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Stories of the World: Bringing young voices into permanent galleries through creative interventions

  • Date: 22 November 2011
  • Artform: Museums
  • Area: London
Two girls acting Museum of London Stories of the World participants in drama project, Photo courtesy of Museum of London

Introduction

The Stories of the World programme is led by Arts Council England and is part of the Cultural Olympiad. It works with 60 museums across the country.

Stories of the World gets young people working with curators, film makers, artists, writers and musicians to explore and reinterpret museum collections, giving us a new perspective on the stories that tell us about our place in the world.

The programme supports museums to change the way they work with young people and their wider communities, driving a process of organisational change to develop participatory approaches to decision making and strategic planning.

Main challenges/opportunities and how they were tackled

The key challenge has been to bring the voices of young people into an existing permanent gallery. To do this we planned an exhibition comprising digital, creative and object based interventions in and around our existing Roman gallery.

Young people have been working with the Museum of London to co-curate this exhibition, Our Londinium 2012. It will seek to illuminate past and present by exploring some of the parallels between then and now: for example, Londinium and London as cities shaped by people and cultures from around the world.

Another challenge has been to engage a wide range of young people from across London to contribute equally to the exhibition. The first phase of our project saw the museum's youth panel, Junction, busy planning the concept of the exhibition and advising on the delivery of projects with other young people. Through these six creative projects young people produced high impact interventions such as films, poetry, sculpture and animations.

In phase two Junction have been focusing on co-curating the exhibition – from locating the creative pieces next to the Roman collections, interviewing the 3D designer, developing the graphic strategy, selecting modern object interventions and writing text. They have also been producing some additional creative interventions such as a film about the Gladiator Games and an animation to bring the Roman Wall to life.

Results

This interventionist style, using a variety of creative interpretative approaches has allowed multiple young voices to interact successfully with the collections.

Everything has been created, commissioned and co-curated by young people. As you enter the exhibition you will be drawn through an immersive atmospheric projection that connects pre-history, Roman London and today. Stepping into the core of the exhibition you can debate connections between past and present through some amazing Roman and modern objects and investigate Roman settlement in Greater London through a digital interactive map. Dazzling art installations and an experimental exhibition design approach will draw you into the Roman gallery where interventions consisting of modern objects, poetry, film, animation and other artworks will encourage you to further consider parallels between Roman London and the city today. 

The intended effect of the interventions is to turn the gallery into a kind of forum, where new perspectives and dialogues are added to the Museum’s voice to create a dynamic conversation.

In the first phase (April 2010 – March 2011) 123 young people began co-curating Our Londinium 2012. There were 1040 instances of participation (8.5 instances per young person on average). In phase two (April 2011 – present) there have been 37 young people over 360 instances (9.5 instance per young person on average) so far.

Lessons learned

What went well:

  • Having a variety of opportunities so that young people of all backgrounds and abilities could participate – whether that is producing creative content or working more on the co-curation. These opportunities have included creative projects, a youth panel, volunteering opportunities and internships. Tailoring the creative opportunities to the particular young people’s interests and needs resulted in more successful projects in terms of both outcomes and outputs.

  • Delivering the creative content-producing elements of the exhibition in the first phase so we could then develop the exhibition concept further in phase two. This flexibility allowed the young co-curators to develop the exhibition around the content young people had produced rather than trying to fit it onto a rigid pre-defined structure.

What went less well

  • The concept planning stages of the exhibition in phase one were fairly abstract for Junction youth panel. It was a challenge to engage them in this aspect of the exhibition as it tends to be a dry paper-based stage. It became a lot easier once we entered stage two, where their co-curation role was more tangible and involved activities such as commissioning consultations, feeding into the design and writing captions.