May Redfern (L); Gina Koutsika (R)

The conversation

Gina Koutsika; May Redfern, Issue 114/05, p17, 01.05.2014
Are we commemorating the right anniversaries?
May Redfern, is the learning manager, Barnsley Museums and Arts; Gina Koutsika, is the head of national and international programmes and projects at Imperial War Museums

Dear Gina:

It’s not a case of right or wrong. In Barnsley, we have a responsibility to explore events that have a significant impact on our communities. The Experience Barnsley museum was created by, for and about local people.

The 30th anniversary of the 1984-85 miners’ strike gives us the chance to reflect on a battle between government, trade unions and mining communities, and the profound impact on subsequent generations.

We are running a year-long programme of events, which has started with an exhibition on Barnsley’s Women Against Pit Closures, co-curated by our all-female youth panel.

May

Dear May:

I agree – there are not necessarily “right” and “wrong” anniversaries. The Imperial War Museum (IWM) was founded during the first world war, so it is appropriate for us and our publics not only to commemorate its centenary with a vibrant programme of new galleries, exhibitions, learning programmes, digital products, digitisation projects, academic conferences and public events, but also to lead the First World War Centenary Partnership – a network of more than 2,700 cultural and educational not-for-profit organisations from 45 countries.

Gina

Dear Gina:

We have created a pop-up version of our strike exhibition, so that we can take it out on the road and collect people’s strike memories.

For the first world war, we will be tracking the lives of several Barnsley people from different walks of life during and after the war. We will share their stories during 2014, 2016 and 2018-19. Do we run the risk of creating anniversary fatigue?

May

Dear May:

Anniversaries arrive every year and when the year is a rounded number, their perceived significance increases. The first world war centenary spans more than five years. Isn’t it up to us whether we create “anniversary overload”?

We have time and therefore the opportunity to coordinate efforts; avoid duplication; experiment with new programming; form partnerships; learn from mistakes; and keep our audiences stimulated and engaged.

We can work together to create moments of shared experience and connect current and future generations with history.

Gina

Dear Gina:

Ultimately, it’s for the public to decide if they are interested in what we do. These events are hugely significant, but we need to be careful that people don’t become indifferent. So how we engage with people is fundamental.

Sometimes, waiting for an anniversary isn’t appropriate. The 50th anniversary of the hard-hitting novel Kes is coming up in 2018, but it is such an important story for Barnsley that we are looking at it now, because it helps us contextualise wider changes in the town that impact people’s lives.

May

Dear May:

Working with our audiences will bring success. Audience consultation has been vital in the development of IWM’s programmes, including our new digital platform.

The first world war has always been a key part of IWM’s story. Through the centenary partnership, we are thinking of the impact and planning the legacy of the events.

In 2019, we should not only have a fresh approach on the war and its impact, but also new means of commemorating anniversaries and novel ways of collaborating locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

Gina

Comments

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Jonathan Gammond
MA Member
Access & Interpretation Officer, Wrexham County Borough Museum
07.05.2014, 00:36
Sometimes anniversaries can be rather problematic! Wrexham Musuem teamed up with Wrexham Football Club's Supporters Trust in 2012 to mark their 140th anniversary only for the trust to discover during the research for the exhibition that the club was eight years older than everybody had up until then thought. Then the question was do we celebrate the 148th anniversary or delay the exhibition for two years. We decided to go ahead (though we didn't brand it the 148th) and this year to mark the 150th anniversary the Wrexham Supporters Trust will be opening a pop-up museum in Wrexham's shopping centre to mark the occasion. None of these activities happened because someone on high ordered us to mark the anniversary; they resulted from conversations between the museum and the supporters.