Over the past three days in Bath we have mainly focused on the principles of conservation and exhibition development. Today, we were joined by Polly Andrews for a very comprehensive workshop on audience engagement. Our session started with a short powerpoint presentation on engagement strategies and how to create school and community group activities.
The powerpoint also included a bit on the history of the museum building. In contrast to the typical Bath architecture, the museum was a Methodist chapel built by the Countess of Huntingdon. It is, therefore, stylistically different. The building functioned as a chapel converting Bath residents until 1981. In 1983, the Bath Preservation Trust acquired the building, carried out conservation work, and opened it as a heritage centre. Eventually, it became the museum with a vast collection focusing on Georgian architecture and the structural development of the city.
After this context was established, we went into more depth on engagement strategies. As Polly mentioned, the museum is unable to afford digital interpretation strategies. Instead, they must consider hands-on activities to engage a whole range of audiences. This has led to the development of some amazing and innovative ideas. Although I can love digital in the museum, I sometimes think it is superfluous and can distract from the experience. I was very excited to see a section of the powerpoint on experiential learning. Last semester I developed a project in my course that was solely employing experiential learning techniques. It was great to have that information reinforced. We also went into the challenges of experiential learning which were important to cover and consider when creating a program.
Before completing a group activity, we were allowed some time to look around the museum. It was a great permanent exhibition exploring the work of individuals such as John Woods younger and elder (Circus and the Royal Crescent builders) and the layout of the city. I really enjoyed the display on wallpaper in Georgian Bath. Beneath examples of wallpaper were little dishes each filled with a different colour pigment. It was a reminder of how the Georgian period could be bright and bold.
The most exciting part of the visit was having the opportunity to cut a piece of Bath stone. Armed with masonry tools and protective googles we were allowed to release our pent up rage on a piece of stone. It was truly therapeutic. Hands-on/experiential learning can certainly have its benefits.
We were then ready for our group exercise – creating a program for a specific target audience. Our group were designated a Key Stage 1 school group aged 5 to 7 years. To guide us through our planning, we filled out a lesson plan including learning and outcomes and information on the activity itself. Firstly, we had to establish a learning outcome:
“This workshop offers a hands-on learning experience focusing on Georgian buildings in Bath. It features four interactive stations between which groups of eight students will rotate. The stations will offer creative and intellectual stimulation featuring objects from the collection and craft activities.”
Basically, the program would run as follows. On entering the museum, students would sit through a short introduction before being assigned to one of four activity tables. These are column creation – a craft activity colouring in or sticking tissue paper to a Corinthian, Doric or Ionic column, object handling – handling robust objects from the museum’s collection, Clay houses – creating a Georgian house from clay, and Memory match – matching iconic buildings in a game of memory that involves identifying Georgian elements of the building. After twenty minutes, the students would rotate to the next station until all had been completed. Obviously all of these activities would be directed at the age group. Finally, there would be a wrap up conclusion.
Similar to yesterday, having this opportunity to work in a team and present to a professional here in Bath was just an amazing experience in itself. It was also wonderful to listen to the presentations of the other groups. Their target audiences included families during school holidays, community groups, and other school years. We covered a lot of topics from marketing to age-appropriate activities. Following each discussion was a quick Q&A including feedback from Polly. I am so glad to have had this experience and, so far, it has been my favourite group activity.
Tomorrow we are heading to Brighton with a stop at Stonehenge on the way. Bring on more heritage!