Managing Collections – Week 2

Lecture: Maya Sharma and Joanne Robson from the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Centre (based in Manchester Central Library) discussing the centre’s Covid-19 contemporary collecting project.

Reading: “First, Do No Harm”: Tread Carefully Where Oral History, Trauma, and Current Crises Intersect, Cramer, J.A. (2020). and ‘Hybrid Material Encounters – Expanding the Continuum of Museum Materialities in the Wake of a Pandemic’ Galani, A. and J. Kidd. (2020)

Tasks: Record any questions/topics to discuss with Jo and Maya at the seminar. Decide ‘To interview or not to interview during Covid-19’ based on the Cramer reading.

© The University of Manchester, 2020 all rights reserved.

This weeks lecture was incredibly relevant to the ethical implications I’d been considering for the Group Project, particularly relevant to my theme of ethnicity and the intersection with class. In addition to the questions above which I felt were the most pressing questions in relation to my chosen object and our group project, I made a note of the following:

  • Language is incredibly important to them in engaging with communities. They use the term ‘black’ in its political sense, which encompasses people who have experienced slavery, colonialism and racism. Although Maya noted, this is a less popular way to describe and approach it. She says there is no correct and perfect term, but they don’t like the term BAME as communities find it homogenising and objectifying.
  • In the spirit of proper co-production they pay for community expertise; they invited members of the community that they’d been working with to speak at a Community Archive and Heritage Group session alongside them, meaning that community members could speak on an equal platform with them. Building knowledge, skills and relationships is important to them.
  • The mainstream archives don’t hold positions of trust with local communities and organisations, or the in-depth knowledge of working alongside communities.
  • They are not 100% sure why they are conducting the Covid contemporary collecting, what they do know is that in the short term it’s about making sure black experiences aren’t lost or go unrecorded (or even covered up!) and making sure the experiences are recorded on the communities own terms.
  • BLM (Black Lives Matter) has been intertwined with Covid-19, they cannot easily be separated.
  • The impact of Covid-19 has really been magnified by historic and systemic racism.

I will talk about how some of these points came up in our group project meeting in the afternoon later on in this post.

The reading of, ‘First Do No Harm’, was timely and convenient for our group. Amidst the discussions about not rushing into collaboration or posting social media call outs before we had fully considered the ethical implications, the article highlights how even conducting oral histories should be a questionable practice when collecting stories of coronavirus. We were asked to leave notes on Miro asking what the pros and cons are of conducting oral histories surrounding Covid-19. Something that stood out to me was the fact that the interviewer could be under-prepared and under-trained. I left the following comment on the ‘cons’ side: Under-prepared interviewers – Cramer points out that the interviewers might also be vulnerable and have their own unresolved suffering, this seems unavoidable with Covid-19 as the crisis is ongoing and is affecting people globally. Interviewers should consider that an unbiased interview is therefore less possible. Considering this, it would be more appropriate to conduct oral histories in the aftermath of the pandemic.

For this weeks group project meeting I was asked to step in as Group Leader as ours was unwell. We had a full agenda; I typed up all of my Group Leader’s notes and ideas and read them out to the rest of the group, making sure I referred back to them. I felt a responsibility to represent her opinions where I could. A number of key decisions were made during the meeting and our group seem to be making significant progress. This included the following:

Aims and Objectives: We were able to get down the first draft of our aims and objectives. They are, for now, as follows:

Aims (first draft):

  • The [in]visibility exhibition is so called to draw attention to societal inequalities that were pre-existing but have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 Pandemic –  discussions and awareness of these inequalities have intensified during lockdown, [in]visibility aims to maintain this momentum and ensure they remain visible for future generations.
  • Our intended audience have been disproportionality affected by the Covid-19 Pandemic, and feel as though the arts sector doesn’t reflect their experiences and isn’t catered to them. [in]visibility aims to record and preserve the communities experiences of Covid-19, through indirect collaboration using an accessible platform that is tailored to their known preferences.
  • Given that the Covid-19 Pandemic is on-going and that the intended audience rely so heavily on community support and engagement – [in]visibility aims to continue and strengthen community bonds using an accessible digital platform.
  • Taking into consideration the intended audiences low confidence levels surrounding engaging in the arts, [In]visibility aims to create an environment in which they can feel comfortable to share their stories and connect with others in the community – creating the option for anonymous contribution and participation.
  • [In]visibility aims to provide an open opportunity for the community to tell their stories on their own terms and in their own words. The aim is to challenge mainstream narratives and promote a broad spectrum of experiences, capturing even the most difficult stories.

Objectives (first draft)

  • To facilitate the healing process for those who have been impacted negatively.
  • Encourage members of the Kaleidoscope Creativity community to continue to talk openly and honestly and have healthy discussions about issues that are important to them.
  • Facilitate learning within the community and with any secondary audiences, and in turn present an opportunity for further research.
  • See an increase in engagement and confidence to participate from the Kaleidoscope Creativity community.

Since writing these I have thought of two more aims to add, one to do with our underlying, intersectional theme of class, and the other is about hyper-locality. I have also thought of another objective, which is to help our intended audience who are characterised by low confidence levels and a lack of engagement to feel more familiar with the arts. I will propose these to the group on Thursday.

We collectively decided that the term ‘collaboration’ should be avoided. After reflecting on Maya and Jo’s lecture and talking to them during our seminar it became clear that full co-production was not an option for a short-term, fast paced independent project – we do not have the institutional prestige or reputation to rely on, we do not have enough time to build up relationships of trust with our audience and we have no budget. This is particularly an ethical issue for me as a white woman collecting, representing and projecting the stories of people of colour. I would have to consider my approach very carefully but would rather avoid it entirely. Bearing all this in mind, we decided to go with an indirect collaborative approach to collecting instead. With this approach we are still able to invite participation and to create the platform we hoped to. The parameters and definition of the indirect approach will need to be discussed next week. Another thing we agreed was that using existing contacts and networks should be simpler than creating new relationships. I do have concerns that if we are solely relying on our own contacts that there may be some bias involved in the creation of content and in terminology chosen to invite participation. This reminds me that we must collectively try to keep referring to the intended audience.

During the group meeting, our course leader, Kostas, mentioned the concept of Hyper-locality. The definition on Wikipedia is: ‘Hyperlocal is information oriented around a well-defined community with its primary focus directed toward the concerns of the population in that community.’ We have a very well-defined audience, we even know that there is a large population of them in Manchester, and that they live in terraced houses, council housing and use housing associations. Therefore it’s feasible for us to identify actual locations where our audience live. I myself live very near clusters of council houses in a diverse part of Manchester (Moss Side / Rusholme).

© CFCCA_UK , A MEETING PLACE BY HAYLEY SUVISTE

The second reading for this week was about digital hybridity – this is a new subject to me and still quite challenging for me to define. An example I can think of is a recent Archive & Library residency at CFCCA, this text was taken from CFCCA’s instagram post from September 16 2020:

A Meeting Place 会议地点 has been created as part of Hayley’s online residency at CFCCA, using material from CFCCA’s archive. The soundwalk sonically animates the content of the archive, bringing to life the hidden histories and images within and inviting new audiences and communities to engage with these stories. The soundwalk will be available for free through the ECHOES app, an interactive GPS-triggered sound walks’ app. Each listener just needs a smartphone and headphones to access.

The interaction between born digital material (the oral histories, the app, the mobile phone) and the physical environment (China Town) creates a digital hybrid.

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