Louise Senior | Forest Reflections

This weekend, amidst the crowning of the Marymas Queen, the Highland dancing and the tunes of the Thurso pipe band, we officially launched our ‘Hidden Forest’ trail. The Caithness winds were gusting at up to 50mph, forcing the Marymas Fair into the local village hall, which lent a different kind of atmosphere to events.

Nevertheless, alongside the chair of the Dunnet Forestry Trust, we set up our stall in the corner of the hall and, in-between the fancy dress competitions and the bake-off awards, we were able to show off our glossy new leaflet and talk to numerous people about the stories of social history hidden in Dunnet Forest – and even collect a few new ones. For me, this was the culmination of months of collaboration with the Dunnet Forestry Trust on a social history trail through the forest which began when I attended the Afterlife of Heritage training workshops.

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Naomi Billingsley | Burning Bright, Part 3: glowing on a computer screen near you…

The final part of my R2P project is now live on the web: an online version of the exhibition ‘Burning Bright: William Blake and the Art of the Book’, which took place at the John Rylands Library, Manchester, earlier this year (see my first and second posts for details of the other aspects of my project).

Translating a physical exhibition into an online format was an interesting exercise, which highlighted for me important differences about how we (or I at least) engage with material physically and digitally:

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Julia Bennett | Connecting Places

My project aimed to expand my PhD research and attempt to engage a community to think about how the place itself helps to make it what it is. My original idea was for a photography/story competition where people would photograph a place and tell the story of their connection to it.

As photographic competitions tend to attract a particular kind of photography enthusiast, rather than the general community, my research partner – Saskia from Z-Arts in Hulme – felt it best to avoid the competitive element. So after securing the funding we set up an event to give tips on taking good photos with the idea that people would then go out and photograph their locality and put the photos and their related stories into an exhibition. This event was, unfortunately, not well attended. The fact that we’d chosen cup final day may have had something to do with this! Learning point: check the calendar for local and national events before picking a date.

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Kyra Pollitt | R2P: so what difference did it make?

Summer is drawing to a close and the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is upon us: an appropriate time, then, to reflect on and draw in / draw to a close/ draw together the fruits of my Research to Public events.

In the early summer I staged two ‘happenings’ at the Royal West of England Academy. Each coinciding with the major summer exhibition Drawing, each taking place in The Drawing Lab – a gallery space given over to interactivity. The happenings brought together, in embodied performance, three elements of my research: ‘sign language poetry’; art practice; and scholarly writing.

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Niki Black | Connecting the Circle: Blog #3

With all four of my festival engagement events now completed, time to reflect on what my involvement with the project has taught me and what has been achieved.

I had held an exhibition and art activity at four festivals in Northumberland between March and July this year. These festivals make up the case studies of my research into the impact of such events on the social sustainability of their host communities: as such they have common variables of type and form but also display huge variations in their character, location and the visiting public with which I was engaging. Although this may seem obvious, it is something easily overlooked when preparing activities designed to be repeated on a number of occasions. I found myself challenged by practicalities such as varying weather conditions (try carrying out a paper-based art activity in a windy field!), and locations which didn’t appear on any maps alongside the variety of responses from different publics with different expectations of art workshops and academic research. What I really perceived, however, was never presume what people’s responses will be! I was constantly reminding myself of this: the teenage huddle which I was reluctant to approach turned out to be really interested and involved!

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James West | Reflective Blog

A few thoughts on my contribution to the Afterlife of Heritage Research Project, which has been developed in collaboration with the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre – an extension of the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust which was established following the racially motivated killing of a student at Burnage High School in Manchester. (If you aren’t aware of the Centre and the incredible work it does please take the time to visit their website.)

This project is composed of three main elements – a series of seminars offered to Manchester schools affiliated with the Race Relations Centre which tied into the current A-Level curriculum, screenings of a series of documentary films, and the establishment of an online archive feeding into the work of the Race Relations Centre and influenced by my own field of research which focuses on African American history.

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Louise Senior | Finding the Path

I’d had my brilliant idea for engaging the public with my research, my cultural partner, the Dunnet Forestry Trust, had offered me wholehearted support for the project, and, importantly, I had managed to secure the Afterlife of Heritage funding to put my plan into action. I thought the difficult parts were over and I was raring to get going – this should be the easy bit, right? Not so.

I have lost my way countless times over the past few months and my original idea has had to be tweaked over and again. This blog post presents the story of how some of the complications I experienced were overcome – partly through creative thinking, but mainly through having developed an honest and effective working relationship with the people who represent my cultural partner.
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Rhian Phillips | Through a Glass Darkly: Connecting Schools and Universities at Glamorgan Archives

On 4th September I’ll be speaking at the ‘Enhancing Impact, Inspiring Excellence’ Conference at the University of Birmingham.  The Conference, organised by the National Archives and the University of Birmingham in association with Research Libraries UK, aims to examine collaborative approaches between archives and universities.

Delegates will include academics, students and archivists who will be discussing existing partnerships and identifying new partnerships for the future.  The Conference will showcase collaborative projects between archives and academia, highlight good practice, and emphasise the benefits to both archives and universities that result from partnership working.

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Sarah Younan | Towards a Digital Dream Space

Museums create fictional universes, much like the original cabinet of curiosities they aim  they construct model universes by collecting, ordering and displaying overviews of the external world. These have been used over time to support and reinforce current understandings of the world. Despite their emphasis on real and original items museums ultimately produce fiction, their very own brand of surrealism. In my project with digital scans of museum objects I have covetted and encouraged this museum surrealism and found myself straying into the ‘museum dream space’…

Objects can become staging grounds for symbolic action. When objects enter the museum, they are removed from primary experience and embeded in narrative; their practical value is replaced by “exhibition value” (Benjamin, 1973).  There is no guarantee that the story told by the museum is identical with the viewer’s reading (Hein, 2000). Museum objects can elucidate historical or scientific knowledge, they can be of aesthetic and educational value. However they can also elicit personal memories (Kavanagh, 2000), blending inner and outer experience into one. In my work with digital models of museum artefacts I have sought to explore how digital models of museum objects can trigger our imagination, emotions, senses and memories.
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‘An Evening of Art, Music, Fashion and Marcel Proust’ Reflective blog #3

‘An Evening of Art, Music, Fashion and Marcel Proust’ Reflective blog #3

By Wendy Ligon Smith and Sophie Preston

On the day

After getting little sleep the night before, the day of ‘An Evening of Art, Music, Fashion and Marcel Proust’ arrived. Wendy and I were both excited but anxious due to the gallery’s concern regarding the potential number of people set to attend the event. With 180 free tickets accounted for, MAG emailed preparing us for the worst, explaining visitors might feel underwhelmed if they could not hear or see what was happening due to throngs of visitors. We were also informed on the morning of the event, we needed to attend a meeting that afternoon. Sophie went along to this meeting and met with the team and together they discussed the format of the evening. The gallery asked if we could create a playlist and a PowerPoint presentation for the evening, Wendy and I were able to complete the latter task, but felt it was too late notice to make a playlist for the evening.

After the meeting we spent some time with Ben and Andy from Bellevue Productions who were filming the evening on behalf of Heritage Afterlife. We took the crew on a tour of the gallery, allowing them to plan their shots and were interviewed by Ben and Andy who asked us about the development of the tour. Time went quickly and the entrance foyer of the gallery soon began to fill up. Unfortunately no sign had been made by the gallery stating there would be two tours and where they would start, the visitor assistant welcoming guests was also unclear on the night’s proceedings – this was a shame as this had been discussed in the earlier meeting.

Nevertheless, all went to plan. Over 85 people assembled on the balcony and listened to the solo violinist create the right mood.  The tour then began, with Sophie welcoming the visitors and explaining the format of the tour, contextualising Proust’s relationship to Manchester and discussing the first painting. The violinist played again and the crowds filtered through into the next room where Wendy discussed Proust and Venice using the Canaletto paintings on display. Next, he harpist played three beautiful pieces and Sophie led the tour into the next room and discussed Proust’s relationship to Pre–Raphaelite art. The tour continued in the final gallery where the flute trio played and Wendy and Sophie discussed episodes of the novel using relevant art works, and finally Wendy finished the tour discussing Proust and the dress designer Mariano Fortuny, whose famous ‘delphos’ gown is on display in the gallery. We received excellent feedback after the tour and greatly enjoyed chatting  to visitors afterwards. The tours apparent success was a huge relief. We quickly composed ourselves and began the next tour with a crowd of over 45. This tour went just as well, but  we had to finish a little sooner due to the gallery needing to close. For us both, It was a wonderful evening that went far too quickly.


Working together

With having the same supervisor and similar research interests, Wendy and Sophie have been the perfect team to work on this project. Wendy, on seeing the application for an AHRC funded public engagement event asked Sophie if she would like to work together on a project. Sophie was thrilled at the opportunity and from day one, working together has been nothing but a positive experience. Wendy has taken overall charge of the event due to her experience as final year PhD researcher and Sophie feels, as only a first year PhD researcher, she has benefitted a lot from Wendy’s knowledge.  Both Wendy and Sophie wrote their own scripts, while Wendy took charge of the paperwork and organised the music for the evening. Together they created the tour’s format.

Working with the musicians

It was convenient that RNCM has an efficient program for booking musicians.  Wendy’s contact, Abigail Collins, organises the student bookings and made the process quite easy.  She gave us every confidence that the musicians would be professional quality, on time, and eager to make to contributing to making the event a success.  We signed a contract with them and specific music and dress, and timings were agreed. All of the business end of the agreement was handled with Abigail, in whom we trusted greatly, which put us at ease.

On the night the musicians were on time, friendly, prepared, and knowledgeable.  Their performances enhanced the event dramatically.  So many guests commented on their enjoyment of the music and how it was so interesting and unique to bring other senses into their experiences of visual art.  We would, without hesitation, work with these musicians and with RNCM again. It was such a positive experience.