Tuesday, 12 June 2018

The Pitt Rivers Kicks Arts again!

Hello! I'm Kelly and I am the maternity cover for the Secondary Education, Further Education and Young People role here at the Pitt Rivers Museum during 2018. I am very lucky to have been part of a brilliant, dynamic project called Kick Arts, which has just finished under its HLF funding.
Preparing for the celebration event © Pitt Rivers Museum

The Kick Arts Flexi School programme has run for three years, in a partnership between the OYAP Trust, and the Pitt Rivers Museum. Both organisations are passionate about working with local young people to make a real change in their lives, and the Kick Arts programme has been really successful at bringing together a new concept and making a tangible difference to the lives of everyone involved. 

Preparing the animation scene © Pitt Rivers Museum

Kick Arts offers a whole day alternative to a classroom setting. It targets young people who may not be reaching their full potential in a classroom setting, for various reasons. The sessions are totally bespoke, responding to the energy, interests and dynamics of each individual in the room. Charlie Henry, who heads up the sessions, is a trained Psychotherapist and multi-platform artist. She holds intuitive qualities of working with young people to support and nurture an environment where young people are free to express themselves through producing artwork. In 2018, she was supported by Beth McDougall from the Pitt Rivers Museum. Beth offered a sensitive approach for young people to engage with the Museums vast collections. Her knowledge and enthusiasm for the collection allowed for a diverse range of interests to emerge from the young people during the 10-week programme. Young people created unique responses to the collections, including animations, rap music tracks, felt working, lantern building, photography, splatter painting, and even sock painting (!).

Celebrating the participants success © Pitt Rivers Museum
In each session, the young people arrive to a series of quick-fire warm up activities. As a group, they decide and write up a plan for the day, and then they get exploring! Small groups can wander into the Pitt Rivers Museum with Beth to find inspiration, some stay in the Museum annexe, where they explore artforms, and other curiosities. Each young person has a tailored programme, including varying levels of structure and outputs. During their 10 week session, young people get to complete an Arts Award. Most have achieved a Bronze Award, but one young person has used her Kick Arts work towards a Gold Arts Award. The award is administered by Carmen Hoepper, who works as the project Manager for Kick Arts on the OYAP Trust side. 

The Project has been funded under the HLF Young Roots grant for the past three years. In this time, there have been three, different, but equally amazing programmes. On March 26th 2018, the final programme came to a close with a celebration event. This was a chance for friends, family members, and participating young people to reflect on the amazing work they achieved. Here are some of the comments from the event....

Please continue, please expand. This work is invaluable to children who are talented and amazing, yet don’t always fit the box of the mainstream

Thank you for believing in x. thank you for showing her she can be herself and thrive. Thank you for a lovely social environment in which to learn and give.

She has a depth of talent and imagination that as I parent I did not have the skill to help her with. She has been inspired and liberated.

Xxxx is proud of his artwork and believes he can do- and that it is important HE is pleased with his work and feeling valued. 
Socks and friendship © Pitt Rivers Museum

Over 50 people attended this celebration event, including stakeholders from the wider sector (Oxford University Museums, GLAM partners, Oxford City Council, County Council, Arts Council England and HLF representatives). The young people had worked with Modern Art Oxford Curator Emma Ridgway to present their final artworks in a thoughtful and artfully constructed space. VIP guests to the celebration event could then view this artwork as part of the celebration event. Beth, Carmen, Charlie and other organisers gave short speeches on the importance of this work, and the digital pieces of art were shown to the attendees on a projector. 

The celebration event received press coverage by the local BBC Regional news, and a piece was aired on the 6 O’Clock news on the 27th March. 

Participant talking to the director of the museum about the inspiration for his work
© Pitt Rivers Museum
A unique aspect to the Kick Arts programme are the opportunities for emerging artists and art educators. Every session involved local young Artists (18-25) who want to gain experience in participatory arts projects like this, so they have the experience and skills to take forwards in their chosen career path. The young artists are also closer in age to the young people, demonstrating an achievable and aspirational angle for young people who are inspired to do work in the Arts sector. The high ratio of artists, facilitators, young artists also means the participants often get 1:1 support during the day. 

Charlie Henry talking to the BBC © Pitt Rivers Museum
Another highly successful aspect was the flexibility with which the sessions were run. The young people were able to follow their own interests, and take control over their own learning. This sense of empowerment was important for these young people, as they gained confidence to take on new challenges and be inspired by what they could achieve. This resulted from the high ratio of staff to young people, and also due to the flexibility and responsiveness of the way each session was run. 

The Kick Arts concept was incredibly successful. Its strengths were in its leadership, its staffing, its bespoke approach, and its legacy.

Kick Arts may have completed its last session under the HLF funding, but its future is still looking bright. The Pitt Youth Action Team is another feeder outlet for young people who have completed the Kick Arts programme and still want to continue a relationship with the museum. The Kick Arts concept will continue in the future, with both OYAP and the Pitt Rivers keen to maintain and progress their relationship and partnerships. The Pitt Rivers Director, Laura Van Brockhoeven is hugely supportive of continuing this important work with young people in the future.

I am really pleased that the momentum built during the Kick Arts programmes is still continuing, and that the Pitt Rivers Museum is sustaining its relationship with OYAP Trust, and supporting the running of this amazing project.

Kelly Smith
Secondary, Further Education and Young People Officer

Friday, 11 May 2018

Telling stories from things - a 'Dance of Defiance'

Every May, the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Museum of Natural History take part in the annual Museums at Night festival, inviting visitors in for an after hours spectacular! As part of this May's event, Storyteller JC Niala, has created a special performance in response to the story of Mekatilili wa Menza, a Giriama woman who led a successful rebellion against the British Colonial forces around the time of WW1. Read JC's blog post to find out why she has chosen to share Mekatilili wa Menza's story inside the Museum. You can book your free tickets to see JC's performance here:  https://bit.ly/2HyOVDN 

Pitt Rivers Museum lit up for an after hours event © Pitt Rivers Museum

Telling stories from things

I love museums, to me they are like walking into a visual library. As well as looking at all the interesting objects, I am always curious about their stories. If I see a woven basket for example, I cannot help but think about the life of the person that made it. Did they make it to use everyday? As a gift? I find myself looking for signs on the object that might give me clues as to the maker’s intention and also to its use.

1945.10.143: 'Bells for tying to legs when dancing at Ngomas' © Pitt Rivers Museum

An object from the collections that will inspire JC's story 

I always think about the people who are connected to the objects – especially because they are not there. I do this the most at the Pitt Rivers Museum because although it is an amazing collection, I can’t help but wonder exactly how all those objects were collected. During colonial times, there was often a power imbalance that meant the collector had access to things that were not meant to end up in a museum.

I spend a lot of time in the Pitt Rivers Museum thinking about the things that are there now and what processes led to them being there. Because I am a storyteller, I like the fact that there is not much information on the gallery labels. It doesn’t get in the way of my imagination and allows me to be a detective. It also means that unlike with other museums, I study the object in detail rather than walk around just reading labels as can happen.

1906.34.32: 'Very large friction drum © Pitt Rivers Museum

JC will use objects like this drum to research and tell the story of Mekatilili wa Menza, a woman who led a successful rebellion against British Colonial forces. 

Sometimes, I hear or learn about a true story and it works the other way. I go to the Pitt Rivers on a mission to find out if they have in the collections the object that will make the story come alive for me and for my audience. That is the case with the current story that I am telling in Oxford and London. It’s called ‘Dance of Defiance’ and tells the story of Mekatilili wa Menza, a Giriama woman who led a successful rebellion against the British Colonial forces around the time of WW1.

When I first read the story, I couldn’t quite believe it – it’s a fantastic tale that even though has a sad beginning, is actually full of courage, resilience, hope and love. It drew me in because it also took place at a time where important international historical events were happening and yet here was one woman from East Africa who changed the course of not just her own history but that of the people that she led.

1929.1.2: 'Fire making set' © Pitt Rivers Museum

Objects like this will help JC tell the Dance of Defiance.

The story also stirred me because she was a fearless woman leader. When I went to the Pitt Rivers with her story, I was hoping for at best an item that might have been linked to the Giriama people who she led. What was in the collections was more than I expected. In it are examples of two key tools that she used to resist the colonial army. I will never know for sure if they belonged to her, but they come from the exact time period that she was active in her leadership.

To find out what the tools and the rest of her story are, the clue is in the title of my show ‘Dance of Defiance’. You can hear me tell it at the late night at the Pitt Rivers Museum on Friday 18thof May. 

- JC Niala....

You can book your free tickets here:  https://bit.ly/2HyOVDN. We'll post a video of JC's performance inside the Pitt Rivers Museum after the event...so come back and take a look after the 18th May! You can find out more about JC by following her on Twitter (@jcniala) or by visiting her website: jcniala.com (Jozie Kettle, Public Engagement with Research Officer).  

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Armchair Gallery- Take a Seat

As part of the Meet Me at the Museum social programme for older people, the Pitt Rivers Museum were invited by Nottingham City Arts to take part in the Armchair Gallery. The Armchair Gallery supports older people to access cultural spaces from the comfort of their armchairs, ensuring those that might not be able to physically access the museum can immerse themselves in the museum and collection.

Developed by Nottingham City Arts and funded by Arts Council England and Nominet Trust, the Armchair Gallery has supported cultural places across the country to film collections highlights and their spaces, taking older people on a guided tour that immerses them in the collections from the comfort of their armchairs. The ACE and Baring Foundation and subsequent Nominet trust funding has supported Nottingham City Arts to work with seven venues including the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Lowry, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and Chatsworth House.

When it came to thinking about the Pitt Rivers Museum's contribution to the Armchair Gallery it was tricky to think how best to capture the collection. To ensure objects filmed from the Pitt River's 50,000 displayed objects were representative but also interesting the intended audience the Meet Me at the Museum group of older people selected objects that interested them to include in the Pitt Rivers tour. Members of staff from across the museum then helped to film some of these objects including some well known and lesser known objects from the collections, from Japanese Samurai armour to English Morris costumes to Navajo squash flower jewellery [1946.3.2.B]

South West Navajo, Squash Flower Necklace, Pitt Rivers Museum
South West Navajo, Squash Flower Necklace [1946.3.2.B]
 © Pitt Rivers Museum
On 15th January Helen Fountain and I travelled to Nottingham City Castle Museum and Art Gallery to find out more about how the Armchair Gallery has developed since our 'starring roles' in the August films making.

Alongside the films, Nottingham City Arts are working with digital makers to develop an accessible app. Aimed primarily at older people and those living with Dementia the app is accessible to a wide range of people with (and without) additional needs and uses interactive digital activities to bring the seven collections to life. This includes repainting areas of Lowry paintings with the touch of a finger, playing a harpsichord from Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, and experimenting with the colours of a digital portrait on display at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.

To ensure that we were mindful of cultural appropriation, the Pitt Rivers objects have been selected from European collections. This has led to a Greek pot from the Middle Bronze Age [1884.38.9] on a potter’s wheel which you can throw and design your own pot, manipulating the colours, textures and shape and a matching game based on the animals of a German Noah's Ark [1956.70.1]. The app is being designed to be totally accessible and includes short clips about the objects filmed with the Pitt Rivers team to provide context to the activity. These app activities are designed to be the springboard to supported programming with older people designed to be led by artists, museum facilitators and care home activity coordinators. This has been successfully piloted with Nottingham's local care homes with support from Clare Ford from reengage and artists. 

Noah's Ark, Germany, and the Armchair Gallery Matching Pairs game
Noah's Ark, Germany [1956.9.70.1]and the Armchair Gallery
Matching Pairs App © Pitt Rivers Museum
What is lovely about the app are the simple digital interactions you can have with collection materials, which can engage all age groups and needs. The Armchair Gallery enables users to explore new objects and collections creating exciting stimuli for conversations. From personal experience I know that sometimes visiting a relative in a care setting can be quite challenging with conversations repeating themselves. The Armchair Gallery app enables families and carers to explore new knowledge and play together, giving them new things to talk about with people living with dementia or in care settings.

Middle Bronze Age Pot, Cyprus, Pitt Rivers Museum
Middle Bronze Age Pot, Cyprus [1884.38.9]
© Pitt Rivers Museum
Armchair Gallery, testing out the Potter's wheel
Armchair Gallery App, testing out the Potter's Wheel
© Pitt Rivers Museum
The Armchair Gallery films and app will be launched later this year, in time for the next set of MMAM at the Pitt Rivers.

The brilliant thing for me, are the networks and connections the Armchair Gallery creates, internally and externally. Internally, by working across the collections and Public Engagement teams, and externally, not only for the older people who will be able to virtually visit new cultural spaces but between carers and the person they care for and between professionals across the cultural and health and wellbeing sector.
Me at the Armchair Gallery Meet Up, Nottingham, January 2018
Me at the Armchair Gallery Meet Up, Nottingham, January 2018

Beth McDougall
Families and Communities Public Engagement Officer

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

People and Planet: World Stories over Half Term

People and Planet brought together the Pitt Rivers Museum and Museum of Natural History (OUMNH) for a week of tectonic plates, rock handling, animation and World stories. February Half Term is one of our busiest holidays of the year with 1126 children taking part over the three days of activities, and another 156 coming to the Pitt Rivers for object handling on Thursday and Friday.

Over the week families were inspired by objects from around the world to tell stories, seeing, thinking and wondering about camel intestine pots, milk gourds, snow shoes and rubber tyre sandals.

A pale brown pot with a lid with delicate white patterns on it, including flowers
Camel Intestine Pot, Pakistan, 2015.6.edu © Pitt Rivers Museum
 The Pitt Rivers ‘animators’ also needed help to animate Grimm’s Fairytale, The Frog Prince in our animation studio. Families were tasked with creating new characters to replace our animation studio’s ‘lost’ puppets for the story, bringing to life the witch, frog, Prince and Princess to tell their own slightly twisted version of the tale. Here's the final animation!

Four puppets featuring: a Prince, a lady, a soldier and a frog
Frog Prince Puppet Stars © Pitt Rivers Museum

This was my first February Half Term at the Museum and I really enjoyed the enthusiasm and life the visiting families brought with them to the Museum, whether they were completing the Mouse Trail or engaging in the week’s special family activities.

I enjoyed challenging myself to test digital activity in the museum and pushing myself out of my comfort zone to engage with the anthropological collection big issues of decolonisation and cultural appropriation. Now is an exciting time for learning in the museum as we reshape our activities to ensure families engage with programming that challenges their perception of cultures from around the world by helping them to reflect on their own. I know we are not there yet, but by ensuring families could read stories, written and illustrated by indigenous communities and created versions of their own cultural stories in the museum, we have started.

Most importantly, I would like to thank the volunteers, Pitt Rivers staff and Joint Museum Volunteer team for making sure that every family could glue, stick, animate, touch and hear stories from across the world.

Our next families event is on the 17th March. This Girl Makes led by designer-maker Hattie Speed invites families to come and make their own beautiful stools. These making workshops are running 10am – 12pm for children aged 7+ and 1pm – 3pm for children aged 10+. There are 10 spaces on each workshop and each family ticket (one child and an adult) is £16.50 and can be purchase here.

Beth McDougall
Families and Communities Public Engagement Officer