Grant Museum Takeover Workshop: STEP Trainee Reflection
By Mohammed Rahman, on 8 April 2020
Hi, it’s Mohammed Rahman, the STEP Trainee (Shared Training and Employment Programme) at UCL Culture. In this blog post I’m going to reflect on my involvement with a schools outreach programme for a Grant Museum Takeover Day and my first four months at UCL Culture in general.
My placement at UCL Culture has been split between their exhibitions and engagement teams. So far, I’ve been involved in the production and install of eight exhibits, ranging from temporary exhibitions in the North and South Cloisters to a permanent display in The Petrie Museum of Archaeology.
I’ve also facilitated seven schools outreaches both on and off campus. These include printmaking outreaches at schools with Slade School of Fine Art alumni and a bio-robotics workshop in The Grant Museum of Zoology. It’s been busy and I’ve learned tonnes already!
The Grant Museum Takeover Day is a programme run by the engagement team at UCL Culture and is led by Emma Bryant, Schools Engagement Manager: Museums and supported by Sara Rayment and Maja Neske (MA Museums and Galleries in Education, IoE). The programme invites pupils aged 9-10 from east London schools to explore the Grant Museum’s collections and write the labels they would like to see in the museum. It consists of an initial visit to the Grant Museum, two label-making outreach workshops at schools and a final takeover day at the Grant Museum with their labels on display. It’s a great opportunity for young people to make the space their own and also for the museum to learn how to make their collections more accessible.
This project was especially valuable to my placement as it let me bring together what I’d been learning in both the exhibitions and engagement aspects of my role. Drawing on my experience on the exhibitions team and discussions with exhibitions manager at UCL Culture, Darren Stevens, I honed my knowledge on how to produce accessible labels. Drawing from my experience prepping and facilitating engagement workshops, I drew up a lesson plan with Emma to communicate my understanding of good design.
The label-writing workshop came at a time in my placement where I’d been formatting large print exhibition guides at UCL Art Museum and the Grant Museum. I also had undertaken Accessibility Awareness training from Goss Consultancy Ltd., a consultancy firm that works to make more accessible workplaces, policies and services so the magic word ‘accessibility’ had been tattooed onto my brain. I’ve learnt that two key parts of the accessibility mindset are empathy and asking. Empathy is stepping into other people’s shoes and not taking your own experience and needs for granted. Then the asking- instead of imagining what other people need, asking people with accessibility needs directly and putting in the research is what gets results. As Nick Goss, Director of Goss Consultancy Ltd. taught us, there’s no such thing as a 100% accessible experience and dialogue is the way to mitigate that margin.
The workshop took place at George Mitchell Primary School on 25th Feb 2020 and I was supported by Sara. The pupils had written some labels from their initial visit to the Grant Museum describing the Dugong, Elephant Skull, Saltwater Crocodile to name a few. This workshop focused on how they would format these texts to produce as labels for the takeover day.
On the day of the workshop, I was quite nervous and we experienced some technical difficulties, but ultimately the discussions with the pupils on issues of accessibility were fruitful and promising. We discussed the golden rules I had drawn up with Darren which were the following:
- Design for your audience- keep the needs of your visitors in mind. Whether this is catering to young families, people with visual impairments or people with English as a second language, it’s important that this is inherent in your design.
- Text size- A good size fits roughly 10 words per line- for body text, keep a minimum of size 16.
- Word count- do not exceed 50 words of body text.
- Clarity and spacing- Use the whole of the label and have an even margin. Make sure there is a good amount of colour contrast between the background and text.
- Font- Use sans-serif fonts (the Grant Museum use Helvetica, but Calibri, Myriad Pro and Arial are all good) with a minimum size of 16 for body text.
- Organisation- The most useful information needs to stand out. Think about headings and body text, and the order of paragraphs.
It was amazing how the Year 5s had a strong conceptual grasp on accessibility, which some cultural institutions are only beginning to implement!
One of the most rewarding parts of the experience and of my placement so far has been working with colleges and schools from east London. I often sense a good rapport between myself and the pupils, both being young east Londoners, and it felt good to know that by virtue of representation I had helped make higher education appear like more of an option in the minds of the pupils. Though I’ve been to university, I come from the same underrepresented demographics as many of the pupils and understand higher education’s many obstacles and the life-changing power of role models.
I think a great part of the STEP placement at UCL Culture is that it provides young east Londoners like myself a platform to be a part of the engagement in our own communities. I’m keen on seeing more opportunities like this from UCL and other institutions in light of the 2022 East Bank expansion as they forefront the say of east Londoners in how their area will change.
I should add that sadly the final museum takeover day of the programme has been cancelled in light of the Covid-19 outbreak, but the workshop was nevertheless an important learning experience for the pupils and myself!