The winning entry in the People's History Museum's protest photography competition

People's History Museum, Manchester

Catherine O'Donnell, 14.12.2012
A photography competition helped bring in younger audiences during Museums at Night
The People's History Museum (PHM) in Manchester charts the history of protest in Britain over the past 200 years.

The ethos of the museum is “there have always been ideas worth fighting for" and through our Museums at Night 2012 event we aimed to bring our story up-to-date and make it accessible to a contemporary, young audience who are engaged in the current political climate.

The museum holds a collection of over 80,000 photographs, with a large number of protest photos. Inspired by this, we launched a protest photography competition, which culminated in an evening event for Museums at Night.

We were awarded £100 as part of the Culture 24's Connect 10 competition, which contributed towards the cost of the event. The event was both a celebration of the winning entries in our competition and a chance for visitors to explore our photography collection, which is not usually on display.  

We also held a series of talks exploring protest photography at the event. All the entries were incredibly strong and they were all displayed at the museum afterwards.

We partnered with Lomography Manchester for the event, who donated prizes for the winners. The partnership went beyond straightforward sponsorship, as Lomography really engaged with the ethos of the museum.

It led photography workshops and helped to judge the competition, alongside photographer Charlie Meecham. It also specified that the competition should be restricted to analogue entries only. This added a link back to the relevance of our analogue photography collection, although it probably limited the number of entries.
We wanted to engage new audiences who may not have visited us before or been aware of our photography collection. We chose to focus on young audiences because they’re most likely to be free in the evenings, rather than young families or older people who are available to visit museums during the daytime.

The competition and event brought the relevance of the PHM to contemporary audiences by supplementing our historical protest photography with user-generated content of current protests. It also allowed us to reach new audiences using digital platforms such as Flickr. Collecting entries digitally freed up vital staff time.  

The challenges of the event were the cost and time incurred in keeping the building open and staffed. But this was balanced by bringing in new (and hopefully repeat) visitors through the use of quirky marketing campaigns, such as chalking on the pavements.

Some visitors commented that they'd never visited the museum before but had seen the chalked signs and were intrigued enough to come.

The legacy of the event is that we've introduced monthly Snapshot events to increase access to our photography collection. We are also considering running another photography competition to build on the success of the last event.

Catherine O'Donnell is the learning officer at the People’s History Museum