Read on for a roundup of the activity from the University of Cambridge Museums (UCM) between October 2022 and March 2023, the final six months of our Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation programme for 2018-2023. It draws on key statistics provided by the seven museums and Botanic Garden; and highlights some of the activity delivered under our new programme themes: Social Justice, Our Planet, Creating Opportunities, Health and Wellbeing and Programme Enablement.
Our visitor numbers have recovered to pre-pandemic levels
- Between 1 October 22 and 31 March 23, the museums and Botanic Garden welcomed 426,169 visitors, making a final total of 1,044,343 for the year. This is almost 1.5 times more than our target of 700,000 and is over 60% higher than the number of visitors welcomed in 2021-22.
- Baseline audience research (which does not include participants in targeted programmes) indicates audience diversity is roughly consistent with the previous year. The representation of people who identify as d/Deaf, Disabled or having a long-term health condition has continued to improve from 7.1 to 9.1%. 20% of our audiences identified as an ethnicity other than White British.
We engaged with double the number of adults and young people than in the same period in 2022…
- 8876 adults and 8451 children and young people aged 0-19 took part in informal learning sessions (events, talks and activities) making our total numbers for the year 26% and 31% above our annual targets (15,000 adults and 20,000 CYP).
- We engaged with 93% of those participants in person (77% onsite and 16% in person at another location) and 7% online. Online informal learning sessions were almost entirely for adults.
- 938 early years children (0-4yrs) took part in activities with their families or nurseries, making our annual total of 1735 almost 2.5 times our target for the year (700).
…and are maintaining a significant hybrid learning offer for schools and higher education students
- 9% of school and HE participants engaged with us online, and 10% via in person offsite sessions.
- 20,489 CYP aged 0-19 took part in schools or formal learning sessions, making a total of 32,035 for the year, 60% higher than our target of 20,000. • We taught 4,271 undergraduate and postgraduate students, an increase of 30% on our annual figure for 2021-22.
- We welcomed 892 research visitors and supported 1750 research inquiries. • We loaned 12 objects for research and teaching purposes.
- We enabled 424 incoming loans and 81 outgoing loans, exceeding our target for the year.
Case Studies: Social Justice
Power & Memory
A major focus of the last six months has been our work and research into the legacies of empire and enslavement, and our related Power and Memory programme of events, displays, workshops, and community-led discussions. Underpinning this is our ambition to continue to explore place, power and identity within and beyond our collections.
Informed by our evaluation of how we can best support staff confidence and training in this area, CPD for staff and volunteers continues (see Programme Enablement below); this has been delivered alongside a broad range of public events and work with our local community.
Power Walks have allowed us to develop a new, collaborative approach to the traditional museum tour. Led by museum staff, these events invite the public to explore six or seven objects across two of our collections and the Museum of Cambridge. While walking between collections, participants are encouraged to discuss the conflicting and challenging stories behind the objects and their colonial links, and to share their own experiences and knowledge. Feedback from participants indicates that they have welcomed the opportunity for a different kind of consultation with us.
It was fantastic – the two museums/talks were very complimentary – gave an excellent insight into a range of items that otherwise we would have no idea about
I had a very positive experience on this walk, a really inviting and welcoming environment
It was fantastic, there is so much to see – we could have been there even longer… More time
Feedback from Power Walk Participants
Working with a group of artists, university students and early career museum professionals, Museum Remix: Power & Memory provided another opportunity to explore our museums’ complex relationships with power, racial inequality and colonialism. This two-day event featured workshops on storytelling, developing ideas, and audio mentoring and invited participants to create audio content offering an alternative interpretation of some of our objects.
Six audio tracks were created in response to objects from the Museum of Classical Archaeology, Sedgwick Museum, and the Whipple Museum. These are available to access via QR-coded labels within the museums and are showcased on our website.
Those taking part in the project described their experience as:
Exciting, intense, empowering, thought-provoking
Fascinating, challenging, fun, fulfilling
All the participants agreed that, “I feel that my voice/contribution has been valued by the University of Cambridge Museums”, with additional feedback indicating the further value:
Listening to the thoughts, ideas and visions of the museum curators. Helping expand my understanding of what museums are hoping to achieve in their initiatives to better their visitor experiences and teaching/learning methods.
The freedom to intervene in the interpretation of museum displays and tell empowering stories. Meeting interesting and friendly people.
Having the freedom to approach collections in a very different way to work (as a Collections Assistant)!
Comments from Museum Remix participants
Case Studies: Our Planet
Climate change is one of the single-most pressing challenges we face today and affects us all at an individual, organisational and global level. For this reason, we remain committed to work which explores environmental change, biodiversity loss and unsustainable living.
In recognition that big problems require collective action, our Carbon Literacy training is bringing together a fully-trained team of museum staff to develop and deliver peer-to-peer training sessions across the consortium. Based on the Carbon Literacy Museums Toolkit, the project offers everyone a day of Carbon Literacy learning covering climate change, carbon footprints, how to ‘do your bit’, and its relevance. Delivering training in this way aims to bring us together and share skills, learning curves, and create a collective voice to bring about change across our museums.
Six staff are now accredited to deliver further training with plans to develop a pilot programme of sessions from June 2023.
We have the unique position of being a trusted public space where people can
come to learn, engage and relax. I hope that by training staff to be Carbon
Literate we can encourage advocacy and change within our ways of working and
outputs as museums.
I’m taking part in the Carbon Literacy project because I want to be part of the
positive action that will keep our institutions relevant and responsible. As
museums, we owe the communities we serve, as well as the cultures and lives we
represent, our best efforts in the pursuit of a liveable future.
Feedback from Carbon Literacy training participants
Case Studies: Creating Opportunities
Over the last six months, we have continued to work with young people to raise aspiration, build skills and creative capacity. In addition to providing opportunities for participants to raise their confidence and develop skills in communication, leadership and creativity; recent projects have also focussed on providing paid career development opportunities as alternative pathways into the sector.
Inspiring young parents
Our partnership with the charity Romsey Mill is an integral part of their Young Parents Programme aimed at families with children under 5 who may be facing disadvantage. Over the course of a ten-week Bronze Arts Award course, six young people aged 17 – 25 explored the theme of Power within our collections, inspired by the Power & Memory programme.
Activities including interviewing artists; skills sharing; teaching others; banner making; and exhibition reviews, allowed the participants to collaborate, share their learning, and develop new skills – all of which allowed them to increase in confidence.
The project allows you to be creative in free time and it allows you to make
friends, have fun and explore new skills.
I’ve gained my creative space back.
Feedback from participants
Although the programme has recently finished, its impact continues. Out of the three young people who have passed their Bronze Arts Award, two are going on to a Silver Arts Award. The participants have also become more confident in accessing the general opportunities available across our museums with some
parents signing-up for ‘Gurgling in the Galleries’ early years activities at the Fitzwilliam Museum.
Celebrating Black History in Cambridge
We recognise that a strong cultural sector requires new skills and new talent and we remain committed to providing alternative pathways into the sector, especially for those who are underrepresented in our workforce.
A recent Celebrating Black History in Cambridge project created two paid internships at the Fitzwilliam Museum which centred on developing resources for the public highlighting the stories of Black people in Cambridge. The interns were given free rein to develop their ideas while receiving support, guidance and expert knowledge from two of the Museum’s curators. This resulted in the creation of a ‘Zine’ and a colouring book which we are currently exploring how to market commercially.
I hope my colouring book and its texts will inspire future generations, helping them know their potential for greatness and that it will help to continue the legacy of Black excellence in Cambridge! I [want to] continue creating and developing. I would love to have more opportunities to share my work in Cambridge and around the world.
Selena Scott, Celebrating Black History in Cambridge Intern
Local Black history has largely been absent in imaginings of Cambridge, so learning about the accomplishments of these important figures has been important for me; I’ve learnt such a lot… and have enjoyed being given lots of background and context.
Jade Pollard-Crowe, Celebrating Black History in Cambridge Intern
Case Studies: Health & Wellbeing
Research shows that taking part in creative activities helps us live well and feel better, however, socio-economic barriers to accessing culture continue to exist. Working with a range of strategic partners, the work carried out by the UCM Inclusion Team is focussed on promoting wellbeing and supporting agency, confidence and access for those experiencing health inequalities.
Recent participants in our Age Well programme have been invited to look, imagine and move in response to our collections. This project has seen us work in partnership with the Independent Living Service (ILS) to support older people living in sheltered housing and care settings to overcome limitations in accessing activities and spaces which are known to have a positive impact on their wellbeing. With older participants facing a range of barriers including mobility issues, social isolation, a sense of ‘not belonging’ and difficulty accessing the City Centre, the programme is specifically structured to ensure that participants feel less isolated, and focuses on promoting relaxation, cognitive and physical health.
85% of participants felt that taking part in the programme made them feel ‘better’.
Further evidence suggests that the programme is helping to break down life long cultural barriers with 65% of the participants having not been to a museum in the past 5 years outside of the Age Well programme activities.
I was invigorated today – I felt calm, my heart sang with happiness!
What lovely friendships we have made – sitting here together today under this tree – we are all safe and we are all happy!
Feedback from participants
The UCM Partnerships Team supports a range of work across our consortium including evaluation and insight, communications and digital, community and practitioner partnerships, and workforce development. Much of this is enabled through our local partnerships and our commitment to engaging a wider range of external voices and experiences in the work of our organisation.
Throughout this reporting period we have delivered a series of Legacies CPD sessions to ensure that our staff and volunteers have the knowledge and confidence to engage with this subject. In addition to three Legacies bitesize lunchtime talks focusing on museum education, Romantic literary archives and acknowledging violence in collections, we have provided in-depth training for learning and engagement colleagues on the following:
- Communities and different perspectives: exploring how to engage with source communities, storytelling and creating engaging learning spaces
- Racism, classism, ableism, sexism and intersectionality in the museum context: exploring the experiences and impact of these on us, the museum sites and collections, and our audiences
- The role of museum education within our museums and in the wider society: exploring the practicalities of diversifying museum education and what this looks like.
I found the CPD sessions really useful and helpful. It’s not often that we as learning and engagement professionals find the time to get together and discuss and learn like this. The sessions definitely improved my confidence in engaging with this work. In particular the openness of the session leader to the complexities of this topic, and how important time and space can be when engaging with audiences on it.
This period has also seen us consult and engage with external partners. We have now appointed an NPO Board to oversee our new programme of ACE-funded activity 2023-26, made up of a majority of external stakeholders and representatives, and monitored annually to ensure it is representative of the diverse communities we serve.
Our Community Panel regularly brings together twelve individuals from the local area to engage with the activities of the University Museums, and aims to empower community voices to challenge, and influence our activities. The inclusion of different perspectives and viewpoints on our exhibitions, programming, and other work ensures our museums have a wider appeal, making them more accessible to a broader audience.
Following the completion of a successful pilot phase, the Panel is now in its second iteration and museum staff who have consulted with the group have commented on the benefit of learning from its feedback and how they might continue to consult external community partners in the future.
Members of the Panel have also highlighted the value of being listened to by the University Museums and museum staff and learning from each other:
It made me feel like UCM is interested in, and values opinions from a diverse set of people. It made me feel like I had some ideas and opinions worth listening to.
Experts shared their ideas and were prepared to listen to our views.
The participants analysed it from a whole spectrum of views – some of which were similar to mine, others shed a completely different new light on an issue for me.