Episode 76

The joy of engaging with objects with Dr Alex Woodall

Published on: 24th November, 2022

I’m really happy to be talking to Dr Alex Woodall about her wonderful work with objects. We’re talking about how the joys of working with objects creatively. We’re exploring how you can use objects to spark all sorts of connections, associations and fun in the museum and beyond…

Dr Alex Woodall is a museum professional and academic, inspired by the creative use of objects and rummaging in stores. 

She has 20 years’ experience working in learning, interpretation and exhibition management and leadership roles, including at Sheffield Museums, Manchester Art Gallery, the Royal Armouries in Leeds and the Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia. 

She is currently Programme Director for the Postgraduate Creative and Cultural Industries Management degree at the University of Sheffield, where she teaches a large international cohort about museum management. 

In our chat today, we talk about the joys of working with objects creatively. Alex shares how her love for objects started when she was very small rummaging through her dad’s ‘museum’ full of amazing finds that he’d dug up in the garden - rocks and fossils and clay pipes and so on. And how that developed into a career-long fascination with all kinds of objects.

We talk about what objects do, ​​ how we can use them and what we can get out of working with objects.

Alex tells us what an object dialogue box is and how you can use objects to spark all sorts of connections, associations and fun in the museum. She takes us through a wonderful activity that I did with her at the ICOM CECA conference in Denmark recently that helps us to notice more details and find stuff in museums that we would normally overlook. 

We also talk about how we can use objects to inspire more creativity and imagination organisations in for example meetings, in teams, programming, brainstorming etc. And she shares two wonderful books to read if you’re as fascinated by objects as we both are. 

This is a delightful chat about creating joyful engaging experiences with objects -Enjoy!


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Karl and Kimberley Foster - Object Dialogue Boxes https://www.sorhed.com/


Books mentioned:

Sandra Dudley (2010) Museum Materialities: https://www.routledge.com/Museum-Materialities-Objects-Engagements-Interpretations/Dudley/p/book/9780415492188

Pablo Neruda (1994) Odes to Common Things: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Common-Things-First-Pablo-Neruda/dp/B0058WGC84

Written by Alex Woodall: 

  • Woodall A (2020) 'Storehouses of Unimagined Treasures': Delightful Rummaging and Artists' Responses to 'Unloved' Collections In Woodham A, Hess A & Smith R (Ed.), Emotion, Care, and Engagement in Museums: Interventions in Unloved Collections Arc Humanities Press View this article in WRRO
  • Woodall A (2015) Rummaging as a Strategy for Creative Thinking and Imaginative Engagement in Higher Education In Chatterjee H & Hannan L (Ed.), Engaging the Senses: Object-Based Learning in Higher Education (pp. 133-155). Surrey: Ashgate. View this article in WRRO
  • Woodall A (2015) Object Dialogue Boxes and Unknowing In Farnell G (Ed.), Interpreting the Art Museum (pp. 366-377). MuseumsEtc 
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The Art Engager
Engage your audience with art and ideas
The Art Engager podcast is here to help educators, guides and creatives engage their audiences with art, objects and ideas. Each week I’ll be sharing a variety of easy-to-learn flexible techniques and tools to help you create participant-centred experiences that bring art and ideas to life.
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