Curating for Change

In part one of a series, we caught up with Amelia Silver – Fellow – Thackray Museum of Medicine in Leeds and Freya Purcell – Curatorial Fellowship Assistant – Bristol Culture from to hear the latest on the pioneering Curating for Change programme.

Screen South, through its Accentuate Programme, received a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant of £950k for Curating for Change, an England-wide heritage project that aims to be transformational for the museum sector. Curating for Change provided a landmark fellowship and traineeship programme for D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people wanting to pursue a career within museums. Participants were hosted by more than 20 partner museums across England to research and curate a range of new exhibitions and events. The programme marked the first time that such a significant range of museums have come together to create a network of activities that will begin to tackle the under-representation of disabled people in museums.

Can you tell us a little about your placement and the work you have been doing at the museum?

Amelia: I’m the Curating for Change Curatorial Fellow based at the Thackray Museum of Medicine in Leeds. I’ve been lucky enough to get to work on projects all over the museum, including two permanent displays, two temporary displays, and one temporary exhibition. I’ve done lots of co-production and met some really interesting people in the process.

Dressing Disability, my final output, is a display, film, and programme of events that explores fashion and disability, and puts access, representation, and identity at the forefront. I worked with two disabled co-creators to put together the display. We talked about things such as representation in the fashion industry, how we feel about our disabilities, and whether or not we feel ‘disabled enough.’

In collaboration with artist Florence Burns and poet Enas Saeed, I commissioned a short, animated film, which will feature in the museum for 12 months. I also put on two creative workshops with the Thackray’s weekly youth group, Culture Club. We did lino printing with Vickie Orton and made a fashion zine with Kit George. Dressing Disability was almost entirely created by disabled women and disabled people of marginalised genders.

Freya: I have been working as Curatorial Fellowship Assistant curating the exhibition Concealed/Reveal: Disabled, deaf, and neurodiverse artists driving creativity. Through this exhibition we have been highlighting some fantastic artists and aspects of their experience that have been overlooked, as well as exploring how disability can be a creative force.

What has been the most positive aspect of your placement, to date?

Amelia: The most positive aspect of my placement has been all the amazing people I have met. Within the Fellows and Trainees, we have created a mutually supportive community which I hope we will be able to maintain and strengthen into our future careers.

Freya: Meeting some of the fantastic people it takes to make an exhibition, from the co curation group who all brought their own expertise, to the team of curators and conservators at the museum who were so generous with their time, or the producers who created additional materials like audio description. Getting to meet everyone and learn from them has been amazing.

What learning do you feel you will take into the future?

Amelia: Through the Curating for Change programme, I’ve learned transferable skills that I feel will enable me to enter any career in the arts. Project management, co-production, working with designers and artists, managing events, content writing, managing a budget. These are all really desirable skills.

Freya: I have always wanted to be a curator or work in interpretation. So, for me one of the most important parts of my Fellowship was having this experience and knowing I can do this work and do it well have been amazing for my confidence going forward.

What advice would you give any future Fellow?

Amelia: You’re probably not going to know what you’re doing for the first few weeks, that’s ok, nobody does. Try to
soak up and learn everything you can, ask questions (even if they seem stupid), be curious, and most importantly, enjoy it!

Freya: I would have two pieces of advice for any future Fellow. 1) Is to say yes to as many new experiences as possible that you can work on or help with. These experiences can shape you so much and give you so many opportunities to grow. At the same time, 2) take care of yourself. You do not want to burn out or hurt your condition so learn when to say no, step back and take care of you.

What’s your favourite object in your host museum, and why?

Amelia: The Unhidden shirt that we acquired as part of my display because it represents a new direction in contemporary
collecting. The shirt embodies not only beauty, but accessible beauty, the idea that you can be disabled and fashionable.

Freya: My favourite objects are a watercolour by Sarah Biffin. She was an amazing artist and fascinating figure and businesswoman in the late 18th – early 19th century, one of my favourite time periods. The other would be the home-made
wheelchair we have. It is a red kitchen chair with pram wheels attached, that was made for a working-class girl by her family in the mid twentieth century. I love it, as although we do not know the girl’s name there is so much we can learn about class and self-expression through this chair.

Click here to find out more about Curating for Change>>