New museum award celebrates activist thinking and practice

© International Slavery Museum, Dave Jones A person with their back to the camera is looking at photo collage that is covering a wall.

© International Slavery Museum, Dave Jones

The Climate Museum UK, the International Slavery Museum and Museum as Muck were awarded in the Activist Museum Award, which celebrates and fosters activist thinking and practice in the UK museum community.

The award was launched as part of the 20th anniversary of the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG) in the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. The winners are awarded £1000 each and tailored mentorship to support the development of their ideas. Climate Museum UK, Museum as Muck and the International Slavery Museum will be invited to showcase their important work and share the findings of their projects with students, researchers and practitioners from across the cultural sector at an event – The Activist Museum – on 11 November 2020. RCMG can also announce that the Activist Museum Award 2021 will be launched in September 2020.

The award is given to an individual or group working in/with museums to support the research and development of an activist project that reflects the ideas presented by Robert Janes and Richard Sandell in their recent book, Museum Activism (2019). Museum activism refers to, ‘museum practice, shaped out of ethically-informed values, that is intended to bring about political, social and environmental change.’

The judging panel, which included Sara Wajid (Museum of London), Ross Parry (Deputy Head of School and Professor of Museum Technology) and Jocelyn Dodd (Professor of Museums and Social Change and co-Director, RCMG) reviewed many compelling and innovative applications that they would have liked to support. The three winning projects – proposed by Climate Museum UK, Museum as Muck and the International Slavery Museum stood out for their strong activist ambition, creativity of ideas and potential to have impact on the sector.

Climate Museum UK

Climate Museum UK is a mobile and digital museum that raises awareness of systemic justice issues behind the Climate & Ecological Emergency, and their relevance to heritage and museum practices. The award will contribute towards the development of a digital collection of climate-linked objects in museums, heritage sites and groups. Using a ‘shared-ownership’ approach will enable all museums to be a ‘climate museum’ by interpreting their collections with a lens of climate & ecology, and by ‘donating’ an object and its multiple stories to the shared database. For 2020, the Climate Museum UK plans to launch a pilot project testing this digital collecting approach, inviting partners to surface and collate ‘Stories of Extraction’:

‘We are very excited to receive one of the first Activist Museum awards. This will help us to scope a distributed digital collection, encouraging a more commons-based approach to digital museum practices. The first theme we want to collect around is Extractivism, providing tools for anyone to surface objects and stories on this theme. We want to support the museum sector to explore ways that colonialism is an environmental issue and that the Planetary Emergency is a systemic justice issue. Our research will be shared on’  (Bridget McKenzie – Climate Museum UK)

International Slavery Museum

The International Slavery Museum in Liverpool developed their project proposal in collaboration with activists from Migrant Artists Mutual Aid (MAMA), a cross national network of women, migrants, artists, academics, activists and survivors of modern slavery living in the Liverpool city region. Together, the museum and MAMA will co-create a resource using the women’s experiences to address the vulnerable position of survivors of modern slavery in the city to provoke better understanding through discussion, dialogue and creative outputs - artwork, digital resource and performance. The project will be supported by the International Slavery Museum Ambassadors, a group aged 16-25 who help shape the museum’s campaigns, resources and events.

‘We are delighted and extremely grateful for RCMG's support of this valuable work in partnership with MAMA.  This project, one of the first collaborative projects ISM is developing directly with survivors of slavery, will lead to a much greater understanding of the experiences of survivors of modern slavery in the Liverpool City Region and amongst our audiences.’ (Adam Duckworth and Mithila Ramagavigan – International Slavery Museum) 

Museum as Muck 

Museum as Muck is an activist network that has started a dialogue around class in the UK museum sector and the need for museum workforces and audiences to be inclusive and diverse. Through workshops and programming, Museum as Muck supports museums across the UK to improve their recruitment and retention of working-class talent and foster progressive working practices that will lead to social change within the sector. The award will go towards the development of workshops and interventions - an offer that comes from people with lived experience of social, and economic deprivation, who understand the barriers to a diverse museum workforce. 

‘We are delighted to accept and be recognised for the work that our network began in June 2018. We act as a support network for working class museum professionals and as a platform for change in the sector through sharing our experiences and expertise. We bring awareness and understanding to museums though our knowledge of barriers to working in the sector due to social, economic and cultural deprivation and through the specific professional skills and talents of our members. We are looking forward to consolidating our practice and working closely with museums to introduce structural change.’ (Michelle McGrath – Museum as Muck)