Mapping London’s LGBTQ heritage

I’m really excited to be involved with this project here.

The pilot phase, which initially just focuses on London, is currently under way, and it involves a map of London with user-generated pins highlighting spaces of LGBTQ heritage. The project will be rolled out to cover the whole of the UK, and anyone can take part!

I thought I’d talk you through the (very simple) process with one of my own contributions.

First of all, go to this page here and scroll down to the map at the bottom.

Click on the ‘+’ sign at the top right hand corner to add a new pin.

A new text box will pop up, and will ask you to choose a place name and a location. The place name will appear on the list to the right hand side of the map, so make sure it also includes a little taste of what the post is about if you want more people to look at it! You can either search for a location or choose it by clicking on the map.

As this is a crowd-sourced project, you’re not expected to be a historian to take part, so if you don’t know the exact place, put it as close as possible to where you think the spot is (obviously, I don’t know where in Green Park Bankes was caught with his trousers down, so I think in this case, anywhere in the park will do). Likewise, if you’re not entirely sure about exact dates, just make this clear in the text, and try and give an estimation if you can.

Also, your entries don’t need to be historical, they can be more contemporary, and can be your own interpretation of a site. If there’s already a pin on the place you wanted to mention, don’t worry, put another one there!

You then get to choose from a category. Unfortunately at this stage you can only choose one, so use your discretion about which one suits the most. I chose ‘Crime and the Law’ for this entry because I thought it was the most appropriate for the story I’m telling. Think about who might be searching for this story, and which elements will appeal the most.

You can also upload a photograph, which I’ve chosen not to do here.

When you click ‘Submit’ this screen appears:

It is important to copy or make a note of the URL, since the site does not require users to log in or make an account, this is the only way you can edit your entry. Once you’ve done that, click close and then close the text box, or reset if you wish to add another entry.

The moderator will then be informed about your contribution, they do not fact check or alter your text unless there is something offensive in there.

Once it is approved, it will appear on the list alongside the map:

and here is my entry!

So go here to drop a pin: http://lgbtlondon.wix.com/lgbtlondon and share the link with anyone who might be interested in taking part in this ground breaking Historic England project!

‘The village folk had a lot to say about it’ – from one heritage site to another? Guest post by Emily F. Henderson

To accompany the ‘Making Things‘ exhibition at the Institute of Education, we held a seminar to discuss the relationship between practice and the doctoral form. I invited Emily F. Henderson to respond to my work:

How to offer a response to a protest-research installation without reducing the impact of the installation to protest or research? This was the challenge that I faced when Sean invited me to respond to their contribution to the group show put together by doctoral students in the Art, Design and Museology department at the UCL Institute of Education (see blog post 26 January 2015). To try to take Sean’s installation in the spirit in which it was created, I offered three types of response, one for each of the objects that made up the installation: the zine, the sound piece, the tea-towel. Each of these objects offered a different possibility for thinking about how protest and research can be intertwined in different forms.

In Sean’s blog post about the installation, they situated the work in two different spaces. The first space was Red House at Bexleyheath. Sean had offered to make a sound piece representing the voices of villagers discussing the nature of the relationship between May Morris and Mary Lobb – the sound piece was to be made without expectation of payment, and it was to be based on archive sources that Sean had put together. This intervention in the way in which ‘non-normative’ relationships are erased and/or caricatured in heritage sites was rejected and not included in the heritage site. This ultimately resulted in there being a floating sound piece, which existed in the world as a protest object with no site for protest. The sound piece found a site in the group show at the Institute of Education, flanked by a zine illustrating the story of Mary Lobb’s erasure – and Sean’s own erasure – from the heritage sites that present William Morris’ life and work. Accompanying the zine was a William Morris design tea-towel – the traditional heritage site gift-shop purchase – upon which Sean had written in large letters ‘JUSTICE FOR MARY LOBB’, as a twist on the protest banner form.

Sean had said that they were interested in how the installation would work in an ‘exhibition environment’, a ‘gallery space’. In the photo that Sean has taken of the installation, it looks very much as if the work is displayed in a gallery – and it was a gallery, but it was a gallery within an academic department within a university. My response to the installation was very situated in the space of the university – what was the effect on Sean’s work of it being displayed in a university, and what was the effect on the university?

My first response took inspiration from the zine that Sean had created – how could the form of the zine provoke an interpretation of the installation? The zine genre is defined by a deliberate DIY format, in which pictures and text – handwritten and typed – are combined in a collage and photocopied in black and white. Looking at Sean’s zine, I found myself wondering how Sean had decided which elements to ‘mess with’, and which images or text they would preserve, framed intact within the zine. The question of obedience came into my mind – obedience to research convention versus disobedience (which could be taken as obedience to protest convention). Sean’s installation was obediently situated in its designated corner within the temporary gallery space of the department – did situating it in this way contribute to the ‘fetishising’ of protest objects that Sean was concerned about?

Thinking about the sound piece helped me to respond to this question. The coming to rest of the sound piece in this institutional gallery space transported the installation out of its context. Listening to the gossiping voices took me out of the space and into an imagined heritage site, a heritage site which could only exist in the imagination. The misplaced, displaced sound piece points to the intangible site of Sean’s protest-research: the ‘site’ of the lives that have been invisibilised and caricatured in heritage properties. The sound piece represents the way in which heritage houses produce and normalise an image of heterosexual, cis-gendered existence as the norm of history – an image which leaves any other account dismissed as gossip. Not fetishised then – rather all-too-aware of its uprootedness, its enforced rootlessness.

And this brings me to the tea-towel: the layering of a twee gift tea-towel with a painted protest slogan. This is perhaps one way of seeing the layering of Sean’s installation, and the exhibition as a whole, onto the institutional context that held it. I noticed in entering the exhibition space that I was entering a different part of the university to the classrooms and social spaces I normally inhabit. This space did not have a single institutional logo or branding item visible. There were floor-to-ceiling prints of vintage-looking artists overlooking us, flicking projected images on a punky orange screen, a quilt of photographs draped over the centre of the room, a detailed journey in pictures taking us along one of the walls, and Sean’s hyper-visible tea-towel and protruding ledge bearing the zine and headphones. It was difficult to know where to stand or sit – each of the exhibits had us turning and moving, leaning on them and knocking into them. The room exposed us and our bodies, brought us into the room. It struck me that this was a room that could shift thinking, could disrupt obedient research practice: the exhibition fleetingly layered the tea-towel of the institution with a protest for the value of the Arts and Humanities in higher education.

Sean’s protest work uses research to bring to light the erasure of lives from heritage sites. It is also important to recognise that their research work also makes a protest, in challenging what should be researched and how this research can take shape. Thanks go to Sean and the other exhibitors and respondents for a genuinely thought-provoking evening.

Emily F. Henderson 
UCL Institute of Education
Ehenderson01@ioe.ac.uk 
ioe-ac.academia.edu/EmilyHenderson
Author, Gender pedagogy: Teaching, learning and tracing gender in higher education (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)

Balfron Tower

I’m so excited to be part of the upcoming National Trust tours of the Balfron Tower, which is becoming a ‘pop up’ property much like the Big Brother house did this time last year. I will be one of many volunteers guiding the tours, which run for two weeks from 1st October.

While I did not expect the project to attract the sort of vitriol in the media as the Big Brother takeover did, I’ve been surprised at the largely positive response so far, though perhaps more scathing comment pieces are being saved for while the tours are running. This is a controversial project, in many ways much more so than the Big Brother tours, as aside from continuing debates about what heritage is, there are issues around gentrification, and the “decanting” of those who lived there in the manner it was originally conceived by architect Ernő Goldfinger, as social housing. I’m hoping the tours will be a part of this debate, though no matter how much I might roll my eyes at the gentrification of a tower block that will soon be luxury apartments and that is currently occupied by artists, I have to accept that as a National Trust tour guide, I am part of that gentrification.

That aside, I visited the tower on Friday for training and I can promise a really fascinating visit for those with tickets, the tower is filled with great stories and the view from Flat 130, which has been recreated in 1968 style by Wayne and Tilly Hemingway, is phenomenal. I hope this venture generates a healthy discussion about heritage and about what happens when a once reviled building used as social housing becomes a revered icon, at the expense of its residents, it’s a very timely discussion too, and I’m really pleased to have the opportunity, and the privilege to see this beautiful building up close, and to share its stories with others.

I’ll blog more thoroughly about this once I’ve done the tours!

You can get tickets here (looks like they’re almost gone).

Rainbow Jews: help to save a legacy

Just wanted to share a fundraising initiative from a really great project.

I’ve mentioned the Rainbow Jews project before, but for those of you who are not familiar, this project is pioneering, in that it records and showcases Jewish lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) history from the 1950s to today. For the first time ever in British history, it captures the voices and experiences of Jewish LGBT people in the UK through oral histories and archive creation.

Like so many great queer heritage initiatives, it is volunteer-led, and the financial support from the Lottery Heritage Fund grant has now finished. Led by Surat Knan, the Rainbow Jews have done great things, they have launched an exhibition which is now set to travel the country, they have collected oral histories from a much overlooked community that otherwise would have been lost, and they have, with the support of the London Metropolitan Archives, began to gather material for an archive collection.

There is still so much to do though. Donations will work towards achieving the following:

  • covering staff costs for a part-time project manager, who will coordinate the volunteers, and continue to promote our key activities, such as: 
  • getting this wonderful exhibition around the country to further share these amazing stories and experiences, (already confirmed Leicester, Birmingham and Liverpool/Homotopia as from 31 August 2014; with more possibilities e.g. Belfast). 
  • creating over 5 events such as launch receptions, film screenings and talks while touring. 
  • disseminating education resources, and co-facilitating sessions at school, youth groups etc.
  • recording and processing of over 10 new oral histories, especially of Jewish LGBT pioneers in remoter UK regions. 
  • collecting more memorabilia and fostering our archive collection at LMA

The page to donate (and to find out more about the fundraising project) is here. Let’s all ensure that this great heritage project doesn’t join the long line of brilliant grassroots queer initiatives that have faded away due to a lack of funding.

Unusual bedfellows? When the National Trust met Big Brother

I am astounded by the vocal opposition to the National Trust’s collaboration with the Big Brother house that comes not only from the usual offenders such as the Daily Mail and the Telegraph, but also from some waspish Guardian readers: ‘even the National Trust is at the vanguard of dumbed-down Britain these days’, ‘They [the National Trust] will not be getting any more of my money’ and so on. Ann Widdecombe, who has in the past been critical of the National Trust’s attempts to widen its appeal and the definition of heritage (in particular the award winning Soho Stories app “I fail to understand how getting young people to listen to these stories of Soho relates in any way to the important and historic work of the National Trust”), has been equally vocal about the Big Brother House, stating that the house is emblematic of a “tawdry and celebrity-obsessed” society. Ironic really for someone who has made a post-politics career from the likes of Celebrity Fit Club, Strictly Come Dancing and Have I Got News For You.

I’m not suggesting for a second that everyone needs to like, or appreciate Big Brother, I know many people who have good reason for disliking the show. My problem is with people objecting the National Trust giving tours of the house for two days. The expansion of approaches to new heritage does not mean the neglect of traditional heritage; a more inclusive sense of heritage excludes no one. If you’re not a Big Brother fan, I expect you probably didn’t fork out for a ticket to attend a tour. There is no obligation, as a National Trust member, to attend all of the sites they either own, or take over for short term projects, I daresay most members have only ever seen a tiny proportion of the vast wealth of properties belonging to the National Trust. If your instinct at hearing about the Big Brother collaboration is to shred your membership, then your notion of heritage needs reconsidering.

What the objections boil down to, is cultural snobbery. We live in a world where people still consider there to be a difference between “high” culture, or “high” art and popular culture/art. I don’t believe such a distinction exists. John Carey, in his brilliant book What good are the arts? argues much more eloquently than I ever could that there are no rational grounds for assuming a difference between the two (see the chapter called ‘Is ‘high’ art superior?’). The assumption of “high” art is that enlightenment comes from engaging with art work and culture that is approved by those above us, the highly educated, the pre-approved “real” artists. This is the realm of canons and hierarchies that presume a particular uniform standard of what can be considered good. This has massive implications around class, Carey notes ‘high art is exclusive, popular art is receptive and accessible, not aimed at an educated minority’. Criticisms of popular art is that it is purely escapism, and formulaic. Escapism is no bad thing, and to dismiss popular art as mass produced or formulaic is to overlook the ‘established genres and rules of composition’ found in much “high” art, such as impressionism. If we were trying to establish how long it takes something considered trashy, throwaway, popular and mass produced to shift into the space of “high” or “real” art, I suspect Andy Warhol would be a good place to start.

I am, and always have been, a massive National Trust fan. I currently volunteer at Sutton House in Hackney, and have many favourite sites around the UK, including Cragside (Northumberland), Gibside (Tyne and Wear) and Kingston Lacey (Dorset). Growing up in the North East, there weren’t many others in my classes at school who would spend their weekends exploring historic houses and crumbling ruins, my family’s National Trust membership was a notable middle class luxury. The engagement with newer interpretations of heritage have largely been framed in the attempt to attract a younger audience to the National Trust, but my instincts tell me that it’s not an age barrier that the Trust needs to overcome, but a class barrier. Many of the people I met on the tours were not National Trust members, but were interested in hearing about some of the sites I’ve previously mentioned, and were keen to visit in the future. Why? Not because they aren’t “enlightened” enough to have engaged with historic sites before, but because the recent initiative at the National Trust said, quite loudly, ‘we are for you too’. The visitors ranged vastly in age, the youngest in my tours was 16, but I saw many younger children in other groups, and the oldest were elderly people, many of whom were Big Brother fans as well as long-time National Trust members.

I was honoured to be able to be involved in this project, I assisted at the launch party and gave tours on the Friday. The National Trust team were brilliant, Joe, Chloe, Mark and many others, as were the Big Brother team, including one of the voices of Big Brother and producer Lauren. This collaborative effort between Elstree Studios, the Big Brother Team and National Trust staff and volunteers was inspirational and a near-military operation, such was the scale of the visitors in such a short space of time. The visitors who took the tour were delightful to spend time with, enthusiastic about the show, enthusiastic about the opportunity to be a part of history, and to interact with a set that many felt they already intimately knew. The tour went through the camera runs around the house, giving a rare opportunity to see the house through the eyes of the camera men and women and the production staff, before entering the house itself, where each visitor was beckoned to the diary room by the ominous voice of Big Brother, where they could have a photograph in the historic chair. There was also the opportunity to meet ex-housemate, the lovely Jackie Travers, who could speak from much more experience about the house than I, or the other tour guides, ever could. The tour then moved to the gallery to see how the programmes are edited, and the booth where Big Brother sits to communicate with the housemates. It ended in the Big Brother Bit on the Side studio.

We were prompted, in our guide notes, to anticipate any objections to the National Trust’s involvement, but I eschewed this defensiveness unless prompted. Unsurprisingly, the few visitors who raised the controversy shared my views of ‘a lot of fuss over nothing’ and felt that it was a promising and exciting opportunity that they hoped was only the beginning.

One of my favourite moments was speaking to a 16 year old boy who had come with his older sister. He was a Big Brother super fan, and had more to tell me that I could ever tell him about the show. He was itching to get to each new room and when the tour came to an end he did not want to leave. Most movingly, he was telling me that he had heard that two ex housemates, both male, were now apparently an item. He said this without judgement at all, in a way that 16 year old boys when I was that age would never have done. This reminded me that above all else, Big Brother has been a great judgement-free platform for marginalised people, presenting honest and objective insights into the lives of people that are usually framed within sensationalist documentaries or scathing tabloid articles. Of the 14 classic series of Big Brother, we have seen two transgender winners, and two winners with disabilities. The Big Brother series has been a great platform for LGBT people and women too.

Big Brother tells us as much about our society (however you feel about it) as Sutton House in Hackney tells us about Tudor times. If these stories can be shared in a tongue-in-cheek and exciting way, all the better. The Big Brother house is Orwellian, it’s Warholian, it’s the photographs of Dianne Arbus brought to life. And just as importantly, it’s bloody brilliant viewing and has changed the face of television. I’m pleased that this has stirred up debate, but if the debate never moves beyond straight forward snobbery, then I don’t think it is worth pandering to the critics. Ivo Dawnay, the London Director for the National Trust said that the housemates from Big Brother were the aristocracy of today, while tongue in cheek, I think there is some truth in this. These are people who are no more or less important than anyone else, but whose lives become of great interest to the general public. I hope this is the beginning of a really radical time for the National Trust, where the definition of heritage continues to be challenged, refreshed and revisited. Keep your eyes out for future events taking place through Project London.

This has definitely been the most interesting and exciting project I’ve been involved with in my short heritage career, so I’ll end with a few fan-boy pictures from my (very surreal!) time in the house. (top to bottom, Jackie Travers who helped with the tours, me and Lauren Harries’ lightbox in the living room, me and fellow Northerner and National Trust fan- the very handsome Liam McGough, me and Lauren Harries who was just as lovely as I expected her to be).

Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill

There are two potential strands of LGBT interest that could be developed at Strawberry Hill, taking advantage of the lightness and the weight that this audience group can be approached with.

The LGBT and queer heritage of the house is intangible; the challenge is to bring this heritage to the surface. The National Trust, for example, is slowly beginning to embrace more daring ventures to include this audience group, with recent developments at Nyman’s House, where an artist and curator was invited to perform interventions to uncover the story of a gay former resident, and the ‘Soho Stories’ smartphone app, which is a guided audio tour around the popular LGBT-friendly streets of Soho, London.

The first strand is around the idea of social justice. Richard Sandell and others have looked with some depth at the potential museums, galleries and country houses have in reaching out to marginalised or “difficult-to-reach” groups. The Museums Association are currently looking at the idea of the ‘just’ museum, considering social justice at the very core of all institutions do. They are also looking ahead to ‘the museum in 2020’ and at how museum professionals can strive to reach the goal of being inclusive by that time.

There is great value in Strawberry Hill House as place, or as a safe space. In my MA dissertation I looked at how women’s collections in archives can be used for outreach and education and found, through looking at other institutions, particularly at the Women’s Art Library at Goldsmiths, that the library is valued as a space for women, with many groups using it as a base for discussion, workshops and debate. Strawberry Hill could become such a space for LGBT groups. It could be the venue for conferences looking at Horace Walpole’s sexuality (on which George Haggerty, Timothy Mowl and others have written about), queer identity in the 18th century, the queer gothic and queer aesthetic. It could also play home to LGBT books clubs, discussion groups and study days looking at, for example, the potentially homoerotic content of Walpole’s correspondence. Strawberry Hill could celebrate LGBT Pride over summer, sending a strong message that this is an audience group worthy of acknowledging and worthy of celebrating.

While we cannot assume to know of Walpole’s sexuality, his life and his home unpack and undo notions of heteronormativity and resist normative sexual values, this discussion is one that is worth exploring further.

The second strand is a lighter one, and would explore the kitsch and the camp that is abundant at Strawberry Hill House. Kensington Palace has begun to embrace a more kitsch line of interpretation to complement its kitsch aesthetic, evident in the recent Enchanted Palace exhibition. The theatrical and performative nature of the décor would lend itself to hosting gay youth groups and gay drama performances, as well as short running exhibitions examining the gay themes that currently reside only subliminally in the house. The empty and unfurnished rooms could be interpreted by queer contemporary artists, and the bold and unusual lighting created by the gothic windows and stained glass mean that it would require little to transform the rooms into breathtaking gallery spaces. There is also scope for a queer artist in residence, to help facilitate LGBT community groups (and others) to explore these themes for themselves. Similarly, these themes and ideas could be exploited with fashion and design students, who could look at masculinities, men and fashion and interior design.

The financial implications of welcoming and embracing an LGBT audience go way beyond the entry charge that new LGBT visitors would bring with them. If an LGBT audience sees that their narratives are valued by Strawberry Hill, the number of Civil Partnerships that the House currently caters for could increase considerably.

For those concerned with the idea that these proposals include the “outing” of Horace Walpole, this is not the case. It is instead a matter of interrogating undercurrent themes and using them to inform a new kind of conversation. Queering a space can be a retrospective form of interpreting that opens up innovative discourses and a reassessment of how inclusive Strawberry House can become.

The pictures were taken by me (with the help of the Instagram app).

Making the case: the value of heritage education

On Thursday 6th September I attended the last day of the GEM (Group for Education in Museums) conference at the Xfi Centre at the University of Exeter. The theme of the conference was Making the case: the value of heritage education and day three was about HOW to make the case. Exeter was quite unlike I’d imagined it to be, very sparse and sleepy (and extremely hilly!).

The day began with a keynote address from Sandra Stancliffe from English Heritage, who looked at the fragile and often difficult to negotiate relationship between schools and museums. She claimed that over the years, education hadn’t really changed that much (not sure how much I agree with that!) and that education and heritage run parallel with each other, only occasionally intercepting, the question she tried to answer was how to improve that interface. She said that museums and heritage sites need to move away from providing an ‘Argos catalogue’ of educational sessions towards more bespoke and tailored services, which isn’t to say that every class from every school need be catered to individually. Museums need to make the case for being involved in the co-production of local area-based curricula, an example she used was a school not using a nearby (and free!) Norman Castle because they “weren’t doing the Normans”, Sandra’s advice: “Do the Normans then!” The National Curriculum tried to move away from thinking in terms of block subjects towards more interdisciplinary fluidity. Chris Watkins of the IOE (my own haunt) uses a Turkey metaphor, apparently after being locked in a shed for a long time, once released, the Turkeys will not necessarily run straight out. Is Michael Gove’s enforced “freedom” for teachers a good thing? Will some run and others stay? Schools, for many heritage sites, can make the most long term impact, and the relationships need to be nurtured and mutual.

Sue Wilkinson, a museums and heritage consultant then spoke about bids, in a talk called Building and Advocating a successful case for heritage. While I’m not currently involved in making bids (thankfully, it sounds like a minefield!) there were still some points I found interesting that I have stored for future reference, she said that many unsuccessful projects are clearly written around a bid, where really the bid needs to come from the project. Bidders need to prove a need for their project, show awareness and understanding of the local, regional and national context, show evidence of their track record and make sure that their proposed project is rooted in partnerships (with schools, other heritage sites, local communities etc.) She concluded by saying that the four Ps to remember when preparing a bid, are Project, Partnerships, Process and Presentation.

The next part of the morning was split into three optional breakout sessions, which all included a practical element. One of these was my breakout session called Making our cultural practice more genuinely inclusive: queer and feminist approaches. I split the session into two, looking first at abstract ideas of queer (ie: queering the canon, I made reference to the timeline at the Tate Modern and the frieze at the Wellcome) and then a critical look at some examples of including LGBT narratives, including the British Museum, the Maritime Museum in Liverpool, Birmingham Art Gallery and many others. For the practical session, I returned to a more abstract version of queer and asked the delegates to think about how they could use the site of Gibside Hall in education. Gibside Hall was once the property of Mary Eleanor Bowes (1749-1800), known widely as the ‘unhappy countess’ was once the richest and most sought after heiress in England. Her tumultuous marriage to Andrew Robinson Stoney is well documented, but the National Trust, who have owned Gibside since 1965 fail to acknowledge the less salubrious elements of her life, including her three self-administered abortions and her interest to a feminist audience due to her education and her attitudes to sex, marriage and children. The activity was an informal discussion and a sharing exercise, some of the ideas that came up were about looking at recruiting artists as ‘problem solvers’, creating projections onto the ruined site, using drama and hot seating, incorporating contemporary voices, drawing upon her royal links, and using her as a focal point for asking questions about abortion, which removes it from visitors having to reflect personally about what is still a very divisive and controversial subject. An interesting point made was that in interpreting the site, we must be wary not to allow her to become defined by her abortions. I then showed the group my own interpretation of the site, which can be found here. I will probably blog about my Gibside Hall project at greater length in the near future. I hope that this session proved as a useful introduction to queer and feminist approaches and helped the museum professionals present to think differently about the narratives that are absent in their own institution. I’m really grateful for all of the interesting contributions in the session.

In the afternoon I attended two workshops, the first was The case for support – how museums can help vulnerable young people by Jo Ward, the newly appointed deputy director for GEM. Working with young people is something I haven’t looked into much (partially due to my fear of children), but Jo identified a group that I had never really considered, which were those vulnerable children in the transitionary period between primary and second school. She spoke about many ways that museums and heritage sites can support them during this potentially difficult time. She spoke about transition summer schools, and showed us some animations that children attending had made, she said that animation making was a great way of empowering and involving young people, as it is easy to do, and everyone can have a role, she recommended it as a great tool for learning new skills. She also mentioned the arts award, and how schools sometimes embed it into the curriculum, it requires self-directed learning and builds skills and is a well recognised award, and apparently an awful lot of fun to be involved with. The key is knowing what support schools need and being able to offer it.

The next workshop was about Sustainable online learning programmes by Samantha Elliott from Bolton Library & Museum Service. Samantha showed us some of the great online tools that had been developed in partnership with d2 Digital, specifically around the World War II and the Egyptian collections. I particularly liked the World War II scrap book, which made use of oral histories and is an engaging visual way of bringing the collections to a virtual audience. They can also use the scrapbook template for future interpretation of other collections.

This was a great networking opportunity and my first event as a member of GEM. It was a real honour to be asked to deliver a breakout session and was my first time of presenting my research so far to a non-LGBT audience. I look forward to continuing to share and learn from the experts in GEM. Look out for my write-up in the next volume of the JEM. (The pictures are from my breakout session and are featured here with kind permission of Susannah Stevenson from GEM)

The Pansy Project

Just a quickie today. I’m forever banging on about the Pansy Project to whoever will listen, as I think it’s one of the most subtle and innovative ways of recording an otherwise difficult to capture intangible part of our queer heritage. I mentioned the project during my GEM breakout session, which I will be blogging about shortly.

Paul Harfleet is an artist who plants pansies at the sites of homophobic abuse. Using his own experiences of homophobia in Manchester, Harfleet has managed to create something beautiful out of something very ugly. He photographs the pansies and names them after the abuse that was used. “Titles like “Let’s kill the Bati-Man!” and “Fucking Faggot!” reveal a frequent reality of gay experience which often goes unreported to authorities and by the media. This simple action operates as a gesture of quiet resistance, some pansies flourish and others wilt in urban hedgerows.”

For me this is a brave and peaceful form of activism, with a really beautiful output. You can find out more about the project here. You can also follow Paul on twitter here.

The first image is “Die Queer! Die Queer! Die Queer! Die Queer! Wyatt Close, Birmingham, For Ben Whitehouse, the second is “Queer Fucker!” Tottenham Court Road, London, both used here by kind permission of the artist.

The legacy of London 2012

It was with a groan of despair when I found out that the new minister for Culture, women and equality was this woman:

It is she that is responsible for the legacy of London 2012, which no doubt she will do a dreadful job of. However, the preservation of this summer of sporting activity perhaps will manage without her, as it has provided its own glorious legacy that will outlive Maria Miller and the dreadful coalition government.

I am surprised that I’ve taken to the London 2012 games so much, I am quite emphatically not a sporting fan, I get really uneasy about the notion of ‘patriotism’ (which is often only one step removed from racism), and the fact that the London transport system comes to a screeching halt if there are leaves on the track was leading me to expect a summer of pure misery.

The thing I wasn’t expecting is that the Olympics and Paralympics aren’t really about sport, and aren’t really about borders and flags, they’re about people; individuals and collectively. They’re about people from all over the world cheering for the winners and losers, regardless of which colours they were wearing, they’re about celebrating human spirit and endeavour, and most importantly they were about having a bloody good time.

I worried that my enthusiasm for the Paralympics wouldn’t be as great as for the Olympics, because of the gap between them, but if anything I have enjoyed them more. Channel 4’s coverage has been brilliant (aside from the incessant adverts), and has focused on human spirit in a non-sentimental and non-patronising way. I love that so many of the presenters have disabilities, and really hope that this will continue post-Paralympics.

The Olympics and Paralympics have also been a great platform for women, a huge reason why I find sport so difficult to digest normally is because women’s sport is so often considered secondary. Women such as Jessica Ennis, Ellie Simmonds and Nicola Adams have been some of the most celebrated athletes in the games, with no inference that their achievements are any less than those of their male team-mates.

I also love how many holes in our government the games have exposed. The Tories’ loathing of our immigration rates have made their support of our GB athletes such as Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis look laughably hypocritical, and George Osborne being booed when giving medals at a Paralympic event was surely a highlight of the London 2012, it’s disgraceful to expect that the response would have been any different given the Tories’ lack of compassion for people with disabilities.

Perhaps the sour point is that even in something as all-embracing as London 2012, the number of ‘out’ LGBT athletes is tiny, while the opening Olympic ceremony gave a brief nod to the richness of the LGBT community in the UK, the measly proportion of out athletes simply confirms the inherent homophobia in sport. By my calculations only 0.16% of the near 14,000 athletes competing outwardly identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. This is not enough! Although I will use this opportunity to include a picture of the lovely diver Matthew Mitcham, who embraces his sexuality and is a real stand out in terms of how freely he speaks about it. (the picture is from his facebook fan page)

I have always been annoyed by how much of our newspapers are dominated by sport, but the London 2012 games have shown me that Sport has what I’ve always believed the Arts to have, which is the potential to empower, inspire and bridge gaps between people. That’s not to say my enthusiasm for sport will continue post London 2012- as our football culture in the UK is an embarrassing display of bravado, machismo, misogyny, racism and homophobia.

The games have been a triumph, and I look forward to seeing my home city of London continue to bask in that triumph for many years to come. For all of my initial cynicism, I stand corrected.

Group for Education in Museums Conference 2012

GEM Conference 2012
Making the Case: the value of heritage education
4-6 September 2012, Exeter

‘This year’s GEM conference focuses on making a compelling case for heritage education in these challenging times – one that stands up to rigorous scrutiny – by helping heritage management and education professionals explore, identify and articulate the unique value of heritage education, and the positive impacts it has on a wide variety of audiences.’

On Thursday 6th September, I will be running a breakout session. The theme of the day is ‘How to make the case’ and my session is called ‘Making our cultural practice more genuinely inclusive: queer and feminist approaches‘.

You can see the full programme here. UPDATED 17th August 2012
Booking forms and more information can be found here.