A missing voice - the young person in the museum

Niamh Kelly
As well as helping to bring young people into the museum, technology provides a new way for them to think about their place within it.

I have thought a lot about where and how there can be a space for young people in museums.

As part of the Digital Maker Club, supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund's Kick the Dust programme, a group of young people (including me) were brought into the Ulster Museum and over several weeks, we learned how to use a range of digital technologies.

Alongside this, we were encouraged to interact with museum collections and we met with curators. This meant that we were able to digitally create something in response to our own national heritage.

By the end of the project, we had enough creations to host an exhibition.

Telling a new story of The Troubles

I was inspired by one of the main exhibitions in the Ulster Museum, about The Troubles. The exhibition's curator, Karen Logan, encouraged us to explore and discuss the collection.

One of its strengths was that it was able to include multiple narratives, not only those of Unionists and Nationalists, in telling social history, like the first Pride festival in Belfast and women's writing groups. However, there did seem to be a missing voice - that of the young person.

Troubles exhibition

I identified the gap of young voices and that the exhibition didn't connect the history of The Troubles to the subsequent social and political landscape of Northern Ireland today. I felt that if a tourist visited this exhibition, they would not grasp the aftermath of The Troubles and what that means for Northern Ireland at present.

The project gave me the opportunity to try and create a space for this missing voice. So I decided to exhibit a series on what the main issues were facing young people in Northern Ireland today.

young people

 

Sabi, a friend I met on the project, took stunning, abstract photos from around Belfast and I interviewed young people from a range of different backgrounds. Their answers illuminated and lamented issues such as:

  • mental health problems
  • the oppression of LGBT+ rights and women's reproductive rights
  • Brexit
  • segregated schooling
  • the absence of our government and how Green and Orange politics continue to hold us back

Tech can help revolutionise the museum

From my experience and observing others on the project, I think that, as well as being able to bring young people into the museum, technology provides a new way for them to think about their place in it.

Technology can offer a new paradigm.

The museum is (or should be) an inherently interactive space (with or without tech) but using interactive technology reminds us of this. Being given technological tools to create something as a response to the collections energised me to respond to it thoughtfully, creatively, critically.

Young man with VR headset

 

I didn't necessarily need tech to make my part of the exhibition, but being part of the Digital Maker Club and having my ideas listened to, encouraged and facilitated, inspired me to do so.

It is through interaction that the visitor makes meaning from objects and collections. The museum should not merely be a system of knowledge which we can passively accept meaning from. Introducing technology can help revolutionise the way we see the museum, kicking the dust from our perceptions of an old, hierarchical system of acquiring knowledge.

I think that it is this outlook, as much as the technology itself, which has the potential to draw young people in to the museum and make it an inclusive, engaging space.

Find out more

Niamh has written a longer blog on the Reimagine Remake Replay website.

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