The Sensational Museum: using what we know about disability to change how museums work for everyone.
From April 2023 I will be leading major new research project The Sensational Museum
This £1M project wants to transform access and inclusion within the museum sector by putting disability at the centre of museum practice and acknowledging the diversity and difference of all visitors. The team of academics and sector partners will work with disabled and non-disabled visitors, staff, and organizations to prototype and test a range of new ways of accessing museum collections and cataloguing objects. The 27-month long project (April 2023-July 2025) will focus on two key areas: how museums manage the objects in their collections and how the stories behind these objects are communicated to the public. At workshops and events across the UK, The Sensational Museum will develop a sense-based approach to collection and communication. This approach assumes that no specific sense is necessary or sufficient to work with or experience museum collections.
Many of my museum-based blog posts show that museums are very sight-dependent places. But many people want or need to access and process information in ways that are not only - or not entirely - visual. With this project I want to imagine a museum experience that plays to whichever senses work best for each individual visitor.
The Sensational Museum is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and I'll be working with wonderful colleagues Anne Chick (University of Lincoln); Alison Eardley (University of Westminster); Ross Parry (University of Leicester as well as Esther Fox from Curating for Change and Matthew Cock from VocalEyes.
I'm particularly excited about the range of partners we'll be working with:
AVM Curiosities® has been exploring the relationship between art and the senses through a series of events and interventions since 2011. Founded by award-winning artist and food historian Tasha Marks, AVM Curiosities advocates for the sensory museum, championing the use of food and fragrance as artistic mediums. Projects range from olfactory curation and scented installations to interactive lectures and limited-edition confectionery.
Barker Langham is one of the world’s leading cultural consultancies, creating pioneering and sustainable projects around the globe. Across all our work, we look at questions from every angle and challenge assumptions to create unexpected, imaginative and thought-provoking outcomes.
Eric Langham, Founder, Barker Langham says:
“We are delighted to be part of the Sensational Museum project, and are eager to explore the prospect of redefining ‘accessibility’ not as an add-on but as an integral part of everyone’s experience. By identifying more equitable ways for all visitors to engage with museum content in a trans-sensory way, together we can begin to reimagine the museum through a new sensory logic.”
Collections Trust is a small, but influential charity whose mission is to help museums work with the information that connects collections and audiences. With Art UK and the University of Leicester it is building a Museum Data Service that will pool and share object records from UK collections as the raw material for countless end uses.
Kevin Gosling, The Collections Trust says:
“While we welcome all aspects of the project, we are especially excited that it will develop an inclusive, open-access documentation interface linked to the Museum Data Service. Not before time, this will make it easier for a wider range of users to work with the information at the heart of museum practice."
Curating for Change
Curating for Change is a 3-year National Lottery Heritage funded project at Screen South. It wants to create strong career pathways for d/Deaf, disabled and neurodiverse curators in museums.
Esther Fox, Head of the Accentuate programme, lead for Curating for Change says:
“We are delighted to partner with the Sensational Museum on this exciting initiative to really examine what museums mean for audiences and staff. Our work with Curating for Change puts disabled people at the heart of leading change within museums and we are excited to support the Sensational Museum in building on this approach.”
Group for Education in Museums (GEM)
GEM is a membership-based sector support organisation for everyone interested in learning through museums, heritage and cultural settings. Our mission is to support and empower our community of colleagues to connect and develop their knowledge and skills to deliver learning. Our services to deliver our mission include professional membership; training and professional development opportunities; 1-1 support; annual conference and events; dedicated representatives across all four Nations of the UK; publications and digital resources, support for sector recruitment; conversations and advocacy about practice and the development of learning.
The Museums Association is a membership organisation representing and supporting museums and people who work with them throughout the UK. Our network includes 10,000 individual members working in all types of roles, from directors to trainees and we represent 1,500 institutional members ranging from small volunteer-run local museums to large national institutions. Founded in 1889, the MA was the world’s first professional body for museums. We lead thinking in UK museums with initiatives such as Empowering Collections and Museums Change Lives and we provide £1.4m per year of funding for museum projects via our Esmée Fairbairn Collections fund and other grants.
The Museum Platform
The Museum Platform aims to democratise how museums can make their collections - and stories about those collections - available online as cheaply, as efficiently and as easily as possible.
“At the heart of The Museum Platform is an aim to improve usability and access - not just for the public but also for time-pressed museum staff who need to maintain this content. We’re therefore delighted to be involved in The Sensational Museum, and are excited about getting deeply involved in the project with you and with all project partners over the coming months.”
Scottish Museums Federation
The Scottish Museums Federation is a membership body for anyone interested in the Scottish museums and galleries sector. We provide our members with networking opportunities, a dynamic forum to share information and discuss current issues in the sector, and encourage creativity, enjoyment and personal development in the sector.
Quonya Huff, President of the Scottish Museums Federation says:
“We're excited to be part of this pioneering project and even more so that it will bring tangible training to the Scottish museum and galleries sector.”
We believe that blind and visually impaired people should have the best possible opportunities to experience and enjoy art and heritage. Our mission is to increase those opportunities, make them as good as possible, and ensure that as many blind and visually impaired people as possible are aware of them, and that the arts and heritage sector know how to create them, and welcome blind people as a core audience.
We’re thrilled to be involved in The Sensational Museum, which promises to be a ground-breaking project for the museum and heritage sector, turning traditional practice on its head and placing the experiences of disabled people at the heart of the process. VocalEyes’ role will be as Sector Impact Lead, helping to disseminate the project’s research findings to people working within museums and heritage sector organisations, raising awareness of the findings, resources and toolkits, and influencing and bringing about change to practice.
Wellcome Collection is a free museum exploring health and human experience. Its mission is to challenge how we all think and feel about health by connecting science, medicine, life and art. It offers a changing programme of curated exhibitions, museum and library collections, public events, in addition to a café. Wellcome Collection publishes books on what it means to be human, and collaborates widely to reach broad and diverse audiences, locally and globally. Wellcome Collection actively develops and preserves collections for current and future audiences and, where possible, offers new narratives about health and the human condition. Wellcome Collection works to engage underrepresented audiences, including D/deaf, disabled, neurodivergent, and racially minoritised communities.
Georgia Monk, Senior Project Manager, Exhibitions, Wellcome Collection says:
"Wellcome Collection has been in the process of developing its approach to inclusive and accessible exhibition making for several years and this is the perfect moment for us to engage with the Sensational Museum project and learn collaboratively with this extraordinary group of peers and partners."