Cultural rights and cultural democracy - Museums Association

Cultural rights and cultural democracy

Access to and participation in culture is a basic human right. Everyone has a right to representation and agency in museums, and communities should have the power to decide how they engage.

A case study on the 696 programme at the Horniman Museum & Gardens, London

696 is a celebration of south London’s music scene, curated by Adem Holness. It champions music genres and the people working in them that have been disproportionately affected by bias in legislation.

The programme came from an ambition to improve understanding of our award-winning musical instrument collection and maximise its potential for local creative people and audiences.

The Horniman is for everyone. Our founder gave the museum to the people of London in 1901, and we are free at the point of entry. However, historically, we have not attracted everybody. We want our local music community to feel that this is their place, that the collections belong to them and that the spaces do too.

Being in south-east London, the Horniman is located in the middle of a thriving and internationally loved Black music scene. 

It was crucial not to appear tokenistic or assume we had the cultural knowledge to engage new people.

696 connects the museum to this music world on our doorstep. 

Taking its name from the Metropolitan Police risk assessment form, 696 acknowledges how Black British music has been pushed out of public space. 696 says not only is now the time that Black British Music is welcomed into public space but that the Horniman has a vital role to play. 

The programme includes the exhibition Dance Can’t Nice, a resident artist scheme, creative learning projects and a 3-month live music festival. All of which was developed and delivered during the pandemic.

However, our biggest challenge is to attract new audiences. To be successful 696 needed to engage our local Black music community genuinely and authentically. It was crucial not to appear tokenistic or assume we had the cultural knowledge to engage new people.  

So we developed essential strategic partnerships to establish a level playing field between participation and artistic ambition. Each strand of activity had high levels of co-production with pioneering artists, creatives and promoters pre-established in the South London music scene.

As a result, we recruited five exceptional resident artists and the 696 Festival has been completely sold out, with more than 8,000 tickets sold. Sixty-two percent were from minority ethnic groups, and 85% gave a positive visit rating. In addition, 77% had visited or intended to visit the Dance Can’t Nice exhibition in the Museum.

Nearly 2,500 visitors had seen the exhibition in its first three weeks, with 18% coming mainly because of it. In addition, 29% were on their first visit to the Horniman, 30% were from minority ethnic groups, and 79% gave a positive visit rating.

And 10 local 18-25 year olds took over the Horniman’s Conservatory to programme their own live music night as part of the 696 Promoters programme.

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