Issue 117/05, p15, 01.05.2017
How can museums increase understanding of migration to the UK?
Frances Jeens, Head of learning, Jewish Museum London

“All museums have connections to migration, both past and present. Our approach is to be direct and engage visitors in challenging questions. Last year we asked visitors to vote whether 10,000 Kindertransport refugees was enough in 1938, at the same time the media was reporting that the UK would accept 3,000 unaccompanied children in 2016. Every day, students write anonymous question cards on topics including migration, politics and identity, and we never shy away from answering them. My advice is to tackle the big questions head on.”

01052017-voxpop-twoVictoria Rogers, Museum manager, Cardiff Story Museum

“I am a big believer in making it personal. So, using stories, historic and contemporary, of real people’s experiences of moving to a place for work, education, by following their hearts or to escape. Making sure that ‘migration’ stops being about faceless statistics, and starts being about real people who you can relate to on a personal level, is the approach that we use at the Cardiff Story Museum, and it’s been successful. It’s not just about the experience of the ‘migrant’ either. We’re very upfront about the fact that Cardiff is a city that has been built on migration. We wouldn’t be here without it.”

01052017-voxpop-threeChris Whitehead, Professor of museology, Newcastle University

“Migration to Britain is nothing new. But how it is framed – legally, politically and in the media – does change. Because of social disaffection, migrants can unfairly become a focus of resentment and hatred. Museums can combat this by showing how Britain has always been multicultural. Even things that seem quintessentially British are often the result of global trajectories of people, ideas, skills and capital. My university has launched www.thinkingthroughmigration.com, to help museums address this, providing free resources on migration and intercultural understanding.”

01052017-voxpop-4Avaes Mohammad, Project manager, British Future

“Migration plays an important role in the story of Britain. Its narratives are an inextricable part of British identity and heritage. Whether or not migration has directly affected our lives as individuals, its benefits – and indeed its pressures – impact on us all Representing migration as relevant only for minority communities, distancing it from majority engagement, is therefore the wrong way to engage this important topic.

A more appropriate curatorial approach involves representing migration, its challenges and opportunities, as narratives we all share and can own together.”