Collections belong to communities and without people museums are just storage warehouses. Collections are for public use.
A case study on The Colston Statue: What Next? display, Bristol Museums
There were protests around the world after the filmed murder of George Floyd, whilst being arrested in America. All Black Lives Bristol organised a protest against police brutality and racial inequality. On 7 June 2020, an estimated 10,000 people gathered in Bristol.
Protestors pulled down a statue of Edward Colston, a slave trader, graffitied it and threw it into the harbour. Four days later, Bristol City Council retrieved it. Museum conservators immediately started to stabilise the condition and preserve the graffiti.
We also collected 550 placards from the site of the statue plinth, following the mayor’s instruction to Bristol Waste to save them. These have all been digitised and a selection will be added to the social history collection. Various photographers donated about 100 digital protest images, and we recorded some invaluable stories about previous statue interventions and accounts of the statue being pulled down.
The mayor of Bristol established the We Are Bristol History Commission to build an improved shared understanding of the city’s story. We worked in partnership with them to open a temporary museum display in June 2021.
We presented facts about who Edward Colston was, his involvement in the transatlantic traffic in enslaved Africans, and a timeline about the statue itself. It aimed to be the start of a conversation, not a complete exhibition.
We invited people to tell us their views about what should happen to the statue next in an online survey. Paper copies were also available in the gallery, and distributed to Bristol postcodes identified as communities who don’t traditionally visit our museums. We ran sessions for various community groups and schools and encouraged them to do the survey too.
Survey options include displaying it at a museum, updating the empty plinth with a plaque explaining the events of 2020, and using the plinth for artworks.
The results will be analysed by the commission in autumn 2021, and presented to the mayor to decide what happens to the statue next, based on people’s feedback.