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’

Re:Curate Saturday 7 March 2009 March 12, 2009

Filed under: Alchemy Enquire,Events,Uncategorized — enquiremanchester @ 9:53 am

Re:Curate saw  students from Levenshulme High School for Girls joining their teacher, Dena, Louise, John and myself in facilitating an immersive experience for visitors to the Egypt Gallery.  I was particularly impressed with the maturity shown by the students in speaking to visitors about their work and in delivering a series of powerful creative performance pieces such as ‘Another TV Show’.  This piece investigated the idea that, by repeated exposure through the media, people may be desensitized to seeing human remains.

These interventions were developed with the artist and the students over an eight week period.  The artist, Dena Bagi, has researched the museum since December, meeting up  for discussions with curators and researching the human remains debate.  Dena is interested in the role of experimental curatorial practice in interpreting collections and objects.  The students have taken part in a session with Cat Lumb, Lead Humanities Educator, around the question of human remains and investigated the use of contemporary exhibiting techniques in the museum’s Lindow Man exhibition.

From this the young people developed their own responses to human remains on display in the gallery and created interventions in the spaces.  This enriched the debate about the display of human remains by bringing their ‘voices’ into the spaces and challenging museum visitors to consider this sensitive issue for themselves.


Paul and St Peters RC January 13, 2009

Filed under: Alchemy Enquire,Uncategorized — enquiremanchester @ 7:29 pm

image, tennes ball holder 5image, tennis ball holder 3

image, tennis ball holder

image, tennis ball holderBefore the Christmas break, artist Paul Needham, art teachers Karen and Natalie (along with the Deputy Headteacher), Louise – Curator of Secondary Learning at the museum and I met up at St Peters to plan a project in which we would collaborate together.  Karen and Natalie were both really enthusiastic about working with Paul and the museum and we talked about how we should bring Paul’s work into their existing curriculum and planned how to make best use of the time available.

The first sessions in school were lively and energetic.  Paul is working with two classes at St Peters so one session was followed by the other, though they were far from identical!  Paul’s premis was that there can be many answers to the same question.  So by asking things like “What can’t you photograph?”, “What isn’t this ball?”, and “Draw something you can play”, Paul got the class to start thinking about their own personal responses to objects.

Some hands on creativity also went on with the students being asked to make a structure that would hold a tennis ball in the air using only wooden skewers and masking tape.  A seemingly straightforward task, but of the ten or so groups making a structure, there were at least ten different outcomes.  This activity really seemed to focus the student’s attention and Paul has set himself the task of thinking about how he will work with the student’s strengths when they come to the museum.

image, Paul's practicePaul rounded up the session by talking about his own work.  The students reacted confindently and perceptively asking provocative questions like “Have you got a lot of time on your hands?” and more considered quesions like, “How much money do you sell your work for?”, “How did you make that?”, “How long did it take?” .  They also showed palpable pleasure in working out how Paul’s art work functioned and took easily to a type of art which was quite unfamiliar to them.   While Paul’s work is very conceptual and playful it is also very crafted, including a lasoo carved from wood, an elastic band moulded around a railing and a long pole made from match sticks.  Paul shared these two ideas really well with the session divided between wordplay and creative making.


Dena and Levenshulme

Filed under: Alchemy Enquire,Uncategorized — enquiremanchester @ 6:37 pm

image, journal making 2This session was great.  Dena introduced the project to the girls and explained how they would be reinterpreting objects through curatorial processes and interventions, as Dena has investigated in her own practice.  It was quite a difficult concept to get across but as the day progressed and the students worked through putting their project journals together each one gradually developed their own understanding of what Dena did and what the project might be about.

Dena was balancing a fine line between having a strong project framework which would lead the students on an exciting and challenging journey, while still leaving space for them to take a lead in that journey and responsibility for their own learning.

image, journal makingThe girls seemed interested but hesitant about the idea that what they produced during the project would form part of one of the museum’s ‘Big Saturday’ events on March 7.  Because of publication deadlines the event was planned in before we had discussed this with the group but Dena, Alice and I feel confident that the girls will have something to contribute as an intervention to the day – even if neither them nor us know what it will be yet.  [The situation reminds me of a conversation at one of the enquire events I went to which raised the question of whether we should be asking students to publicly exhibit their work at all.  Artists, someone argued, have the choice, time and foresight to hand should they choose to show their work.  Students involved in projects do not necessarily have the will, confidence or development time to be in a position to be happy to show their work publicly.  Therefore should we be putting them in such a position, it was asked?]  This project, by its very nature, is experimental.  The students are working to a brief rather than as ‘fine art’ makers so the outcome is more a vocational investigation rather than an art object in its traditional sense.

The group will be coming to the museum for the next couple of sessions to research and record what they think of our human remains displays, looking at what is on display and how it has been presented to the visitor.  Can’t wait.image, journal making 3image, making journal 4image, journal making 5


An Art Historian in the Museum December 3, 2008

Filed under: Alchemy Enquire — enquiremanchester @ 9:10 am
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Jen Ashton has written this piece about her experiences of working with us on our educational programmes.  Enjoy!

I began working with the Manchester Museum secondary education team in 2007. The process of working with the team has been enlightening; working in the museum space has been inspirational. Not only has working in the Museum influenced my research as an Art Historian, but has challenged my own preconceptions of what a museum and its collections can, and should, be used for.

My own memories of childhood museum visits are not, admittedly, altogether positive.

On coach – hurried in building – stare at objects – lunch – gift shop – coach – school – discussion of plastic toy/ bag of gem stones/ postcard purchased in gift shop – home.

Why were we hurried past exhibit after exhibit, no lingering, no delayed, slow walk up and down, no pondering over shapes, colour, forms, textures, histories? And why was it that the museum was left in the museum? There seemed to be a disconnection between the two spaces – the classroom, filled high with paper and books was distinctly separate from the museum, full of scrumptious objects, jewels, insects, stuffed animals and mummified bodies. Never the twain shall meet – only on that school trip. The museum visit was, for me, almost a token gesture of ‘other cultural activity’, a tick box filled. Did teachers (do they now?) understand the vastness of the rich material held by the museum, and how to utilised that material to stir imaginations and challenge curious minds? And on the flip side: did museum staff (do they now?) understand the needs of these little people; how to present their collections, verbally and visually; to engage and entertain; to stimulate interest, so they long to ponder, linger……..

As an art historian I like to look. As a child, I am not sure if ‘just looking’ was enough – I wanted discussion, explanation, activity, a chance to explore the space, a sense that the museum belonged to me also, not just those ‘in the know’ – those knowledgeable adults, with their big posh words, and unpronounceable naming games. As a child I remember the museum being closed off to me. A space I didn’t feel comfortable in. I never imagined I would eventual come to work in such a space.

As an ‘outsider’ to the museum collections, I am still not one of those ‘knowledgeable adults’. I have only just learnt to spell palaeontology. But I am in. I have been turned. Art History is concerned with all things visual, whether it be paintings, sculpture, architecture, textiles, furniture, fashion, jewellery, photography, illustration, roads signs, advertising, maps – the list is endless …… we live in a visual context. The museum is a visual space, from the exhibits themselves, to the building which contains them, to the landscape (urban or rural) in which it sits. As an Art Historian I have nothing to add of specimen value, I have only my images, my ways of seeing. When I look at the urchins, the jelly fish, the birds, pressed clematis and ferns, (I have currently been working with the Natural Sciences collections) I am viewing them as art objects. Rightly or wrongly, I initially ignore their scientific context, and immediately place them in an art context (remember the shapes, colour, forms, textures?) As a historian of art, I am thus intrigued by the object’s story into the museum, and how new histories can be created through new interactions and interpretations.

I view my role in the museum as thus: to discuss objects in their visual context; to engage students and visitors in the artistry of the collections – whether natural or man-made – to enable students to make connections between the school space and museum space; to develop connections between the museum and all areas of the curriculum. I have always championed interdisciplinary practices; the museum enables this blurring of boundaries between the arts and sciences – a good thing for all concerned, I feel.

Lastly, I think as an Art Historian a can also introduce new names and visuals to the curators themselves; to engage them in new ways of seeing. It is a learning curve for us all.


enquire is on the move November 20, 2008

Filed under: Alchemy Enquire — enquiremanchester @ 2:56 pm
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We had our first meeting with Alice from Levenshulme High School on Tuesday. I’d already met with artist Dena Bagi a couple of times before in the museum’s resource centre to talk about the project.

Bagi and Day discussing enquire

Dena and I went along to talk to art teacher, Alice, about Dena’s ideas and to discuss how we could all work best together on the project.  We ran over the aims and objectives for the project which were broken down into points for students, artist, teacher/school, museum educator and museum curator separately.  The question I have identified for the project is:  How can schools, artists and museums work collaboratively to deliver successful, sustained and sustainable art projects where each of the participants is considered to be a learner? By viewing each of the participants as learners we’ll be looking at how collaborating together can also mean that we learn together and identify our own roles within the collaboration.  In considering ‘successful, sustained and sustainable art projects’ we’ll be looking at what makes a project successful, the differences for learning between longer projects and our one-off workshops, and at how we continue to offer sustained projects to schools in the future.

As the museum educator, my learning is focused around how I foster the collaborative partnership and how I develop the framework for this model of working.  Its also about what my role as a museum educator is for this project – should I be at all the delivered sessions, how much information or support do I need to give to each of the participants, and what’s the best way to evaluate the ‘success’ of the project – what does ‘success’ even mean?

The meeting with Alice reminded me that there is no ‘perfect’ way to go about a project.  I’d suggested that Dena try not to make any hard and fast plans before meeting Alice because I didn’t want the teacher to feel outside of the project from the beginning.  However, Dena did have some pretty developed ideas about what she wanted to do – the project is to be based around her practice after all – but Alice had no problem with thinking about how Dena’s plans would be appropriate for the class or the national curriculum.  So I needn’t have worried about Dena developing her ideas in advance of meeting Alice.  This might have been more difficult for other teachers though, as we’ve found in the past.


New enquire Publication November 4, 2008

Filed under: Alchemy Enquire,Background,Evaluation — enquiremanchester @ 9:11 am
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The new en-quire publication ‘Inspring Learning in Galleries 02; Excellence and Inclusion’ has just been sent out.  Its a comprehensive overview of the work the engage has supported as part of its enquire strand over the last two years, covering all the participating clusters working in England.

As mentioned before, these clusters work in partnership with schools/youth groups, galleries, artists and higher education professionals to develop the action research. This research programme focuses on how children and young people can learn through galelries, contemporary art and artists.  In Phase 1 of enquire, which The Manchester Museum was not part of, took place in 2004-2006 and invovled three clusters.  For Phase 2 the number of clusters grew to seven and The Manchester Museum became invovled at this stage.  This new report highlights the last two years of work of these seven clusters and some of the things we have learnt as part of this programme – you can read about this in an earlier post

Here is an image of the report, in case you happen accross it in your area of practice and click here to download them from the enquire website.