The Imagination Museum: Mayflower 400 (TIMM) project was a large scale, strategic touring project devised and delivered by Made by Katie Green - a contemporary dance company that develops new ways of responding to historical artefacts and heritage sites through dance.
This 10 minute video gives an overview of the project and some of our key learnings, or read on for more information about our evaluation.
The project took the historic story of the Mayflower’s voyage from England to America as its starting point. The Mayflower set sail from Plymouth in September 1620, and the 400th anniversary was commemorated with cultural, arts and heritage events across the UK and internationally in 2020 and 2021 through the Mayflower 400 programme.
With guidance from experts Dr Anna Scott and Jo Loosemore, the TIMM project sought to look again at the lesser-known stories of the people who were on board the Mayflower and to re-examine the impact of their arrival on the indigenous Wampanaog people. The project opened up spaces for discussion and provided an opportunity for individuals and groups to think about the Mayflower’s journey in relation to their own lives.
In partnership with a consortium of heritage and cultural organisations and venues, the project began in Lincolnshire and North Nottinghamshire (‘Pilgrim Roots’ areas) in 2019, travelled via Hampshire and culminated in Plymouth in 2021.
- To help build relationships between our partner venues and wider/new audiences
- To develop confidence in this way of working through strong partnerships with venues and audiences
- To extend Made By Katie Green’s network of partner heritage sites across the UK and prepare for a more formal dance-museum network in the future
Key learning from the project is summarised in this blog post, but you can also read the fuller evaluation report here:
Imagination Museum: Mayflower 400 Impact ReportRead our full report (ePub)
Changes to plans
The project was scheduled to be delivered similarly across 3 ‘hubs’:
- Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire (the ‘Pilgrim Roots’ hub)
Performances and workshops took place over time in different settings, both inside and outside our partner museums and heritage sites (e.g. also in churches, schools, community centres).
We worked with local community partners and advocates to pinpoint elements of the story that were of greatest interest in each area and identify the individuals and groups with whom we worked in a more sustained way leading up to ‘Celebration Performances’, like this one photographed at Retford Town Hall by Roswitha Chesher, with local artists Emma Bouch, Amy O'Sullivan and Alice Shepperson:
However, after the first year in the Pilgrim Roots hub (the only place where the project was delivered as originally intended) live performance and community engagement were adapted to ensure Covid-secure delivery.
This included some live activity being replaced by specially commissioned films, smaller group-working with schools and community groups/families and development of Mayflower ‘Creative Care Packages’. These were distributed to participants and schools to provide a way of staying in touch during the period of paused activity, supporting them to engage with wider themes of the project in a playful way from home rather than coming to venues.
For an introduction to our Creative Care Package project, please watch:
Our project target was to reach 5,775 audience members/participants, but in the end, we reached a live audience of 7,053 with digital engagement of 231,669.
The dance work produced was described by partners/audiences as:
- accessible, insightful, engaging and emotive
- helping them to consider the heritage story in new ways, on a more personal level
- creating access to historical material from which some people had previously felt excluded
- high quality, producing an unexpectedly emotional response.
“I always found history a topic that was inaccessible. This project breaks that down, takes down the barriers and makes it accessible.” (participant feedback)
People found they could relate to the story of the Mayflower passengers in their own lives, especially where it revealed something about their sense of identity or connected with their understanding of their place in the world. This was heightened in some instances by being able to see live performance after the national lockdowns and a time of deep disconnection to our communities.
Participation in the project ranged from children taking part in school workshops to craft activities for all ages, discussion groups and targeted work with families and community groups who co-created dances that were then filmed professionally. This short film (with footage captured by Roswitha Chesher and contributions from local artists Sophie Douglas, Kaitlyn Howlett, Kane John Mills and Natalie Watson and some of our fabulous groups in Hampshire, Dorset and Plymouth) gives a sense of the kinds of responses we gathered together to make Community Celebration Films:
The hyper-local focus to each hub and co-creation with participants of all ages and abilities brought about a feeling of community ownership, in some cases supporting people to participate even where they were usually more socially isolated, because of the way in which the project established trust over time. Some individuals expressed the significant impact they felt in having their voices heard as part of the creative process.
“Just so beautiful, I’m utterly moved to see people moving together and how you have forged a sense of community despite all the difficulties” (audience feedback)
- enjoyment in being part of something bigger than themselves
- pride in what they had achieved
- a memorable experience
- deepened understanding of the subject matter, including from those who did not know anything about the Mayflower story prior to being part of the project
- developing new skills
- increased resilience and confidence
Data we collected showed that engagement with the project increased the likelihood of future engagement with dance or with a cultural event/site. Tracking ‘participant journeys’ demonstrated a tendency for individuals to have 7+ engagements with the project with some supporting the project in a deeper, more sustained way.
Sarah Blanc in The Imagination Museum: Mayflower 400 in St Swithun's Church, Retford; photography Steve Hatton
Partner confidence in delivering dance projects in museums and heritage sites was increased, with hub partners citing:
- the positive impact the project had for the heritage sites
- the learning for the teams involved
- learning from Katie Green in her role as advocate and Project Lead and consistent voice of experience
- opportunities to strengthen existing community relationships and build new links
“Having a dance project embedded within a wider portfolio of cultural activity is really helping us develop our audiences, raise the profile of our cultural and events programme and look to the future for how we continue these relationships beyond next year’s anniversary”. (partner feedback)
Confidence was built by whole teams engaging with the process, and hub partners expressed their ambition to take part in similar projects bringing in new perspectives and approaches to interpretation that surpassed their in-house expertise.
Our partners could see that the project successfully brought in new audiences for heritage sites, with one Community Manager observing “anything that can ‘explode’ the audience dynamic that we usually expect to get at the museum is a great thing”.
Partner confidence was increased especially by those who were also engaged with Imagination Museum Consortium activity.
The Imagination Museum Consortium meeting, May 2019 at The Collection Museum and Usher Gallery, Lincoln; photography Roswitha Chesher
The Imagination Museum Consortium
Throughout the Imagination Museum: Mayflower 400 project, Made By Katie Green also created the Imagination Museum Consortium, a group of professionals interested in the intersection of dance and heritage/museums who have joined in debate through four consortium meetings (attended by 101 people).
The Imagination Museum Consortium has 129 members to date from across the UK, including museum and heritage professionals, dance artists, students, researchers, arts development officers, Arts Council officers and producers, showing a considerable breadth of expertise and interest.
It was inspiring and invigorating to hear different speakers offering their unique insights, approaches and perspective on heritage and/or dance. It’s heartening to be in a room full of people who are passionate about this work too.
It takes time to develop the relationships
From strategic planning and consultation with communities all the way through to development and delivery, we discovered the necessity of allocating sufficient time/resources to enable a project like this to happen, with considerable lead-in time required to plan and fundraise, and a shared commitment to a certain amount of trial and error in order to make the work as responsive as possible.
Where our hub partners were able to offer longer and deeper relationships, and where they made the most of the additional support being brought by Made By Katie Green (particularly where they were smaller, volunteer-led, and therefore operating without designated programming or outreach teams for example), they had the opportunity to connect and reconnect with audiences and participants leading to repeat visits. This also allowed for a more reflective experience for participants, a two-way flow of dialogue rather than simply ‘receiving’ the activity.
The project illuminated the essential nature of in-person relationship building in this kind of project and the capacity needed to support the development of trust, especially with individuals or community groups who may have been less likely to have joined in with something like this project in the past.
We became acutely aware of this because Covid had a huge impact on the project in terms of limiting the team’s capacity to build or sustain the relationships with some of the more marginalised audiences we had identified pre-pandemic, particularly where the vulnerability of the participants made it impossible to restart planned face to face activities.
Successful delivery depended on buy-in from museums/heritage/community partners, working closely with Made By Katie Green. Where the project was placed centrally within an organisation’s delivery plan (no matter what the size of the organisation), with all members fully on board, it was possible for the work to have a much broader scope.
"I think internally the beauty of this project is that it has spanned both our teams [engagement and contemporary art]. It’s been a collective ownership of the project at delivery level which has been invaluable" (project partner feedback)
The success of the project was also contingent on a key advocate or group of advocates working within the museum infrastructure and local community with capacity and desire to support the project at the right moment in time. The longer a trusted ambassador/advocate was in post, the greater the impact of the project.
Similarly, development of local support for the project, including working with a Local Producer and Dance Artists in each hub, was also essential in supporting community engagement with Made By Katie Green. A strong collaboration between all these local parties with a shared vision, approach, and commitment to developing new audiences secured the local community’s engagement, and gave scope for innovation.
Development of local dance/heritage expertise also increased the sustainability of this way of working in each area by empowering local dance artists to continue to work with partners, networks and school groups for example.
Kaitlyn Howlett and Kane John Mills rehearsing The Imagination Museum: Mayflower 400; photography Roswitha Chesher.
A person-centred approach, taking care of, and ensuring respect for the participants and partners as a key part of the experience of the project was paramount to its success.
We focused on finding ways to draw out individuals’ personal relationships with the subject matter, curating lots of smaller, more bespoke opportunities for them to engage with the work (not all of them dance-led) in order to build the trust needed to take participants and audiences on a journey with us.
This focus on ‘creative engagement’ was more effective than a predetermined ‘performance event’ led approach to touring (i.e. broadcasting an opportunity and hoping it will appeal to prospective audiences). Participants recognised the care being taken over the experience of each individual.
They understood that everything they were contributing, through movement or words, through song or by drawing a picture for example, had value in terms of the project as a whole.
Unexpected pandemic adaptations, including adding more digital elements, development of the Mayflower Creative Care Packages and community films, unlocked rich impacts and a different type of engagement that wouldn’t otherwise have taken place. For example,
- smaller group working built trusted relationships with specific families who experienced a greater depth of engagement
- the films enabled a wider reach for the performances
- the care packages extended the engagement time with the project and were a valued resource for the partners.
Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging
was a key consideration in the creative planning of the project, especially in relation to challenging stereotypes in the depiction of the story of the Mayflower’s journey. This directed the creative content and helped create an inclusive enquiry around the work to which many people could relate.
“The piece itself was way more than I had imagined and was genuinely touching and more relevant to our current lives than I would have thought.” (audience feedback)
Inspiration from professional artists
Engagement with groups was more successful when the professional artist interpretation (i.e. through a live performance or film screening) was the first point of contact with the project. This brought to life the ambition of the project but also set the tone for the way the retelling of this historic story could connect with people’s personal experiences. It also indicated to participants the care being taken to ensure the experience was of the highest quality, therefore encouraging the same high quality in their creative responses.
The Imagination Museum: a national network
There is an appetite from the project partners and Imagination Museum Consortium members to use this project as a launch pad for establishing a new dance/heritage networking organisation called The Imagination Museum.
“We don’t have the in-house experience we need to work with dance. To have an agency we could go to, or a network where we could find out readily what was available & what the current thinking is…that would be ideal.” (museum partner feedback)
Made By Katie Green (MBKG) is working with members of the Consortium to build a future version of The Imagination Museum that will be constituted separately from MBKG and run cooperatively by experts from across dance and heritage for maximum impact.
The Imagination Museum will take forward the learning from this and other dance/heritage projects, continuing to:
- advocate for this work
Campaigning to get more dance happening in museums by telling more people about its significant impacts for audiences, participants and partners.
- develop best practice
Providing training, resources and a forum for sharing case studies, experiences and opportunities
- support collaboration
Creating opportunities for dancers and museums to come together, including through co-commissioning of new collaborative work in the future
Currently if I was going to commission dance, I think there is a gap. I think if there was a kind of central organisation there to support and link you with people that would be of interest.
The Imagination Museum Consortium meeting, May 2019 at The Collection Museum and Usher Gallery, Lincoln; photography Roswitha Chesher
Work with us
To get involved in shaping the vision for the new Imagination Museum (particularly if you work within a heritage context, in any role), with potential to access:
- experience and expertise in working with dance in museums and heritage sites
- additional project management capacity
- scaleable dance interventions to suit you, no matter where you are in your process of working with a new group or developing a new project
- commitment to working with your organisation over time to develop links between museum staff and experts, local artists, your community and external partners
- a safe space where you can be supported to have courage and take some small steps towards making change
please contact firstname.lastname@example.org - we look forward to hearing from you.
I believe that contemporary dance is incredibly important in making change for people. There are local stories, stories within the museum, stories that people hold within the community that haven’t been explored and to have the opportunity to do that through dance is incredibly exciting.
The Imagination Museum: Mayflower 400 at Retford Town Hall; photography Roswitha Chesher
The Imagination Museum: Mayflower 400 project was produced by Made By Katie Green, 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 God's House Tower and also delivered in partnership with the Pilgrim Roots Regional Partnership, Transported, The Point and Plymouth Dance.