About Museums Showoff

“Great night out, brilliant speakers, fantastic supportive atmosphere”

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What is Museums Showoff?

Museums Showoff is a cabaret-style night for everyone interested in museums, libraries and archives. It’s the place to share ideas, get insights and make new connections, in a fun and informal setting.

Each night 8 people have 9 minutes to tell the audience about anything to do with museums and heritage, delivered in any format they like – talks, song, dance, poetry, plays or anything else! The show is in two 40-minute halves, so there’s plenty of time to chat and exchange ideas in the interval or after the show. Our MC, Naomi Paxton, introduces each act and makes sure there’s a good atmosphere.

Performers have included visitors, volunteers, curators, security staff, directors, funders, retail folk, librarians, archivists, operations managers, conservators and many more! They’ve talked about topics as diverse as creating a museum of LGBTQ history to plastics conservation, from what visitors really think about exhibitions to the record of past ministers for the arts – delivered through talks, dance, songs, poetry and plays.

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Who is it for?

Anyone who is interested in museums, libraries and archives, whether they work in one, volunteer or visit. We want to hear a wide a range of voices. We are particularly keen to hear about less well-known aspects of museums and heritage, for example hidden collections, diverse histories and aspects of work that often go unseen.

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How do you find performers?

We find performers through a mix of open call and invitation. There are four slots available for each. The open call is announced on our website and Twitter, and sign up is via a Doodle poll on a first come, first served basis. The other four acts are invited by our producer. Having invited acts means we are able to ask people who haven’t heard of us, or might not think they have something interesting to say, and helps us get as wide a range of voices as possible.

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A brief history and some figures

Museums Showoff began in April 2012, with Rachel Souhami as its producer since the third show in September 2012. Having begun on an ad hoc basis, since September 2016 we’ve had a regular slot bi-monthly slot at The Phoenix in central London. Our show on 18 March 2019 will be our 40th London show, and we have toured to cities around the UK including Manchester, Norwich, Brighton and Edinburgh.

Our London shows sell out on a regular basis, with audiences of 120 people per show. Our audience survey results show that our audience:

  • is 60% returning visitors and 40% new visitors, demonstrating both stability and potential for growth.
  • is predominately people who work in, volunteer in, or are taking a course in museums and heritage, but a significant number (8%), have no professional connection to museums.
  • contains people at early, mid and senior levels of their museum and heritage careers.

Museums Showoff’s sole source of income is ticket sales. The current ticket prices is £7. This enables us to cover basic costs and pay each member of the team a consideration, while also ensuring that tickets are affordable for lower earners.

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What impact does Museums Showoff have?

Museums Showoff is more than a fun and informative night out. We offer a unique opportunity for people who might not otherwise meet to share, listen, and discuss ideas. Our shows have had a huge impact on performers and audience, ranging from boosting confidence and raising awareness of places and issues, to finding new jobs and forming new heritage companies. Here are some comments from our audience and performers:

“Museums Showoff gave me an opportunity to push myself as a public speaker. When I had a really important job interview they asked about my experience of public speaking. When I mentioned I had done Museums Showoff they were seriously impressed, I think it helped me get the job!”

— Claire Madge. Founder, Autism in Museums

“I often go away with two or three ideas or changed points of view that improve my practice.”

— Audience survey respondent

“It’s given me knowledge of museums and projects I’d not heard of before”

— Audience survey respondent

“Museum Showoff gave me the perfect platform to talk about my work in 3D at the British Museum. I was new to the museum sector at the time and had little opportunity to reach like minded colleagues within the institution so it was a highly valuable opportunity to share my ideas in front of my peers. Even better than that, my set at Museum Showoff introduced me to George Oates (who was in the audience) and with whom I went on to co-found Museum in a Box. Simply put if there was no Museum Showoff I doubt Museum in a Box would have been founded at all!”

– Tom Flynn. Co-founder Museum in a Box and cultural heritage lead, Sketch Fab

“I’ve just started managing a team. I’m going to suggest my team attends Museums Showoff as often as possible to help them learn more about the sector and expand their networks.”

— Audience survey respondent

“Museums Showoff was the gateway to gaining the experience that has been essential to my career progression. At the first Showoff I attended, I heard a talk from the Chair of the London Museums Group, who was recruiting board members. Through joining the LMG I gained huge amounts of experience that was not possible to get in my then-job, as well as making contacts that helped me to develop and grow in other areas.”

— Joe Sullivan, partnerships & community manager, NHM

“Museums Showoff is one of the most innovative and enjoyable initiatives in the museums and heritage sector.”

— Bernard Donoghue, director, The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, Mayor of London’s Ambassador for Cultural Tourism

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Other projects

As well as our regular shows, Museums Showoff has also produced other museum-related events. These include:

The Future of Museums conference

This one-day conference aimed to give early career museum professionals the opportunity to rethink the sector. The premise was: in twenty years’ time they will be the people running the museums sector, what do they want that sector to look like? Sixty five participants, all within six years of their first entry-level museum job, spent the day discussing their ideas, visions and aspirations. In the subsequent weeks they wrote and refined their ideas, producing the chapters of The Manifesto for the Future of Museums, which has been downloaded over 700 times across Europe and the US.

The conference was held at UCL on 3 April 2014. The impetus behind it was our producer’s growing awareness of the high level of disenfranchisement felt by early career museum professionals. 

The Future of Museums Q&As

After the Manifesto for the Future of Museums was published, we were commissioned by John Orna-Ornstein, then director of museums at Arts Council England, to produce some face-to-face events. We developed two Question Time-style events in which an audience of early career museum folk questioned a panel of senior museum professionals. The events were held in London and Manchester in 2014. 

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The team

Producer — Rachel Souhami

Rachel Souhami has produced Museums Showoff since its third ever show in September 2012. She has been responsible for all aspects of its development and operation, including hiring and managing the team, finding and liaising with performers, marketing, evaluation, venue hire, finance & income generation, and touring. Rachel has developed lots of skills as producer of Museums Showoff, including learning HTML and CSS to build this website! Away from Museums Showoff, Rachel is a museums consultant and academic, specialising in exhibition production. She has over 20 years’ experience advising organisations on projects from master-planning museums and commissioning new galleries to one-case displays. Rachel’s academic work explores the dual nature of exhibitions as cultural product and cultural producer.

Compere – Naomi Paxton

Naomi Paxton has been our MC since January 2016. She has a portfolio career as a researcher, writer, public engager, curator, performer, magician, and award-winning comedian. An expert on suffrage theatre, Naomi is Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, Associate Fellow at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and an Associate Artist of feminist production hub Scary Little Girls. She is also learning to play the spoons.

Technician – Ian Bowkett

Ian Bowkett is a comedy writer/performer and proud behind-the-scenes crew-person of Museums Showoff, amongst other London events of similar nerdiness. His current favourite museums are Athens’ National Archeological Museum and Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of History.

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From the top: Michelle McGrath & Kayleigh McMahon from Museum as Muck talk about the class ceiling in museums; Dave Hingley, Head of Operations at Historic Royal Palaces, tells us about the good, bad and ugly of signage; Harriet Braine sings about the National Maritime Museum; Merri Gordon tells us about the speed mentoring event she’s organising for the London Emerging Museum Professionals group; Our compere, Naomi Paxton, warms up the audience; The Museum of Brands’ education manager does an audience-participation set.

Above: Dan Vo takes us on a whistle stop tour of the V&A, highlighting the presence of LGBTQ individuals and communities within different time periods and cultures. 23 May 2017.

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