Best Museums Change Lives Project
Still Parents: Life after Baby Loss, The Whitworth, University of Manchester
In an era when people need little encouragement to open up about how they feel, there’s still one taboo subject that’s rarely discussed – the death of a baby.
“There’s a silence surrounding the subject; people prefer to say nothing rather than the wrong thing,” says Lucy Turner, creator of the Still Parents: Life after Baby Loss project.
“A peculiar British convention says you can’t tell anyone you’re pregnant until 12 weeks have passed. That means that if the worst happens, there’s no support network available.
“It’s a secretive world where no one knows you’ve had this experience. One in four pregnancies ends in loss so there are huge numbers of people affected, yet we’re still not talking about it.”
Turner, who is early years producer in the civic engagement and education team at the Whitworth, was moved to make the change after she had a stillbirth in 2016.
“When I came back to work, I realised that art and galleries could help people work through the process of what was happening to them. I was determined to create a space where making and creating would enable people with similar experiences to come together without the pressure to talk.”
The idea, she says, was to offer an alternative to counselling. “Sometimes, talking therapies – with so much reliving and recounting experiences – aren’t that helpful. In our workshops, different kinds of conversations flow as a result of the art making.”
The monthly sessions – launched in 2019 in partnership with Manchester’s Stillbirth and Neo Natal Death Charity and guided by professional artists – resulted in an exhibition that was curated by the parents.
In addition to creating their own pieces using a variety of mediums – from linoprinting and photography to embroidery and ceramics – they also sifted through the Whitworth’s collections and stores for works that resonated with their own experiences.
“Many of them had never been to the museum before and found artworks that they felt expressed their emotions better than they could themselves,” says Turner. Edvard Munch’s Two People: The Lonely Ones, a depiction of a couple with their backs to the viewer and looking out to sea, struck a nerve with many.
“There’s a space between the man and the woman and a lot of the parents found the image very emotional,” says Turner, who adds that a lack of communication between grieving mothers and fathers leads to around 80% of relationships coming to an end after the death of a child.
“Working things through together is so important,” she says. “One couple started coming to the sessions a few weeks after their loss and you could see they were crippled with grief. They grew so much through the project and were able to communicate by making things together. They said they had no idea of where they’d be without it.”
Prior to setting up the group, Turner – who hopes the idea will be taken up by other museums across the country – had not met anyone else who had experienced baby loss.
“The process has helped me and I’ve grown with them. People are surprised there’s so much positivity when we meet. We laugh and cry together but making something positive fills you with so much hope.”
Above: Lucy Turner, who had a stillbirth in 2016, is the founder of the Still Parents: Life after Baby Loss workshops
Top: just some of the work produced by grieving parents who come together to be creative as an alternative to counselling
Best Small Museum Project
We Are Queer Britain, Queer Britain Museum, London
This award capped a magnificent year for Queer Britain, which opened its first bricks-and-mortar home in London’s King’s Cross last May.
Plans for the UK’s first dedicated LGBTQ+ museum were originally hatched in 2018. Head of collections Dawn Hoskin – curator of the award-winning debut exhibition – remembers the initial discussions well.
“I was working at the Victoria and Albert Museum when Joe Galliano [a former editor of Gay Times] – who is now our director – popped in one day to talk about an idea he had. He said: ‘I’ve never had anything to do with the cultural sector but I’d like to open an LGBTQ+ museum. What do you think?’.
“It’s all been a massive whirlwind since then and a huge undertaking,” says Hoskin, who lent her support to the collections development group before joining the museum last March to oversee the first show.
“Having been involved in elements of establishing Queer Britain, it was suddenly a strong push on the accelerator pedal. The job was particularly interesting because – alongside the exhibition itself – there was also the accompanying process of setting up a museum from scratch in terms of elements such as loans, paperwork and procedures and ensuring the correct quality of storage,” she says.
“One advantage was that the building was formerly home to the House of Illustration, so the physical set-up was largely in place. But it still needed a boost of adrenaline to make things happen,” Hoskin says.
“It’s interesting to compare this approach with working in larger institutions where your development phase for exhibitions is anything from one to three years. This was a very exciting way of working.”
Timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the UK’s first Pride March, the initial exhibition was designed to introduce the museum to the world while initiating conversations about queer history in all its “wildly diverse glory” and what the future might hold.
The exhibition features colourful images, artefacts and voices celebrating the UK’s queer activism, art, politics and culture, but Hoskin is particularly proud of a rather rusty piece of metalwork hanging on one wall.
It’s the door of Oscar Wilde’s cell from Reading Gaol where he was incarcerated from 1895 to 1897. “A lot of people probably have some Wilde fatigue, but he was the combination of a creative, inspiring person tangled up in the British laws against homosexuality of the time,” says Hoskin.
“In its space, it’s a really strange object; a very physical presence but also quite diminutive as it stands in for the many people who met a similar fate yet were not as well-known.
“If you turn around from it, however, you see a gallery jam-packed with all kinds of colours and energy, with objects telling stories of extraordinary people having marvellous creativity and a keen sense of agency. In that way, the door carries a lot of symbolism and truly sets off the exhibition.”
Hoskin says the museum’s future looks as bright as its collection. Not least, there are plans to develop the opening show into an all-encompassing core exhibition and there are some exciting collaborations in the pipeline.
“We’re keen to try new things out,” she says. “There’s a genuine openness about what Queer Britain can and should become.”
‘The exhibition was designed to introduce the museum to the world while initiating conversations about queer history’
Head of collections Dawn Hoskin (left) and museum director Joseph Galliano-Doig among the displays at Queer Britain, the UK’s first LGBTQ+ museum
Radical Change maker Award
Elma Glasgow, Aspire Black Suffolk
Above: Elma Glasgow’s PR talent and hard work in promoting this exhibition helped to draw out stories from Black communities in rural Suffolk
Top: the inclusion of costumes from Marvel’s Black Panther movie in the exhibition has helped to stimulate discussion
When PR guru Elma Glasgow was invited to a planning meeting in February 2020 about an exhibition that aimed to highlight Black stories from around Suffolk, she wasn’t filled with confidence.
“Ipswich is ethnically diverse but I noted that every time I went into arts and culture spaces, I would very rarely see a person of colour,” she says.
“I couldn’t have been more wrong about the project, however; the majority of people in the meeting room were of African heritage and hugely enthusiastic about the show, which was to feature three iconic costumes from the Black Panther movie by Marvel. I thought ‘this is different’.”
Before too many strides could be taken, however, the pandemic made its dramatic entrance, drying up the funding for the show and almost wiping out Glasgow’s PR business in which she had worked with the likes of Comic Relief and the British Red Cross.
Through a series of subsequent Zoom meetings, Glasgow eventually joined the project team behind an accompanying programme of events and networks that would take advantage of the exhibition’s huge profile among the local Black community.
“The original Aspire Black Suffolk initiative was so successful that Suffolk County Council offered funding which, in turn, allowed me to attract grants from other sources,” says Glasgow.
“In its first year, it delivered £100,000 worth of grant-funded community projects, the development of a Black history book and the delivery of education and skills development in schools, eventually becoming a community interest company.”
The funding also paid for the exhibition to tour around the county, for which Glasgow assumed responsibility.
“I work alongside the museums, which each have their own way of using the iconic costumes to tell their own local stories,” she says. “At Snape Maltings [where the exhibition ended in February 2023] for example, I worked with archivists and the curator of the Britten Pears Arts charity who had extracted stories such as the composer Benjamin Britten’s support for the African National Congress’s anti-apartheid movement in its early days and his advocacy of the work of the musician Ravi Shankar.
“Each venue’s storytelling, as well as new diversity and inclusion initiatives, will be a lasting legacy of community engagement, which can face many obstacles in more rural areas,” says Glasgow. Barriers have been broken down by the project, she adds.
“Those superheroes from an action film thrill many different audiences; we have had historians and Marvel movie addicts attending along with comic book fans, artists wanting to learn about storytelling and people wanting to know more about Black culture. I had no idea of how much hard work went into these exhibitions. I’m incredibly proud to work in this sector now.”
‘Each venue’s storytelling, as well as diversity and inclusion initiatives, will be a lasting legacy’
Reimagining the Museum Award
Curating Discomfort, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow
“To be recognised by your peers for meaningful and inspirational work is great,” says Steph Scholten, director of the Hunterian in Glasgow, about receiving the award for the museum’s decolonisation project, Curating Discomfort.
“Arguably, however, it is for something we should have done a long time ago,” he says. “We’ve started work that we need to develop over a generation to produce an organisation that’s truly equitable, inclusive, diverse, anti-racist and post-colonial.”
The origins of the project date back four years to the tercentenary of the birth of William Hunter, the anatomist whose 18th-century collection of specimens, manuscripts and coins kickstarted the oldest public museum in Scotland.
“Putting together that exhibition, we realised the collections raised a lot of questions,” says Scholten. “There were ethical questions about medical practice of the time and the construction of knowledge, the favouring of certain types of understanding over others. Hunter collected objects from boats arriving from across the empire. We have no concrete proof of any specific involvement in the slave trade, but he was a successful man in 18th-century London and a pillar of the establishment.”
Two years ago, anti-racism activist Zandra Yeaman was appointed curator of discomfort at the Hunterian with a brief to address the imbalance that the prism of white western ideals had created in the museum.
“It’s a deliberately provocative title,” says Scholten. “We joke that Zandra is the only person in the museum world whose job it is to make museum managers and audiences uncomfortable. It entitles her to do difficult things.”
The most visible result of the work is the bright-orange intervention in the gallery, a display of objects chosen by six community curators – academics and activists from diverse backgrounds – who were given free rein to explore difficult themes and histories.
A few feathers have been ruffled during the process, which led the museum to examine all its core procedures and processes, Scholten admits.
“We are a very white organisation and our understanding and sensitivity about these issues needs work. There have been moments when people have felt unhappy and unwelcome; some of the output may have contravened everything our own curators have always told about these objects and people.
“We are a university museum and our exhibitions were traditionally organised according to the knowledge system we use in the west,” he says. “We haven’t previously spoken about how these objects arrived in Glasgow or how other perspectives were excluded from their stories. There have been some really honest conversations.”
John Holt is a freelance writer
Best Museums Change Lives Project
The Whitworth, The University of Manchester – Still Parents: Life after Baby Loss
- People’s History Museum – Migration: A Human Story
- Heritage Doncaster (Doncaster Council) – History, Health and Happiness in Doncaster
Best Small Museum Project
Queer Britain Museum – We Are Queer Britain
- The Unicorn Preservation Society – Wavemakers
- Dylan Thomas Centre and Your Voice Advocacy – Co-producing Change
Radical Changemaker Award
Elma Glasgow, Aspire Black Suffolk
- Zandra Yeaman, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow
- Diana Foster, People’s Museum Somers Town: A Space For Us
Reimagining the Museum Award
The Hunterian, University of Glasgow – Curating Discomfort
- The Paxton Trust at Paxton House, Berwick-upon-Tweed – Parallel Lives, Worlds Apart
- National Museums Liverpool – The Colonial Legacies of the Liverpool Sandbach Family