Managing Collections – Week 1

Lecture: Introduction to contemporary collecting by Jen Kavanagh

I spent days in the lead up to Managing Collections reading about Mass Observation, SAMDOK, encyclopaedic collecting of everyday artefacts, stories and the links between life during the Blitz and life during Covid-19; but after reading the text for this week and hearing Jen Kavanagh’s lecture, I realise my focus may need to shift. I may need to forget about my personal interest in representing everyday life and think instead about the key ethical issues facing contemporary collecting. The SAMDOK and Mass Obs collecting methods certainly would be relevant to explore in the theme of Covid, but if I chose to focus on this I would be neglecting what I’m beginning to see as an important opportunity to document less-documented stories and experiences. For my Introduction to Museum Studies essay I wrote about the South Asia Collective – the name for the group of community members who are co-producing the new South Asia Gallery at Manchester Museum. In response to the question ‘What makes an ethical museum?’ I argued that relationships between museums and the communities they collaborate with can be sustainable and successful if the conversations are ongoing and the institution commits to permanent partnership. Jen Kavanagh raises many of the same issues I studied in depth last year, ‘what is missing from our collections and whose voices haven’t we heard? We have to make sure our collections are relevant to the communities we serve’. Collaborative contemporary collecting could be a subject to delve into further. Specifically, Kavanagh raises topics such as invitations to groups to produce content for the museum, the importance of asking them what stories they want to share and how communities actually benefit from this activity.

Text: Contemporary Collecting: An ethnical toolkit for museum practitioners

I read this text a number of weeks ago in preparation of the course. I think as I navigate relationships, ideas and developments within my project group I will need to refer back to this key text. I think it could become easy for me to lose the ‘bigger picture’ and wider context. I must remind myself of the good practice suggested in this toolkit whilst we make decisions as a group. The tool kit includes case studies on decolonisation, climate emergency, trauma and distress and digital preservation. Jen Kavanagh is also a contributor to this.

Task: Identify one item that you would like to collect related to Covid-19. It can be anything at this stage, but something you feel represents your experience of the pandemic.

Covid-19 tester uniform / T Shirt

The image above shows the object I chose to represent my experience of the pandemic. It shows the t-shirt my partner wears to work as a Covid tester. This object holds great representative potential for me. It speaks of the financial collapse of the arts sector, the mass redundancies of the lowest paid and most diverse employees in the sector; this in turn led to the owner of the t-shirt feeling pressured to take a job as a Covid tester. It reminds me of pay inequalities – some Covid testers are paid minimum wage, a rate which they feel is not indicative of the risk to health they face in doing the job. The owner is a POC, statistically meaning they are at higher risk of contracting the virus and becoming seriously ill. The Boots logo reminds me of how the current government have commissioned private companies to deliver health care services, instead of funding the NHS directly. I hope the object will also be good to practice a condition assessment on, but is also a good example of something that has potential ethical issues when considering if it’s appropriate for display. It does not appear very remarkable now, but may do in the future.

Task: Start considering the ethical considerations and challenges in collecting, researching, documenting and exhibiting tangible/intangible material that captures people’s experiences of Covid-19 for your group project.

Group Task: Write a paragraph reflecting on my experience of the pandemic

During our group project meeting this week, we aimed to narrow down our themes even further. We initially had a very broad theme of ‘Identity’ with sub-themes of class, age, religion and disability. During much discussion we decided to lose religion and focus instead on ethnicity. It became apparent during the conversation that what we were focusing on really had less to do with identity formation or politics, and more to do with how the pandemic had revealed or exacerbated issues of inequality and discrimination for these groups. We have settled on the title of [in]visibility. We also decided that class or socioeconomic background is a crucial aspect that connects all groups. I have therefore instead been searching for material that explores the intersection between class and ethnicity more specifically. This gives me much clearer direction, and will undoubtedly help me when it comes to identifying material to collect. I have had a number of ideas but I am not willing to commit to anything just yet. The reason for this is because we haven’t decided on a collecting method or considered the ethical implications of this and any outreach strategies. I am incredibly hesitant to rush into any communication to initiate collaboration with people I don’t know, or indeed anyone I do know, until we are able to justify why we are collecting, what the benefit will be to the communities and what our aims and objectives will be. I hope to discuss this at next weeks meeting.

I was happy with my Audience Spectrum presentation, as my project group seemed to quite quickly agree on the audience group I felt would be the most appropriate for our exhibition. We have decided our intended audience will be the Kaleidoscope Creativity audience spectrum profile. Below are screenshots of my presentation, giving a brief overview of this group and also how they have been affected by the pandemic.

This group are the most diverse group of the Audience Spectrum profiles, show some of the lowest engagement in the arts and also represent people who have been most significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic socially, financially and in terms of health. Over the next 2 weeks I will work with another person in my group, Hannah, to collate an Audience Development Strategy for our group to refer back to – I hope this will go towards the proposal due in November, and be submitted in the appendix of our overall group portfolio in February.

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