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unrealistic ?

11 March 2017 - QH article 003: unrealistic? - my Queen's House expectations 

According to Royal Museums Greenwich, I made “various positive suggestions” whilst volunteering at The Queen’s House, but they noted I “often had very unrealistic expectations about how some of these may be followed through”. Apologies, I just happen to believe that administrators of Grade 1 listed buildings should do as much as they possibly can to raise public awareness of ancient monuments under their guardianship. Holding such a unique heritage asset, I do find it hard to comprehend why the Museum doesn’t push the QH boat out just a little more.

And so here, in defence of heritage enthusiasm, are just a few propositions that I’ve raised over the last 5 years and which I believe not to be entirely “unrealistic”. They are based on my personal understanding of economic strategy and prudent investment in educational sustainability. Introducing a couple of these could possibly prove more successful in attracting visitors than a new coat of paint on the Tulip Stair balustrade or flecking spangly patterns across the Great Hall…

  • Introduce Saturday ACTORS to tell stories from and about the house. The National Maritime Museum, Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory continue to exploit this channel of audience engagement, yet The Queen’s House remains starved of it's historic figures. Commented tours by characters who were born, lived or worked in the house would be wonderful. I'd wager that Inigo himself would most definitely have something to say about the structure and its present use.
  • The accidental Londoners would be fabulous as conductors. Both van de Veldes could be scripted to interact with visitors in response to the maritime art collection and contemporary works - always a good topic for conversation.
  • Recognition of the house’s MARITIME prestige in securing and establishing the NMM here in 1937, should be more visible.
  • There is a magnificent Pathe News reel which records the occasion with attendance of the Royal party. Showing this, would I’m sure help the public to better understand the important relationship of the house to the main museum.
  • The opening of The Queen’s House with a symbolic golden key marked a significant moment in the history of our maritime nation. However, this major event seems lost to the public, as is the golden key.
  • A great many people played their part in bringing the Museum here and naturally it would also be good to acknowledge their efforts.
  • Put greater focus on INIGO JONES, designer of the house that changed the face of British architecture.
  • Please, let’s have an Inigo Jones Day on twitter. Many RMG museum professionals support hashtag days like #AskaCurator, #MuseumSelfie and #MuseumWeek - why so shy at celebrating the achievements of Jones who effectively determined the pivotal vista of Greenwich which we so love.
  • And what of a central London walking tour for Inigo Jones, for whom there are plenty of references in the city to justify this channel of promotion. Its interesting to note that the Museum had no problem doing this for Samuel Pepys, but appear to have no such plans for Inigo.
  • Celebrate the ARCHITECTURAL legacy of The Queen’s House. This is quite underplayed. Though frequently lauded as the first Classical Building in the country, the consequential magnitude is seldom explained in any detail, certainly not in the house.
  • I suggest RMG appoint a dedicated Queen’s House researcher (voluntary or intern) to assist increased public knowledge of the building and associated stories. There is great scope for an e-volunteer or remote volunteer posts, which are now widely embraced by many institutions.
  • The Museum should perhaps launch a campaign for a Greenwich Architectural Curator to contextualise the entire World Heritage Site, which boasts an abundance of supreme architectural talent.
  • For now though (baby steps), I’d willingly settle for a regular, daily Queen’s House tour conducted by staff or volunteers.
  • Jones was not the only Queen’s House creative. Countless other ARTISANS were responsible for leaving us with the beautiful building which retains some magnificent original features. A rich educational vein of 17th century crafts and craftspeople are waiting to be tapped. How much do we actually know about these skills and the rudimentary tools available at the time? Woodcarving, plastering and brickwork are just three to consider.
  • Woodcarving is a particularly interesting maritime avenue to investigate, as it is thought that designs carried out in The Queen’s House were crafted by the hand of those working in the shipyards of Woolwich and Deptford.
  • Similarly, how many of us read about the first cantilevered (Tulip) staircase in England, but have little or no grasp of the mechanics or science? Maybe a visual explanation would help those who wish to explore beyond a tourist snapshot.
  • The Queen’s House appears to have been DIGITALLY cast adrift. The Museum holds a variety of online media accounts but QH content is relatively sparse. The Museum would do well to consider producing at least semi-professional content for these openly accessible sites and maybe invite the public to submit their footage for channel publication.
  • Development of a QH App would also be useful for continuing promotion options.
  • Electronic Audio Guide devices are long overdue, these need to be multi-linguistic to cater for the large percentage of foreign visitors.
  • It would be nice to see plasma screens sited in less intrusive areas and used for a wide range of visual communication. Just about all institutions now make good use of this facility. It is extremely disappointing that not one basic QH PowerPoint presentation has been produced.
  • A simple series of looped 3 minute audio-visual programmes would be a favourable addition. These could cover a range of topics e.g. Inigo Jones, architecture, history, paintings, 17th century artisans, etc. and in the process, propagate a digital asset database of reusable content.
  • The display panels charting the ‘potted QH history’ were removed from the undercroft over three years ago. This educational, timeline information should now be presented in a fresh digital format. The RMG has continually upgraded the digital hardware in the NMM (eg the Upper Deck) at very high cost and it must be time to give their 'Jewel in the crown' some technological TLC.
  • For many years  SIGNAGE has been a major issue of concern as the Museums seeks to improve QH visiting numbers. On this matter, I have a notion that simply siting maritime objects in the vicinity of the building would have an immediate effect. Why not use the anchors (seldom discovered by tourists) in the North-East corner of the grounds and locate them in or around the house. An avenue of anchors was previously used successfully at the Museum’s Stanhope Entrance before the corporate advertising banners took over. Curiosity alone, suggests more visitors would probably wander over if there was something visually arresting to entice them.
  • The Museum could consider using informative paving slabs as a type of 'paper trail' in easing people in the general direction of the QH.  Strategically placed concrete dials ‘with informative or historical text’ on the Museum pathways is another discrete mechanism that does not seem to have been tried.
  • Inigo’s own words declare, “…in architecture ye outward ornaments oft to be sollid, proporsionable acording to the rulles, masculine and unaffected”. Certainly, I think my combined solutions rather more tasteful than the current policy of hanging two nanny banners over the West elevation!
  • Ideally, reinstatement of the shuttle-bus to convey tourists between the Observatory and The Queen’s House would be beneficial.
  • The Museum shop rarely stocks PROMOTIONAL items related to The Queen’s House. A concerted effort by the RMG and some visionary merchandising could change that.
  • Where were the hooks to generate interest in the recent 400th anniversary? Contemporary cosmetic fancy of an award winning Turner Prize artist grabbed the headlines, as wider marketing opportunities were passed over. People like things to take away, so how about populating the shop with a few Queen's House commodities. There wasn't even a celebratory book! Dear RMG please can I suggest one for 2116.
  • In the meantime, how about a QH frisbee (great for the park in summer) or a QH umbrella (also great for the park in summer).
  • The INTEGRITY of the building is now being rather compromised by its use for events and other private functions during normal gallery viewing times. These may bring financial reward, but house and room closures are increasing. This has impact and potentially inconveniences foreign tourists in particular who may just have a small window of opportunity. I would urge the RMG to respect their standard public visiting hours and approve private hire outside of that window, or after 4pm.
  • Weddings now have no time restrictions and the Museum could perhaps coax those ceremonies to commence a little later too. Shutting the house at 12 noon on some Saturdays does not make for happy tourists.
  • Other sponsor deals that accommodate heritage are also a good option, so how about getting some chairs, benches, etc. from the corporate sector? These could be rendered with the names of individuals historically associated with the QH, bringing an enhanced educational value.
  • Plus, FANTASY but nonetheless a sincere expectation so gloriously championed by John Berger in his excellent ‘Ways of Seeing’. Berger, a well-respected art critic, asserts that paintings are an integral part of the building for which they were designed.
  • So pie in the sky or not, I would like to see the RMG approach Marlborough House with at least a request to return the nine Gentileschi paintings to their original spot in the Great Hall. Despite all the media attention, an artist’s whimsical pattern (apparently Inigo-inspired) says so little when compared with what was meant to be there. 

Yes, some of these could be actioned and achieved at very little cost and in some cases, no financial outlay at all. The building deserves more attention that it is currently getting and it cries out for a plan of action that extends beyond an obligatory heritage maintenance commitment. I take a contrary view to the cited failings of The Queen’s House as logged by Priya Gupta's blog, when reporting on QH Curator Christine Riding’s lecture at the University of Greenwich back in October 2015. It is misleading to suggest that prior to 2016 refurbishment, the house was past it's glory and suffering from an erosion of identity. All buildings have a life of their own and The Queen's House with a lengthy, varied past has accumulated a changeable narrative which merits a much fuller historical acknowledgement.

Its not the house that is failing, it is the lack of administrative willingness and enthusiasm to search out new, exciting channels for presenting the existing qualities of this unique and truly iconic structure.  A building cannot answer back and is defenceless against museum professionals. I’ve therefore written this article in defence of The Queen’s House, which I believe still struggles with a fair degree of promotional neglect.

Without a substantial, inventive and radical blueprint, it is highly likely that The Queen's House will remain strangled and culturally weakened by the inattention of its guardians. This opinion may make me unpopular with RMG and is clearly a determining factor in respect of my current museum ban, but I would urge the public to seriously consider the points I've raised and reflect on the present heritage potency of measures currently adopted by RMG. 

20 December 2017 - QH article 004: waiting - move along, nothing to see here... yet 

In August 2017, Arts Professional published a story about my restriction from Royal Museums Greenwich. The excellent article suggested that the 2016 Draft Public Service Ombudsman Bill will address current PHSO procedural shortcomings. That’s the good news, for the likelihood of the widely accepted conservative legislation finding its way onto the statute books in the near future is far less assured. Due to the snap-shot general election early last year, the bill was dropped from the Queen’s speech and the last communique I have from the Cabinet Office simply informs “While there is no confirmed legislative slot for this Bill at this stage, the Government remains committed to bringing forward the Bill as and when a suitable legislative opportunity arises and Parliamentary time allows.” Not entirely encouraging, when my hope is dependent on the successful introduction of this bill which enjoys cross-party support. I am of course, most grateful to Christy Romer for outlining the general issues of my situation. However, it is sad to reflect that afforded no opportunity to challenge, my exclusion has reached 19 months, while a cumulative ban from Royal Museums Greenwich public membership scheme (with financial impact) now spans 4 years 5 months.