Dancers performing The Imagination Museum at Bassetlaw Museum

The Imagination Museum Consortium July 2020 - What next for dance in museums?

Consortium News

Having reviewed the material gathered from our Imagination Museum Consortium (IMC) online sessions on the 5th and 9th July 2020 (more on the aim and content of these sessions here), Katie Green reflects on a few of the themes, key questions and ideas that we started to explore in the following blog posts:

  1. The Imagination Museum Consortium July 2020 - Why do we dance in museums? 
  2. The Imagination Museum Consortium July 2020 - What next for dance in museums?

Watford Museum 22 700x466

Image from BEEE Creative and makeAMPLIFY Museums in Motion project with Royston, Stevenage and Watford Museums

What next for dance in museums?

In speculating about what might happen next in their practice (although many were understandably wary about trying to plan too far ahead), there were some people attending our consortium events in July who were hopeful that this moment in time could represent an opportunity for real change, for learning from the new adaptations they were having to make, maximising the possibility to be included in new decisions being made, and not going back to how things were.

How can we use dance to encourage lasting change in organisations?

People wondered about how the potential for a dancing body to provoke new thinking in the exhibition space of a museum could impact across a heritage organisation, enabling dancers to use their knowledge and skills “to bring a more adaptable, more agile way of working into the museum context, where it can take much longer to institute change, particularly in larger organisations”.

Mentimeter polling during the July sessions demonstrated dancers’ ‘agile ways of working’ by indicating the extensive range of different ways in which people are adapting to the current situation including:

  • making the most of online platforms for sharing their own and engaging with other’s work
  • turning garages into studios and film sets
  • creating virtual performance platforms, commissioning new work for the online format and developing choreography/performance scores for 60+ young performers
  • reaching new and more vulnerable audiences through sharing creative opportunities through the post e.g. “dance packs shared with participants in assisted living homes”
  • beginning to take steps to adapt or create new live works for distanced performance
  • making the most of opportunities to work outside
  • taking time to reflect, take stock, to go slower - developing new choreographic practices such as walking and cycling routes
  • working on resources for community groups - family activity walks, story time for a child’s nursery
  • developing new connections, including with international partners

So, given the opportunity to work on a longer term basis in partnership with heritage organisations e.g.

could dancers’ work in museums move beyond a transactional relationship and towards something that could have much greater long term impact on museums and therefore on the communities within which they sit?

Is now the time to reduce risk, or is this exactly the right time to encourage new thinking and risk-taking (using the learning we’ve all been doing as a result of having to adapt to different ways of communicating)?

Consortium Participant

July 2020

Is it possible to streamline the process of making dance work happen in museums?

Interestingly, although in discussion we talked a great deal about the potential impact of dancers working with museums to bring about larger organisational change as described above (I suspect because that’s where our speakers’ provocations took the discussion), in people’s feedback after the event, most still wanted to know more about the ‘nuts and bolts’ of making a project happen with dance in museums, and how that might change now.

I think this shows how important it is that any big changes feel rooted in something concrete. It also indicates that there are two kinds of advocacy work that our consortium members would like to take place, and, with more resources and a more formal structure, the IMC could offer:

  1. on a larger/macro level, seeking to inform and influence funding bodies and museum/art networks for example, making a case for the work we do with dance in museums and why there should be more of it, creating opportunities to shift people’s mindsets about working with dance
  2. supporting work happening at a micro level, i.e. brokering new relationships with individual heritage partners

Realising that organisations work so differently, museums and dance spaces, I wonder if building relationships is also in part understanding and learning with each other, and finding a happy medium of starting those conversations. Readdress the language that we use, choreography or dance - are we using the same language in these conversations and is it transferable?

Consortium participant

July 2020

Participants shake hands at The Imagination Museum consortium event May 2019, The Collection, Lincoln
The Imagination Museum consortium event, May 2019 at The Collection, Lincoln; photograph by Roswitha Chesher

There are very many ways the IMC could support this kind of micro-advocacy work. For example, we could certainly make it easier for a dance artist to have a conversation with the right person working in heritage, or vice versa through revamping our website to make sure case studies are front and centre and including a searchable database of/area for profiling artists working in these contexts, as well as dance advocates working in museums across the UK. We’re also thinking about how we could develop a toolkit to support people in initiating new projects and formalise the way in which people could go about seeking advice, especially those new to this way of working. The Case Studies already on our site do offer some insight but we hope, given funding support in the future, there could be more of these kinds of resources to follow.

Katie Green Lincoln 24th May 2019, image   Roswitha Chesher LR 96

How can we ensure everyone is part of the conversation; that everyone has the opportunity to come back from lockdown? 

This is essential. We need to ensure the IMC is inclusive, and in order to achieve this there is work to do increasing the diversity of our membership and the artists we support, including welcoming members from a wider spectrum of ethnicities and cultural identities.

In response to discussion about Black Lives Matter and work on decolonisation of museums that took place at our July events, we will be:

  • putting in place a new category on our resources page where we can post links to research, information, blogs, networks available specifically supporting development of diversity in museums and work on decolonisation (as well as seeking advice from others about key resources)
  • identifying more case studies that help us to paint the fullest picture of what is happening with dance in museums across the UK (also acknowledging that there seem to be fewer artists from minority ethnic groups who are working in these contexts, and identifying ways that we can help to address this)

We will be seeking advice on this prior to our next event, committing to this now (in terms of the programme we curate for our October 2020 IMC event) and for the long term, in how the consortium is formalised in coming years.

How can digital technologies support us in transforming the ways we work in museums?

Choreographer Tony Adigun rehearsing his VR180 work 'Dancing the Portico' with dancer Ajani Johnson-Goffe in the Portico of the National Gallery
Choreographer Tony Adigun rehearsing his VR180 work 'Dancing the Portico' with dancer Ajani Johnson-Goffe in the Portico of the National Gallery; photograph copyright National Gallery

There is a precedent for dancers using digital technologies in museums e.g.: 

and some early examples of dance/digital/heritage projects during lockdown as well, such as companies like Born and Bred Dance creating group choreographies drawing on vintage dance styles in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of VE Day,  choreographer Seke Chimutengwende trying out new ways of carrying out R&D into his current work Horror Graphic through lockdown,  Lea Anderson looking back to her own archive to create a new Quarantine Mix of her work ‘Elvis Legs’ and Combination Dance Company's film Dancing with Love,  responding to the National Archives'  most recent exhibition With Love: Letters of love, loss and longing, which closed just before lockdown.

At our May 2019 IMC event, Emma McFarland noted that in general dancers were not necessarily taking advantage of opportunities for digital innovation in museums. However, Mentimeter polling during our July IMC events indicated the extent to which people are making adaptations to their work using digital technologies, from those more readily ‘at our fingertips’ such as WhatsApp groups and social media to those requiring more specialist expertise.  

Many people at our July events described some "anxieties" about use of technology in their work with museums and generally, particularly concerns about the implications of digital innovation replacing live encounters. Participants would be interested in:

  • finding out more about “blended approaches” that might integrate both live and digital elements
  • learning from the ways in which digital technologies have been employed already across other sectors e.g. in schools, Higher Education, community settings to see what we might be able to borrow in terms of how we work, and perhaps to find new, unexpected collaborators. 

This is something that we also hope to hear more about at our planned October IMC event.


Adapting to Zoom for our July 2020 events was certainly challenging. For me, lack of immediate feedback (e.g. the small non-verbal gestures through which we indicate to each other that we’re listening/agreeing/disagreeing etc) was the most difficult thing, as was trying to make the 90 mins we were together informative/provocative but also meaningful and not overwhelming (which I'm not entirely sure we managed to do!). However, by giving it a go we did learn a lot and I'm very grateful to Emma McFarland, Elsa Urmston, Sara Wookey, Louisa Petts and Claire Morton for their support in planning and delivering the sessions. Letting go of an idea of what the event could have been if it had taken place in person, this new format certainly meant we were able to get together with more people than we might have been able to if meeting in person in a particular place, which therefore led to a greater range of new connections being made.

Although it feels like there is much more to do, I am so grateful for the opportunity these events have given me to catalogue the dance/heritage work we’ve documented so far on The Imagination Museum website, but also to reach out further to identify new case studies and resources. This has helped me to increase the depth of my understanding of the sector but also hopefully to be able to continue developing the Imagination Museum site so that it can be the most helpful resource possible, whilst also acknowledging that there is always more to discover. This is why it’s so important that the IMC network continues to find effective ways of communicating amongst ourselves and sharing our knowledge.

The Imagination Museum Consortium has been formed as part of the Imagination Museum: Mayflower 400 Strategic Touring project, which is supported financially using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England as part of the Strategic Touring programme, Hampshire Cultural Trust, The Box, West Lindsey, Plymouth, Nottinghamshire, Hampshire County and Bassetlaw District Councils, Pavilion Dance South West, the Surf the Wave programme and The Charter Trustees of East Retford and also delivered in partnership with the Pilgrim Roots Regional Partnership, Transported, The Point, Plymouth Dance and Plymouth Culture.