Museums and artspaces can make control shift - if they open themselves out to community and planet

Corinne Felgate  Totem:Trajectories in Tragedy and Triumph, Gallery installation view, from Airspace Gallery

Corinne Felgate Totem:Trajectories in Tragedy and Triumph, Gallery installation view, from Airspace Gallery

Some excellent projects turning the arts towards empowering localities and citizens coming from this year’s CTRLshift 2 (blogged here). From the “solutions session”, ‘Working With Culture and Creativity’, we found two interesting projects - national and local (to the event’s location, Stoke-on-Trent):

Happy Museum Project

Museums are probably one of the most undervalued resources in any locality - and there are plenty of them across the UK (around 2500 in total, though 1800 accredited, says the Museums Association). Whether they record local history, or focus on some other specialism, museums provide a space which is (more often than not) free, full of meaning and significance, a substantial interior space that doesn’t demand retail behaviour, and an iconic building for locals to value.

Can museums be an anchor, or a platform, or a forum, or a container for the kind of radical local self-determination we’re looking for at A/UK?

The Happy Museum Project, in their words,

looks at how the museum sector can respond to the challenge of creating a more sustainable future. It supports museum practice that places wellbeing within an environmental and future-facing frame, rethinking the role that museums can play in creating more resilient people, places and planet.

Its founder, Hilary Jennings, wrote this in 2018 about what they’d found out about the power and potential of museums:

  • They offer invitation to shared public space at a time when the public realm is being diminished and challenged both in real and virtual terms.

  • Museums are largely trusted institutions in a time of fake news and exploitative big data.

  • They are places for encounter where we can meet and connect beyond our immediate social bubble – where we can share our commonalities and understand our differences.

  • Museums are places to experience awe and wonder – feelings that research shows us help us to understand ourselves as communal and pro-social beings.

  • They are places where we can reflect upon our past and apply this to imagining different futures.

  • Museums are places full of humanity and human stories; they place that contribute to our wellbeing both individually and communally.

  • Museums are ideally placed to show us our potential for change, our collections evidence the adaptability of the human race and show the enormous societal shifts we are capable of, shifts in energy, production, consumption, transport, arts and culture as well as in ethics and morals

We note that one of the Happy Museum’s early inputs was the eco-arts activist Bridget McKenzie (featured here recently as involved in the arts-culture wing of XR), who is trying to realise these ambitions for museumry in her Climate Museum UK project: this can establish a “pop-up” version of its practice on request.

Stoke’s Airspace Gallery


Also at the CTRLShift Solutions Session on Creativity and Change was a rep from Airspace Gallery (picture left) a development space for artists in Stoke-on-Trent.

We’ve come upon them before in A/UK - mentioned in this blog (towards the end) for their Estate Agency project, a satirical provocation on how artists moving into an area might open the doors for gentrification… which itself got cited as the phenomenon it was satirising.

Airspace Gallery seems a much more solid and service-oriented affair - running conceptual exhibitions as well as supporting and developing artists, with a strong orientation to socially-engaged art (see here for more about them).

For example, see their 2018 Portland Inn Project (see the), where the local council in Stoke was encouraged to sell derelict properties in the area to artists for £1, to see what they might make of them. This Tumblr site shows how they progressed.