Tuesday 15 March 2016

Curating diversity

Another deposit for Paganel Archives

The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was...Nobody'd be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. The Catcher in the Rye
How can museums attract diverse audiences and what, if anything, can schools learn from the experience of museums?

I've been a member of BMAG Community Action Panel (CAP), now Birmingham Museums Trust CAP for five tumultuous years.  Some things don't change in Museums - One of those is, apparently, budget cuts.  Another important one is 'community engagement'.  With budget cuts it's tempting to focus on cost effective 'off the shelf' offerings for school which can be delivered by almost anyone. Over dependence on this kind of workshop can quickly become false economies as audiences (and curriculums) change, and a lack of effort to really 'engage' and build a supportive community risks audience meltdown.

I'm pleased to see a return to 'engagement' projects at BMT like creating mini-museums curated by young people, for young people, additionally growing the city collections to fill obvious missing material and better represent the changing community it seeks to represent.

Meeting the 'diverse' needs of your audience is a difficult challenge in museums like BMT: If your audiences are also 'curators', or even 'co-curating', you avoid pigeonholing your audience and get 'buy in' from the very people you want to engage.  If you are choosing your own identity, representing yourself, how can your exhibition be anything other than 'real' and 'relevant'?

In schools, like museums, how can your teaching be truly 'diverse' and 'engaging'?  It needs to include young people, representing the lives and experiences (the diversity) of your students.  Where best to find 'real' stories likely to engage your students?  For teachers they are literally staring the answer in the face.

Our main activity for the opening of Paganel Archives in 2011 was an exhibition of Paganel School in the school - Every child had brought in an item to contribute to our archive, and created an impressive snapshot of our school, and to start our Archive with a deposit from every child, properly catalogued by the children themselves.

Our repository archive is significantly bigger and diverse now. While we still collate stories in a range of media from our present pupils, parents teaching staff and local people, we are now able to refer back to previous archives and relate to topics as needed.

Diversity isn't something you learn or teach, but something that you experience, whether in the classroom, the museum or elsewhere.  The challenge for the school, or museum, is valuing and recognising the diversity, keeping the learner central to the learning

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