I recently attended the Stories of the World in Arts in Parliament event which showcased the culminative work that has been worked on by young curators over the past few years as part of the Cultural Olympiad.
To say I was impressed in a huge understatement. The young curators showed their work with such pride – I was extremely privileged to have been invited to witness to this event.
One young curator I saw there was Belinda Li, whom I happen to meet while I was at MuseumNext this year. I asked her to write a guest blog to share the experience of what it was like to take part in Cultural Olympiad.
From Belinda Li:
The presentation at Westminster Hall late last month was a culmination of almost two years of work. The Preservation Party started out as a group of seven young people aged 14 to 24 working with Leeds City Museum. We were first commissioned to help with young people relations in the museum. We helped give advice on what the museum could do for us and gave feedback on the permanent exhibitions. This was only the very beginning of our long journey. Starting in January of this year, we embarked on our major project, which was an exhibition to run concurrently with the London 2012 Olympics.
This exhibition was the first ever designed in collaboration between the museum and young people.
To help out in our gargantuan task, ten more young people joined our small group. The 17 of us set out on our long hard road. We had six months to figure out our narrative, design the entire exhibition, and pick out the objects. We broke up into four different groups to help organize ourselves for this exhibition. There was the object team, the design team, the interpretation team and the marketing team. We also had our two project coordinators, Steph and Alex overseeing the teams and making sure we were on task. Additionally we had three main adults helping us and without them we could not have pulled it off.
After a few all day sessions we decided as a group the topics and the messages we wanted our exhibition to convey. Working with the Cultural Olympiad, our exhibition was to encompass world stories and cultures. We wanted to emphasize the stories of the individual objects in the Leeds Museums and Galleries Collection.
So we decided to tell those stories and, in addition, explain how those objects made their journey to Leeds.
It was an amazing process finding out about the objects, meeting with curators and figuring out what we wanted in our exhibition. We divided our objects and our exhibition into five separate sections: Treasures, Collecting the Exotic, War, Tomb Raiding and Death, and The Final Frontier.
In this exhibition, we wanted the audience to question their notion of a treasure. As with most museum objects we felt that everything in our exhibition was a treasure, but it could be a cultural treasure, a personal treasure or a monetary treasure. We also wanted visitors to question how these objects got to Leeds, which is described in our subtitle. We want the audience to ask was this object stolen, smuggled or saved to get to Leeds.
We designed our exhibition as a journey.
The visitor started out going through security, like at an airport, which consisted of a metal detector and an X-Ray machine. They then went to the Bureau de Change to exchange their currency, or to look at the many different types of currency we had from all over the world. The journey continued when the visitor went through the separate sections to explore where the objects had come from. Their journeys ended back at the airport.
We worked for a few solid months on this exhibition, meeting every week leading to our three weeks of installation where everyone worked everyday to bring this project together. During those three weeks, it was a whirlwind of work going on in the gallery and the office. We had almost everything to do in those three weeks and I am surprised we did it all in that time frame.
Our exhibition is sprinkled with activities for children; we had a dressing up station and a wall to write your name in hieroglyphics and filling out an exhibition passport. These activities were enjoyed by not only children but teenagers and adults too.
Opening night was met with so much praise and admiration.
Many of the adults in attendance could not believe that a group of young people had pulled off such an amazing exhibition. They told us we had a firm grasp of what constituted a good exhibition. They were amazed at how interactive, interesting and informative it was.
A group of ten of us went down to London to Westminster Hall to present what we had done.
We had Steph Webb, one of our project coordinators, talk a little about what we did and show a short animation of one of our objects, which we also included in our exhibition. This was presented along with many other displays the collaborations between museums and young people. There were many performances with spoken word, dancing, craft and other showcases of the partnership between museums and young people. We also brought a few objects to show what types of stories were showcased in our exhibition. This was made possible because of Stories of the World and Arts in Parliament.
This is the one experience that will stick with me for the rest of my life and has reinforced my career choice.
I have never worked with such an amazing group of people to accomplish such a massive task. Everyone I worked with was so enthusiastic and we were all on the same page to get this exhibition up and ready for the audience. It was such a great experience and I know every single person in the group is elated that this exhibition has been met with overwhelmingly positive reviews.
If you are in Leeds from now until January please come to the City Museum in Millennium Square and check out our exhibition, Treasured! Stolen? Smuggled? Saved?