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The Bloomsbury Festival at UCL

By news editor, on 3 November 2011

UCL opened its doors to the local community and wider public on 22–23 October as part of the annual Bloomsbury Festival, which celebrates all things Bloomsbury, writes Dr Debbie Challis (UCL Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology).

The UCL Art Museum and Grant Museum of Zoology were open with family activities on Saturday. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology was open all weekend and Saturday evening with Gothic Egypt, one of its themed trails, while UCL’s Open City Documentary showed King Tut documentaries on the big screen of the Darwin Lecture Theatre.

We also ventured out into Russell Square with museum objects and a pop-up gallery, The Thing is… Celine West, Head of Learning and Access at UCL Museums and Collections, says that it is “a portable gallery from UCL museums with one of our objects inside”. In two days, almost 400 people had conversations with Celine West and Subhadras Das about three museum objects from the archaeology, zoology and geology collections at UCL.

Celine explains: “We’ve created this space so we can experiment with having a special place where people can come in to look at one of the objects from our museums and have a bit of a conversation about it.”
Two young visitors enjoy the stuffed woolly monkey

For example, one of the objects was a stuffed woolly monkey from the Grant Museum of Zoology, a 19th century specimen of uncertain provenance, regularly used in teaching.

Visitors to The Thing is… took a question from a playing card pack and were asked to think about it and respond. For example: “Within a mile of here you can buy specimens that have been obtained illegally. How could we stop this? Should we?”

Or, “Monkeys and other primates are becoming extinct partly due to people collecting them as pets. What should we do?”

Here are a few of the visitor responses:
“There has been a shift in my thinking about taxidermy. I’m not sure in which direction!”

“It’s a great opportunity to see something you would never, ever see close up and consider issues about why the thing is here.”

“If humans had tails, how would the world be different?”

The numbers of people and range of comments that we got made The Thing Is . . . at the Bloomsbury Festival a great success: watch this space for the next time we venture out and about with an interesting object!

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