Represent! Call for exhibitions

2018 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, in which all men and some women won the vote. To mark this monumental anniversary, the People’s History Museum will programme a year long season of exhibitions, events and learning programmes working with marginalised and underrepresented communities on the theme of the struggle for representation.

As part of the community exhibition strand of the programme we are pleased to announce an open call for submissions from groups or individuals wishing to display or produce an exhibition around the theme of representation. The 2018 community exhibition programme will be selected by a panel of museum staff and members of a cross section of community groups.

Available dates:

Engine Hall

Exhibitions will run for one month and slots available are

Friday 23 March –Sunday 22 April 2018

Friday 3 August-Sunday 2 September 2018

Friday 7 December –Sunday 6 January 2019

Main Gallery Two display area

Will run for three months and slots are available between April 2018 and January 2019

To apply:

Deadline for submissions: Sunday 26 November 2017, 5.00pm

Please send submissions for the attention of Mark Wilson, Exhibitions Officer to the museum address or by email to mark.wilson@phm.org.uk.  If you have any questions please email mark.wilson@phm.org.uk or phone 0161 838 9190.

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Cultural spaces are safe spaces: Why inclusion is everything

A guest blog by placement student Kath Fox

I currently have the pleasure of working alongside the brilliant team at the People’s History Museum, which most recently involved a day of events celebrating the National Festival of LGBT History.

As part of the Festival, I ran a stall promoting the Museum’s new community-led LGBT+ project entitled Never Going Underground, taking place in 2017 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexual acts; in partnership with Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus, LGBT Foundation, Proud 2b Parents and The Proud Trust. Throughout the day, thoughts and feelings about past, present and future LGBT campaigns were gathered and captured from the festival attendees and much conversation was had.

Then all of a sudden, around mid –morning, a woman arrived at the Museum with a sense of urgency, keen to know where one of the talks about gender was due to take place. She seemed anxious, looked at me and said: “My son has come out as transgender”, then paused and waited for me to respond to those words which were still unfamiliar to her. I greeted the news with a big smile and replied, “How wonderful!” She looked relieved: “I need to talk to somebody about it. Can you help?”. “Of course”, I said. Within the hour, in between talks and events, Kate Hardy (LGBT Foundation’s Health and Wellbeing Officer) and the woman were busy arranging to meet.

The woman had come across the Festival online and thought she may find help there. Which is exactly what she did. Her son’s life is already better. At that moment she too became part of an entirely new LGBT+ family, and it was just as important to welcome her within an inclusive space, as it was to ensure she had the right support for her son.

Inclusion is such a powerful thing. As an LGBT+ person, to be part of an environment that includes you, respects you and positively celebrates you is something perhaps others take for granted. Being part of a Festival that achieves these things is particularly special.

Cultural spaces are as much about belonging as they are about storytelling and the People’s History Museum do it brilliantly.

 

 

 

The Incredible Hulk!

A guest post by Conservator Jenny Barsby

Fig 1.The banner in use at a demonstration

Fig 1.The banner in use at a demonstration

The Textile Conservation Studio here at PHM takes in private work as well as caring for our collection which helps to support the running of the museum. I recently had the pleasure of working on a banner belonging to the GMB union. This was an interesting project for me not only because the banner is still being used, which presents specific conservation issues, but also because the artist who created the banner was able to provide valuable information about the object which informed the treatment.

The banner in question was designed and made by Scottish artist Andrew Turner. Turner was born into a coal mining community and his early experiences as a miner’s son feature heavily in his work. In 1961 he attended Edinburgh School of Art but was later expelled for organising a student demonstration. He went on to study at the Leeds College of Art before attending the Royal Academy as a postgraduate in 1971. The banner was commissioned by the Manchester branch of the GMB (then GMWU) in 1977. The brief was to produce a banner which represents the strength of the working class, depicting the ongoing struggles but also hope for the future.

The design put forward by Turner featured a muscular proletarian figure positioned in the centre with his head facing down; eyes closed and fists outstretched breaking the chains which bind him. Turner recalls that the figure was christened by a young shop steward at the unfurling of the banner who thought he looked like the Incredible Hulk. Other symbolic references are included such as the negotiating table which appears often in Turner’s work, a key and a small piece of cake. An open book sits on the table with a quote from Engels ‘It is not the Lowness of wages which forms the fundamental evil but the wages system itself.’ It is painted onto heavy-weight blue cotton sailcloth; the colour was a controversial choice because it is has conservative associations but in an art history context, blue symbolises hope, which is why Turner favoured it.

Turners working process involved stretching the fabric out under tension and pinning it to a frame before applying a primer layer and blocking out the design using scale drawings. The painting was worked up in thin layers with drying time in between. The style of painting is quite expressive with shading used to pick out the shapes and make the image look three dimensional and dramatic. The figure and chains are depicted with exciting, dynamic marks which suggest movement and aggression whereas the text is worked very neatly in flat colour with sharp clean lines.

fig-2-andrew-turners-visit-to-phm.jpg

Fig 2.  Andrew Turner’s visit to PHM

It is quite rare for a conservator to be working on an object and be able to consult the maker or artist about the treatment of their piece. So when the opportunity arose to meet Andrew Turner we didn’t hesitate to invite him to the studio to see the banner he finished painting 35 years ago. Turner was delighted to be re-united with his work and was pleased to see it was still in good condition despite being used on marches for many years. For me the experience really enhanced my appreciation of the banner and although the insight provided by Turner did not alter my treatment plan, it confirmed that my approach was appropriate for the materials I was dealing with.

Fig 3. Microscope image showing cracks and soiling

Fig 3. Microscope image showing cracks and soiling

The banner was painted with good quality artist’s acrylic paint. This media is a modern material and still commonly used by artists today, it does however present problems for long term preservation. Even when dry, the paint film remains quite soft which means it can be easily damaged; this also means that dust and other types of particulate soiling can become embedded in the surface. Cleaning all types of paint can be very difficult because water and other solvents can react chemically and cause more damage. In the case of acrylic paint, research is still being done to find safe ways of cleaning which do not alter the original quality of the paint. With this in mind my treatment plan for the ‘Hulk’ banner was to surface clean and stabilise cracks in the paint film without full scale wet cleaning of the paint.

The first stage of treatment was a thorough surface clean; this was done using a low suction vacuum with a screen placed across the object to protect the painted areas. The non-painted areas were worked over more thoroughly using soft brushes and the vacuum. Any dust removed was captured on muslin traps inside the vacuum nozzle; this allows us to assess the condition of the textile and the type of dirt coming off. In this case, a surprising amount of dust was found on the traps along with loose fluff, dislodged paint flakes and a lot of blue fibre from the fabric itself.

Fig 4. Cracking in paint on book motif

Fig 4. Cracking in paint on book motif

Fig 5. consolidating the paint

Fig 5. consolidating the paint

Fig 6. Face of banner after conservation

Fig 6. Face of banner after conservation

The second stage was a series of tests to establish the suitability of possible consolidants for the painted areas and then work began on stabilising the cracked and flaking paint. The consolidant is a type of adhesive, it is transparent and no attempt is made to ‘touch up’ missing areas. In most cases conservators aim to do what we can to preserve the original material rather than make something look new again. In addition to stabilising the paint some humidification was done to ease out creases across the top of the banner, unfortunately some creases in the body of the banner have set in with the stiffening of the paint over time and will now be impossible to remove.  As part of the treatment a special banner bag was made to make it easier for the client to store and preserve it, advice was offered for its ongoing care with the hope that it will be enjoyed for years to come.

The Christian and Politics

A guest post by Manchester University’s Religious Studies course after their visit to the Labour History Archive & Study Centre

Christian Socialism began as a movement in the mid-19th century, around the year 1848. For early Victorian society, religion played a key part in their daily lives, whether it was to help navigate the seasons of the year and help with crop rotation in a rural setting or as an aspect of the daily life of an industrialist in the cities.

At its beginnings in 1848, Christian Socialism held 5 key principles:

  • Opposition to competition.
  • Christians to be active in society.
  • Duty to help men (and women) out of poverty.
  • Development of worker’s co-operatives.
  • Importance of earthly salvation.

It is interesting to note that the actual Christian Socialist Movement collapsed in 1854 as an individual institution as people went their separate ways in the search for a fulfilment of their own political and religious ideals.

The emergence of non-conformist religion such as Methodism had a lot to do with the origins of the Labour movement. Early Methodism inspired many 19th century trade unionist movements. In many ways the beginnings of the Christian Socialist movement can be seen to translate into the modern day Labour Party with its support of the political order, its opposition to strike action and its rejection of class conflict. What’s more, many of the founders of what is now the Labour party were Christian socialists, such as Keir Hardie, who had been a lay preacher as a member of the United Secession Church. Many would be surprised to learn that the origins of the left wing party were Methodist rather than Marxist. However many recent Labour leaders, notably Tony Benn, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, have been committed to Christian Socialism. Christian Socialists find inspiration through Bible passages such as: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God’’ (Luke 6:20). This approach tends not to be revolutionary; rather it calls for improved conditions for the poor rather than radical societal change. Christian socialist ideology has moved popular religious movements and impacted the political landscape in Britain.

The Christian and PolticsThe Christian and Politics highlights the demand for effective Christian leadership. The opening paragraph of the booklet states that the Church has, for the past 100 years (1848-1948) been ‘urging Christians to take a more lively interest in politics and a more active part in national and international affairs.’ Many Christians of this time, the author notes, do not take into consideration their fellow men in relation to their religion, but rather between themselves and God alone. The author continues to encourage the readers; by identifying the ‘appalling apathy, indifference, ignorance and opposition amongst members of the churches’ and how ‘those who wield political power sometimes use it for selfish ends.’ In addition to this he proposes that it’s up to Christians to speak out the truth of God within the political world in order to work towards something greater.

Today the Christian Socialism movement has re-branded as Christians on the Left. It is still an active movement with around 1500 members including 40 MPs. The group today still advocates many of the same principles and actions indicated in the 1948 pamphlet. For example, they believe that in political terms they do not have the “option to opt out,” and must instead be active as Christians in the political realm by taking part in campaigning, standing for election to local, regional, national and European bodies, political theology and parliamentary events amongst other things. However, although political action is at the heart of the Christian Socialism movement, both in 1948 and today, they are still keen to establish that their “primary identity is in Christ, not a political ideology.” It is therefore in their reading of scripture that they find both the justification and structure for their political activity.

My week at the People’s History Museum

A guest post by work experience placement Matthew Heywood

Nottingham City NALGO banner

As a student entering my second year of college and with university applications coming up, work experience is a very useful process to get involved in. And with a desire to take up a degree in history, the People’s History Museum was the ideal location for a relevant, engaging and insightful work placement.

During my week here I have taken part in many of the activities which constitute working life at the People’s History Museum. These include making a display for the ENGAGE 25th anniversary meeting, photographing objects for the archives and evaluating visitor comments.
A notable experience was researching a banner from the 1989 NALGO strike in Nottingham, which took place in protest against the anti-union actions of Margaret Thatcher’s government, to produce a label for the 2015 banner display.

My week here at the People’s History Museum has proved highly insightful and demonstrated the hard work and dedication that goes into its day-to-day functioning and maintenance. For anyone looking for work experience, interested in social history or curious about how a museum really works, a work placement at the People’s History Museum is something I would highly recommend.

 

PHM on Tour: Salford

IMG_5022-1On the first leg of our AGMA tour, we visited Barton Moss in Salford to meet some of the anti-fracking protesters who are campaigning against iGas, who are drilling in the area in search for shale gas. The men and women on Barton Moss have been camped out for over three months and have formed a camp akin to a front line, proudly displaying posters and placards supporting their cause.

We wanted to reach out to the folk on Barton Moss to let them know about our contemporary collecting campaign, in which we aim to collect objects and stories of protests, campaigns and events that are happening today, or within living memory. This will give us more relevance not only in today’s society, but will also act in preserving our contemporary heritage for the future.IMG_5028-1

Despite the cold and rainy weather, we were able to speak to a number of the Barton Moss protesters and tell them about the Play Your Part project, and make them aware of our plan to collect contemporary material such as the placards, posters and leaflets currently being used there today.

If you have material you would like to donate, please get in touch with harriet.richardson@phm.org.uk , or to find out which AGMA district we are visiting soon, check the blog next week!

Play Your Part - resized for web

The dialogue between visitors and the museum and the ethics of visitor generated content

surveillance bug

Spying on our visitors? This surveillance ‘bug’, discovered by builders in February 1975, was used by MI5 to spy on communist activity.

Throughout our Play Your Part project we’ve been experimenting with new and different ways to interact with our visitors, both online and onsite using methods such as this blog, post it notes, pop up exhibitions and events.  What we haven’t explored in great depth, however, is the existing ways we interact with our visitors – from the day to day conversations our gallery assistants have with our visitors, our use of social media and traditional methods such as our comments book.  I was keen to explore ways that we could capture this dialogue and develop methods for visitors to see their feedback and responses from the museum in relation to that feedback.  I therefore brought together colleagues from a number of departments to collate how, where and why we interact with our visitors, what they tell us and to brainstorm ideas of how we can capture these conversations and respond.

How and where do we interact with our visitors?

We discussed three main places we interact with our visitors – physically, both inside and outside the museum; remotely, for example on the telephone; and virtually.  There were a large number of ways in which we interact with our visitors.  These included:

  • Interactions with members of staff – both in person onsite (on the info desk, in the shop, on the galleries, in the archive, when we conduct visitor surveys), off site (conversations with people when we’re outside of work, outreach workshops, stalls and events, socially) and remotely (phone and email)
  • Written interactions on site – via our comments book, chalkboards, post it notes and video booth (not strictly written)
  • Digital interactions – facebook, twitter, blog, website and enewsletter
  • Through museum interpretation and programming – galley interpretation, objects, interactives, events, exhibitions, learning programme
  • Communication via our brand – visual identity, print
  • Our supporters scheme

Why do we interact with our visitors?

The reasons why we interact with our visitors are equally numerous and it became clear that interaction and communication with our visitors is at the heart of what we do:

  • Because it’s our mission – to raise our profile, our funders require it
  • To educate – to deliver a tour or learning session
  • To entertain
  • To inspire
  • To inform – to respond to an enquiry, give information, explain what they can do whilst they’re here
  • To provide a service – social, educational, wellbeing, information
  • To market the museum – to create a destination for visitors to come and to encourage them to come back
  • Practical reasons – to take a booking
  • Income generation – to sell products in the shop, to encourage donations
  • To gather information – to get feedback to make the museum better, to get information about objects, alternative histories and stories,
  • Because we enjoy it and we love our visitors! – because without them what are we?

What do our visitors tell us?

One of the reasons that we love our visitors is that they are not afraid to tell us their opinions.  Some of the things they tell us include:

  • Praise – they’ve enjoyed their visit, they’ll come back, they’ve learnt something new, they’ve been before
  • Criticism and complaints – we don’t have anything (or enough) on a particular movement or story, tell us when we’re wrong
  • Reminiscence – tell stories
  • Opinions – their interpretation of objects, disputed histories
  • Ask questions – family history questions, practical questions (eg, can we film here? Why are we so difficult to find?)
  • Offer donations – of money, material or time, tell us what collections they have and want to donate
  • That they’ve lived in Manchester all their lives and have never been; other places they’ve visited
  • The toilet paper’s run out!

How are visitor interactions recorded (or not)?

It is only really the written interactions with our visitors that are recorded and the vast majority of these interactions are only collected and analysed internally. For example, feedback forms for events, learning and venue hire are collected in order for us to improve our service, however we rarely disseminate any statistics publically and only usually share them with our funders.  We regularly review our comments book and occasionally we write responses directly in the book.  Verbal conversations with visitors are not recorded, however occasional comments that require a response or contain feedback to improve our service are passed on via email or notes from our gallery assistants. Social media such as twitter and facebook mirrors this verbal interaction in that we respond directly to our visitors.  However these interactions can be recorded and are collated and circulated internally as they are a useful source of feedback.   In addition, we also conduct visitor surveys, which again provide useful feedback.

How can we capture these conversations and respond?

There is clearly a massive amount of ephemeral dialogue that is never recorded.  Is there a way that we can capture this and respond publically in order to bring more voices into the conversation?  Ideas to develop our visitor dialogue included:

  • When we pose a question on the chalkboards we add our own voice to the debate
  • Be specific with questions. Be provocative and current.
  • Use the blog
  • Respond on labels to questions that get asked
  • Answer questions publically that a lot of visitors have asked
  • Have a list of FAQs on the info desk – things like funding, directions, practical stuff
  • Have a space for monthly questions – our visitors have asked us this month
  • Ask visitors questions that spark debate and are related to collections.
  • Let visitors know that we’re here to answer questions

 

But do we want to capture these conversations? Is it ethical?  

The day after our brainstorming meeting I attended an incredibly thought provoking workshop at Leicester University.  It’s My Content 2.0 explored the ethics of using visitor generated content and explored issues of ownership, copyright and privacy.  It really made me reflect on Play Your Part and how important it is to be transparent about our interactions with visitors.  To be clear about why we’re collecting information and what we are using it for.  Throughout the project I have been very open and reflective about our ‘experiments’, about what has worked and what hasn’t.  All of our questions and visitor responses have been out in public spaces – for example on chalkboards in the museum or on this blog.  However, whilst I believe that recording and analysing these publically written responses and sharing them openly is essential and valuable to the project, what about the verbal ephemeral dialogue? Would recording these conversations be tantamount to spying on our visitors?  Or as a public space do we assume that information is passed freely within our walls?  Personally, I would not be comfortable knowing that a conversation I have with someone (either a member or staff or another visitor) in a museum was being recorded unless I had granted my express permission.  So don’t worry, we’re not going to be bugging our visitors!  I do think, however, that it is important for us to record the bigger picture.  To be aware of, generally, what our visitors are interested in, in order for us to respond.  You often get told that there is no such thing as a stupid question because someone else probably wants to ask the same thing. I think therefore, that it is important to explore ways of displaying answers to visitor questions and to display other visitors’ responses alongside those of the museum.  As discussed above, there are a number of ways we can do this, so we’ll carry on experimenting.

What do you think?  Are you interested in what other visitors think?  Would you be happy to share your own opinions?  What burning questions have you always wanted the answers to?