Issue 119/04, 01.04.2019
What should museums be collecting to reflect these political times?
With the UK deeply divided over Brexit and our future relationship with the rest of Europe, what should museums be collecting to reflect the current political turmoil?
Steph Mastoris, head of museums, Amgueddfa Cymru (National Museum Wales)
“Generally, politics is poorly represented in museums, perhaps because so much of the material evidence is ephemeral. Planned programmes of active, contemporary collecting are the best way to combat this. Such programmes should be holistic, recording the attitudes and feelings in communities, as well as the physical evidence of political activity. The geography of the EU referendum vote showed local issues colouring political opinion, so several museums throughout the UK should work together. The projects should explain the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’ of politics.”
Sam Jenkins, collections officer, People’s History Museum, Manchester
“Britain has a strong tradition of people using their voices and protesting for change or against decisions that they do not agree with – and today is no different. With students all over the UK striking for action on climate change, and both sides of the Brexit debate marching to be heard, museums and galleries need to collect the whole range of these responses. By collecting protest and campaign material, we can show what issues are important to people. But we also need to collect personal stories and objects to really understand the reasons why.”
Hannah Crowdy, head of curatorial, National Museums Northern Ireland
“There are rich pickings when it comes to ‘rapid response’ collecting, from placards to archived Twitter feeds. But we should also look to artists’ responses. We recently acquired Left, Right and Centre, created by Cornelia Parker as artist in residence for the 2017 General Election. This piece is now all the more prescient and compelling, and provides a topical perspective on politics, media and society. In Northern Ireland we have our own critical issues, so any collecting response should go local as well as national. Politics does not begin and end at Westminster.”