Dance and museums

Sally Lewis, 23.09.2015
Museum and dance practitioners meet to discuss collaborations
A variety of museum and dance practitioners met at M Shed in Bristol on 15 September to discuss creative projects and explore opportunities for future collaboration. The result was a lively exchange of information and a feeling of optimism that supporting each other could help both museums and dance thrive in difficult times.

The delegates were welcomed to M Shed by Laura Pye, the head of culture at Bristol City Council, on behalf of Ruth Hecht, the senior officer at Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives, and Zannah Doan, the regional producer at Pavilion Dance South West (PDSW), who jointly organised the event.

The group were first addressed by Deryck Newland, the artistic director at PDSW, who gave an overview of the dance perspective, and by John Orna-Ornstein, the director of museums at Arts Council England (ACE).

Newland outlined a series of participatory programmes and existing collaborations between museums and dancers, working with children and young people, promoting health and wellbeing, and supporting artistic development.

He said the human body could be viewed as a special type of object or installation itself, with the potential to provide a shortcut for new audiences to connect with a museum collection.

It was no longer enough just to show people things, but imaginative dance and museum collaborations could take the audience beyond the everyday experience.

Orna-Ornstein said time was needed to build relationships and in-depth conversations, possibly by developing a shared language but certainly by both sectors learning about each other’s aims and values.

We then heard from some enthusiastic speakers with case studies giving an overview of work currently going on and ideas for creative projects.

These included Kate Coyne from Siobhan Davies Dance with international collaborations, Veronica Jobbins at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance on a collaboration with the Horniman Museum, Katie Green at Made by Katie Green on a variety of museum work including with the Russell Cotes Museum and Creswell Crags, and Judith Robinson, the exhibitions officer at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery and June Gamble, the director of Plymouth Dance on the New Expressions programme.

A networking lunch with the opportunity to meet colleagues informally was followed by an open session in the afternoon where questions from the morning’s talks were discussed in small groups.

Zannah Doan then brought the discussions to a close concluding that dance colleagues were delighted to discover that museums were as interested in working with dancers as they were to work with museum colleagues.

The cultural exchange took place at this event resulted in a celebration of both sectors but it was recognised that this was an opportunity to get the ongoing relationship right. Future sessions will focus on more specific areas, looking at career and professional development for those involved, explore shared funding options, and build a confident and supportive network.

Sally Lewis is a museum consultant based in the south west of England

Links and downloads

Museum Practice: Dancing in museums

Horniman commissions dance responses to African collection


Pavillion Dance South West

Dancing Museums

Siobhan Davies Dance


New Expressions

The Dancing in Museums project

Dance & Museums Working Together Symposium Report (pdf)


ACE Grants for the Arts

Creative Europe

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