So far our Open Palace Participants have come from America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. Some are dedicated students of Heritage and some have already embarked upon their heritage careers. Here, two of our excellent participants talk about their experience of the programme.
Part time Visitor Services Officer, The Australian Museum
& Masters of Museum and Heritage Studies student at University of Sydney
2017 OPP Participant
I feel very lucky to have been selected as a participant in the Open Palace Programme for 2017. I chose to apply for the program as I felt it would be a great opportunity to gain first-hand insight into the working environment of heritage sites and museums, and it delivered. I had never been to England before so I was also very excited that I would get to see some of the cities, museums, palaces and landmarks that I had always dreamed of visiting!
After participating in the program, I feel that it has enriched my understanding of the challenges that staff in museums and heritage sites face. Most of our sessions were led by staff from these institutions that were really informative and interactive, and challenged us to ourselves think about the best ways to manage buildings and materials conservation, exhibition design, visitor expectations, fundraising and collections care.
I loved our sessions where we were able to go behind-the-scenes, for example to the collections store at Kensington Palace, and the tapestry conservation lab at Hampton Court Palace. Another favourite was our session plastering at the Regency Town House, and our lovely formal dinner at Stowe.
Having completed this program, I feel that it will be a great help to me in the future as I have gained practical knowledge, skills and insight that I can apply to my final semester of studies and take with me into the workplace. The Open Palace Programme was a wonderful experience that I will never forget: exploring the heritage of England, making great new friends and learning from professionals in the industry.
Heritage Tour Guide, Germany
2017 OPP Participant
On finding the Open Palace website, I felt someone had read my mind and turned my heritage dreams into reality – the gorgeous sites, the detailed itinerary with varied activities and the unique opportunity to meet experts of leading organisations left me no choice but to sign up. I sensed it would be the perfect way to add practical experience to my career in heritage and tourism.
The Open Palace Programme proved to be the abovementioned and more: within our international group, members from different heritage institutions and disciplines contributed greatly to discussions and showed new perspectives. Our common enthusiasm for British culture, history and art bound us together. It was a most rewarding experience for all of us to personally meet heritage professionals who appreciated our fascination, evaluated our contributions and even applied them to their own projects. What an absolute chance of a lifetime it was to network with people who are responsible for producing some of Europe’s best exhibitions, curating invaluable collections and taking good care of England’s stunning historic buildings. I soaked it all up like a sponge!
It is hard to choose one favourite part of the entire trip, as it was the sheer diversity of events, people and places that were all highlights in their own right. Among them all, I do, however, have particularly fond memories of visiting the grand houses of Stowe and Woburn, the royal palaces in Kensington and at Hampton Court, and getting a special behind-the-scenes insight into the way they work. Working with the Bath Preservation Trust for several days was just as enjoyable as the hands-on lesson in historic wall plastering at the Regency Town House renovation project in Brighton. No workshop in the world is able to provide the range of what we experienced during these unforgettable 3 weeks.
For me, the Open Palace Programme first and foremost confirmed that the heritage sector is where I belong professionally and it sharpened my focus for those areas I am most enthusiastic about, for instance preventive conservation on historic buildings. It has moreover provided me with a number of new contacts and like-minded friends from the world of conservation, museology and history. I felt the programme enriched my knowledge and broadened my horizons, thereby benefitting me greatly in more ways than one. I really recommend this wonderful tour to anyone wishing to learn more about Britain’s heritage treasures.
Museum Studies Graduate Student at University of Leicester, from Virginia, USA
2017 OPP Participant
I first heard about the Open Palace Programme several years ago through a mentor at a previous job. I was instantly captivated by the Programme’s itinerary, but at the time, did not have a free summer. However, I kept the program in mind, and when I was finally able to go, it did not disappoint!
When you read through the names and job titles of the session leaders, you will be in awe of their accomplishments. (However, most of the professionals we met said they were jealous of US for having this opportunity!) The session leaders gave us insight into their own roles and their paths to achieving their positions. They asked us to help them with problems they themselves were experiencing or to go through an exercise in which we got to try to do what they do every day. They took notes on what we said, really seeming to value our feedback. They did not just lecture at us, they engaged us in mutually-beneficial dialogue.
Your fellow participants on the Programme also offer learning opportunities and fellowship. Not only do they come from different professional and personal backgrounds that you can learn from, but they also share your passion for heritage and museums. It is truly a blessing to have this experience with people who will geek out right alongside you. These are people who understand why you want to read every panel. People who are eager to discuss how the content interpretation methods, visitor flow, digital interactives, collections displays, etc. affected your experience of the sites. People who will eagerly join you on your free Sunday to take a train AND a bus to Blenheim Palace, because you just haven’t yet had your fill of historic homes. You will make lasting friendships with people from across the globe; peers that you can call on personally and professionally for many years to come. The museum/heritage sector is not an easy field to break into, so coming together with people that have already succeeded in the profession, and those who are still struggling to get a foot in the door, is a very comforting and encouraging experience.
The Programme also offers many things that would be otherwise impossible without a position at one of the institutions we visited. Highlights include: Speaking with Tracy Borman (Chief Curator of the Historic Royal Palaces), seeing Elizabeth I's dress-turned-alter cloth up close and personal while it was being conserved at Hampton Court Palace, imagining a new exhibit for No. 1 Royal Crescent in Bath, and going behind the velvet ropes to stand in the king’s bedchamber during a private tour of Windsor Palace.
As someone who will be entering a Museum Studies Master’s program in the fall, the broad nature of the Programme was perfect. The variety of the experiences you will have (in curation, conservation, education, development, collections, etc.) will either help you decide which path to take within the field, or help you solidify or reevaluate a decision you have already made. As you talk to the professionals and explore different sites, certain features will stand out to you over and over again. You might think: how could that content be interpreted for children? Go into education. That portrait looks dirty and the paint is peeling off the ceiling? Conservation is your area. Why aren’t more people more excited about/donating to this incredible site? Development is for you. When you are in the stimulating and supportive environment created by the Open Palace Programme, your passions will make themselves known.
I intend to pursue museum education, but what I learned about collections, development, curation, and conservation during the Programme will inform my work throughout my career. You cannot have one without the others; they are all interconnected. These lessons will make me a better educator, collaborator, and colleague. I am incredibly grateful that I was given this opportunity.
Te Awamutu Museum
2016 OPP Participant
When I saw the advert for the Open Palace Programme, I was intrigued and wanted to know more about it. After reading everything on the website I thought this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I am very grateful I was chosen for the Programme and it is something I will remember for the rest of my life.
Coming from New Zealand, the sheer scale of heritage opportunities is mind boggling. While I had been to England before, coming in with a museum studies trained mind makes you think differently about everything you see. It was fascinating to see, throughout the trip, different levels of heritage preservation/conservation and the impact different budgets have on projects.
Being able to meet heritage professionals who were so passionate about what they are doing, and so willing to share their experiences and knowledge with us was amazing. Being able to undertake activities from all aspects of heritage work was really valuable in understanding how all the different roles combine to work towards a common goal.
The opportunity to meet 23 other like-minded people, all in similar career stages but from a range of perspectives and experiences was invaluable. I really enjoyed the whole Programme, but some definite highlights for me were: seeing the Bath Preservation Trust do so much with relatively little, visiting places I had only read about or seen on TV such as Oxford, Hampton Court Palace, British Museum, Kensington Palace, the Tower of London, Windsor Castle, the list goes on. Also, being able to visit places I hadn’t heard of, such as Stowe, broadened how I looked at heritage sites and how they are managed.
The learning and knowledge I gained throughout the three weeks will continue to influence my career for many years to come. Even if many of the challenges faced in England are totally different to those in New Zealand, being able to bring that perspective back and look at how we do things here from a different angle is only going to increase my skills as a heritage professional.
The variety of roles we encountered also helped my identify in my own mind, where I would like to focus on for my career. I would like to thank everyone involved in making the Programme such a success and would encourage anyone new to the heritage sector to apply and consider making the trip.
Volunteer and Visitor Services Co-ordinator,
Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens, USA
2016 OPP Participant
Ultimately, what brought me to the Open Palace Programme was the diversity of locations and aspects of the heritage sector that were addressed during each of the seminars. Since graduating three years ago with a Master’s degree in art history, I have been uncertain of what specific direction I wanted to take my career. I knew I wanted to work in the Heritage sector; however, I was unsure of what specific area I wanted to pursue. Like many others, I was drawn to the breadth of opportunities and professionals we met. While the idea of such a broad program may not be for every person, it was exactly what I needed. I needed to get out of my routine, and I needed an opportunity to experience what various museum and heritage professionals did--but needed to do so in a structured setting. I got exactly what I needed.
I found the people at many sites engaging and enthusiastic when working with us. These were people with important jobs with the approachability of a colleague. They wanted us to take part in their jobs. They wanted us to connect with the site on a deeper level. It was a unique experience to be able to consult on projects that they themselves were working on. It was also very refreshing to be able to speak with them about my personal interests that related to what they did or special projects on which they worked.
I could say the same for the other ladies who participated in the Programme with me. It was really a treat to connect with them on both a professional and personal level. Each one of us was able to identify with each other based on the obvious interests we shared, but even our differences became unifying factors. The perspectives we could provide about seminar projects or mundane issues provided one more lens to view what was presented to us and shape how we might come to these problems in the future.
The Open Palace Programme provided me with an experience that, I truly believe, has shaped my future. Apart from providing me with a better sense of where I want to take my career and ideas for projects and problems at the institutions at which I currently work, I also discovered a lot about myself and how I work with others. I am very fortunate to have come away from this with a more profound look on life both professionally and personally.
University of Queensland Art Museum
2016 OPP Participant
What attracted me to the Open Palace Programme in 2016 was its diverse design, which covers all areas of heritage studies including conservation, collection management and curatorship. The 20-day program engages UK cultural professionals with participants from across the globe. Such diversity is key - with varied backgrounds of participants enriching the program through the exchange of different skills and interests. Over the course of the program I formed lasting relationships with likeminded individuals who share a passion for culture and heritage, and have developed a global network of professionals who will continue to shape my career well into the future.
The support of all organizations involved including Historic Royal Palaces, Stowe House Preservation Trust and Bath Preservation Trust is invaluable to the success of OPP. I am highly appreciative of their astounding investment in each individual participant, particularly as an honoured 2016 bursary recipient.
For students and emerging professionals, OPP provides an outlet to experience various career paths and to sample the vast opportunities available within this sector. A key focus when engaging with professionals such as Tracy Borman (author and historian) was discussions of career progression and the often veiled, complex paths that people take to arrive at their destination. Having recently gained a Master of Museum Studies, I was seeking practical contextualization of the skills and knowledge gained throughout this process – and what fantastic way to do so! Immersive engagement with institutions is highly invaluable, though often hard to come by. It is these experiences which are the pivotal moments in early careers and most certainly felt by all during OPP 2016. Having hands-on or experiential interpretation of concepts, places and collections researched at a University level leaves each participant with a definite advantage in such a competitive field.
Having begun to develop a career in arts registration over the past few years, a personal highlight of this experience was the exposure to collection stores and conservation studios in sites such as Hampton Court and Kensington Palace. Access to resources such as these are rare within Australian museology - particularly when considering that such dense historical contexts and building sites are simply not yet a reality. OPP allows global access to the numerous time periods steeped within English history along with realities involved in preserving historic buildings such as environmental conditions and interpretation of space. Observing the processes and techniques practiced by specialist departments in each institution provided us a rare opportunity to consider new knowledge, research and skills to our young Australian museum context. I now feel more confident in my ability to transfer skills on an international platform and alternately to apply new knowledge to registration processes in Australia.
The knowledge gained from this programme is priceless. If offered the chance to do this again I wouldn't hesitate. Caitlin J. 2017.
OPP is a fantastic programme with wonderful opportunities for a deeper understanding of the behind-the-scenes of cultural heritage work. No matter what your field this programme has something for you. Sharon W. 2017
Being able to visit places in a professional capacity is so powerful and such a privilege. Robbie L. 2017
OPP is seriously a once in a lifetime opportunity, you meet so many amazing people, not just the professionals but the people you meet on the tour. I learned so much I can take with me for the rest of my career. Savannah M. 2017
Absolutely one of the best experiences of my life. Cherie P. 2017
This is a unique programme that offers knowledge and experience that cannot be gained in a classroom or any other way. Jess S. 2017.
The Open Palace Programme was an experience that could never be replicated elsewhere, learning from some of the finest employees in the heritage sector in some of the best museums in the world was a spectacular experience. Caroline V. 2016
The OPP has been a wonderful opportunity to gain hands on experience in the museums and heritage sector. I feel I have developed both professionally and personally. Erin J. 2016
The OPP is a fantastic opportunity to explore historic houses and palaces with like minded people. Be prepared for Stairs! But also to have incredible stories and objects put exclusively on display for your enjoyment and wonder. Rowan M. 2016
The OPP has been a truly remarkable experience. I have gained behind the scenes experience at various museums and heritage institutions. I would highly recommend for anyone looking to gain more experience in the field. Annabel M. 2016
This trip has inspired me to pursue a career working in museums and reignited my passion for education. I now know what steps to take to further my passion and career, as well as having life long friends from around the world. Tiss L. 2016
The OPP is a wonderful experience, I shall be recommending it to everyone who want to learn more about history and heritage. Alison M. 2016
The Open Palace Programme is a life changing experience, you are immersed into a world of history and heritage gaining new knowledge and understanding by professionals who display an immense passion for what they do and what they are trying to achieve. As well as gaining a greater appreciation for the world around you, you manage to gain immediate friends who make the experience so memorable. Alana M. 2015
The OPP is a truly fantastic programme that will give you a better idea of where museums are headed in the future. You get to meet people and establish contacts all over the world that will develop your professional goals and knowledge for the future. Brooke U. 2014
The hands on experience provided by the Bath Preservation Trust was incredible and invaluable. I had the privilege of meeting experts in the fields of conservation and education and made some wonderful friends. Andrew C. 2014
Amy at the Bath Preservation Trust was a fountain of knowledge and wisdom and Polly was lovely. Working with the Bath preservation Trust really consolidated what I knew and helped me share and learn with the professionals and my course-mates. Craig M. 2015
Tracy Borman, the chief Curator at the Historic Royal Palaces was magnificent and gave us a real insight into the role of research at the Palaces. Brianna B. 2015
It was really great to see the workings behind the palaces. Alex D. 2014
Philip was an awesome garden guide and the Stowe landscape was a phenomenal place to experience. Ki P. 2015
The programme has been incredibly interesting and educational, the heritage sites visited were fascinating and the activities thoughtful. An excellent experience. Sam C. 2014
The programme has been such an incredible experience venturing to all these beautiful places steeped in history its just been so incredible. The people on this trip have become my family. and have made the experience something I will never forget. Truly I have learnt so much and would gladly do it again. Ali N. 2014
An amazing chance to travel to some of the UK’s great historic sites with like minded people and meet some of the professionals who care for and interpret the sites. Caroline M. 2014
OPP is great and you do not need to have an extensive understanding of english history to enjoy it. Molly W. 2014
I found it fascinating how the different museums all had a different way of interpreting their collection that reflected their unique character and location. Liz B. 2014
The first week went too quickly, I have learnt things I had never considered before. Nicola W. 2014
Originally I was looking for a placement or an internship but what was great about OPP was that I got real hands on experience with top professionals at a number of outstanding sites and had a much richer overall experience plus I got to exchange views with other people like me.