A guest post from Shanna, Common Cause Foundation Coordinator at Manchester Museum, about our Big Saturday held on 21st January.
Building on insights from the social psychology of values, Common Cause Foundation (http://valuesandframes.org/ ) is helping the Museum to become a ‘museum for life’: a museum which promotes strong communities, encourages people to take action in their own lives, and contributes to the wellbeing of their visitors.
Research published by the Common Cause foundation (http://valuesandframes.org/survey/) last year found that over three quarters of people in the UK under-estimate the importance that our fellow-citizens place on values such as friendship, helpfulness, social justice and broadmindedness. This is crucial to the Museum’s aspirations for the future – to be a ‘Museum for Life’ – as the less people believe others to be motivated by those same compassionate values the less likely they are to be civically engaged, take action in their community or on issues such as climate change, and the more socially alienated we are likely to feel. Importantly the study also said that social institutions, including museums, don’t do enough to encourage compassionate values.
In a survey of Museum visitors conducted in December 2016, we found that people who felt their visit to the Museum engaged compassionate values were likely to report greater support for action on climate change, greater commitment to community involvement, and greater wellbeing. All of these are part of the Museum’s aspirations for the future.
We put some of these insights into practice in the form of a Big Saturday and piloted activities that begin to explore how the Museum might engage and support visitors to reflect on the compassionate values we all share.
Boreda! Nǐ hǎo! Fáilte! Āssālam ‘alaykum! Hola!… Ey Up?
An example of one of these actives was our World Welcome where over 100 languages were exchanged, including British Sign Language, Spanish, Malay, Danish and… Yorkshire. Visitors, volunteers and staff shared the many ways they welcome people, and learned a new way from others in the Museum. Some amazingly creative welcome signs were made and displayed ready to welcome Museum visitors. Everyone was given a sticker to wear round the Museum, which showed what languages they could welcome others in. This was a really effective way to encouraging visitors to share learning with each other away from the activity itself. This intercultural exchange and understanding is a key aim for the Museum. Involving staff and volunteers meant that this was encouraged throughout the museum, creating more organic opportunities for interaction, and an atmosphere that fostered connection and learning from others.
’Be kind with the world and the world will be kind with you’
They said ‘out of the mouths of babes’ come the wisest words, that was definitely the case with some of the stories of kindness which could be found when the Manchester Gallery was turned into the ‘Manchester Gallery of Kindness’ for the day. Over the day the gallery was decorated by a growing string of creative collage bunting flags telling visitor’s stories of times they had experienced people being kind to one another. This space for reflection on what matters and makes a difference to those visiting the museum is a way of beginning to communicate that the Museum, as a social institution, wants to celebrate and engage those values that we know encourage a greater civic engagement and a greater sense of wellbeing.
These are just two examples of the many activities taking place on the day, all aimed at creating an opportunity for visitors, staff and volunteers to share what they value most with each other, and to pilot how these opportunities may look and feel as the Museum develops and grows. We also wanted to test whether there is an appetite for this sort engagement, and how people responded to Manchester Museum modelling itself as a place where values such as compassion, kindness and care are among the most important.
When asked if Museum’s should be celebrating and championing these values one visitor said:
‘I think it’s very important, especially for children nowadays. I think it’s very important to try and promote things like this because it’s the basic qualities we all need to have. I found this truly amazing, a wonderful way of sharing that message – and very interactive as well’
In terms of how this Big Saturday felt for the Museum one member of staff said:
‘The overall atmosphere was great. It felt like something new and fresh for the museum.’
And one of our many amazing volunteers said:
‘It’s lovely to come into a ‘building’ where the emphasis is on friendliness, kindness and sharing – it’s refreshing to come into a positive environment basically.’
You can find out more about some of the activities we piloted on the day….
On the Museum’s visitor team blog: https://storiesfromthemuseumfloor.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/our-wonderful-world/
On the Common Cause Foundation Blog: http://valuesandframes.org/values-manchester-museum/
On Twitter at hashtag #Peopleofmcrmuseum or #MyMcrMuseum
By getting in touch with Shanna Lennon, Common Cause Co-ordinator at Manchester Museum