Sarah Lloyd-Durrant (Digital Access Officer) and Ian Doble (Royal Institution of Cornwall Trustee and Chair Elect) from the Royal Cornwall Museum (RCM) visited Hidalgo State in Mexico with a WIRP Travel Grant in October 2016. Michael Harris (Exhibitions Officer and Assistant Collections Manager) also travelled with Sarah and Ian to Mexico but with funding from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation. This is Sarah’s report from their visit:
Firstly, our plan was to work with the Creative Contemporary Practice faculty at Cornwall College Camborne (CCC), Cornwall and the Fine Art faculty at the Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Hidalgo (UAEH or Hidalgo State Autonomous University), Mexico. Students within these faculties would create their own artworks based on site visits and primary research, which would culminate in physical and digital exhibitions in both countries. The intention of our visit was to see the art works created by Mexican students, to consider potential venues in Mexico for an international exhibition and to discuss the logistics of a travelling exhibition. We felt that meeting partners face-to-face would add strength to the Memorandum of Understanding we already had with our Mexican partners and contribute to the success of sustainable partnerships.
Secondly, we wanted to visit heritage organisations in the area in order to establish links with them. To date it had proved difficult to establish any strong links with heritage organisations due to language barriers. However, we felt that there is great benefit in making these associations in terms of knowledge share of the Cornish diaspora in Mexico. These links will add further dimensions to collections related to the Cornish diaspora both here and abroad.
We travelled to Mexico as part of the Redruth Twinning Association delegation that was visiting the Festival Internacional del Paste (International Pasty Festival) in Real del Monte – a three-day festival where we helped to make the world’s longest pasty and enjoyed many versions of the Mexican ‘paste’, a culinary tradition brought over by the Cornish. Through this established twinning connection with Mexico we were able to visit the University and the heritage organisations that we had earmarked and we were provided with an interpreter. This proved invaluable to the success of our trip and helped our WIRP Travel Grant go further.
We met with Antonio Morales Aldana (UAEH) to discuss and visit the potential venue for a future travelling exhibition. Unfortunately, there was no work from Mexican students based on the Cornish diaspora for us to see but our conversations and meetings have strengthened our relationships with UAEH. This, along with our link with CCC, puts us in a strong position to develop the existing Memorandum of Understanding to include plans for a dual site Mexican/ Cornish exhibition in the future. UAEH is keen to develop this relationship and Antonio Morales Aldana hopes to visit Cornwall to see venues and discuss exhibition plans. We then arranged to meet with the Directors of the University in Mexico City to discuss our plans further. However, on arrival in Mexico City we were told that the meeting had been cancelled due to a conference. This was frustrating as we were unable to re-schedule due to leaving the country.
We were able to visit all of the heritage organisations that we requested and gifted copies of photographs from our collections to the Archivo Historico y Museo de Mineria Asociacion Civil (Historical Archive and Museum of the Civil Mining Association) and the Museo del Paste (Pasty Museum) as a gesture of friendship and co-operation. Museo del Paste is the only pasty museum in the world. It tells the story of why the Cornish came to Real del Monte; the technology the Cornish they brought with them and their cultural legacy. We presented the museum with a print from the RCM collection showing Cornish miners eating their pasties in East Pool Mine.
However, as we were visiting with the twinning association delegation it was difficult to find time to talk in depth with the Directors of the organisations about knowledge sharing. This, I think, was a small compromise compared to the huge benefits of visiting with the twinning delegation.
Talking with Mexican heritage organisations, we discovered many synergies with Cornwall in terms of mining history, economic development/ rise in tourism since the collapse of mining. The Pasty Festival in Real del Monte is one example of how our shared Cornish mining heritage, including culinary traditions, can increase tourism. Real del Monte has a very vibrant community which has been able to regenerate its economy by cooperative marketing driven by the Paste (pasty) producers organisation. The mining heritage sites in the state of Hidalgo also benefit from the raised profile of the area thanks to the Pasty Festival (which celebrates the town’s Cornish links and attracts over 60,000 visitors each year) and the Government’s Pueblo Magico (Magic Village) designation. This has made us think about how we as an organisation can forge stronger links to other organisations in Cornwall to work on joint tourism promotion etc.
On a personal level, I will continue to be a member of the Redruth Twinning Association so that I can support the fundraising for local Mexican schools and work on improving the Redruth Pasty Festival that is held in Cornwall each year.
Meeting Antonio Morales Aldana, the Fine Art Lecturer at the University of UAEH and seeing the potential gallery space for an exhibition next year has been really helpful. We will continue talks with the UAEH and CCC so that we can plan how we can deliver an international, dual-site student exhibition in the coming years.
Meeting the Director of the Historical Archive was important for us, but I think it will take longer for us to build a relationship with the organisation, and it may be harder to sustain. The bureaucracy surrounding the archive is difficult to fathom in terms of partnership working and the idea of sharing knowledge was not met with much enthusiasm. However, I feel that this was due to the fact that we were part of a twinning delegation and therefore were not able to arrange private meetings. However, meeting face-to-face, and presenting small gifts from the museum, has enabled us to start those conversations with the right people so that we can develop those connections.
On return to Cornwall our first task was to curate the Mexico: The Cornish Connection exhibition. This exhibition showcases the work of the students from CCC, which was based on their research on the Cornish diaspora in Mexico. The exhibition also contains film footage and photographs of the Real del Monte Pasty Festival, which enable our local audiences to see first-hand the importance the town places on its Cornish cultural legacy. The private view was a wonderful opportunity to meet with the Course Director at CCC, and the physical exhibition made it easier to explain the potential of working with a university in another country and solidifying the Memorandum of Understanding.
Our plan is to arrange a Skype chat with the RCM, CCC and the University of Hidalgo so that we can plan a student exchange and exhibition in 2017 or 2018. The Royal Cornwall Museum would be the venue in the UK and the Museo del Casa at UAEH, Real del Monte, would be the venue in Mexico. Discussions around funding student/artist in residence placements in each country will be undertaken.
In order to achieve these goals it will be necessary to look for arts or education grant giving bodies that support international artist residencies. We will also need full commitment to all those signed up to the Memorandum of Understanding and a clear set of objectives in order to achieve this goal.
In terms of advice for other museum professionals undertaking international visits, I would highly recommend conducting research into any pre-established community links with the country or region that you are interested in working with. It was invaluable for RCM to work alongside the Real del Monte/Redruth Twinning Association; relationships had already been fostered and we were able to gain access to the right people and organisations through the local members of the association.
“I wasn’t prepared for the impact Mexico would have on me personally; the friendships I have made from this visit have encouraged me to learn Spanish, continue to support the Twinning Association and its fundraising activities, and I am planning to return to Real del Monte next year.” (Sarah Lloyd-Durrant, Digital Access Officer, RCM)
“Our Mexican hosts were incredibly warm, kind and generous with their time and hospitality; thanks to the visit enabled by the WIRP Travel Grant we are now in a much better position to do more research and bring the story of those amazing Cornish adventures and their families from the early 1800s back to the RCM.” (Ian Doble, Royal Institution of Cornwall Trustee and Chair Elect)