Jan 23rd 2017

The creative case for diverse rural museums


Dr. Tehmina Goskar, Change Maker (Arts Council England supported),
Cornwall Museums Partnership & The Royal Institution of Cornwall

Rethinking diversity in a rural region conference, Wheal Martyn Museum, 13
January 2017.

 

On 13 January a conference of nearly 70 people took place in rural mid-Cornwall, in Clay Country. It explored and challenged ideas about diversity and museums, arts and culture in a rural region.

I constantly advocate that ‘the diversity debate’ is itself somewhat exclusive because it is dominated by narratives that originate in London and the big cities.

These discourses do not sit comfortably in rural regions like Cornwall.

The result is that cultural policy is skewed towards serving the needs of the majority of the population who live in major urban regions, usually also supported by major urban local authorities.

One of the opportunities presented to me as an ACE-supported Change Maker is to advocate more vocally about the opportunities for cultural organisations situated in rural areas to embrace diversity and take responsibility for understanding their communities and being more inclusive of diverse people.

Why are we here?
Who are we for?
Who’ll miss us if we’re gone?

My first public presentation as a Change Maker took place last Friday at the conference, called Rethinking Diversity in a Rural Region. I helped co-organise it with Cornwall Museums Partnership and hosts, Wheal Martyn Museum. The first part of the day was a series of presentations and case-studies, including Andrea Gilbert from Inclusion Cornwall and Becki Morris from the Disability Cooperative Network.

The inspiring and honest case-studies were on inclusive practice (phew—action rather than more reports!) at Penlee House in Penzance, Wheal Martyn near St Austell and Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro –interestingly these are all towns that the Government class as rural ‘hub towns’ that have a special function in providing amenity and services to a wider rural hinterland.

In the afternoon we facilitated discussion workshops on diversifying collections, inclusive practice and reaching new audiences. These workshops supported our klaxon for the day: to pledge one that you would change to be more inclusive of diverse people (action, action!).

My paper, ‘The creative case for diverse rural museums’, began by posing the three questions above.

Thinking firmly of my experience of working and using Cornish museums and comparing it with my big city experiences, and that of my colleagues, my primary aim was to convince the audience of three things:

• Diversity is a huge creative opportunity for rural museums
• Use the Government’s Rural Proofing strategy to strengthen cases for investment
• Step away from the reports, statistics and conference rooms and go out and be part of your community if you truly want to be inclusive and also be included

Read: The creative case for diverse rural museums.
View the presentation at the end of the page.

Reflections

It’s easy to get carried away. The conference exceeded our expectations in terms of the range of delegates, where they came from, and that they also included museum users or potential museum users and partners, from the creative industries and community groups.

Apart from some dodgy acoustics and some criticism about the specific issue of how Cornish national minority status fits into the diversity debate here (discussed in June at a CMP event), the evaluation was overwhelmingly positive and also provided some really excellent suggestions for the future.

But what next?

I must now make sure I practice what I preach, and also continue the hard task of encouraging and supporting culture change in the organisations I work in and for.

So here is my practical ‘do one thing’ pledge. Test me in 6 months and then 1 year’s time:

I, Tehmina Goskar, Change Maker and Lead for the Royal Institution of Cornwall Bicentenary Programme 2018, will step away from my desk and map the mini-community on my own street to better understand where I live and how I fit in. I’m going to pretend I’m a museum.