Young Critics, 3rd Act Critics and Kids in Museums volunteers are working in collaboration with Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales (ACNMW) http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/ on a new free project focusing on the quality and standards of exhibitions and programming at their sites across Wales. Those involved recently spent a day with the staff at the National Museum, Cardiff. The response below is from Young Critic Lois Arcari.
Ken Skates The Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism at the launch of Treasures
The debates we have as part of our union with the Welsh National museum always prove that our combined aim – to make museum culture as interactive as possible, is one that only needs to be brought out and shared – our observations and opinions as immediate, magnetic and dynamic as with any other medium, the background stories to the exhibits on display are equally as fascinating.
Promoting museum culture as one that is inclusive, rather than exclusive, and more actively evolving than you may first think, is precisely why we’re part of these regular events.
Last week marked the start of another insight into widening public appreciation and interaction, and general museum culture; all hinged upon the new Treasures: Adventures in Archaeology exhibition.
This is the recently erected exhibit promising a bold new direction for the museum, one centred on a family orientated entertainment experience to become an inspiring gateway into museums for those unlikely to normally attend, was the promised fulfilled?
Well, that was the central topic of debate, with many insights and observations thrown into the mix.I feel that ultimately, it was mis-marketed. With unprecedented attention being given to the museum exhibit – an article on Walesonline not generally seen as par for the course – the focus was on the concept of Indiana Jones, on a new trail blazed for a new audience. The exhibit showed symptoms of both how quickly it was made, in relative time, and of the many debates behind the scenes on focus – areas such as participation offset by traditional ideas all very interesting, but not on the minds of families setting foot into the space. Unfocused seemed to be the prescriptive word, with minimal interaction – tentatively promised to be rectified – offset against rather standard pieces. The real highlights of the exhibit – a scan of the entombed mummy, and the stories behind the objects seemed to get lost in an odd traditionalism offset against a brilliantly atmospheric design.
The objects were all interesting, but there seemed to be minimal coherence – some objects more easily appealing to adults than children, some with minimal information, others with information that was hard to access, hidden in corners, or betrayed by font, for example. Everything seemed almost annoyingly tantalising – this far and no further – emphasized by the size of the exhibition.
In the meeting afterwards with museum staff and participants, there were many discussions about colonialism and just what the word treasures meant; to the general public, museum staff, parents and children. Whilst there was discussion of introducing an alternative way of thinking about archeology as less moral than we’d first suspect, I think that would be at a rather painful odds with the Indiana Jones theme, and that suggestion towards these ideas, rather than any preaching, would be a great way to make children feel more involved and respected and introduce a different way of thinking. With a different focus the exhibition could be wonderful – but it seems like a forced response rather than an organic commitment to criticism of museum culture, and the marketing focusing on the film seems to be playing it up rather too much, though to its credit the museum itself does seem a lot more balanced with the marketing.
As it stands, with a discussion into some of the rich and fascinating cultures, and the ethics of archeology, the exhibit could be decent for a young fan of the time period, rather than of the franchise attached. Add in more transparency about the volunteers roles, and a chat with them, and the exhibit will be mined for its worth. With a hefty price tag attached, this seems to be a misconceived remarketing of old ideas and old pieces rather than the new push it promised, and unless a family has prepared for the day out with discussion and research or wants a new angle on a school topic, and is prepared for some hard work getting the most out of the exhibit, it seems a tad misleading.