Producing a new exhibition where the museum volunteers themselves were the focus
You should read it if:
You are looking for ways to recognise and celebrate the contribution of your own volunteers
Fife Folk Museum is a museum of local life located in the village of Ceres, Fife. The museum looks at the most important aspect of life in the Kingdom of Fife: its people. Spanning two centuries, the collection comprises objects, fine art, documents and costumes illustrating the working and social lives of the people of Fife.
‘Things we Love’ was a unique opportunity for Fife Folk Museum's volunteers to take part in a photographic exhibition celebrating the role of volunteers in caring for the museum’s collection. The volunteers chose their favourite object, researched its history, handling and conservation needs, and produced new written interpretation based on their research. Photographs of the volunteers and their object, taken by Caroline Trotter, were displayed alongside the new text to form an exhibition. ‘Things We Love’ aimed to illuminate our relationships with objects from the past. Viewed with nostalgia, loss, love, or simply curiosity - there is always a story to tell. The exhibition was on display from April to June 2017.
Museums Galleries Scotland (Small Project Fund)
Fife Folk Museum
Challenges and successes
28 volunteers took an active role in the project, with 22 of these choosing to have their portraits included in the exhibition.
Local communities engaged well with the exhibition, particularly as friends, family and colleagues of the volunteers came to view the portraits.
The difference made
The project had a positive impact on the following areas:
Increased the knowledge, skills and curatorial understanding of the museum volunteers.
Generated a sense of collective achievement among the volunteers.
Attracted new visitors who would not otherwise have visited the museum.
Promoted the role and value of volunteering in a creative and positive way.
What was learned
By diversifying its exhibitions and programming, Fife Folk Museum could attract more visitors.
Personal and anecdotal stories can increase visitor engagement with even the most mundane or obscure objects.
Build it and they will come. Fife Folk Museum upgraded a room and created a designated gallery space to display the exhibition, and have already had interest from other arts and crafts practitioners who want to present their work at the museum.
If you are thinking of doing something similar...
Consider what groundwork you might need to do before diving into a new area of cultural activity. During this project, visiting other museums or galleries to familiarise volunteers with contemporary photography and visual arts could have reduced their early misgivings.
Don’t underestimate what your volunteers can do. Given the right support, most volunteers overcame reservations about new activities, and met new challenges with skill and enthusiasm.
Think about revenue opportunities, no matter how small. In this project, the professional photographs of the objects were turned into postcards for sale in the museum shop.
If you would like any further information on this project, please contact Joanna van den Berg at Fife Folk Museum on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01334 828 180.
This case study was originally published in July 2017.