Manchester Museum’s new exhibition, Extinction or Survival? is now open. Today’s blog is a guest post by Henry McGhie, Head of Collections and Curator of Zoology, taking a closer look a…
A strong connection with nature lies at the heart of a healthy life and a healthy planet – but how do we increase people’s nature connection? That is my research focus and such increases need to be…
All the curators have been out and about over half term, in Manchester and beyond! We’re helping to spread the word about our new museum development plans. We want to hear what people think about our plans to build an extension to the Manchester Museum. It will house a new permanent gallery focusing on the history and culture of South Asia as well as a new exhibition space for host blockbuster shows. If you want to find out more, keep track of our progress on our Courtyard Project blog.
We’re organising the World Symposium on Climate Change Communication, to be held in central Manchester on 22-24 February 2017, organised jointly with Prof Walter Leal of Manchester Metropolitan University. The conference is aimed at everyone interested in how we can communicate and engage people effectively on climate change: its causes, impacts and links to collective and personal behaviour. The conference aims to:
- provide research institutions, universities, NGOs, cultural institutions, government and development aid agencies and enterprises from across the world with an opportunity to display and present their works in the field of climate change communication.
- to foster the exchange of information, ideas and experiences acquired in the execution of climate change communication initiatives and projects, especially successful initiatives and good practice across the world.
- to discuss methodological approaches and experiences deriving from case studies and projects, which aim to show how climate change communication may be implemented in practice.
- to network the participants and provide a platform so they can explore possibilities for cooperation.
The conference is international, and a wide spread of perspectives and approaches are especially welcomed, from any related discipline. The conference is aimed at researchers, NGOS, funding agencies, and practitioners working in the field of climate change engagement in the broadest sense, including educators, curators and government agencies.
We have a call for papers and other presentations open now until 30th October.
If you’re interested, come along.
A lot of this week was spent thinking about the exhibitions programme for our expanded temporary exhibitions gallery, due to open in 2020, and how to break that down into components: what success would look like for our various target audiences, how far people will travel to see particular exhibitions (and how to find that out), what the strengths (and weaknesses) of our current exhibitions are and so on. Rachel Webster, Curator of Botany, and I went to National Museums Scotland on Friday to visit the brilliant Celts exhibition, developed in partnership with the British Museum, to see what we could garner that would help with our own redevelopment project.
I also spent a bit of time preparing (or at least thinking about) various talks I’ve got coming up. Next week is the Tyndall Assembly and I’m the pre-dinner speaker, on communicating climate change, and bridging policy/strategy and people’s lived experience. The week after that I’ve got another conference at the University of Reading on Object Lessons and Nature Tables. My own offering is about how history can be used flexibly in museums, drawing on examples at Manchester Museum (I’ll write more on this after the conference), and how curators, historians of science, artists can and have approached history. This conference follows on from the University Museums Group annual conference, also at Reading, on the subject of partnerships and international working.
We had a planning meeting for a project I’m involved in, ‘Encountering the Unexpected’, with the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries at the University of Leicester. This is a great project, which explores how natural heritage collections can/could help promote active ageing, by helping people connect with nature. This is very timely, as there’s plenty of movement regarding the recognition of the value of nature for promoting people’s wellness; this is also important for nature, as support for and valuing nature is linked with positive attitudes towards the sustainable use of nature, which is something I’m especially interested in. The project is based around three Exchanges (we’ve already had the first one), then museum partners set up their own experiments/activities to test and evaluate different approaches to using their collections. The project has funding from the Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund and runs for the next 18 months.
I spoke with a broadcaster about Belle Vue Zoo, and some of the famous animals that once lived in the zoo but which are now preserved in the Museum. These include Maharajah, an Asian Elephant who walked with his keeper from Edinburgh to Manchester in 1872. A local artist recreated this journey last year, and we had an exhibition of his work around Maharajah’s skeleton this year. Maude, the wonderful and very beautiful Tigon from Belle Vue Zoo, and which we had mounted by a taxidermist last year, is another ‘celebrity’ from the Zoo.
A highlight of the week was a day’s Carbon Literacy training, along with a group of other staff, delivered by our own Carbon Literacy accredited trainers Michael Whitworth and Lynsey Jones. This is part of our commitment towards connecting with climate change activity and action, and all staff are to receive this training. This will enable us to become an accredited Carbon Literate Organisation, and we believe we’ll be the first carbon literate museum in the world. It was really well delivered, showed the enormity of the challenge and the need for action, and then we all looked at how we can be more environmentally sustainable through personal and group action. The timing of this was terrific, as our Climate Control exhibition ended last Sunday (although we’re going to leave up a lot of the materials from the exhibition to promote further action).
I spent the last two days as a conference organised by Prof Walter Leal of Manchester Met. The theme was ‘universities and climate change: the role of higher education institutions in addressing the mitigation and adaptation challenges’, with an international audience. We had a packed programme of presentations exploring the adaptation and mitigation challenges in different parts of the world. The far-reaching implications of climate change were reflected by the diversity of presentations, from academics working with urban planning in Germany, universities as living laboratories for testing, adapting and educating on climate change mitigation, implementing sustainability initiatives across the university curriculum in Chile, combining history and environmental sciences approaches to understanding environmental change in coastal Portugal, going fossil fuel free, the implications of the Paris climate change agreement for research agendas, using theatre to communicate climate change issues to researchers, climate change experiences at the hyper-local level in the Philippines, the history of attributing extreme weather events to human-induced climate change, escaping the ‘economists’ straitjacket’ to promote social, environmental and economic sustainability. One of the challenges that came up again and again was the challenge of working or speaking across disciplines, and how universities are not necessarily structured in ways that promote this kind of working. Encouragingly, some universities were investing in cross-disciplinary structures to help move this kind of work forward, but there is a long way to go. I was happy to have the chance to show delegates our Climate Control exhibitions. The main exhibition closes to the public tomorrow, but we’ll leave the ’10 Ways to Make a Difference’ on the Living Worlds gallery, along with the beautiful sculpture of moths.
Natural heritage collections are packed with millions of wonders that can intrigue, surprise, and fascinate. How might these treasures be unlocked to support older people to age successfully, re-connect them with the natural world and encourage them to have a stake in the present and future? How can natural history curators be supported to find ambitious new uses, meaning and relevance for their collections?
Encountering the Unexpected is a two-year project that will initiate a series of bold museum experiments to develop a framework, or set of principles, that will activate and interrogate the potential of natural heritage collections to support successful ageing and achieve social change. The project is led by the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries at the University of Leicester, with Manchester Museum, and in partnership with other museums in the North West Natural History Museums Partnership, along with The Eden Project, RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and Public Interest Research Centre, and active ageing specialists Age UK, Age Friendly Museum Network and Equal Arts. The project will explore how natural history collections can be used to stimulate older people, support successful ageing and re-connect them with the natural world, producing simultaneous benefits for people and the environment.
Encountering the Unexpected combines RCMG’s interests in active ageing and the potential to use collections in new ways and the need of the NW Museums’ Partnership to better understand how they can use their natural heritage collections to enrich lives, and ensure that staff working with these collections have the skills and confidence to use them effectively. At the heart of the project will be rich, stimulating and meaningful encounters with natural heritage collections.
How might (for example) engaging with natural history specimens stimulate concern for, and action to protect, the natural world? Nature and wellbeing are inextricably linked – evidence suggests that connecting with nature can help restore physical energy, reduce stress, generate a positive mood and improve general outlook on life. However, older people are often disconnected from the natural world and less likely to have regular contact with nature (Natural England 2015). Natural heritage collections are strongly associated with children and their families, making it difficult for museums to raise awareness of the importance of these collections across the whole of the life course. Museums in the North West are keen to use their collections in new and imaginative ways, and Encountering the Unexpected will provide a lens through which to explore and revitalise natural heritage collections for a new audience.
Encountering the Unexpected is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, run by the Museums Association.
Find out more about the North West Natural History Museums Partnership in their publication, 7 Million Wonders (2015).
Transforming the way in which museums use their natural heritage collections to support active ageing
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