Work in Progress – reflections and lessons learned

work in progressNow that Work in Progress has been packed away, the dust has settled and I’m back in the office after a few days off to recover I’ve had a chance to reflect on the 9 weeks of experimentation.  We crammed a massive amount of activity into the programme, with three Microresidencies, 18 events and lots of meetings, conversations and impromptu lunch dates.

Without going into the nitty gritty of individual events, my reflections on the project as a whole are (in no particular order):

  • Office spaceWhilst I still stand by my idea of having total transparency and ‘behind the scenes’ access to the project, I don’t think that having my office in the exhibition space worked particularly well. I’d anticipated having lots of in depth conversations with visitors about the project and encourage greater engagement with the themes covered. In reality, I probably had about 4 significant interactions with visitors over the course of the exhibition. The majority of questions I got were people asking me directions to the galleries and the toilets! I also think my presence confused some visitors as I had an email from someone who had visited the exhibition, wasn’t sure what was going on, and had seen me looking ‘very busy’ so didn’t want to interrupt me. I think perhaps a neon sign with ‘please speak to me!’ might have helped (but maybe would have looked a little desperate!) I also think that my being there put off visitors. Initially I had placed a suggestions box in the office space, which only seemed to fill up with responses on the days I wasn’t in the office. I therefore moved the box to the debate space, which increased responses. On a professional level, being away from our open plan office meant I was limited in informal interactions with colleagues which led to me feeling ‘out of the loop’. Now I’m back I can appreciate being able to chip into conversations and contribute to the cross-fertilisation of ideas.
  • Even the title of the exhibition put off some visitors who didn’t realise it was an exhibition title and thought it was a sign meaning you couldn’t come in!
  • The Microresidencies project was a massive highlight. I’m thrilled that the three projects were all so different, yet all encouraged participation, engaged visitors and were high quality. Using artists as mediators led to greater participation and seeing collections in a different way. I would love to be able to run this project again in the future, maybe with longer more in-depth residencies to provide a platform for early career artists who really engage with social issues.
  • Work in Progress photomontageHaving an evolving events programme was good as we could be responsive to contacts we made during the exhibition, but logistically it was difficult to have to constantly update our website, posters and interactive calendar and we found some events that didn’t have a long lead-in time weren’t very well attended.
  • I wish I’d programmed more in the debate space and invited provocateurs to come in and ignite debate – perhaps with groups of young people.
  • Having a broad brief asking people to play their part meant that we could engage with lots of groups and individuals that we may not have put together as part of our regular events programme.
  • The space was used regularly by repeat visitors – I often came across people having impromptu meetings and one man came in every day to read the headlines. It makes me consider the role of museums in providing free spaces for reflection and whether we have a social responsibility to provide that kind of space?
  • The space was also used regularly by other museum staff to have meetings outside of the ones we’d programmed for Play Your Part. (I think they appreciated the sofa!)
  • The WiFi in the space had a terrible connection which meant that my planned Twitterfall had to be ditched in the first week. I also struggled with things like livetweeting events and posting photos on Flickr when the wifi failed.
  • I need to remind myself that I’m just one person and I can’t do everything! In the latter stages of the exhibition I was definitely feeling fatigued from trying to cram in too many events and not having enough days off. The key to the project as a whole is getting everyone in the organisation on board so they think more ‘PYP’ so that there’s a lasting legacy once the project has ended. This will definitely be my focus for the final 6 months of Play Your Part.

Work in Progress – the final fortnight

Work in Progress photomontageI’m writing this sat in my office in Work in Progress for the final time.  I’ve spent the past couple of weeks creating a photomontage that I’ve used to cover the calendar in the exhibition.  It’s been great looking back at the photos from the start of the exhibition and seeing how much it’s progressed.

Re-Telling WorkshopWe’ve had lots of fantastic events over the past fortnight. On Thursday 4 September Sophia Gardiner, artist in residence at Refugee and Asylum Seeker Participatory Action Research (RAPAR) delivered Re-Telling: Scapegoats, Media & Politics. The workshop encouraged participants to cut up newspaper headlines to create responses to negative stories about migrants. You can read Sophia’s blog post about the workshop here.

7 September 2014, Protest Photography @ People's History Museum (1)This was followed by a weekend of photography workshops. On the Saturday Curated Place returned for their Secret Cities Immersion – Manchester Hidden Spaces Workshop.  Then on the Sunday photographer Stephen Speed joined us for Protest Photography, a really interesting discussion on the ethics and aesthetics of protest photography. It was a real insight into the processes and considerations a photojournalist undertakes.

Internally, we held our events meeting in the workshop space on Monday 8 September, to finalise our Winter Events programme. Marge Ainsley joined us on Wednesday 3 September to deliver observational research training.  We’re going to be using this to analyse visitors’ responses to our Welcome Wall as we test out ideas to redevelop it.

13 September 2014, Wollstonecraftivism @ People's History Museum (35)Our final weekend of events kicked off yesterday with Wollstonecraftivism led by the fantastic No More Page 3.  After discussions about representations of women in our galleries, including Mary Wollstonecraft and Rose Queens, the participants stitched messages into a wedding dress. As you can see, the final product is brilliant!

Which leads me to today, the final day of the exhibition. Sashwati Mira Sengupta and Jaydev Mistry popped in this morning to install Protest, Migration and Workers Rights, an AV installation that was created after their Microresidency. I’ve also had a few familiar faces come and say hello and it’s been lovely to reflect on all the great activities we’ve had throughout the exhibition.  I’ll write another blog post in a few weeks to reflect on the whole process, but for now I’m going to sign off and in true Work in Progress style begin to take down the exhibition so everyone can see the process from start to finish.

Re-Telling: Scapegoats, Media & Politics Workshop

A guest post by Sophia Gardiner, artist in residence at Refugee and Asylum Seeker Participatory Action Research (RAPAR) who delivered Re-Telling: Scapegoats, Media & Politics on Thursday 4 September as part of our Work in Progress exhibition.

Re-Telling WorkshopThe term ‘Scapegoat’ stems from Ancient Greek and Hebrew traditions. In the Biblical text, an actual goat is prepared as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the populace by having it ‘carry’ their sins out into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement, removing sin from the community. The original term ‘azazel’, means ‘for removal’, or ‘sender away of sins’.

In modern usage, ‘Scapegoat’ or ‘Scapegoating’ refers to the practice of singling out a particular party for unmerited blame in society. As a political tool, we often see the scapegoating of distinct social groups. Throughout recent history, such group range from Trade Unionists, the Jewish community, migrant groups (such as immigrants from the West Indies and Eastern European migrants), Irish Travellers, the unemployed, the Muslim community and refugees. Such scapegoats are often propagated by mainstream media, who neglect important facts about these communities, twist visual representations and appropriate situations to the advantage of the worldview that they are selling – often in favour of those who seek to profit from social division.

Working with refugees, asylum seekers and other displaced peoples, I have seen first hand how scapegoating can affect communities and individuals. It results in social isolation, mental health issues such as depression and a lack of awareness about your rights. It also brings about stereotyping, racial tensions, prevents accountability, legitimises harmful legislation targeting certain groups, hate crime and violence.

With a delegation from RAPAR human rights charity, I arranged a workshop which would give victims of scapegoating, some of the most persecuted and voiceless individuals in our community, an opportunity to actively confront the media that is used against them by politicians and tabloids, by cutting apart the hysterical headlines, ill-informed quotations and propaganda to tell it like it is…


“I had no idea how therapeutic that could be, cutting up all those offensive headlines!”

–                   Nahella (Workshop Participant)


“We have all these untruths and biased opinions of the politicians and newspapers which have some really hurtful affects on these communities, we did not simply say ‘this is your opinion, but we think…’ it was about saying ‘your opinion is wrong, and here is why…’.”

–       Workshop Participant

“The power is in the words and its how we use them. So we took the negative words and made them positive, and so can we do with our lives and society, to not to feed our younger generation with harmfully biased views, but with positive and welcoming attitude.”

– Manjeet (Workshop Participant)


“I think it was a very empowering exercise for us. I think these headlines are highly discriminatory, and I hate how they just get away with saying these things.”

–       Workshop Participant


“I liked having the opportunity to express myself so that people will know we are here to contribute, to help this country not to hurt it. It is often hard to get people to understand this, but our work today made me feel better about confronting this attitude”.

–         Abiola (Workshop Participant)


The delegation consisted primarily of asylum seekers (people who have claimed asylum after fleeing persecution in their own country). For them, the important aspect of this workshop was that the participants- rather than simply talking or writing about their own stories, were actively ‘Re-writing’ the propaganda used against them in a direct way.

They were able to not only challenge this media, but to challenge it in a way that would give them an outlet for not simply expressing themselves, but to do so in a community setting that would enhance their participation and dialogue about their perspective, their stories and how their existence should be acknowledged and understood that these communities are given space to speak out for themselves.

Work in Progress – Week 7

Oliver Bliss's Microresidency StudioBy far the highlight of the week has been Oliver Bliss’s Microresidency (mainly because of the fab music he’s been blasting out of his iPad all week, including the top 30 Gay Anthems).  Oly has been crafting messages of hope to the MPs who voted ‘no’ to the Same Sex Marriage Bill.  He invited visitors to make their own hexagons, which will be gathered together to form the Equality Quilt later in the year.  Oly has blogged about his residency here and I’d urge you to read his thoughts, and look at all the fantastic photographs of inspirational artworks made by Oly and our visitors. A personal highlight was helping out on Saturday afternoon and chatting to the lovely group from LGBT Youth North West.

We had a great meeting with Sue Sanders, Jeff Evans and Sylvia Kölling on Thursday about LGBT History Month and plans for the LGBT History Festival in February.  We’re very excited to be hosting the Sunday hub of the festival and there’s lots of great events in the pipeline.

I also met with artist Phoebe Myers about her plans for the Free For Arts Festival.  Phoebe is going to be making a Freedom Banner and is inviting visitors to contribute their freedoms, both big and small, which are important to them.  The workshop will be held on Saturday 4 October as part of our PHM Fun Palace, and the banner will be displayed at the museum until Friday 10 October.

We’ve made some progress with the object handling strand of the project.  We (myself, Kirsty our Learning Manager, Harriet our Curatorial Assistant and Mark our Front of House Co-ordinator) are setting up an object handling programme of events, which will be led by volunteers.  Two of our new volunteers John and Genevive let us pick their brains about the object handling training they received at Manchester Museum, which objects draw in visitors and what objects we should include in our World War I object handling box. We’re sourcing some more 3D objects and will start trialling object handling sessions in November.

work in progressI think I’ve discovered why some people have been reluctant to come into the exhibition. I was chatting to a visitor who thought that the big ‘Work in Progress’ sign meant that they couldn’t come in because it wasn’t ready yet.  Oops!

I can’t believe that we’ve only got two weeks of the exhibition left now!  Coming up this week we’ve got two workshops: Re-Telling: Scapegoats, Media & Politics on Thursday and Protest Photography on Sunday. Do come along!

Work in Progress – Week 6

Week 6 of Work in Progress was exceptionally busy, with pretty much an event every day.  We kicked things off on Saturday with a very inspiring talk from Alex Jones of the English Disco Lovers.  He talked about how it all started in a field in Somerset, his influences as a Quaker and an artist, spreading the disco love across the country and his top tips for campaigning (including harnessing the power of social media and making sure you give yourself a break every now and again!).

18 Aug - 9 Sept, SELFIE_SHOW-OFF by Karol Kochanowski @ People's History Museum (34)On Sunday we peeled back the boards for the Private View of #SELFIE_SHOW-OFF by Karol Kochanowski.  Karol’s abstract paintings focus on the artist’s personality as an intrinsic part of his artwork.  The exhibition is part of the Manchester Pride Fringe and will be displayed alongside Work in Progress until 9 September.


The museum’s events team gathered on Monday morning to brainstorm ideas for our Winter Events Programme.  Traditionally the winter season is usually our quietest, but we’ve got some exciting events in the pipeline, including the LGBT History Festival in February.  Bob Bonner from Friends of London Road Fire Station popped in in the afternoon to do a talk about the history of the building.  Bob gave us a great insight into the design, use and life of the building, especially how much it means to people and how many memories people have of the place.

Bethan Foulkes Live ResearchResearcher Bethan Foulkes was in residence from Tuesday to Thursday, looking at historical experiences of unemployment in our collections and chatting to visitors about their contemporary experiences.  She rounded off her Live Research with an event on Thursday afternoon, encouraging visitors to get hands on with some archive material.

On Tuesday a group of us met to discuss our plans for Hands on History, our new object handling programme that will be delivered by volunteers. We’re going to be trialling the session next year, and we’re currently planning what objects we should include.  The theme will be World War I to link in with our current exhibition A Land Fit For Heroes, our Living History performance Baddies, and of course the First World War Centenary. We’ll keep you updated with how the project develops.

Two young people from the Trailblazers project visited on Wednesday.  They’re working on developing an interactive map of cultural venues in Manchester for teenagers, and came to pick my brains about the PHM.  After chatting about interesting facts including cheese and Peterloo, I seized the opportunity to talk about our events programming, how we can make it more accessible for young people and what they thought of our Welcome Wall.  Whilst they were here they also met artists Kate and Chloe for a workshop for their People’s Guide project.

I also met with artist Rebecca Davies to discuss her practice, Play Your Part and potential collaborations. Rebecca works within a participatory practice through illustration, performance and event and really connects with communities using quirky methods such as bingo and a travelling ice cream van. We even managed to fit in a bit of a rant about the London-centricity of politics!

LGBT case redisplay consultationThe end of the week focused on all things Pride!  Since the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was passed in 2013, we’ve been very conscious that our Gay Rights case in our Main Galleries is out of date.  We’ve also recently acquired some new LGBT material, so we’d like to give the case and text panel a refresh.  With this in mind, I’ve set up a display case in Work in Progress with some key objects.  We’re asking visitors to vote on which objects we should include and if there’s anything we’re missing.  Come along and have your say!

We’ve been working with historian Jeff Evans to develop our LGBT history tour, which I delivered for the first time on Friday. The tour focused on contextualising the history of gender and sexuality within the social and political framework of the museum.  It was impossible to cover everything within a 45 minute tour, but the feedback was generally positive, with some really constructive comments on how we can improve the tour and things we’ve missed.  I’ll definitely be tweaking the tour ready for its official launch in February as part of the LGBT History Festival.

LGSM displayWe were very lucky to get a sneak peek of the film Pride on Thursday night.  The film tells the story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, a support group that was set up to raise funds during the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike. The film is inspiring, emotional and definitely the film of the year! If you want to find out more about LGSM ahead of the film’s release in September, then come along to Work in Progress and see some of the original archive material on display.  23 August 2014, Q&A with the cast of the film Pride @ People's History Museum (1)Pathe films used this display as a backdrop for press interviews on Friday and screenwriter Stephen Beresford, actor Joseph Gilgun and LGSM member Mike Jackson were on hand to promote the film.  Stephen, Joe and Mike returned to the museum on Saturday for a public Q&A about the film and gave the audience insights into the history of the group, the making of the film and their ideas worth fighting for.

We continue the LGBT theme this week, with Oliver Bliss’s Microresidency.  Come along and sew your messages of hope to the MPs who voted ‘no’ to equal marriage.

Meet the artist: Oliver Bliss

In a series of blog posts we will get to know the artists who will be taking part in our Microresidencies project a little better.  Finally, it’s Oliver Bliss who will be resident in Work in Progress from Tues 26 – Sat 30 August.

Oliver BlissHi Oly, nice to meet you! Please can you introduce yourself…. 
I’m Oliver Bliss, I’ve been living in Manchester now for nearly ten years. I graduated from MMU with a BA in Fine Art Painting and I recently completed a MA in Arts Management from the University of Manchester. I’ve always had an interest in sexuality and identity and enjoy exploring these themes through a textiles based practice. I was really inspired by an exhibition in Craft Council called Boys Who Sew which was curated by Professor Janis Jeffries. It helped me move away from painting and explore mixed media and a little hand sewing. The biggest change in my practice was seeing Alice Kettle’s Three Caryatgids in the Whitworth Gallery. I was in the first term of University at MMU and I told my tutor Sharon Hall how fascinated I was with Kettle’s technique. My tutor was a real straight talker, she advised, very bluntly that I didn’t waste my student loan but instead invest it in something useful; a sewing machine. So I did, it had a lasting impact on my practice and I still use the same sewing machine to this day.

What attracted you to apply for the Microresidencies project? Have you done anything like this before?
I think the People’s History Museum is so important; I studied sociology at A level.  The museum’s collection brings to life our political history, how people’s collective action has led to a fair society in a way you can’t comprehend from any text book. Play Your Part really struck a chord with me and made me want to contribute to make LGBT history more visible. I volunteer with LGBT Youth North West which has really supported me. I’ve recently helped them with their Heritage Lottery project to capture an oral history of activists of our time who were instrumental in campaigning for equal rights such as the repeal of Section 28 and the campaign for equal marriage rights.

I’ve done a few small exhibitions myself and done heaps of volunteering for other groups and artist projects. An example was when I helped out with the Spring Shrouds projects with UHC to produce a hundred shrouds to cover street-based advert shells across Manchester city. The Mircoresidency is a great opportunity for me as it gives me the chance to lead on my own project and test out ideas to make a practice which is participatory. I had to make the decision not to make anything for two years when I was completing my masters as I was working full time. Having this chance to get creative again is great, it feel like a new starting point for me.

Can you tell me a bit about what you’re planning on doing for your Microresidency. What should our visitors expect when they come to your studio?
Visitors will have a chance to get stuck in and participate with some easy crafting. I want visitors to have a voice and contribute to an ongoing project I’m developing with the support of People’s History Museum.  I am currently in the process of developing a community quilt project which aims to celebrate the 396 MPs who voted ‘Yes’ for equal marriage in 2013 by printing hand drawn images of each MPs on hexagonal fabric and sewn together to form a political map celebrating each member that voted Yes for equal marriage. There were however 254 MPs that did not say ‘Yes’ for this bill. The aim of the residency is to host drop in workshops and ask visitors to create a range of positive messages to the MPs which did not vote for equal marriage.   The project aims to inspire more political engagement with current affairs whilst learning about the important roles of MPs. The project will draw out key examples from the People’s History Museum’s banner collection (which include banners from suffragettes and section 28 campaigns).   The project highlights that although LGBT people have gained rights, there is still work to be done to gain real equality.  The messages that are created will then be appliqued onto the hexagons to show where MPs did not vote Yes for Equal Marriage across the country. The studio will have lots of different materials for people to play around and get creative. I’ll have lots of things to help inspire people but I want them to come down and check it out themselves. I want the messages to be honest, optimistic and constructive; depending on how much time they have they can either leave a message for me to turn into an art work or generate one themselves with the tools that will be there in the studio.

Do you have a favourite object/display in the PHM
It’s hard to choose a single object, I found the painting on the silk banners of the forestry ancient order fascinating as they are so detailed and well preserved. The banner is also rich in visual symbolism.  Possibly my favourite piece is a banner from 1903, of the Women’s Social and Political Union, Ilford which says Votes for Women- Believe and you will conquer. It’s such a powerful statement and really articulates their determinism and faith in a sharp single phrase. The banner itself is quite plain but there are subtle nuances in the colouring: purple for dignity, green for hope and white for purity, the coding is deliberately provocative whilst secretly empowering their cause.

If you could meet any person living or dead, who would it be?
I would have really liked to meet the German Emperor Wilhelm II who was a prominent figure during World War I. Some historians suggest that he was controlled by his generals and eventually he was forced to abdicate his throne.  I read a book called: Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past whilst  on holiday in Corfu. The book made references that although the Kaiser had seven children he enjoyed male-only hunting parties and long weekends. Whilst I was in Corfu we visited the Palace of Achilleio which was full of Greek works of art including lots of sculpture. There was this huge figure of a dying Achilles hidden in the back garden of the palace. The figure is Achilles in an incredibly erotic position, lying struck in the ankle with an arrow. Whilst on exploring the palace I found that the Kaiser had purchased the palace shortly after the peak of a scandal the Harden-Eulenburg affair which the book evidences questioning remarks about his sexuality. It was a bizarre coincidence that I was reading this book on holiday whilst visiting a place which the Kaiser he had purchased. It would have been a hidden oasis, an escape from his life in Germany. The book made me question why he chose a remote property in Corfu which was filled with Greek sculptures and homoerotic nudes. The more research I do into his life the more interested I am in who he was as an individual. There is no concrete evidence but it’s a great conspiracy and I would enjoy the chance to have an open conversation about his role as Kaiser, World War I and his personal life.

If you had a time machine that could only go forwards or backwards in time, would you like to see the past, or visit the future?
I think the future is always something you can look forward to, so I would prefer to visit some of the past. I’d like to attend a symposium by Plato or work with as an assistant to Michelangelo; but most of all I would love to see a dinosaur!

What’s your idea worth fighting for?
I think human rights are really important. The closer we get to creating an equal, tolerant  and fair society the closer we get to creating our own version of heaven on earth and that has to be worth striving towards. I think Moulin Rouge sum up best what is worth fighting for: Truth, Beauty, Freedom and above all things Love.

Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners

LGSM display @ People's History MuseumWork in Progress has a new display to celebrate the release of the film Pride and to highlight the history and work of Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM).

LGSM formed during the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike. They decided to raise money for the mining communities as they believed the two groups were against the same things such as the Thatcher government and the police. LGSM soon became one of the biggest fundraising groups in the whole of the UK. The Pits and Perverts benefit, held in London in December 1984, was a huge success and raised over £5000 for the miners.

At the time it was seen as revolutionary that these two contrasting communities could stand in unity against a common enemy. Pride, directed by Matthew Warchus and starring well known actors such as Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton, shows this unlikely relationship. The film tells the true story of the LGSM, led by campaigner Mark Ashton, travelling from London to a remote village in Wales to personally hand over the money they had raised.

The LGSM display in Work in Progress includes stills from the film, courtesy of Pathe films, and original LGSM photographs. It is also showcases some of the LGSM archival material which is held here at the museum, such as leaflets and posters.

If the display inspires you to find out more about the topic, we have an LGBT History Tour on Friday 22August. We also have a Q&A session on Saturday 23 August, which is a wonderful opportunity to meet some of the original LGSM members and the cast who play them in Pride. Hope to see you there!