Author Archives: catherinemailhac

Natural Connections

The Natural Connections project explores how museums can connect collections and nature to support the health and wellbeing of staff, volunteers and visitors. The project brings together Brantwood, Wordsworth Grasmere, University of Cumbria, Grizedale Forest, Wordsworth Trust, the National Trust and Museum Development North West.

Collecting feedback from participants to find out what they had enjoyed about a close looking workshop: “Stepping far away from normal stuff”

Inspired by the Ruskin Bicentenary in 2018, the Cumbria Museum Directors Group and Museum Development North West [MDNW] commissioned me to explore how we could draw out connections between the museum collections, the surrounding landscapes, and wellbeing.

We developed a pilot project bringing together a partnership of organisations to develop ideas, trial new ways of working and share established good practice. We tried all sorts – there was drawing by moonlight, printmaking, swan dancing, forest bathing, fungi finding and owl pellet dissection. We were supported by an ACE National Lottery – Project Grant and MDNW.

Despite the challenges of running the pilot throughout lockdowns, the project had a successful outcome and those involved are keen to continue building our work together. The group are now exploring ways to continue developing this work.

You can get an overview of the project, including who was involved and a snapshot of our sessions in the Miro presentation below.

The project reviews for 2021 and 2022 are below:

Adult Programmes, NPG – photos, films, programmes and trails

Here is a collection of photos, films, event programmes and trails from my time at the National Portrait Gallery. The events were inspired by major exhibitions and the collections at the NPG.

DJ Eddie Otchere at Late Shift

DJ Eddie Otchere on the decks at a Late Shift Extra

Lucian Freud Portraits

Inspired by the exhibition Lucian Freud Portraits, the Gallery was transformed into an art studio for Draw the Line which included life drawing classes led by Freud’s model Sophie de Stempel and another with Nicola Bateman, one of Freud’s muses, as the model.

Man Ray Portraits

The Late Shift Extra: Salon de Lumière evening was a homage to Man Ray. The event included avant-garde films, Tudors portraits, mass life drawing with a fashion twist, 1920s jazz, lomography and philosophy…

We also hosted Movement in Light,  a series of screenings exploring the work of Man Ray and his contemporaries, as well as looking at the films which resulted from the methods he used in his film making and photography.

George Catlin: American Indian Portraits

We invited conceptual artist Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds to occupy the NPG for one night to explore language, memory and history. Edgar Heap of Birds is an artist from the Cheyenne and Arapaho Nations of Oklahoma. The event was in response to the NPG exhibition George Catlin: American Indian Portraits.

Collections inspired Late Shift Extra

This Late Shift Extra took us back to the drawing board. We were able to work with some people including illustrators Marion Deuchars, Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy. Artist Stuart Pearson Wright created an exquisite stage set for a magical performance by the Tiger’s Bride.

First World War Centenary Learning & Events, IWM North

As Learning & Events Manager at IWM North I created an events programme to engage people with the First World War Centenary. I worked with creative partners, artists and academics to generate a season of activity which offered a range of perspectives and ways to take part.

Still from BBC Arts Online coverage of Second Breath by Russell Maliphant, performed by ENB at IWM North for Museums at Night. 

I planned and developed events as part of Reactions14, a season of creative responses to the Centenary, including performances by the English National Ballet, a day of craft in partnership with the Manchester Craft and Design Centre, a take-over by students from the Royal Northern College of Music and the development of a new libretto with the BBC Philharmonic. These creative interventions were complimented by Perspectives14, a series of Sunday afternoon talks delving deeper in to the collections and history of the First World War from a range of angles.

The performances of Second Breath by the English National Ballet were the highlight of IWM North’s first Museums at Night event. Visitors enjoyed Vintage DJs, poetry performances by Kat Francois, object handling and tours and talks. The event was promoted by local media including an article on Creative Tourist (here) and I was interviewed live for the BBC Manchester breakfast show. The event was streamed live online and elements were available to watch on BBC Arts Online.

I’m so delighted for all parties involved that the two performances were such a success.
I have to commend your superb attention to detail in making this event run so well;
your precision in planning and its execution on the day was a nod to the military,
appropriately enough, delivered with a kind, responsive and calm manner.
It has been a joy to work with you and your team.
Louise Shand-Brown, Associate Producer, English National Ballet

Working with Catherine was absolutely fantastic – really open to RNCM ideas and supportive.
We worked in a mutual way, keeping in mind what was important for both of us.
Richard Collins, Programming Manager, Royal Northern College of Music

Adult Programmes, National Portrait Gallery

Whilst Adult Learning Officer at the National Portrait Gallery, I created, planned and managed the delivery of an ambitious adult learning programme. Over 12 months, the evening programme alone generated over 18,000 attendances.

Friday night Drop-in Drawing

I programmed daytime activities including weekly lunchtime lectures, tours, conferences, workshops and group visits. I was responsible for programming the regular Late Shift evening events, which happened every Thursday and Friday. Late Shift included a rich mix of high profile talks and debates, tours, drop-in drawing, life drawing classes, British Sign Language talks, DJ and bar.

Three times a year, I organised the larger Late Shift Extra evenings which attracted up to 2,800 visitors over 4 hours. Follow the links below to the NPG website to see full programmes, photos and films from these events:

  • Inspired by the exhibition Lucian Freud Portraits, the Gallery was transformed into an art studio for Draw the Line which included life drawing classes led by Freud’s model Sophie de Stempel and another with Nicola Bateman, one of Freud’s muses, as the model.
  • For Back to the Drawing Board, there were sessions with illustrators Marion Deuchars, Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy,  and artist Stuart Pearson Wright created an exquisite stage set for a magical performance by the Tiger’s Bride.
  • We paid homage to Man Ray, the original ‘Master of Light’ with Salon de Lumiere, which included a bespoke installation by Chris Levine.
  • In response to the exhibition George Catlin: American Indian Portraits, conceptual artist Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds took over the Gallery to explore language and memory.

There is a collection of photos, films, programmes and trails from my time at the NPG available here…

Fighting for our Rights: Stakeholder Evaluation, Kingston Centre for Independent Living

The Kingston Centre for Independent Living wanted capture the experiences of key partners in their ‘Fighting for our Rights’ project. I shaped and delivered a stakeholder evaluation, providing insights into the involvement of the six partners. The report was sent to the Heritage Lottery Fund, as part of KCIL’s final report, and to Kingston University, to shape and offer evidence for future collaborations.

Left to right – project stakeholders: Theresa Nash, Chris Hutchison, Eli Anderson, Gillian Butler and Paty Paliokosta. Photo provided by Jen Kavanagh.

For the ‘Fighting for our Rights’ project, Kingston Centre for Independent Living (KCIL) collaborated with disabled people and those working with the disability community, to collect stories about disability rights.  This multilayered project involved:

The stakeholder evaluation was commissioned by Jen Kavanagh, Oral History Project Manager at KCIL. Individual interviews were conducted with the six key stakeholders, with conversations steered by a Discussion Guide. The data was transcribed, collated and analysed, drawing out key themes and remarks to illustrate the range of responses across the partners.

The ‘Fighting for our Rights’ project was rich and complex, with multiple partners and an array of outcomes. It was evident from conversations had throughout the project that huge amounts of learning were taking place, and Catherine’s interviews with the key stakeholders were invaluable at capturing this. This report is going to prove incredibly useful for advocating for collaborative practice for everyone involved.
Jen Kavanagh, Oral History Project Manager

Interpretation and Engagement Training, Unilever Art, Archives and Records Management

At a time when everyone is under pressure to do more with less, Unilever Art, Archives and Records Management were keen to develop their audience engagement work. They wanted to maximise the value of the outreach work they do, and to generate creative new ideas for the future. So I developed a bespoke training day for the team at Port Sunlight…


We started the process by exploring the needs of the team, shaping the project with Claire Tunstall, Head of Art, Archives and Records Management. I reviewed the materials currently being produced, including their presentations, newsletters and the interpretation written for display cases.

I created a bespoke training day to explore ways in which the collections could be used to reach new and broader audiences. Using a combination of inspiring case studies and creative exercises, the team were introduced to new ways of thinking about the collections, taking audiences as their starting point. This was followed by a guided approach to writing engaging, accessible interpretation for exhibitions. Participants received information packs drawing together the key elements of the day, including links to useful resources and follow up reading.

All of this is just marvellous! We all got some much out of the day, you have really inspired us all, gave us great insights and set us up for some brilliant engagement! You should be proud of the effect your training has had on the team – they are actively thinking about the audience and working with each other on this. Totally brilliant.
Claire Tunstall, Head of Art, Archives and Records Management, Unilever

I’ll think more about the audience / who’s reading it when writing labels etc. In the past I’ve only really considered putting in as much detail as possible, rather than what someone is looking to get out of it. The different exercises helped me think differently about how I write things for people and about our collection. I wouldn’t have considered so many different perspectives could be drawn from one object. It was a really great day, I learned so much!!
Team member

Thank you so much for a very interesting and thought-provoking day. Good to think about different approaches. Concise explanations. Visibly pleasing presentation. Engaging topics, very relatable. Enjoyed seeing other examples of exhibitions and sharing ideas. Had fun with creative exercises. Wish we could do this more often!
Team member

Absolutely brilliant! I now feel really enthused and inspired to get going on our new exhibitions. All of it was very enjoyable. A very good mixture of visual elements, discussions and tasks (both individually and group).
Team member

Medicine Galleries Participation: Internal Stakeholder Review, Science Museum

The redevelopment of the Medicine Galleries is a landmark project for the Science Museum. I led an internal stakeholder review, to explore attitudes, understandings, hopes and fears around developing content and interpretation for the Galleries in participation with audience groups.


Following a £24m redevelopment, the new Medicine Galleries will open at the Science Museum, London, in autumn 2019. They will include personal stories about the impact of changes in medicine and health, some of which are being gathered through participatory work.  My research captured the early stages of these participation projects from the perspective of the Medicine Galleries Project Team.

Individual interviews were conducted with 20 members of staff and the freelance Participation Co-ordinator. Interviewees were identified by Lauren Souter, Senior Audience Researcher at the Science Museum, to reflect roles across the project including Heads of Department, Managers and Assistants, from five departments (Curatorial, Learning, Interpretation, Masterplanning, New Media). The discussion guides were tailored to suit the broad spectrum of experience across the interviewees, ranging from those who had been in post for three weeks, to those who had been at the museum for over ten years. The research allowed staff training to be tailored to meet the needs of the team, and has had an impact on participation projects being developed across the Science Museum Group.

It’s been great working with you on this. The Medicine Galleries Participation: Internal Stakeholder Review was well received. We did some training for the team based on the findings, and actions have been put in place for future participation planning. [X] asked me to pass on to you that she felt it was an excellent piece of work.
Lauren Souter, Senior Audience Researcher, Science Museum

Creative Interpretation, National Trust Nostell Priory

I was invited to help the National Trust’s Nostell Priory see their house and collections from a fresh perspective, with a particular focus on the Chippendale furniture and room settings. I spent a day working alongside a small group of creative thinkers, including artists, curators, exhibition designers, digital specialists and heritage professionals.


It was a real pleasure to spend time exploring the house and to bounce ideas around with the team. We explored ways for creating a more engaging, immersive and memorable experience for visitors. We discussed ideas for bringing these delicate objects to life, thinking about why they were originally made and showing how they were used.

Catherine joined us for our creative consultation day, where we had set ourselves the challenge of thinking up new ways to ‘make new Chippendale fans’. Catherine had such a fresh approach- responding in a very sensitive and personal way to the county house setting, not just appreciating the collection,  but really picking up on the layers of history, the patina of stories that fill a house like ours. In our creative sessions in the afternoon Catherine’s interpretation ideas went beyond the visual or the written word and inspired us to explore sound, smell, light and the fleeting reflections in mirrors. A wonderful, refreshing contribution, thanks.
Christine Blackburn,  Creative Project Curator – Transform Nostell, National Trust

Everyday Wonders book, Museums Sheffield

I was commissioned to create a book for adults visiting Weston Park Museum. The book offers an alternative perspective to the standard gallery text, helping visitors to delve deeper and to see through the eyes of makers and poets, activists and academics, scientists and machinists, curators and volunteers, the memory keepers and the future thinkers…


The aim of the book was help people enjoy and find out more about Sheffield’s museum collections and their local context. It highlights 50 objects from Weston Park Museum, as seen through the eyes of 50 different people. It brings together stories from the Licorice Allsorts factory floor and a poem about electric heaters, memories of building a Mosque and research insights from the Arctic.

Working with the team at the museum, I identified a long list of objects and potential contributors.  I shaped the content, creating a balanced selection of contributors and working with them individually to develop their content in a way which suited them. This included interviewing some participants, transcribing and editing highlights, in order to make a meaningful, engaging passage, which reflected the participant’s voice. I was the main point of contact for design collective Dust as we developed the layouts and overall design of the book. The book is on sale in the Museums Sheffield shops across the city.

Flying Scotsman season, National Railway Museum

The return of the Flying Scotsman to the National Railway Museum in 2016 was accompanied by a major programme of activity including an immersive experience and an exhibition. I was commissioned to evaluate the season from the perspectives of the visitors and key stakeholders. 

The 1930s cocktail bar on board the Service with Style experience. Image courtesy National Railway Museum

I evaluated three aspects of the Flying Scotsman project:

  • The participant responses to Service with Style – a charged-for, sensory experience which aimed to bring the Flying Scotsman to life,
  • The visitor responses to Starring Scotsman – a free exhibition focusing on the celebrity of the locomotive,
  • The experiences of external partners who have been involved in delivering the season with NRM including the designers.

It was particularly interesting to evaluate the innovative, immersive approach of Service with Style. This activity, created by  a Taste of Space, used binaural sound and actors to create an atmospheric and interactive experience for participants.

The research objectives were developed in discussion with Exhibitions and Design Manager and Scotsman Project Lead Amy Banks, Events Manager Kate Hunter, and Head of Development Helen May. The fieldwork included observations and semi-structured discussions with visitors on site, as well as telephone interviews with stakeholders.

Thanks so much for working with us on this, it has been really insightful and excellent working with you.
Kate Hunter, Events Manager, Public Programme

Narrative Study, Museums of Cheshire

Museums of Cheshire is a well-established network of organisations working together to champion over 20 venues across the county. They commissioned me to produce a Narrative Study as part of their Unlocking the Potential project, working towards becoming a more resilient and sustainable network.

Facilitating discussions during the Museums of Cheshire conference. Photo by Pete Carr.

The research was based upon information gathered from a range of sources:

  • Museum publications – e.g. guidebooks, promotional material,
  • Policy documents – e.g. Collecting Strategies,
  • Museum websites,
  • Visitor reviews,
  • Discussions with Museums of Cheshire Steering Group & Partners.

The Narrative Study cast a fresh eye over the rich collections and varied venues of Museums of Cheshire. It identified shared stories and themes, drawing out common threads and helping create new connections between members and with audiences. These ideas became a springboard for new strands of potential activity, from interventions and social media, to events and learning programmes. There were suggestions for integrating the cultural offer within the county’s general tourism offer, and ideas for cultural tourists. This collection of ideas and approaches was intended to help inspire and inform discussions about the future direction and activities of the partnership.

I presented the study at the Museums of Cheshire annual conference, and followed my presentation with an interactive workshop for all delegates. This gave participants the opportunity to explore the narratives for themselves and to become part of this exciting development process.

It was fantastic to work with Catherine. She took time to develop a really detailed knowledge of our venues and collections, and facilitated creative and engaging workshops for staff and stakeholders. As a result, she has produced plans for communications and curatorial projects based on shared themes and stories which are strategic and innovative. Her work has sparked a lot of enthusiasm amongst members, and its impact can already be seen in our new website and development strategy.
Kate Rodenhurst, Project Manager, Museums of Cheshire 

This has been excellent. Catherine’s work has been exciting and inspiring. It has made me appreciate the wider heritage of Cheshire in a whole new light as well as getting me buzzing with ideas of how to develop stories and narratives for our own museum.
Delegate, Museums of Cheshire Conference 2016

Going Public project evaluation, Museums Sheffield

I was commissioned by Museums Sheffield to evaluate the Going Public project. The project brought four major private collections from across Europe to Sheffield for a series of exhibitions across five city centre venues. The evaluation explored the major aims of the project, highlighting key successes and identifying areas for development.


The research was conducted through questionnaires with exhibition visitors and event participants, and semi-structured interviews with project partners and key stakeholders. I coordinated a team of volunteers from Sheffield Hallam University and Museums Sheffield to conduct the fieldwork with members of the public.

The project was led by Museums Sheffield in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield Cathedral and Site Gallery, and project originators Sebastien Montabonel and Mark Doyle. The internal evaluation report, sits alongside Louisa Buck’s published paper which explores the discussions and debates which took place at the Going Public Summit.

Dance for Parkinson’s Symposium, English National Ballet

I was commissioned to support the team at English National Ballet to develop and deliver a high profile symposium. The event brought together partners and key speakers to launch the research report ‘Dance for Parkinson’s Evidence of Impact – Moving Forward’, the result of a three year project with the University of Roehampton.

Image courtesy Rachel Ryan, English National Ballet

The symposium was introduced by Tamara Rojo CBE, Artistic Director of the ENB, followed by a range of presentations, panel discussions, audience questions and informal networking. The event took place at Sadler’s Wells and was live broadcast by Art Streaming TV to an international audience of nearly 900 people, including viewers in Canada, USA, Germany and the Netherlands.  I was involved in the initial discussions between key partners to shape and develop the event, and then created and managed the Event Plan, liaised with the speakers and venue, and worked with the team on the day to deliver the symposium. See the Storify from the event here.

I worked closely with Emma Abbey, Senior Engagement Producer at English National Ballet during the project. She was pleased with the way in which the project developed and with our working relationship:

I thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with Catherine on the Dance for Parkinson’s Symposium. An event not short of its complexities, Catherine kept the project on track with her patient and meticulous methods of project management, open and assertive communication skills, and her kind and generous spirit. She is lovely to work with and I hope we work together again soon.

Great Art Quest project evaluation, Children & The Arts

I conducted the independent evaluation of the Great Art Quest from 2014 to 2017 to measure the impact of project and its operational effectiveness. The project introduces primary school children to the visual arts by bringing together schools, local galleries, professional artists and storytellers.

Each year the project engaged 16 primary schools and four galleries. I created a framework and methodology for the evaluation, which encompassed all stages of the project, from initial INSET days, through gallery visits and school workshops to the finale events. A range of techniques were used to engage pupils, practitioners, teachers and gallery staff in order to meet the relevant evaluation needs. These included focus groups with pupils, interviews with teachers and practitioners, session observations and photography.

From 2015, the project was also explored through the lens of Arts Council England’s Quality Principles; seven principles for work by, with and for children and young people in arts and culture.

In 2014-5, handmade log books were given to pupils and teachers to record their journey through the project.  This format was particularly appreciated by some teachers: ‘I’ve been really inspired by the books – at the weekend I was punching holes in things, and putting them together with skewers…’.  The evaluation fed in to the project throughout the year, helping to shape sessions and guide practitioners.

Working with Catherine over the past two years on The Great Art Quest project has been wonderful. First and foremost, she cares about the level of impact the project has on its participants, and as such the advice and feedback she offers in her evaluations is very well-thought-out and helpful. Catherine’s evaluations have helped to shape the development of Great Art Quest and make it a better or more effective project.
Katherine Hannon, Project Manager, Children & the Arts

The galleries involved in the project over recent years are: Falmouth Art Gallery, Chapel Gallery, Golden Thread GalleryNew Walk Museum & Art GalleryMK Gallery, Oriel Myrddin Gallery, Tullie House Museum and Gallery TrustYorkshire Sculpture Park, Ben Uri Gallery & Museum, Reading Museum & Town Hall, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum and Stirling Smith Museum & Art Gallery.

SLAMbassadors project advocacy and evaluation, The Poetry Society

SLAMbassadors is the longest running spoken word education programme in the UK. The Poetry Society leads this annual programme which includes workshops with schools and informal groups, performances and INSET training. In 2015 I was commissioned to produce a public facing advocacy document about the project, and the following year I conducted an evaluation of the project.

A poem in progress at one of the workshops.

The fieldwork for the projects included:

  • observing workshops in schools and with a group of young carers,
  • leading focus groups with young people,
  • conducting mini-depth interviews with pupils, teachers and poets,
  • taking quick vox pops with those attending the final showcase.

The advocacy report provided a brief overview and short case studies of the project sessions. It showcased best practice, highlighting particular successes and identifying key elements which could be replicated elsewhere (e.g. particular approaches, formats).  The primary audience for the report was the literature education sector and project funders.

The following year, the internal project evaluation focused on the 2016 programme from the point of view of the pupils and teachers who participated. I looked at the way in which pupils engaged, exploring the nature and impact of their involvement in terms of their personal progression and their perceptions of poetry. From a teachers’ perspective, the research focused on the way in which SLAMbassadors had contributed to their professional development.  Taking a step back, the report then looked over the last three years to see if there was, anecdotally, any cumulative impact for schools and to identify any changes in how schools have approached the programme. Finally, the report looked at the barriers which may exist for schools to fully engage with the project and highlights potential solutions.

The work was commissioned by Thomas MacAndrew, Education Manager at The Poetry Society, who said:

The qualitative research Catherine produced was outstanding. She elicited and captured feedback from participants that we would never have been able to ourselves. The report she produced was well written and structured the findings to provide a clear overview of the programme. Working with Catherine throughout the process was incredibly straightforward; she worked to the brief and was adaptable to our changing needs. I’d definitely recommend her as an independent evaluator for any engagement project.
Tom MacAndrew, Education Manager, The Poetry Society