St Fagans National History Museum Making History Project
The Participatory Forums
The Young Ambassadors
This group of young adults first met in early June. They have expressed great passion for the Museum’s redevelopment project and an enthusiasm to create and run an outreach programme aimed specifically at youths in Wales. The group will also be reviewing the programme of activities for young people and providing insight into gallery content and interpretation. They participated in the interpretation workshops in July (depicted below) and were described as ‘inspirational’ by staff involved in the session.
The Participatory Forums
The Our Museum Participatory Forum was established in 2011 during the development of the HLF redevelopment project bid and the bid to the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to develop community engagement within the Museum. This has meant that the two programmes have been integrally linked from the outset. The forum consists of Museum staff, Trustees and representatives from third and public sector organisations who work closely with community groups in Wales. Through their involvement in the forum the needs and interests of the communities they represent are voiced, and thus become a core element of the Museums methodology.
The aim of the Forum is to embed and sustain volunteering at the Museum and create a ‘Community of Volunteers’. The central aim is to ensure the volunteers needs are at the heart of what we do, making volunteering more accessible and relevant to the diverse communities we represent as a NationalMuseum.
Over the summer we ran a large scale volunteer recruitment drive. With the help of the Community Partners we placed approximately 50 volunteers in roles across the Museum with Departments such as the Historic Buildings Unit, Learning, Estates and Events. The volunteers have come from all walks of life and are all volunteering for different reasons; some retired, some students, some looking for a new challenge and others looking for routine and activity in a beautiful place where they can learn new skills and meet new people.
The Diversity Forum
This group is formed of representatives from organizations that work closely with diverse community groups. The group was formed with the goal of ensuring that the redevelopment of the Museum is accessible, of interest to and representative of all. They first met in April and discussed collaborative methods, approaches to engaging key audiences and the importance of developing models of best practice.
As a result of this Forum a group from South-Riverside Communities First participated in interpretation workshops in August. Objects discussed included an idol of the Goddess Durga and a cluster of archaeological artefacts relating to the oldest human remains found in Wales. The curators involved commented that it was refreshing to see the objects through fresh eyes. The group were eager to place items in the context of global history – an interesting approach that would help to engage both those of diverse background living in Wales and the wealth of foreign visitors to the Museum.
The Participatory Forums
The User Design Forum
This is an intergenerational group consisting of young adults from Caerphilly Youth Forum, their Youth leaders and four teachers from Secondary Schools in south Wales. The group have been meeting for over two years and have worked closely with the architects on the designs for the new building (Gweithdy) and the developments to the Main Building. They have also been meeting with the exhibition designers (Event) to provide feedback on ideas relating to the gallery spaces. Their most recent involvement was in attending interpretation workshops where they were able to respond directly to objects and discuss methods of presentation and interpretation with the relevant curators.
The photos depict the group on a benchmarking trip to M Shed in Bristol (an exhibition space designed by Event) and at the interpretation workshop in July.
The Participatory Forums
Hello, and welcome to the first instalment of what will become a regular blog following the development of Participatory Forums at St Fagans National History Museum. As part of its exciting redevelopment project (the result of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund) the Museum has been developing public consultation methods and engaging with representatives from third sector organisations and individuals from across Wales. These groups symbolise a transformation in our methods of working and are a key step towards our goal of becoming a truly participatory museum.
Discussion and debate is set to be a predominant theme throughout the new gallery spaces. The curators are currently working with the design team Event to develop methods of recording public opinion and responses to objects on display. The plan at present is to open up the floor for further debate online – to create a forum where people can respond to the gallery spaces and to each other, creating a platform for debate which will inspire the Museum’s continued development.
There are a number of issues that will need addressing along the way if we are to ensure that the Museum is representative of Wales as a whole. These will include:
- accessing close-knit community groups who may not see the Museum as representative of their histories
- addressing the poverty barrier to ensure the Museum is accessible to all
- ensuring we provide for people of different ages, ability and varied background.
The primary issue now is to ensure that we are representative of Wales today and that our reach is Wales wide. These are concerns that publicising our ventures can help resolve. We can be Wales wide and representative of all by making the developments visible to all and opening the floor for discussion and debate.
So, let’s set the debate off now! The theme for the first gallery will be ‘Wales is…’ looking at the stereotypical ideals of ‘Welshness’ while also opening the floor for a debate on what Wales is to others, and how Wales has developed throughout history. So, what is Wales to you? We are developing a great Word Cloud of responses. If you email five words that you believe sum up Wales to the link bellow, we will add them to the Word Cloud and post the results here!
And, watch this space for updates on how the Forums have been helping the Museum achieve its goals…
Making History Together
Beth Thomas, Keeper of History & Archaeology
If you Google ‘National History Museum’ the first thing that comes up is London’s Natural History Museum, and then St Fagans. Though it is gratifying that St Fagans comes so near the top of the list, it does make you wonder why there are so few other national history museums listed. Of course, many national history museums don't call themselves such - some are simply the national museum, or the histories of the nation are split among a number of museums.
There is no doubt that being called a national history museum is loaded with expectations. Is it a one-stop shop for an authoritative narrative of the nation? The EUNAMUS project research reports are really worth reading (http://www.eunamus.eu/index.html). This EC-funded multidisciplinary project explored the formation and power of national museums in Europe.
A particular quote from the project summary really rang a bell with me in terms of the pressure of traditional expectations of a national museum:
'The museum is seen as possessing treasures and contributing to knowledge while simultaneously making concrete the cultural attributes of the nation. This is the performance undertaken by most national museums: visitors are expected to bow to the authority of the institution as it possesses the real evi- dence of the past.'
St Fagans is a former national open-air folk museum feeling its way towards becoming a national history museum. We are bringing the national collections of archaeology and social history together in an open-air site to create a very unique learning experience. Our origins as a museum lead us to a bottom-up approach to national history - or rather histories. We don't want visitors to bow to the authority of the institution - we want them to recognise our expertise, yes, but also to feel that they have a contribution to make. The significance of our collections to Wales is as much about their feelings in the present as about our knowledge of the past.
Some of you will already have read Nina Simon's The Participatory Museum. If not, then read it now - it's free and online. This publication has been a great source of inspiration to us on the project team. We aim to create a participatory museum of history on a national scale - no pressure there!
So what exactly does that mean? Well our aim is to work with the people of Wales to create a museum that actually makes a difference to people's lives - a place where everyone can share knowledge, collections and skills and make history together. We want the people of Wales to contribute so that they are part of the story and not just visitors to it. We intend to ask our users to define what is recognised and preserved as Welsh history.
Most importantly we want it to be a museum that continually evolves with the people that participate with it. This blog is part of that process. You can find more detailed information about the aims and objectives of the project here. But from now on, the project team will add to this blog, and give you glimpses into the trials and tribulations of trying to deliver our vision of what a national history museum should be. Join us on the journey, and let us know what you think!