will be after five long years of study (and more than a flirtation with utter madness)!
What Museum (other than the one you might work for) would you like to be locked in overnight
Although it’s impossible to be locked in physically, as it has no premises, the Museum of Homelessness is a project I’ve the great privilege to learn about and support in an ad hoc way as an ‘Advisor’ (like a ‘critical friend’). It was founded in 2015 by the unstoppable Jess and Matt Turtle with a host of passionate and visionary people, many of whom have had their lives strongly touched by homelessness at some point. I would be up for an overnight chat with these guys, but I mainly just wanted to give this amazing, consciousness-raising project a little plug. Please check it out: http://museumofhomelessness.org/
What’s the most encouraging thing a visitor/user has ever said to you
A grandparent of a 15 year old who won a competition I ran a few months back spoke very ‘matter of factly’ about the parallels she’d learnt from her son about design as a metaphor for living one’s life. Hearing him talk about his project, she realised that design was about turning problems into opportunities. I really felt we’d done our job that day, as well as feeling hugely grateful to her grandson for making it so easy for us to do so!
If you could highlight one Museum Object, either in your own museum or elsewhere, what would it be
What comes to mind is a bit of a ‘coming of age’ story, which I hope is not too tedious for your readers! I love small or niche museums, as well as university museums, which make great ‘hide and seek’ destinations. I used to spend a lot of time with the ostrich skeleton in Oxford’s Natural History Museum. An unlikely focus of a student truant, I used to be a habitual no-show at my undergraduate anatomy and cadaver dissection classes at the Ruskin (as my 19-year-old self tried to work out her ethics, participating in a class that prompted quite a weird and wide range of not entirely dignified reactions from a small number of fellow students).
Although I was cognisant of my chosen ‘specimen’ having lived as a herbivore, I remember noticing how her sheer size tapped into that widely shared fascination for monsters many of us seem to grow-up with and (to varying extents) try to ‘grow out of’ as we hit official adulthood. And how my truancy was caught in an intention to be sensible and fearless, as I thought an adult should be! So, NHM’s ostrich was a great learning ‘object’/ accomplice, it turned out…
What would you have been if you didn’t work in museums
For a day or two, I considered becoming a London Tube driver, as I wanted to take people on a bit of a jolly everyday by telling terribly funny jokes and singing (poorly) to commuters. More seriously, I would like to work supporting mental health in the community or as a disability rights lawyer or advocate.