Like most face-to-face cultural activity, community events have been a casualty of the pandemic. Now lockdown restrictions have been eased, many people will need to be drawn gently back out of their heads and homes to reconnect with each other.
I believe that creating Covid-safe pop-up museums inspired by the heritage you care for can provide a welcome social focus for local people.
The Ruskin Museum in Sheffield was set up in 2015 at the start of a six-year community-led programme to engage people in the city with the themes of the Ruskin Collection, which is housed at the Millennium Gallery and cared for by Sheffield Museums Trust.
It was based in an empty shop in the neighbourhood of Walkley, a stone’s throw away from St George’s Museum (1875-1890), the original home of the Ruskin Collection of the Guild of St George. Our free pop-up museum was rooted in Ruskin’s belief in engaging people with arts, crafts, nature, heritage and each other for greater happiness and wellbeing.
Through this pop-up and other community-led events in Walkley over the next four years, we engaged more than 8,000 adults and children.
Our 12 community partners reported new and lasting connections with each other; deeper connection with the local community; the adoption of new socially engaged techniques; and increased agency to improve local lives.
The project won the 2017 Association for Heritage Interpretation award for Best Community Project and was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Tips for setting up a pop-up museum
Place Be visible in daily local life. Try to find a location on a main thoroughfare where people will see the pop-up easily. Most people spotted the Ruskin Museum when they were out shopping or waiting for the bus. Ask around to find out who the landlord is if there’s no “to let” sign.
Plenty of paper Keep creativity at the heart of things. Offer inviting and accessible drawing, painting, sculpting and other activities inspired by the heritage you care for. Be on hand to chat while people make. As the space fills up with local creations, local ownership builds.
Putting it simply Invite warmly and instruct clearly. Use welcoming and jargon-free signs around the space that invite people to get involved and have a go at the activities on offer. At the Ruskin Museum, we used hand-drawn chalkboard signs.
In partnership Involve local community groups and businesses in the pop-up’s creation and activities. The local butcher, baker and candlestick maker (literally) all contributed creative activity materials or hosted their own activities, along with the library, community centre, cemetery and many others.
Get personal We trained 10 voluntary hosts to welcome visitors, facilitate creative activity, change displays and programme events. A big central table for visitors to sit around while they make and chat is vital.
Plan patiently Take time to get to know the needs and interests of the community that you are working with. This will allow you to engage people with the aspects of heritage that you care for and are relevant to them.
Get involved Build relationships and trust by going to local meetings, walking around and popping into shops.
Ruth Nutter is a freelance creative producer and community practitioner, and the producer at the Ruskin Museum in Sheffield