The new Women’s Museum in Barking bucks the trend for reduced public services - Museums Association

The new Women’s Museum in Barking bucks the trend for reduced public services

This radical vision for working across services and communities is exactly what is needed, says Marijke Steedman
Feminism Local Authority
Profile image for Marijke Steedman
Marijke Steedman

From 2018 a new team of curators joined Barking and Dagenham Council, having worked in public galleries such as Tate and Whitechapel Gallery in learning and civic curatorial teams.

With the help of London Borough of Culture funding from the Mayor of London, they developed a new curatorial programme in the heart of social care services for adults and children called New Town Culture.

This embedded way of working led to deep collaborative relationships between social workers, youth justice workers, artists, community-based and national arts organisation.

Five years later the programme is rooted in policy for Children’s Care and Support Services, and a vision for a Creative Social Work practice is shared with staff through an MA module created with Goldsmiths, University of London.

Key milestones in New Town Culture’s development include the Turner Prize nominated project Rafts by Rory Pilgrim in partnership with the Serpentine Gallery, and the initiation of a public-facing curatorial framework for a new cultural space in Barking town centre - the Women’s Museum, which opened on International Women’s Day 2024.

In 2021 the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Domestic Abuse Commission highlighted the need for safe spaces in the borough, platforming the voices of women, girls, trans and non-binary communities.


In a borough where female healthy life expectancy is below the London average and domestic abuse incidents are the highest in the capital, the Women’s Museum is vitally urgent new infrastructure.

Like New Town Culture, the museum will build networks and agency, using art as a central scaffolding for the work. Through an annual programme of exhibitions, events and residencies New Town Culture will support a dynamic artistic programme informed by the experiences and voices of people living in east London.

In 2024 the programme reflects on the early female-led communities in Barking Abbey from 666 to 15++CE and imagines parallel communities of women, girls, trans and non-binary communities in 21st-century Barking and Dagenham.

In 2025, a year-long artist commission will invite local communities to define the space for coming together and organising. Along the way, local community-based projects and individuals will hold keys to the space, again creating their own iterations of the museum so that it shifts in meaning and function.

In 2024 New Town Culture will direct its curatorial focus on youth justice and services for adolescents in our public services. Together with young people, workers and artists this enquiry will create traces in the Women’s Museum – supporting young men and as well as young women to be creative in the context of the museum.

Why would a museum like this happen now, of all times, when local government is so limited in resources?


Because coming together creatively against a growing trend of reduced cultural infrastructure and increasingly transactional, paired back public services is vitally important.

A radical vision for art and alliances across services and communities is exactly what is needed right now.

Marijke Steedman is the senior curator for culture programmes at New Town Culture, part of the Culture and Heritage Team at London Borough of Barking and Dagenham

Comments (1)

  1. Rebecca Odell says:

    Although I celebrate articles drawing attention to forward thinking local authorities using heritage to do radical work with their own communities (more of this please!), I find the omission of any reference to the East End Women’s Museum in this article distracting…

Leave a comment

You must be to post a comment.