Enquiremanchester’s Weblog

The Manchester Museum is the lead museum in the North West Manchester cluster in a national project about art and learning for engage called ‘enquire’

Research reports August 19, 2008

Exploring the museum
Exploring the museum

For each of two years of action research we produced a research report.  These reports are currently being edited and published by enquire as part of the national enquire findings.

As a preview to the published report I just wanted to highlight some of the things that stood out during the research.

The research had an emphasis on collaboration and reflection within a tripartite framework of museum, school and artist. The underlying objective was to evidence how museums, schools and artists could best work together with contemporary art to create benefits for learning.

Year one (working with a researcher from The University of Manchester, Erinma Ochu):  what we learned

  • projects need time to plan, reflect, evaluate and learn from the processes
  • the roles of partners need to be clearly identified from the beginning so people know what they are responsible for and who they can go to
  • teachers, artists and museum educators should learn together from the beginning in the form of a collaborative exploration – its easy to over or underestimate how much each other knows

Year two (working with researchers Liz Jones, Christina Macrae and Rachel Holmes of Manchester Metropolitan’s Education and Social Research Institute:  what we learned

  • the artists’ pedagogical style placed an emphasis on the young people being co-learners
  • artists and curators provided a conduit between the students and the museum, and, in so doing, breached some of the barriers that prevent certain sectors of society from accessing such institutions
  • all the young people who participated regarded accessing the museums and galleries as a positive experience
Exploring Clifton Marina

Exploring Clifton Marina

Other elements which added to the ‘positive experience’ for young people were:

•    opportunities to browse and wander in an environment that was relaxed and not overtly rule- bound;
•    creation of opportunities for the young people to pursue aspects of their personal agenda, and thus give them some empowerment over their own learning;
•    sensitivity on the part of museum staff and the artists, so that the students were not rushed but allowed to take their time when looking and handling objects,
•    provision of diverse experiences that incorporated active participation – and favoured learning in kinaesthetic and tactile modalities.

So now we’re looking forward to another year where we can develop these ideas into more work and look more closely at how we can promote an environment where they can happen.


Highlights: year two August 6, 2008

Filed under: About Alchemy - enquire,Background — enquiremanchester @ 9:17 am
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In 2007, we started off with a group of nine artists, three to work with each of the three museums (Manchester, Bolton, and Harris in Preston).

It was planned that each of the artists would develop a proposal and one of the three artists’ proposals would be chosen to work with the schools. However, the artists had other ideas and the majority of them decided that they would prefer to collaborate together rather than competing for a project.

This added a very new and interesting dimension to the project in which artists did not just collaborate with teachers and students, curators and museum educators, but also with each other.

In Bolton Adela Jones wrapped pupils from Harper Green School up as hieroglyphed mummies before showing them how to best to conserve their egg sculptures, which had previously fallen victim to an unfortunate egg-smashing incident.


Over at the Harris, Pete Flowers, Patricia Ramsden and Jane Fairhurst gave St. George’s High School from Blackpool a technique with which to recreate Islamic patterns in acidic day-glo colours in their transformed history classroom (thanks Mrs Baldwin!).

Back in Manchester, Marina Rees, Robin Graham and Sue Flowers, brought boys from Littlemoss High School for Boys to the museum to meet curators in our stores before working with them to create a performance piece, costumes and sets which would tell the story of their ‘tribe’. I’ll never forget the boy-sized praying mantis as, clawed-arms outstretched, it stalked across our dimly lit mammals gallery!

Artists Beth Allen and Daksha Patel did not take part in the school project work but their early contributions to discussions to plan our research and evaluation were valued. They tell me they have continued to make use of what they found out on their research visit to Bolton Museum.

Ups and downs

There were ups and downs to working with such an experienced, passionate and creative bunch of people. But, as we all knew, if we had stuck to what we were familiar with then we wouldn’t have found anything out. Like we ask of the pupils, we had to take risks. More on the research process next time…


Highlights: year one

Filed under: About Alchemy - enquire,Background — enquiremanchester @ 9:16 am
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In our first year we worked with two fantastic artists, Amy Leach and Brian Percival, who had very different practices and opened our eyes to the vast array of possibilities that open up when you work with contemporary artists and schools in a museum. Amy took a class from Chorlton High School on a dramatic journey through time, acting out what they thought Egyptians might say as they look back from the afterlife and then creating memory boxes to tell future generations what they wanted to be remembered about them. It was touching to listen to one young man considerately reflecting on how he had made a good Egyptian husband.

A class from St Ambrose Barlow High School joined Brian in an investigation of native and non-native species in and around the local area and stretching out across Britain. Through photography and film, collecting, drawing, audio recording, interviews, web research and media research, this class created a striking documentary exhibition which demonstrated the diversity of the wild (and not so wild) life that they came across.


How it happened August 5, 2008

Two years ago Bryony Bond, the then curator for Alchemy (artists’ research at the museum), secured our first phase of funding to take part in a national research project into the benefits of working with contemporary art and artists for young people. This project is called en-quire. This funding allowed artists to work with the museum’s secondary learning team for the first time and for school children to engage with contemporary art and artists at the museum.

In 2007 en-quire continued our funding, this time enabling Bolton Museum, Art Gallery and Aquarium and Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston to join us in our research. The results of two years of research, which also allowed us to work with Salford’s Artists and Education and Creative Partnerships Manchester Salford, will be published by en-quire as part of their national findings and also in a smaller publication of the North West Manchester Cluster’s research reports. I’m also working on a website which can be used to share our research with other museums and schools who are interested in collaborating with contemporary art and artists.

We’re now getting excited about a further twelve months of working with en-quire, especially with the next academic year quickly approaching, but more about that in later blogs…