Kirsty Mairs, Learning Manager and Julie Parry, Senior Archivist from the People’s History Museum in Manchester travelled to Copenhagen in Denmark in March 2016 on a WIRP International Travel Grant. This is the report from their visit.
The purpose of our visit was to explore how the Workers’ Museum in Copenhagen works with secondary schools and universities to teach democracy, and to discover how the Archive and Learning departments work together. We visited Himmelev Gymnasium (a school in Roskilde) to talk to the students about the People’s History Museum in Manchester, its collections, and to discuss with the pupils what democracy and citizenship means to them. Of the pupils we met, one class visited the museum last year, and the other is visiting on 5 April 2016. We want to apply the lessons learned in Copenhagen when developing future programmes, relationships and resources at the People’s History Museum.
On Wednesday the Learning Manager, Linda Norgaard Andersen, gave us a guided tour of the exhibition spaces and explained the structure of the learning programme. Jacob Thorek Jensen, the Events Co-ordinator for the Young Voices Unheard exhibition discussed how events were programmed and delivered.
We had planned to observe a workshop but unfortunately the school group did not turn up. However this gave us the opportunity to ask Ane Riis Svendsen, the Project Manager, detailed questions about how Young Voices Unheard was curated and how the workshops are delivered.
We attended the launch of a pop up exhibition curated by young people who had suffered parental loss at a young age. As the speeches were delivered in Danish, Linda and Ana interpreted what had been said at the end.
On Thursday we visited the Archive store at Taastrup. Pia Christensson the conservator told us about her work measuring and photographing the banners ready to divide them into a museum collection, a study collection and for disposal. Jesper Jørgensen the Archivist told us about the archive collections and challenges the staff faced having recently been merged with the Worker’s Museum and losing several staff positions. We looked round the storage facilities and saw the large backlog of accessions.
It was fascinating to see how another very similar museum engaged young people with democracy. It was interesting to talk to Linda about her work for Copenhagen Council in the Learning Department and how she taught museum professionals and teachers about democracy. Their learning team has recently curated an exhibition instead of becoming involved once the exhibition has been completed.
We learned that every child in Copenhagen has to have a cultural experience everyday and the government picks up the bill for all workshops. 38% of visitors to the museum take part in the learning programme, and learning is seen to be the most important aspect of visiting the museum. It was interesting to hear the students views on democracy, most did not want voting age reduced to 16 as they did not feel mature enough even though they had a very high level of knowledge about the mechanics of voting.
As an archive with similar collections and challenges the archive has some different approaches. It was interesting to see how the archive coped with reduced staff and long opening hours. We can use what we have learned in devising new exhibitions and programmes at PHM in the near future.
Our advice for other museum professionals undertaking an international visit would be:
- Don’t be afraid to approach and meet with international museum and archive peers as they were very hospitable and really keen to talk about their work and exchange ideas. On our return Linda emailed us to say ‘Thank you so much for your visit and for your sincere interest in our work and museum’. All the staff we met were really keen to visit the People’s History Museum again or make their first visit.
- Prior to your visit it is best to have an honest dialogue about the purpose of your trip i.e. what you want to get from it and who you want to speak to.
- It is key to ensure that you have thoroughly researched the area you will be visiting and to make sure your budget will cover what you hope to achieve.
Given that we are such similar organisations it would be very interesting if the People’s History Museum and the Workers Museum could work together on a joint project. For instance, a travelling exhibition and learning resources created by British and Danish students would be fascinating. A good starting point would be a reciprocal visit for Linda and the rest of the team we met.
In order to successfully realise our ideas we would need to research further funding opportunities. Unfortunately the annual travel programme that Linda and her museum learning colleagues used in the past has now been closed. However a positive step forward is that the school group we met in Roskilde will be visiting us in April 2016 where they will have a tour of the museum and city centre. We would like to see this become an annual tradition.
As a starting point we would like to work with Himmelev Gymnasium on some school worksheets which we can offer to other Danish schools which visit us, as we have noticed a growth in the number of Danish schools visiting the People’s History Museum in the last five years. These could compare and contrast Danish and British democratic systems.
The research trip gave us the confidence to reach out to another organisation and exchange skills and ideas with peers working in another country. The most challenging part of the trip was when our flight was cancelled and we had to reroute via Gatwick and then by train to Manchester!
“The PHM trip to Copenhagen and Roskilde will create a solid basis for future work at the museum here in Manchester”, Katy Ashton, Director of The People’s History Museum, Manchester