Are all things equal? Exploring access and diversity at the Scottish Museums Federation Conference

Having a long lasting interest in access, diversity and social inclusion, I was very excited to be attending the Scottish Museum Federation Spring conference. It struck me as quite a brave question to ask as this is one of the most challenging areas for museums and other cultural services to engage with.

The conference got off to a good start with Tamsin Russell, President of the Scottish Museums Federation, helping to demystify equalities legislation. She was encouraging museum professionals to utilise equalities data to inform activities, priorities and funding. She was pointing to the Scottish Government’s Equality Evidence Framework as a good place to get such data.

Julie Orford from National Museums Scotland showed clearly how to engage diverse audiences through utilising your collections to highlight social issues. In this case, the Women’s Suffragette Movement 1909 centenary was a way to explore the NMS bike collection in a new light. I must admit I had not realised how important bikes were to the historical emancipation of women. I liked the story of ‘Miss Londonderry’, the first woman to cycle around the world only taking a change of underwear and a pearl handled revolver.

I also got a great introduction to Robert Mapplethorpe, whose photographs are now on exhibition at Old Gala House in the Scottish Borders. Phoebe Stewart really brought his life and art alive. She showed how the Scottish Borders Council are utilising his work to engage with very hard to reach groups such as LGBT and women suffering domestic violence.

Going outside Scotland, Laura Clydesdale presented some observations from ‘Rhythms of the Year’ at the National Museums of Northern Ireland. This was targeted at looking at collections through the eyes of young people.

Diana Morton from the Edinburgh City Museums continued this theme talking about engagement with intergenerational audiences. Her outreach work at Newhaven was really inspiring. The photos below include the dynamic and changing Newhaven collection, of which the Newhaven community has been central (you can see more online). The creation of links between older groups and school children in the area has created long lasting integration within the community.

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In regards to engagement and participation, Isobel MacRae from Sense Scotland and Suzi Simpson from the Scottish Refugee Council presented some amazing work with the arts and cultural sector. I liked the ethos that everyone is a creative person because everyone has the potential of imagination. I will also be signing up to some great events for Refugee Week Scotland happening on the 17-23rd June. The challenge for the Refugee Week Scotland is actually to attract a mainstream audience. So everyone check out the list of events!

Overall it was a really inspiring day listening to the amazing work that people are doing to engage diverse audiences.

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