Play Your Part was a project funded by Arts Council England that aimed to make the museum more relevant to today’s audiences, by responding to current events, linking them to campaigns of the past, in order to inspire activists of the future.
In Year One (April 2013 – March 2014) we worked with a number of community groups to co-curate pop up exhibitions in the museum. These included Pride in Progress?, a collaboration with the LGBT community in Manchester and a display about the co-operative football club FC United. Throughout the project we researched contemporary campaigns and approached activists to collect their material. We collected items relating to the No Bedroom Tax campaign and the Scottish referendum and updated our LGBT and peace collections. We also created a new handling collection to use for events and outreach.
We developed a programme of quirky and engaging events. Highlights include our politics festival POLLfest in November 2013 and Play Your Party, a celebration of the project in March 2014. We experimented with a range of onsite and online engagement techniques and asked our visitors topical questions. We increased access to our collections by digitising objects and creating a collections highlights page on our website.
Year Two (March 2014 – April 2015) built on the success of Year One and concluded the project, embedding the participatory ethos into the organisation.
Work in Progress (12 July – 14 September 2014) was an evolving, experimental exhibition where visitors were encouraged to come to do, not just to see. It allowed visitors to see behind the scenes of PYP, debate topical issues and get creative with a series of workshops. The exhibition started from nothing and evolved over time as we invited community groups, artists and visitors to experiment, contribute and create. Three artists based their studios in the gallery space in our Microresidencies project.
We delivered high profile events and festivals linked to national initiatives, including POLLfest 2 for Parliament Week where we delivered a series of events for different audiences. This included Democratic Dialogue, in which young people, MPs and democratic experts discussed how young people would like to communicate with Parliament. We celebrated the history of protest music with Never Mind the Politics, a day-long fundraising festival.
We developed Hands on History object handling sessions led by volunteers, which focus on World War I and link to our Baddies Living History workshop. We acquired a dedicated object handling trolley and developed an interactive volunteer training workshop.
We used observational research to test new designs for the Welcome Wall in the foyer. This gave us the opportunity to track how visitors navigate the space and to ensure that the new design was engaging and relevant. The final design shows off our collections and signposts visitors to get involved.
We grew our collection of material relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* and other gender and sexuality minority groups and consulted with LGBT+ groups and historians to develop an LGBT History tour and refresh the material on display in Main Gallery Two. We hosted the Sunday hub of the First National Festival of LGBT History and welcomed nearly 800 visitors who enjoyed a series of high profile speakers and performances.
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