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Three dancers perform The Imagination Museum: Mayflower 400 in Southampton, photo by Owen Benson

The Imagination Museum Consortium October 2020 - where are we now?

Consortium News

Context

The Imagination Museum Consortium (TIMC) creates a platform for representatives from dance and heritage sectors to come together, in person and online, to explore ways of using dance and movement in museums, heritage sites, archives. You can read more about our activities and what we have done so far in the blog post here.

In October 2020, we ran the third of our online TIMC events this year, which focused on the heritage perspective. Our events in July had necessarily focused more on a dance perspective, because they came at the time when museums, sites, archives, galleries were only just starting to have the opportunity to reopen, with heritage practitioners therefore very busily involved in trying to work out what reopening meant.

In October we wanted to present some perspectives on reopening from different scales of museums, and also to explore some of the current/ongoing developments in interpretation in museums, particularly focusing on decolonisation and technology. So really, we tried to cram about 4 sessions worth of content into 2 hours! But our intention was really just to give an introduction to what was happening right now, to get people thinking, to draw dance artists’ attention to the complexity of the heritage context, to initiate some conversation.

Emma McFarland, an independent digital/innovation producer who is also Head of the National Gallery’s Innovation Programme, facilitated the event again, and we’re so grateful to Emma for sticking with this project since we held our first event in May 2019 in Lincoln. It is great to benefit from her understanding of the through-line of our discussions over the last year and a half.

You can see a 6 minute introduction to our October event here (recorded from Zoom so apologies for any issues with sound):

Speakers, October 2020

We heard from four presenters:

Adam Milford, Senior Engagement and Learning Officer for The Box - Plymouth's brand new £46 million museum, gallery and archive. The opening of The Box is the most significant cultural initiative in the UK in 2020, as well being the flagship project of the country’s Mayflower 400 commemorations. Collaboration, creativity and participation are central to Adam's approach to project development and delivery. Find out more about The Box here www.theboxplymouth.com and Adam is on Twitter @AdamMilford and Instagram @adam_milford.

Dancers perform outside Lowestoft Museum
Lowestoft Dance Map; Glass House Dance, DanceEast, Association of Suffolk Museums, Lowestoft Maritime Museum, Lowestoft Museum; photographer Charlie Ketchen

Jayne Austin, Museum Development and Partnership Manager at Suffolk County Council and Secretary for the Association of Suffolk Museums. She works with a network of 58 museums, related heritage organisations, funders and other stakeholders across Suffolk and the East of England. Jayne is also a trustee of Eastern Angles Theatre Company. She is committed to supporting resilient communities to connect with and share heritage in creative and engaging ways. Find out more about Suffolk Museums here: https://suffolkmuseums.org/ and Jayne is on Twitter @JayneAustin. We suggest taking a look at one of the great dance/heritage projects with which Jayne has been involved here: Lowestoft Dance Map, a 'Making Waves Together' project delivered with Dance East and Glass House Dance from 2017-19.

Rachael Minott, a Jamaican-born artist, curator and researcher currently working with The National Archives. Rachael will give an introductory talk about approaches to decolonisation. You can find out more about her work on her website: www.rachelminott.com and read her biography here . We also suggest listening to Rachael's discussion with Dr Sushma Jansari on The Wonder House podcast here, and Rachael is on Twitter @rachaelminott.

Chris Hunt, a Creative Technologist and Director of consultancy Controlled Frenzy. Chris works with clients to develop engaging audience-focussed technology prototypes, products, and installations to explore their data and ideas so they can grow and adapt to new ways of working, communicating and doing business. He also delivers talks, workshops and support on creative technology to learners of all ages. A trustee of Plymouth Music Zone, Chris was also selected to be a Creative Technologist Resident of the Studio Wayne McGregor Questlab Network, and was awarded a South West Creative Technology Arts Producer Fellowship. In 2020, he became a fellow of the RSA. Hear Chris talk about the interactive art installation he developed for the Tate Modern here.

Discussion notes made during The Imagination Museum Consortium event in Lincoln in May 2019
Image from our May 2019 TIMC event; photograph by Roswitha Chesher

Overview of discussion

We were so grateful to everyone who attended our event in October, a good range of voices from both heritage and dance perspectives. For those who attended, an updated range of resources from the event will be available soon via our LinkTree here.

Having read through all the notes from our discussion groups and feedback received after the event I have attempted to summarise that discussion by responding to 3 key questions that were either asked directly by Emma during the session in October, or came up as a result of the perspectives offered by our speakers. I’ve separated these out into 3 separate blog posts to make this information a bit easier to digest (see links below), but also put a conclusion below.

Thanks to our scribes Daisy Farris, June Gamble, Alice Odin, Louisa Petts and Elsa Urmston for documenting all the discussion.

1. How can dance contribute to the role of museums as ‘places of critical thinking’?

2. What are the challenges faced by dancers and museums in trying to work collaboratively?

3. What might a strong collaborative process look like which supports innovative, engaging artistic interpretation of museum artefacts? What practical steps could dance and heritage organisations take to support this?

    Testimonials throughout are taken from participants and speakers – if you recognise something you said and would like it to be directly attributed to you, please just let me know on katie@madebykatiegreen.co.uk .

    Conclusion

    What did we learn from our discussion about the shape of the IMC needed going forward?

    Reading through all the different materials and hearing from dance and heritage practitioners about challenges they are facing, now and always, there seemed to be a genuine feeling of concensus about what might need to happen to take this work forward:

    Making space, taking time, committing resources to developing collaborations and interactive, experimental programming

    IMC participant

    and a genuine interest in doing so e.g.:

    “Teams are enthusiastic”

    “There is hope to work with artists to make collections more accessible”; "refreshing them and updating them"

    “collaborating with artists to break down the barriers of collections, reaching new audiences”

    “making it more attractive, current, accessible for younger people in particular, using dance and other art forms as a tool to present the archive service.”

    We asked participants from both dance and heritage backgrounds to describe the current timelines they are working towards, ranging from actively delivering projects now, to having to plan at least a year in advance, or until government restrictions are lifted altogether. It’s telling that there was too much range in the responses to this question to make any definite decisions about the pace at which The Imagination Museum Consortium might move forward, and this was a pertinent reminder of the need to be responsive to any and all situations. As we’ve said before, there can be no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. However, some key actions for TIMC – and this matches a lot with what dance artists and organisations were telling us in July -

    • Putting together a ‘toolkit’ of resources – there’s a lot to do with understanding each other’s practice and being mutually respectful that could come through knowing each other better and looking into potential frameworks that have worked in the past. Compiling a range of resources on different areas of work would be one way to address the fact that every person who has participated in our TIMC activities so far seems to have a different thing they want to get out of the network!
    • Foregrounding/showcasing case study work as evidence of a range of practice, which is something we already do but can be signposted much more clearly in a future iteration of our website – one of our participants gave the example of Public Art Online as a website already offering this kind of forum for showcasing best practice.
    • Brokering relationships between museums and dance artists
    • Supporting development of good practice or supporting development of the conditions that might be needed in order for a dance artist/heritage collaboration to be effective: e.g. encouraging long-term ways of working in different kinds of organisation, considering spaces differently (e.g. taking museum outside the museum and exploration of digital museum platforms) and ways of collaborating that enable project outcomes to be realised together with a community, rather that imposed/directed. Especially now, the role of museums is about so much more than telling one historical story in one way.

    Making time for the conversations that will inevitably come up and allow time for reflection, flexibility of practice, meaningful collaboration and partnerships that will have legacy. This needs to be built into project planning and management.

    IMC participant

    We also want to invest in being able to articulate more rigorously what the impacts of these ways of working are, through ongoing evaluation of the activities we might undertake and commission.

    Conclusion

    As the range of contributions of our speakers and participants suggests, there is a great deal of complexity here and it is essential to be aware of that; to engage critically with the questions raised by museums, by individuals, by communities. To understand the implications of working with dance and movement within heritage interpretation and to move discussions/practice forward.

    However, as some of the discussions at our event in October indicated, perhaps dance also has the potential to cut through that complexity, recalling something simpler about what it means to connect, without the need for verbal communication. Perhaps it can connect a contemporary visitor with a sense of the living breathing ancestor behind a collection, the real person who owned or lost or broke or stole or hid a particular artefact on display in a museum and what they might have thought, felt, experienced, considered, decided and why. Perhaps it can connect those two individuals directly through history rather than as two completely separate beings from different times.

    Dance opportunity creates feeling and hearing heritage rather than just looking. Dance is a shifting experience and can translate so much about how we think and move. Museums are places where we experience objects and dance can help deepen that experience.

    IMC participants

    With thanks to our TIMC team and to all our contributors and participants in 2020. We hope there will be more to come in 2021!

    Our online events in 2020 have been designed and facilitated by Emma McFarland in consultation with The Imagination Museum director Katie Green and evaluator Elsa Urmston. With additional support from Louisa Petts.

    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, The Charter Trustees of East Retford and a space arts/God's House Tower and also delivered in partnership with the Pilgrim Roots Regional Partnership, Transported, The Point and Plymouth Dance.