Focus on: Glasgow's Open Museum
Published on Friday 5 June 2020
The Open Museum is Glasgow Museums’ outreach team. For 30 years, they’ve taken objects from our collections out to communities across the city, so they can be enjoyed by everyone.
One constant has been the social aspect; bringing people together to share stories and experiences; particularly those who might find it difficult to visit our museum venues. The aim is to ensure potentially excluded perspectives are included in our collections, programmes and research.
In our latest Behind the Scenes feature, we’re taking a look at life during lockdown for our Open Museum team. We spoke to Chris Jamieson, Open Museum manager; Elaine Addington, Open Museum curator; Carolina Pérez, Next Step Initiative Trainee; Diljeet Bhachu, project coordinator for Our Shared Cultural Heritage Glasgow; and Open Museum curators Claire Coia and Diana Morton.
Chris: Lockdown has meant no one can visit our museums, but it also means our outreach team can’t engage with communities and partners in the ‘normal’ way. Much of the work we’re involved in, with various partners across the city, provides a lifeline to those who access our activities. At a time of increased social isolation, which as we all know can affect our mental health, keeping connected is crucial. Our colleagues have risen to the challenge of adapting what they do to help people explore artworks, make connections with their own lives and engage with objects virtually throughout this difficult time.
Diana: Much of life has gone digital but not everyone has access to the internet or can afford to continually top-up their data. Alzheimer Scotland, through their Bridgeton Dementia Resource Centre, set about compiling a DVD that could be sent out to people who use their service, especially those households without internet access.
We normally have access to over 80 themed handling and reminiscence kits of museum objects, which cover a variety of diverse topics from pubs and parks to schools, shopping and shipbuilding. They’re great for starting conversations, remembering times past and discussing Scottish history. So we recorded ‘live’ reminiscence sessions with objects we had to hand and archive photographs. Alzheimer Scotland ordered 300 DVDs for people in Glasgow and we hope they’ll be adding the film to their website soon too.
Weekday WOW is another organisation which our Open Museum team has been supporting during the Covid-19 pandemic. Their activities are aimed at supporting older people and those who are socially isolated, with a focus on enhancing physical, mental and social health and wellbeing. During lockdown, they’ve been keeping people dancing via their popular virtual disco.
Carolina: We’ve been attending this brilliant community event every Monday night and contributing digital activities and quizzes based on our museum collections. It’s been so well received that Weekday WOW has extended the offer to other groups they run. The hope is the sessions will continue after lockdown restrictions are lifted, to give those who are isolated and can’t get to the physical disco the opportunity to keep participating.
Chris: The Weekday Wow activities have been a great opportunity for Carolina, who hasn’t even had a chance to meet the rest of the Open Museum team in person yet or handle our museum objects, to get involved in working with the community.
Like Weekday Wow, Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland (CHSS) has been engaging its users virtually through its regular iPad Club, which has carried on during the Covid-19 crisis. Glasgow Life’s Open Museum team has been creating weekly activities which are shared with the group.
Diana: Billy Connolly is always a popular choice and in keeping with the new BBC TV programme on his early life, we sparked some brilliant conversations and memories amongst the members of CHSS’ iPad Club when we shared a painting of The Big Yin that hangs in the People’s Palace.
Throughout lockdown, the government’s advice has been to stay at home, with many people looking for ways to positively manage their mental health. The Art Extraordinary collection, donated to Glasgow Museums in 2012 by Scotland’s first Art Therapist Joyce Laing, has never been more relevant in exploring how art and creativity can help us through these strange times.
Claire: The Art Extraordinary collection is a unique in that many of the works were created by people suffering with mental illness who often spent periods of time in isolation or confinement. From hospital bed-sheets to coffee jars, they created inventive works of art using materials that they had to hand.
Prior to lockdown, people from Project Ability, Leverndale Recreational Therapy and HMP Barlinnie had worked with the Art Extraordinary collection to curate our first ever fine art handling kit. Unfortunately, lockdown has meant that we’ve had to postpone the launch and for staff and residents in care, group activities such as recreational therapy and art classes have been suspended. However, that hasn’t stopped us from finding ways to keep connected and to offer our support and resources under these restrictive conditions.
Each week, we’ve been creating a video focusing on an artist, with interpretation in the form of poems, creative writing or songs and an activity related to the artist’s chosen material. We hope people will add their own creative responses and our aim is to share our digital resources with other arts and mental health organisations during this period and create a film which documents our Art Extraordinary journey.
The Open Museum team often work with groups who go on to exhibit in Glasgow Museum venues. A group from Glasgow Association for Mental Health (GAMH) were in the process of curating an exhibition that focused on four artworks from our collections, which provided the group with an opportunity to reflect on their own lived experience.
Elaine: The display was due to launch in Kelvingrove’s Fragile Art Space this month and each project session before lockdown had brought the group together to discuss and share ideas and boost their confidence. Everyone was really excited and looking forward to it. We work with many groups from complex backgrounds and it takes time to build strong relationships like this, so it was vital that the conversation and our support continued during Covid-19. And it has, through virtual sessions which have allowed group members to continue sharing their creations and keep in contact with one another.
Creating a link with younger audiences is also a key ambition of our Open Museum team. Our Shared Cultural Heritage (OSCH) is a British Council project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund that aims to engage with young people from the South Asian community in determining how their lives and experiences as well as the shared culture, history and heritage between Scotland and South Asia are represented in museums.
Dijeet: ‘Shared Heritage at Home’ was an idea that came about when I started clearing out my late grandparents’ house. It was a treasure trove of untold stories and got me asking questions about who the people in their photographs were and where certain objects came from.
Right now people are spending more time at home so I thought it would be a good idea to take advantage of that, especially in families where different generations are at home together. Using Twitter, we invited people to share objects in their home and to explore and discuss what they meant for young people. After all, they’re the museums audience of the future and we need to know what inspires and interests them.
Chris: I think unprecedented is a word that will forever be associated with the coronavirus pandemic. It’s certainly been a time of unprecedented change for the Open Museum, but over the last 30 years we’ve constantly learned to adapt to support the changing needs of our partners and communities.
From this difficult time we can already see the green shoots of many positive projects starting to flourish and we’ve received requests to work with new partners who, like us, are keen to ensure everyone in our community has the ability to engage in cultural activities and feel connected to others.
Digital access and virtual support will continue to be important for some time to come, particularly for vulnerable people. It’s really important that people are involved in co-producing culture and creativity at home or locally in their neighbourhood and the Open Museum will continue to be there to support this in whatever way it can.