I came across an interesting blog, related to a project called Kids 2020, described as ‘an evolutionary global research project with kids’, and a ‘collective garden of their intelligence offering insights, views and prototypes unstructured by politics’. I’ve linked to their post about the KIT Tropical Museum in Amsterdam, which has a unique directive for bringing world culture into the lives of Dutch children. Their programmes for children sound fascinating, from the brief descriptions that can be found online. I want to find out more.
I took part in a seminar, supported by LIFT, about how to shape, make visible and accredit the profession. Which profession? More or less, it was about the profession of practising artists of any artform working in education and community. But this profession isn’t easily distinguished from creative designers, scientists, teachers, or programmers/managers working in education and community. This blurring is more so now that ‘creativity’ is more the buzz than ‘the arts’, for example in Creative Partnerships. And perhaps all the more so now that virtuosity in a particular art form is less valued than being conceptual, entrepreneurial, interdisciplinary and so on.
The key question was around whether there is a need for a professional body and accrediting system, like the Arts Marketing Association. There are already networks with training schemes within art forms (e.g. visual arts www.engage.org ) and within setting-related networks (e.g. youth arts http://www.artswork.org.uk/proj_enyan.html ) and there are many courses in creative & cultural education. There are also ways that you can gather a portfolio and apply for self-accreditation. What is seen to be lacking is a well-known kind of ‘pilot’s licence’ across the profession that gives clear evidence of one’s skills, and a common understanding of what skills or values are needed.
The organisers of this project will create a wiki to share ideas but in the meantime I’ve come up with my own version of a framework for mapping the essential skills of the creative & cultural education profession. It aims to draw together into one profession those who tend more towards either education, artform practice, administration and ideas/knowledge, and thereby to broaden the skills base and quality of the profession. You can find this framework here http://filexoom.com/files/2006/11/25/45543/visible%20profession%20PDF.pdf
I’ve just got in from a seminar at the Japan Foundation about the challenge of displaying Japanese art in museums. The first speaker was Timothy Clarke, describing the process of revamping the newly-opened Japanese galleries at the British Museum. Interesting points were:
- the break up of the ethnography department released lots of ‘non-art’ artefacts to display, helping them shift it from a ‘fine arts of Japan’ display to a more historicised display
- that simultaneously they had made the display more aesthetic, giving more space to works of art, including contemporary art.
- yet, some of this contemporary art was less ‘art’ than had been seen in the BM’s collections previously, including more manga, film posters and ephemera
- some of the items were old storytelling boards as used by storytelling men in these pretend TV boxes they carry round, (see this link
- that they have tried to reconnect the cultures of Japan with the wider world (whilst retaining it as a Japanese gallery)
- that the more modern the period the more stories they needed to tell. The structure goes like this:
Ancient Japan – one story
Medieval Japan – one story
Edo Japan – two stories
Modern Japan – four stories
- the contextualisation includes a tea house in which the tea ceremony will be enacted regularly
- that curators worked closely with the Interpretation team, using devices such as ‘pebbles’ (raised plinths for simple & illustrated information inside the cases), based on substantial visitor research
- that the prints and paintings will be changed every 4 months for conservation reasons so they will be continually working on interpretations of the items, offering opportunities to rethink how Japanese art is presented.
The second speaker was Yoshi Miki, senior curator at the Kyushu National Museum. Miki showed a few slides of the most sleek black, beautifully lit galleries, empty of people, in this contemporary Porsche of a museum. Then I was really heartened when he suddenly switched mode, announcing, ‘but education is my background and where my heart is’. Then he showed the amazing education facilities. The main facility is called Asippa (not a yawnsome ‘education centre’) and it looks, deliberately, like a shop in the main entrance. It’s a big glass market, full of colour, pattern, texture in hundreds of handling objects and crafts from seven different countries. There are musical instruments, toys, costumes, puzzles, big prints reproduced on screens, artefacts displayed in domestic scenarios. There’s also a climbing frame that incorporates object display cases. You might say this all sounds familiar but this was done with such beautiful care and taste (mitate). Also, they employ a huge number of voluntary facilitators so there appears to be a calm-but-excited engagement between children and adults.
Another facility is the Visual Study Storage area. Again, this is beautifully arranged. The artefacts lie on pristine folded cloths in perspex cases. Children can study and handle the objects. They can write their own labels and then create their own displays, learning how to place things on different display stands, discussing their choices. This puts them in a particular frame of mind when they go into the ‘adult’ galleries. Their experience also includes an interactive tour through the conservation science department.
A key thought I’m left with is to do with cultural exchange and boundaries between cultures. Yoshi Miki said that they showed objects from China, Holland, Portugal, Korea and Japan, avoiding too many ‘walls’ between the countries, emphasising how the objects rub together in the past contexts of trade and the current context of the museum collection. The assumption at the British Museum is that we go there to learn all about a particular culture (nation, religion…), and great care has been taken to give a comprehensive picture of Japanese culture within one gallery, albeit a picture that integrates connection with the world. Masaaki Morishita (Handa Fellow, Sainsbury Institute) commented that the Japanese don’t mind if anybody interprets Japanese culture and mixes it with other cultures. I wondered if museum visitors expect to learn ‘all about Japan’ (or any other country or culture) when they visit a museum. Perhaps they go to roam a kind of global marketplace, or perhaps they go just to find things that sing to them, almost as if they’re visiting a very precious kind of shop.
NESTA has changed and the old Learning programme is no longer. Its education element is now focused on Future Innovators, a scheme to investigate & promote enterprising & inventive attributes in young people. http://www.nesta.org.uk/programmes/future_innovators/index.aspx
The Future Innovators team organised a speed networking event for creative innovators, educators and young people last week at the Dana Centre. I haven’t had such a buzz for ages. A great atmosphere was generated by the lovely Roy Leighton, http://www.independentthinking.co.uk/Who/Associates/Roy+Leighton/default.aspx
I only got a tiny glimpse into the heads or worlds of most of the people there as we had to move round so fast. But here are a few that I was excited by.
The young people were thin on the ground but shining. Emily Cummins, aged 19 has won awards, including ‘Technology Woman of the Future’ for her solar powered fridge and water carrier http://www.nesta.org.uk/informing/articles/emily_cummins.aspx http://www.audiyoungdesigner.co.uk/comp_details/emily_cummins.htm
Barry J Gibb makes films & books and other communication projects, inspired by science. He wrote the Rough Guide to the Brain, which I must read.
Tamara Andress is one half of the Comedy Research Project, who are scientist-comedians.
Steve Mesure, creative science consultant and creator of the Floating Point Science Theatre
Marc Champkins who designs things that help children concentrate in school
And there were many more.
We’ve been working with whatwashere.com to reach more users and plan their future. Here’s an edited version of their press release for the launch of the Liverpool pilot.
Did you ever get your marbles from a Gulley Sucker? Do you remember the Dockers’ Umbrella? What lubricant would you want on your scones? What would it be like if history wasn’t written just by historians, but by everyone? What would you write?
whatwasHere.com wants to revolutionise how history is written. Its pilot website in Liverpool tells history like it’s never been told before: by everyone. It doesn’t only tell the capital H history of Liverpool, but the everything-interesting-that-ever-happened-to-the-people-who-actually-live-there history of Liverpool. It’s oral history for the My Space era. Based around Google maps, the site lets people instantly publish the stories that matter to them on the spot where they happened, discuss other people’s stories, use the Timeline to go back in time, make connections between big events and small across the map. If you know something that happened in Liverpool, put it on!
whatwasHere.com’s aim is to get everyone – yes everyone – writing history. So in the pilot, the website is being used by a wide range of community organisations, including the Liverpool Library Service, schools, NHS volunteers, Merseytravel, Liverpool Community College, Workers’ Educational Association, local history societies and the BBC.
whatwasHere.com hope the Liverpool website is just the start. Next stop, the whole UK, then the World! They are looking for partners and funding to develop projects with adult learning, museums, regeneration areas, schools and any one else who has histories to tell. Their future ambitions are large: imagine if the site also featured old maps, or was available on mobile phones. whatwasHere.com are keen to talk to anyone who can help them develop the site.
whatwasHere.com is the brain child of Ben Tunstall. Eileen Barlex saw how it could work in learning contexts, and the learning programme at NESTA funded it. whatwasHere.com is a not for profit organization. The content is held under a Creative Commons Licence. A first version of the site went live in Walton in March 2006 and collected over 250 stories. These now appear on the Liverpool-wide version of the site that has gone live in September. The project is being evaluated by the Centre for ICT, Pedagogy and Learning at Manchester Metropolitan University.
For more information read the blog: http://blog.whatwasHere.com
Mac users: Unfortunately the site does not currently work on Safari. You need to use Mozilla Firefox to view the site, which you can download free at: http://www.mozilla.com/firefox
This is a very patchy summary of a talk I gave at the British Museum on narrative in museum and gallery education. It misses out whole chunks, explanations and examples of projects. Not the whole story but you get the gist.
The museum as a story or as a random container of things?
The museum is a cabinet of curiosities, a container that encloses things from disparate environments. It’s always boxed or enclosed like a story, but never complete as a collection – it’s a neverending story or a collection of story ingredients.
The definition of an archive as a beginning or origin, that is always open to new additions.
How do I define my field/our field?
I used a diagram, because I think in systems (sectors, connections, overlaps…) to show how my field of work encompasses:
· Collections/subjects: museums, galleries, archives & libraries, participatory arts
· People: interpretation, education, interdisciplinary arts, user experience
What is narrative? What is it for?
Philip Pullman described how poetry is what gets lost in translation whereas myth is the story that survives any narrating or poetic translation.
At root of my talk was about whether story helps you conceptualise, what kind of story helps you conceptualise, and how much is story separate from more systematic learning.
I think that museums, especially art & culture museums, contain a deep tension between:
- a taxonomical presentation of knowledge through artefacts as parts of a whole story, a scientific distance from the past
- and the artefact seen as a symbolic or metaphoric wonder, as a whole containing many possibilities, and a nostalgic preservation of a past mythical way of knowing
Also education (in the West since mass education begun) has a deep tension between:
- creating rationalists, trained for systematic work, trained out of childhood
- nurturing whole people, not losing the qualities of the child
What are some ways of doing narrative in cultural interpretation?
- A grand narrative with a mix of iconic (art) and illustrative objects
- Communicating a complex idea with several stories. Abstract concepts aided by the particular virtues of stories that make ideas real or personalised. (e.g. science museums)
- Telling the stories that originate in cultures. The myths of past & other cultures both as ‘museum artefacts’ to be preserved, and as context for understanding the artefacts they relate to (e.g. audioguides & interactives in anthropology museums)
- A story making a loose framework for experience. The artefacts are central, the narrative is simply a linking or shaping device. Often there are several narrative threads
- Providing several stories to explain discrete objects e.g. captions in permanent displays
- Providing tools for visitors to add stories about artefacts e.g. Every Object Tells a Story
- Collecting people’s stories as artefacts e.g. oral history
- A grand narrative made from people’s stories & voices e.g. Imperial War Museum North
- Storytellers & theatre companies making & performing stories in loose relation to artefacts and museum spaces
An example of this, Unfolding Andersen by theatre rites at the British Library summer 2005
This was a very contemporary reading. Rather than telling Andersen’s life story or one of his stories, the team created a story about two visitors to the exhibition who began by exploring books and ended up making origami shapes, puppets & entire sets from them, which enabled the characters to ‘tell’ the stories of the Tin Soldier mixed with the Ugly Duckling. It was a perfect example of breaking apart the text to interpret it, making a creative reinterpretation at the same time.
What are some ways to do narrative in cultural education?
By education, I mean structured engagements with learning groups as opposed to presenting objects in spaces with information. I don’t mean to imply didacticism by the word education.
•‘Jumping off’: Not attempting an interpretation, but using artefacts (or only elements within them) as a springboard for ‘tangential’, personal or contemporary storymaking or storytelling
•‘Reading out’: Interpreting an artefact through a careful examination of what is communicated by it, and finding out about its context to uncover what isn’t communicated.
A desirable mix of the two:
• ‘Reading in’: Interpreting an artefact by bringing your personal stories and contemporary knowledge to bear on your exploration of its mysteries.
For a full account of the project http://www.bl.uk/learning/cult/inside/story.html
This raised debates for us about:
how much context the children needed in order to really understand the stories, what were the key concepts needed
how definable these stories were in terms of their originating context or how much they are universal
how important or not it was for the teachers to be familiar with the stories
· how much they learned about the historical, geographical and contemporary cultural context through the stories themselves or how much they needed to do extra investigating
how much of the long & multilayered stories they could embrace, yet how much they could actually gain from the fragments and iconic characters they did focus on
how much the ancient books we had, and the digitised fragments they saw, were actually able to convey the stories or how much they needed mediating,
how meaningful it was for the children to make new stories and new art works from the iconic characters and key ideas they were introduced to
What about digital storytelling?
We are starting to see an enormous impact of multimedia & the web in terms of visitors being more in control of making new narratives and inserting their own, both within and beyond museum spaces. The digital realm enables meetings between an individual perspective & the complexity of global heritage because of its systems for both taxonomy and spectacle. Three examples are:
http://www.whatwashere.com/ – a map-based tool to enable capturing of everything interesting that ever happened. It enables heritage organisations to post photos & sounds, as well as information, about the history of places. But mostly it’s for ordinary people, working through partnerships with libraries & learning settings.
http://www.movinghere.org.uk/ – new developments are to be launched in Spring, including education resources and more audio & video clips resulting from intensive projects with diverse community groups & museum & archive partners around the UK.
(Through my new company Flow Associates I’m helping with marketing & planning strategies for both these examples.)
Is it possible to conclude?
Richard Kearney in ‘On Stories’ says that a story humanises time by transforming it from an impersonal passing of fragmented moments into a pattern, a plot, a mythos.
We can apply this to our field by considering how cultural artefacts are the lasting moments, the objects that remain from past times, the remnants of particular narratives, that we are compelled to organise into patterns, plots or myths. We have huge opportunities to humanise and allow people to make sense of our real & virtual spaces.