Fashioning Africa at Brighton Royal Pavilion & Museums

Fashioning Africa at Brighton Royal Pavilion & Museums

A line of people smiling
The collecting panel for Fashioning Africa

Heritage Grants

Brighton, South East
Brighton Royal Pavilion & Museums
Meaningful relationships were built with local communities and diverse experts in this Collecting Cultures project, which saw new ways of working trialled and access widened.

The project

The goal of the Fashioning Africa project at the Royal Pavilion & Museums Brighton & Hove (RPM) was to add to and develop their collection of African textiles. Thanks to the National Lottery-funded Collecting Cultures programme, the project enabled staff to research African textiles and fashions after 1960 and to collaborate with the local community.

The project aimed to:

  • acquire new items for the RPM’s historic collections
  • advance innovative approaches to collaborative collection development, based on the expertise of local community participants and other external advisers
  • widen access to the museums’ collections and services through creative learning and participation programmes and new online content
  • fill gaps in the RPM collection and research 
  • provide more opportunities for knowledge exchange and skills-sharing within and between the RPM, diverse ethnic communities locally and other stakeholders 

The organisation

RPM is the museum service of Brighton & Hove City Council. It directly operates several world art, decorative art and natural history museums and galleries around the Brighton and Hove area in East Sussex.

The Royal Pavilion Museum holds partnership with the Cultural Heritage Network, a collective of local arts and heritage enthusiasts. This partnership prompted the Fashioning Africa project as a way to looking at perceptions of RPM and how its world cultures collection had been created.

The funding

A curator in front of African garments
Curator Edith Ojo in front of Aso-oke, a Celebration of Style display case. Credit: James Pike, Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove


Activities included:

  • acquisition of African fashion photography, fine art, garments and textiles, specifically covering the period from 1960 to 2000
  • establishment of a Collecting Panel of specialist advisers, as well as the recruitment of a community facilitator, volunteers and research students, to work alongside RPM staff in support of the project’s audience outreach, diversity and engagement objectives
  • design and display of the Fashion Cities Africa temporary exhibition at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery (April 2016–January 2017)
  • creating online, printed and displayed content linked to the Fashion Cities Africa exhibition and publication

The results

The Collecting Cultures programme developed distinct and innovative ways to enable the Fashioning Africa collection to stand as a nationally important resource and model of best practice in terms of audience-informed collection development. 

Meeting our outcomes

Our mandatory outcome, involving a wider range of people in heritage, has been met in many ways throughout the project. This included partnerships with academic publications and other museums (such as an Object Journeys partnership with The British Museum)

The museum developed deep and meaningful engagement with local communities and groups involved. The education and learning elements of Fashioning Africa have led to participants expressing themselves and learning about identity and dual heritage.

The future 

The Collecting Cultures investment enabled the RPM to obtain further investment from other funders and carry out additional exhibitions and activities. The Collecting Panel was a great success and will be used in all future collecting and engagement-based projects.

Top tips 

It is important to tackle any sense of "disconnect" between prices paid for items of great sentimental or personal value. This can be broached through improving relationships between organisations and sellers.

The project was able to diversify its decision-making and expertise through the Collecting Panel, which brought together people of varying cultural and professional backgrounds.