Our museum is located in Manchester, a city in the North West of England. Not as big as London, however it is one of the biggest and most notable cities in England. Manchester has some of the most deprived areas in England, ranking 4th most deprived area in England in the 2010 Index of Multiple Depravation. Manchester is also a very diverse city. In 2009 22.7% of the population was listed as being part of an ethnic minority. We are a national museum and tell a national story of how ordinary people all over the country improved their conditions by working together. However, our location in Manchester is very fitting as many events significant in our story took place in Manchester, for example Manchester was the first Industrialised city in the world, the Peterloo Massacre took place not far from where our museum is located, and several important political groups and movements such as the Co-operative Society and the Women’s Social and Political Movement were founded here.
Before our redevelopment we did not have a dedicated Community Exhibition space or formal policy regarding Community Exhibitions. We only began displaying the work of community groups after some approached us enquiring whether they could display their work in the museum. We then set aside a small space by the reception and café area for community groups to display their work free of charge, but the process was very ad hoc. We would only display one or two exhibitions a year, and often there was no exhibition on display. During our redevelopment we began to discuss the idea of making Community Exhibitions a more formal part of our exhibitions program because we realised that there were groups who were interested in exhibiting with us.
There are numerous reasons we choose to host community exhibitions that benefit the groups and individuals we work with, but also the museum as well. For the groups: It gives groups/organisations a platform to explore and voice their concerns and identities. It is an excellent opportunity to display their work in a national museum free of charge in the city centre, and gives them the opportunity to raise awareness of their work and reach members of the public who may not have come across the group or organisation otherwise. Adds a voice and opinion to the museum that is not our own. Often an enjoyable experience for the groups, with many people expressing pride at seeing their work exhibited. The museum also gains a great amount from the community exhibitions: It gives us the opportunity to develop relationships with groups and artists. We have seen this happen in the short period since we re-opened with some of the groups we have previously worked with coming back and asking to work with us again. Hosting Community Exhibitions is a great way of keeping our exhibitions programme fresh, encouraging repeat visits as people know there will be something new to see. It also encourages new audiences to visit the museum as members and associates of the groups come to view the displays, and also the diverse subject matters covered in the gallery may appeal to people who previously had not visited the main exhibitions at the museum.
We invite groups to apply to host community exhibitions in our Community Exhibition space. we do not tend to approach groups and ask them to display their work. We advertise the opportunity on our webpage, and also have a text panel in the exhibition space explaining that Community Groups can display their work there. We find that by only advertising the opportunity in these two areas we keep the level of applications at a manageable level, and it usually ensures a certain level of interest in the story we tell, as the applicants have been on our website or visited the museum and found out about the space. Often groups approach us directly after having seen exhibitions in the space. We send interested parties a document with guidelines for the application process, in which we inform them of our selection criteria, give information about the space and the resources we have to offer. We also send them an Expression of Interest form which we ask potential exhibitors to fill, on which they must give a description of the group/organisation, description of the proposed exhibition and state how it relates to the museum’s story.
We have certain criteria that groups should meet in order for us to consider exhibiting their work. We receive many applications and so we find that having a set criteria by which to access applications is very helpful and reminds us of our priorities and why we exhibit the work of community groups. Some of the most important points we take into consideration are: Exhibitions must have links with the museum’s portrayal of Labour History. This can be interpreted in it’s widest sense as ‘people’s history’, so as long as applicants can show their exhibition is relevant to the history/story of normal people we will consider them. This gives them quite a wide scope. Also, we look favourably on exhibitions that work with groups who’s stories are not commonly told, i.e. disenfranchised groups, or workers who’s activities are often taken for granted. It offers people the opportunity to tell their stories in a public space. Exhibitions should be from the Greater Manchester area in order to reflect the ‘Community’ in which we work. This also helps keep exhibitions more relevant and personal to the majority of our visitors, who largely come from the Greater Manchester area. We look for exhibitions that are of good quality and will work well in the space we have. As you will see there are some technical issues that come with the gallery. We ask them in their applications to specify how they would display their exhibition in the space. We do understand that these details may well change as an exhibition is being developed and installed, but we can get a good idea whether a proposed exhibition will work. If we feel an exhibition is not of suitable quality, or will not work in the space we may suggest that the applicant further develop their idea, or recommend they exhibit in a smaller space in the museum we feel it would work better. We also look at whether exhibitions will encourage visitors to come to the museum, help us create new audiences and raise our profile.
We set a programming meeting annually at which we look at each application that has been submitted and select exhibitions we would like to display. We have representatives from our Senior Management Team, Exhibitions, Marketing & Learning departments present as each of these departments has a stake in the exhibitions. We try to ensure the exhibitions we select give a balanced overall programme. For instance, we receive a lot of applications for photographic exhibitions, and so we ensure that only a certain number of slots are taken by photographic exhibitions, and try to make sure one does not follow directly after another. Also, we try not to chose two exhibitions that have similar subjects to each other and to exhibitions we have recently shown. We always have more applications than we have slots available. This is great for us as we can usually chose a varied and interesting programme. However, the strength of many of the applications submitted sometimes makes it difficult to choose. This is where sticking to the criteria we have set really helps. In instances such as this we may ask an applicant if they would like to exhibit in the next season. All unsuccessful applicants are contacted after the meeting and we explain to them why we have not chosen their particular exhibition. We often suggest areas we think they could potentially improve upon and invite them to resubmit for the next round of selections.
For the first year we changed the Community Gallery exhibitions every 6 weeks. However, this put a huge amount of pressure on the exhibitions team and our Front of House staff who help install the exhibitions. We consequently decided to run each exhibition for approximately 10 weeks. This has been a win-win situation as it has relived the pressure on the museum and also it means the exhibitors work is up for a longer period of time.
Our Community Gallery is placed in the Engine Hall in the old Pump House section of the Museum. The Hall receives a high footfall due to the distinctive architecture and history of the Pump House building which many visitors find interesting, and also the only way to enter our Changing Exhibition space is to pass through the Hall. Groups can exhibit in the space free of charge, and the museum’s location in the City centre with good transport links makes it a great place for groups to display their work. It is a unique and dramatic space, and as we have no fixed walls or cases in the space groups are given great freedom to decide how they would like their exhibition to look. However, working in such a space does have some difficulties. The Engine Hall is used for our larger corporate events. We try to keep the exhibition up where we can, but sometimes it is impossible, and so all exhibitions need to be demountable in order for the space to be cleared. This creates a lot of work for our staff when demounting and re-installing the exhibition, but it also puts certain restrictions on what exhibitors can do. We do make it clear to exhibitors in the application process and consequent meetings that the Engine Hall is a multi-use space, and so far this has not raised any problems. Additionally, the Hall has a glass ceiling and several large windows which let in a lot of sunlight. Because of this we discourage exhibitors from displaying objects, most notably historic ones, which can be damaged from exposure to the light levels.
This is what we provide for those who exhibit in our Community Gallery space. We are unable provide any financial support other than in the form of the space, wages of the technicians which help with the installation and materials we provide (for example, the boards are often painted before each new exhibition, we can produce dry mounted labels, etc). We do provide assistance and guidance for the exhibitors where needed, but we prefer to let them make their own decisions on what they want to say and display and how they do that in the space, in order to let the community’s voice come through. In terms of display materials we can provide 14 white display boards, 2 table top display cases, 1 large table top display case and 1 tall display case. We also have various plinths, Perspex case furniture and a computer which we can also make available. We also allow groups to attach items to the walls where appropriate and where it will not damage the original tiles.
Some exhibitors can be quite intimidated by the size of the Engine Hall, however, we have found that the majority of exhibitions have worked very well in the space. Here are some examples of exhibitions we have held. Venture Arts are an organisation who provide art and craft workshops for adults with learning disabilities. The workshops usually last about 12 weeks and focus on a particular theme. The workshops culminate in a body of work which they then exhibit in venues around the North West of England.
This exhibition explored the experiences of residents from Chorlton-on-Medlock, a former working-class district in central Manchester, destroyed during the post-war national practice of ‘slum clearance’. It was developed from a collaborative oral history project carried out by the exhibiting artist, Elizabeth Kealy Morris, who lives in the current council estate built on cleared Chorlton-on-Medlock land. She worked with a group of former residents of Chorlton-on-Medlock to understand how and why they remember their old neighbourhoods and how being cleared effects their identities and memories of their childhood. Three of these residents’ stories are told through ‘memory maps’ interpreted by Elizabeth which mark the important locations in their former neighbourhoods in their own words.
Kings was a photography exhibition by Sabrina Susan Fuller. It was based on The Kings was a pub on Manchester’s Oldham Street, at the heart of the Northern Quarter which in recent years has undergone intense redevelopment. The work celebrates those who drank there and raises issues of the effect of urban renewal on established communities.
This exhibition celebrated International Women’s day. The centre point was the International Women’s Day Quilt, which saw over 300 people come together to create it by donating a piece of fabric special to them and telling their own story. The exhibition looked at the process and people involved in making the quilt, as we as various aspects of women’s history.
In this exhibition, graduates from the Documentary Photography MA course at The University of Bolton explored the capabilities of social documentary photography by engaging with some of the important social issues in current society. They took their inspiration from the work of Humphrey Spender, who in 1937 began photographing Worktown (Bolton) for Mass Observation – the foundation for the development of British social documentary photography.
The Hands On exhibition was created by Sense, which is a national charity that supports and campaigns for children and adults who are both deaf and blind. The exhibition explored alternative methods of communication, displaying a mixture of 2D and 3D pieces that had been created by deafblind students during weekly art sessions, alongside photographs of the students creating their artworks. The exhibition was scheduled to coincide with Deafblind Awareness Week.
This popular exhibition was made up of images and objects collected from people who lived in some of nearby Salford’s now demolished terraced streets. It was put together by local artist Lawrence Cassidy, who ran weekly workshops while the exhibition was on so local people could come in, talk with Lawrence and add their own stories to his research.
There are many positive points to hosting Community Exhibitions, including: It allows us to create relationships with local community groups It has brought in new audiences to the museum, including people involved in the project, people who were featured in the project and also people interested in the topics being discusses. The responses we have received from both visitors and exhibitors have been very positive. All groups seem to have been very proud to see their work up in such a venue. It means that returning visitors have always got something new to see and helps add variety to our exhibitions programme, exploring areas that we may not necessarily have the knowledge or resources to do ourselves. It also enriches our events programme if the exhibitors choose to host opening events, talks, workshops, etc. This in turn has boosted our visitor figures. Exhibitors are always very passionate about their work and this is evident in the final exhibition. This has often brought press coverage which has been beneficial to both the exhibitors and to the museum Many of the themes covered in the Community Exhibitions link well or are sometimes specifically designed to coincide with anniversaries, significant dates and national initiatives. This gives the museum a great opportunity to mark such events. It also encourages new talent, giving groups and individuals a platform to exhibit their work and develop their ideas.
We have also encountered some challenges: Sometimes the groups we work with expect more from us in terms of time and resources than we are able to provide. Due to the duel role of the space and the lack of atmospheric regulations some exhibitors are unable to include certain items. This greatly affects what people can achieve in space. One exhibition we are currently working on involves groups creating art works to be displayed in the space. We had to ensure that all the artwork they created conformed to the needs of the space, so the space was shaping the exhibition before it had even been created. Many of the exhibitors require funding in order to be able to finance their exhibitions. Unfortunately we are unable to help with this, and so some applications for potential exhibitions are accepted on the grounds that these groups can get funding, which could cause problems if their finding application was unsuccessful. Having a Community Gallery with a frequently changing programme does put a lot of pressure of staff involved in the organisation, installation and maintenance. However, this has eased somewhat with the extension of time the exhibitions are on for. We give our exhibitors a lot of freedom when it comes to the content of the exhibitions. This can be quite daunting for the staff as although we do have meetings and keep in contact with exhibitors in the run up to exhibitions, we are never 100% sure of what the final exhibitions will be. However, none of the exhibitors have let us down yet! Sometimes we cannot provide groups with the resources they would like, and so some have had to adapt their ideas in order to work with the equipment we have. We never like rejecting a proposal, especially when we have a number of strong proposals up against each other. We try to make the best out of the situation though, explaining why we rejected the proposal, offering advice and suggesting they re-submit for consideration at the next programming meeting.
We are hopeful that a pending funding application will allow us to make improvements to the Community Gallery, including new boards and equipment which will hopefully further enhance the quality of the exhibitions we currently provide. We have discussed the possibility of creating a selection panel with representatives from the local community to help decide choose which community exhibitions we show, and also advise us on community issues. We are currently looking into best practice and the technicalities of implementing such a scheme. Due to the complexity of working with a multi-use space like our Community Gallery, some problems do arise and it puts great pressure on staff in several departments who have to arrange for the current exhibition to be taken down and put back up, sometimes more than once a week. We are planning to hold a meeting with representatives of each department in the museum in order to discuss how best to deal with these issues in a way that will cause as little disruption to the Community Gallery programme, but will also accommodate the continued corporate use of the space which is important for the museum’s income generation. We are looking at the possibility of programming the Community Gallery Exhibition less far in advance. This should allow us to be more responsive to the communities which we serve. For instance, groups have come to us with an exhibition proposal celebrating certain anniversaries or events, but unfortunately we have not been able to host them during their desired dates as we already have an exhibition scheduled. We do not have a formal method of evaluating our Community Exhibitions at this time. We are hoping to create an evaluation form which we will send to each group after their exhibition to ask about the experience they have had. We hope that this will better inform us on how the Community groups felt while working with us, and alert us to any improvements that can be made in the process. More often than not groups will approach us with an idea for an community exhibition, and will then go and create the exhibition with only a small amount of direction from the museum. We have recently began thinking about collaborating with groups more closely and allowing them access to our collections in order to use them as a source of inspiration for their own exhibition. However, this would be a big project to undertake, and our current financial and staffing situation means that we would need to apply for funding to secure someone to run such a project.
Pres phm manchester
Community Gallery exhibitions at
the People’s History Museum
Kayleigh Carr, Exhibitions Assistant
• Introduction to the People’s History Museum and
• Why do we do Community Exhibitions?
• Application process and criteria
• The exhibition space and support
• Positives and challenges of hosting Community
• Future plans
• What we hope to achieve from participating in this
The People’s History Museum
Our museum tells the story of the development of
democracy in England over the past 200 years. We look
at the role of ordinary people, who worked together to
improve their working and living conditions.
Our collections of museum objects and archives were
designated as being of national importance by the
Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in 1998.
We have significant collections of political poster, badges,
political tokens and medals to name a few. The museum
also holds the largest collection of historic trade union
and political banners in the world and is the UK’s leading
authority on the conservation and study of banners.
The People’s History Museum
• The People’s History Museum originated in the
1960s with the Trade Union, Labour and Co-
operative History Society, who gathered a collection
and set up a small museum in London in the 1970s-
• After the museum in London closed the collection
was offered a home in Manchester by the City
Council and opened as the National Museum of
Labour History in 1990. It moved to our current
location in the historic Pumphouse in 1994. In 2001 it
was decided the museum would take the name The
People’s History Museum.
• 2010 estimated population of 498,800
• City ranked 4th
most deprived area of England in the
Index of Multiple Deprivation 2010
•Large community of ethnic minority groups
•National museum but have many relevant links with the
Manchester and Greater Manchester area
The People’s History
Museum2007 after a successful funding bid
the museum closed to undergo a
multi-million pound redevelopment.
We re-opened in February 2010
with 2 brand new main gallery
spaces, a Changing Exhibition space,
and a Community Exhibition
• We had 82,918 visitors between February 2010 and
• 78% of our visitors describe themselves as White
• Based on information given by our visitors, 13% fall
into the working class category. This is not
representative of Manchester’s population, but this
is a common occurrence in British museums.
• Overseas visitors account for 11% of our total visitors
How did we start displaying Community
• Groups were approaching us asking to display their
• Displayed work in small area by café and reception.
• Small scale, only one or two exhibitions a year.
• During redevelopment it was felt Community
Exhibitions should become a more formal part of our
Why do we do Community Exhibitions?
• Give groups the opportunity to display their work
• Adds a voice and opinion to the museum that is not
• Opportunity to develop connections in the wider
• Helps keep our exhibition programme fresh as there
is always something new to see
• Encourage new audiences into the museum
• Guidelines and simple form sent to interested parties
along with next submission deadline
• If requested a member of the exhibitions team will
meet and discuss ideas before submission
We choose exhibitions that;
• Link to our story - interpreting labour history in its
broadest sense ie ‘people’s history’
• Allow working people and disenfranchised groups a
chance to tell and examine their history
• Are mainly from Greater Manchester
• Are good quality – display details discussed with PHM
staff in advance of installation
• Encourage wide access, increase visitor numbers and
raise the museum profile, creating new audiences
• Programming meeting once a year
• Assess every application that comes
• Representative from Senior Management Team,
Exhibitions, Marketing & Learning departments
• Applications assessed and a balanced programme is
• Generally have had 4 or 5 applications for every slot
• Can vary - initially exhibitions changed every 6
• Recently extended to run for approximately 10
The Engine Hall
Our Community Gallery
Support for exhibitors
• Space is provided free of charge
• 2 days curatorial time
• 2 days technicians time
• Produce labels, small text panels etc in house for
• Provide display materials (showcases, case furniture,
display boards, plinths etc)
We encourage the groups we work with to hold events
to accompany their exhibitions, this can take the
form of an opening event, talks, workshops and
other related activities.
Photograph of a talk taking
place on the Engine Hall to
Recent opening event for
the Aids Day Memorial Quilt
• Build lasting positive relationships
• Brought in new audiences
• Positive responses from visitors
• Positive response from exhibitors
• Always something new for visitors to see
• Enriches the PHM events programme when groups
hold their own yours/talks/workshops etc. and
boosting visitor figs.
• Passion of exhibitors is evident to visitors & draws
new press coverage etc
• Opportunity to mark anniversaries, link to national
initiatives through exhibition program
• Encourage new talent
• Managing exhibitors expectations
• Complications of the space - limitations on what we
• Lack of ability to support exhibitions financially
• Pressures on staff time
• Feeling of lack of control over progress, content etc
• Limited equipment
• Difficulty in turning proposals down
• Funding bid has been submitted to make
improvements to the environment, equipment and
• Interested in involving community representatives
on selection panel
• Strategy meeting to be timetabled – to discuss how
to make the process more manageable
• Looking at programming less far in advance – to be
• More formal evaluation process to be implemented
• Looking into the possibility of working in conjunction
with groups on projects – funding and staffing issues
What we would like to gain from participating
in Grundtvig project
• An insight into what other institutions are currently
achieving in regards to Community Exhibitions, both
in England and Internationally
• Develop good working relationship with other
• A means to develop our own Community Gallery
work in cooperation with other institutions