The first rehearsal of our project was an exciting one. We were able to discuss the significance of our project’s aims, and get to know each other through a different dance context. The session started with a debriefing regarding performance sites and ideas for where the movement would be generated. Helen, the project’s choreographer, taught a technical warm-up for the dancers, giving a rare opportunity for two dancers who typically receive training from only one facilitator. From improvised limb-focused movements, to pedestrian inspired travelling, the first session gave the dancers, including the observing dancer (me), valuable perspective of how the next few weeks should be negotiated and the potential to create engaging art.
Making a festive engagement!
The Afterlife of Heritage, Research to Public
I’ve just received confirmation that I’ve been awarded one of the grants for the Research to Public strand of the Afterlife of Heritage Project. Time to celebrate you might think but no, I had to hit the ground running as my first public event was already looming large on the calendar merely a week after hearing the good news! Having planned my proposal in some detail, knowing that if I got the funding I’d have to leap into action, I immediately set off to contact printers, recover exhibition stands and track down willing artists!
But just to give a little context to this whirl of activity, perhaps I’d better explain what my research entails and how I intended to engage beyond the walls of my institution. My PhD research looks at how small-scale cultural festivals contribute to the social sustainability of their host communities. I’m aiming to do this through an examination of potential bonds and bridges of connectivity which such an event may influence, particularly the connections between place, artists and local residents through heritage practice and display at festivals. It’s a case study focused project with all the events taking place in the county of Northumberland. The four case festivals I’ve selected take place between April and July and are my four ‘partner’ organisations in the Afterlife of Heritage project. My proposal was to put together an interactive exhibition and activity explaining and demonstrating my research whilst simultaneously working to gather data from visitors towards my thesis. This ‘two-angled’ approach was designed to engage the public in an educational sense, explaining not only my research but also opening a broader window onto research into the arts and humanities within universities. Secondly, the aim was to gather responses from the public which could then be fed into the development and future direction of my research and assist in ensuring appropriateness and relevance. The exhibition/activity was designed to be able to stand alone if I wasn’t present and thus potentially be displayed between events in venues in the respective communities.
I attended both preliminary training events in Manchester which were excellent, not least as they gave me an opportunity to meet fellow students and arts and heritage professionals from far flung parts of Britain. We discussed the challenges of putting our research work out to the broader ‘public’, in between cakes, coffee and a quick dash around the new exhibits at the Manchester museum. I already had my cultural partners lined up, being the organisers of the four case study festivals at the heart of my research although, owing to the scale of the events all are volunteers in their posts and tied up in other work when the Manchester training events took place and thus unable to come. When approached all four organisers readily agreed to take part in the project, although one was understandable a little reticent at first as to potential added work-loads. This reflects the pressures which voluntary-run festivals are under to provide high quality events for no financial reward, often in addition to holding down the day job.
Having a professional arts and interpretation background before embarking on my PhD, I was already convinced that I wanted to share and ‘display’ my research with the non-academic public in a colourful and interactive way (ie beyond the academic journal!). The training given at Manchester gave me the confidence to believe that what I wanted to do wasn’t just an overly ambitious or inappropriate idea and that I would be taken seriously! Putting together a proposal based around demonstrating my research but using activities which would appeal to children and adults in a colourful setting had huge appeal.
My final proposal took the overall theme through which I am exploring social impact, ‘Connections’. I designed a temporary exhibition split into three potential areas in which cultural festivals may connect with aspects of their host community. These are ‘place’, ‘cultural heritage’ and ‘people’. The display was intended to provoke public response through open statements and questions relating to my research in both text and image. The public were then invited to respond, either by joining in the supervised activity or by taking part in a short interview. The activity consisted of pre-cut bunting triangles which visitors were invited to decorate with their own responses to the sub-themes before being added to the exhibition. An artist was invited to help facilitate the activity. The end result, it was hoped, would be a visual demonstration of the connections made through festivals between people, places and the cultural heritage within.
So, that was made up my proposal and the thinking behind it! Now, having heard I’ve received funding I’d better launch into action and set off for the first event. More news on this later!
Niki Black, PhD Researcher mailto:email@example.com
ICCHS, Newcastle University
The first Research to Profession workshop took place on 6th March 2013 in the Roscoe Building at the University of Manchester. The aim of the session was to greet the shortlisted candidates for the Research to Profession strand and to outline expectations of the process.
The first question under consideration was: “what does a research to profession placement look like anyway?”. The researchers in attendance shared ideas about the “perfect placement” and what that might look like (see photo above). We also had a lively debate about what to call these partnerships – many believed that the word “placement” was not suitable for researchers and that “partnership” or even “researcher in residence” were perhaps more appropriate terms. As with the Research to Public workshops, we spent some time discussing the benefits of working with cultural organisations, as well as how researchers might work with cultural organisations when designing research partnerships. The final part of the day was spent discussing the importance of reflective practice in the whole process.
It was an excellent opportunity to meet those who will be involved in research partnerships and we look forward to working with them as they embark on this exciting opportunity!
The second Research to Public workshop took place on 28th February 2013 in the Kinaris Lecture Theatre at the Manchester Museum with a great mix of researchers and representatives from cultural organisations in attendance. The aim of the day was to discuss how researchers and cultural partners can better work together and to hear case studies, from both perspectives, of working together on cultural engagement/public engagement projects.
The day began with an icebreaker exercise focussing on the meaning attributed to certain words associated with public and cultural engagement. Everybody had the opportunity to pick a word and discuss what it meant to them – words such as “heritage”, “communication”, “impact”, “community” and “collections” were included.
Henry McGhie, Head of Collections and Curator of Zoology at the Manchester Museum (above) started the day’s talks with a fantastic account of the museum’s collections and the development of the Living Worlds gallery which opened in 2011. Henry spoke of the importance of engaging visitors with research and debates. His account took in the history of the collections and the involvement of Thomas Henry Huxley in engineering the University/Museum partnership, including a diagram, dating back to 1868 showcasing the public gallery and curator space. These designs were pivotal in establishing the museum as a social, as well as an intellectual, space. Henry also discussed the University’s third strategic goal, social responsibility, and how the museum contributes to the promotion of understanding between cultures and working towards a sustainable world. Finally, Henry drew on the potential of collections and for cultural organisations to connect with the public through emerging technology, such as tablets and smart phones, and to collaborate with researchers – ensuring that each partner plays an important part in the process.
Henry’s talk was followed by a great presentation by Antonio Benitez (above), PhD Researcher at the University of Salford (Antonio’s slides can be accessed at the bottom of this post). Antonio’s presentation focussed on a researcher’s perspective of University-museum partnerships. Antonio’s research focusses on older audiences (post-75) and their engagement with museums and his work has involved cross-institutional collaborations with a number of cultural organisations across Manchester. Antonio views these partnerships as an excellent opportunity to learn about developing projects with older people. Antonio’s talk considered the many benefits of working with cultural organisations such as offering networking opportunities, insight, clarity, the development of ideas etc. The most important feature of collaborations is to ensure that the expectations of both partners is realistic – both in terms of expectations and responsibilities.
Antonio’s talk was followed by Esme Ward’s presentation on Public Engagement and Audiences which included an excellent quote from Benjamin Franklin (see title photograph). Esme focussed on the importance of involvement in learning, drawing on current research and expertise to understand what is happening in cultural spaces. Esme’s talk went beyond the Humanities and considered the importance of science communication, moving from the “chalk and talk” to a more experiential form of learning. She emphasised that researchers have the necessary skills and knowledge to engage large numbers of school audiences with their work, and acknowledge the immense value of this social form of learning and interaction. Esme also touched upon the importance of practitioner research, highlighting that researchers can challenge museums to think differently (and vice versa).
After lunch, participants were divided into two groups. The first group consisted of those who had a working proposal already (some of whom were accompanied on the day by their cultural partner). They were tasked with fine-tuning their ideas by reflecting and critiquing. The second group consisted of researchers and cultural partners who had not yet partnered up. The aim of the session was to broker potential partnerships and to present back ideas on what works well and what might not work so well when researchers and cultural partners work together. Suzanne Spicer presented a great document about “finding the right people” for partnerships which can be downloaded here: Reflecting on Your Planning Proposal.
Antonio’s slides are available here: Afterlife presentation
The first Research to Public workshop took place on 24th January 2013. The quality of applications received for this strand was superb – and the Afterlife panel found the shortlisting process very difficult. Congratulations to those researchers whose projects were shortlisted! Over twenty researchers arrived eagerly for the 10am start. The programme for the day was extremely busy and the workshop was led by Suzanne Spicer (Social Responsibility Manager) and Emily McIntosh (Programme Manager, artsmethods@manchester and Afterlife Project Coordinator) – we found that the day just flew – the atmosphere was tremendously positive and it was great to hear more about everybody’s project proposals. Here are some of the highlights:
Kostas Arvanitis (Afterlife Project Lead) started the day by introducing the project, speaking about the importance of translating research into real-life contexts. Suzanne started with an excellent activity about jargon and research – and how avoiding the use of jargon can often be more powerful when working with different audiences. Each group had an envelope containing pieces of paper each with a different word – the task was to construct a sentence using all the words on the paper. The task proved very popular and proved that communication is central to research. Suzanne then went on to consider Public Engagement and its relationship to research, asking the question “Who is the public?”. Researchers were asked to consider The Onion (pictured below) which demonstrates the different layers of Public Engagement. With each layer the focus moves from two-way dialogue and co-design or co-decision making to telling or information giving. Hence the impact on research or on influencing policy decreases as activity moves towards the outer layers of the onion. Researchers were asked to think about typical public engagement activities and to add them to The Onion:
The next part of the workshop considered working with cultural partners and research identity. It tasked researchers to think about their research profile – and why might cultural organisations and the publc be interested in working with them? Why were they motivated to work with the public and cultural organisations? The task was to produce a research profile (such as the one you may post on LinkedIn) which described the researcher and their interests. It was based on Simon Sinek’s idea of The Golden Circle, and start with why (www.startwithwhy.com). The importance of reflective practice was also emphasised and there were various opportunties througout the day for participants to reflect on their work. To find out more about reflective practice, consult the new “Reflective Practice” page on this blog.
The highlight of the day was undoubtedly Jenna Ashton’s talk about her work with the public. Jenna is the current artsmethods@manchester Researcher In Residence and leads the Archive Interventions Project (http://archiveinterventions.wordpress.com). Jenna talked very animatedly about her work using Prezi. Many were inspired by her work with “Orphan Archives”. Jenna’s presentation can be accessed here: http://tinyurl.com/a2o45ew.
Since the day we’ve received some cracking blog posts from participants who have been reflecting on the day. Here are a selection – a contribution from Sarah Younan (http://miscmouldings.blogspot.co.uk) and anther from Naomi Billingsley (http://doubtdespairparadise.wordpress.com/category/blog/). We especially liked Kyra Pollitt’s post likening the process to Crufts: http://nanafroufrou.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/teaching-an-old-dog-new-tricks/
If you are participating in the process and have blogged about it then we would love to hear from you (firstname.lastname@example.org). More materials and resources from the workshop are available to download here: