Uncovering Ethnography in Kent and Sussex (Uniques) Project
A Collections Review and Community Engagement Project for 2014 – 15.
Bexhill Museum and four other partner museums in Kent and Sussex carried out an ethnographic collections review project in 2014 and 2015. To deliver this the five museums were awarded a grant from the Arts Council England’s Strategic Support Fund.
The partner museums were Bexhill Museum, Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, Horsham Museum and Art Gallery, Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Art Gallery and the Powell Cotton Museum, near Margate.
Ethnography collections traditionally contain cultural material of other societies and are now often referred to as ‘World Cultures’ collections. These multifaceted collections are relevant both to their specific source communities but also to other cultures and societies as they signify how people lived their lives. These powerful and revealing collections are held in our local museums and many are still waiting to be fully discovered.
A freelance project team worked with the five partners to carry out the collections reviews, run community engagement workshops, provide training opportunities and help the partners provide public and professional access to new significant finds.
Ethnographic Specialists across the UK contributed by identifying objects, providing research information and introducing the partners to other relevant collections.
Web displays designed to showcase 10 of each of the museums star finds were created and the partners also created the following public outcomes: temporary exhibitions, re-displays of permanent galleries, family open days, handling kits for visitors and resources to engage members of the public with ethnographic objects.
In particular partner museums provided special access to newly discovered collections for community groups. They ran fun, interactive and creative engagement sessions for families, young people including photography students, as well as people with limited sight and mental health issues.
Additionally a newly discovered significant object from each partner museum was selected for remedial conservation and thanks to a dedicated Professional Conservator who volunteered her time; the Powell Cotton Museum was able to conserve many more objects for their new Angolan Gallery.
Two training and skills sharing events were held in Brighton and Maidstone. These were well attended by academics and people who care for ethnographic material (both professionally and volunteers) as well as staff from the partner museums. Participants came not only from the South East but also attracted interest and engagement from wider regions. As a direct result an Ethnographic Collections Support Network for the region will be set up in 2015.
Overall this project has enabled the partner museums to increase access and knowledge of underused and under-researched ethnographic collections. Museum staff, volunteers and students participated in skills sharing and training, making these collections relevant to today’s audiences and safeguarding them for the future. For more information on the project activities please visit our blog: uniques2014.wordpress.com.
The Partners would like to thank the following project supporters:
Arts Council England
Brighton Museum and Art Gallery
The University of Kent
The University of Sussex
The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge
The British Museum
The Pitt Rivers Museum
The Museum Ethnographers Group museumethnographersgroup.org.uk
Many thanks also to: