Posted: 23rd March 2021
It is a delight to be invited to be a guest blogger for this series exploring the way in which Hull Museums is engaging with the local LGBTQ+ community and our histories. I feel this may be the first of a few from me – so I hope we’ll become fast friends!
I’m Dan Vo and I’m joining the Hull Museums team as an independent consultant and researcher for the Pride in Our City Project. In addition to this, I’m also the Co-Project Manager of the Queer Heritage and Collections Network, supported by the National Heritage Lottery Fund and Art Fund, and so it is really interesting for me to think about how this project and its outcomes will have a wide-reaching impact across the sector and become a case study for the more than 60 member organisations that are seeking to do similar work. One of the things really important to me is to think about what a project leaves behind in the long term.
At the heart of Pride in Our City I believe there is a desire to be transparent, share good practice and ensure that learnings are embedded not only locally, but can be made useful to the wider heritage sector. For example, in late 2020 we hosted a two-day symposium called Queer Voices in Museums which invited eight of the most exciting expert queer voices working with museums in interpretation and audience engagement to help provide an academic grounding and framework for some of the ideas and activities that are ongoing throughout the Pride in Our City project. It was both inward and outward looking and the conversations that flowed during the Q&A sessions with the audience used each project as a basis to discuss new ideas and innovations.
Here is a short summary of some of the presentations:
– Katie Cassels (she / her) Family Programmes Producer, National Maritime Museum
Katie looked at how lockdown impacted the visibility of LGBTQ+ communities as Pride celebrations and LGBTQ+ museum programmes were cancelled. She explored the ways of continuing to engage and collaborate with LGBTQ+ audiences by translating on-site programmes into digital programmes during closure.
– Claire Mead (she / her) Freelance Curator and Educator
Claire asked how can we queer museums and heritage in lockdown, focusing on women’s stories in doing so? Drawing on her own projects, including YouTube drag and swordswomen podcasts to Anne Lister tweets, Claire emphasised the importance of experimenting with different ways of adapting your practice to a range of digital formats.
– Jon Sleigh (he / him) Freelance Arts Educator and collaborator with Queer British Art
Jon drew on his extensive experience as a Learning Officer and Learning Curator with a specialism in art engagement. His practice focuses on co-production with communities, bringing their lived experience to artworks for advocacy and inclusive futures. His session explored how you can challenge dominant narratives in collections in order to raise awareness for underrepresented narratives in art.
– Lauren Field (she / her) Community Curator: Social History, Hull Museums
Our very own Lauren shared the story of Hull Museums recently formed working group to look at increasing access to LGBTQ+ narratives through research, documentation, and programming. She explained the new digital ways the collections were taking on community engagement and co-curation in the lead up to the launch of the digital exhibition, Pride in Our City.
– Anjum Mouj (she / her) Trustee, Queer Britain and Board Member, Imaan
Anjum is a board member of Imaan Muslim LGBTQI+ group and trustee of Queer Britain, a charity working to establish the UK’s first national LGBTQ+ museum. She spoke of the importance of building trust when creating places that explore diverse stories, and how important it is to ensure multiple perspectives and ideas to thrive.
– Keith Jarrett (he / him) Poet and Educator and collaborator with Tate Lates
As a poet Keith believes queer engagement with history has to be imaginative, and he places value in the way poetry and fiction enables us to see what is not there often because of deliberate erasure and censorship, or because it was underground, not written down. His invitation to ‘read against the grain’ feels like a liberation, giving us freedom to explore history on our terms.
– Jay Hulme (he / him) Poet and Educator
Following on with the idea of a flexible reading of the queer past, Jay makes the point that queer people are everywhere, especially in the past. There’s not a single museum or heritage site, that would exist in the same way without LGBTQ+ people. Jay countered suggestions that highlighting the queer history as contentious by emphasising there’s a whole audience out there, desperate to hear their history.
I feel the discussions that were generated from the symposium last September have served as an excellent stepping off point. Many useful conversations that incorporate the critical thinking of the guest speakers have happened since and will continue to happen in earnest as we approach the reopening of the Hull Museums collections and the launch of the Pride in Our City Project’s next steps. I’m keen to see the doors re-open so that you will get a chance to experience it, and what I’m most looking forward to are the great conversations that I expect will follow.
If you would like to see some of the chat around Queer Voices in Museums, visit the hashtag #QueerHullMuseums on Twitter. While you’re there, if you want to get in touch I’m found at @DanNouveau. I look forward to chatting.