I have learnt some fantastic introductory/ice-breaker ideas for working with museum objects from the British Museum staff that I will be able to feed into my delivery of dance work in museums in the future, and this just goes to show how much can be gained from artists working collaboratively with museum experts, and engaging young people in that exchange of skills and ideas. For example:
- a ‘mystery object’ game in which young people had time to handle and talk about an usual artefact before guessing what they thought it was and then imagining who they could be in the life of the object e.g. the person who made it/who excavated it/who looks after it in the museum. We also asked the participants to come up with a physical embodiment that could represent their imagined relationship with the object.
- an activity in which two people sit back to back, one of whom is given a piece of paper and a pen, the other an artefact. The person with the artefact has to describe the object for the person who can’t see it, and they have to draw their impression of the object from the description alone. It encourages young people to look at objects very closely and I found the task incredibly challenging when working with my partner!
- in one session small groups of young people were given three or four museum artefacts and asked to create a story connecting those objects, which encouraged them not only to think about what those objects were, but also to think imaginatively about what they could represent, and to begin thinking about how to use them to make an exciting story. It was then a very easy step to go from here to asking the participants to bring their story to life through movement.
- in another, museum objects were placed around the room, and each participant was given a series of descriptive words printed on small pieces of paper, and asked to allocate those words to appropriate objects. It was really interesting to see where people interpreted objects in the same way, allocating the same word as someone else, and where some more unusual artefacts had a greater range of responses. It reminded us of the very different ways in which we can see the world.
As well as these tips for practical activities, during my time with the British Museum I also observed:
- the extent to which the participants were at their most focussed when handling artefacts, and when working in the museums galleries themselves rather than in a studio. I might have expected this to be the other way round, as there are many more distractions in the galleries, but the majority of the young people intuitively seemed to understand and respond to the fact that there was something special about this environment that required their full attention.
- that the young people produced their best material when they are playing/improvising. Even though the project I worked on with the British Museum led to a performance, and therefore involved the ‘setting’ of some material, I was reminded that the process, and setting up opportunities for the young people to explore their own ideas in their own way, was incredibly important.
- In our closing circle at the end of the project, when we asked the participants to reflect on the project as a whole, I was struck by how many of them talked about the extent to which their confidence had grown. Again, this just served to emphasise the importance not only of the themes, ideas and creative content of a session, but also everything about the way in which it was managed that could contribute to young people feeling empowered and therefore free to create.