This is the fourth blog on our series looking at the National Programmes Conference 2019. Click here to learn more about the conference and to read our previous blogs.

This section of our National Programmes Conference round-up will cover some sessions which focused on women, gender and community-led participation in museums.

Here we will explore an example of how women are being better represented in archives and communities are taking the lead in museum design.

Making the Future: Women in the Archives

Delivered by Dr Laura Aguiar & Lynsey Gillespie, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

Women in the Archives is a joint initiative between the Linen Hall Library and the Public  Record Office of Northern Ireland to uncover hidden women’s voices from their archives. These two organisations hold some of the key records and building blocks of women’s heritage in Ireland between them and this project displayed their findings in joint exhibitions at both venues in April 2019.

Supported by 1.82 million euros of funding under the Peace IV programme and part of Making the Future.

Participants from different communities, cultural and religious backgrounds have multiple opportunities to get involved, to have their voices heard, to tell stories relevant to their lives, to be creative and learn new skills.

The Theme

‘Everyone has a voice, everyone has a story, everyone has a future.’

Unheard voices and the ever-changing art of writing over time with a chance for the public to participate with their thoughts and feelings in writing. The project used diaries and letters belonging to women that had ended up in the archives – feedback had told them that the public wanted to hear stories about ‘everyday women’.

Creative Outputs
  • Making the process as collaborative as possible.
  • Being participant-led.
  • Story first, technology second.
  • Sensitivity and awareness of Northern Ireland’s context.
  • Focus on what women have gone through rather than conflict in Northern Ireland.
  • Don’t avoid hard-hitting narratives of conflict or it’s legacy. To make the future, we need to understand all aspects of the past.
  • Value the importance of everyday experience.
The Community-led project model: working for change

Delivered by Navjot Mangat & Ros Crocker, Royal Museums Greenwich

Endeavour Galleries Project

  • This project aimed to change the way the museum connected with its communities and embed audience-led focus in their work.
  • The Maritime Museum identified that its collection was heavily euroscentric and they wanted to shift perceptions to try to connect across cultures, change historical biases and democratise their research.
  • They identified gaps in the museum’s collection and displays.
  • The museum asked its audience ‘what they wanted the output of a project to be?’

The museum reached out to local communities they felt were not reflected in their audience demographics. They connected by researching local organisations, sending mail-outs to local borough councils and hosting a series of meetings and open days. Following these consultations, the museum designed programmes and projects that focused on sustainable long-term relationships with these local communities.

The museum wanted to become a useful resource to its community and support the work of local community groups at the museum.

  • Critical Friends: to learn best practice on particular specialist subjects the museum invited peers to share their unique experiences. This helped build the confidence of museum staff in understanding subjects of their collection.
  • Co-curation: The museum created space in its galleries for communities to work with them and develop creative outcomes. This meant that new perspectives on the histories told in the galleries could be expressed.
  • Collaborative programmes: The museum took a ‘by them, for them’ approach to their museum programming. They invited groups and individuals to share ideas for events and activities that would appeal more new audiences.
How can museums open up their spaces to communities?

Delivered by Mark Wilson, People’s History Museum

This museum tells the story of the development of democracy in Britain. The aim of the museum is to engage, inspire, and inform audiences by showing that ‘there have always been ideas worth fighting for.’

Play Your Part Project

With the above museum mission statement in mind, the Play Your Part Project focuses on community engagement and collections access. The People’s History Museum wants as many people to connect with their collections as possible and they are doing that by reaching out to groups and communities to hear their stories and experiences. The museum ultimately provides these groups with a platform to showcase their struggles.

Case Study:

  • The museum worked with local LGBT groups to develop a pop-up exhibition. The museum saw this as important to help contextualise their collections.
  • By inviting community creators to take a lead role in developing an exhibition, local experts could learn about museum displays whilst also providing their expertise to the museum.
  • Ultimately, projects such as Play Your Part help the museum to shift its perspective in order to better represent local communities.

Conference photography © Josh Caius Photography