RCMG Disability Project

From a University of Leicester press release:

Museum to challenge stereotypes of disability

The Department of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester have devised a project to explore the stereotypical views connected with disability

Issued 09 October 2007

For the first time, objects and pictures connected with the lives of disabled people will be shown to the public in a project designed to challenge stereotypes and the ways in which visitors think about issues connected with disability.

Nine museums and art galleries from England and Scotland are in the vanguard of an innovative movement to challenge traditional perceptions of disability through a large-scale experimental project entitled Rethinking Disability Representation.

Rethinking Disability Representation, a £0.5m project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, NESTA and the University of Leicester, with contributions from the 9 museums involved, explores issues and ideas previously overlooked by the sector and in doing so aims to create a lasting change in the way museums portray disability.

Museums and galleries have many objects related to disability stored away. Until now, few have seen the light of day. Now nine museums will feature different experiences, images, objects and film related to disabled people and their lives. The project has been undertaken in collaboration with a ‘think tank’ of disabled activists and artists, cultural practitioners and representatives from the world of museums and art galleries who have shaped the ways in which the museums have interpreted this often neglected area.

Rethinking Disability Representation has been devised and managed by RCMG (the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries), based in the University of Leicester’s Department of Museum Studies.

By looking at the role museums and galleries might play in challenging negative stereotypical views connected with disability, the project aims to help visitors question taken for granted stereotypes while encouraging them to think critically about contemporary disability issues.

Earlier research carried out by the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries found that there was considerable uncertainty amongst curatorial staff concerning the representation of disabled people and the interpretation of disability related issues. Many were anxious about causing offence or distress and highlighted the need for assistance in moving forward in this neglected area. However, the project also found many museum curators willing to explore the hidden histories of disability through their collections, and to set up thought-provoking dialogues with their visitors.

Though each is unique in its way, the nine interpretative museum projects unite in their aim to eliminate the cultural invisibility of disabled people in traditional museum displays and to challenge negative and stereotypical perceptions of disabled people.

By equipping the nine partner museums with a fresh understanding of disability issues and contemporary disability politics, each have been able to develop and share ideas and examples of good practice. In so doing, they are gaining a new confidence in the ways disability issues can be approached and portrayed.

Jocelyn Dodd, Director of the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, commented: “This is an exciting and challenging journey of discovery for all of us involved in the project. Understanding the significance of museum collections in the context of this project has involved considerable rethinking through a different lens and has only been possible with the range of skills and expertise from the worlds of disability and museums working together creatively and with the grass roots involvement of disabled people who have helped shape individual projects.”

More details can be found by clicking here.

Talking about….Disabled People and Art (from October 2007) From examples amongst its collections of fine art featuring disabled people, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery questions disabled imagery in a series of thought provoking written and audio notes by disabled professionals and artists.

Beyond the Label (17th October 2007 – March 2008) Colchester Castle Museum challenges the stereotypes of current and historical perceptions of disability, through images, objects, written, oral and signed information.

Lives in Motion (18th October 2007 – January 2008) Glasgow Museum of Transport looks at the ways transport can enable but also how it can hinder lives and independent living through lack of access. The exhibition uses archive footage of transport protests calling for accessible transport and a wealth of objects and media which review transport and disability.

Conflict and Disability (from September 2007) The Imperial War Museum in London is running a series of seminars for secondary schools on disability issues related to conflict, including the homecoming of disabled service-men and women and the portrayal of political leaders’ impairments. The seminars will include historical and contemporary issues related to disability rights. .

I Stand Corrected (to November 2007) The Northamptonshire Museum and Art Gallery looks at fashion and footwear, including the design of orthopaedic shoes to question issues of identity, choice and control.

Behind the Shadow of Merrick (from November 2007) The Royal London Hospital Museum and Archives will draw on historical records of disabled people associated with the hospital, including Joseph Merrick, known as the ‘Elephant Man’.

Daniel Lambert – ‘An Exalted and convivial Mind’ (from September 2007) Stamford Museum reinterprets the fascinating story of Daniel Lambert (one of the largest men in England), who, after serving an apprenticeship with a Birmingham jeweller, returned to Leicester to take over from his father as Governor of the County Bridewell Prison. The exhibition looks at the ways difference can be exploited and misunderstood.

One in Four (Discovery Museum: People’s Gallery, 25th September – 18th November 2007) (South Shields Museum and Art Gallery, 15th December 2007 – 1st March 2008) The temporary display at Tyne and Wear Museums looks at the co-existence of independence and prejudice, and how society’s attitudes can affect the daily lives of disabled people.

A Whitby Fisherman’s Life – Stumper Dryden through the Lens of Frank Meadow Sutcliffe (from August 2007) The Whitby Museum takes a photographic look at the 19th century fisherman Robert ‘Stumper’ Dryden, challenging contemporary views of life and work as a disabled person.

Notes to editors

For further information you can contact:

Debbie Jolly, Project Coordinator, RCMG 0116 252 3963 / dj3@le.ac.uk

Jocelyn Dodd and Richard Sandell. Project Directors, 0116 252 3963 / jad25@le.ac.uk / rps6@le.ac.uk


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