Since opening in 2018, V&A Dundee has rapidly established a reputation for inspiring design innovation through its exhibitions. Its communities programme aims to provide equal access to all audiences, especially those who may experience barriers to cultural engagement.
A lot of this work has focused on how the museum can be used as a space to support those living with health inequalities and improve their wellbeing. Using V&A Dundee as a therapeutic, social space, and giving communities ownership of how they want to use the museum, enables us to connect in meaningful ways with those who might never visit.
The Covid pandemic has forced a radical but necessary rethink of how we reach and engage audiences. The increase in digital streaming services and a need to reach audiences who may be more isolated than ever has led us to create and share new and existing resources online, and we deliver live and pre-recorded content based around our exhibition programme.
V&A Dundee has been proactive in supporting adults at risk of social isolation and/or living with a diagnosis of dementia. This work has involved local support groups, national organisations such as Alzheimer Scotland and a partnership with one of the UK’s largest care providers, Barchester Healthcare, that involves the museum hosting a series of online talks for its residents, staff and communities.
This partnership came about after a member of V&A Dundee team noticed Barchester’s work with Blenheim Palace in England, and conversations developed from there. Coincidentally, this followed news that V&A Dundee will develop into Scotland’s centre for design over the next three years, establishing new partnerships that connect communities and empower people through design.
We are particularly proud that institutions and organisations like V&A Dundee are able to offer us events that some of our residents wouldn’t have been able to visit otherwise due to distant locations, allowing for everyone to benefit from the events but in the comfort of their own home.
Over several months, Barchester’s staff and residents will be guided through the museum’s architecture and diverse exhibitions, including the first international retrospective of fashion designer Mary Quant and Night Fever: Designing Club Culture, which reopened the museum in May 2021.
Delivering this content online enables the museum to reach a broad geographic audience, but often the interactivity and responsiveness of face-to-face delivery is lost. Presenters are unable to see the reactions of attendees and therefore adjust their delivery, so we discussed the suitability of the content based on knowledge held by the Barchester staff team, who were able to advise on the topics that might be of interest and areas of the presentation to expand.
Each presentation takes the format of an in-conversation between V&A Dundee curators and Barchester staff, as this has been found to be most engaging for residents. The different voices and more conversational tone hold attention longer than a direct presentation from an individual, regardless of the subject. Interaction was considered through active questioning, polls and quizzes.
One of the challenges was multiple residents joining from a single device (often an internet-enabled television in a shared lounge) often made it difficult for them to interact using the chat and Q&A functions.
Digital housekeeping was also important to ensure that all attendees had their microphones off so as not to disrupt the chat. The same goes for the presenters – working from home, calls rerouted to laptops can be difficult to cancel during live presentations.
To be more inclusive, the events were streamed on Zoom and YouTube live, but it was more challenging for the Barchester team to monitor both platforms and respond to any questions or technical issues.
At the time of writing, three of the six presentations have been delivered. Encouragingly, the attendee figures have risen steadily for each one, growing from 126 attendees in March to 134 in April and 164 in May. It is worth noting these figures indicate the number of homes joining the event (across both Zoom and YouTube live) but almost every home would have had two of more people watching, meaning the actual number of people engaged will be much higher.
Qualitative feedback has been harder to gather, due to the limitations of the technology, however from the comments in the chat and feedback from Barchester team, this activity has been very well received by staff and residents alike.
It offers cognitive stimulation, promotes discussion and fosters the sharing of memories. Given the broad reach of Barchester’s network of around 240 homes, many indicated that they would like to visit V&A Dundee in person when restrictions allow.
The talks are organised through V&A Dundee’s communities programme, which is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
Peter Nurick is the communities producer, access and inclusion, at the V&A Dundee