In our post - 'First Imagination Museum Consortium Day: what happened' - we outlined the day of discussions, performance extracts and Q&A with artists working in response to museums and heritage sites that we facilitated on the 24th May 2019 at The Collection Museum in Lincoln.
In this post we begin to reflect on the discussion that took place during that event and to propose some next steps.
Reflection on our Lightning Talks and discussion in small groups about the work already happening with dance/movement in museums and heritage sites yielded an extensive list of reasons why we might dance in museums (this indicative list is drawn from a range of participants’ comments):
- A different way in to interpreting a particular collection, site or place for example – one that may feel more accessible to people who may not usually visit museums or heritage sites
- Helping people to feel like the museum is ‘for them’
- A way of enabling a local community to find out/experience more about the heritage of the place where they live, and to cultivate a sense of pride about that place
- By dancing about history, making it dynamic and relevant – showing that it can be reinvented over generations rather than being a fixed entity
- A way of bringing to light hitherto ‘hidden’ stories in history (depending on the focus of a project)
- The liveness of dance means that it can be adapted to multiple sites including smaller, lesser-known venues
- Using dance, as one participant described, as a way of ‘morphing’ a heritage space; breaking down preconceptions about the way in which they can be used and in particular breaking down any boundary between audience/visitor and performer, through the capacity to work in close proximity and by entering into a dialogue with the visitor for example.
- Bringing dance into spaces that are generally open to the public, including to rehearse, we open up the making process as a vital part of what the visitors see rather than a means to an end, making the experience more open, experimental and personable. This also enables the audience to be part of the same moment of creating, so the work is not ‘to’ them, but ‘with’ them.
- Dance activity can contribute to meeting multiple agendas of local stake-holders e.g. beneficial in terms of health and wellbeing; an opportunity for people who are socially isolated to come together; confidence-building for young people; with potential to link in with the school curriculum etc.
- The wide-ranging experiences of the participants in the room proved that there are many ways dance can be used within heritage contexts, not only as performance, but also workshops, as part of an artist consultation process, a tea dance, on film, the format for taking people on a walking tour of a place, and consortium members had many other ideas about other ways in which it could be used.
In the afternoon, we also worked in small groups to draw out some of the key ‘pain points’ that could prove challenging when working with dance/movement in museums and heritage sites e.g.:
- A lack of understanding around why we want to work with dance in these contexts in the first place
- Linked to this, the challenge of raising awareness about the work, talking to people about what it is and why it’s important, particularly when working with smaller community museums and in areas with lower cultural engagement
- Challenges around communication within organisations and getting staff/volunteers/various teams within an organisation to be on the same page
- Trying to fund the work properly – it most often has to be subsidised
- Accessibility issues in some heritage sites
- The challenge of trying to find ways of collecting information about the effectiveness of this way of working, particularly in places where the audience is primarily incidental and when a project is one-off or short term, so there isn’t an opportunity to track what happens over time.
- Linked to this, the challenge of embedding the work over a longer period of time – ensuring it is sustainable.
- Some people felt that there was a lack of advice around working in this way, and it was difficult to know who to talk to when running this kind of project
- Lack of infrastructure (models, systems) around programming this kind of work
- The politics of heritage, particularly when choosing to work in a particular place, and having to work out the different agendas (e.g. as Anna described, cultural, heritage, tourism as well as County Council, District/Borough/City Council, Local Authority etc) to navigate
As a group we talked through some ways that the Imagination Museum Consortium (IMC) could potentially begin to tackle/resolve these challenges. Given the time we had this was just the beginning of a conversation, but we identified the following proposals/priorities for the role of the IMC going forward:
1. Articulate clearly what the IMC exists to do, some core general principles – why use dance in heritage settings?
The reflections on the 4 short ‘lightning talks’ described above indicate some key answers to this question that could become a ‘manifesto’ for the IMC.
With Made By Katie Green 'Chairing' the IMC at this time there are certain priorities we have for the kind of work we believe in e.g. open, personable practice, actively engaging a community to build a sense of identity and pride of place, that another organisation leading the IMC in the future might reflect on differently?
2. Advocate - getting the consortium’s messaging out beyond the group
Make a case (especially to non-dance professionals and with larger heritage organisations that have reach across the country) for working with dance and heritage; undertake research into the impacts of this way of working and share that research e.g. making films, commissioning academic papers, gathering testimonials (including from the most hard-pressed partners who may have really had to fight to get a dance/heritage project to happen but have then seen its benefits) about the impacts of projects.
Change/stretch perceptions around what is possible (e.g. dance not just as performance in museum, but also workshops, discussions, open rehearsals, artist-consultants on the Board of organisations for example).
Continue collecting case studies, sharing practice.
3. Contribute to people being able to make work in these settings that is engaging, convincing, high quality
This might help with developing new financial models around this way of working, as well as building profile.
Putting in place a specific dance/heritage match-funding programme or seed-funding stream?
We’re already starting to put together a bank of resources via our Resource page (hit refresh if the page doesn’t display for you correctly the first time round).
5. Support local infrastructure-building around this way of working in order to develop sustainability
Identifying the key partners (organisations and individuals) who can sustain the work going forwards (whose priorities match with the IMC). Determining how the IMC can support them/how can they support the IMC.
Looking to other models that share work/ways of working via satellite programmes that share a collective ethos but are delivered across the country e.g. Rural Touring; Creative People & Places. Could we put together a dance/heritage ‘menu’ of activity that is in line with the Imagination Museum priorities that we could promote to partners regionally or nationally?
With thanks to Arts Council England and Surf the Wave for their invaluable support of our first consortium event, and to Jenny and Andrea at The Collection/Usher Gallery for making it possible, as well as to all of our contributors and participants.
In line with our Imagination Museum: Mayflower 400 Strategic Touring project, we hope to offer 2 further consortium events in March (Hampshire) and October (Plymouth) 2020, so do join our Consortium here (for free) if you would like to find out more information about those events when they happen, and send us your case studies, events, opportunities and resources in the meantime, to firstname.lastname@example.org .