NEW DIRECTOR: Hannah Fox of The Bowes Museum
NEW DIRECTOR: Hannah Fox of The Bowes Museum

IT’S a challenge as big as the building itself: how to make a 17th century-style French palace built in the 19th century relevant to people in the 21st century.
But it’s a challenge that has been enthusiastically taken on by Hannah Fox, the new director of The Bowes Museum. She took up her post in May, fresh from the success of leading a decade-long £18million transformation of Derby’s Silk Mill into the Museum of Making.
A tattoo on her left arm commemorates that project. It depicts a swirl of leaves and water with a line from a Van Morrison song: “We looked at the swim and we jumped right in.” This, she says, is to remind herself that when times get challenging to feel the fear and do it anyway.
Putting people first is what inspires Ms Fox. In the past she has said: “My passion is working with communities and organisations to put people at the heart of how the places that we love and live in are co-designed to support our needs – that they are relevant to us, unlock investment and are vibrant as a result.”
Now she is bringing that approach to the museum.
Among the many items on a lengthy to-do list is giving thought to how better use the gallery spaces, new approaches to labelling of objects and more storytelling in order to engage with visitors. And in every way she is involving people in shaping how those decisions are reached.
It can be described as “human-centred design”.
There will be “pop-up” trials of various plans where new ideas can be tested out. Central questions are: “What was, what is and what if? And it’s the answers to these which feed into the resulting decisions.
“Rather than looking back with nostalgia, we can contextualise history for today, and look forward with opportunity,” Ms Fox said.
“Museums generally are shifting away from a purely curatorial view towards much more public participation and co-production. We are saying to the public, ‘You pay your lottery tickets and taxes and we benefit from these, thank you. This is something that is owned by you, so what do you want to do here?’
“My job is to make sure that people know how The Bowes Museum is important because it’s making a difference for them, and that includes staff and volunteers – everyone.
“Engaging with the arts, taking time out, having an interesting visit, exploring connections with other people – we want to help you go away with a bounce in your step.”
Ms Fox, 48, is a graduate in design and visual communications.
She started working in advertising and photography before moving to work with non-profit organisations, and for the past 20 years, has developed and delivered creative projects in the fields of education, culture, heritage, and health.
She is a trustee of the Thackray Museum of Medicine, in Leeds, and has supported a number of advisory boards, including the Museum of Science and Industry and the Museum of Hopelessness.
She consults internationally on “human-centred” methodologies and teaches on programmes with US-based National Arts Strategies and the Centre for Social Impact Strategy at the University of Pennsylvania.
Her partner, Ian, is an artist-designer. They have four grown-up children and two young grandchildren.

Dorothy Blundell