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

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