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Stories of the World: Changing lives, an eastern exchange

  • Date: 22 November 2011
  • Artform: Museums
  • Area: South East
Girl with an elephant statue One of the co-curators of the exhibition with their chosen object.

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

A team of 10 young people are working with Colchester and Ipswich Museums to co-curate an international exhibition. Treasures of China, an exhibition of objects from Nanjing Museum, China, will go on display at Colchester Castle in 2012. The group are using their work on this project towards a bronze level Arts Award, which they will complete by the end on 2011.

In February 2011, after a series of workshops exploring Chinese culture and history, the group travelled to Nanjing to select an object each for the exhibition. While in China, the group continued to explore Chinese culture and visited many important sites including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Olympic Village and Tiananmen Square. They took part in a traditional tea ceremony, visited the Nanjing lantern festival and a Buddhist Temple, met with local craftsmen and attended a traditional opera. They also visited a local school, where they met with Chinese young people and took part in a lesson.

Working with Signals Media Arts, the participants made a documentary about their experiences. This film was screened at a special event at Colchester Arts Centre and will be shown as part of the exhibition.

Having returned from China, the participants are continuing to work with museum staff to research and interpret their objects. They are part of the official project team and are involved in decisions regarding exhibition design, events and activities.

As part of the 2011 Olympic Open Weekend events, they ran an activity day in Hollytrees Museum. Supported by artists, they ran calligraphy, dragon-making and manhua workshops for the general public. The event was attended by Sir Keith Mills, Deputy Chair of the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG) who spoke to each of them and took part in all of the activities.


This project is working intensely with a group of ten young people over a two year period. All of the original ten are still actively involved in the project. Additionally, there has been meaningful contact with an additional 75 young people through the selection process, and an additional 390 people through the screening of the film and Olympic Open Weekend. Future events in the run up to and during the Treasures of China exhibition and their input into the display itself mean that this project will have an even wider impact on local residents and museum visitors.

The young curators participating in Changing Lives have not only gained knowledge of Chinese Culture and history; they have learned about museum practice and developed new skills, including film-making, public-speaking, research and creative skills. The project has created a new partnerships between Colchester and Ipswich Museums, Nanjing Museum and The Gilberd School.

This is the first time Colchester and Ipswich Museums have run an Arts Award scheme. The participants work will be moderated in December 2011.

Treasures of China will open at Colchester Castle on 30th June 2012. 

Lessons learned

Meeting with the group regularly have proved vital in maintaining their enthusiasm and engagement in the project.

The Arts Award has worked well as a way of recognising the hard work and dedication of the young people.

While working on an international level is not easy, it is certainly worthwhile and has been of great benefit to all of the partners.