Look up here, I’m in heaven / I’ve got scars, that can’t be seen, David Bowie, ‘Lazarus’, from Blackstar (2016)

Birmingham Body Image Blog 1:
Tristan Antoine (MA student, Birmingham City University)
Tristan Antoine
I’m excited to be starting a work placement today; for ten weeks at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery on Edmund Street. There probably aren’t so many 50 year olds doing work placements; this is though part of an MA in Innovation and Leadership in Museum Practice. I write this primarily to consolidate and reinforce my understanding, but share it to provide a second function towards engagement.
I met a lovely group in the ‘engagement team’ and attended two meetings. The first was a general team meeting which gave me something of an overview of roles and responsibilities and on-going projects, including: the ‘Big Store’ project – a development of a new collections store for Birmingham Museums Trust; the’ Inspire Youth’ art project – an open submission exhibition to be launched in February for a July display; discussions around a wellbeing event; an Asian youth culture exhibition; a project around the Pat Benson boxing academy; feedback on community consultation with regards to retro gaming.

And the second, a more focused meeting around the forthcoming ‘Birmingham Body Image’ (working title) project. I learned about the concept of gallery 15 at BMAG being a space for exploring and testing experience and interpretation. Story Lab is flexibly-structured community collaboration, a co-curated space. As well as the exhibition in the gallery space at the end of the project, Story Lab inhabits a range of community spaces as the process of consultation grows – schools, community groups and so on. It’s a space for shaking things up – traditional museum hierarchies, developing more diverse view-points which better reflect the ethnicities and cultures of the city of Birmingham today; a space for taking risks – trying out innovative approaches to contextualisation and provocation, capturing new stories and social histories, and testing with audiences. And if it is to achieve all of these, it will, I hope, be a place for making mistakes, because if we’re not making mistakes, we’re not growing and learning.

I hope to be pitching in where appropriate and useful. My understanding at the end of day 1 (and I might be wrong here), is that community groups are currently being identified. The spectrum of representation is important, and my experience in other realms suggests, given that spectrum, the methods and modes of engagement will need to be sensitive and tailored to the individuals.
We know the theme is Birmingham Body Image and the museum’s co-curators want a singular narrative to come from the community collaborators. Within this narrative will be considered all sorts of contexts I’m sure: historical, socio-economic, cultural heritage, gender, age, aesthetics, religion, politics, health…. Likewise, community co-curators will be given the opportunity to explore some of the collection, identify and select artefacts and write interpretive information for them.
For now, I’m spending my time reading the briefs and other associated documents to discover what my contributions might be and what I hope to benefit in terms of the wider MA course. I am hoping to encounter and promote demystification of practices in museums and galleries, the democratisation of them, and empowerment of the public. So best crack on!

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