Hidden Histories: Display It Like You Stole It

Continuing our series of posts about hidden histories, Eleanor Root from Colchester and Ipswich Museums (and former MDO maternity cover!) shares her thoughts on our recent study day at the British Museum.

 

On Tuesday 23rd October, a group of us journeyed into London to take part in The Exhibitionist’s (AKA Alice Procter) Uncomfortable Art Tour of the British Museum.

Alice Procter, found of Uncomfortable Art Tours, believes that we’ve failed to come to terms with our colonial past and we need to resist triumphant nostalgia and challenge traditional narratives. We need to look through whitewashed labels to see a history of violence, imperialism and genocide committed by British people.

Alice gives tours around several national galleries, but the 90-minute tour at the British Museum focuses on unpicking their founding myths through exploring a series objects and their murky provenance.

We start off in a gallery that explores the beginnings of the British Museum, their collectors and early acquisitions. We discussed how objects collected through colonial expeditions (e.g. missionaries, government officials, explorers) often tell a story of violence even when it’s not expected. For example, Christian missionaries removed children from their families (an act of genocide). Even ‘good’ collectors, who collected through trade, used coercion as they were in a position of authority and power over local people. This manner of collecting is known as ‘salvage ethnography’, meaning the removal of objects from communities as you erase their culture.

The tour wound around displays of Pacific, North American and African cultures, stopping at particularly contentious objects. Alice emphasises the need for need a greater focus on the makers and users of the objects, not the collector, if we are going to begin to address stories of colonialism. In addition, if we ignore the brutal provenance of the object, we deny our history.

Our audiences want to trust us, and we should honour this trust with honesty.

The tour was challenging, emotional and thought-provoking. For me, the key messages were:

  1. We must be cautious when displaying objects from other cultures in case we go against their cultural protocols as this perpetuates the violence committed against the communities from which the objects were taken. For example, displaying an important object close to the floor, could be abusive of the object.
  2. We need to create space for a multiplicity of voices – we can’t speak for all the people our collections represent without resorting to (and perpetuating) stereotypes.
  3. It’s important to talk about individual stories, rather than generalising. This is humanising and especially important for objects that have difficult or violent stories. The objects can become memorials and allow people to have an emotional response.
  4. We need to consider our institutional architecture, for example many African collections are in basement galleries with dark colours and low lighting whereas many Ancient Greek displays are in bright, light galleries.

At the end of the tour, Alice hands out ‘Display It Like You Stole It’ badges and postcards for participants who might want to leave some feedback…

dear+art+gallery+2

Visit Alice’s website to find out more.

Be A “Mega Star” With CREST Awards

CREST Award LogoThanks for the great work of the Royal Opera House Bridge we are very familiar with the Arts Award scheme here in Essex. But did you know there is also a scheme which provides qualifications for young people learning in science subjects too?

Last week I talked about the British Science Association’s Science Week. Today, I’m following up by introducing their CREST Scheme.

CREST Star is their scheme for children aged 5 to 12. It has 3 levels:

  • Star for 5 to 7 year olds
  • Super Star for 7 to 11 year olds
  • Mega Star for 8 to 12 year olds

Children participating in Star take part in a series of 1 hour activities. For every activity they complete, they get a sticker to put in their log book (which can be downloaded for free from the website). Once the log book is full they get their certificate.

While the British Science Association have created many activities themselves it is possible to become a CREST partner and have science activities accredited by the scheme. It is possible that sessions you already offer schools, youth groups etc  could be accredited in this way.

The CREST Awards are the BSA’s offer for young people aged over 11. There are four levels of award. The first level is Discovery. This bridges the gap between CREST Star and CREST Awards. It can be delivered in 5 hours and is envisioned as “CREST in a day”. This other three levels are based on projects undertaken by the participants:

  • Bronze – 10 hours of activity
  • Silver – 30 hours
  • Gold – 70 hours

Project ideas can come from the young people, teachers/youth leaders or organisations like ours. However, the decision should be student-led, so that they choose a topic they are interested in.

Once the participants have completed their project, their work is assessed and (if successful) they will receive a personalised certificate.

CREST Awards are endorsed by UCAS (the body that oversees applications to universities) and also count towards Duke of Edinburgh Awards and the Children’s University Passport to Learning. As they are an accredited qualification, there is a small per-pupil fee involved to cover assessment costs, details of which can be found here.

As mentioned in my last post, the definition of science is a broad one. Activities could be in many areas that your museum covers such as natural history, archaeology, medicine, forensics, engineering, technology and social sciences.

Many museums are moving away from history and towards science in their offer to schools. This may be a good way of accrediting your offer and making it more attractive to teachers.

Have a think about what you’re already offering it could be but you already have activities that could be parts of the CREST scheme visit the British Science Association website and investigate further.

Funding For British Science Week

On Wednesday, the British Science Association gave a presentation at the SHARE Regional Learning Network which I thought might be of interest which I thought would be of interest to many of you…

What Is The British Science Association?
British Science AssociationThe BSA, previously known as British Association for the Advancement of Science, was founded in 1831.

Like history and the arts, science has a “professional class” – people who do it for a living. However far few people see science as something you can has as a hobby or take-part in informally.  The BSA’s goal is to change this by engaging the wider public with science through events, activities and projects. The best known of these is the annual British Science Festival, which takes place in a different city each tear and dates back to 1831. However, they also offer CREST Awards for young people (which I will be writing about in another post next week), and British Science Week.

Why Is This Relevant To Museums?

The definition of “science” used by the BSA is a very broad one. It includes natural history, medicine, archaeology, forensics, engineering… in fact most museums will have something in their collection which is applicable. The BSA offer grants of up to £500 for community organisations, including museums (even local authority ones!) to run events during British Science Week that are targeted at an audience which is traditionally under-represented in science.

How Can Museums Get Involved?

The 2016 British Science Week will take place between the 11th and 20th of March. The audiences they particularly want to reach out to through their Community Grant Scheme are:

  • Black and Minority Ethnic Groups
  • Those of a low socioeconomic status
  • Young people with anti-social behaviour including those who are not in education employment or training (NEET)
  • People with a disability
  • Girls and women
  • Those living in a remote and rural location.

The application process includes a 300 word description of what you’re going to do and a further 300 words on how you’re going to recruit the target audience. Members of the target audience can also apply for the funding themselves in order to visit science venues and events.

When making decisions regarding the funding, the committee don’t take into account the number of people who will be engaged through the project however if the project is working with a smaller number of people they would expect the level of engagement to be deeper.

The fund opened for applications this week and the deadline is the 23rd of November.

There also is a separate Kick Start Grant Scheme for schools to take part in British Science Week (£300 for activities in the school, £700 for those in a school engaging the wider community) which your education partners might be interested in.

However, even if you do not apply for a grant (or are unsuccessful), you can still register a Science Week event with the BSA via their website. Organisations that do this receive a range of support including:

  • access to case studies
  • activity packs, projects and quizzes
  • marketing materials and PR
  • connections with local science volunteers

You can register your event up until middle of February.