Helen Mears is Keeper of World Art for Royal Pavilion & Museum and a lecturer and researcher on design history.
A museum professional with 15 years of experience in the museum sector, she is particularly interested in the issues raised by colonial collections in postcolonial contexts.
Helen Mears' research reflects her experience of the museum sector, as a curator committed to community engagement. As Keeper of World Art for Royal Pavilion & Museums she is interested in the interface between ‘official’ heritage practices and those of diaspora communities. Helen has worked in the museum sector for 15 years, as a curator, researcher and community engagement officer. For much of this time her focus has been non-western or ‘world art’ collections, which were largely formed by British people working within a colonial context. Thinking through the implications of this for museums and society today is one of the key drivers for her museum practice and for her research.
As a curator Helen has been engaged in exploring the possibilities of such historic collections, through community engagement initiatives like the creation of a new permanent gallery at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, which was co-curated with young people (World Stories Young Voices) and contemporary international design shows (for example the exhibition Fashion Cities Africa).
Her doctoral research focused on the Kachin, an ethnic minority from northern Myanmar. Through this she has become interested in the intersection between museum collections and diaspora communities, an interest amplified by her experience of collaborating with members of Brighton’s BME Heritage Network.
Her growing interest in this field is reflected in her membership of various sectoral advisory boards, including for the British Museum and Horniman Museum. She regularly speaks at museum-related events, such as Museum Ideas, as well as academic conferences and workshops. She also draws on this interest, and her wide-ranging museum experience in her teaching, particularly in developing and delivering content for the University’s new MA in Curating Collections and Heritage.
My research into museums remains firmly grounded in my continuing experience of working within them. As well as questioning the ideological functions of museums, I encourage my students to think about how the physical space of the museum, its buildings, objects and displays, enables meanings to be made manifest. I’m also interested in issues of governance, policy and sectoral strategy and the influence of these on museums and I work with my students to examine the wider social, political and economic frameworks and contexts in which museums operate. At a more intimate level I also encourage students to work closely with objects and to use material culture frameworks for investigating what objects can tell us about the past.
As I continue to hold a curatorial role at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, I spend much of my time running between university and museum buildings and thinking about the interrelationship between museum practice and museum theory. It is a model which I aim to encourage my students to follow.