Wednesday 3 March

Hello everyone,  

I do hope you are keeping well and enjoying the lovely Spring sunshine we have been experiencing. This week we’ve begun planning for reopening in May, following the government announcement last week that museums and galleries can reopen from 17 May. We have really missed welcoming audiences and volunteers into our building so this timeline has given us a real boost of inspiration and positivity. Though we still have some details to finalise on the 2021 exhibitions and events, we are looking forward to sharing it with you all later this month. As a small thank you to our loyal Lightbox Members and patrons we will be offering first access booking (the membership team will be in touch with you all very soon with dates!).

I’m looking forward to International Women’s Day immensely, where I will be joined online in conversation with Sarah Squire, Chairman of Squire’s Garden Centre’s for a friendly discussion on the history of Garden Centre’s in the UK, and Sarah’s personal journey to working her way up to lead this thriving, family-owned garden centre group. Sarah will also be sharing some key insights on seasonal gardening so this discussion is highly recommended for those with green fingers.  

Find out more about the event and book your place here. I’m so pleased to welcome Sarah to our channels, as Squire’s believe that their garden centres should be at the absolute heart of the local community and welcomes families, friends and school visits to their community hubs. They support local activities and events and each centre selects their own charity of the year. In 2018, Squires donated 230,000 daffodil bulbs to local councils and 300 silver birch trees in 2020 as part of their 'Love Where You Live' campaign. Squire’s do so much good for the local community and it is truly inspiring.  

We so look forward to welcoming you back in May – if you love art and want to ensure that your local gallery is still there for your enjoyment then please do consider becoming a member or making a donation. We want to give back to our community so thank you for everything you are doing, and I hope to see you very soon. 

Stay safe and well, 
Marilyn 

Wednesday 24 February

Hello everyone,  

Unfortunately, this week my usual cheery demeanour of smile and keep moving on has been temporarily replaced by a very sad face! On Monday we were saddened to learn that museums and galleries will not reopen until at least 17 May, as part of step three of the government's reopening plan.

Many organisations in the sector have expressed anger and disappointment about this decision as it reflects a lack of understanding of the vital role that organisations like The Lightbox play in supporting the community's wellbeing. It is particularly upsetting as 'non-essential retail' and other public buildings such as libraries may open in April. The sector has also proved that it can adapt and safely offer an indoor experience with social distancing and other hygiene measures in place. There is no evidence that galleries and museums are sites of covid transmission. As tweeted by ALVA, the organisation that represents large museums and heritage sites, "If you can open H&M, you can open the V&A." 

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected almost every aspect of our lives and places, where we can safely relax and engage in restorative creative activities, are needed now more than ever. Despite this heavy blow, we remain optimistic, we ask our supporters and audiences to support us and other cultural institutions in lobbying to reopen in April. Please do write to your local Councillor or MP expressing your concerns and support sector campaigns on social media.  

I keep myself going by thinking of better days ahead when we reopen and can welcome our volunteers, supporters, and audiences back to The Lightbox. We will be announcing our 2021 programme of exhibitions and events very soon and have been working behind the scenes on our 'What's On' programme, which will be distributed later in the spring. Please do sign up here if you would like to receive one.  

I also take comfort in the new ways we've developed to keep in touch with our digital channels. This week we had a virtual coffee morning with our volunteers and will be hosting a quiz for all our volunteers on art and heritage very soon. We are incredibly fortunate to welcome wonderful artists and speakers to present workshops and events on our channels. We also have some great talks coming up in March so do take a look at our What’s On section on the website.   

I remain incredibly grateful to everyone who has supported us by purchasing a ticket to an event, giving a donation, or buying a membership. We hope our Lightbox Members have enjoyed complimentary access to online artists' talks in February as a small thank you for their ongoing support. We are so looking forward to welcoming you back in May when we're open and please do keep supporting us with your donations and by renewing your membership, it is such an incredible comfort to us to know that you are all still there for us. 

Keep safe and well and enjoy the spring sunshine!

Best,
Marilyn  

Wednesday 17 February

Hello everyone,

This week we have begun to contemplate reopening with perhaps a little more certainty as we anticipate the Prime Minister’s statement next week. One of the key issues for us is which sector museums and galleries belong to. We are of course on a national scale very small in number as organisations and therefore must be amalgamated with either hospitality or non-essential retail. After the last lockdown, we were joined with hospitality and therefore had to wait to reopen until restaurants could open – the very last of all groups.

This time many organisations have lobbied that we should be part of non-essential retail and therefore be early to reopen. The slogan 'If you can open H&M you can open the V&A' has been used in lobbying DCMS, and we really hope that the argument is accepted. For those of you who visited from August to October, I hope you felt equally safe to vising shops and possibly even safer than visiting a supermarket.

We anticipate that non-essential retail may reopen after Easter, so we have our sights set on an opening around that time, but of course, as we have learned over the last year, nothing is certain!   

I was interested this week to be contacted by the ONS to see if we could help with publicising the census which takes place in March. You may remember that I mentioned this in a previous blog when I quoted David Olusoga who was speaking about schoolchildren understanding why something like a census is so vital in understanding the past.

I realised that I did not know the history of the census except that they are vital for modern-day genealogy studies and how much fascinating information you can obtain from each census, tracking your ancestors around the country, often as they moved from place to place seeking work and following new industrial opportunities, rather than the relative poverty, for many, of agricultural life.

The census taken in 1841 is widely regarded as the first truly modern census, when the first Registrar General of England and Wales, John Lister, was made responsible for organising the count. The task of counting was passed on to local officers of the newly created registration service. For the first time, the head of each household was given a form to fill in on behalf of everyone in the household on a certain day. This system has stood the test of time, and it still forms the basis of the method we use today.

Since 1801 there has been a census every ten years except in 1941, during the Second World War. The basic principles of census taking remain the same, though new questions have been added and others have been omitted.

Up until 1911, the Government needed to introduce a new Census Act for every census held. This was changed by the 1920 Census Act which made it possible for the Government to hold a census at any time, once Parliament has approved the necessary 'secondary' legislation which lays out the details of a particular census, but no sooner than five years after the last census. From 1911 onwards, rapid social change, scientific breakthroughs, and major world events impacted the structure of the population.

A fire that destroyed census records in 1931 and the declaration of war in 1939, made the 1951 census hugely significant in recording more than 20 years of change over one of the most turbulent periods in British history. We hope to be able to provide more information on what the census of previous years tells us about Woking to help raise awareness through social media and our website of how important each census return is.

I hope that you have all had a chance to look at the programme of digital events that is up on our website, we have many great talks coming up, as our whole programme has now moved online. We have had two recent highly successful talks which I know many of you have enjoyed and we are continually adding new events so keep an eye on our website for updates.

Once again, I must thank you, your response to our own financial problems has been outstanding and we are so grateful. If you are in a position to help, please donate whatever you can or book onto our events and workshops. Taking out a membership or renewing is absolutely the best way to help us in the long term, so please do consider this. The support we have received financially has been unprecedented, with so much generosity from so many of our supporters, which will allow us to face reopening with confidence.

We hope that our enforced closure will not extend for too much longer, we cannot wait to open our doors again and welcome you back.

Best,
Marilyn

Wednesday 10 February

Hello everyone,

We have better news this week for those of us based in Woking. The very prompt response to the variant virus seems to have achieved testing of the area concerned efficiently, and having accompanied an elderly neighbour to the vaccine delivery at the McLaren building was really excellent as well. The way forward seems quite clear but how long it takes us to get there is the question.

We are all very frustrated at not being able to plan for reopening and so hope that post-Easter we might have a clearer pathway. Having secured our Raphael exhibition for longer, with the help and support of The Royal Collection, we do hope that we will be able to give you the chance again to see this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition.

If all goes to plan our year will strongly feature wonderful Old Master Drawings as, in October, we will show one of the best collections of these drawings in the world. We are fortunate that the Chatsworth Collection has allowed us to borrow some of their greatest masterpieces. This exhibition is a partnership with Museums Sheffield and Chatsworth, and I can see that, in the future, the only way to stage these expensive exhibitions will be through partnerships. We have shared costs of insurance, transport, packing, and conservation which has made it affordable for all.

It is clear that with the financial constraints all arts organisations will face over the coming years, because of the huge deficits they have suffered due to closure, big blockbuster exhibitions may just not happen or can only happen if costs are shared. This may seem quite logical and perhaps we may question, why this has not happened before.

Our sector is naturally collaborative, and we have always worked in partnership with other organisations, but often the amount of time a precious drawing or painting can be on display, exposed to light and different atmosphere is limited, making exhibitions at multiple venues difficult. We have overcome this with the Old Master Drawings project by holding the exhibitions at the three venues with lots of time between when the works can rest back in the safety of their storage boxes.

It was incredibly sad for Museums Sheffield that their exhibition was staged last year and was only open for a very few weeks before the pandemic closed the gallery, we are hoping that the same fate does not befall our exhibition. Fingers crossed!

On a sad note, I wanted to pay tribute to Phillip Arnold who passed away last week. Phillip was dedicated to the history and heritage of Woking and was a great friend to The Lightbox. He wrote many of the walks leaflets which can be purchased from our shop each leaflet detailing a new aspect of Woking history. His knowledge of the Borough was outstanding, and his research skills would be the envy of many young historians. A prominent member of Woking History Society for many years and the Friends of Woking Palace, his enthusiasm for the establishment of a Museum in Woking helped our cause back in the late 1990s. Latterly he spent many years caring for his wife Marjorie when she became ill. Our sincere condolences go to his family.

I hope that you have all had a chance to look at the programme of digital events that is up on our website, we have many great talks coming up, as our whole programme has now moved on to digital. We have workshops for half term to keep smaller people busy and a great range of adult talks including a behind-the-scenes look at the Raphael exhibition with its curator Michael Regan. Many of you will know Michael well – he has been our Associate Curator now for many years and the range of exhibitions he has curated have been quite extraordinary – from Handbags and Heels, the wonderful show which brought one of the finest handbag collections in the world from Amsterdam to the beautiful Scottish Colourists in 2018 which proved one of our most popular shows ever. Raphael has been a triumph for him again and the result of 3 years of research and planning.

Please come back when we can open our arms in welcome once more, I miss you so much and hope to see you all there!

Best,
Marilyn

Wednesday 3 February

Hello everyone,

It is proving an interesting week for Woking – but perhaps not in a good way! The Lightbox postcode GU21 has perhaps never been in the news quite so prominently. We hope that all of you in our local area reading this – particularly Goldsworth Park and St Johns, are keeping well and keeping inside as much as you can. It is reassuring to know that testing is now underway and the news that the vaccine is effective against this variant could not have come at a better time for Woking.

It has also been an incredibly sad week as we learn of the death of Captain Sir Tom Moore. He lived in the next village to where I was brought up, so I always felt a connection with him, and his death is such an enormous blow, given the fantastic work he did in inspiring the nation. What I found interesting in all the news coverage was that his life was very much placed in a historic context, his war service and early life focussed on, which to me gave greater significance to his incredible age. Anyone who is 100 was born in the aftermath of WWI, lived through the economic difficulties of the 1930s, and then became embroiled in yet another World War all before they were 30. Most of our lives have been lived in much calmer times and this pandemic is the first time our liberty has been affected and that our freedom has had to be limited for our own survival.

I am and always have been rather obsessed with history, which is of course why I do the work I do. My father took me to museums and historic sites from around the age of 4 and encouraged my love of ‘old things’. This was not shared by my mother who would nevertheless accompany us – on one occasion to be found asleep on a bench at The Tower of London as she despaired of us ever coming back. That visit still stays with me every time I go to the Tower; I now realise of course having a professional interest in these things that it was the stories that came with our visits that fascinated me. To stand on the spot at The Tower where executions took place and to look from a window in one of the rooms out onto the Thames and imagine someone being imprisoned there for years really got my imagination racing.

The love of stories has stayed with me and is always my mantra when talking to our Exhibitions team. We always look for the hidden story which I believe makes our exhibitions just that little bit different. Storytelling does not preclude scholarship, it just helps people to identify and learn something different from every show, instead of often quite uninformative object labels.

Our Heritage team, who are all volunteers, come up with some amazing small displays focussing on topics of local history. The detail and stories they unearth from our historic collection are incredibly special and I am constantly in awe of their knowledge of a Woking long disappeared, but of course not forgotten.

It has been a great sadness to me that we have been unable to open Woking’s Story during the brief time the building was open, due to the cleaning issues with all our interactives. We very much hope when we can re-open in spring/summer that we will find a solution and that our collection will be open to view once more. Knowledge of our past is a guide to our present and our future and is such an important subject for young people that is often overlooked.

I was reading that the renowned historian David Olusoga is to present a programme for the BBC education series speaking about how important the census is and why we do a census every 10 years. For those of you who have ventured into genealogy to find out about your ancestors, you will know that every census since 1841 gives us fascinating detail about our forebears and in time the census from this century will give our descendants fascinating detail about the lives we live now. History informs the future as well as tells us about the past in ways we often overlook.

The support we have received financially has been unprecedented – so much generosity from so many of our supporters, which will allow us to face reopening with confidence. In the meantime, please follow us digitally, we have a lot of amazing content for you ranging from storytelling for little ones to adult workshops and more great talks.

Best,
Marilyn

Wednesday 27 January

Hi everyone,

It has been an interesting week for arts news, so I will just mention a few of the things I have picked up. Tristram Hunt Director of the V&A, who is, we hope, to be a guest at a fundraising event at The Lightbox later this year, has been in the press to publicise an amazing project that they have just completed. The Raphael Cartoons are a set of seven full-scale designs for a series of tapestries created by Raphael and are considered one of the greatest treasures of the Renaissance.

In 2019, as part of the project to mark the 500th anniversary of Raphael's death, the V&A worked with Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation to carry out an ultra-high-resolution recording of the seven Cartoons in colour, 3D and infrared. The images from the project are crucial for the study and future care of the Cartoons, as well as offering us unprecedented access to these masterpieces. These huge, full-scale designs for tapestries were created by Raphael and commissioned by Pope Leo X, shortly after his election in 1513. The process of tapestry-making involves an artist-designer who draws the composition and a weaver who translates the design into a woven textile. The composition is supplied in the form of full-scale preparatory drawings, usually (but not exclusively) executed on paper.

The word 'Cartoon' is translated from the Italian 'cartone', meaning 'large paper'. When Raphael was commissioned to produce the tapestry cartoons in about 1515, he was, at this point, at the peak of his career and the most celebrated artist in Rome. The Cartoons depict key episodes of the lives of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Of the ten original designs only seven have survived and these can be seen today in the Raphael Court in the V&A. The V&A project allows us to see the cartoons in unprecedented detail in a slideshow on their website. For each painting, you can click on points of interest to discover more about its characters, symbolism, and Raphael's masterly technique. This project is of course particularly interesting considering our current exhibition which features Raphael’s drawings for one of the cartoons and indeed a tapestry produced from one of the cartoons, now in our Main Gallery and on loan from Boughton House. We are very much hoping to be able to re-open the exhibition in the spring and retain it until mid-May, with the kind assistance of The Royal Collection.

There is also news this week that in the US arts organisations are looking to see what difference President Biden will make to the visual arts. There is no culture department in the US government and funding comes through The National Endowment for the Arts which the previous president persistently threatened to close down and the Arts and Humanities Advisory Board, made up of practising artists like Chuck Close, all resigned during Trump's presidency. It is therefore hoped that Biden will restore the role of the arts and will see that one of the ways to restore public health and wellbeing, post-Covid may be through a newly supported arts sector.

Here in the UK museums and galleries still struggle financially during this third lockdown. To put some much-needed extra funds in the pot, some of the UK’s leading artists have also joined forces with Art Fund to launch the 'Together for Museums' crowdfunding campaign which aims to raise £1 million by offering a range of artworks in return for donations.

"Museums were really important to me growing up, they were a very important part of my life and my artistic education—and they continue to be", says Jeremy Deller, whose limited-edition screen print of a giant golden pangolin on a pedestal is one of the latest series of works released for the campaign. Each one of the £400 prints is in an edition of 75 and will be personally inscribed by the artist to the individual donor. As well as Deller's pangolin, other rewards are Cornelia Parker's print of a Falling Tumbler with Ice and the limited edition A Small Thing Enlarged being offered by the estate of Howard Hodgkin. These works join those of artists already involved in the campaign such as Anish Kapoor, Michael Landy and Lubaina Himid, with rewards for donors ranging from £25 for a set of David Shrigley tea towels to £4000 for Kapoor’s print.

Your response to our own financial difficulties has been outstanding and we are so grateful. Your faith in the organisation has been extraordinary and we can only say thank you many times over; please help us again – donate whatever you can and pay for our events if you are able. Taking out a membership or renewing is absolutely the best way to help us in the long term so do consider this. The support we have received financially has been unprecedented – so much generosity from so many of our supporters, which will allow us to face reopening with confidence. In the meantime, follow us digitally – we have a lot of amazing content for you ranging from storytelling for little ones to adult workshops and more great talks.

Please come back when we can open our arms in welcome once more – I hope to see you all there!

Wednesday 20 January

Hi everyone,

It feels very strange to say this but last week was actually a really good week for The Lightbox. We have become so accustomed to gloomy news and indeed things in the country are very grave but in our Lightbox world there were some real highlights.

I hope some of you were able to join us on Friday evening for a great talk by Andrew Graham-Dixon, the renowned art historian. Andrew has a real passion for all things Italian and the Renaissance in particular so when I invited him to give a talk for us on Raphael his response was incredibly enthusiastic.

Of course, originally, we would have welcomed him in person, but the exhibition dates changed and then we realised, with the third lockdown, we would be closed so he readily agreed to move the talk online. Andrew has been a great friend of The Lightbox over many years and he has given truly inspiring talks on both Turner and Constable when we had those exhibitions in place.

I find his talks are always very personal and reflect his amazing knowledge of art history but also always contain interesting anecdotes or lesser-known facts about the artist which always fascinate me. He has a light and non-academic style which makes him easy to listen to and never dull! If you like listening to him many of his talks can be found on YouTube – a perfect break from watching television or addictive Netflix series.

His talk on Friday did not disappoint as he gave us a very convincing talk on why Prince Albert was so inspired and fascinated by Raphael throughout his life. Andrew showed us some amazing images and the talk raised significant and much-needed funds for us, so we are extremely grateful to those of you who attended and added a donation to your payment.

Earlier in the week, we had been delighted to read Apollo Magazine and The Burlington Magazine, extremely influential art magazines in which a good review is highly coveted. Each magazine featured a review of the Raphael exhibition which were fulsome in their praise.

"The Lightbox in Woking has earned a reputation for innovative exhibitions and this show about Prince Albert’s passion for Raphael does not disappoint" is how the Apollo review begins and goes on to describe the exhibition in glowing detail. It does not get much better than that!

However, The Burlington says, "given the frequent anxiety about the sustainability of local museums and art galleries in the UK, the success of The Lightbox, founded on local fundraising and opened in 2007 on a site donated by the Borough Council is something to be celebrated […]. Particularly admirable is the way that it has sustained a programme of exhibitions that, although relatively small in scale, are both ambitious and original".

We were all so delighted and encouraged at such a difficult time to have our efforts recognised and of course, the efforts of all of you to keep us going and many of you who had been involved in the early founding referred to in the Burlington.

Here at The Lightbox, we are looking forward and hoping that we will be able to bring you more great exhibitions and events, as we miss all of that so much. We know now that the situation we are in is long term and so our planning must be looking towards spring and summer when we hope that we will be able to re-open for you.

Your response to our financial problems has been outstanding and we are so grateful. This new lockdown brings us even more challenges as we never expected to have to still be closed at this point in time, so our financial situation does worsen every week. Your faith in the organisation has been extraordinary and we can only say thank you many times over, please help us again – donate whatever you can and pay for our events if you are able. Taking out a membership or renewing is absolutely the best way to help us in the long term so please do consider this.

In the meantime, please follow us on social media – we have a lot of amazing content for you ranging from craft tutorials for the entire family to highlights from our collection and more great talks.

Please come back when we can open our arms in welcome once more, I hope to see you all soon!

Best,
Marilyn

Wednesday 13 January

Hi everyone,

I wanted to wish you all a rather belated, but nonetheless, sincere Happy New Year!

I think we have all been rather reluctant to send this usual greeting to friends and family this year because it is hard to see any light at the end of a very long tunnel but we have to try to look forward with some degree of hope and trust that before the year is out we will be able to do all those things we enjoy again.

Here at The Lightbox we are looking forward and hoping so much that we will be able to bring you more great exhibitions and events, as we miss all of that so much. The end of last year was really upsetting for all of us as we opened again in December, hoping that we would be able to have a lovely festive few weeks with last-minute shopping and mulled wine and mince pies in the Café, but of course, the festive feel was short-lived as we entered a closure period again. We know now that the situation we are in is long term and so our planning must be looking towards spring and summer when we hope that we will be able to re-open for you.

I am delighted and hugely impressed by how our team has created online content so quickly to keep everyone engaged. My thanks to our Learning and Marketing teams for everything they are doing to still bring our programme to you at home. This Friday there is a real highlight for me as we welcome Andrew Graham-Dixon to the virtual Lightbox to talk about the Raphael exhibition. Some of you will have attended Andrew’s two previous talks with us – one during the Turner exhibition and one during Constable. Both talks were absolutely fantastic, and this time he will speak on a subject very special to him. As you know from his TV programmes, all things Italian are very dear to Andrew and Raphael is one of his specialist areas. If you have not booked a ticket yet, please do go and sign up – there is still time!

Your response to our financial situation has been absolutely outstanding and we are so grateful. This new lockdown brings us even more challenges as we never expected to have to still be closed at this point in time. Your faith in the organisation has been extraordinary and we can only say thank you many times over, but also now I have to ask if you will help us again – please donate whatever you can and book for our events if you are able. Taking out a membership or renewing is absolutely the best way to help us in the long term so please do consider this. The support we have received financially has been unprecedented – so much generosity from so many of our supporters which will allow us to face reopening with confidence.

I want to wish a special Happy New Year to all our volunteers – you will be back because, without you, The Lightbox could not function and would not be the wonderful friendly place it is.

It is incredibly sad that we must begin 2021 with a closed building, I have missed seeing many of you in person for the whole of last year, but I know we will be welcoming you back – we hope so much that might be at Easter and we are currently hoping that we might be able to retain Raphael for a little longer, as so many people were unable to see the exhibition in the very brief weeks we were able to open last year.

I keep myself going by picturing The Lightbox in the spring sunshine, opening our doors to greet you all again. We are so proud to be able to offer a national museum experience here in Woking – we know how much you value that opportunity, and we hope that when we reopen you will encourage friends, colleagues, family to visit because without your support we would probably not still be here, and Surrey would, I think, be a sadder place. The trend to get to know your local area better and to value what you have on the doorstep makes so much sense environmentally and for health and wellbeing.

So, the message is – please keep supporting us financially as we face another period with no income, if you are able – it is easy to donate through our website or take out a membership. Please come back when we can open our arms in welcome once more and don’t forget that great talk on Friday evening – I hope to see you all there!

Best,
Marilyn