by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer
with thanks to the Engagement Programmes Team, Kate Johnson and Stacey Turner

There have been moments since The Box project began that have blown my mind a bit. Gathering the information for today’s post is one of them.

I worked at the Museum for over a decade before the building closed and during that time we delivered a huge number of exhibitions, events and projects. Although we haven’t had a building of our own to continue these in since late 2016, staff have been committed to taking our engagement programme out ‘On Tour’. We knew it would enable us to test new ideas, reach new audiences and maintain a level of service and connection with our most loyal supporters. What I don’t think any of us realised was just how much we’d deliver alongside all the other work we’ve been doing to develop The Box.

Collage of people old and young at a range of community events

We’re moving into yet another phase of the project from this autumn as construction work completes and the fit out and ‘reload’ of The Box begin. ‘Reload’ is the term we’re using to describe the return (museum collections) and relocation (archive collections) of over 2 million objects to the building. Yes, I did just say over 2 million objects! We’ve reduced the scale of the ‘On Tour’ programme so we can focus on what’s happening on site and it seems a good time to reflect on what we’ve done. I think the stats are staggering.

“It’s been a revelation to me to learn how many people’s lives have been touched by Maker.”

To engage with communities we’ve been running our ‘Plymouth After Dark’ and ‘Your Recipes, Your Heritage’ projects as well as supporting the award-winning ‘Maker Memories’. These have enabled us to trial new approaches to interpretation, connect with people in and beyond the city and develop our collections. They’ve involved everything from film screenings and family raves to oral history recordings and recipe-themed reminiscence events.

“Mum has started to remember more and talks about Arts and Minds to our family and friends. She couldn’t do that before.”

We’ve continued to run our Arts and Minds sessions for people with early onset dementia and their carers, our Women’s Traditional Craft Group and family-friendly activities. We’ve also developed some brilliant immersive experiences in the form of our ‘Ropewalks’ theatrical walking tours (in partnership with the Barbican Theatre) and ‘Keeper of the Light’ performances (in partnership with the Academy of Music and Theatre Arts at Falmouth University).

“Amazing, fascinating, funny and engaging. The combination of voices, performance, objects, space brings those who have gone back to life!”

Let’s add talks, guided walks and tours, a range of commemorative, community and outdoor events, a collaboration with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and 14-18 NOW when the ‘Poppies: WAVE’ visited the city and three History Festivals into the mix. It all amounts to a really impressive programme that has reached around 44,000 people.

Exhibitions have been a key part of the programme too. In 2017 we displayed shows about the 1950’s and the work of Beryl Cook at the Council House. From December 2017 until this June we displayed our ‘Plymouth: From Destruction to Construction’ exhibition at House of Fraser. The visitor numbers for these are remarkable.

“Excellent – what a brilliant idea – (an) in-store museum. This should be a regular feature. Congratulations to all involved in producing this superb exhibition.”

Partnerships have been vital to the ‘On Tour’ programme and we’re really grateful to the venues and organisations who’ve worked with us. With exhibitions we’ve collaborated regularly with The Arts Institute at the University of Plymouth on shows featuring the work of Jem Southam, Trevor Bell, Malcolm Le Grice, Douglas Gordon and more. Joining forces with KARST this spring enabled us to bring the nationally touring fig-futures project to the city – showcasing the work of four different artists across four weeks and acquiring new work for our collections.

The collections are our reason for being so we couldn’t have a programme without them. Although our Collections Team have been hugely busy behind the scenes they’ve also found time to deal with loans. Over the last three years artworks and objects from Plymouth have travelled to regional, national and international venues for members of the public to enjoy – from South West museums to Japanese galleries, and the Brazilian Embassy to the Houses of Parliament!

Although the bulk of the ‘On Tour’ programme is over our community projects, Arts and Minds sessions and Women’s Traditional Craft Group continue. We’ll also be supporting a handful of exhibitions and events this autumn. Check our what’s on page for up-to-date details.

In the meantime, thank you to everyone who’s engaged with the programme and to Plymouth City Council, National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England whose funding has made it possible. Most of all, a massive well done to all the staff involved who should be really proud of what they’ve achieved.