Museum Ideas 2018: conference pointers from Becca
Rebecca Horton, International Training Programme Coordinator
Read below to learn, develop ideas and seek inspiration from museum projects in the UK (London & Manchester) and United Arab Emirates! At the Museum Ideas 2018 conference project representatives from the above countries spoke on the following topics: working with communities, developing evolving exhibitions, presenting first hand and honest stories, aiming to make cultural institutions relevant and improving visitor experience. If these topics are relevant to you find information and links to further resources below.
Excavating The Reno: Linda Brogan, playwright
Linda Brogan, playwright, spoke at the Museum Ideas 2019 conference about her Manchester based project, Excavating The Reno. As a result of the project and follow up discussions stories about The Reno, it’s recent excavation and life in Manchester for Reno visitors will be exhibited at the Whitworth Art Gallery in 2019.
ITP fellows who watch over the images, videos and text posted via the link below, and continue to follow the project and exhibition as it develops, will gain an insight into the challenging conversations which take place as local communities and cultural institutions attempt to better understand the reality of each other’s past, present and hopes for the future.
You can find out more about the progress of the exhibition at: http://thereno.live/about
Linda Brogan spoke at the Museum Ideas conference about a community project to excavate The Reno in Manchester’s Moss Side, which she began with the support of former Reno visitors, archaeologists, artists, social historians and the public. In the 1970s The Reno was a soul and funk club in Manchester which became a sanctuary to it’s visitors, predominantly mixed race, from the racism they experienced in everyday life in the UK.
The excavation of The Reno, driven in particular by The Reno community, provided Linda Brogan with a platform to discuss who cultural institutions are for, who has been excluded, and what stories haven’t previously been given space, with cultural institutions in Manchester. In 2018 The Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester hosted an evening event to mark the excavation; gallery walls were used by former Reno frequenters to project their stories and images, and gallery space was used to display items found at the dig site.
The legacy work of the dig will continue into 2019 when from March – September 2018 the Whitworth Art Gallery will host an exhibition about The Reno and it’s recent excavation. ITP 2019 fellows visiting UK Partner the Whitworth will be able to see this exhibition.
Linda Brogan wants her real voice and experiences and those of her peers to be shown in the exhibition. It is hoped this can be achieved through an exhibition which evolves over the months; stories, images and items will be added into the space as people visit and share their own first hand experiences of the Reno, in their own words.
Museum as Vehicles of Social Change in the UAE:Manal Ataya, Director General, Sharjah Museums
The Sharjah Museums Authority wish for the work of their museums to focus on the following community initiatives:
- The environment
- Elderly community members
- Cancer Patients
- People living with special needs
The work of Sharjah Museums is driven by these initiatives as they believe this will help them to remain relevant and to be vital to their community.
ITP Fellows looking for a diverse community programme should visit the Sharjah Museum website for inspiration and look at some of the examples below…
They have followed through with these initiatives with the following activities:
- Beach clean-up with students combined with a visit to the Sharjah aquarium
- Opening the museum up as a space for therapy, including providing respite for careers by creating ‘fun days’ at the museum for audiences with different needs
- Outreach to patients in hospitals and residents of care homes
- Allocating museum opening hours for prison inmate visits
Manal Ataya’s advice for carrying out such projects included the following:
- Have brand awareness
Give the projects you work on a certain feel. The Sharjah Museum Authority hope that all of their activities have a ‘Sharjah feel’ by providing information which, at its heart, is relevant to their community
- Use social media to market what you offer
- Record statistics to monitor which projects are successful and should be developed
- Evaluate and publicise results
Manal Ataya’s final words to museum professionals were to listen, to connect, celebrate successes, tailor projects, commit long term and be flexible.
So you think you know your visitors? Uncovering insights from Trip Advisor reviews and online conversations: Coline Cuau, Visitor Insights Manager, British Museum
Monitoring what is said about your institution on online platforms is a meaningful pursuit to discover short and long term changes necessary to improve visitor experience. At the British Museum, Coline Cuau has been collecting the following data from Trip Advisor to better understand the British Museum visitor experience:
- Date of visit
- Trip Advisor rating given
- Language used / where is the reviewer visiting from?
- Type of visitor e.g. family, tour group, with partner…
- Topic of comments e.g. temporary exhibition, permanent gallery, museum facilities
ITP Fellows who’s institutions receive Trip Advisor reviews and ratings should read Coline’s article (above) to discover how to use the information from the platform to it’s full potential.
Trip Advisor data confirmed that the biggest causes of visitor dissatisfaction at the British Museum is overheating and overcrowding in gallery spaces. While structural changes to heating and gallery spaces are expensive long term projects the following short term solutions can ease the problems and combat visitor dissatisfaction in these areas:
- Improve pre-visit information
- Adapt opening hours to visitor demand e.g. if an exhibition is popular, extend opening hours for a limited time
- Change signage inside and outside of the museum to improve visitor flow
- Adapt marketing message e.g. advertise for local visitors to come at the weekend, to allow for more space for international tourists during the week
Statistics and quotes about the British Museum on Trip Advisor enables users to easily demonstrate to colleagues what is valued at your institution and what needs to be addressed and improved in order to meet visitor expectations.