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Stories of the World: Young consultants work with precious cargo

  • Date: 14 November 2011
  • Artform: Museums
  • Area: North
A youung waman works on sketching some textiles A young participant works with textiles

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.

Exhibitions themed as Precious Cargo will reveal the region's World Collections in new and creative ways. How have objects, ideas and customs found their way across the world and become 'precious' items of Yorkshire heritage in the process? What are the things that are precious for Yorkshire people? What stories do they tell?

Museums involved

Bradford Museums and Galleries, Captain Cook Memorial Museum, Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery, East Riding of Yorkshire Museums, Kirklees Museums & Galleries, Laurence Stern Trust, Museums Sheffield, North Lincolnshire Museum, Scarborough Museums Trust, South East Asia Museum, Stewart's Burnby Hall Gardens & Museum, University of Leeds International Textiles Archive, Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society, York Museums Trust, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority

Main challenges/opportunities and how they were tackled

For many Precious Cargo museum partners, they have previously experienced difficulties in engaging with young people, often struggling to get them 'through the door', making finding out about their needs very difficult. Most of the museums felt that young people were under-represented in their audience profile and wanted to gain an understanding into what a 'young person' would want and for that to be clearly visible in their Precious Cargo exhibition.

The Young Consultants project aimed to increase communication and collaboration between young people and Precious Cargo museums. The aim was to start creating strong working relationships that could be built upon for  the duration of the Precious Cargo projects and for the future.

The Young Consultants project was initially delivered in the Summer of 2010 then rolled out again during Summer 2011.  

Phase 1

During the summer of 2010, groups of young people delivered a consultancy programme (observations, interpretation, advice and recommendations) to a range of partner museums across Yorkshire. Their consultancy advice was focused on exploring opportunities for developing youth engagement, exhibitions and events and world collections through Precious Cargo.

Examples of what the Young Consultants did with the participating museums included:

  • Tours of whole museum/sites
  • Handling world collections objects for potential display
  • Visiting collections stores
  • Open discussion sessions about how to engage young people; which objects where interesting to them; what the Young Consultants thought about ideas for Precious Cargo exhibitions and events
  • Evaluation by the young people would take place through formal evaluation forms and flip video interview recordings.

Phase 2

As a result of the ongoing collections research and knowledge exchange arising from Precious Cargo, a new strand of regional activity called Yorkshire World Collection is currently being delivered. Comprising of 100 outstanding world culture objects, the Yorkshire World Collection reveals the breadth and depth of the region's world collections (across 18 museum services) for the benefit of Precious Cargo project participants and audiences. This activity provides a focus for the development and sharing of regional world collections knowledge, expertise, research and partnerships. Key outcomes of the work will result in a publication and web resources for teachers (via the MyLearning website) from March 2012.

For some of the participating museums, their selection of objects required fresh perspectives. Young Consultants were recruited during the Summer of 2011 to visit 13 museum venues and provide their interpretative responses to a range of world cultures objects identified for potential inclusion in the final object list.

Results

Phase 1

20 young people provided consultation services to 7 Precious Cargo museums. They were drawn from different cities, backgrounds and cultures which meant that each participant was able to bring a unique viewpoint to the discussions. They enjoyed being part of the project and felt that overall their opinions were valued. They felt they played an active role in helping the museums to gain an understanding of what young people found engaging, interesting and exciting.

The museum staff enjoyed talking with the young people, they found their views to be interesting and often surprising; a different opinion from what they had imagined.    As well as discussing the Precious Cargo exhibitions, the museums took the opportunity to ask what their thoughts were on other aspects of the museum, from the permanent and current exhibitions, through to the layout, lighting, entrance, cafe, general visitor experience and overall thoughts.

In terms of legacy, four young people have subsequently become involved with the Museums Sheffield Precious Cargo project whilst others attended the Stories of the World national partners' seminar on 15 October 2010, contributing to the launch workshop for Precious Cargo - What's Changing: A young people's voice and influence evaluation programme.

Phase 2

32 young people took part in visits to 13 museum venues. They played a crucial roles in providing interpretative responses to a vast range of world cultures objects held by the participating museums who did not currently have the means of engaging with a young audience to undertake this work. The responses will be displayed alongside the object images and curator information in a Yorkshire World Collection publication due out in March 2012. The responses have also been handed to each individual museum to use in their project planning processes.

In terms of legacy, 3 young people have joined a youth forum. In addition, a number of the Young Consultants have successfully applied to a Young Editor - a team who will work alongside a design team and museum professionals to design the publication which will showcase the work and appeal to a younger audience.

Lessons learned

  • What went well

The project developed key opportunities for young peoples' voice and influence in museums to be heard through the visits to Precious Cargo partner museums. The Young Consultants gained experience of providing consultancy for Precious Cargo programme development and new knowledge of partner museums. The Young Consultants were given the opportunity to speak directly with curators, gain a glimpse into the workings of a museum and the proposed collection for their Precious Cargo exhibitions. For the participating museums it was an opportunity to gain access to the thoughts and opinions of young people who activity engage themselves with museums.  The follow up programme during Summer 2011, provided invaluable contributions in presenting fresh and new perspectives on a range of world culture objects in Yorkshire. We worked with a great group of young people who we felt benefitted from the project as much as the museums.  They really got into their consultancy roles and it was great to the see less confident ones becoming more vocal.

Overall, the project also strengthened the young peoples' peer-to-peer network across the region.

  • What went less well

Whilst the majority of the visits had good take up (6-12 people per visit) a couple of visits had poor (2) attendance on the day leading to the project organizers feeling frustration and demoralized despite favourable responses to the offer. What the programme has indicated is the large time-commitment spend in ensuring young people take part in project activities.

Whilst the majority of the museum venues welcomed the opportunity of free youth consultancy and this was reflected in the depth of discussions on the day, we witnessed a couple of museums where the opportunities had not been welcomed as much by the staff. This led to poor engagement with the Young Consultants and very little mutual benefit other than a guided museum visit.